Backroom negotiations, last minute concessions, and waves of phone calls to Aldermen from the Mayor’s office, coupled with a fear that there were no alternatives, ultimately helped pass Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s nearly $8 billion budget, historic property tax hike, and a new monthly garbage fee Wednesday.
According to our conversations with aldermen, the first important move was to take something office the table. In the week leading up to the budget vote, mayoral staffers assured aldermen 311 privatization wouldn’t happen. Then, Mayor Emanuel agreed to cap the $9.50-a-month garbage fee through the next election, and put the new revenue in an enterprise fund solely dedicated to trash collection. He agreed to working on implementing a rebate program to help mitigate the impact of his property tax increase should Springfield fail to pass the homeowners exemption in time.
Those and other privately-made concessions were just enough for some aldermen to flip their vote. Of the ten aldermen who opposed the Mayor’s revenue plan when it was voted on in Finance Committee October 19th, four switched their vote.
The most notable switch was Ald. John Arena (45), a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, a “no” to last year’s budget, and one of the Mayor’s biggest targets in this year’s election. When Aldertrack spoke to Arena yesterday to ask if he made a separate deal with the Mayor to help sway his decision, he replied, “No, I don’t really deal that way.”
Arena said he voted in favor of the budget because it finally addressed fundamental issues he had with budgets from prior years: too much dependence on borrowing to pay for basic city services, lower than required pension payments, and no new sources of revenue.
But minor concessions were made. Arena was able to get a rideshare ordinance he co-sponsored with Ald. Anthony Beale (9) through the City Council. And even though their original proposal, a requirement for Uber drivers get a public chauffeurs license, was cut out of the final version, Beale and Arena were able to increase the surcharge on all rides hailed through a ride-sharing app, start a rebate program to mitigate the fees taxi drivers have to pay on fingerprinting and background checks, and a request that the Commissioner of Aviation conduct a traffic study to determine the impact of opening the airports to ride-share drivers. Arena said the last item keeps the door open for potential changes down the road.
Arena and Ald. Michele Smith (43) were also successful in getting the Mayor to bend on the rebate issue. Smith’s vote was also in play since she represents Lincoln Park, one of the areas expected to be hardest hit by the increased property tax. Smith was one of several aldermen who called for a city-wide property tax rebate.
Two weeks ago, in the midst of budget hearings, the Mayor poured cold water on the rebate idea, saying he preferred exemptions over rebates, because they don’t require a stable revenue stream and can be easily applied. But this past week, according to multiple aldermen Aldertrack spoke to, the Mayor’s office began promoting Arena and Smith’s rebate resolution, even pushing Council members to co-sponsor it the night before the budget vote.
With the Mayor’s support, Arena and Smith secured their plan by attaching their resolution to the agreed calendar vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. They called for creation of a city-administered property tax rebate program by June 1, 2016 if the Illinois General Assembly fails to enact the Mayor’s homestead exemption into law by April 30, 2016.
Joanna Klonsky, a representative for the Caucus, says she believes the whole caucus supports the ordinance. The rebate deal is why none of five Progressive Caucus revenue amendments introduced last week made it into this year’s budget, according to Arena. Since a rebate plan is estimated to cost between $20 and $40 million dollars, depending on how many people apply, and since the city doesn’t currently have a dedicated revenue source to pay for it, some of the Progressive Caucus ordinances, like closing amusement tax loopholes, are being held back as potential ways to pay for the rebate, Arena says.
One aldermanic staffer, who asked not to be named for this story, claimed Arena excluded the rest of the Caucus when he made that deal.
Arena wasn’t the only Progressive Caucus alderman to support the Mayor’s plan. He was joined by Ald. Nick Sposato (38) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), who had originally voted against it in committee but changed their minds when it went to the full Council; Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Ald. Rick Munoz (22), and Ald. Toni Foulkes (16) also voted “yes”. Ald. David Moore (17), split his vote, approving the Mayor’s spending plan, but rejecting the revenue ordinances, because he refused to support the monthly garbage fee.
Ald. Foulkes said the mayor’s decision to not pursue 311 privatization and the cap on the garbage fee secured her vote, in addition to the unprecedented open line of communication between her, the Mayor and his staff.
“I stopped counting after nine meetings [with Mayoral staff],” Foulkes told Aldertrack yesterday. She says she never experienced a budget cycle that involved as many meetings and follow-up calls as this one. On one occasion, one of her constituents asked her to clarify language on new snow shoveling regulations. Soon after Foulkes called mayoral staff for an answer, she got a quick response from the Mayor’s office to explain the changes.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44), who voted against the revenue plan in committee after lamenting how high commercial property taxes in his Lakeview ward has already contributed to vacant storefronts, ultimately voted in favor of the budget. In an email sent to constituents after the vote, Tunney explained that his decision was based on the assurance he’d get an additional 35 police officers assigned to the 19th Police District and a new multi-million dollar capital investment in Lake View High School.
Ald. James Cappleman (46), whose ward is also within the 19th district, cited increased police presence as part of how he got to yes. So did Ald. Pat Dowell (3), a critic of many of the Mayor’s revenue proposals, but who voted yes, because of extra police and “the opportunity to address overcrowding issues affecting some my neighborhood schools and allows other schools in my ward to get the deferred maintenance and upgrades – like air conditioning – they desperately need.”
But not everyone on the Council felt the mayor had done enough to mitigate their concerns, or felt the backlash from constituents would have been too much to stomach.
Ald. Deb Silverstein (50), who voted against the budget in committee and at the full City Council meeting, told Aldertrack there weren’t any offers on the table to change her mind and that her decision was based on negative feedback on the budget from constituents. The chiefs of staff for Ald. Deb Mell (33) and Ald. Harry Osterman(48) also cited constituent outrage as the reasons for their no votes.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2), a new alderman who voted “no,” wrote on his Facebook page that while the Mayor made compelling arguments, he stuck to his campaign pledge to vote against a property tax hike.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28), Vice Chair of the Budget Committee, says he wasn’t offered a deal, despite his plan to vote no. “I laid out my position [with the Mayor’s staff] and that was about it,” Ervin said. The driving factor for him: The iniquity of how the new garbage fee will impact Chicago’s poorer communities.
Ald. Milly Santiago’s (31) Chief of Staff, Kevin Lamm, said the alderman met with the Mayor and his staff and was even offered to have the schools in her ward wired up with new fiber optic technology. But she rejected that offer, according to Lamm, and ultimately decided to go against the Mayor’s spending plan, because she felt uncomfortable with how much it relied on help from Springfield.
Santiago also had one of the closest races this past election, narrowly beating long-time incumbent Ald. Ray Suarez, by highlighting his close relationship with the Mayor and portraying him as someone who was out of touch with the needs of the ward’s residents.