On Tuesday Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his 2016 city budget and while it contained no real surprises, it did modify the historic property tax increase of $543 million to be paid incrementally, over future years, and lowered the still first-time ever garbage collection fee from an earlier $11.00 to $9.50 per household.
In an effort to ensure the needed 26 aldermanic votes, he referenced John F. Kennedy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” to bolster their much needed votes. But, aldermanic support seemed to be limited to it being seen as the measure of last resort rather, than the principled stands that Kennedy outlined in his famous book.
Emanuel claims that this budget proposal will address the structural deficit and put the city finances on firm ground. But, that point is debatable according to Laurence Msall, president of the CIvic Federation, who told the Chicago Sun-Times, that he has doubts because while the immediate payments towards police and firefighters will be addressed, questions will it be enough, in the long run, especially since much of its pending success depends on an injection of cash from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. As his tenure has shown, he has blocked every plea for money from the mayor, or other state leaders, unless they concede to anti-union measures,and reduced payments for workmen’s compensation, and other measures. This they have failed to do.
Msall has said “there are still ‘many uncertainties around whether the size of the property tax increase will be enough.’ He noted that Gov. Bruce Rauner has not agreed to sign legislation giving Chicago fifteen more years to ramp up to 90 percent funding of police and fire pensions. Nor has the Il. Supreme Court ruled on Emanuel’s plan to save the Municipal Employees and Laborers Pension funds.‘ There remains a question as to whether the extraordinary tax increase will itself be sufficient and whether long-term pressures at the Chicago Public Schools as well as operating needs will continue to present a challenge,’”
In an effort to make the budget more palatable, the mayor has pegged his property tax increase exemption at those whose properties are valued at $250,000, or less. While he has said that most of the fees will come from business and commercial properties, the alderman for most of those districts, Brendan Reilly, has said: “I represent downtown stakeholders. This could be a very heavy burden for them to carry. They’re concerned that some of these revenue options could have a chilling effect on the downtown district. As their elected representative, it’s my responsibility to try and find other options to lessen that burden,” reported the Sun-TImes.
Continuing down the line of new and old taxes, there are $13 million more in higher fees for building permits; a new, $1 million tax on the ever popular e-cigarettes: a 50-cents–a-ride surcharge on taxicabs; a 30 cents-a-ride increase in the surcharge on ride ride services for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, with the authority to make pickups at McCormick Place Convention Center, O’Hare and Midway Airports, in exchange for a $5 surcharge on every pickup and drop-off.
In addition “besides the city government property tax increase, Emanuel’s budget also includes a new property tax increase for Chicago Public Schools construction totaling $45 million,” reported The Chicago Tribune.”
It’s been no surprise to anyone that much of Chicago’s financial distress, and in due turn Emanuel’s, comes from the bad decisions of his predecessors, which he acknowledged when he said, that this budget will “end the tricks, the gimmicks and the financial shell games once and for all.” such as pension holidays, and pension raiding, as was done in 2007, when the teacher’s pension was raided for the CTA transport system.
In a further defense of his proposals he said that budget reductions would not help the city, for “meeting police and firefighter pension obligations through spending cuts alone would mean laying off 2,500 police officers — 20 percent of the current force — and 2,000 firefighters — about 40 percent of the force.”,
In an emotional appeal the mayor also labeled the budget as value laden, and would help future generations of Chicagoans. But, despite his rhetoric these proposals have not been met with open arms. Witness Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa who countered that the mayor did not look at his proposals for tax on luxury goods, and services, TIF reform, or asking banks “to recoup illegal losses tied to toxic interests rate swaps,” that he and a group of like-minded alderman proposed. Also, according to a statement given to NBC Chicago, he claims that “Mayor Emanuel’s 2016 budget proposal shows that he will continue to govern in the interest of the rich and big corporations, and not in the interest of Chicago’s working families and our neighborhoods.” Rosa is a member of the city council’s informal progressive caucus.
A local organization, the Grassroots Collaborative, is also critical of the Emanuel budget, and says that its disinvestment, and increased costs to black and brown neighborhoods is not acceptable. They state, “Meanwhile Chicago has refused to go after the big banks and Wall Street that have taken over $803 million in Chicago taxpayer money through city toxic swaps as of spring 2015.”
The next two weeks will be critical as Emanuel attempts to further sell his budget to aldermen and their constituents, but many have predicted, with his rubber-stamp allies on the city council that this may already be a done deal.