Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a former Congressman and aide to President Barack Obama is threatening to lay off police officers and firefighters should he not get the city council’s approval of his proposed 2016 city budget. The proposal includes $543 million in new property taxes and several other tax and fee hikes, including a new trash collection fee. He argues that his budget could "finish the job" of improving Chicago’s financial solvency.
In a self-congratulatory speech, Emanuel said that the city government’s "fiscal challenges are blocking our ability to expand opportunities to more of our residents." He told the council, "Now is the time. This is the council. Let us commit to finishing the job." Emanuel told the City Council.
"We in this room today did not create our current challenges, but we can and must be the ones to fix them," in an apparent reference to his pugnacious predecessor and fellow Democrat, Richard M. Daley. "The seeds of our financial crisis were planted many decades ago and were not addressed for far too long."
The budget Emanuel introduced offers a record-breaking property tax increase, with $318 million of the $543 million scheduled for just this year. The revenue brought in by the hike would be earmarked, ostensibly, for underfunded police and fire pension funds. A law passed in 2010 requires Chicago to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars more in the coming years.
As of this date, 358 murders have been registered in Chicago this year.
"Our greatest financial challenge today is the exploding cost of our unpaid pensions," Emanuel averred. "It is a big dark cloud that hangs over the rest of our city's finances."
He threatened to cut 2,500 police officers, which is approximately 20 percent of the Chicago force. Emanuel’s plan would also shuttered 48 fire stations – half of the total in Chicago – while he would also dismiss 2,000 firefighters: 40 percent of the department.
"In short, if we were to fund our pensions with cuts alone, our city services would become unreliable. Our city would become unlivable. And that would be totally unacceptable," Emanuel said to Chicago’s aldermen.
Emanuel's budget would also include a new property tax increase for Chicago Public Schools construction to the tune of $45 million. Also included is a brand-new $9.50-a-month garbage-hauling fee to raise $62.7 million, ride-sharing and taxi fee hikes to generate $48.6 million, building permit fee increases to bring in $13 million, and a new tax on electronic cigarettes to capture $1 million.
Emanuel's $7.8 billion budget also depends on support from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican. Without the tax hike, Chicago may be facing $219 million deficit in 2016. The September 19-20 weekend was the second-worst for gun murders in Chicago this year: 8 in two days, with 45 injured.
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