Progress Illinois rounds up the action at Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting, during which aldermen approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2016 budget -- including a $588 million property tax hike -- and zoning for the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
Property taxes are set to go up in Chicago by a record $588 million over four years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2016 budget that cleared the city council Wednesday after about two hours of debate and over the objections of more than a dozen aldermen.
In addition to the $588 million property tax hike for police and fire pensions and school construction, Emanuel's budget includes fee hikes on garbage collection, taxi and ride-hailing trips and e-cigarettes.
"The city council today, and therefore the city of Chicago, acted with decisive and determined action of righting the financial ship of the city of Chicago, because for decades these decisions have been deferred, and the cost has risen," Emanuel told reporters after the meeting. "I do believe the city of Chicago's public finances are more secure, more stable and stronger today than they were before."
By a 36-14 vote, Chicago aldermen passed Emanuel's $7.8 billion spending plan, not including the revenue component. The 14 "no" votes were Alds. Brian Hopkins (2nd), Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Jason Ervin (28th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Milagros Santiago (31st), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Deb Mell (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd), Harry Osterman (48th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).
The vote on the revenue package, including the property tax increase, was 35-15. The 15 votes against the revenue package were from the same aforementioned aldermen, plus Ald. David Moore (17th).
Emanuel's budget will hike property taxes over four years by $543 million, which will go toward the city's woefully underfunded police and fire pension funds. Under the plan, property taxes will increase by $318 million this year, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017 and $63 million in 2018. Another $45 million property tax increase will be used for Chicago public school construction.
Before voting against the budget, Ramirez-Rosa told his colleagues on the council floor that it was "a sad day in Chicago today."
"It's a sad day when we can't look at cutting our own six-figure salaries. It's a sad day when we can't look at meaningful TIF [tax increment financing] reform," he said. "It's easy to go to those with the least power and say, 'Give me more out of your pocket.' What's tough is turning to your political campaign contributors and asking them to pay their fair share."
The mood in the council chambers got testier after Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) declared that he could not "stand here and listen" to "hyperbole and pandering" from "so-called leftists."
"Someone says that they're sad in the 35th Ward," Moreno said, refering to Ramirez-Rosa."You know what I'm sad about is that people aren't willing to bring their own solutions to the table, but yet vote against the solutions that have been brought about by (the Emanuel) administration and many in this room."
On the issue of TIF, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) addressed proponents of surplusing additional funds from the city's economic development program. He claimed that the city only has $141 million in uncommitted TIF money, and $113 million of that amount is already being surplused for the budget.
Moore went on to say that aldermen "have no choice whatsoever but to support this very politically challenging budget."
Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), Emanuel's floor leader, said several proposed revenue ideas floated by aldermen simply weren't an option for the budget because the city could not enact them on its own.
"If you recall early in the process, people were saying, 'Oh, let's have an income tax.' You can't do that. 'Let's have a financial transactional tax.' You can't do that. We began to eliminate the false promises and the false way that we could hide behind proposed solutions that would allow us the comfort of saying, 'I'm not voting for this because they didn't enact my idea.' And we got down to where we have to either take the steps that we're taking today or face the consequences," such as mass city worker layoffs.
The Grassroots Collaborative, a coalition of 12 membership-based organizations in Illinois, argued in a statement after today's meeting that the budget could have included more progressive revenue options.
"Rahm Emanuel chose to push a massive property tax increase onto Chicago working families instead of pursuing a myriad of solutions that would have shifted the greatest burden to those most able to pay," said Grassroots Collaborative's Executive Director Amisha Patel. "Chicago should recover hundreds of millions of dollars that we have handed over to Wall Street banks as cities like Houston have done. The city could have insourced pension fund management and other financial services instead of privatizing more clinics in Black and Brown neighborhoods. It's time for the Mayor to choose working families, not Wall Street."
The mayor is trying to make the property tax hike more progressive by completely shielding Chicagoans whose properties are worth no more than $250,000 from the increase. But that plan requires action in the Illinois General Assembly and approval from the governor, who has not committed to signing such a measure.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said he and other aldermen are working on a means-tested property tax rebate proposal, which would serve as a backup plan if Springfield doesn't approve Emanuel's homeowner exemption measure.
"The mayor has agreed that as a fallback, a rebate is a reasonable option," Arena told Progress Illinois.
"We have to look at how big the relief package is," he added. "We want to make sure it affects mostly those lower-income family households and senior households."
Arena, a Progressive Reform Caucus member and one of the mayor's most vocal critics on the council, voted in support of the budget. A key reason he did so was because Emanuel took off the table a controversial plan to privatize the city's 3-1-1 non-emergency operations.
Now that the 2016 budget is approved, Arena said the Progressive Reform Caucus will continue to push for progressive revenue streams for Chicago.
"The Progressive Caucus put together a package of revenue ideas that we knew included things that were not going to get done this year, but that were intended to get done over the course of the next four to five years," Arena said. "Let's go down to Springfield. Let's go arm in arm there, and say, 'These are good for the city. These are good for the state.' Let's advocate for these proposals, find where we have common ground ... and let's move them and do it now, so that when we're back here in 2017, we have a broader tool box" for revenue.
In other council news, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, planned for the city's lakefront on a parking lot near Soldier Field, gained zoning approval at Wednesday's meeting. Approval of the project came after an agreement was reached between the city and Chicago Bears to address concerns over the loss of tailgating space.
There are currently 3,161 Chicago Bears tailgating spots. Under the agreement, the spaces will increase for a total of 3,361. The tailgating spots will be located in existing lots, a new 18th Street parking garage and the "event prairie" park by the museum.
Emanuel described the city's agreement with the Chicago Bears as a "win-win-win."
"We now have an agreement where the Chicago Bears and their fans will get to do the tailgating that they would like, and I think that's a good thing," Emanuel told reporters. "We also now have open space replacing a parking lot, and we have a museum and all the cultural enrichment and economic benefit that comes with replacing a parking lot."