Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s feel-good final budget cleared its first legislative hurdle on Monday on a unanimous voice vote that sets the stage for the full City Council to do the same on Nov. 14.
This year’s vote by the City Council’s Budget Committee was so easy, in part, because Emanuel’s seven previous budgets were so difficult.
Thanks to the $2 billion mountain of taxes already raised and cuts already made, the $10.66 billion 2019 budget holds the line on taxes, fines and fees and still invests heavily in police reform, crime fighting, housekeeping services and mentoring and summer jobs for at-risk youth.
The only exceptions: a smattering of user fees; the nickel-a-ride increase in ride-sharing fees for the CTA built into last year’s spending plan; the third installment of a 29.5 percent surcharge tacked on to water and sewer bills and a $63 million property tax increase that will appear on the bills of beleaguered Chicago homeowners next year.
“Because of all the hard work the mayor has done with the CFO with our finances, we were able to produce a budget that was fairly painless. We didn’t have to raise a large number of new revenue streams,” Budget Director Samantha Fields said Monday.
Fields pushed back against the Civic Federation’s claim that Emanuel is ignoring an “enormous elephant in the room”: a looming, $1 billion spike in pension payments.
“The mayor stated earlier this month that he was going to address that issue in December. I’m sure he’ll put a proposal out that we can all digest,” Fields said.
“He’s not ignoring [the elephant in the room]. He wanted to get the budget completed first. And then he said he’d address the pension issue.”
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) was asked how the new mayor and City Council will confront the looming spike in pension payments.
“We’re gonna cross that bridge when we get to it,” she said.
“We’ll have to come up with some more creative ways. What that’ll be, I have no idea at this point. But I know that we will have to tackle it. I just pray that I’m here to help tackle it. Because we’ve got to get elected first.”
In 2011, Emanuel inherited a pension crisis and a $635 million structural deficit. His first budget closed six mental health clinics and three police stations, eliminated 1,400 police vacancies, reduced library hours, doubled water and sewer rates and raised city sticker fees as well as hiking taxes on parking and hotel stays.
Compared to that dire spending plan, the mayor’s final budget is a piece of cake.
Thanks to a $450 million windfall from the state, the Chicago Public Schools will be asked to reimburse the city for half the cost of the 211 Chicago Police officers assigned to public schools. That’s $16.5 million.
In addition, a $14 million corporate fund subsidy that helped CPS bankroll Safe Passage and other after-school programs this year will be cut off.
Emanuel’s plan to put a more intense focus on Chicago’s affordable housing crisis by resurrecting the disbanded Department of Housing will cost $4.3 million, but only $1.4 million of that is new money. Many of the department’s 85 employees will be transferred from the Department of Planning and Development.
The budget includes $113 million in “additional investments” for summer jobs, mentoring and nuts-and-bolts housekeeping services like rodent control, tree trimming and garbage cart replacement that aldermen and their constituents hold dear.
More than 22 percent of that money — $25.7 million — will help implement a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.
That money covers 160 sworn officers and 26 civilians. They include: $4 million for 40 new sergeants to comply with the mandated ratio of no more than 10 officers for every supervisor; $3.6 million for training, including 40 officers and 10 more sergeants; $1.57 million for 23 evidence technicians; and $284,000 to hire four more detectives to beef up the Bureau of Internal Affairs.
To confront an alarming wave of officer suicides tied to rock-bottom morale, the city will add seven clinical therapists, one assistant director and launch an “officer suicide prevention campaign” and purchase scheduling software to support its employee assistance program.
Also on Monday, the Budget Committee approved Emanuel’s appointment of Kelly Gandurski as $130,008-a-year executive director of the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control.
If the full Council approves, Gandurski will replace Susan Russell, who was fired by Emanuel last summer for “warehousing” dogs in conditions that, the mayor’s office claimed, made dangerous dogs even more dangerous.
Russell and her supporters categorically denied the charge.