Emanuel's budget unanimously approved

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel's budget passed the Chicago City Council unanimously today, handing the mayor a major victory in his first year on the job.

The 50-0 vote sets the city down a path next year of fee increases, layoffs of city workers and other belt-tightening measures.

Aldermen time and again said they appreciated the fact Emanuel's $6.3 billion plan deals honestly with the city's financial situation rather than "kicking the can down the road." They commended the new mayor for showing a willingness to work with them and compromise not often seen during the later years of Mayor Richard Daley's tenure.

Many council members groused about particular parts of the budget during nearly two hours of testimony -- Emanuel's plan to close six city mental health clinics and reduce library hours were frequent targets -- but in the end all lined up behind the $6.3 billion deal.

Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, a sometime Emanuel antagonist, went so far as to say this budget process was the most cooperative he had seen in 42 years on the council.

Emanuel thanked aldermen for making his budget better and for putting "city taxpayers before the city payroll."

"We have a bright future, we have a strong future, this budget does not run away from that, it shapes it," Emanuel said.

Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, expressed disappointment in the budget approval. 

“We’re very disappointed that aldermen have voted to reduce access to libraries, cut mental health services, privatize health clinics and cut hundreds of good jobs," Bayer said in a statement. "Many aldermen voiced serious concerns about these cuts today. While the vote is over, the work of minimizing these harmful cuts is an ongoing process in which AFSCME and our labor and community allies will be fully engaged.”

Emanuel’s budget passed without dissent despite “bad news” like fee increases and City Hall layoffs, and testimony from aldermen early on in the meeting indicates they are on board.

While crafting the plan, Emanuel promised to no longer “kick the can down the road,” a reference to recent budgets by Mayor Richard Daley that relied heavily on one-time revenue.

"It's obvious that when you we're a kid, you never learned the game of kick the can," said Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd. "Everybody felt the pain. The only way you are going to make the gain is to feel the pain."

Mell said Emanuel did a good job of spreading the pain around. “To vote against this budget because of one item you thought is wrong would be a real mistake,” he said.

Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th, said the city is “going to have to give to get where we want to go,” but noted Emanuel worked to continue funding public safety at a high level, and to "spread the pain."

Ald. Joseph Moore, 49th, noted he frequently voted against Daley’s plans, but said he would support this one because it addresses the city’s difficult financial situation. “It is an honest budget,” Moore said.

In a point many longtime aldermen touched on over the past several months of budget discussions, Moore also mentioned Emanuel “has had an open door” to work with council members to tweak the plan, unlike Daley.

While Ald. Ariel Reboyras, 30th, said the budget includes tough cuts, he applauded the administration for raising fines for people who don’t cut grass on vacant lots and other beautification issues.

“We have to keep our neighborhoods in order, and you will pay,” he said.

In recent weeks, the mayor compromised with aldermen to soften the blow of library cuts, spread out the pain of vehicle sticker fee price increases and keep more graffiti-erasing crews on the streets.

Emanuel also agreed to reduce the hit of water bills on non-profit groups and phase out, instead of immediately eliminate, rebates to condo owners whose garbage the city does not pick up.
 
But the mayor still plans to close three of the city’s 25 police stations. And job eliminations would still top 500 by mid-year. And more than 2,000 vacancies would be removed from the books.
 
And Emanuel's plan to more than double water and sewer fees during the next four years remains intact. Those fee increases, expected to generate $147 million in the first year, would be used to upgrade the city’s aging water and sewer lines, he said.
 
Emanuel also did not back off on his plan to boost weekday parking taxes by $2 a day when the garage or lot tab is $12 or more. The $28 million raised from that would be used to build two CTA “L” stations downtown and launch a long-planned bus rapid-transit system.
 
Also going up are fees paid by alleged criminals whose cars are impounded, some parking fines and the fines paid by people caught not buying vehicle stickers.
 
Emanuel has repeatedly said he’s making the difficult choices needed to stop using one-time revenues to plug the city’s budget hole. In recent years, former Mayor Richard Daley drew down hundreds of millions of dollars in longtime reserves to plug those holes.
 
For his efforts, Emanuel has won praise from the Civic Federation, a non-partisan budget watchdog group funded by business interests.
 
But the group also has warned that much more work has to be done to get the city’s fiscal house in order. The biggest issue not addressed in the budget is unfunded pension liabilities, which will expand the city budget hole by more than $500 million a year during the mayor’s first term if nothing is done.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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