Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Rahm Budget Long on Words, Short on Details

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At the start of his budget address to the Chicago City Council, Mayor Rahm Emanuel gives an overview of his administration's achievements thus far, saying "now is the time to capitalize on the momentum we are building."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel kept his promise not to raise taxes or create fees in his 2013 budget.

How he plans to manage it in the face of a nearly $300 million shortfall remains mostly unclear.

"This is a budget that allows us to make critical investments by reforming government instead of raising taxes," Emanuel said Wednesday. "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. We will, however, cut the employee Head Tax."

Emanuel went on to paint a rosy picture of job creation, a $40 million increase in city revenues and what he said was the largest drop in unemployment among the country's big cities. For the second year, he said, the budget adds money to city reserves. This year, $15 million will be added followed by the $20 million last year.

He's banking on more revenue from an improving economy, though. The administration predicts $45 million in revenue growth from shared state income taxes and a number of other collections, as well as $69 million in higher debt collection.

"Our goal is to reform where we can, cut where we must and invest where it matters," Emanuel said, "providing greater opportunities for our children, better services for our neighborhoods, and stronger growth for our small-businesses."

The accolades continued as the mayor pointed to crime reduction in Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods -- a touchy issue among residents after a violent summer -- and added class time to Chicago Public Schools -- another tough item for teachers who recently went on strike.

What's next? Emanuel 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.

The city's healthcare fraud task force, he said, identified another $5 million in savings, and reforming city government will help save more.

As for directives, he told the City Council to stay the course and, as Emanuel has urged before, keep speaking 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."

No pension changes means an "unacceptable" but required increase of 150 percent in property taxes for residents.

"This budget is both a dividend of the work we have done and a down payment on the hard work to come," he said. "We know this is a moment to be seized, not squandered."

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