City council may get independent budget office, but aldermen will pay
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter October 24, 2013 5:00PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Sun-Times files
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:37AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is delivering on his promise to give the City Council an independent budget office — with nearly twice the spending previously planned — but aldermen have to give up something to get it.
To help bankroll a $485,000-a-year “City Council Office of Financial Analysis,” the mayor is reducing — from $26,000 a year to $20,000 — the amount of money allotted to each of the 50 aldermen for hourly or contractual employees.
The $20,000 will be added to the $73,280-a-year expense allowance that aldermen use to pay for transportation and ward office expenses.
Aldermen will be free to decide how to use the $93,280 and whether to have any hourly employees at all. But they’ll have $6,000 a year less overall to spend.
“You had to find the money somewhere. We don’t want to be in a position where we’re expanding the budget of the City Council,” Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s floor leader, said Thursday.
“There’s a number of aldermen who felt they wanted an entity that was a second look at budget proposals so they could double-check facts and figures. There’s a pretty large number of aldermen who don’t think that’s absolutely necessary. But enough did [want it] that the mayor’s budget people listened to it.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) championed the idea of creating a Chicago office that mirrors the Congressional Budget Office. He’s spent months negotiating with the mayor’s office to up the ante from Emanuel’s original plan to give it an annual budget of $250,000.
On Thursday, Pawar said he understands why aldermen had to forfeit $6,000 apiece to give the new office and its $130,000-a-year director the resources they need to do the job.
“No one wants to give up anything. But, at a time when the city is facing a $340 million deficit and staring at a $1 billion deficit next year, everybody has to give a little,” Pawar said.
Pawar noted that San Diego, New York and Pittsburgh are the only major cities that have an independent budget office and all three were created after financial crises triggered voter referendums.
Chicago is “reacting to the parking meter deal by being proactive before 2015” when the city is required by law to come up with $600 million to stabilize police and fire pension funds, Pawar said.
“We’re making sure the City Council has the tools needed to evaluate public-private partnerships and other major legislation. This comes down to looking at not only the pension system, but also what potential revenue sources and expense reductions there are,” Pawar said.
“This isn’t about personalities. This isn’t Council vs. Rahm Emanuel. This is an office that’s going to be here long after I’m gone and Rahm Emanuel is gone. It’s going to make the Council more effective so we do a good job the next time a public policy proposal comes before us.”
O’Connor noted that some aldermen didn’t spend all $6,000 of their allotment for hourly employees.
“If you weren’t using it in the past, you’ll have some more money to run the [ward] office,” he said.