How would you solve Chicago's estimated $635.7 million budget shortfall? Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to know.
Before Emanuel finalizes the 2012 budget this fall, he's trying to find new ways to run a tighter ship and cut spending. So he put out the call to Chicago locals.
They answered. Suggestions poured in from residents via Emanuel's newly launched interactive website, ChicagoBudget.org. Ideas ranged anywhere from legalizing and taxing marijuana to adding vendors to CTA stations, and reducing the number of police directing traffic to moving to paperless government.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 417 ideas had been posted along with 680 comments and more than 5,700 "votes" for or against ideas by other residents.
The most popular suggestions? Lower the number of aldermen and, specifically, cut the number from 50 to 25. Not far behind was cutting security for aldermen and former mayors, a hot button topic following a debate surround Ald. Ed Burke's pricey detail.
"I find it hard to believe that NY and LA have more people per capita and can survive on less Alderman," wrote one responder. "There is NO reason to have 50 alderman in this day and age."
Other popular items include cutting aldermen's salaries and stop slapping officials' names on public property.
"Have you been to the DMV?" said another responder in a post. "who is that guy in the picture and am I paying the city to print/frame and hang his picture. I don't care, I just want my DL."
Emanuel told reporters last week that Chicago has a structural problem and that "the moment of truth has arrived" to shake things up.
Revenues are expected to be down 19 percent, he said, and income tax revenue likely will dip by 12 percent because of a smaller population. Emanuel plans to present a balanced budget, but he won't raise taxes doing it.
That means thinking of big ideas.
"I won't nickel and dime taxpayers," he said. "I can't ask people to pay and put more money into a system that needs restructuring. The capital I won't spend is taxpayer's dollars. This system needs reform, it has called out for it."