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Council: Vote Yes for Finance office

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) | Sun-Times files

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) | Sun-Times files

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Updated: January 12, 2014 6:31AM

The City Council’s dismal track record on financial matters says it all. This is a body that needs — desperately — full-time professional help.

Anyone who says otherwise is living in some alternate reality or, more likely, has some other, dubious, agenda.

A City Council vote scheduled for Wednesday would create an office of financial analysis that aldermen could rely on for all things financial — budgets, privatization deals, bond deals, rating agency actions and audits.

A last-minute effort led by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) is underway to kill the $500,000 office. Aldermen, particularly those that voted blindly five years ago to privatize the city’s parking meters, should resist and vote for the independent budget office.

Let us count the various ways alderman can use this office.

Most aldermen now rely on the mayor’s staff for analysis on budgets, potential privatization deals, tax-increment financial spending and bond sales. The majority of aldermen and their staffs do not have the analytical skills nor the time to do this work. Why wouldn’t they want a six-member staff at their disposal, much like the Congressional Budget Office, to provide baseline data that can help them make more informed decisions?

The opportunities lying ahead are endless. The City next year will face one of its most difficult budgets ever, as the bill for police and fire pensions jumps by about $600 million. You can be sure the mayor’s office will have ideas on how to fill that hole. What a refreshing change of pace it would be if aldermen arrived armed with their own ideas and their own analysis.

The same goes for analysis of potential privatization deals, changes in the city’s bond rating and even key mayoral initiatives, such as speed cameras or increased cigarette taxes.

Beale says the staff of this new office won’t have enough to do, as if the city isn’t about to go over a financial cliff. If needed, aldermen could from time to time pool money from their expense accounts to hire an analyst, Beale recommends. And how often has that happened in the past? (Hint: probably never).

Is this really just a scheme to give aldermen cover on tough votes, as critics charge? Hardly. We see aldermen taking few tough votes as it is, without the independent budget office.

To help pay for this new office, aldermen would have to give up $3,000 from their annual expense accounts. It would sure look bad if the public somehow got the idea that aldermen killed this office just so they could hold on to $3,000.

Simply put, none of the arguments against an independent financial analysis office add up.

As Chicago enters its latest, and perhaps fiercest, financial storm, a little aldermanic armor seems only wise.

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