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The mayor outlines the tough choices he’s proposed in the new city budget

Mayor Emanuel thanks Chicago police officers following NATO Summit.

Mayor Emanuel thanks Chicago police officers following the NATO Summit.

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Updated: November 1, 2012 3:41PM

The proposed 2013 budget I delivered before the City Council represents a dividend of the heavy lifting we did in last year’s budget and a down payment on the hard work still needed to right the ship. By making tough decisions last year, we produced the smallest deficit since the Great Recession began, putting us in a position to balance this year’s budget without raising a single tax or introducing a single new fee. And, we will achieve in two years what we’ve been discussing for over 20 years: the elimination of the head tax.

While we are holding the line on taxes, we are putting our children first by making a significant investment in their education, safety and health.

We will build on the shoulders of the full school day by increasing after-school opportunities for 13,000 children. We will add 5,000 slots to early childhood education and continue to invest in summer job opportunities for teens. Increased savings identified by the city’s healthcare fraud task force will help us expand vision screening for CPS students, providing free eye exams and eyeglasses for a total of 30,000 students this coming year, giving them the ability to see the blackboard in their own classrooms.

Putting our children first doesn’t end in our parks and classrooms; it means protecting their entire community. Since we implemented our anti-gang strategy, the homicide rates in Harrison fell by 20 percent and by 42 percent in Englewood. Overall crime is down by nearly 9 percent.

While we have made progress, the first three months of this year brought a level of gang violence in some neighborhoods that we as a city cannot ignore and that as mayor I will never accept. We will ensure that our children and their communities have the protection they deserve by guaranteeing the Chicago Police Department is at full strength at all times through regular recruitment classes. We will increase the regularity of promotions, and next year the police department will hold the first sergeant’s exam in six years.

With our force at full strength, we will be able to surge extra police on the street during weekends year-round, instead of just during the summer. We will move our community policing resources out of police headquarters and back into the neighborhoods where they belong, so that each commander can design their own strategy for community policing.

Instead of cutting services to pay for inefficient and bloated bureaucracy, we are reforming city government to expand services for our children, our families and our neighborhoods. The introduction of grid management and competitive bidding, as well as the agreement of labor unions to key reforms, has enabled the city to increase rodent control by 34 percent, increase tree trimming services by 40 percent, and reduce the cost of custodial services at the airport by 12 percent.

By continuing to make key reforms to labor work rules and pricing, we estimate as much as $200 million in savings over the next 10 years.

We will expand our successful competitive bidding model to workers’ compensation cases and consolidate the city’s duplicative information technology offices, which will lead to millions of dollars in savings.

Collaborating with local non-profits will enable us to expand our support services to 3,000 victims of domestic violence.

In order to make City Hall a partner and not a problem for small-business owners, we reduced waiting times for restaurant licenses by 35 percent, cut inspections for new restaurants by 50 percent, and cut licenses by 60 percent. In 2013, we will cut annual inspections on many buildings by 70 percent, with the ultimate goal of getting inspections down to one day, one visit.

We will also create a Small Business Center that will offer one-stop-shop services for everything a small business needs to open its doors, get a loan and hire new employees.

All of these reforms, savings and investments will go out the window if we do not address our pension crisis. The decisions we make in City Hall and in Springfield to deal with this issue will determine whether this budget represents a new direction for our city, or a fleeting glimpse of the kind of opportunities that will never be available to us again.

In less than four years, payments to meet our pension obligations will comprise 22 percent of the city’s entire corporate budget — one out of every five dollars. That is $1.2 billion of taxpayer money, and growing, each year after that.

That amount is close to what we spend on all salaries for our police department. It is what we would pay for the resurfacing of roads on 32,000 blocks in Chicago. It could pay for the combined cost of public health programs, garbage collection, tree trimming, rodent control, light fixing, pothole filling, recycling, street cleaning, snow removal, and programs at our parks and for our seniors every year.

Our taxpayers and residents should not be asked to choose between pension payments and public safety or pension payments and paved streets, or pension payments and public health.

If we choose to keep those services like we should, while making no changes in our pension system, taxpayers would see their property taxes increase by as much as 50 percent. That is unacceptable, which is why the time has come for our representatives in Springfield to make the necessary changes in order to deliver the security our retirees and taxpayers deserve.

Chicago’s history has been defined not by the challenges we faced, but by the challenges we met. I believe that if we work together, we can pass this budget and deliver a better and brighter future for all of Chicago’s residents.

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