Budget Committee Chairman dead-set against cutting City Council in half

SHARE Budget Committee Chairman dead-set against cutting City Council in half
SHARE Budget Committee Chairman dead-set against cutting City Council in half

The outspoken chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee came out smoking Tuesday against the politically volatile idea of cutting the nation’s second-largest City Council in half.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said she has no doubt Chicago voters would approve a binding referendum—if it ever lands on the ballot—reducing the number of aldermen from 50 to 25. The Il. General Assembly could also re-structure the City Council.

But, Austin warned that services would suffer dramatically, giving voters a severe case of buyer’s remorse.

“Any alderman worth their salt can’t get to all of the [constituents] they have now. And I think I’m worth my salt. I have a community meeting every month. To enlarge that even more—that’s horrible. Then you have twice the amount of people pulling on one individual,” Austin said.

“It would be detrimental to the people because they won’t get the same kind of service….The voters would have to suffer the consequences of the choice that they made….Then they don’t have a hands-on person. They don’t have a person they can touch every day of the week like me.”

Austin flatly denied that self-preservation is what’s motivating her to oppose the idea of cutting the Council in half.

“No, ma’am. I’ve been doing this 40 years. When the people say, `Carrie, we no longer want you, you’re old, decrepit, out of date’– whatever their reasons are, I’m gonna go right out into pasture…I’ve given my all,” she said.

Chicago taxpayers currently spend $20.2 million-a-year to maintain 50 aldermen and an additional $6.6 million-a-year for the 16 standing committees and legislative reference bureau.

As mayor-elect, Rahm Emanuel broached the subject of going from 50 to 25 aldermen, only to choose the political path of least resistance — by eliminating three of the Council’s 19 standing committees and cutting Council spending by 20 percent.

Now, Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Ameya Pawar (47th) are revisiting the idea to begin to chip away at the city’s $338.7 million shortfall and perhaps turn a City Council that’s even more of a rubber stamp for Emanuel than it was for his predecessor into a more deliberative body.

On Tuesday, Emanuel was asked whether he still supports the idea of cutting the City Council in half. He dodged the question.

“As I said when I ran for office, no area of government would be immune from reform. No area. And I believe we’ve stayed clear to that,” the mayor said.

“The first thing we did was we cut the City Council committees. Second, we put an IG in place. Third, we’re now gonna have an independent budget [office]. We have made a series of changes to and how the City Council operates….You’re gonna continue to see [that] I’m gonna bring reform to the City Council. I’m gonna bring reform to every level of city government so we are much more responsive.”

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