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Emanuel Unveils 2018 Budget In Speech, And Critics Take Aim

By aaroncynic in News on Oct 18, 2017 5:56PM

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference in January, 2017. Photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his 2018 budget for Chicago Wednesday morning in what was part budget address and part campaign speech to City Council, boasting about his administration’s progress over the past six years, lauding the resilience of Chicagoans, and taking several digs at the Trump administration.

“This year Chicago is on firmer fincancial footing than we’ve been in many years,” said Emanuel. “Together we addressed longstanding challenges within the city, overcame obstacles in Springfield, and confronted new headwinds from Washington. Chicago however, has not let those headwinds shift us off course.”

Given the near constant stream of news and national commentary surrounding violence and shootings in the City’s neighborhoods, it’s no surprise Emanuel’s speech leaned heavily on addressing public safety.

“We all agree the level of violence in some of our neighborhoods is totally unacceptable,” Emanuel said. “We simply cannot rest until every parent in every neighborhood is able to let their children to go to the park, play on the sidewalk, or sit on a front porch free from the fear of gunshots.”

The mayor said that between now and the beginning of spring 701 more officers would be deployed to neighborhoods, in groupings of between 80 and 111 officers. He also said that by the end of the year, every officer would be equipped with a body camera, and that “every officer is receiving new training in deescalation, mental health response, and a revised use of force policy.”

“We’re infusing police department with the manpower, technology, and training to meet this challenge headon,” he said. “This budget puts more police on our streets, and gets kids, guns, and gangs off the street.”

In addition to public safety, the mayor patted himself on the back for addressing Chicago’s long-term fiscal challenges, and that the City would no longer use “scoop and toss” practices, to balance the budget. Emanuel called the practice “using your Mastercard bill to pay off your Visa bills.”

The mayor also took several digs at President Donald Trump and his administration while lauding the City’s efforts to go greener and in challenging efforts to withhold grants from sanctuary cities.

“This legal fight is a fight for who we are,” Emanuel said. “It’s a fight for what we believe in and a fight that’s far from over, but Chicago will stand our ground in defense of our values as a welcoming city to immigrants from around the world.”

Some of the numbers:

$288 million: That’s the budget gap Emanuel has to close after increasing spending on hiring new police officers, paying building security costs for Chicago Public Schools, and implementing various police reforms. The reforms will purportedly cost $27 million while $5 million is to be spent on new hiring, and an extra $20 million will go into police overtime, bringing the total to $100 million.

28 percent: The city’s 911 phone tax will increase by that amount, $1.10 per month, which will be spent on upgrading the system. According to the Chicago Tribune, Budget Director Samantha Fields said that this frees up about $19 million to spend on other costs, while injecting a total of $30 million into the City budget. In his speech, Emanuel said he would modernize the network “for the mobile smartphone era.”

15 cents:
Ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft will see a 15-cent hike in fees, which will provide some $16 million to help fund upgrades to the CTA. The Mayor’s office has said ride sharing services have helped create a loss of $40 million in revenue for the City and other local government bodies. A spokesperson for the administration said the increase was negotiated with the industry. “Whether you travel by car, train, bus, or bike, we will be the first city to tap the ride share industry to modernize our transportation system,” said Emanuel.

4 percent: Emanuel is also looking to increase the City’s amusement tax to 9 percent from its current rate of 5 percent. This would apply to comedy shows, plays, and concerts in venues with more than 1,500 seats, which the administration expects would raise $15.8 million. Smaller venues would no longer have to pay the tax.

$166.9 million: Emanuel plans to declare a TIF surplus of nearly $167 million, and dedicate $66 million of it toward paying security costs at Chicago Public Schools.

While the picture Emanuel tried to paint was one of a gritty yet determined city staying resiliant in the face of its problems and moving forward towards a brighter future, critics were quick to point out that things aren’t exactly as rosy as the administration would like people to believe.

“The Mayor would like us to believe that the City’s finances are back on track,” said Alderman Scott Waguespack in a statement. “The scenes in Chicago’s neighborhoods and our public school classrooms, children desperate for resources, tell a different story. And as we are learning, families with childrens with special needs have been hurt the worst because of his policies. He continued:

“Both in Springfield and here at home, the Emanuel administration has had every opportunity to fight for ways to make sure the very wealthy and big corporations are paying their fair share, and that we aren't balancing the budget through more regressive, burdensome fees and fines on working families. He has balked at every turn.” Alderman Carlos Rosa was also less than impressed, tweeting that Emanuel’s assertion that the City’s days of using fiscal “smoke and mirrors” were in the past was “laughable.”
Others meanwhile, criticized Emanuel on school funding and the construction of a $95 million police academy, which he also patted himself on the back for in his speech. Members of the groups that form the “No Cop Academy” coalition held a demostration in front of the entrance to Council chambers.
The Brighton Park Neighborhood Council called on City Council to reject the mayor’s budget, saying it continues to give hundreds of millions of dollars away in tax breaks to corporations.

“Under Mayor Emanuel, schools are struggling to provide the most basic services,” the group wrote in a statement. “The mayor has cut school budgets, special education services, social workers, trauma programs, nurses, and is now proposing another devastating round of school closures in black and brown communities. Our schools have suffered over $500 million in budget cuts in the past two years, and yet the mayor’s budget calls for more funding for police.”

The Grassroots Collaborative advocated for more progressive tax revenue options in their statement:

"The Mayor has continued to raise taxes and fees on everyone and everything with the exception of wealthy individuals and corporations," the group wrote in a statement emailed to Chicagoist. "Instead of pursuing regressive revenue fees that further hurt our city’s working families, the Mayor should be implementing revenue solutions such as reinvesting the TIF Surplus funds and reinstating the corporate head tax. Rideshare and amusement taxes will not fix our city, neither will doling out taxpayer money to try and woo Amazon. Our city needs to reinvest in schools and Black and Brown neighborhoods. Failure to do so will result in more violence and more residents being pushed out of the city.”