If Rahm Emanuel follows Daley’s lead, budget could cost taxpayers

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First City Council Meeting with new Mayor Rahm Emanuel . Wednesday, May 18, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

ANALYSIS | If Mayor Rahm Emanuel follows the popular political formula, his 2012 budget will be a real doozy.

The script goes something like this: Get elected. Stick it to taxpayers in the first year or two after the election. And build up enough of a revenue cushion to coast through the final two years without alienating voters again before the next election.

For 22 years, former Mayor Richard M. Daley followed that playbook to the letter.

Five times, he coasted to re-election by touting his ability to hold the line on taxes only to do the opposite the following year.

After serving out the unexpired term of former Mayor Harold Washington, Daley campaigned for re-election on a promise to hire 600 additional police officers. He “ran out of money” to honor the promise in 1991, the second-deadliest year in Chicago history at that time.

The very next budget included $84 million in tax increases and 837 layoffs. The following year, Daley proposed a $48.6 million property tax increase, but a City Council rebellion cut it in half and nixed a supplemental $11.6 million property tax increase to finance police pay raises.

The rare show of aldermanic independence forced the mayor to eliminate 209 police vacancies. Emanuel is planning to use the same trick to wipe out 1,400 police vacancies.

In 1995, Daley breezed to re-election on a budget that included $17 million in business tax breaks and lopped $1 off the hated employee head tax.

His very next budget raised property taxes by $19.5 million, increased water and sewer fees, and raised taxes on telephones, cable TV and assorted parking fines. It sailed through the City Council after Daley made an informal promise not to raise property taxes again before the 1999 election.

Four years later, same thing. Daley’s first post-election budget included four years of up-to-the-limit property tax increases to bankroll an $800 million plan to build new libraries, police and fire stations. The $76.2 million revenue package also raised city sticker fees, parking taxes and ticket fines and imposed a new tax on carry-out food.

The $1.83 billion deal that privatized the Chicago Skyway didn’t make the budget that followed the 2003 election any less painful. It was balanced with 1,414 job cuts and a $50.5 million tax package that included higher parking fines and city sticker fees and a new, .25 percent tax on restaurant meals.

The following year, his $85.7 million tax package included a one-quarter of one percent increase in the Chicago sales tax that Emanuel wants to roll back.

The budget that followed Daley’s last election was the worst of all.

It walloped Chicagoans with $276.5 million worth of taxes, fines and fees – on everything from liquor, telephone service and city stickers to bottled water, tap water, car leases, DVD rentals and Taste of Chicago tickets. It also included an $83.4 million property tax increase that was followed by a 40 percent increase in the city’s real estate transfer tax tied to a CTA bailout.

Emanuel has promised to erase the city’s $635.7 million shortfall without raising taxes, cutting police officers or using one-time or casino revenues.

But, he has opened the door to raising water and sewer rates and a host of other fees. He has also warned of more “managed competition” between city employees and private contractors, a grid system for garbage collection and deep cuts in the supervisory ranks of the previously sacrosanct Police and Fire Departments.

Chicago aldermen are bracing for the worst, including hundreds of layoffs, police station closings, library closings or reduced library hours and the end of condo rebates and other breaks. They must have peeked at the Daley playbook.

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