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Emanuel Tweaks Budget

Friday, November 04, 2011

DAN MIHALOPOULOSCHICAGO NEWS COOPERATIVE | LINK TO ARTICLE

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday announced that he would tweak his budget proposal for 2012 in response to public and City Council concern, amending his original plan to cut funding for libraries and increase some vehicle sticker fees.

The changes followed a letter that a council majority of 28 aldermen sent to his office earlier this week detailing their qualms. The mayor held up the moves as an example of how he was fulfilling his promise to forge a collaborative relationship with aldermen.

But Emanuel said the “core direction” of his fiscal vision remained intact and that he believed the most significant aspects of his $6 billion budget retained the support of aldermen and average Chicagoans.

Indeed, the total impact of the amendments announced Friday will only be $4.3 million in the city’s day-to-day operating budget of about $3 billion.

Still, the change in his sticker fee plan will impact the pockets of far more Chicagoans than the original proposal would have. And City Clerk Susana Mendoza, who has led the opposition to the fee hike, quickly replied that she remained opposed to the mayor’s fee increases, even as amended.

Currently, owners of smaller cars pay $75 a year for stickers and heavier vehicle owners are charged $125. At first, Emanuel had proposed lowering the weight threshold for heavier passenger vehicle stickers from 4,500 pounds to 4,000 pounds and raising the fees for big car owners to $135 from $120.

Many vehicles that had been in the category of lighter cars would have seen an increase of $60 as they were reclassified into the same weight class as larger sports-utility vehicles.

But on Friday, Emanuel said the 4,500-pound dividing line between heavy and lighter vehicles would remain intact. Vehicles weighing more than 4,500 will still face an increase of $10, but now owners of lighter passenger vehicles also will have to pay more — $85 instead of $75. They had originally faced no prospect of a fee hike.

There are more than 1.2 million cars in the light passenger class, with only about 90,000 heavier vehicles, according to the clerk’s office.

For the changes to be revenue neutral, Emanuel said he will follow Mendoza’s suggestion of increasing fines for sticker scofflaws (to $200 from $120) and raising the late fees (to $60 from $40).

Yet, Mendoza was not placated, her spokeswoman said. The clerk has criticized the mayor’s plan since virtually the moment he presented his budget on Oct. 12.

“Clerk Mendoza’s position remains the same from the beginning,” the spokeswoman, Kristine Williams, said in an email. “She is not in favor of a fee increase at all.”

Public opinion and political pressure also appeared to sway Emanuel on the issue of library cuts, which had generated loud protests. Rather than reducing branch library hours on Monday and Friday mornings all year, as he originally wanted to, Emanuel said shorter library hours will be in effect only during the school year and not in the summer.

The mayor said he had considered closing eight library branches but decided he did not want to do so.

About 100 library employees who were to be laid off as part of the plan now will keep their jobs, Emanuel said.

Also Friday, Emanuel said he would extend the discount on water fees for non-profit organizations with less than $250 million in assets. Now they will get a break of 60 percent in 2012, 40 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014 and beyond.

The amendments announced Friday also will restore $1 million for cleaning lots, cutting weeds and removing graffiti.

During the news conference, Emanuel was flanked by three council members: Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th Ward), committee Vice Chairman Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Ray Suarez (31st).

“This has been a very different process,” Reilly said, contrasting Emanuel’s reaction to aldermanic complaints with former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s approach.

Under Daley, the council was largely viewed as a “rubber stamp” for whatever the mayor proposed. And until the final years of his long tenure, Daley often enjoyed unanimous votes in favor of his budget plans.

That tack, combined with the recession, led to massive budget deficits. Emanuel’s budget plan promises to close a $635 million gap in 2012.


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