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Emanuel Has Deigned To Ask For Your Help On The City Budget This Year

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 25, 2015 6:10PM

© 2014 City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

With the city staring down a nearly $800 billion budget gap, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking to get some public input for solutions to fill the hole. For the first time since his first year in office, Emanuel has called for public forums on the budget before its presented to the City Council on Sept. 22.

“In preparing for the introduction of the 2016 budget, I want to ensure the budget represents a collaborative process and reflects input from residents across the city,” Emanuel said in a press release. “As we continue to do the hard work necessary to balance the budget and right the fiscal ship, it is important that we engage with Chicagoans to ensure the City is put on a path of financial sustainability.”

The three meetings, each beginning at 6:30 p.m., will take place at the following locations on their respective dates:

  • Monday, Aug. 31: Malcolm X College, 1900 West Van Buren Street
  • Wednesday, Sept. 2: South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South South Shore Drive
  • Thursday, Sept. 3: Wright College, 4300 North Narragansett Avenue
  • Emanuel, along with his cabinet and other officials will be on hand at all three town hall meetings. People are also encouraged to chime in on social media using the hashtag #ChiBudget2016.

Between an estimated $420 million shortfall and a looming $320 pension payment to police and firefighters, many believe that a hike in property taxes is nearly certain. But with the potential of a hike already in play to keep CPS funded, such a move could get significant pushback. The Chicago Tribune reports other ideas currently being floated include direct trash collection fees, extending the tax on cigarettes to e-cigarettes, and a penny per ounce tax on sugar-filled beverages.

Despite pulling a move from the Daley playbook by having the hearings, Emanuel slyly tried to rest the blame for budget woes on his predecessor, telling the Trib:

"I think my goal is to also walk people through the choices we have to make. What are some of the challenges we have?… Everybody knows because of the past decisions that were made and past decisions that weren't made over the last couple of decades, we are where we are."

Seemingly absent from, or at least at a lower priority, however, are other solutions that could generate revenue that tend to be untouchable—like a financial transaction tax or major TIF reform. According to a study released by the Roosevelt Institute earlier this year, those, along with things like renegotiating swap deals and reducing financial fees would both generate revenue and save money long term.

Curiously, one idea Emanuel is allegedly open to now that he was resistant to before is a ticket amnesty plan. While he offered little details to reporters on Monday, an amnesty plan was introduced into City Council during the first round of the election by one of his challengers-turned supporters.

Whether the meetings and amnesty plan are a sign of a “gentler” Rahm Emanuel is anyone’s guess, but they are at least a sign that publicly, he’s attempting to keep up that guise. What remains to be seen though, is how these town hall meetings have an impact, if any, on decision making, or if they’re window dressing like various other public hearings have been. According to the Sun-Times, one of Emanuel’s stalwart allies in City Council, Alderman Danny Solis, appeared dismissive of results, saying they would likely turn into “bitch sessions.”

While we can expect to hear plenty of grievances aired, that doesn’t make them any less legitimate, and certainly doesn’t mean city officials should reduce the hearings to little more than a pressure valve to release public anger about decisions already made.