Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New council, new mayor, new budget, same result

Posted By on 11.16.11 at 05:53 PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the aldermen who voted to approve his 2012 budget plan—that is, all of them—keep telling us that a new day has dawned at City Hall.

“This was a vote for change, and represents a break from the past,” Emanuel said this afternoon.

The mayor is right. In the past, the council’s overwhelming votes for mayoral budgets were cast to keep Chicago moving forward. In this new era, though, we have to get our priorities straight: we can't move forward until we break from the past.

This is the kind of change that the City Council can believe in. Budget committee chair Carrie Austin has guided mayoral budgets through the council for years, but earlier this week she said that the process went better than ever this time around because Emanuel made tweaks in his plan based on feedback from aldermen.

OK, so maybe Austin and other aldermen used to praise Daley's knack for “negotiation," "teamwork," and "leadership."

But this is a whole new level of compromise: instead of cutting library hours throughout the year, as he originally proposed, Emanuel agreed to cut them during just nine months of the year.

That's not the only thing that's changed in this new era. The budget plan itself is different from what's come before. Sure, some of it may seem familiar, but there are no revenue schemes like the sale of the city’s parking system—just revenue schemes like the sale of space on city property. In addition, the increase in water and sewer fees will be 70 percent over four years, as opposed to the last hike under Daley, which was 45 percent over four years.

Finally, we can't forget that the actual City Council vote total was different from those in recent years. Emanuel’s 2012 budget passed by a 50 to 0 count. Daley’s 2011 budget plan only mustered a 43-7 majority.

In fact, you’d have to go back a full five years to find the last time the council voted unanimously for the budget.

It's so rare for the City Council to give that kind of support to mayoral budget proposal that there were seven unanimous budget votes in Mayor Daley’s reign. There were also five other budget votes under Daley that garnered a single nay. To see exactly how much things have changed, you can check out all the votes since 1989, by alderman, here.

Despite all of this, one thing has remained the same: aldermen still complain about the budget before they praise themselves for being tough and voting for it anyway.

Of course, in the old days before May 2011, they called it a “bad-news budget.” In this era, it's something new: an "honest budget.”

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