When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took his oath of office on Monday, he was well aware of the challenges ahead, especially one: his transition team predicted a $700 million budget shortfall next year.
During his inaugural address, Mayor Emanuel was cautious about making promises. While he spoke passionately about the need for school improvements, he also spoke about the sacrifices that will have to be made.
"From the moment I began my campaign for mayor, I have been clear about the hard truths and the tough choices we face," he told the crowd at Millennium Park. "We simply can't afford the size of city government that we had in the past, and taxpayers deserve a more effective and efficient government than the one we have today."
He also said he was not a very patient man, and as soon as he wrapped up an open house at City Hall Monday afternoon, he got straight to work. First, he signed three executive orders on ethics. One of the orders limits new appointees from lobbying city government for two years after leaving the administration; the second "protects city employees against pressure to give gifts or make political contributions to their superiors, including department heads and the Mayor" and the third prohibits city lobbyists from making political contributions to the Mayor.
On Tuesday, the new mayor announced 10 ways he could cut $75 million from the city's budget. As expected, Emanuel said he would merge some city agencies with overlapping functions. For example, the Fleet Management Department, responsible for maintaining and repairing city vehicles, will merge with the General Services Department, which manages leases for buildings and provides cleaning and landscaping contracts. He has also announced plans for a 10 percent cut in payroll for senior city managers, which will save about $5.5 million per year.
Other budget cutting ideas include:
- Reducing outside legal expenses and better utilizing the Law Department's in-house attorneys. This will save an estimated3 million.
- Freezing all non-essential contract spending but pooling procurement requirements and buying in bulk by collaborating with Cook County and other government agencies. This will save an estimated17.5 million, according to Emanuel.
- Cutting back on energy consumption, janitorial services, leased space and other real estate costs, which could save the city about5 million.
- Reducing the number of vehicles maintained by the city and replacing aging vehicles with fuel-efficient vehicles, which could save an estimated1.5 million.
- Expanding the city's return-to-work program by bringing 60 injured employees back to work in less physically demanding roles, which could save500,000.
- Coordination of the parking enforcement and traffic control departments, which could save2.3 million.
- Cutting back on administrative costs associated with state and federal government grant funding, and making sure the grants the city receives are used. From 2008 to 2010, the city had100 million in unspent grants. These cuts could save31.2 million, according to Emanuel.
- Making sure the Department of Water Management and the Chicago Department of Transportation are better-coordinated when it comes to street repairs and contruction projects, which could save an estimated5 million.
“For Chicago to continue to thrive as a business hub, every stakeholder will need to approach deficit reduction with seriousness of purpose and a willingness to consider new ideas,” Emanuel said in a statement announcing the cuts.
Previously, Emanuel asked the City Council to reduce the number of committees, which will save nearly $500,000.
"I want to go through the budget line by line and ultimately ask, 'Are we getting the results that these dollars are being spent for?'" Emanuel told reporters last week. "Hard questions that have never been asked, we're going to ask."
Paul Begala, a political commentator, former aide to President Bill Clinton and longtime friend of Emanuel, told the Associated Press that Emanuel also wants driven people on board.
"Washington is full of people with impressive titles who don't actually do anything (but) Rahm is `Don't try to impress me with a title. Get something done."`
South Sider Kenneth Hurst III, who attended Emanuel's inauguration Monday, told the Tribune he was looking forward to having an "impatient" mayor.
"I think we need that," Hurst said, of Emanuel's direct attitude. "We need to light some fires up under some people."