Emanuel compromises on some homeless services cuts
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org November 2, 2011 3:40PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel presents his 2012 budget, Wednesday, October 12, 2011, at City Council. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times
Updated: December 4, 2011 11:11AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel bent a little Wednesday — by restoring limited overnight transport services for the homeless — and signaled his willingness to compromise more to win the 26 votes he needs to pass his 2012 budget.
Emanuel threw dissident aldermen a bone, one day after 28 of them asserted their independence by signing a letter to the mayor to protest his cuts to libraries, health care, police and fire dispatch and grafitti removal.
The mayor set aside the $200,000 needed to reinstate “two to three” teams of employees working the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift to make certain that homeless Chicagoans who need overnight transport to shelters this winter can get the ride they need to get out of the cold.
Round-the-clock transport will resume on Nov. 15.
“Keeping Chicagoans safe during the challenging winter months is a priority,” the mayor said in a statement.
“By providing additional funds to fill this service gap, we will be able to offer critical transportation to shelters and ensure those most vulnerable find refuge from the harsh temperatures.”
Earlier this week, Family and Support Services Commissioner Evelyn Diaz suggested that homeless Chicagoans who need overnight transport this winter “take a cab” to emergency shelters.
Diaz was talking about how her department would cope this winter after the $2.3 million, mid-year cut in state funding that forced Emanuel to lay off 24 city employees who worked the overnight shift picking up homeless residents and transporting them to shelters.
The $200,000 for overnight homeless services will not be enough to satisfy the 28 aldermen who signed the protest letter.
They want the mayor to double the size of the tax-increment-financing surplus he’s declaring — from 20 percent to 40 percent — to avert the need to lay off 284 library employees and eliminate 268 library vacancies.
Shortly before his budget took a beating during a public hearing that followed Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel signaled a willingness to compromise, so long as his “principles” of solving the city’s structural deficit are not compromised.
But, he also argued that 28 votes on a protest letter do not necessarily mean 28 votes against the budget. The mayor needs 26 votes to pass his first spending plan.
“I understand, as a former congressman, the desire to put your name to a letter on some issues. We were joking earlier. Having signed a few letters in my time as a congressman, not all signatures are created equal, OK?” Emanuel said.
“There’s some issues, and we’re gonna work through on a couple issues. But, we’re not going back to a budget or a budget process that doesn’t shape our future, doesn’t make the tough choices and put Chicago’s financial house in order.”
The mayor’s decision to reduce corporate fund support for libraries by $10 million — even as the city continues to build new libraries on top of the 59 constructed under former Mayor Richard M. Daley — has emerged as the most controversial cut in the mayor’s budget.
On Wednesday, Emanuel reiterated that he rejected a plan to close eight libraries in favor of a plan that cut hours — on Monday and Friday mornings.
“We have to find those savings. That’s the destination. If people have a different road to that destination, great. I’m always open to different approaches. What I’m not open to is changing where we’re going,” the mayor said.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) sat through the entire public hearing Wednesday, which featured a crying patient of the city’s targeted mental health clinics, librarians who stand to lose their jobs and 911 dispatchers who warned of employee burn-out and longer emergency response times.
Burke expressed confidence that Emanuel would accommodate aldermanic concerns, even though the mayor doesn’t need to make changes.
“The mayor will have plenty of votes to pass this budget. There’s no doubt in my mind. If there were no changes, he would still pass the budget. But, I’m sure there will be continued tinkering,” Burke said.
He added, “People are worried about refuse rebate and library hours. This is a process that is healthy. It’s what is designed to be the role of the Council, where there’s inter-action.”