Coming out of yesterday’s Council meeting, aldermen and their staff expressed concern about three things: The property tax hike is a fiscal necessity, but how will they justify it to voters? An exemption or rebate is politically necessary, but how will it be enacted? And finally, almost nobody likes the proposed garbage fee.
There’s another issue, surprisingly not on most people’s minds, which is that SB777, Springfield’s bill to extend police and fire pension payments, and the Mayor’s proposed property tax exemptions require either Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature or a veto override by the state legislature; two things that have not been forthcoming lately.
While SB777 has passed both the State House and Senate, it has not been transmitted to Gov. Rauner, since he has not expressed whether or not he will sign or veto it. While the state legislature has until the end of session in December 2016 to pass the bill, the next police and fire pension payments are likely due long before that, a date the Mayor’s press office was unable to confirm before publication. That drop dead date is likely to be something we’ll be discussing this fall.
Quite a few aldermen we spoke to when pressed on an exemption off the record said they would have a “hard time” voting for a property tax increase without an exemption extension or property tax rebate on the books. However, since the Mayor has committed to pushing an exemption through the legislature and has enlisted Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to get it done, many aldermen believe it is within the realm of possibility that the exemption could be passed before the October 28 city budget vote.
Summing up many aldermen’s thoughts, “The worst part of this budget, is that it relies on a lot of Springfield heavy lifting,” said one prominent Council staffer.
The garbage fee, which will be listed as a separate item on homeowners’ city water bills, according to the Mayor’s Budget Office, could still be modified since the Council isn’t scheduled to vote on it for a full month, and between now and then we’ll be treated to a multitude of hearings.
Also according to the Mayor’s Budget Office, non-payment of the garbage fee would not impact pick up. Garbage collectors will pick up garbage in every alley, under any circumstance. Instead, non-payment of a the garbage fee would be treated like a delinquent water bill, leading to city offers of payment plans and ultimately water service turn-off, a concern numerous aldermen from poorer wards talked about yesterday.
Despite all those big, unresolved political issues, for those who watch Council for a living, there was no question that Emanuel will pass the property tax increase.
“Just coming out of that room right now, you know he’s got thirty votes,” said one regular Council watcher. Many aldermen Aldertrack spoke to yesterday off the record said they will vote for the property tax simply because they know it fiscally needs to happen. Council staffers and aldermen we talked to expect a smaller group, of a dozen or so aldermen, who will need “special deals” from the Mayor to help make up with voters over the next three years.
The political divide on property taxes is already splitting on unfamiliar political lines. Generally, a consensus is building that the toughest votes this fall will come for Aldermen in the Northwest and Southwest Side bungalow belts, as well as Lakefront aldermen whose wards have the highest commercial property values.
While the next municipal election isn’t until 2019, nobody’s quite sure how long voter memories will last and worse yet, if this will be the last property tax hike they’ll have to approve before then.