CITY HALL — The City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $8.9 billion budget Wednesday over token opposition, with only a handful of aldermen voting against it.
The budget passed by a vote of 46-4. Voting against the plan were Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), Toni Foulkes (15th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th).
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee, said an almost $300 million structural deficit had been closed through spending reforms, precision cuts and revenue enhancements. She praised spending increases targeted in neighborhoods for tree trimming and planting, rodent control, pothole repair and $1.7 million to end homelessness among veterans by the end of next year.
Ald. James Balcer (11th) specifically applauded that last measure as he voted for his last budget before retiring with next year's municipal election.
"I am proud of this budget," Emanuel said upon passage. "This will be four years in a row we have balanced this budget without raising property, sales or gas taxes."
Emanuel boasted that a month ago when he introduced his budget proposal, but it does raise fees and other taxes for residents, including phasing out an exemption on entertainment taxes for cable TV service and trying to collect hotel taxes for online vacation rentals.
Yet Foulkes led opposition, saying, "There's a population, a huge population in our city, that are not satisfied." She said leadership, accountability and serving the people dictated a vote against the budget.
"Police hiring lags behind the needs of our communities," added Arena, "barely keeping up with attrition." He also criticized the lack of reform on Tax Increment Finance districts and demands that more than 9,000 city retirees pay more for their health coverage.
Fioretti likewise said the Police Department "is not sufficiently staffed," adding, "There is no justification for this level of overtime," budgeted at $77 million. He too called for more police hiring.
Yet Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) insisted it was statement enough to say, "We are keeping up with attrition."
Austin also pointed to an increase in funding for community policing.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said his ward had improved greatly over the last four years, thanks largely to government spending.
"We're too busy criticizing. We're too busy looking at the bad stuff," he said. "The 'City That Works,' it's working."
The election-year budget faced little opposition in committee hearings. Unlike last year, when there was a failed 11th-hour attempt to hire more police officers, aldermen seemed content to leave staffing at a steady level.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) pointed to how even opponents offered no amendments to the budget in the process. "If you're part of a legislative body, legislate," he said. "Put forth amendments."
Yet when Ald. Joe Moore (49th) repeated that charge, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) rolled his eyes, having been the sponsor of that attempt to hire more officers a year ago, and Waguespack chortled when Moore said the city had addressed TIF reform. Moore went on to cite budget testimony that hiring 1,000 more officers would cost $1 billion and defied opponents to find that amount of new revenue.
Even so, Fioretti, who has already announced he'll oppose the mayor in February's municipal election, has attacked it as a "Christmas tree budget."
On the floor Wednesday, Fioretti said the budget "does not do enough to make our streets safe and our neighborhoods strong and does not bring Chicago together," producing a divided city of "the haves and the have-nots." He added that it "pays lip service to neighborhood investments."
Emanuel responded by subtly emphasizing campaign themes that he had made the "tough choices" and that the city was better off than when he took office.
"Four years ago, companies were fleeing, and now we're No. 1 for corporate relocations in the country," he said. "Four years ago, people were leaving the city, now we're the No. 1 city people are coming back to."
Many aldermen praised Budget Director Alexandra Holt for guiding the process, and the mayor in general for placing the city on sounder financial footing, with criticism implicit for his predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley. Emanuel said only that budgets before he took office "had smoke and mirrors on various levels."
"The pace at which we moved away from the precipice is, I think. pretty remarkable," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). He added that it was a false dichotomy to say a vote against the budget means you're a "reformer" and a vote in favor means you're a "rubber stamp."
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