Chicago aldermen unanimously supported Mayor Rahm Emanuel when they approved his 2012 budget on Wednesday in a 50-0 vote.
"We have a strong future. This budget does not run away from the future, but shapes it," Emanuel said.
The budget plan relies on cuts, layoffs, fines and fee increases to address a more than $600 million deficit.
Emanuel has tinkered with his original proposal to appease some aldermen.
"I want to thank you for making this a better budget. Because it is an honest budget, driven by an honest process and finally honest and level with the taxpayers of the city of Chicago," Emanuel told the City Council.
The budget will result in some job cuts — including about 385 layoffs and more than 2,000 vacant positions that won't be filled.
Under the plan, Chicagoans would pay more for water, garage parking and vehicle stickers. The mayor also wants to increase fines for property owners who don't keep their weeds trimmed and residents who tamper with parking or water meters.
Last night, protesters had staged a sit-in outside Emanuel's office to try to stop health care cuts, which would close six of the city's 12 mental health clinics.
Protesters took up seats on the floor outside Emanuel's office. Dozens more assembled in an outside hallway. Emanuel did not visit the protesters.
Ten people were still sitting outside the office Tuesday evening. Police officers stood by, but made no arrests. People who left the building were not allowed back in and protesters eventually left in the late evening hours.
Highlights from the budget:
- No property tax increase: A much-touted omission, though Emanuel’s school board already passed a property tax hike this summer.
- Water fee increase: Over four years, the fees paid for water and sewer service in the city will just about double. This cost will also be passed on to the more than 100 suburban communities that get Lake Michigan water from Chicago. And churches and nonprofits that get free water and reduced sewer fees will have to gradually start paying up.
Parking tax hike: Called a “congestion premium” by the Emanuel administration to discourage downtown drivers, this is a $2 tax increase for parking fees that top $12. It would only be levied on weekdays, but the impact would extend far beyond the Loop. Fans driving to weekday games at Wrigley Field, U.S. Cellular Field, the United Center, Soldier Field – even Navy Pier – would pay the increase. Worth noting: the tax is based is for when the tab is “paid.” So if you park downtown on Friday evening and leave after midnight, you should be able to avoid the tax increase.
- Meter headache: If you decide to live dangerously and leave your parking meter un-fed, make sure you aren’t downtown. Tickets in the “central business district” will be $60, instead of $50.
- Heftier hotel bill: The city’s hotel tax right now is 15.4 percent. It’ll go to up to 16.4 percent under this proposal. According to the administration, this will add only $1.78 to the cost of an average hotel room in the city.
- Sticky sticky: Revised after some aldermanic and city clerk backlash, this proposal would raise sticker prices (officially known as the “wheel tax”) $10 for most Chicago drivers. If you miss the deadline to buy a sticker, you’ll pay a $60 penalty instead of a $40 one. And if you refuse to buy one altogether – and get caught – you’ll pay a $200 ticket instead of a $120 one.
- Bad news for bad deeds: If your car gets impounded because you get caught with illegal drugs, driving under the influence, soliciting a prostitute or have a gun, the cost to release the car will double, to $2,000 plus towing costs. It’ll be $3,000 if you get nabbed within 500 feet of a park or school. There’s more: impound fees go up if you’re caught with graffiti materials, are driving on a suspended license, are caught drag racing or flee from pursuing officers.
- Keep it clean: If weeds on your property top 10 inches, those fines are going up. Same goes for illegally dumping trash and having a lot of trash pile-up on your property.