The smoothest budget season of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure ended Tuesday with overwhelming approval of an $8.6 billion spending plan balanced with higher taxes on telephone bills, ride-hailing, and large-venue amusements, along with previously approved taxes on property and water and sewer bills.
The only City Council votes against the 2018 budget were cast by Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), John Arena (45th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th).
Ramirez-Rosa accused Emanuel of continuing to dig into “the pockets of those who can least afford to have their pockets picked.”
“Working and poor Chicagoans are tired of being nickel-and-dimed. I’m voting no because there’s a different path. . . . Let us, instead, ask the rich and powerful corporations to pay their fair share,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
Waguespack picked up on the class warfare theme as he talked about the need to come up with more than $600 million in 2020 and $1 billion by 2022 to keep all four city employee pensions funds on the road to 90 percent funding.
“We’ve got to get down to Springfield . . . and fight for a progressive income tax, for a city income tax that’s going to put us on the right track,” he said. “We cannot sit here with these kinds of budget and think we’re gonna make it five years from now. We simply won’t.”
Waguespack also homed in on the mayor’s plan to fork over perpetual subsidies to the CTA and Chicago Public Schools without giving the City Council legal oversight over those agencies.
Emanuel’s plan calls for raising ride-hailing fees by 15-cents-a-ride next year and by another nickel in 2019 and shipping the $16 million and $21 million in annual revenues to the CTA to bankroll $180 million in capital improvements.
BY THE NUMBERS: Emanuel’s 2018 budget
BACKGROUND CHECKS: Taxi, ride-hailiing firms will to own research on drivers; fingerprints not required
An additional $80 million would go to CPS 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.
“We’re gonna give $16 million carte blanche to the CTA from our city coffers with zero Council oversight. And we already know how the CTA treats us when it comes to bus stops . . . and the routes that our constituents need,” Waguespack said. “Likewise, giving CPS additional funds without oversight cannot be justified under the current budget and current unelected and unaccountable school board.”
After the vote, Emanuel reiterated his longstanding opposition to a city income tax that he views as a job killer.
Pressed to reveal his plan to deal with the city’s looming pension obligations, the mayor said, “When we have to come to that moment, I have all confidence you’ll be there, I’ll be there and I’ll answer that question at the appropriate time.”
The remark was reminiscent of what happened in 2015, when Emanuel refused to outline a specific plan until after he had survived Chicago’s first mayoral runoff. Then he pushed through the largest property tax increase in Chicago history for police, fire and teacher pensions.
The 28.2 percent increase in the monthly tax tacked on to Chicago telephone bills — both cellphones and land lines — will undoubtedly be the most bitter pill for Chicagoans to swallow.
It will cost a family of four with four cellphones and a land line an extra $66 a year and an extra $150 annually, when coupled with the 56 percent telephone tax hike approved by the City Council just three years ago.
The amusement tax restructuring tailor-made to raise $15.8 million has raised the ire of Chicago sports moguls.
They fear big-name artists will skip their venues to avoid Emanuel’s plan to bankroll an amusement tax waiver for neighborhood theaters and concert venues with fewer than 1,500 seats by raising the amusement tax on major concerts from 5 percent to 9 percent.
“Chicago concerts will now be taxed higher than almost anywhere else in the country,” team owners said in a statement released after Tuesday’s vote.
“This short-sighted and regressive tax will mean fewer shows in the city, meaning less work of the thousands of hotel, restaurant and venue employees who count on these shows to support their families.”
Emanuel stood his ground.
He argued that asking people who can afford to see big-name acts at the United Center to pay “a few dollars more” was worth it to generate $2 million more for arts education and pave the way to waive the amusement tax entirely for neighborhood venues.
“It’s those types of neighborhood venues that not only give our artists a start. They give our neighborhoods a good bounce in their step. I’ve seen it in my own community with the Old Town School of Music on Lincoln. That was a different street 20 years ago,” the mayor said.
“If you go to the United Center, if you go to Wrigley, you’ll pay a few dollars more and thousands of more kids will get an arts education. Those are the right choices. And I’m willing to stand by it.”