Chicago aldermen have been complaining for weeks about the dangerous precedent Mayor Rahm Emanuel is setting by assuming more financial responsibility for the CTA and Chicago Public Schools and giving those agencies a “blank check” without City Council control.
On Wednesday, they moved to do something about it.
Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) introduced a pair of budget amendments aimed at stripping that support from the mayor’s 2018 budget.
Emanuel wants to raise ride-hailing fees by 15 cents a ride next year and by another nickel in 2019 and ship the $16 million and $21 million in annual revenues during those years to the CTA to bankroll $180 million in capital improvements.
And he wants to send $80 million to the Chicago Public Schools to pay for security, Safe Passage and after-school programs, with $66 million of that money coming from a tax-increment financing surplus. The remaining $14 million would come from the corporate fund that amounts to the city’s operating checkbook.
The budget amendments introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would strike from the budget language empowering the mayor to enter into intergovernmental agreements with those agencies needed to execute the fund transfers.
Waguespack said what the aldermen really want is “oversight and some type of input into how the money at both CPS and CTA would be spent.”
“Our purpose was to just send a message to the mayor that we want that oversight for taxpayers and we want the authority to watch how they’re spending dollars that are otherwise becoming a slush fund for those entities,” Waguespack said. “The money should either go somewhere else in the budget where it should be or, if we do keep it there, we wanted oversight over it.”
Reilly added, “The City Council should not creep into the business of appropriating scarce funds to our sister agencies when those agencies are not directly accountable to the City Council for how that money is spent and are not accountable to us for outcomes and results.”
Raising ride-hailing fees and keeping the $16 million for the city would pave the way for the city to hire more inspectors, offer “more competitive salaries to finally fill” psychiatrist vacancies “that haven’t been filled in years” and add “mental health professionals” to the team assisting Chicago’s chronically homeless population, Reilly said.
“Another option: simply bank the money and keep it in reserve to assist the city with its future pension funding obligations that are due to ramp up in just a handful of years,” he said.
The final City Council vote on the mayor’s $8.6 billion budget is scheduled for Tuesday. The Budget Committee meeting that was supposed to be held between now and then has been canceled.
That means the only chance to approve the amendments is either by convincing the Finance Committee to add them to its Monday agenda or by suspending the rules on the Council floor on the day of the budget. That would require a two-thirds vote.
Waguespack acknowledged that was a long shot at best.
“We’re kind of stuck,” Waguespack said. “We’re not trying to cut the funding. We just want to stop the way that they’re going about it, which is just to give a blank check.”