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Property Tax Hike 'Likely' If Emanuel Re-Elected

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 9, 2015 7:30PM

Photo credit: Ken "Artistmac" Smith

A group of pro-Rahm Emanuel aldermen holding a press conference to rip Chuy Garcia’s lack of specifics about how he would handle pressing issues such as underfunded pensions and how to close the city’s budget gap, instead uttered the three most damning words in Chicago politics when questioned about how Emanuel would handle the budget.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said a property tax hike is “likely” even if Emanuel wins the April 7 runoff election.

“I believe we can truly say that it will happen, but [the only question is] how much?” Austin said of a post-election property tax hike. “As it was when we were doing our last budget, I was on record saying that if we have to raise the property taxes, then that’s a bullet that we will have to bite because we have to right our ship. I still feel the same way. … We have a long way to go in order to get to that. But, I believe that nothing is off the table. And we should be honest with the people to [let them] know that everything is being considered.”

Now we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dog to howl in pain whenever we hear the words “property tax increase” but the fact is, given the ills the city faces, one is long overdue. Chicago residents have been nickel-and-dimed constantly in recent years with small hikes in sales, amusement, hotel taxes and other fines that add up. This is what is called “the chickens coming home to roost.”

Garcia has been targeted by pro-Emanuel forces throughout the election for an $80 million property tax hike he voted for when he was an alderman during Harold Washington’s time as mayor—a hike the Chicago Forward Super PAC has distorted to call the largest in the city’s history. (That honor goes to the $83.4 million hike pushed through City Council by former Mayor Richard M. Daley after his 2007 re-election.)

Garcia has offered little in the way of specifics as to how he would pay for hiring 1,000 new police officers or how he would make up the revenue shortfall if he followed through with his plan to shut down the red light camera network. But Emanuel has been equally vague. Faced with a state-mandated $600 million payment to shore up municipal pensions, the mayor’s pension reform plan has relied on a series of property tax hikes starting in 2018 totaling $250 million. Emanuel agreed to contribute the revenues from substituting a 56-percent increase in Chicago’s telephone tax for that first year, but he hasn’t offered details as to where those payments will come from after.

That didn’t stop aldermen at the news conference from attacking Garcia. Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said.

“We’re at a time now — the taxpayers certainly are — where they want to see the beef. And so far, all we’ve gotten from Mr. Garcia is a lot of baloney. … By my math, $1.9 billion in program spending. He needs to find a way to pay for that. What that means for local taxpayers is $1,900-per-year-per-person in the city of Chicago that local families can’t afford.”

As for why they aren’t holding Emanuel equally accountable for specifics, Austin said they want to hear what Garcia has to offer first.

“We have done that. We’ve been the aldermen working with the mayor. We need specifics. [which is] the reason why we’re asking for Mr. Garcia’s specifics,” Austin said. “The mayor has shared some of his concerns, some of his ideas, with us, but not to the fullest extent as to say we want to put them out before he does.”

During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel said a post-election property tax hike would not happen, but the question was posed to him only with regards to the city’s $300 million deficit.

[Tribune, Sun-Times]