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Daley Presents City Budget

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Daley Presents City Budget

AP/M. Spencer Green

The economy is bad, revenues are down, and the City of Chicago needs to cut services and raise some fees. That was the overarching message yesterday when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley presented his $3.2 billion budget to the city council.

Chicagoans React to Daley’s Budget

Less than a year ago, just after he won re-election, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley pushed through the biggest property tax increase in city history. And with that done, for a moment, it looked like city finances were plush.

But then the economy turned sour, revenues declined, and Daley found himself facing the biggest budget shortfall he’s ever had to tackle, $469 million.

With ink on his property tax hike still drying, there were a lot of questions going into this year’s budget address. How would he close the gap? How would he justify any fee or tax increases?

This morning, Daley started with one simple idea: that the economy is really bad, and nobody could have seen it coming.

DALEY: No one had a crystal ball. We all wished they had.

He made the case that the crisis is currently rippling into all corners of the nation.

DALEY: Every person. Every family and every business, in every level of government has felt the impact of an economy that is truly out of control.

The mayor says not only have things been bad, but they are bad, and will probably stay bad.

DALEY: As we look ahead to the next three or four years, we forsee substantial city deficits of approximately $200 million or more each year through 2012.

As he laid out what all that means for city government, and for next year’s budget, Daley was frank.

DALEY: This is not a good news budget.

On the government side, the city will combine departments, freeze hiring, cut overtime and eliminate 13,000 vacant jobs.

Daley says there are no plans to tap money from the leasing of the Skyway toll road, but some of the money from the deal to lease Midway Airport will be used for construction projects. The mayor’s also proposing a new plan to lease the city’s parking meters to bring in some cash.

Meantime, there’s also the matter of layoffs.

DALEY: Believe me, I don’t want to lay off any employee, cause pain and suffering in any family. I don’t want to reduce services or make cuts in our programs.

That said, Daley’s proposing the city put 929 employees out of work, reducing the city’s personnel costs by $65 million. He stressed some things, like police, fire, the inspector general’s office, would be protected.

DALEY: These cuts, however, will mean slower response time for some every day service. It will take longer to tow abandoned cars, clean up vacant lots, trim trees, replace and repair street lights.

Daley also said the city needs to add new fees, like a one for dumpsters, and hike several others, including library fines.

DALEY: We’ll increase the amusement tax, the top tier tax of the parking tax, and limited number of other user permit fees.

After Daley’s address, like they always do aldermen milled around the council chambers. But as they did, several noted that this year was different; different because not once, not one time had Daley’s budget address been interrupted by applause.

O’CONNOR: There wasn’t much to clap about in this budget.

Alderman Pat O’Connor was one of several aldermen who reflected on all the ways Daley’s proposed cuts would affect people in his ward. O’Connor says he expects direct effects from job cuts and service reductions, but he also thinks the impact of this year’s budget will be felt for years to come.

O’CONNOR: If you’re engineering projects for transportation in your area, you might be engineering them next year, which means they might not be built for another year. We are going to be basically in a maintainance mode.

SMITH: In this budget, no one’s going to be happy.

Alderman Ed Smith was one of a number of aldermen who applauded Daley’s cuts, saying if the city doesn’t cut deep this year, its problems could get even worse.

SMITH: So why not deal with it now, and do the best you possibly can, and hurt as less number of people as possible in order to make this thing fly.

On the whole, aldermen said they want to take a closer look at Daley’s proposal but think it makes the best of a bad situation.

In terms of concerns, several aldermen did point out that much of his budget hinges of things that are still up in the air, like the plan to lease the city’s parking meters, which hasn’t even been arranged yet. One northside alderman also stressed that to a large extent, the city budget will depend on unstable global financial markets. He added that if he knew how the world economy would fair, he would be playing the stock market, not sitting in the city council.

I’m Ben Calhoun, Chicago Public Radio.

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