Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stressed that great progress has been made in righting the city's finances but warned they could be devastated if state lawmakers don't pass pension reform legislation by next year.
"Should Springfield fail to pass pension reform for Chicago soon, we will be right back here in council early next year to start work on the city’s 2015 budget -- a budget that will either double city property taxes or eliminate the vital services that people rely on," he told aldermen in laying out his $6.97 billion proposal on Wednesday.
The mayor sounded the alarm on the same issue 17 months ago. And this budget proposal for 2014, he said, is the last municipalities around the state can stand "on the brink of a fiscal cliff" because of pension liabilities.
"I believe I speak for members of this council when I say that we will not preside over a city in which garbage is not picked up, graffiti is not removed and libraries and other vital services must be shut down," the mayor said.
Emanuel's speech sounded more like a campaign speech than a budget proposal. He took credit for not raising property, sales and gas taxes, but made no mention of the series of fines and tax increases he wants to help close an expected $339 million budget gap.
His plans to raise $33 million in new revenue include:
- Increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $0.75,
- Decreasing an exemption on the city's amusement tax on cable TV from 6 to 4 percent,
- Increasing fines for parking and traffic violations, and
- Increasing fees to file zoning request and building permits in person.
When Emanuel took office in 2011, the city was facing a $790 million budget gap. His last two budgets have slashed that by more than half.
"While still too large, it is the smallest deficit Chicago has faced in the past five years," he said.
Earlier this month, the mayor also announced plans to order a 90-day hiring freeze for city workers as part of his efforts to close the gap, a move expected to save $1.5 million.