Issuing a light reproof of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to privatize 311 services, The Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA) released its first major report on city budgets to Aldermen last Thursday. While the private report contains the clearest analysis of city budget plans from any government agency, it mostly supports the Mayor’s budget plan, saying that, “The Mayor’s 2016 budget proposal is a strong step on the path towards fiscal stability.”
The most eye-catching part of the 65-page analysis is the Conclusions section near the end, of which COFA Director Ben Winick told Aldertrack, “The opinions are mine. I think the words speak for themselves.”
Winick reviews the mayor’s proposals for a dozen or so major city programs, providing an opinion on their feasibility and appropriateness. While the COFA review finds few faults with the Mayor’s budget proposal, the mere fact that an official city document with an analysis of the Mayor’s plans even exists, is a big change for City Hall.
The report also does not review the city’s revenue estimates for new city revenue items, like the Cloud Tax, which Mayoral budget analysts say will total $40 million, while businesses say could add up to as much as $100 million.
Winick discounts businesses’ complaints, however. “When something new is being taxed that that, there are typically pretty significant compliance issues in the first year,” he said.
The report puts all the city’s 2016 estimated revenue and expenses in a simple balance sheet format, adjacent to comparisons from 2015 projections. This simple comparison, is in stark contrast to Mayoral budget documents, which never put all the numbers in one place, forcing readers to do additional and subtraction on a separate scratch sheet. COFA’s report then presents a breakdown of every city agency and its major program areas, again with 2015 projections, side by side.
The COFA report also provides Aldermen with a property tax payment table, potentially valuable foresight into how much the increased property tax levies and exemption will impact homeowners. “Since we’re going through the triennial [property assessment review], I wanted to people to know what [taxes] will be since the Equalized Assessed Value is going up across the city,” said Winick.