Chicago’s 50 aldermen are set to vote on the first budget of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second term, and it is shaping up to be a memorable one. The proposal - which includes an increase in property taxes and cab fares, and a new garbage collection fee - is set to make Chicago a more expensive place to live.
The mayor has tried the hard sell, calling on aldermen to “muster the political courage” to deal with the financial challenges the city faces, like its underfunded police and fire pension funds. He’s also set the stakes as an either-or for residents: Either the city raises property taxes, or it will be forced to make cuts to essential city services like recycling, police and fire fighters.
Here are some key questions and answers about what’s at stake during the budget vote Wednesday.
Will the budget pass?
Many expect the mayor to get the 26 votes he needs to pass the budget, but what the margin will be remains to be seen. Ald. Pat O’Connor (40), the mayor’s floor leader, has said that aldermen will make last-minute tweaks in order to make themselves more comfortable with voting on the entire package. While there certainly has been a lot of that in the final days, it’s still unclear how many aldermen will officially cast a “yes” vote.
Reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times estimate anywhere between 10 to 20 aldermen will cast “no” votes. Speculation about a tight margin grew after a test vote in the finance committee ended up much closer than usual (17-10).
For his part, Emanuel has said publicly that he doesn’t care much about predicting or tallying votes. But privately, his staff has been reminding reporters of close budget votes Mayor Richard M. Daley faced during his tenure.
What’s the final word on property taxes?
There are two different property tax proposals going on here. First, the mayor is proposing $543 million increase over the next four years to make required contributions into the police and fire pension funds. All told, that will increase property taxes by about 12 percent.
The second increase is $45 million for school construction and modernization projects. Details on exactly where this money will go haven’t been released, which made many aldermen nervous at first, but the mayor’s office agreed to require Chicago Public Schools to report their spending.
The promised homeowner’s exemption is still very much up in the air. Emanuel has promised that homes valued under $250,000 would not have to pay higher property taxes for police and fire pensions, but he’ll need deadlocked Springfield to sign off on it. As of press time, the mayor’s plan had only moved through one committee, and Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he won’t sign off on an exemption without “reforms” for the city. State lawmakers are not set to meet again until November.
Emanuel and his staff have long argued that they’re not worried about Springfield passing the exemption because the idea has never been “controversial or contentious,” but privately, the mayor has been working with Ald. John Arena (45) on a possible rebate program for homeowners if Springfield doesn’t come through.
Is there a compromise about how to regulate ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar?
Yes, but whether it actually levels the playing field for all drivers depends on who you ask.
The most recent proposal allows Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to pick up at the airport, like the mayor originally wanted. Aldermen recently proposed requiring a chauffeur’s license to pick up at the airport, but that isn’t in the current version. Instead, ride-hailing companies will have to train their drivers on new airport pick-up rules and most notably, they’ll have to pay an additional two cents for every ride.
Sponsoring Ald. Arena said that money would go toward making the process of getting a chauffeur’s license cheaper for cab drivers: Cabbies could have access to financial aid for drug tests and background checks, and the city fee for a license and renewal would be lowered.
Co-sponsor, Ald. Anthony Beale (9), said any additional revenue will go to to hiring more police officers.
Additionally, the mayor still wants a 15 percent cab fare increase; a $5 surcharge on ride-sharing companies for every pick-up and drop off at McCormick place, Navy Pier and both airports; and changes to per-trip fees for both cabs and ride-sharing companies.
Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.