As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said himself, the city's current fiscal situation forced him to make some "tough choices" when drafting the 2012 budget. Layoffs, fee hikes and police station closures are all part of the plan, which angered some residents and aldermen. After a few tweaks, however, Emanuel's budget is expected to pass easily during a Wednesday City Council meeting.
“If it was not going to pass, I would have stayed home,” 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O’Connor told the Chicago News Cooperative. O'Connor, who is in charge counting votes for Emanuel's plan, spent much of last week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the CNC reports.
And despite a few objections here and there, that seems to be the consensus. Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin told the Chicago Tribune that after years of being brushed off by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, aldermen were happy that Emanuel found their input "relevant."
Ald. Joe Moore echoed Austin's remarks in an interview with the CNC:
Ald. Joe Moore (49th), one of the more outspoken Daley critics, said he will vote in favor of Emanuel’s budget partly because he engaged the council in the budget process more than Daley did. Moore said he did not believe Emanuel would care if a few dissenting votes were cast on Wednesday.
“I don’t think it will ruin his day if he gets 48 votes instead of 50,” he said. “If it was a ‘my way or the highway’ budget, then you would see more people voting against it.”
Aside from City Council praise, Emanuel has been nationally applauded for his budget efforts. A The Financial Times reads "Emanuel adds dose of realism to Chicago finances," and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote a positively glowing column about Emanuel, saying he was able to promote a "progressive agenda on a Tea Party allowance."
Not all parties are sold on Emanuel's budget solutions, however. Members of Occupy Chicago have joined other community and activists groups in calling City Hall a "budget crime scene," slamming cuts to mental health clinics, libraries and police station closures. Emanuel has since lessened the blow to libraries, but will still cut about $6.7 million from the CPL budget.
The protesters and several aldermen believe Emanuel should use some TIF funds to avoid these cuts. The city currently has about $300 million in Tax Increment Financing money that has been set aside for development projects. Emanuel plans to declare a surplus, and use about $12 million to fund Chicago's schools. TIFs have historically been shrouded in secrecy, and Emanuel has also pledged to make the TIF process more transparent. Some, however, believe Emanuel should do more with TIFs.
“The mayor and our alderman still have the chance to do the right thing by working families in Chicago and declare greater a TIF surplus so that our tax dollars keep our mental health clinics open, our schools vibrant and our libraries available," Beniamino Capellupo, an organizer with Grassroots Collaborative, told Progress Illinois.
Bond rating agencies, however, have praised Emanuel's "refusal to tap city reserve funds."
According to NBC Chicago, Emanuel's budget allows for approximately 385 city layoffs as of Jan. 1 and 2,159 vacant positions to stay that way. More bad news from NBC:
If the budget is approved, seven of the city's primary care clinics will be privatized, six of 12 mental health clinics will be closed and there will be cuts in services for the elderly, homeless, domestic violence victims and at-risk kids.
Even with the criticism, the City Council is expected to overwhelmingly agree with Emanuel -- who apparently realized he might make a few enemies in the budget process.
“If you think you’re gonna balance a budget with a $637 million deficit that’s about 20 percent out of whack and you’re … gonna do it without controversy, call me. I’m really interested in the idea,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times last month.
Read Emanuel's 2012 budget overview here.