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Emanuel should give Chicagoans a voice on city budget

Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens roll call while presiding over Chicago City Council meeting Nov. 16 2011 when aldermen voted 50-0

Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to the roll call while presiding over the Chicago City Council meeting on Nov. 16, 2011, when aldermen voted 50-0 to approve the administration's 2012 budget. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:58AM

Chicago has a long history of community engagement and public input to help the City Council shape our most important public policy: the annual budget. But this year, taxpayers and our elected representatives have been shut out of a budget development process that threatens to eliminate hundreds of good middle-class jobs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised a more transparent administration and to open city government to the taxpayers it serves. But as of today, no one has seen the mayor’s budget document except for banks and ratings agencies.

Put this in context: Almost every major America city releases its executive’s budget to its legislators and constituents well in advance of a formal presentation. In Chicago, for more than 20 years, the public and our aldermen received the mayor’s budget months in advance of the final budget vote. The media and stakeholders had time to analyze and critique the complex document. And there were several town hall budget meetings across the city to ensure broad-based participation.

Now, after campaign pledges of transparency and open process, Emanuel is breaking from that precedent and has shut the public and the City Council out of budget development.

Emanuel has publicly stated there will be no new taxes or fees to close the budget gap. We can only assume the estimated $298 million budget shortfall will be filled with cuts only.

If the Office of the Inspector General’s Budget Options Report for 2013 is any indication, the budget will prioritize corporate welfare over the welfare of the people who live and work in Chicago. Of the 24 proposed cuts, the vast majority eliminate good jobs, jeopardizing public health and safety and weakening our economy. Only one proposal looks to the business community to share in the sacrifice.

Mayor Emanuel, the people of Chicago deserve a voice in their budget development process.

We do not want a budget that undercuts working families to pad profits for private companies. We want to stop giving our money to companies that don’t need it and start investing in communities that do. And we need transparency and community participation in the process.

Tom Balanoff is president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 and the SEIU Illinois Council.

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