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Mayor counting on red light and speed camera revenues to balance 2014 budget

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

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Updated: November 24, 2013 6:21AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is counting on $120 million in fines from red-light and speed cameras — and $10 million more from higher parking fines and impounded vehicle storage fees — to balance his $6.97 billion 2014 budget, aldermen were told Tuesday.

“You’re basically telling motorists, `You’re not welcome in the city of Chicago.’ It’s pretty onerous on drivers,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) on the eve of the mayor’s budget address to the City Council.

If anything, Waguespack and others believe the $60 million estimate from speed cameras is a low-ball figure.

They point to the 204,743 warning notices churned out by speed cameras installed around four parks in just 40 days during a recent test run. That would have generated $12.2 million in fines if those cameras had been playing for keeps, which they are now.

“You could tack on another $10 million or $20 million. The intersections they’ve picked are going to be extremely lucrative,” Waguespack said.

Most of the six parking fines targeted for increases have been frozen for years. They include: $60 for parking illegally on streets being cleaned; $110 for parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant; a three-fold increase to $75 for RVs, taxicabs and trucks parked on residential streets; $100 for parking illegally during rush periods and $250 for parking in spaces designated for people with disabilities.

Daily storage fees for impounded vehicles would go from $10 to $20-a-day for the first five days.

That brings the total revenue package to $34.2 million.

Emanuel also plans a 75-cents-a-pack increase in the city’s cigarette tax, a 50 percent hike in the amusement tax tacked on to cable television bills and increases in zoning fees on large- and medium-sized developments, along with a premium for filing permit applications in-person, instead of online.

“I don’t know that I would call it nickel-and-diming as much as I would sparing them from the major taxes that can be the bane of every citizen’s existence,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader.

“If we’re able to hold the line on property, sales and gas taxes without any major service cuts, then we’ve done something no major city in the country is doing.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) credited the mayor’s budget team with “showing creativity in trying to spread the pain as equitably” as possible.

But, he questioned Emanuel’s decision to create new programs before “stabilizing” the city’s budget.

The mayor’s planning to: increase spending for summer jobs, after-school, children’s health and vision programs; bolster cultural programming in neighborhood parks and set aside $4 million more for tree-trimming, rodent control and graffiti removal that, aldermen complain, have fallen months and even years behind.

Although it’s only a $10 million item, the cigarette tax hike that would leave Chicago with the nation’s highest combined state and local tax rate has emerged as a major sticking point.

Critics contend it will encourage people to stand on street corners hawking loose cigarettes, exacerbating a black market that’s already worse than it is for marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

“We don’t want the loosies. It’s another crime component in our communities that we don’t need,” said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Health and Environmental Protection Committee.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) added, “There are certain corners in my community where all they do is hawk loose cigarettes. It’s just as crazy as selling heroin, cocaine and marijuana—and a guy can make more money selling loose cigarettes than he can selling a bag of heroin.”

The owners of Chicago’s 7-Eleven stores are equally opposed to the 75-cents-a-pack increase, noting that the average smoker they stand to lose to other states purchases $5.35 in other merchandise after buying cigarettes.

“It’s not just the cigarettes. It’s the gum, the candy, the mints, the coffee — everything else that goes along with that transaction,” said Jim Bayci, the owner of a 7-Eleven at 35 E. Wacker.

“You’ve got to find food sales or something else to fill that void or you have to start reducing hours and laying people off just to get back to budget.”

Yet another issue is what aldermen call a shortage of police officers masked by the mayor’s decision to spend as much as $120 million on police overtime this year.

After churning out enough recruit classes to hire 740 new officers by Dec. 31, Emanuel’s budget includes money to hire only enough officers in 2014 to keep pace with attrition.

“We tried a year of just treading water and an awful lot of police overtime,” said Ald. John Arena (45th).

“I still want to see what’s the overall plan in terms of getting our murder rate down and how we can justify not making any significant changes in the number of officers.”

Waguespack said, “I had two shootings in less than a week and had a girl get beaten over the head at DePaul. Crime seems to be picking up in ways we haven’t seen it in many years. Officers in many of the districts have already been pulled to other districts for the South Side Safe Passage. Our ward superintendent, forestry people, building inspectors all going to Safe Passage. One or two officers are covering two beats. It’s just not enough.”

Pressed on how he would pay for more police hiring, Waguespack said, “The mayor’s got to figure that out. If he’s putting money back into these new areas he wants to invest in, maybe we should take a look at that and say we need to put more into police bodies on the street.”

The revenue package represents just 10 percent of the $338.7 million budget shortfall. The rest of the gap would be closed by:

◆ $101.1 million in “economic growth and revenue enhancement,” including rebounding revenues from taxes on real estate transfers, hotel rooms, sales and income.

◆ $66 million in savings generated by consolidating leases, reducing telecommunications costs, eliminating 80 vacant clerical and project coordinator jobs and reducing health care costs for active employees and retirees.

◆$137.4 million from what the city calls “improved fiscal management.” That includes $35 million generated by “sweeping” revenue funds that have never been emptied or put to use and TIF reform expected to generate $29 million for the city and at least twice that much for the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools.

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