Emanuel’s proposed $10.67 billion spending plan contains no new taxes or fee hikes — an election year gift to aldermen, whose campaigns for re-election will shift into high gear now that midterm and statewide elections are over. If the budget advances as expected Wednesday, aldermen will schedule a final vote for Nov. 14.
But the new fiscal year won’t be entirely painless for Chicago taxpayers, thanks to tax hikes approved by aldermen in years past. Included in the budget is a second 5 cent-per-ride increase on all trips via ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft to help modernize the CTA; the third installment of a 29.5 percent hike in water and sewer bills and a $63 million property tax increase to help fund police and fire pensions.
Nonpartisan watchdog group the Civic Federation called the budget “a reasonable one-year financial plan that does not include any new taxes or fees [and] makes important public safety investments.”
But the respite from tough budget decisions will be short lived. The bill for the city’s pensions is set to jump 31 percent in 2020, and officials have yet to propose a way to cover that expense.
“There remains an enormous elephant in the room — a projected doubling in required pension contributions over the next five years — that the next administration and City Council must tackle,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall.
Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown told aldermen on the first day of budget hearing they would likely have to again show “courageous will” and raise taxes to cover shortfalls projected in 2020 and 2021 entirely due to a $400 million increase the city must make to its four pension funds under a change in state law that ties payments to actuarial estimates. Currently, the city’s payments to its four pension funds are fixed by state law.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he plans to deliver a major address about how the city should address the issue before the end of the year.
The city’s structural deficit — the imbalance between revenues and expenditures — is set to balloon in 2020 to $251.7 million and then in 2021 to $362.2 million, based on an outlook that assumes the economy does not get significantly better — or worse, according to the city’s annual financial analysis.
Other budget line items of note:
- Chicago Public Schools officials will pick up half of the $33 million tab racked up by assigning 211 Chicago Police officers to patrol public schools, and cover the $14 million cost of the Safe Passages program. Both line items were paid in full by the city last year.
- A new Department of Housing to focus on affordability issues — and a $1.4 million boost for the new department’s operations over its last incarnation. The city is in the midst of drafting its next five-year housing plan.
- $2.07 million to hire formerly incarcerated men and women in three programs. Eighty people would be hired to clean and beautify vacant lots in high-crime neighborhoods; 34 people would be hired as part of the CTA’s Second Chance Program and another 25 would be hired by the Department of Transportation’s Greencorps programs.
- $27.5 million for police reform, including cost of the monitoring team that will be charged with ensuring the city and Police Department comply with the changes ordered by Judge Robert M. Dow.
- $1.3 million more to buy garbage and recycling bins in an effort to get new trash cans to residents faster.
- $500,000 more for rat abatement that would allow crews to go into yards to search for and close rat holes rather than responding to complaints.
- $308,000 more for tree trimming.
Aldermen are also set to approve Emanuel’s appointment of acting Chicago Animal Care and Control Executive Director Kelly Gandurski (A2018-102) to the post permanently. Aldermen will also gave Emanuel’s appointment of Helios Digital Learning CEO Ivy Walker (A2018-118) to the Chicago Public Library Board the green light. If approved Wednesday by the full City Council, Walker will serve through June 2021.