Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to offer a good-news budget to City Council on Wednesday that would siphon money from special taxing districts and rely on predictions of an improving economy to balance the books, aldermen said.In Chicago, the political infighting is blue-on-blue, not blue-on-red.
But while Emanuel has already said he will not raise taxes, fees or fines, the details of how he will do more with less pain were lacking in the PowerPoint presentation Budget Director Alexandra Holt made to aldermen Tuesday.
Even as the mayor and his staff try to paint that positive picture, they reiterated a warning that chronic underfunding of city pensions will catch up to Chicago next year if state law isn't changed.Once the housing market picks up (perhaps the cold dead fingers of the current political regime will have to be pried away first) it's likely that residents will look for jurisdictions with less burdensome municipal service fees, and perhaps without parking taxes and parking stickers.
At a briefing for council committee leaders, Emanuel "said we have to get a handle on the pensions, or this would seem like the good old days next year," Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, said.
If changes aren't made to how taxpayers and public employees pay for pensions, the city will face a $700 million increase in contributions just for police and firefighter retirement funds in 2014, said Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation budget watchdog group.
And pension reform isn't the only major issue the city will have to resolve come next year. The city's major labor contracts, for police and firefighters, have expired and are under negotiation.
The city layoff numbers are lower than last year, in part because Emanuel hit taxpayers in the pocketbook with this year's budget. He began the process of doubling water and sewer fees, boosted the cost of vehicle stickers and increased the hotel tax and the taxes on downtown parking. The 2011 budget also increased a host of fines for various infractions, from not cutting grass to playing loud music in a vehicle.