Emanuel's 2013 Budget Passes Committee

By Chris Bentley in News on Nov 8, 2012 10:20PM

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Photo by Brooke Collins, City of Chicago.

The City Budget Committee waved through Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2013 Budget Wednesday, as aldermen apparently dropped their fight to hire more police officers even as Chicago police officers retire at a record pace.

Aldermen previously raised eyebrows at the 500 new police hires scheduled to keep pace with attrition, with the department on track to break its record 570 retirements this year. But not one broached the topic during the Budget Committee’s meeting.

City Council unanimously approved Emanuel’s last budget, too, but only after a battle over cuts to libraries and graffiti removal, as well as a scuffle over city sticker fees.

The 2012 budget also garnered praise from The Economist magazine and elsewhere for reducing the deficit without raising taxes. As noted in their evaluation, however, the budget did depend on nearly $220 million in fees and small tax increases.

This time the $6.54 billion budget, which contains no new taxes or fees, passed committee smoothly. Emanuel grew the weed-cutting budget 29 percent at the request of aldermen presiding over vast swaths of vacant property. The legislative inspector general also won $94,000 to pay for two more investigators from Emanuel, but the budget emerged otherwise unscathed.

Some aldermen have called this cycle the calm before the storm, however, with pension crises still threatening long-term solvency. As the Sun-Times reported:

In 2016, the city is required by state law to make a $700 million contribution to stabilize police and fire pension funds.

Emanuel has asked union leaders to swallow a bitter pill that includes: a 10 year freeze in cost-of-living increases for retirees; a five year increase in the retirement age; a 5 percent increase in employee contributions, and a two-tiered pension system for new and old employees.

New revenues will still be needed should union leaders accept the deal, indicating Emanuel’s future budgets will have a much tougher slog than the freshly paved expressway they've enjoyed so far.