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Barbara Popovic

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Rahm's New Budget Still Faces Steep Hurdles

Posted: 10/12/2012 6:53 pm

We talked about Mayor Emanuel's new budget on this week's Chicago Newsroom, and about Community Media Workshop's latest report on how Chicagoans get their news. Host Ken Davis says the new budget still has some unsettle numbers in it:

Mayor Emanuel has released his 2014 budget, and, despite the fact that there was vey little traditional community input beforehand, it has been accepted so far with relatively little criticism. In fact, editorials in the dailies were fairly positive, acknowledging that Emanuel's in a tough situation with looming pension payments that promise to bust future budgets.

CMW's Thom Clark tells us that it's important to keep in mind just how many constraints now bind the budgeting process.

"The total property taxes collected are only paying for pension and debt service," he explains. "Not a single policeman or fireman... is covered by the city's corporate share of the property taxes. I think most taxpayers don't realize how hemmed in the mayor's budget office really is."

A big piece of new revenue projected for next year is about 30 million dollars from the controversial new speeding cameras, which are still at best unproven.

"$30 million from cameras, and there are a couple of legal issues, still. You've gotta capture kids in the picture in order to assess the fine because otherwise it's just speeding and a cop has to catch you," Clark says. "The law on which this was built, a school safety thing, actually requires that the documentation for assessing a fine show a kid at risk from your speeding."

There has been some apparent success with the mayor's new "grid system" for the collection of garbage, and soon for the distribution of other city services.

"I really think it took having a new mayor, though, to make that happen," says NPR's Cheryl Corley, who's reported on the budget for NPR's nationl audience. "It really was such an entrenched practice, and political, and you had to have somebody new make those changes."

But the big issue, of course, is the looming pension payments, which will have to be made starting in about two years unless the Illinois Legislature finds a way to offer relief. As Cheryl tells us: "The mayor's floor leader, Patrick O'Connor said -- if it comes to the point where nothing is done, you're gonna have a situation where you'll have to increase property taxes by 150 percent. You'll have everybody fleeing Chicago."

Because the city will shortly be facing collective bargaining with both fire and police, there's still another layer of uncertainty complicating the budgeting process. But it has also revived, Clark says, some discussion about community policing.

"As someone who worked closely on that issue 20 years ago, we never really had full-fledged community policing," he says, "and once CAPS was implemented, cops who were in that program looked to get out because they could not advance in the ranks the way cops traditionally did because they weren't making arrests. If there's an effort to really implement community policing I'm convinced we'd see more community engagement and an impact on the crime rate, but the way cops get evaluated will have to be changed or they won't stay in the system."

CMW recently published the third edition of The New News:Ranking Chicago's Online News Scene, in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust. It's an effort to track how people in the Chicago area access their news in this multi-faceted information environment.

"What we found this year," says Clark, " looking at originally a thousand sites and then more closely at about two hundred and ranking about 50 into five different categories, is that the daily newspapers, now more on-line, still frame a lot of the news agenda.

"We also discovered something we couldn't measure well, which is how much information people are getting through list-serves and other really unconventional sources. In fact, going to a media outlet's home page is rarely the way people are accessing news any more. People are sending them links through Facebook or Twitter, and they're coming in through side doors."

And hopefully watching Chicago Newsroom once in a while, too.

 
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