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'Hold the Mayor's Feet to the Fire' on Budget, Aldermen Urge Residents

By Paul Biasco | September 23, 2015 6:50am | Updated on September 23, 2015 9:35am
 Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) speaks during Tuesday night's meeting at Avondale-Logandale Elementary School.
Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) speaks during Tuesday night's meeting at Avondale-Logandale Elementary School.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

AVONDALE — A group of aldermen said they were blindsided by details in the mayor's budget proposal Tuesday and vowed to fight for alternative sources of revenue before the budget is finalized.

Four members of the City Council's Progressive Caucus held a community meeting Tuesday night to discuss the budget's specifics and alternatives that the group had previously suggested to the mayor.

The aldermen, local residents and community leaders called on Chicagoans who will be hit hard by the tax hike to "hold the mayor's feet to the fire."

"A lot of you remember just a few months ago there wasn’t going to be a property tax increase — at least during the election. Just a few weeks ago, or a few days ago, it was $400 million and now it's increased to $588 million," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

 Community leaders and activists on stage during Tuesday night's meeting.
Community leaders and activists on stage during Tuesday night's meeting.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

Waguespack, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) urged those at the meeting at Avondale-Logandale Elementary School to make their voices heard.

"Typically once these budgets are produced, that's it," Waguespack said. "I think in this budget we have an opportunity to make sure there are options that are still on the table."

Waguespack said the 11-member Progressive Caucus sat down with the mayor several times to present options to help limit the property tax hike.

The caucus proposed redistributing Tax Increment Finance funds, reviving an amnesty program for delinquent tickets, curbing reforms for ride-sharing services and setting what they called an "alternative minimum tax" for Downtown properties that frequently have their assessments reduced through appeals. They called on the mayor to beef up the Law Department to fight those appeals.

The also proposed a stormwater stress tax on big box retailers whose giant parking lots lead to a lot of storm runoff into sewer systems.

"Right now it looks like the mayor has incorporated none of the Progressive Caucus's ideas," Sadlowski Garza said. 

The mayor did propose an amnesty program for outstanding debts to the city along with a payment-plan option for motorists earlier this month. The amnesty plan will allow individuals and businesses to pay their outstanding debt between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15.

The mayor has also declared a $113 million TIF surplus with $22 million going to the city and remainder to go to local government bodies including CPS.

Garza was furious with the mayor's suggestion to privatize 311 non-emergency call centers, which Emanuel said would save about $1 million a year.

"Nobody saw that coming," she said. "No one."

Michael Collins, a 26-year-old Logan Square resident and leader with the activist group Reclaim Chicago called the tax hike a scam.

"It’s coming from one place in particular," Collins said. "It's coming from Wall Street. It's coming from LaSalle Street. It's coming from folks who wear $500 shoes, who have yachts that have little yachts that go inside them. We are told that we are broke in an era of unbridled prosperity.”

Most at the meeting argued the budget needed to be bridged by taxing the wealthy and corporations.

Fernando Espinosa, a member of Somos Logan Square, said the city was already expensive for most middle- and lower-income residents.

"It's expensive because our public transportation is expensive, because our street parking is expensive, because there are taxes for using cellphones, for streaming movies, for ordering food and there's more to come," Espinosa said.

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