Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday accused his pal Bruce Rauner of balancing his first state budget on the backs of early childhood education, mass transit and by cutting Chicago’s already diminished share of the state income tax.
With a state-mandated, $550 million payment due in December to shore up police and fire pensions, Emanuel said Chicago simply cannot afford to take a $125 million hit to the “local distributive share” of state income taxes. That’s the same pot of money that was cut just a few years ago.
Emanuel also ripped the rookie governor for targeting early childhood education and for reducing mass transit funding by $55 million at a time when the city has invested heavily in public transportation and the state should “double-down,” too.
The bottom line is that Rauner has a fight on his hands with a powerful Democrat whom he might have been counting on to support him.
“You cannot balance the state’s budget and its challenges on the backs of families, children most importantly and local government. We use those resources to pay for police officers, firefighters and basic services,” the mayor said.
“The idea that you would be looking at basic services and cuts to municipalities when you have a tax code that has giveaways to corporations is . . . the wrong priorities. I understand the need for change. I understand the need for reform. Start with the tax code. . . . There’s a bunch of corporate giveaways and corporate loopholes. . . . But do not think you’re gonna do this — not only on the backs of families and children, but on the resources that . . . pay for our police and firefighters and first-responders.”
Last week, Emanuel pleaded with Rauner to keep alive a subsidized day care program that’s $300 million short of the money it needs to operate through mid-year.
In a letter to the governor, Emanuel warned that 32,000 Chicago families and 56,000 children would be affected if the state program shuts down. They would be forced to chose between keeping their jobs and leaving their children unattended or staying home with the kids at the risk of being fired.
On Wednesday, the mayor hammered home that point. He called the governor’s decision to increase general state aid to education by $300 million a “step forward” for a state that currently competes with Alabama and Mississippi for “last place” in funding public schools.
But he said, “What I don’t want to see is taking a step forward on funding education and then cutting funding for child day care. That day care is where children are also learning and those years from zero to three are so essential for making sure that kids are both pre-K and kindergarten-ready.”
He added, “I constantly run into mothers . . . who are going to school, working, trying to be responsible parents. Without the day care, they cannot fulfill their obligations as good parents and good employees.”
Some believe the governor’s cuts are so draconian, they can’t be real. They’ve got to be a political ploy to persuade Democrats to plead for a tax increase instead.
If that’s Rauner’s strategy, Emanuel did not oblige. Like the governor, Emanuel would like to broaden the state sales tax to include an array of services not now covered. But he’s not about to champion that tax increase less than a week before the mayoral election.
Asked if he considers Rauner’s doomsday budget an argument for a massive tax hike, Emanuel said, “That’s for the governor to address . . . That’s for him to answer. When I came to office, the city faced significant financial strains. We balanced four budgets in a row . . . without a property, sales or gas tax increase. Every year, we put money back in the rainy day fund. We eliminated the per-employee head tax. And we increased our investment in kids. We did the tough things, the necessary things and continued our investment.”
Mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia joined Emanuel in condemning Rauner’s budget, calling it an “open assault” on Chicago residents and “Scott Walker’s Wisconsin agenda on steroids.”
Garcia said the budget would inflict “untold suffering on ordinary people” — from nursing home patients, college students and moms who need affordable day care to mass-transit riders, “safety-net hospitals,” homeless youth and violence-plagued inner-city neighborhoods.
But in spite of the mayor’s budget break with the governor, Garcia tried to tie Emanuel and Rauner together at the hip.
“The mayor has balanced the city budget on the backs of working people for four years through regressive fees like the red light cameras and regressive taxes like the cellphone tax,” Garcia was quoted as saying in a statement.
“Now, his friend the governor is taking a page from his playbook and trying to balance the state budget by cutting programs that serve working people. The mayor says he will stand up to Gov. Rauner. But how can you stand up to an agenda when you are part of it?”