Aldermen back Emanuel's budget 50-0

November 17, 2011

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(WBEZ/Bill Healy)

Layoffs and cuts are coming to Chicago city government, and residents will soon be hit with higher fees and fines. That's after aldermen Wednesday unanimously approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to close a $636 million deficit.

One-by-one, aldermen stood and praised Emanuel for a budget they described as "honest," and a negotiation process they said involved more back and forth than anything seen at city hall in decades.

"Sounds a lot like a group session of recovering deficit addicts," observed Ald. Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward.

"I am not going to allow the idea of the perfect be the enemy of the good," said Ald. Joe Moore of the 49th Ward. "And - by and large - given the difficult situations that we are facing today, this is a good budget."

"To make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs," 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell said. "There's one egg truck running around Chicago with not one egg intact."

During the 2-and-a-half hours of speeches, aldermen criticized - though not by name - the budget practices of Emanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley. And they showed a love for health metaphors.

"The cure is not without pain, and the medicine is bitter, by all means, but it's necessary for us to get healthy again," said 12th Ward Ald. George Cardenas.

"The first cut is the deepest," Ald. Leslie Hairston of the 5th Ward said.

"It's like pouring iodine on a cut," 23rd Ward Ald. Mike Zalewski said. "You have to do it, and it's going to sting a little bit at the beginning, but if you do it right, hopefully that cut will be cured."

Water and sewer fees will double over the next four years, and city stickers will go up $10 to $15 for most vehicles. The cuts include 385 layoffs taking effect in January. These troubled some aldermen.

"I see a trend that leaves me uneasy," said Ald. John Arena of the 45th Ward. "The majority of the cuts in our workforce are to our frontline workers."

In the end, Arena voted yes, vowing to check up on how the cuts affect services.

The unanimous vote was the first for a Chicago budget in five years. This unity will be tested over the next couple weeks, as aldermen turn their focus to the contentious process of re-drawing ward boundaries.

For his part, Emanuel said he's turning his attention to pensions and work rules - two issues that'll test his already-strained relationship with public employee unions.

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