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Mayor Emanuel’s first budget passes two key City Council panels

Ald. Ed Burke comments after Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented his 2012 budget Wednesday October 12 2011 City Hall. | Jean

Ald. Ed Burke comments after Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented his 2012 budget, Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at City Hall. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 14, 2011 11:04AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $6.3 billion budget cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday — along with the $220 million in increased taxes, fines and fees needed to pay for it.

Without a word of dissent, the City Council’s Budget Committee approved the mayor’s spending plan hours after the Finance Committee advanced the revenue package. That sets the stage for a full Council vote on Nov. 16.

“If it doesn’t pass unanimously, it’ll pass overwhelmingly,” said Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th).

Burke attributed the broad support to three factors: good will toward the new mayor; Emanuel’s willingness to compromise and a realization that there are no easy answers to a $635.7 million shortfall.

“It demonstrates that members of the City Council have added their contributions to the process and feel that they’ve had an impact,” he said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) added, “He’s working with the Council differently. Folks are listening to us. But also, we know that something has to give. As my grandmother used to say, ‘You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.’”

Budget Committee Vice Chairman Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) noted that two-thirds of the budget gap would be filled through personnel reductions, consolidations and other efficiencies. That’s a sharp contrast from the trick bag of one-time revenues that former Mayor Richard M. Daley used to postpone the day of reckoning.

“My colleagues have been working to impact this budget ... in the margins, understanding that, to close a $640 million gap is gonna require a lot of painful, difficult choices,” Reilly said.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) was one of Daley’s most outspoken critics. Moore said what he likes most is that Emanuel’s first budget is an “honest” spending plan.

“We’re not selling assets. We’re not borrowing from reserves. We’re finally dealing with some of the underlying structural deficits that have been plaguing city budgets for the last ten years. You’ve got to give him kudos for that,” Moore said.

Last week, Emanuel agreed to accommodate rebel aldermen by: softening the blow of his library cuts; restoring funding for graffiti removal and vacant lot cleaning; gradually weening non-profits off free water and raising city sticker fees across the board instead of confining the increase to large vehicles.

The mayor also agreed to reduce to $25 the $75-a-year refuse collection rebate paid to condominium owners, but limit the perk to “owner-occupied” condos whose owners apply by Jan. 31.

Reilly and Burnett are still searching for a way to retain the entire condo rebate and confine a $2-a-day increase in the city’s parking tax billed as a “congestion fee” to the morning and evening rush periods.

Burnett noted that condo owners have “taken on the burden of foreclosures in their buildings. Their assessment fees are going up. We hit them with this life safety [inspection].They have a myriad of expenses. For us to not help them with a small rebate on their garbage — it’s not fair.”

The mayor’s $6.3 billion budget for 2012 calls for: laying off 417 employees; closing three police stations and eliminating 1,252 police vacancies and doubling water and sewer fees over the next four years, then locking in cost-of-living increases after that.

The revenue package also includes: a one percentage point increase in the city’s hotel tax; a $2-a-weekday hike in downtown and River North parking taxes; increases in city sticker fees of $10 for small- and medium-sized vehicles and $15 for large vehicles and higher fines for an array of criminal and nuisance offenses.

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