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Emanuel backs independent budget office to analyze spending for aldermen

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) Ald. AmeyPawar (47th)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th)

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Updated: August 24, 2013 6:28AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has thrown his support behind a plan to create a $250,000-a-year independent budget office that would help the City Council analyze the mayor’s spending and privatization plans and suggest budget-balancing alternatives.

Twenty-two aldermen have signed on to a stalled ordinance championed by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) creating a Chicago office that would mirror the Congressional Budget Office.

Pawar initially talked about financing the new office, in part, with $300,000 in savings generated by eliminating the legislative inspector general and transferring Faisal Khan’s powers to Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

Now, Emanuel has thrown his formidable support behind the ordinance, without saying where the money would come from.

“It will provide the type of work that, I think, would be helpful for the City Council as we work through clearly some very difficult fiscal and budgetary issues that face the city,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“This is based somewhat on when I was in Congress. You had an Office of Management and Budget in the executive branch, and you had a Congressional Budget Office. It can be helpful in answering some questions and doing some analytical work.…It’s another iteration of some of the reforms we’ve brought. When I was mayor-elect, and I sat down with a number of aldermen, some suggested this would be a helpful addition. It’s kind of like a resource office.”

Pawar said a truly independent budget office would have been helpful in 2008, when the City Council approved then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s widely-reviled, 75-year plan to privatize Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters in exchange for an up-front payment of $1.15 billion.

“It’s hard to say it would prevent [another] debacle, but certainly having more information is better than having less information. It’s gonna make sure the City Council can conduct due-diligence—that we make informed decisions,” Pawar said, noting that negotiations continue on the fine points.

Emily Miller, policy director for the Better Government Association, said earmarking just $250,000 in annual spending for the new independent budget office is more like going through the motions than real reform.

“There’s a high number of really high-profile public- private partnerships the city is looking at. We’re talking about Midway Airport and the Port Authority. We’ll probably be talking about garbage and water [at some point]. There’s no way you can run a full office that has these duties for 250,000. I don’t even know if it would last one deal,” Miller said.

“I heard from several aldermen that they were really unsure of what direction to go when discussing the new parking meter deal [revised by Emanuel]. They felt something like this would be useful. But to have an office that is supposed to run on $250,000 is laughable.”

Miller said having an independent budget office responsible for the “technical and budget analysis side” of privatization deals is also no substitute for another stalled ordinance that would put a “codified process in place” for reviewing privatization deals.

“This is the mayor’s response to pressure to pass the privatization ordinance,” she said.

City Hall sources said Emanuel is prepared to get behind an ordinance that would authorize the independent budget office to: analyze the mayor’s budget and the annual city audit; review “proposed public-private partnerships and asset leases;” prepare “fiscal impact analyses” of pending legislation and prepare an annual “budget options report” similar to the one prepared by Ferguson.

The office would be run by a so-called “Council Budget Analyst” who could not have served as a city employee during the prior two years.

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