Chicago City Council approves 2014 budget

Chicago City Council approves 2014 budget
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. AP/File
Chicago City Council approves 2014 budget
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. AP/File

Chicago City Council approves 2014 budget

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2014 budget proposal received final approval from the Chicago City Council Tuesday. The budget package holds the line on property and sales taxes, but could mean smokers and drivers will end up paying more next year.

Aldermen approved Emanuel’s $8.7 billion spending measure by a vote of 45 to 5. The plan would close a nearly $339 million budget shortfall, in part, with higher tax revenues the mayor projects will result from an improving economy and rebounding housing market.

Emanuel is also relying on about $33 million in higher taxes, fines and fees.

But looming over this year’s budget process is a nearly $600 million spike in the city’s required contributions to severely underfunded police and firefighter pension funds.

“We do have tough decisions ahead of us, much tougher than what we have here,” Emanuel said after the vote. “But we didn’t defer the tough decisions. We actually made them.”

There was little question Emanuel’s budget would win City Council approval. But his margin of victory has eroded since he took office in 2011, when all 50 aldermen cast “yes” votes for his first budget proposal.

Voting against the plan were Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nick Sposato (36th), and John Arena (45th).

As in previous years, some aldermen praised the mayor for compromising on some small parts of the budget that are most felt by constituents, though the bulk of his budget remained unchanged.

Following complaints from some aldermen, Emanuel scaled back his proposed cigarette tax hike to 50 cents a pack, from the 75 cents he originally proposed. Aldermen in some minority communities worried the larger increase would spur black-market cigarette sales in their wards.

The small compromise on the cigarette tax could only add to the woes of law-breaking city drivers next year.

To replace part of the revenue sacrificed by shaving a quarter a pack off the cigarette tax hike, the city will raise the fine for parking in front of a fire hydrant to $150, from $100. The city estimates this will bring in about $2 million in additional revenues.

That’s just part of a roughly $11 million package of tougher penalties for drivers. Fines will grow for illegally parking on a street during rush hour and parking on residential streets during street cleaning days. Towing fees will also increase.

The city is also expecting to take in between $65 and $70 million from tickets issued to speeders caught by its new network of cameras. Emanuel says the speed camera program is designed to keep children safe near parks and schools. Some aldermen have questioned whether the mayor’s office is low-balling that estimate.

One issue on which Emanuel did not compromise is the Chicago Police Department’s staffing levels for next year.

A group of aldermen had proposed spending $25 million to hire 500 new cops to deal with the city’s violence problem, but that plan was blocked in a committee on Monday. Instead, police department hiring will just keep pace with attrition. Instead, the department’s overtime budget will more than double in 2014, to $71 million.

The police staffing issue is what prompted Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, a frequent critic of the mayor, to vote no.

“It is clear that our current force does not have the resources, the personnel, to keep our streets as safe as they should be,” Fioretti said. “The city has attempted to address the crisis with stopgap measures, spending millions of dollars on police overtime to ensure that high crime areas are covered.”

Emanuel is also expecting to take in about $9 million next year by hiking the amusement tax levied on cable TV providers. Another $4 million comes from higher building permit fees for developers who apply in person, rather than online.