WBEZ | Chicago cigarette prices http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-cigarette-prices Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Emanuel budget avoids pension woes http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-budget-avoids-pension-woes-110944 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP580286472422.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-f04d8a28-15c2-c46d-badf-148104888658">Just months before facing voters at the polls, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday unveiled a 2015 budget plan that boosts popular city services and closes an estimated $297 million spending gap with a menu of revenue increases.</p><p>But the $8.9 billion spending blueprint does not address what is arguably the city&rsquo;s most pressing financial challenge: a $550 million balloon payment to the city&rsquo;s drastically underfunded police and fire pension funds, due in 2016.</p><p>Instead, Emanuel spent much of his election season budget address to the City Council highlighting his past accomplishments, rather than getting into the details of his spending proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;We are making real progress, but we still have a long way to go,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;For the fourth year in a row, we will balance our budget and hold the line on property, sales and gas taxes.&rdquo;</p><p>But Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal does close the projected deficit, in part, with $54.4 million from what his administration calls &ldquo;closing tax loopholes and revenue enhancements.&rdquo;</p><p>That includes $10 million in new money from an increase of the tax levied on paid parking garages; $4.4 million by cutting a tax exemption for people who who rent skyboxes at Chicago sports venues; $12 million by eliminating a tax break for cable TV companies, effectively raising their tax burden; $15 million by increasing the lease tax on cars and office equipment; and $17 million by cracking down on companies who rent office space in other towns to avoid paying city sales and use taxes.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s bean counters are also relying heavily on an improving economy to help balance the books. They&rsquo;re estimating a $75.4 million take from growth in the number of building permits and inspections as the construction industry improves, and from a big boost in revenues tied to consumer behavior, such as the sales tax.</p><p>City Hall is also expecting to find nearly $81 million next year through various cuts and belt-tightening measures, but an Emanuel spokeswoman says there will be no city worker layoffs. Another $60.5 million comes from &ldquo;improved fiscal management,&rdquo; including declaring a surplus in some of the city&rsquo;s tax increment financing districts, and $26.1 million comes from cracking down on people who owe back city fines and fees.</p><p>But ahead of the Feb. 24 city elections, Emanuel&rsquo;s spending proposal does not neglect the city services that have long been the currency of Chicago politics. The mayor wants to double the number of pothole crews that repair pock-marked city streets, and boost spending for graffiti blasting, tree-trimming and rat-baiting. He also wants to increase funding for youth summer jobs, early education and after school programs.</p><p>Emanuel made only passing mention of the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/experts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329" target="_blank">city&rsquo;s $20 billion public worker pension crisis</a>, leaving open the possibility that voters won&rsquo;t know the mayor&rsquo;s plan until after the Feb. 24 city elections.</p><p>After decades of shorting its pensions, City Hall will finally have to bring its pension payments up to speed in 2016 with an estimated $550 million spike in its state-mandated contributions for police and firefighters&rsquo; retirement funds. Emanuel has already <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-signs-chicago-pension-bill-emanuel-backs-property-tax-hike-110306" target="_blank">brokered an overhaul</a> of the pensions for city laborers and municipal workers, but he still hasn&rsquo;t revealed how he plans to deal with the public safety pension problem.</p><p>&ldquo;Unfortunately, due to difficult economic times and decades of deferral, we still have a lot of work to do,&rdquo; Emanuel said Wednesday. &ldquo;But by everyone giving a little, no one has to give everything.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel initially proposed a property tax hike to pay for the higher contributions to the laborers&rsquo; and municipal workers&rsquo; pensions. But facing political pushback, he struck a deal with Gov. Pat Quinn to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/chicagoans-could-help-close-city-pension-deficit-through-increased-phone-tax-110407" target="_blank">raise the city&rsquo;s telephone taxes</a>, buying him a year before he&rsquo;d have to turn to even more unpopular tax hikes.</p><p>City Council budget hearings are set to begin Monday, and aldermen must approve a 2015 budget by the end of the year.</p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-budget-avoids-pension-woes-110944 Mayor Emanuel warns of pension 'cliff' in 2014 budget speech http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel-warns-pension-cliff-2014-budget-speech-108993 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP168520649673.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s 2014 budget heavily relies on an improving economy to help fill city coffers and close a near-$339-million budget deficit. But the spectre of the city&rsquo;s pension crisis loomed large as Emanuel unveiled his $8.7 billion spending plan to the City Council on Wednesday.</p><p>The mayor touted the fact that he will close next year&rsquo;s &ldquo;inherited deficit&rdquo; without increasing sales, gasoline or property taxes. However, about $34.2 million worth of revenue in the form of higher taxes, fines and fees will hit everyone from motorists to smokers to cable-television providers.</p><p><strong>Pension &lsquo;fiscal cliff&rsquo;</strong></p><p>But with a relatively painless 2014 budget, the city&rsquo;s future pension problem took center stage.</p><p>&ldquo;Should Springfield fail to pass pension reform for Chicago, we will be right back here in the council early next year to start work on the city&rsquo;s 2015 budget -- a budget that will either double city property taxes or eliminate the vital services people rely on,&rdquo; Emanuel told aldermen Wednesday.</p><p>A massive spike in city pension costs will hit in 2015, when a state law requiring higher city contributions to police and fire retirement funds kicks in. The law, passed in 2010, was designed to get the city&rsquo;s chronically underfunded pension funds back on track by 2040.</p><p>But Emanuel&rsquo;s administration has said it would cripple the city with a more than $1.07 billion payment in 2015, up from an estimated $483.4 million next year.</p><p><p">&ldquo;Let me be perfectly clear: The pension crisis in Illinois is not solved until relief is brought to Chicago and all of the other local governments across our state that stand on the brink of a fiscal cliff because of our pension liabilities,&rdquo; Emanuel explained.</p"></p><p dir="ltr">Emanuel didn&rsquo;t offer specifics on what kind of pension changes he wants, but acknowledged it will likely require new revenue and that his &ldquo;door is always open.&rdquo;</p><p>Leading Illinois lawmakers have indicated they want to solve the state&rsquo;s pension problems before dealing with those of local governments.</p><p><strong>Cuts &amp; revenue</strong></p><p dir="ltr">To balance the 2014 budget, Emanuel is betting on $101.1 million in rosier-than-expected revenue from things like the hotel, sales and real estate transfer taxes, thanks to a growing economy and a rebounding housing market. The mayor is also counting on $66 million in cuts and efficiencies. He expects another $137.4 million from &ldquo;improved fiscal management,&rdquo; including $53.4 million from previous budget surpluses and unearthing $35 million in so-called &ldquo;zombie funds,&rdquo; which had been laying untouched.</p><p dir="ltr">But Emanuel did not spend much time Wednesday talking about the higher taxes, fines and fees that will help him balance next year&rsquo;s budget.</p><p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s motorists could feel the pinch in several ways.</p><p dir="ltr">The mayor is hoping to bring in about $50 million to $55 million off the city&rsquo;s existing network of red-light cameras, and another $65 million to $70 million from its new network of speed cameras. &nbsp;A <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-speed-cameras-catch-234k-leadfoots-opening-weeks-108893">WBEZ analysis</a> found the first nine speed cameras alone would have brought in $13.9 million dollars in just the first six weeks of operation, and some aldermen have said they expect a much bigger windfall from the new program.</p><p dir="ltr">Higher parking violation fines and towing fees account for another $11.2 million in projected new revenue next year, Emanuel&rsquo;s office announced Tuesday. The charge for illegally parking on a street during rush hour would jump from $60 to $100, while parking on residential streets during street cleaning days would mean a $60 ticket, up from $50, among other increases. The cost to store a city-impounded car after it is towed would double, from $10 a day to $20 a day.</p><p dir="ltr">The mayor&rsquo;s proposed 75-cent-per-pack hike in the city&rsquo;s cigarette tax, which would give Chicago the most expensive cigarettes in the country, seemed to raise the most concerns among aldermen. Some feared it would increase black market cigarette sales, while others simply said smokers would head to the suburbs to get their fix.</p><p dir="ltr">Emanuel is also relying upon $9 million to come from a hike in the city&rsquo;s amusement tax which is tacked onto cable-television bills. Cable-TV companies would see their amusement tax exemption cut, thereby raising their effective tax rate from four percent to six percent.</p><p dir="ltr">The nine-percent amusement tax added to ticket prices for big concerts and sports events, and a smaller tax for mid-sized venues, would not change.</p><p dir="ltr">Developers could feel the sting too: Emanuel is also banking on $4 million in new revenue next year from higher fees for big developers who apply for building permits in person, rather than online.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Public safety</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The mayor also said he was working to end the &ldquo;tale of two cities when it comes to public safety.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">His budget includes money to graduate 741 cadets from the Police Academy next year, all of whom will be put on foot patrols in Chicago neighborhoods.</p><p dir="ltr">But the new cops will only keep pace with attrition in the department, it will not result in a larger number of cops on the street, despite Chicago&rsquo;s notorious violence. Emanuel did, however, use Wednesday&rsquo;s speech to pressure lawmakers to pass a state law requiring a three-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for people caught with illegal guns, despite <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/researchers-say-emanuel-should-hire-cops-not-push-mandatory-minimums-108967">skepticism</a> from some crime experts.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not about putting more people in jail. It&rsquo;s about putting the right people in jail,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">Emanuel is also hoping to save about $26 million on health care costs, part of that from his <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-sticks-plan-phase-out-retiree-health-care-payments-108881">phase-out</a> of healthcare subsidies for about 30,000 city retirees and their families.</p><p dir="ltr">The City Council will begin budget hearings for individual city departments next week. Aldermen must approve a budget by the end of the year.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/akeefe">@akeefe</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 23 Oct 2013 14:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel-warns-pension-cliff-2014-budget-speech-108993 Ahead of mayor’s budget speech, aldermen question higher taxes, fines http://www.wbez.org/news/ahead-mayor%E2%80%99s-budget-speech-aldermen-question-higher-taxes-fines-108986 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/budget door.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hoping an economic upswing will help close a nearly $339 million dollar city budget shortfall next year, though some aldermen are already raising concerns about the host of higher taxes, fines and fees the mayor is expected to lay out in his annual budget speech to the City Council on Wednesday.</p><p>New budget details trickled out of City Hall on Tuesday, as Emanuel&rsquo;s budget officials spent the day in closed-door briefings with small groups of aldermen, allowing them to circumvent Illinois&rsquo; open meeting laws.</p><p>The officials said the budget will rely upon about $100 million in better-than-expected revenues from hotel, sales and real estate transfer taxes, thanks to improvements in the housing market and the larger economy, according to aldermen in the briefings. Roughly $34 million more will come out of so-called &ldquo;zombie funds&rdquo; - that is, money that had been sitting untouched in various city accounts.</p><p>Emanuel also wants to declare a roughly $48 million surplus in the city&rsquo;s tax increment financing districts, known as TIFs, according to aldermen and the mayor&rsquo;s budget office. State law dictates how that money would be divvied up. That means about $8.7 million for city coffers, and about $24 million for the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools system.</p><p>But some aldermen already had concerns about Emanuel&rsquo;s spending priorities next year.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re hearing some increases in tree trimmers, and graffiti [removal], which is good, &lsquo;cause we definitely need that,&rdquo; said Ald. John Arena, 45. &ldquo;But nothing for mental health.&rdquo;</p><p>Several aldermen also said that they were told Chicago Police Department hiring next year would simply keep pace with attrition, at a time when the city&rsquo;s gun violence problem has drawn national attention.</p><p>The news from aldermen helped round out the picture of how Emanuel plans to close next year&rsquo;s projected $338.7 million budget hole. Over the last several days, bit by bit, the mayor&rsquo;s office has released details about proposed tax, fee and fine increases that total about $34 million.</p><p>Illegal parkers and lead-footed drivers would be hit especially hard.</p><p>Higher parking violation fines and towing fees account for another $11.2 million in projected new revenue next year, Emanuel&rsquo;s office announced Tuesday. The charge for illegally parking on a street during rush hour would jump from $60 to $100, while parking on residential streets during street cleaning days would mean a $60 ticket, up from $50, among other increases. The cost to store a city-impounded car after it is towed would double, from $10 a day to $20 a day.</p><p>Aldermen also said the mayor&rsquo;s office expects to take in $60 million from a controversial new network of speed cameras, which the city is greatly expanding over the next few months. A WBEZ analysis found the first nine cameras alone would have brought in $13.9 dollars in just the first six weeks of operation, had they been issuing tickets instead of warnings. Another $60 million is expected to come from the city&rsquo;s existing red light cameras, aldermen said.</p><p>&ldquo;On top of red light cameras, on top of all these other fines, you&rsquo;re basically telling motorists, &lsquo;You&rsquo;re not welcome in the City of Chicago,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd.</p><p>Aldermen also raised questions about the mayor&rsquo;s proposal to raise the per-pack city cigarette tax to 75 cents, from 68 cents. If approved by the City Council, the hike would give Chicago the highest cigarette prices in the country, with an average pack costing $7.42.</p><p>Aldermen like Brendan Reilly, from the downtown 42nd Ward, worried the higher tax could drive down in-city cigarette sales by a third.</p><p>&ldquo;It could have a negative impact on the retailers, especially those retailers who are in the areas of the city that share a boundary with a suburb,&rdquo; said Reilly, who is himself, a smoker. &ldquo;You can simply, literally, drive across the street and avoid paying that tax.&rdquo;</p><p>Other aldermen worried the higher cigarette tax would prompt black marketeers to jump the border and buy cheaper smokes in Indiana, thereby boosting the illegal sale of so-called &ldquo;loosies&rdquo; - that is, individual cigarettes - on Chicago streets.</p><p>The mayor is also relying upon $9 million to come from a hike in the city&rsquo;s amusement tax that&rsquo;s tacked on to cable television bills. Cable TV companies would see their amusement tax exemption cut, thereby raising their effective tax rate from four percent to six percent.</p><p>The nine percent amusement tax that&rsquo;s added to ticket prices for big concerts and sports events, and a smaller tax for mid-sized venues, would not change.</p><p>Developers could also feel the sting. Emanuel is also banking on $4 million in new revenue next year from higher fees for developers who apply for building permits in person, rather than online. The in-person filing fee for a 100,000-square-foot building would total $9,500, compared to $500 for electronic filing. Emanuel had phased out in-person filing altogether, but is bringing it back at the request of large developers who file complicated permit requests, according to spokeswoman Kelley Quinn.</p><p>Despite the hours of briefings on Tuesday, some aldermen said they still didn&rsquo;t have a handle on exactly how the mayor plans to close out next year&rsquo;s budget gap.</p><p>&ldquo;This was the briefing where they give us all the good stuff,&rdquo; said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, after a briefing Tuesday morning. &ldquo;Now we gotta wait &lsquo;till tomorrow, go through the budget, and see if there&rsquo;s some things that we can and cannot support.&rdquo;</p><p>Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/akeefe" target="_blank">@akeefe</a>.</p></p> Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ahead-mayor%E2%80%99s-budget-speech-aldermen-question-higher-taxes-fines-108986