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Emanuel, Preckwinkle Not Showing Their Hands On Their 2014 Budgets

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 2, 2013 10:18PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are set to unveil their respective 2014 budgets in the upcoming weeks and, while neither Emanuel nor Preckwinkle are showing their full budgets yet, some details are starting to come out.

The no-nonsense Preckwinkle is proving she can play politics with the best of them as she heads into a 2014 re-election campaign. The Tribune reports Preckwinkle’s FY 2014 budget will contain no fee or rate hikes or new taxes to balance what was a $152 million deficit as of June. Last year the County Board approved a budget that included a $1 hike in the cigarette tax and new taxes on firearms (Preckwinkle did scrap a tax on ammunition), video gambling and slot machines.

Preckwinkle told the Tribune in an interview most of the heavy lifting was done on last year’s budget “so that we had a budget that was less problematic in terms of their re-election efforts." Preckwinkle does plan to fill two-thirds of the deficit by enrolling more patients in the county health system into the Medicaid program. Preckwinkle is expected to unveil her budget Oct. 10.

As for Emanuel’s budget, expect hiring freezes and job cuts. The Sun-Times reports the mayor will order a 90-day hiring freeze beginning Jan. 1 as part of his FY 2014 budget and will eliminate already vacant jobs. The moves will save city taxpayers approximately $1.5 million, which is minute compared to the $338.7 million deficit Emanuel currently faces.

City Budget Director Alex Holt has also said there would be no hikes in sales and property taxes to balance the budget but left other tax and fee hikes on the table. The city’s deficit will expand even further without pension reform. Health care costs have driven the average annual cost per city employee, including benefits, from $58,299 to $95,406, even as the city payroll has decreased by 20 percent in the past decade.

Emanuel is backing legislation sponsored by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to postpone the $600 million balloon payment to Chicago’s police and firefighters’ pensions in 2015 and implement annual property tax increases starting in 2018, a plan which critics on all sides call another case of delaying the inevitable. The city’s pension mess has led to a series of credit downgrades by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.