Mayor Rahm Emanuel earned a big victory in Wednesday's City Council meeting when aldermen voted 35-15 to pass the mayor's budget plan, which included the largest property tax increase in modern Chicago history.
The mainstay of the budget plan was a $543 million property tax hike to help alleviate the pension burden for police and firefighters next year, which was approved 35-15. An additional $45 million property tax increase to benefit CPS school construction was also passed.
The tax hike was structured to be implemented year by year through 2018, going up by $318 million in 2015, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017 and $63 million in 2018, according to the mayor's office. Any residents whose homes are valued at $250,000 or less are not subject to the property tax increase.
"Four years ago, we began charting a new course for Chicago's future and with today's vote we took a big step toward finally finishing the job," Emanuel said in a statement following the vote. "I want to thank the members of the Council who voted to take decisive and determined action to right our financial ship and put progress ahead of poltiics. We have a lot more work to do and I look forward to contining working together to create jobs and ensure that economic opportunities reach every neighborhood fo Chicago."
The budget also includes a garbage collection tax of $9.50 per month per household as well as new feeds for e-cigarettes. In total, budget will raise taxes by $755 million.
Many aldermen who voted "yes" on the budget expressed some discomfort with the plan but said it was ultimately necessary. Ald. Pat Dowell, for example, said the vote was "not an easy process for anyone" and raising property taxes was a last resort, but she planned to cast a "yes" vote anyway. Ald. Danny Solis also voted to pass the budget which he says he saw as the only option they had to continue improving their neighborhoods.
On the other end of the scale, Ald. Anthony Napolitano, a former firefighter, expressed personal support for the property tax hike because he saw it benefiting city workers, but due to pressure from residents in his ward, he cast a "no" vote.
In a last-ditch attempt to garner more support for the plan, Emanuel conceded a 2-cents-per-ride fee for ride-share services like Uber and Lyft to help traditional taxi drivers pay their registration fees on Monday. In exchange, the amendment gives ride-share drivers access to airports, but it requires them to register with the city and pay $5 each time they drop off or pick up someone from the airport.
Emanuel didn't get his entire budget plan passed, however. Several compromises and concessions were made to the budget in the days leading up to the City Council vote, including dropping the plan to privatize the 311 call center and adding an extra fee for drivers with ride-share services.
The week before the City Council vote, several aldermen and union members complained about the potential loss of jobs with the privatization of 311, despite the mayor's assurance that it would save taxpayers "a million dollars each year." In the hopes of earning more "yes" votes on Wednesday, Emanuel dropped the proposal from the budget.