CHICAGO — The City Council overwhelmingly approved Mayor Emanuel's $8.3 billion budget for 2013 on Thursday, but three holdouts voted "no."
Emanuel's first city budget, last year, passed unanimously after closing a budget gap of $636 million. The 2013 budget approved Thursday closed a $369 million gap, and several aldermen pointed out that — with no new taxes or fees — it was a "no-brainer" of a vote compared with a year ago.
Yet Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) argued against passage, saying, "A budget may be fiscally sound, but our priorities may be wrong." He said the $20 million in cuts from layoffs were "eliminating middle-class jobs here" and dismissed the 457 new police recruits added by the end of the year when compared to the approximately 500 officers who retire annually.
"Are we keeping pace with retirements?" Fioretti asked. "Do we have enough resources?"
Fioretti was joined in voting "no" by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. John Arena (45th), but neither spoke out against the budget on the floor.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) countered that each officer costs the city an estimated $60,000 and that adding 1,000 — as some have suggested with the rising homicide rate — would mean an extra $60 million.
"When we talk about needing more police officers, we also need to talk about the cost," he said. "This budget is about as nearly perfect as you could get."
Some aldermen sought a united vote to approve.
"A vote 'no' on this budget," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), "does nothing to cure those shortcomings that have been identified."
Yet Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), Emanuel's floor leader, pointed out there are actually more police on the street than there were eight years ago, thanks to departmentwide redeployment, and that the lack of lockstep unanimity was a sign of health in the council and that "the crisis has passed."
He said aldermen felt compelled to back each other with last year's increase in fees and taxes. "The luxury of dissent has crept back into the body," he said. "That's not a bad thing."
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) cheered Emanuel and his budget. "You have righted a ship that was headed for the rocks," he said.
"This is a budget that builds on the tough decisions we made in the first budget," Emanuel said. He trumpeted there were no new fees or taxes and the entire phasing out of the employee head tax, a drain on businesses since the mid-'70s. He pointed to the new Small Business Center as a way to cut red tape, and to enhanced afterschool and early childhood education programs.
"Not only are we correcting the past, but we're investing in shaping the future," Emanuel said of the budget. "It invests in children, the single greatest asset for our future. Other cities are cutting back on their children. They're balancing their budgets on the back of children."
Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) was the lone member of the council not to attend Thursday's meeting. She's been dogged by the health woes of her husband, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago), and a federal investigation into his use of campaign funds that has spread to include Ald. Jackson according to reports.