The City of Chicago has a new spending plan that adds cops to streets and kids to schools but holds the line on new taxes. Charlie Wojciechowski reports.
Chicago's City Council on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2013 budget plan that banks on a brighter economy to keep taxes at bay and create new revenue.
The $6.5 billion ($8.3 billion when grant monies are included) includes no new taxes, fines or fees besides an increase in parking meter fines as the city continues to deal with a controversial meter lease system. Water and sewer fees also will increase under a plan set in motion last year.
"This is a budget that allows us to make critical investments by reforming government instead of raising taxes," Emanuel said last month in his budget address. "We will not raise property taxes, we will not raise sales taxes, we will not raise the fuel tax, we will not raise the amusement tax."
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) called the budget "as good as, if not better, than the budgets I've seen in the last four-plus decades."
Not everyone saw the bright side of the budget, which received three "no" votes, including one from Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). Fioretti said he's worried about the city's $300 million shortfall and wonders if Chicago has the cash to hire 450 more police officers.
"What are the long term expenses?" he said.
Ald. Joseph Moore (49th), usually one to vote against proposed budgets, said he found the 2013 version a solid one.
"Last year's was good, not perfect. This year's, given the hard economic times, is as nearly as perfect as you can get," Moore said.
Emanuel plans to make strategic investments in children's programs and tree-trimming while making about 275 strategic job cuts. He said he wants to reform where he can and invest where it matters, in education, small businesses and neighborhood services.
The mayor said his administration will look to streamline in-house counsel performance to potentially save millions, consolidate redundancies IT offices to save $1 million and create a building inspections task force to save time and an unspecified amount of money.
His directive for the City Council was to stay the course and to speak up about pension reform.
"Here is the hard truth," Emanuel said. "In less than four years, payments to meet our pension obligations will comprise 22 percent of the City’s budget – one out of every five dollars. That’s $1.2 billion of taxpayer money, and growing, each year after that."
Ald. Sandi Jackson, wife of embattled Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., didn't show up for the meeting.