When Rahm Emanuel replaced Richard Daley as mayor of Chicago, and an unprecedented number of new aldermen were elected to the City Council, many predicted a much more lively debate between the two branches of government. Under Daley, the Council was essentially a rubber-stamp; maybe this election, observers speculated, would usher in a return to the "strong Council, weak mayor" structure that Chicago is technically supposed to have.
So far, that's not been the case.
To be fair, Mayor Emanuel hasn't pushed a lot of significant or controversial ordinances through the Council thus far. What major ordinances he has backed have largely gone through with near unanimity.
But the Emanuel administration might soon be facing its first fight with the aldermen, even if it's a largely symbolic one, over property tax increases proposed by the Chicago Board of Education.
The proposed hike, would be the maximum allowed by law, amounting to around $87 more per year for the owner of a $250,000 home. That would generate around $150 million, as part of a plan to close the Chicago Public Schools' $710 million budget shortfall.
In April, the Chicago Tribune reminds readers, Emanuel said he opposed a property tax hike to pay for schools. And much more recently, he said that he wouldn't balance the budget of the City of Chicago on the backs of taxpayers.
The Chicago Public Schools, though, apparently saw no choice. New schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said that the district had cut as deeply as it could without increasing class sizes or otherwise jeopardizing students.
And despite his pledge not to raise taxes himself, Mayor Emanuel supports CPS's plan, according to the Chicago News Cooperative. He praised the district for cutting $400 million in administrative costs “all the while investing in key programs our children need,” the CNC reports.
Still, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that plenty of aldermen aren't happy about it.
“They have not shown clear and convincing evidence that they deserve a property tax increase because of all the waste and inefficiency still in the system,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).
Fioretti predicted “resistance all over the city.” ....
Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, flatly declared, “I don’t agree with any property tax increase, especially when our residents are having such a hard time.” ...
Aldermen Nick Spostato (36th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) voiced similar concerns.
The one problem is, there's not much the aldermen can do to stop it. State law requires that the aldermen sign off on property tax increases proposed by the school board. At best, they can voice their strident objection, then begrudgingly pass the measure.
There is a "nuclear option" that the Council has considered in the past: simply rejecting the tax hike anyway, and challenging the constitutionality of the law that forces them to pass it. Such a drastic measure seems somewhat unlikely, though.