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Rahm Expands Youth Programs, Neighborhood Investment In 2017 Budget

By Ted Cox | October 11, 2016 11:39am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives at the City Council Tuesday to deliver his 2017 budget proposal.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives at the City Council Tuesday to deliver his 2017 budget proposal.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Having averted the Chicago Public Schools strike and pledged to hire almost 1,000 more police officers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday laid out, in part, how he plans for pay for it.

Calling his balanced $9.8 billion 2017 spending proposal "a budget unlike any other we have seen in recent memory," Emanuel said, "It is a budget free of an immediate pension crisis, free of the black cloud of insolvency threatening the retirements of city employees and the financial future of Chicago."

Critics complained it was also free of specifics, especially on where exactly funding would come from.

Emanuel proposed a 7-cent tax on paper and plastic shopping bags to pay for part of the estimated $134 million over two years it will cost to hire 970 additional officers.

 With no substantial new revenue in the budget, Ald. Scott Waguespack wondered where funds were being shifted from to pay for expanded youth and arts programs.
With no substantial new revenue in the budget, Ald. Scott Waguespack wondered where funds were being shifted from to pay for expanded youth and arts programs.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox


The mayor also declared a $175 million surplus in Tax Increment Finance funds, $88 million of which will go to CPS to help pay for the four-year deal it reached with the Chicago Teachers Union late Monday. That came at the apparent cost of the so-called Obama Prep, an earlier Emanuel proposal that Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said Tuesday was reliant on those TIF funds to be transferred.

Emanuel proposed expanding mentoring, afterschool and summer jobs programs for youth, as well as creating a neighborhood arts initiative and a $100 million Community Catalyst Fund meant to spur economic development in the neighborhoods.

The mayor said his administration had tripled spending on youth initiatives, from $21 million to a proposed $64 million next year. That would expand mentoring programs to 7,200 teenagers in 20 neighborhoods. He also planned to add 2,000 summer jobs to that program, targeted at those already participating in mentoring.

Emanuel proposed matching funds for aldermen spending $10,000 of their discretionary menu on neighborhood arts projects, saying, "In every neighborhood in Chicago we have all seen talented local artists, painters, photographers or sculptors whose work could brighten and enhance their communities. I am asking each of you to join me in creating 50 permanent new art installations across all 50 wards."

He also touted modernization of the city's 311 system to make it more adaptable with smartphones, to be completed by 2019.

"We are not going to pay for it with new taxes," Emanuel insisted. "A couple of months ago I announced we are going to sell valuable city property at Goose Island, move those 250 jobs to Englewood and use the proceeds from the land sale to build a new, modern, mobile 311 system that serves all our residents."

Emanuel emphasized that the city was on sound financial footing after making four major city pension funds solvent. "We did what was economically and financially necessary, not what was convenient or expedient," he said. "Denial has never been a long-term economic strategy for Chicago’s financial health."

Aldermen John Arena (45th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) raised doubts about how exactly those new and expanded programs would otherwise be funded.

"First of all I'd like to know how he's going to pay for these things. It wasn't mentioned in the speech," Waguespack said. "That's what you should put out there — here is how we're going to pay for it."

"The community investment fund is very intriguing to me," Arena said, but he quickly added that "$100 million is a considerable sum. We want to know where that money is going to come from."

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a business-oriented government watchdog. Msall, however, did cheer what he generally considered a "good-news" budget "in that it doesn't increase general taxes."

Yet Msall was dubious about the bag tax paying for additional police. "It's not a large revenue source," he said, and like tobacco taxes, which diminish as people quit smoking, it would be prone to shoppers learning to bring their own bags and not pay the tax at all. "Most of the new police hiring that is a big part of the mayor's budget is being done through savings efficiencies and financial revenue growth," Msall said.

Waguespack agreed, saying, "Some of the ideas that have been put in here, they don't add up. ... What are you offsetting for projects, and where does that money come from?"

The Grassroots Collaborative raised issues over the bag tax being regressive. "Mayor Emanuel continues his streak of asking working families to pay more while the most wealthy continue to not pay their fair share,” said Executive Director Amisha Patel. "This is not sustainable. Plastic bags are not going to generate the resources needed to address the economic and racial inequality driving so much of the violence in our communities."

Waguespack also raised doubts about the sale of city land in Goose Island, saying it would be "blowing a hole in a manufacturing district that's been operating very well for many decades."

Emanuel nonetheless insisted, "We are balancing our budget not with gimmicks, but with honesty and a shared sense of responsibility."

On Monday, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new Mariano's in Bronzeville, Emanuel cited "all the hard work over the last five years" to stabilize city pensions and finances, including last year's record $589 million increase in property taxes, which will continue to be phased in.

"Our work is not done," he said. "We have more work to do to strengthen Chicago's finances."

Emanuel applauded recent upgrades in the city's bond rating to "stable," adding, "My goal is to move our finances from stable to secure."

He also charted the expansion of mentoring, afterschool and summer jobs programs as long-term ways to address the city's problems in gun violence, calling them "neighborhood investments, investments in our kids and their future."

Emanuel said he would also move forward on modernizing the city's 311 service for "mobile 311 technology," so that residents can report streetlight outages, potholes, graffiti and other non-emergency service requests through their smartphones.

Departmental budget hearings begin Monday, with Waguespack expecting Budget Director Alexandra Holt to offer details on funding sources.

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