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Committee advances plan for independent city budget office

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) huddles with Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Aust(34th) copy room behind City Council chambers before Tuesday's vote

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) huddles with Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) in a copy room behind the City Council chambers before Tuesday's vote creating a City Council Office of Financial Analysis. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

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Updated: January 12, 2014 6:31AM

Chicago would become the nation’s fourth major city to establish an independent budget office to advise the City Council — and the first city to do so without a voter referendum — under a $485,000 plan advanced Tuesday that satisfied no one.

On one side is Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who wants to bankroll the new office on an hourly, “pay-as-you-go” basis instead of asking all 50 aldermen to forfeit $3,000 from their annual allowance for office expenses and contractual employees.

“I don’t think there will be enough workload to justify an eight-hour day by six, full-time employees,” Beale said.

On the other side is Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and his colleagues in the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

They believe the scope of the new “City Council Office of Financial Analysis” is too narrow and should be broadened to include all city contracts over $5 million.

“That’s really where taxpayers are losing dollars — if nobody’s looking at those contracts. And it could be everything from a Class 6B [property tax break] to what we’re buying in terms of police cars and supplies,” Waguespack said.

The ordinance approved by the City Council’s Budget Committee Tuesday would empower the new office to: analyze the mayor’s annual budget and city audit; present aldermen with a report on “budget options reforms and efficiencies;” review privatization deals and asset leases and analyze actions taken by Wall Street rating agencies.

After huddling with Beale in a copying room behind the City Council chambers, Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) pushed through the original ordinance and referred Beale’s version to a sub-committee.

“I don’t think we should pay-as-we-go. I think we should have something stable that we can rely on,” Austin said.

Aldermen Michele Smith (43rd) and Ameya Pawar (47th), prime movers behind the new office embraced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the discontent on both sides is a good thing.

“That’s really what shows that it’s a good compromise — a good way to get started,” Smith said.

Pawar argued that, if anything, there will be too much work for the new office.

He noted that Chicago is just over one year away from being required by law to make a $600 million payment to stabilize police and fire pension funds that now have assets to cover just 30.5 and 25 percent of their respective liabilities.

“We scoped this office based on all of the things we heard from our colleagues when the parking meter contract was opened up again. The scope can change over time. But this is a great start,” Pawar said.

“We’re only the fourth city in the country to do this. New York and San Diego almost went bankrupt before their voters forced their governments to put in an office like this in place. We’re doing this pro-actively.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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