PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday November 17th, 2011, 8:40am

Emanuel’s First Budget Unanimously Passes Council

The City Council may one day prove to have less deference for Rahm Emanuel than they did for Richard Daley. But there was not even a hint of confrontation or dissent at a meeting Wednesday regarding Mayor Emanuel’s first annual budget.

The City Council may one day prove to have less deference for Rahm Emanuel than they did for Richard Daley.

But there was not even a hint of confrontation or dissent at a meeting Wednesday regarding Mayor Emanuel’s first annual budget. In fact, the council passed the $6.3 billion package 50-0 as members effusively flattered Emanuel for a transparent budget-making process and not relying on one-time revenue.

Emanuel probably deserves praise, but the budget’s success will be judged by the future state of city services, like public health care.

Kind Words from Aldermen


Even aldermen skeptical of cuts and more than 500 public employee layoffs expressed satisfaction. It helped that Emanuel announced November 4 that he would restore some money for libraries and graffiti removal and that he agreed to lower the proposed sticker fee on heavier SUVs.

“Despite some of the misgivings I have, this budget puts good ideas into play,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). Waguespack, who often opposed Daley’s budgets.

“I appreciate every extra opportunity you gave us to work on these issues,” Waguespack added, in City Council floor remarks addressed to Emanuel. “We have to give you the opportunity to set this ship in the right direction.”

Ald. Joe Moore (49th), another consistent critic of Daley, said he supported this budget because it was “honest” and did not use one-time revenues and also because Emanuel created an “open dialogue between members of this body and the executive branch.”

Even longtime Daley loyalist Ed Burke, the finance committee chairman whose power has diminished under the new mayor, had unqualified praise.

“In my 42 years voting on a city budget,” Burke said,  “I’ve never seen a more cooperative effort between the legislative and executive branch.”

The Transparent Budget

It’s hard to dispute anecdotal evidence related by almost every alderman at the City Council meeting that Emanuel is a better communicator and listener (and better at returning their calls and texts) than Daley.

Many Daley budgets, though, also passed 50-0. They were probably not a ton of aldermen at those City Council meetings complaining about the budget-making process.

Emanuel deserves credit for not tapping into one-time revenue sources – like Daley did when he used money from the city parking meter privatization deal.

However, they were not many rainy day funds left anyway – making it difficult for Emanuel to propose a “dishonest” budget, even if the mayor had so desired.

“There’s not much except for TIF [Tax Increment Finance] money,” says Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago and former alderman. “There isn’t a big cash cow like the Skyway lease or parking meters.”

The Budget’s Consequences

The budget cuts funding for libraries and 911 call centers and will also close three of the city’s 25 police district stations.

However, the most consequential cuts, probably, are to the public health department – the budget will lay off 155 health clinic workers mid-year in 2012. This will stem from the closing six of the twelve city mental health clinics and also privatizing services at Chicago’s seven health centers.

A few aldermen voiced concerns about these cuts Wednesday. “We will be working with the health commissioner to make sure no one – no one – falls through the cracks,” said Ald. Rick Munoz (22nd).

But even Munoz’s statement conveyed that he and fellow concerned alderman, like Willie Cochran (20th), received assurances from Emanuel and Bechara Choucair, the public health commissioner, that the streamlined health department will still provide adequate mental health care.

A coalition of public employee unions, community groups, and health care professional don’t buy this. “There is zero evidence to support unsubstantiated claims that private clinics or hospitals will step into the breach the city is choosing to create,” says Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31.

Besides immediate cuts, a couple of aldermen did express concern that austerity today will really help foster economic growth and city revenue in the future.

“Hopefully budgets will be a little better than the lesser of many evils in the future,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). “It will take a number of years to make our work feel really productive.”

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