Emanuel Delivers First Budget to Council

In his first budget speech to Chicago's city council Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday criticized the old guard for a history of irresponsible spending. 

"When budgets don't cover expenses year after year, it's clear we have a problem," Emanuel said, pointing to the last 10 budgets in the red. "Chicago cannot afford this kind of government any longer."

Emanuel avoided increases in property taxes and sales taxes in the 2012 city budget, but he included a new water fee for Chicago residents to help fix the city's deteriorating system. The fee would mean a $120 annual increase in water and sewer rates for an average household.

Emanuel equated the cost to five cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee every month but said homeowners could actually see their bill go down if they opt to install a water meter.

"Chicago rates will remain among the cheapest in the Great Lakes region," he said.

Emanuel also called for the hiring of more police officers and a change in the garbage collection to a grid system instead of the traditional ward pickup. He cut in half the employee head tax, as well, which requires businesses with more than 50 employees to pay $4 a year per employee.

He included a few vehicle fees, including a congestion fee for those who park downtown. Those who park in downtown garages and lots will pay an extra $2 per occasion, for example. The fee is meant to be an incentive for drivers to take public transportation.

Some vehicle sticker costs are going up too, from $120 to $135 for heavy cars and trucks to help pay for damage to city streets.

"A budget is about priorities," Emanuel said, "and this budget is an opportunity to get it right."

The reforms and efficiencies will save taxpayers $417 million, he said, eliminating two-thirds of the deficit facing Chicago.

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