The City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2016 budget plan that calls for nearly $8 billion dollars in city spending, a $544 billion dollar property tax increase to be phased in over four years, a $9.50 per month garbage collection fee, a new cloud tax and various increases in existing fines and fees. As expected, Finance Chair Ed Burke (14) lumped the 2016 Revenue Ordinance and all four years of the property tax increase into one motion, forcing opponents of any item into one opposing or supporting vote.
The day came down to a series of key, divided roll call votes with some surprising last minute changes. One of the day’s biggest surprises: Ald. John Arena (45), one of the Progressive Caucus’ most outspoken critics of the Mayor, voted in support of Emanuel’s budget plan.
Along with another earlier property tax opponent, Ald. Michele Smith (43), Arena introduced a resolution, later passed unanimously as part of the consent calendar, saying if Springfield did not enact double the existing homeowner’s exemption by April 30, City Council would consider a city-managed rebate program by June 1. In off the record discussions with Aldertrack earlier this week, a number of aldermen said the resolution would help make a yes vote easier for them.
Reading from a prepared speech, Ald. Arena said that while none of the revenue proposals the Progressive Caucus introduced will be implemented in this year’s budget, he’s still determined to get them in future budgets. The Mayor’s decision to not outsource 311 is the main reason he’d vote in favor, he said.
Another surprising vote came from Ald. Jason Ervin (28), who served as Budget Chairman Carrie Austin’s (34) right hand during the budget hearings as she dealt with health issues. He gave one of the most impassioned speeches of dissent on the floor yesterday.
“We always tell people that we have to do more with less, but the truth is, we do less with less,” he said, adding that it is unacceptable that city’s Police Department has been a hundred million dollars over budget for the past four years, mainly due to overtime costs, but “decent folk can’t sit on their porch or walk to the corner for fear of being the next [shooting] victim.”
Raising his voice as he pressed on, Ervin was furious that nearly $600 million dollars in new revenue–the money from the property tax increase–was going to one item, “while the rest of our services and our police department doesn’t have what it needs.” He continued to rail against the garbage fee, warning the time would soon come when the city would need to raise revenue again, and Springfield will be unlikely to help.
Vote: Management Ordinance and 2016 Appropriations – 36-14
First, there was the 36-14 roll call vote on the actual spending plan, which included the appropriation ordinance, management ordinance and the community block grant. The “no” votes came from aldermen Brian Hopkins (2), Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10), Roberto Maldonado (26), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Gilbert Villegas (36), Anthony Napolitano (41), Brendan Reilly (42), Harry Osterman (48), and Deb Silverstein (50).
Vote: Revenue Ordinance and 2015-2018 Property Tax Levies – 35-15
Second, there was the 35-15 roll call vote on the revenue ordinances, which included the phased-in property tax increase, a $45 million property tax levy to help fund capital expenditures at Chicago public schools, a $9.50/month garbage-fee, and various increases to existing fines and fees.
Ald. David Moore (17) joined the group above in voting “no”, after his motion to break up the revenue vote failed. Moore wanted to vote against the garbage fee and support the property tax, but when he called a motion to separate the ordinances, 46 aldermen voted against him.
Vote: Rideshare Rule Changes – 38-11-1
Finally, there was a roll call vote on the recent amendments made to the rules and regulations governing taxi and ride-share drivers. It gives Uber and other ride-hailing drivers the right to pick up passengers at O’Hare and Midway Airports, McCormick Place, and Navy Pier, in addition to slapping on a $0.52 surcharge on all ride-share rides and a rebate program to minimize the fees associated with background checks and fingerprinting taxi drivers have to pay.
That motion passed in a 38-11-1 roll call vote. Ald. Gilbert Villegas invoked Rule 14, abstaining from the vote, while the following aldermen voted “no”: Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Ricardo Munoz (22), Scott Waguespack (32), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Nick Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41), and Deb Silverstein (50).
Prior to the votes, aldermen stood up one by one to explain why they were either voting or rejecting the Mayor’s 2016 plan.
A number of the Mayor’s surrogates, like Ald. George Cardenas (12), Pat O’Connor (40), Ameya Pawar (47), and Joe Moore (49), urged the rest of the body to vote in favor of the budget, saying it would finally put the city on the right course to funding its public pensions and reducing its dependence on borrowing for basic city services.
But not everyone in the chambers was convinced by their pleas and expressed concern the mayor’s budget would cause more harm than good.
“This is incredibly stressful and incredibly crazy,” newly-elected 41st Ward Alderman and former firefighter Anthony Napolitano said, describing the pressure in the leadup to yesterday’s vote as worse than being trapped in a basement during a fire. And even though most of his family and constituents are public pensioners, he voted no, citing the impact the property tax hike would have on his North Side ward.
He was joined by Logan Square Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), who said he was sad his peers would rather vote to increase property taxes than cut city spending and their own six-figure salaries. In the weeks leading up to the budget, Rosa introduced an ordinance calling for a salary reduction for public employees who make more than $100,000, a stormwater stress fee, and a property tax rebate ordinance based on a homeowners’ salary. None of those items made it into the budget.
“I’m sad today because four to six months from now, a tenant will come to my office and tell me, ‘Alderman, I’m being pushed out. The council voted to raise property taxes…and as a result my landlord is raising my rent.’” He then equated the series of fees and tax hikes included in this year’s budget to a playground bully demanding money out of someone’s pocket.
His comments prompted Ald. Danny Solis (25) and Ald. Joe Moreno (1) to go on the offensive.
“This is the job you signed up for,” Solis said, looking back at Rosa. “Your number one job as an alderman is to make sure that your neighborhoods are improving, that the quality of life is good […] How are you going to do that without money? Without revenue?”
“I cannot stand here to listen to hyperbole and pandering, you know, someone says they are sad in the 35th Ward,” Ald. Moreno said, raising his voice. “You know what I’m sad about? That people aren’t willing to bring their own solutions to the table, but yet vote against the solutions that have been brought about by your administration and many in this room.”
“That kind of hyperbole is why I got into this business, because I was tired of those so-called leftists that I share the floor with,” he added.
Taking another direct shot at Rosa’s emphatic no vote, Ald. Moreno tweeted out a statement almost immediately after council wrapped. “Aldermen cannot lament about this budget and tell their residents they’re fighting for them by voting no without presenting viable solutions to address and resolve our budget crisis. Empty rhetoric is not going to dig us out of our budget hole. Pandering about how terrible this budget is and suggesting tax increases for corporations to resolve our city’s fiscal problem, and then voting in favor of a major multi-million dollar tax break to a wealthy car dealer in their ward is simply unconscionable.”
Moreno was referring to the recently passed $5.5 million class 7(b) real estate tax break for a new Berman Mid City Nissan dealership in Avondale, in Rosa’s ward. He testified in favor of the tax break to help with a $19 million dollar renovation to turn two old warehouses into a new car dealership.
Other Items Approved
In addition to the budget-related items the City Council approved an ordinance that paves the way for the proposed Lucas Museum, the Mayor’s appointment of David Reifman as the new Commissioner for the Department of Planning and Development, and a new universal parking pass that lets Chicago realtors park their cars along any zoned street in the city during business hours. Nine aldermen asked to be recorded as no votes for the Lucas Museum: Pat Dowell (3), Leslie Hairston (5), Gregory Mitchell (7), Ameya Pawar (47), Scott Waguespack (32), Tom Tunney (44), Harry Osterman (48), John Arena (45), and Brendan Reilly (42). Chairman Burke abstained.
Post-Vote Statements From Aldermen
In an email to his newsletter subscribers, Ald. Tom Tunney (44) called this year’s budget vote the most difficult he’s had to take. Tunney’s “yes” was threefold: he was assured 35 extra officers would be assigned to the 19th police District, be believed police and fire pension obligations had to be met, and the budget included a new addition: a multi-million dollar investment in Lake View High School “to increase the academic rigor of the school, inclusive of an honors program, and stronger connections to area elementary schools. The investments provided in the 2016 budget will make Lake View HS the quality neighborhood option which our residents demand. This will further build on the efforts of the current leadership of Lake View High School.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43), whose ward is likely to be one of the hardest hit by the property tax increase, voted “yes”, after securing Mayor Emanuel’s support of her and Ald. John Arena’s (45) rebate ordinance. Arena also voted in favor of the budget, despite being a staunch Emanuel critic. In a statement emailed shortly after Council wrapped, Smith said, “This is an iron-clad commitment to extend property tax relief to the people that have helped build our community and stabilize our neighborhoods… The plan provides tax savings, whether or not the expanded homeowner’s exemption passes in Springfield.” Smith said the Mayor also gave her a direct commitment to aggressively pursue major spending reforms, and form a task force on absenteeism, a common line of questioning from Smith during the budget process.
Ald. Will Burns (4) also sent an e-blast in the hours after the vote, saying pension obligations were his main driver. He cited the state-mandated requirement for payments, growing liabilities, and an obligation to police and firefighters to pay up. But he also called out no voters: “A vote against this budget is a vote against guaranteeing the future of Chicago. A no vote says that we will not fulfill our contractual obligations, invest in affordable housing, early childhood education, and afterschool programs.”
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), explained his “yes” vote in his newsletter, saying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cuts had already been made, and voting “no” would go against the “interests of the nearly 5,000 first responders who reside in Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood. Our police officers and firefighters deserve their pension benefits.” O’Shea was one of a few aldermen who successfully pushed the Mayor’s office to cap the proposed garbage fee at $9.50 through 2019 (the next election year), and to dedicate funds from the fee to a sanitation enterprise fund, rather than the corporate fund.
Ald. Deb Mell (33) was generally laudatory of the Mayor and his openness during the budget process in a statement on her Facebook page, but said her “no” came down to the impact the property tax would have on residents in her ward. “I’m concerned about the young family that has purchased their first home, the senior citizen living on a fixed income, the small business owners who are struggling to stay afloat, and the renters who are finding it more difficult to make ends meet in this great city. This property tax increase asks too much of these residents and not enough of those in Chicago who have the means to absorb a larger share of the tax burden.”
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) released a brief statement echoing his floor testimony, and highlighted Rosa’s proposed aldermanic salary reduction ordinance and the revenue ideas the Progressive Caucus pitched this summer. Rosa’s statement reads, “It takes courage to cut your six-figure pay. It takes courage to turn to your big and powerful corporate donors and ask them to pay. It’s easy to turn to those with the least power and ask them to empty their pockets; that’s what bullies do every day. City Hall should have cut its six-figure salaries and emptied out hundreds of millions in TIF funds before raising property taxes and fees on Chicago’s working families.”
Ald. Sue Sadlowski-Garza’s (10) statement reads, in part: ““It isn’t fair to stick home owners [sic] with the bill. From parking meter deals, CPS no-bid contracts, to top heavy city departments – city government sure finds way to waste and mismanagement money, and now home owners [sic] are left to clean up the mess.”
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) also tweeted his post-vote statement, saying he didn’t believe his middle-class constituents could afford “another $1,000” in new taxes and fees. He invited residents to a job fair he’s holding in a couple weeks. “A lot of people are going to need better paying jobs and/or second jobs after the way Council voted today. I know we will make it work, but it’s unfortunate that it has to get worse before it gets better.”
In a short Facebook post, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) said pressure from his constituents opposed to the budget pushed him to vote no. A large chunk of his North Side ward current and retired police and firemen. “I believe this budget put too much of the burden on the taxpayers and small businesses. My job is to represent the entire 41st Ward, pension holders and non-pension holders. Over the last few weeks a large number of residents contacted my office to voice their opinion. An overwhelming amount were opposed to this budget.”
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26) simply wrote it was unfortunate the budget passed, and shared this post from the Hermosa Neighborhood Association, which reads, “The garbage fees ($114-$456) are going to come as an utter shock and burden to many who haven’t been able to stay informed about this complicated budget process, and in the second installment of their 2016 property tax bills will come another shock, a $500-$1,000 increase in property taxes. However, HNA is very happy to see that ALL the Aldermen who represent Hermosa voted ‘no’ against the budget.”
Ald. David Moore (17) shared these pictures from his recent budget town hall, and said 98% of those who attended told him to vote no if a garbage fee was included.