‘A Budget Unlike Any Other’: Emanuel Delivers 2017 Budget Address in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivered his 2017 budget address Tuesday, hours after avoiding yet another major teachers strike in the city.

The proposed budget was one Emanuel claimed to be “unlike any other we have seen in recent memory.”

“It is a budget free of an immediate pension crisis, free of the black cloud of insolvency threatening the retirements of city employees and the financial future of Chicago," he said. 

Less than 12 hours before he took the podium, Emanuel faced down-to-the-wire negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, which ended with a tentative agreement just as the midnight deadline approached.

“I want to take a moment to recognize the good work at the negotiating table between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union to reach a contract agreement,” Emanuel said. “Both sides worked in good faith to reach a deal, and as a result Chicago’s students are in class where they belong today, getting the education they deserve.”

The potential contract agreement meant Emanuel avoided having yet another citywide teachers strike during his time as mayor.

Part of the agreement involves additional revenue in TIF money. CPS had originally offered $32 million but now the mayor's office confirms $175 million will be set aside with $88 million of it going to Chicago Public Schools.

While pension problems and tax hikes have marred past budget addresses, Emanuel noted the city “is finally out of the pension penalty box.”

“Five years ago, Chicago was on the financial brink,” he said. “Today, Chicago is back on solid ground.”

In 2011, the city faced a $635 million annual deficit, Emanuel said, a deficit that has since been cut by 80 percent, bringing it to the lowest level in nearly a decade.

This year’s speech touched heavily on not just the progress made with teachers but also the city’s ongoing violence troubles.

With Chicago's soaring number of shootings and homicides making national headlines, the financially-strapped city is facing a so-called violence crisis. 

As part of his plan to combat that violence, Emanuel touched on an earlier announcement by Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, revealing the largest hiring effort in the city's police department in years. In that plan, which is expected to cost the city up to $50 million, the department will add nearly 1,000 new police officers over the next two years.

Still, it remains unclear how exactly the city will come up with those funds. 

The speech comes after the police department also unveiled a new draft policy regarding officers' use of force following criticism over the killing of Laquan McDonald, a Chicago teen who was shot by a police officer 16 times.

It also follows an earlier speech on violence, where Emanuel called on residents and politicians as he laid out a three-point plan for fighting Chicago's ever-prominent crime problem.

“We all know that a lack of jobs and a lack of opportunity create a breeding ground for violence,” Emanuel said Tuesday. “We can invest in mentoring, and we will in this budget. We can invest in added police, and we will in this budget. We can invest in educational improvements, and we will in this budget. We can invest in transportation, and we will in this budget. We can invest in art, and we will in this budget. But if we are not also creating jobs and providing the skills for those jobs, we will be weakening our public safety efforts.”

Part of the budget presentation addressed the city’s rising minimum wage, which will soon be up to $11 an hour. It also touched on a new neighborhood-focused fund aimed at improving investments for businesses in the city’s most “resource-starved neighborhoods.”

Emanuel said he plans to add 2,000 summer jobs for young men in the city’s mentor program and increase after school programs to allow 1,000 more children to participate.

He also claimed nearly 60,000 CPS students will receive free eye care and more than 100,000 students will receive free dental care.

“Together, the people of Chicago are investing in the future,” Emanuel said. “Together, we are writing a new chapter in our city’s remarkable history. Do we have decades of underinvestment in neighborhoods which we must reverse? Yes. Do we have a major challenge with guns and gangs as we have for generations that we need to confront? Yes. Are these challenges, though, like the others we have successfully confronted, bigger than the collective will and spirit of the City of Chicago to solve? No. There is no challenge bigger than the will and capacity of this great city.”

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