Emanuel Delivers Annual Budget Address

The mayor's 2018 proposal includes investments in public safety and youth programs, plus an increase in ridesharing fees as well as a shift in the city's amusement tax

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented his annual budget proposal Wednesday, a plan that includes investments in public safety and youth programs, as well as increased fees on ridesharing usage and a shift in the city's amusement tax.

He began his address by touting his accomplishments and the city's growth since he's been in office - a theme that was woven throughout the rest of his speech. 

Emanuel highlighted progress in Springfield that has a positive impact on Chicago, from pension reforms to a revamp of the education funding formula that was once the least equitable in the nation, touching on stiffer penalties for repeat gun offenders, as well as homeowner and senior tax exemptions. 

Turning to his 2018 budget proposal, Emanuel said his plan does not include any citywide general tax increases, but through "improved fiscal management," includes funding to add nearly 1,000 more police officers on the streets, as well as investments to modernize technology to fight the city’s violence.

The budget plan includes $27 million to implement police reforms, according to Emanuel, from staffing to training and the expansion of "strategic decision centers" in six more police districts, a formula he said has seen a 23 percent reduction in the districts that currently employ these technologies and analytics.

Emanuel also issued a call to expand programs for youth, from the addition of Safe Passage routes to 10 new schools, the creation of five new early education centers, and an increased investment in after-school activities, summer job opportunities and mentoring programs. 

“We have more resources every year go to after school, summer jobs, mentoring programs, and safe passage rights and arts education so our kids have a good start and inherit our city on a good foundation,” he said.

Emanuel used the example of a young man in the City Council chambers for the speech to highlight the importance of mentoring programs like Becoming a Man, introducing Germin Sims, who he said he met at a BAM session and who "credits his mentor with helping him turn his life around."

"Today, Germin is a senior and he is applying to college. Any college would be lucky to have him," Emanuel said. "His future is worth investing in."

Emanuel touted financial reforms to make investments like these possible, but also introduced a change to the city's current amusement tax, proposing an increase from 5 percent to 9 percent on concerts, comedy shows and plays in larger city venues.

Under the plan, venues with a capacity of over 1,500 people would see an increase and that means customers will pay more for tickets.

Each of the city’s major sports teams have decried the proposal, saying Chicago shouldn’t be proud of having the highest amusement taxes in the country for fans attending sports and concerts.

The United Center, which houses Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks games, said “Chicago will lose concerts.”

“As the shows leave, so do the dollars that flow through restaurants, cabs and hotels on any given show night. And despite what our political leaders believe, the losses will far surpass any gains a tax increase was intended to garner,” the venue’s statement read.

In a letter to fans, the Bears and White Sox, in virtually identical statements, wrote they “strongly oppose this measure and will do everything we can to convey that message to city leaders.”

Ald. Scott Waugespack, who may oppose the mayor in the 2019 election, called the tax change a "gimmick."

Giving smaller venues like the metro a tax break is viewed by city hall as a way to promote neighborhood culture. 

“It also creates parity,” Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said in a statement. “Under the current law, a game held at one of the stadiums on a Monday is taxed at 9 percent while a concert held at the same stadium on a Tuesday is taxed at 5 percent. That doesn't really make sense, and this proposal would ensure that ticketed events at the stadiums are all taxed at the exact same rate.”

In addition, Emanuel proposed an increase in the fee charged for travel arranged on ride-sharing apps. That fee currently sits at 52-cents on all trips, but under the new budget, would rise another 15 cents by 2019.

Emanuel said the hike would go toward making "needed investments to modernize transportation in Chicago for every resident."

In recent years -- Chicagoans have paid higher property taxes, increased parking rates, a bag tax and more for cell phone fees. Emanuel's proposal will go to aldermen for consideration before any potential approval in late-November.

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