Aldermen rubber stamp Rahm’s 2017 budget

Aldermen rubber stamp Rahm’s 2017 budget

Despite the heavy burden Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2017 budget imposes on Chicago taxpayers, not a single alderman voted against it.

Chicago City Council easily passed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $8.2 billion budget Nov. 16, by a 48-0 margin, despite the budget’s dependence on new taxes and fees to balance.

The revenue package to fund the budget, voted on separately, passed 45-3, with Aldermen Ricardo Muñoz, 22nd Ward, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, and Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, voting no.

The budget isn’t good news for Chicago taxpayers. It includes a new 7-cent tax on plastic bags provided at stores, adds 685 parking meters and hikes parking fees at city airports and around Wrigley Field. The budget also adds 970 new police officers, increasing the Chicago Police Department budget by $75 million.

The biggest hit to taxpayers, though, wasn’t even voted on as part of this. As part of the record-high property-tax increase Emanuel signed into law in 2015, city property taxes will increase more than $100 million in 2017, as the $700 million tax hike continues to roll out to fund broken pension systems.

This is on top of other unwelcome news for Chicago taxpayers in 2016, including a $250 million property-tax levy for Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, and $240 million in water-sewer taxes. The burden inflicted by CPS may be even higher, as the costs of its new agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union are not yet fully understood.

The 2017 budget follows familiar trends, as every Chicago budget for the last decade has contained a budget shortfall, though this year’s will rely on a heavier burden on taxpayers to make up for it. Emanuel had said previously his 2017 budget, which was introduced with a $137 million deficit, would be balanced “not with gimmicks, but with honesty and shared responsibility.” That shared responsibility seems to fall mostly on taxpayers – apparently without much debate from aldermen.

Half of aldermen did not even show up for budget hearings leading up to the vote. Over the 10 days of hearings, each City Council department averaged under half of all aldermen present, or 24 aldermen. Only two aldermen – Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, and Ed Burke, 14th Ward – even spoke about the budget the day it was voted on, but more than 10 aldermen made statements about a resolution the same day calling on President-elect Donald Trump to be “welcoming.” In fact, City Council suspended its rules just after the budget vote to allow for a lengthier discussion of the Trump resolution.

City Council’s priorities show it isn’t focused on taxpayers. City Council should reform its budgetary process to focus on the matters at hand and have real, lengthy debate about pressing taxpayer issues.

City Council and the mayor should also change the way they approach crafting a budget. Instead of continuously putting the onus on taxpayers – many of whom are fleeing the city at alarming rates – they should instead structurally reform city government and save its finances. The 2017 budget does not address that, and no alderman challenged it before signing off on the mayor’s plan.

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