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Emanuel to reveal budget plans Tuesday

Tuesday Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to unveil his long-awaited budget address, which will include his proposals on how to fill next year’s budget deficit and get the city out of its $30 billion pension crisis.

In the weeks leading up to this speech, Emanuel has promised that his budget will eliminate the structural deficit over the next four years, eliminate “sleights of hand” or borrowing “gimmicks” from past administrations, eliminate scoop and toss, as well as deal with pension obligations.

But the details on that plan are still unclear.

Here’s what we know (and what we’ll be looking for) in Emanuel’s 2016 budget proposal.

Are property taxes going up?

Probably. You likely saw the big stories in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times portending a hike to the tune of around $500 million to pay for pensions and school construction. The day after those stories broke, Emanuel didn’t confirm those numbers, but promised he had the votes to get it done.

“If you’re asking me,` do I believe we’ll get it done, the short answer is yes, because I actually believe the aldermen are up to the task to charting a new course for Chicago’s future,” he said then.

Here’s what we know for sure: The mayor has been working with the Democratic leadership in Springfield on a property tax exemption for middle- and lower-income families. Spokeswoman Kelley Quinn says Emanuel wants to “dramatically expand the homeowner exemption amount, among many other options” and that Emanuel has the support of both House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. But further details on that plan are still being worked out. Two aldermen are also proposing separate property tax exemption plans ahead of the mayor’s proposal.

So in Tuesday’s address, look for details on how big that hike will be, and more details about which residents might be exempt.

Would additional property tax funds be collected toward city services?

No. According to Mayor Emanuel, property taxes will not be used for the city’s operating fund, but he’s been open to using a property tax hike to help pay down the city’s pension debt.

Are Chicagoans going to have to pay a garbage collection fee, like some suburban residents do?

The mayor is expected to include it in his budget, but not all aldermen are on board, so expect lots of debate going forward.

Right now, the city’s Streets and Sanitation department provides trash pickup for about 613,000 single family homes and multi-unit apartment buildings (up to four-flats). The mayor will likely include a garbage collection fee for those residences in his budget, but it’s unclear exactly how much it will cost.

Friday, a group of six aldermen, many of them closely allied with Mayor Emanuel, proposed that garbage collection fees should be no more than $11 per month, and that seniors should receive a discount, though the aldermen were still working out the details. Ald. Roderick Sawyer says that figure would cover about a third of the current cost of trash pickup, so those funds could be moved to cover other services.

Listen in on Tuesday for Mayor Emanuel to identify exactly how much he thinks that fee should cost, and if he agrees with any exemptions or discounts.

What about ride-sharing, is it going to be more expensive to take Uber or Lyft?

The mayor’s budget will definitely include some changes to both ride-sharing services and taxi cab rides, which his office estimates will bring in $60 million in 2016. First, the biggest news is that ride-sharing companies will be allowed to pick up airport travelers, but at a cost. For every pick-up or drop-off at both airports, Navy Pier and McCormick place, ride-sharing companies will have to pay the city a $5 surcharge.

The mayor is also pitching an increase of “per trip” fees: rideshare trips will increase from 30 cents per trip to 50 cents, and a 50 cent fee will be added to taxi rides as well.

Cab drivers are set to recieve a 15 percent fare increase. Cabbies have been calling for an increase for nearly a decade, but Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the newly formed Cab Drivers United AFSCME Local Union 2500, said that increase doesn’t soften the “death sentence” cabs will be dealt if the city opens the airports up to ridesharing.

Where else is revenue coming from?

The mayor’s office has shared a few revenue-generating ideas here and there, likely to show that the mayor is not just asking taxpayers to dig into their pockets, but that he’s also cutting and trimming his way through the city’s budget as well.

Thursday, for example, he announced the city would be selling four River North parking garages for $12 million. Another example: Emanuel’s office sent around a note to reporters that the city has eliminated $12 million in personnel costs for 2016 by cutting 140 vacancies. As for revenue suggestions from aldermen, the mayor has attempted to remain neutral publicly, as he says he wanted to hear all their ideas, but he seemed open to a tax on e-cigarettes. But in a multi-billion dollar budget, these items will only make small dents.

What if residents have questions (or complaints) about Emanuel’s budget?

Well, that’s what you have an alderman for! Many aldermen have been holding ward nights or budget hearings to solicit ideas or thoughts from their residents. You can find a few details on upcoming events below:

Progressive Caucus Budget Hearings:

  • October 1st, 6:30 at Amundsen High School
  • October 6th, 6:30 at Southside Occupational Academy High School

Ward Meetings:

  • Ald. Pat Dowell Town Hall, September 22nd, 6:00 at McCormick Place
  • Ald. Howard Brookins Town Hall, September 26th, 9:30am at Woodson Library
  • Ald. Matt O’Shea Town Hall, September 23rd, 7:00pm at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.
  • Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Scott Waguespack, Sue Sadlowski-Garza and community groups host Public Budget Meeting, 6:00pm, Avondale-Logandale School

Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian. She spoke with WBEZ weekend host Greta Johnsen. Follow her @gretamjohnsen.

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