City Council approves 2013 budget

By The Columbia Chronicle

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2013 budget proposal was passed overwhelmingly during a City Council meeting on Nov. 15 by a vote of 46-3.

The $6.5 billion budget, which comes to $8 billion when grant funding is added, is the second Emanuel has drafted since he took office and focuses on expanding schools and on structural reform among the city’s departments.

“We need to ensure that we are not only righting our fiscal ship, but [that] we are making the tough choices,” Emanuel said. “We must be investing in our children, improving the quality of our neighborhoods, providing our small businesses with a leg up and promoting safety in Chicago.”

Proponents of the budget were supportive of the lack of a tax increase. Alderman Carrie Austin (34) guided the discussion among council members leading up to the meeting. She said this budget will help people in Chicago who are struggling.

“We need to ensure low [tax]rates for Chicago residents,” Austin said. “Our financial team successfully tackled a $369 million financial shortfall. We did this through sound management and financial techniques that focused on health care, savings, improved debt collection and revenue growth reforms.”

The three aldermen who voted against the budget were Bob Fioretti (2), Scott Waguespack (32) and John Arena (45).

The dissenting members organized a “progressive caucus” to give the public an opportunity to provide input on the budget. The opposing aldermen disagreed with parts of the budget that support privatizing public services such as oversight of water reclamation.

“This budget is a statement of who we are, and the closing of the $369 million budget gap comes at the expense of good, middle-class jobs,” Fioretti said.

Emanuel said improving early childhood education and after-school programs, along with providing students with eye examinations, are key issues the budget addresses.

Unlike last year’s budget, which increased taxes and implemented several new fees and fines, the 2013 budget does not include any new taxes or tax increases, Emanuel said.  However, water and sewer fees and fines are set to increase because of the long-term lease of the city’s meter system, which was approved by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The approved budget will also eliminate the head tax, which charges all businesses with 50 or more employees $4 for each employee who earns $4,300 or more per business quarter.

Emanuel noted the importance of shifting police from desk jobs to patrol jobs as a means of reducing crime. He said 457 Chicago police recruits will receive active patrol duty as soon as they finish training, an increase from last  year’s rookie class.

Last year’s budget cut hundreds of jobs, but the 2013 budget is projected to create 275 jobs citywide. It also tackles efforts in graffiti removal and weed and tree trimming.

However, a looming pension crisis will be unavoidable if aldermen and administrators do not work together, Emanuel said. If the situation goes unresolved by January 2014, the $1.2 billion pension obligation will cripple the city’s 2014 budget with drastic tax increases.

Emanuel said if an agreement about pension reform cannot be reached, it will cause property taxes to increase 150 percent in 2014. He called the 2013 budget “the calm before the storm.”