The song remains the same | Bleader

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The song remains the same

Posted By on 11.07.07 at 08:27 PM

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A few minutes before Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Norman Greenbaum’s "Spirit in the Sky" suddenly began to play over the PA system in council chambers.

It was a fitting prelude to the day’s political highlight: the introduction and quick ascent to the spirit in the sky of an alternative to Mayor Daley’s proposed property tax hike.

Whatever your tastes in music, you’re going to be paying more for the privilege of living in or around Daley’s Chicago next year. Aldermen can no longer even muster the energy to pretend they’re looking for budget cuts, and the plan of would-be independents to levy a new tax on downtown businesses instead of struggling home owners looks to be dead just hours after its birth.

Daley loyalists like 31st Ward alderman Ray Suarez have spent the last few weeks grousing about the property tax hike, but they know it’s inevitable, and many are now caving because they don’t know what else to do. "I’m going to have to go back to my residents and explain it to them," Suarez said Wednesday.

The only purpose of this week’s meeting was to allow Daley allies to defer and publish his 2008 budget. The defer-and-publish maneuver is what it sounds like: an alderman moves to put off a vote on an item before the council until its next full meeting. Usually it’s done when aldermen want to force amendments or gather more opposition to the item. When it comes to the budget, though, it’s invoked to ensure that would-be reformers don’t meddle with the majority’s plans to push the budget through a week later.

Daley’s latest budget plan—including a mere $83 million increase in property taxes, down about $25 million from his original proposal—appears to have enough support to pass next week. Supporters are saying he has the 26 votes he needs, which means that anyone who ends up voting against the budget is either a would-be reformer or a Daley ally who’s been granted permission to "stand up" for the regular people on this one issue.

The mayor is no longer openly discussing alternatives or compromise. Asked today if he was content with a narrow victory, he noted that once, in the days before he grew accustomed to 50-0 council votes, he actually had to fight to win his first race for state’s attorney. "I won by 15,000 votes," he said. "No one ever talks about that."

For weeks independent-minded aldermen have been working to scrutinize the budget, lobby for cuts, demand greater resources for the inspector general, float some small-scale revenue ideas, and generally capitalize on Daley’s unpopular tax proposals. Yet they hadn’t really stepped forward in a clear, unified manner to present large-ticket alternatives.

By Wednesday it was too late.

While other aldermen were busy passing a resolution honoring the heroics of a group of Chicago cops, 22nd Ward alderman Ricardo Munoz was trying to collect signatures for a plan to raise $16 million through a “rescue and disaster response assessed cost”—a tax equal to 40 cents per square foot of leased commercial space downtown, ostensibly to cover the costs of emergency police and fire service for high-rises. Before the meeting was over, Munoz had rounded up 22 names, mostly the usual suspects like Toni Preckwinkle, Joe Moore, Ed Smith, and a few council rookies, though Daley allies John Pope (10th) and Mary Ann Smith (48th) also signed on.

"Downtown businesses aren’t going anywhere else," said Ed Smith, discounting criticism that the plan would place an undue burden on them. "And we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to offer relief on those property taxes."

As Munoz and Smith pointed out, though, 22 signatures won’t necessarily translate to 22 votes, let alone the 26 they’d need.

Daley knows this, but just to make sure, he did his best to kill the idea after it was already dead. He used his tried-and-true strategy of showing outrage and offense, then completely mischaracterizing what it was he was outraged about and offended by as a way to clarify just how outrageous and offensive it really might be if you thought about it that way.

The Munoz-Smith plan would levy the new assessment only on commercial businesses in the Loop, River North, and Gold Coast. Yet Daley repeatedly blasted the horrors it would spawn and spread, like a contagion, in residential high-rises "from the 49th Ward to the 7th Ward."

"I’m more concerned about all the high-rises—people live in high-rises,” he said. "Now you’ve got a group of aldermen that says, 'We want to tax you for living in high-rises.' … This thing will spread from here going north and south. Do these aldermen really believe in that, that it’s good for the goose, it’s good for here, it’s good for all their neighborhoods? I think that’s a recipe for disaster."

The PA system should have been playing Curtis Mayfield’s "(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go."

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