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Emanuel: Property Tax Hike Is Necessary To Avoid Police And Fire Layoffs

By Kate Shepherd in News on Sep 22, 2015 7:10PM

AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the major property tax hike he proposed to the City Council Tuesday was a "last resort" to prevent significant layoffs to the city's police and fire departments.

"Now is the time. This is the council. Let us commit to finishing the job," Emanuel told the City Council this morning in his 2016 budget address.

Emanuel said the budget, which includes a $588 million property tax hike, a garbage collection fee and a collection of other taxes and fees, is necessary to fix the city's financial crisis. He suggested the city's dire fiscal situation was the responsibility of former Mayor Richard J. Daley, but didn't mention his name.

"We in this room today did not create our current challenges, but we can and must be the ones to fix them," Emanuel said. "The seeds of our financial crisis were planted many decades ago and were not addressed for far too long."

There's no way that the city can cut its budget and make the necessary payments to the police and fire pensions, Emanuel said. He said he would have to lay off about 20 percent of the police force and 40 percent of the fire department in order to raise the necessary revenue.

"We must protect and preserve the basic city services that our families depend on," Emanuel told the council, which has been pejoratively referred to as a "rubber stamp" council for approving the mayor's budgets in the past. "And we must ask more from those residents of Chicago who are succeeding. They know we cannot afford to leave anyone behind."

Critics of the mayor quickly pointed out that Emanuel's campaign frequently criticized his Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for threatening to raise property taxes in ads like this:

Even with the City Council's budget approval, Emanuel still needs help from Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly, according to the Tribune. The budget requires Rauner's support of a bill to give Chicago more breathing room in paying required increases in police and fire pensions or else the city could be $219 million in debt next year.

He also needs Rauner to approve an increase in homeowner property assessment exemptions to soften the blow of the property tax increases but Rauner wants to freeze property taxes. Emanuel has won the support of House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton for the exemptions, he said.