Why I voted against the 2015 Budget

November 22, 2014

The 2015 budget vote was 46-4, and although some changes were made to this upcoming budget it has several serious problems that I do not believe serve our constituents of the 32nd Ward, or the entire city.  At times, Chicago seems to be stuck in a time warp. We offered solutions to the financial, public safety and other issues that face us, but were outvoted. This election year budget did focus a little more on the potholes and tree trims, but leaves our kids and future generations holding a “scoop and toss” time bomb that overshadows the tree and pothole budgets.

There are some good recaps of the entire meeting at Progress Illinois, Chicago Tribune,DNA, and Suntimes:

There are public budget meetings that last a couple weeks where department commissioners and their staff offer their predetermined budgets to the Council. Some of the departments have generally the same small budget year to year, i.e. Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities and Animal Care and Control in the lower millions. Others have massive budgets that run over a billion dollars.

The questions we asked are almost always answered, even though the answers may come after the budget is voted on.

The budget continues the annual “scoop and toss” bond sales that have a negative effect on our ratings and are fundamentally the same problem as in prior years.  Even the Civic Federation decried the “scoop and toss” method of financing that has seen a dramatic increase since 2011. The “scoop and toss” extends the life of the city bonds by 30 years, and “dramatically increases the cost of providing government services.  This year $110 million in debt was deferred and that will cost taxpayers over $230 million in interest payments. It also hurts our ability to issue bonds in the future. Overall, these practices are detrimental to our City’s present financial health and forces our future generations to deal with the poor financial practices of today.  While one piece of the City 911 tax (OEMC) budget was altered to make way for $50 million in pension payments, TIF accounts grow larger, and no other visible effort is being made to make payments on pension funds.

The budget continues to give short shrift to neighborhood investments.  For years, the pot hole and tree trim budgets were reduced. This year an “investment” was made with extra positions for pothole and street repairs but not with full time employees and not at the level of service provided in years prior to the cuts. The budget “converted” the hours approved for part-time workers into “FTEs” but they will not be full time. Almost ALL of the “new” employees are actually being moved from one area of work in departments to another which brings into question – the work that will not be done with the shift to potholes and trees. But, hopefully potholes will be filled within days or weeks of being reported so we can avoid this year’s debacle.

Our police force is not sufficiently staffed to maintain policing citywide yet there is no justification for the $100 Million in overtime spent by the Police Department. Overtime spending is out of control and no demonstrable measures have been taken to rein this budget in for the second year in a row. One alderman called hiring any more police a “luxury”and the other said it would cost $1 Billion for 1000 new officers. Neither are correct. Last year, the Emanuel Administration and CPD budgeted $32 million for overtime but spent over $100 million. This year’s budget projection is $95 million or $20 million more than we were told. For two years in a row, no details could be provided and the Superintendent said he could not anticipate the overtime. When asked if outside assistance from a planning agency could help he said the planning was being done internally.Once again, the Administration was willing to ask for a blank check on overtime while they continue to decry the reality of many communities. I believe that taxpayers need evidence to show what the justification or rationale is for such expenditures. Last year I drafted and supported an amendment with the City Council Progressive Caucus to use $25 million of the overtime budget coupled with another $20-25 Million in “finance general” funds to hire hundreds of new police officers to bring our staffing levels up to necessary to keep our communities across the City safe. This amendment passed the Council Budget Committee for all of a few seconds but a “do over” was called once people realized the “mistake.” The amendment was voted down.

The budget becomes more difficult to accept in light of the other taxes and fees being piled on this year. A Tribune study showed that the typical resident “will pay nearly $481 more in fees and taxes next year then they paid in 2011.”  The City has also privatized Head Start and this low risk program will now cost taxpayers millions more in years to come. The argument being that it is a risky program and the investors accept all the risk. The costs of overhead high and we would be better served to pay for it as we have in the past while increasing the number of students who could be accepted into the program.

TIF reform has also been left off the table.  The program runs well when these taxes are spent in an open and transparent way on viable development or infrastructure projects. But, over $1.5 Billion sits in TIF accounts today, and taxpayers are asked to pay more across the board in fines fees and taxes to offset the funds going into the TIF accounts that are covering more and more of our City.  Over 30% of our City is captured in TIFs, by far the most of any American city.  To get Chicago on a path to a better financial footing, TIF must be completely revamped, and spending on projects like the DePaul Arena for the McPier taxing body must end.

Chicagoans must also look at the entire picture, because what CPS, CTA, and CHA do are all intertwined in our City budget. When CPS loses tens of million on bad bond deals as the Tribune points out in a bond series, taxpayers pick up the tab, not the banks. The Administration should at least make an attempt to look at the contracts and determine what our options are. All of the these budgets, fund of funds, and bad deals require taxpayers to pay more when we are not vigilant about how the money is spent.  Voting yes to the 2015 City Budget is hurting today’s bottom line, and all of our future generations.