With less than two weeks left before the full City Council is expected to approve the Mayor’s budget, aldermen will take up pieces, and possibly amend parts, of the Mayor’s $7.8 billion dollar spending plan in various committee meetings scheduled this and next week. Of major concern to aldermen are the Mayor’s proposed property tax increase and monthly garbage fee.

The Committee on Finance has scheduled an early, 9:00 a.m. public hearing this morning on the Mayor’s plan to phase in the property tax increase over the next four years. The hearing, known as a “Truth in Taxation Hearing”, is required by state law. And while aldermen have been reminding homeowners about the hearing in their weekly newsletters, it’s unclear how many homeowners will show up to testify against the tax increase. The actual vote on the property tax levy and other revenue proposals that will pay for the $7.8 billion dollar budget, will occur at Tuesday’s  finance meeting. The Committee on Budget will meet later this the afternoon (1:00 p.m.) to take up the official budget ordinances the Mayor introduced at the full City Council meeting last week.  

As previously reported, the Emanuel Administration introduced a supplemental property tax levy increase for 2015 of $326.8 million. Property levies are collected the year following their announcement. For 2016, another property tax levy increase is expected to collect $109.5 million. To put that in perspective, in  2014, the Chicago property tax levy was $859.5 million, which means that by 2016, the Chicago property tax levy will be increased by 50%. For the final two years, 2017 and 2018, the City will collect at least $703.3 million and $766.7 million respectively. Additional levies may be called for to pay for regular city services.

The Mayor says the property tax revenue will shore up funds for the massively underfunded police and fire pension funds. But the budgeted amounts are not based on the existing state statute, which requires that those two pension funds are 90% funded by 2040. Instead, the amounts are based on a bill in Springfield, SB777, which extends the 90% funding requirement to 2055.    

In order to make his historic property tax increase palatable aldermen who have to defend his spending plan to their constituents, Mayor Emanuel promised to include an exemption from homeowners with homes valued at $250,000 and under, but some aldermen remain skeptical that it will pass through Springfield.

“I can’t get a straight answer from anyone on the status of it,” Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) said of the mayor’s exemption plan. The Northwest Side aldermen said he is, “leaning against supporting the budget,” after receiving more than a thousand phone calls, emails, and personal visits from constituents angered by the Mayor’s property tax increase.

But a lot of the homes in Ald. Napolitano’s ward are worth more than $250,000, so they won’t benefit from the exemption, and a significant amount of his constituents are public pensioners. “So they see the importance of funding the pensions, but they also see the property tax increase as ‘double dipping,’” Ald. Napolitano explained that the public employees in his ward believe they already paid their share and are now being asked to pay more.  

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) said the mayor’s property tax increase also “gives him pause”, mainly because he is also skeptical that Springfiled can get the Mayor’s exemption approved in time, given their inability to pass a state budget. As a former state lobbyist, Ald. Villegas has a lot of connections in Springfield and is keeping a close eye on the unrest in the state capitol, and he has found that state lawmakers down there, especially those not from Chicago, don’t see Mayor Emanuel’s agenda as a priority.

“Can [the mayor’s exemption plan] be passed out of the house? Yea. The senate? Probably. But when the whole state is in flux, everything is more controversial,” Ald. Villegas explained that while he doesn’t want to “underestimate” the Mayor’s influence in Springfield, he finds Gov. Bruce Rauner to be too much of a wild card and is concerned his colleagues in the Council aren’t aware of how bad the situation is in the state capitol. “We’ve never had a governor like this, this is a whole different situation,” Villegas said. “I think [the governor] is ready to burn the whole place down. This is what he did in the private sector.”

Ald. Joe Moreno (1) is behind one of the two property tax rebate plans that have been introduced in the City Council. Moreno’s plan would help homeowners with household incomes below $100,000. He dismissed arguments that the County doesn’t have the technology or staff in place to implement a rebate, asserting that while it isn’t as good as an exemption, it is something the Council could take action on without the reliance of Springfield. “It’s the solution we have that we can vote on. I don’t want us to say that Springfield has to vote on things,” Moreno said, adding that he believes the Mayor is “warming to the idea” and his staff is reviewing the plan. “I don’t think Springfield has shown they’re willing to address anything.”