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No new taxes to plug city budget deficit, Emanuel says

Rahm Emanuel | Sun-Times file photo

Rahm Emanuel | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:19AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday reaffirmed his promise to erase a $635.7 million shortfall without raising taxes — hoping to put to rest concern that his embrace of a massive school property tax increase sets the stage for an about-face on the city budget.

“I will not raise revenue until we deal with the fundamental problem. … Not gonna do it. I believe we need to make structural changes to the budget because there’s structural problems,” Emanuel said.

“So, I’ve taken one-time fixes off the table. I’ve made clear that I’m not gonna raise taxes on taxpayers. They do feel nickel-and-dimed. But we are gonna make the fundamental changes that are necessary to this budget so it’s on a more stable path.”

Two weeks ago, the mayor vowed to make the tough choices Chicago has avoided for a decade — without raising taxes, cutting police or using one-time revenues — to erase a shortfall in his preliminary 2012 budget that will rise to $790 million by 2014.

He argued that Chicago taxpayers have been “nickel-and-dimed” to death and that he was not about to reach further into their pockets before bringing fundamental change to City Hall.

“The capital I’ll spend will be political capital to make the tough choices that we have to do for the city. The capital I won’t spend is the taxpayers’ dollars and asking them to put more into a system that hasn’t been reformed. This system needs reform. It is calling out for it,” he said then.

But that was before the mayor gave his handpicked school team the go ahead to raise property taxes by $150 million and publicly defended that increase by arguing that the $400 million in cuts the Chicago Public Schools have already made represent the fundamental change needed to justify such an increase.

Now, City Hall insiders are wondering whether Emanuel could apply the same rationale to the city budget.

What’s preventing the new mayor from introducing a spending plan in mid-October that includes both dramatic cuts and new or higher taxes, fines and fees — and arguing that both are justified because of those reforms?

On Wednesday, the mayor flatly denied that he’s playing a bait-and-switch.

“If, every year, you’re running a deficit, regardless of the health of the economy, it says something. That’s why the days of putting off the decision hoping things will turn around, hoping things will cure themselves are over. We need to face the consequences and make those hard choices,” he said.

The Chicago Teachers Union has urged Emanuel to give the public schools some of the $868 million unallocated balance from Chicago’s 165 tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley declared a TIF surplus last year to help bail out the city and the schools.

Asked why he can’t do the same to shrink the school property tax increase or eliminate it entirely, Emanuel dodged the question.

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