Emanuel unveils 2018 spending blueprint


Monica Westlake

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about directing the budget towards police training, funding Chicago Public Schools and more during his Oct. 18 budget address at City Hall.

By Eric Bradach

New investments in law enforcement, job creation, public safety projects and education were highlighted in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2018 Budget Address at City Hall Oct. 18.

Emanuel described the $114.2 million deficit in his 2018 budget proposal as the city’s smallest deficit in a decade and 82 percent smaller than 2012’s budget. Since Emanuel took office in 2011, his administration has identified more than $650 million in savings and reform efficiencies, according to the mayor’s budget overview.

“Progress is never easy, but it is always worth fighting for,” Emanuel told those in attendance at Council Chambers. “Chicagoans did what we have always done. We showed that progress is possible. We rejected conventional wisdom that said improving our schools was hopeless. Chicagoans have always risen to overcome any obstacle.”

Cost control measures and safety training will save $4 million in workers’ compensation, $3.6 million will be saved in eliminated and re-purposed Chicago Police Department and administrative vacancies, and $40 million will be recouped from tax increment financing and value capture reforms, according to the mayor’s 2018 budget proposal. In addition, the budget anticipates $2.3 million in energy savings from new LED streetlights.

However, City Hall will ask taxpayers to contribute more of their paychecks through revenue vehicles such as a 911 surcharge increase, which was recently authorized by state law. The budget blueprint calls for a $3.90 to $5 per line for both cell phone and landlines per month increase, which will increase the city’s annual revenue from $117 million to $143 million. The budget hikes fees for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, which will increase from 52 cents to 67 cents per ride in 2018 and then to 72 cents per ride in 2019, according to the budget proposal.

Emanuel did not mention much about the tax or fee increases during his speech but instead focused on popular public initiatives.

“Every time Chicago confronts a challenge head-on, we come out on top,” Emanuel said. “That is why I am convinced that we will rise to meet the challenge of gun violence in our city. That process is underway. It will not happen overnight because the problem was not created overnight. It will take a continuing commitment from all of us, both in this room and outside this room.”

Chicago’s finances are also being supported by Illinois’ new education-funding formula. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill Aug. 31, which allocates $135 million in grants and $221 million in pension assistance to Chicago Public Schools, as reported Sept. 5 by The Chronicle.

“Chicago made lasting and historic progress in Springfield,” Emanuel said. “Our children and our taxpayers are finally being treated fairly by the state of Illinois, our pensions are on the path to solvency, our taxpayers are saving millions of dollars and our future is brighter than it has been in a while.”

However, some argue the school funding is still insufficient. Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey accused Emanuel of understating the harm caused by proposed budget cuts, according to an Oct. 18 CTU press release.

“Emanuel’s budget address is built on fiction and spin instead of the hard facts,” Sharkey said in the statement. “It’s fiction Chicago’s public schools do better under this budget. Emanuel’s school budgets have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from neighborhood schools and angled to enact policies that short-change students.”

Emanue’s speech emphasized reforms and accomplishments in law enforcement, public safety investments and rebuilding trust between the community and police.

“We all agree the level of violence in some of our neighborhoods is totally unacceptable,” Emanuel said. “Whether it is in your neighborhood or not, it affects Chicago, so it affects all of us. We simply cannot rest until every parent, in every neighborhood, is able to let their children go to the park, or play on the sidewalk, or sit on the front porch free from fear of gunshots.”

Chicago was battered with 764 homicides in 2016, a number unseen in two decades, causing critics, including President Donald Trump, to reprimand the city. The October 2014 shooting of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by white CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke and the January report from the U.S. Department of Justice, accusing CPD of civil right violations, triggered public distrust in both CPD and Emanuel. 

In the city’s 2017 budget, Emanuel increased CPD’s forces by 970 new recruits consisting of 500 police officers, 200 detectives, 112 sergeants, 50 lieutenants and 92 field training officers. The 2018 spending plan demands 100 more field training positions—192 in total—to be filled by the end of 2018.

The budget also funds continuing reforms such as ensuring body-worn cameras for every police officer. Seven police districts implemented this in 2016, and Emanuel said all officers in the city’s 22 police districts will have them by the end of 2017. Money in the 2018 budget is set aside for camera maintenance purposes.

The CPD budget encompasses $27.4 million for more police reform initiatives, such as enhanced training and community policing. It also creates a new office called the Office of Reform Management, which will include 26 new civilian members who will liaise with an independent monitor and CPD bureaus to implement the reforms, as well as measure progress and verify compliance with new policies and training.

“Community policing is a cornerstone of the Chicago Police Department,” Emanuel said. “It is built on the foundation of trust.”

Emanuel promoted his success against Trump and the U.S. Department of Justice in the courtroom. The city filed an Aug. 7 lawsuit against the Trump administration and the DOJ for putting unlawful requirements on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Emanuel’s administration argued that the requirements contradict the city’s Welcoming City Ordinance, which states that city officials will not ask about individuals’ immigration status, disclose that information to authorities or deny city services based on immigration status. Chicago has previously used the grant to purchase police vehicles, radios and Tasers, according to the lawsuit.

At his Oct. 18 speech, Emanuel said Chicago won a national victory by stopping the grants from being withheld, but the battle is far from over.

“Make no mistake: This legal fight is a fight for who we are, a fight for what we believe in, and it is a fight that is far from over,” Emanuel said. “Chicago will stand our ground in defense of our values as a welcoming city to immigrants from around the world.”

Speaking to reporters after the mayor’s speech, CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the department does everything it can to ensure public safety and complies with immigration law.

“We are a welcoming city [and] don’t want to create a situation where immigrants are afraid to talk to police,” Johnson told reporters. “In the spirit of community policing, we’ll do what’s necessary, we will follow the law.”

Johnson echoed Emanuel’s success in neighborhoods that saw heavy crime rate increases in 2016. He attributed Englewood, CPD’s 7th District, not having a shooting in 10 days to collaboration between the police and community.

“This is a situation where the community is coming together to help the police with crime issues,” Johnson said. “That’s what it’s going to take. CPD can not do this alone. So, with the technology, the police officers and the community, we’re seeing some results.”

Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward) agreed that increasing trust between residents and CPD is the solution to lowering the city’s homicide rate while speaking with reporters, but it will not happen overnight. In his ward, which encompass Rogers Park, Moore said he will double the efforts in community policing.

“There is no magic wand solution; I wish I could deliver one,” Moore said. “The issues of violence and crime are complex … and we’re going to address it.”

While Emanuel touted his financial achievements, which were met by cheers from the audience, he emphasized the work is not done.

“Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball or become complacent,” Emanuel said. “We must continue to build on the foundation of the progress we have made together.”