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Aldermen have less to give up with proposed independent budget office

Chicago Ald. AmeyPawar (47th)

Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th)

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Updated: December 10, 2013 6:05AM

The City Council will get the independent budget office Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised, but aldermen won’t have to give up quite as much to get it, under a watered-down plan that still faces significant political “pushback.”

To help bankroll a $485,000-a-year “City Council Office of Financial Analysis,” the mayor initially proposed reducing — from $26,000-a-year to $20,000 — the amount of money allotted to each of the 50 aldermen for hourly or contractual employees.

The $20,000 was to be added to the $73,280-a-year aldermanic expense allowance to get around Shakman complaints about contractual employees. But aldermen would have had $6,000-a-year less overall to spend.

On Friday, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), chief sponsor of the ordinance, disclosed that the per-alderman penalty has been cut in half — to $3,000.

But even with the change, the Budget Committee put off a final vote amid, what Pawar acknowledged was significant resistance.

Sources said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) is leading the opposition by arguing that the City Council doesn’t need an independent budget office. Beale has argued behind-the-scenes that aldermen who insist on having somebody else “do their homework” for them should bankroll it on an hourly “pay-as-you-go” basis.

Critics have further argued that the office would provide political cover for aldermen who lack the backbone to cast difficult votes.

Pawar categorically rejected both arguments.

“At a time when we have a $340 million deficit, what that sounds like is, aldermen want more money in their expense account,” Pawar said.

“At a time when you’re trying to get independent analysis, getting 50 different independent reports doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s no economies of scale. That’s not how Congress does it. That’s not how New York City does it. That’s not how Pittsburgh or San Diego does it. The ordinance we have represents the best practices from all three of those cities.”

Pawar noted that Chicago is just over one year away from being required by law to make a $600 million payment to stabilize police and fire pension funds that now have assets to cover just 30.5 and 25 percent of their respective liabilities.

“The office itself represents one of the biggest reforms for City Council ever — or that’s been passed in 25 years,” he said.

“We have 2015 coming up. We’ve got the massive debt load. We’ve got a pension crisis. You need to ... have independent analysis if we’re going to be a co-equal branch of government.”

Beale was out of town and unavailable for comment. Although the proposal languished in committee for months before Emanuel signed on, Pawar insisted that he will have the votes when the independent budget office is voted on as part of the 2014 budget.

“There’s resistance. But I think it’s based on the funding. I don’t think it’s based on the office,” he said.

San Diego, New York and Pittsburgh are the only major cities that have an independent budget office, and all three were created after financial crises triggered voter referendums.

Chicago is “reacting to the parking meter deal by being proactive before 2015” when the day of reckoning comes for police and fire pension funds and, as a result, for local taxpayers, Pawar said.


Twitter: @fspielman

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