It’s not easy to be the head man of a mega-town. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley knows all too well the hurdles, as well as the pitfalls involved in the job. Preparing to vacate that post can be just plain problematic.
Take the task of having to balance the budget before you leave office. Working those numbers until you get zeros on the bottom lines can be a formidable task, no doubt about it. Add to that a city with $654.7 million in debt–you’re talking about crunching a lot of big numbers.
Looking For Dollars
Daley’s finalized budget is due this month. The mayor stated previously that he wanted to leave Chicago in good condition. In order to balance the books, Daley has to go looking for dollars to bring down the deficit. Sometimes, in places where we the people, or aldermen wish he would rather not go.
What is the famous cry of the people to any candidate seeking office, in office, or leaving office? “Don’t raise taxes!” Politicos know the chant, they are used to hearing those words. So, Daley found a way to plug in the holes without raising fines, fees, or, you know, that nasty little word known as taxes.
But the money has to come from somewhere. And, apparently Daley, in an effort to rid the city of its’ big, hefty bill, raided the storehouse and siphoned off the reserves. A monetary cocktail of TIF funds (tax-increment-financing), parking meter, and Chicago Skyway reserves, elimination of 280 jobs, plus debt refinancing and restructuring combined is suppose to return the city to a zero balance.
My alderman, Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward, was one of 12 aldermen (out of 50) who voted against the mayor’s budget proposal. Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), calls it a “smoke-and-mirrors” budget. Fioretti, who has declared his candidacy, would have to deal with this budget should he win.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), described the newly balanced budget as a patchwork job, applying small solutions to large problems. Perhaps you could think of it as a dyke with a lot of leaks that gets plugged up but what it really needs is a new dyke. Remember the story about the little Dutch boy who used his finger to plug a dyke to save his city?
A “Smoke-and-Mirrors” budget may be the best Daley can offer at a time like this. After all, he is a lame-duck mayor. Why cause a raucous these last days in office, cutting here, trimming there, when he can leave on a good note? No need to get everyone upset with him if he won’t even be around in a few months from now. This work will probably be left to the next mayor in office to figure out where the dollars will come from. That most likely can mean layoffs, plus more deep cuts where it’s going to hurt in order to get the city back on course. Listen, it’s bound to happen folks. I think I’m hearing that cry again: “Don’t raise taxes!”
Let’s Make A Deal
Part of that balanced budget includes raiding the TIF funds. Good luck on wrestling that money from any of the 50 alderman who head our city wards. If I were an alderman, you would have a tough time getting me to give up the dough. Aldermen have big plans for those funds, hoping to improve their wards, all the communities within those wards, with new schools, local projects, playgrounds, police and fire stations, and more.
My alderman, Brendan Reilly, is running for re-election. He continues with business as usual, making improvements to the 42nd Ward while listening to the residents. Lower Wacker was recently paved, a grocery store is going up off Randolph, as well as a big, new fence presently being constructed to separate my condo, along with others and Du Sable Harbor on the lakefront.
Surely the mayor’s financial response to the deficit will be met with some disapproval. Daley was prepared for the backlash, so he highlighted a few other “possibilities.” Let’s look at our choices: 1000 lay-offs would save us $75 mil; eliminating fund support for health and human services programs will get us a cool $34 million buckaroos; doubling the gas tax to ten-cents-a-gallon (Oops! I said it again! Taxes), we can collect a hefty $48 mil; and raising the sales tax ( Ugh! Mercy!) from 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent to cash in on $44 million. There’s gotta be a way!
The budget has to pass by New Year’s Eve.
suntimes.com, associatedcontent.com, chicagotribune.com, reillyforchicago.com