Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday October 27th, 2016, 12:43pm

Windy City Aldermen Talk Municipal Budget, Chicago Cubs At Panel Discussion

Chicago Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) says he thinks he has solved the city's budget for next year.

"We'll just add an additional tax on every item that the Cubs sell this season," Waguespack joked Thursday during a City Club of Chicago panel discussion on the city's 2017 budget. 

"I've never seen so many people wearing Cubs gear, not only in Chicago but just nationwide," the alderman said. "It's a good thing to see a team doing so well, because it does add to the bottom line. It adds to Chicago's stature at a time when things are pretty difficult, when we see so much increase in crime and violence throughout our city, that we can have one thing to look at and say this is a good thing."

Waguespack was joined on the panel by Alds. Roderick Sawyer (6th), George Cardenas (12th) and Pat O'Connor (40th), the mayor's City Council floor leader.

As Chicago celebrates the Cubs, Waguespack said it is also important to "remind ourselves what's really happening in a lot of these other neighborhoods." Bringing it back to the budget, Waguespack noted that the city is looking to boost its investments in public safety.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed budget, unveiled earlier this month, calls for the hiring of additional police officers. Specifically, the city wants to hire 250 police officers, 92 field-training officers, 100 detectives, 37 sergeants and 50 lieutenants next year. In all, the Chicago Police Department plans to hire a total of 970 new officers over the next two years.

The Chicago City Council is now holding hearings on the mayor's $8.22 billion budget proposal. The council has until December 31 to pass a budget. 

In 2017, the city faces a $137.6 million budget shortfall, which is the smallest gap in nearly a decade and 80 percent lower than in 2012, according to the Emanuel administration.

To close that gap, Emanuel is seeking $25.4 million in revenue through new taxes and fees, including a 7-cent fee on disposable shopping bags, $33.7 million in spending cuts and government reforms as well as $82.3 million in revenue growth, among other areas of savings. 

After Chicagoans were hit with various taxes and fees -- including a record property tax increase -- in recent budgets to address the unfunded liabilities in the city's pensions funds, some have called Emanuel's 2017 fiscal blueprint a "good news" budget.

At Thursday's panel discussion, O'Connor said the city has made progress in tackling its structural deficit, underfunded pensions and scoop-and-toss borrowing practices.

"We've really eaten into the three areas that were crippling our budget, but we also now have done some good things in this budget that I think folks will recognize as being appropriate," like the increase in police officers and other public safety investments, O'Connor said.

Cardenas floated a few ideas to further shore up the city's finances and pension funds, including an employee buyout initiative and a 401(k)-style retirement system for new government hires.

Sawyer, meanwhile, said the 2017 proposed budget is one of "our better budgets." That being said, the alderman stressed that the city should be looking for more progressive revenue solutions and ways to better boost business corridors "so that we can increase our sales tax organically."

"I don't want to upset the people in this room," he told the City Club of Chicago audience, "but some of the people that we need to ask to do more are you -- those that are doing a little better, that make a little more money -- to think about what you could do to help this budget."

Sawyer noted that "a lot of this is dependent upon our colleagues downstate" when it comes to implementing progressive revenue options. 

Sawyer and Waguespack are members of the Chicago City Council's Progressive Reform Caucus, which will be hosting a budget town hall meeting with the public on November 3. The event, to begin at 6:30 p.m., will be held at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.

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