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EDITORIAL: Speak up, Mayor Emanuel, about this good government reform

A Chicago City Council meeting in 2016. Thirty-two aldermen have signed on to a proposed ordinance that would mandate financial analysis of legislation that affects city revenue, appropriations and the sale or leasing of some city assets. | File photo

Four years ago, the City Council hired a full-time financial analyst. The idea was to have somebody around, independent of the mayor’s office, who could run the numbers and tell the Council just how much any brilliant new idea might cost the taxpayers.

After the way Mayor Richard M. Daley sold the city’s lucrative parking meter business for a song, this seemed smart. And plenty of other city councils employ financial analysts.

As it happens, though, a good idea is going sour. Because the responsibilities of the Council Office of Financial Analysis are defined narrowly, by ordinance, a great deal of legislation involving your money is not analyzed.

This may suit the mayor’s office just fine — one fewer hurdle to jump in getting stuff done. But we’re still emotionally stuck on that parking meter deal. Let the financial analyst really do a job.


Ald. Brendan Reilly, (42nd Ward). | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A group of aldermen, led by Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward, has proposed guidelines that would make financial analysis automatic for legislation that affects city revenue and appropriations, or when the city sells or leases assets and revenue exceeds $5 million. Analysis by COFA would be required at least 72 hours before the Council votes on ordinances or resolutions.

Reilly’s proposal currently is buried in a City Council subcommittee. It needs Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s backing to get a hearing and a vote. Throw your support behind it, Mr. Mayor. You fashion yourself a reformer, and this proposed ordinance has the support of 32 of the 50 aldermen.

“It gives his budgets more legitimacy if we’re getting an analysis on the front end,” Reilly told us, explaining why the mayor should support the ordinance. “If we’re supporting those budgets, we know that they’re at least structurally sound. If they’re not, it gives us a chance to work with him to shape it better.”

When COFA was launched, aldermen hoped it would mirror the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That office has been a boon to Americans. Earlier this year, it showed what a rotten deal Americans would get under a GOP plan to repeal Obamacare.

We’ve had our share of rotten deals in Chicago, too. The more expert analysis, the better.

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