Council's Independent Budget Office Survives Attempt to Cut Its Own Budget

By Ted Cox on December 10, 2013 4:03pm 

 Ald. Anthony Beale proposes slashing the budget for the Council Office of Fincial Analysis as Ald. Ameya Pawar, one of the main backers of the independent budget office, looks on.
Ald. Anthony Beale proposes slashing the budget for the Council Office of Fincial Analysis as Ald. Ameya Pawar, one of the main backers of the independent budget office, looks on.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The City Council's new independent budget office survived an attempt to cripple it at birth Tuesday by having its own budget slashed.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) put forth a substitute ordinance in the Budget Committee to return $6,000 to an office allowance for each member of the City Council — money that had been diverted to help pay for the new Council Office of Financial Analysis. He expressed concerns about "the waste of taxpayer dollars" with workers in the new office just "sitting around" in the months when they weren't actually studying the city budget and other big-ticket items.

Beale proposed "independent outsourcing" on an "as-needed" basis. "I think that's a better direction," he added.

Yet, after considerable scurrying behind the scenes on the part of Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee, Beale's ordinance was held. Beale wanted another ordinance, backed by original sponsors Aldermen Ameya Pawar (47th), Pat Dowell (3rd) and Michele Smith (43rd), tabled as well, but that will go forward for approval at Wednesday's City Council as planned after COFA passed as part of the 2014 city budget last month. Wednesday's measure will basically establish funding sources for an independent agency reporting to the council modeled on the Congressional Budget Office, and clear the way for hiring to begin.

"I'm not really sure of his motivation," Dowell said of Beale. She expressed certainty, however, that "we're gonna pass it tomorrow, with funding as it is."

The office is budgeted for $485,000, with each alderman contributing $3,000 (not the originally suggested $6,000) from an individual account for a total of $150,000, augmented by two positions provided by the mayor's fellows program and other funding.

"I think people want to have clarity," Dowell added. She said there was ample work to keep the office busy, adding, "The ordinance is very specific about the things it will be responsible for."

 Ald. Pat Dowell says she expects the Council Office of Financial Analysis budget to pass as is at Wednesday's City Council meeting.
Ald. Pat Dowell says she expects the Council Office of Financial Analysis budget to pass as is at Wednesday's City Council meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Pawar struck a conciliatory tone after the meeting. "This is not about personalities. It's not about being for or against the mayor," he said. "It's about putting structures in place that ensure the City Council ... has the tools to make informed decisions."

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he would not support Beale's budget cut. He said COFA would provide "the resources we need to make informed decisions" and was needed to repair relations with citizens after the infamous parking-meter deal. "We need to restore their trust," Cappleman said.

"There's plenty of work," Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said, and pointed to how the office would oversee not just budget analysis, but bond deals, city contracts and business affairs at O'Hare and Midway airports.

Beale's proposal was sent to a subcommittee on miscellaneous matters, but Austin promised it would receive a hearing, saying, "If I hold something in committee, it deserves discussion, no matter what."

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