Emanuel takes tax increase off the table

By Editorial Board

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced his $8.3 billion budget proposal for 2013 to the City Council on Oct. 10. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, it features no new taxes or fees, but instead relies on generating revenue through enhanced debt collection, fines generated by the city’s new speed cameras, economic growth and layoffs.

After this year’s increased fees, such as those on city water use and street parking, the absence of a tax increase might sound nice. However, the city still faces a $298 million deficit and a $1.2 billion pension bill. A tax increase is never easy, but it shouldn’t be out of the question in today’s economic climate.

Money has to come from somewhere, and the budget proposes that reducing the number of city jobs could save $20 million. New police hiring will hopefully keep up with the rate of retiring officers, but it will not increase the size of the police force if the budget is approved, something that has some aldermen worried.

Another $18 million will come from selling advertising space on city buildings, but according to The Chicago Tribune, this plan was mostly unsuccessful last year. Advertising, speed-camera tickets and economic growth can’t be counted on to provide the revenue the city needs to face its numerous financial problems.

Most aldermen didn’t have many concerns other than the low number of new police officers, but Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward) is skeptical of the mayor’s faith in unforeseen factors.

“I think we’ll know by midyear next year what will be true, not true, what’s succeeding here,” Fioretti told the Chicago Tribune Oct. 11.

The police and firefighters contract negotiations are at a standstill, but Emanuel has declared there will be no tax hikes next year, whatever the outcome. His actions during this year’s teachers strike has proven his ineptitude with union negotiations, yet his budget relies on successful contract talks and employee concessions on pensions.

Even though “tax increase” has become a dirty phrase, the mayor warned during his budget presentation that the city would have to raise property taxes 150 percent to pay for pensions if unions don’t make compromises.

If anyone has a problem with this, they won’t be able to voice their opinions to the mayor at public hearings, which was done last year. Emanuel has decided instead to have small roundtable discussions with handpicked Chicago residents. Some aldermen have decided to host their own hearings, but the mayor won’t be attending. It seems Emanuel wants to sweep details under the rug and keep people focused on the quixotic fantasy of low taxes.

This budget seems to place more importance on Emanuel’s upcoming union negotiations and eventual re-election campaign than the city’s needs.  Chicago has plenty of new projects to fund, including the expansion of bike lanes and the hiring of new police officers. We cannot rely on economic growth and layoffs to pay our bills, and in Chicago’s current economic climate, tax shouldn’t be taboo.

In order to handle the city’s pension costs and budget shortfall, we need a budget that is based in reality rather than blind faith.