Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Wednesday morning speech announcing his proposed 2014 budget lauded the tough decisions and important investments he is putting forward to balance the city’s $339 million budget deficit. Emanuel said that one of his goals would be to remove the divide, both symbolic and real, between downtown Chicago and the neighborhoods.
“I believe the old model between downtown and the neighborhoods no longer applies,” said Emanuel, addressing a City Council that applauded after every few pronouncements.
There’s little argument that there are two Chicago’s, with differing resources, opportunities and even health outcomes, depending on which one an individual is lucky or unlucky enough to come from.
But a consensus on how to close that gap is another story. Previous budget seasons saw protests from groups including the Mental Health Movement, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Grassroots Collaborative arguing that budget-saving measures like closing half of the city-run mental health clinics, a budget proposal made real in 2012, would have detrimental effects on the city’s neighborhoods.
Here are some of Emanuel’s main proposals in the new budget:
- A proposed $1.43 increase in the cigarette tax to fund outreach to enroll Chicago Public Schools students in Medicaid and eye-screening programs
- Phasing out funding of healthcare benefits for some retirees at an expected savings of $24 million in 2014
- Fines from red light parking cameras, parking tickets and other parking enforcement are expected to bring in $76 million more in 2014 than 2013
- A daily $3 fee for all taxicabs operating in Chicago
The Chicago Reporter caught up with Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative, after the budget address in City Hall.
Patel was unimpressed with the mayor’s cost-cutting proposals, citing the increased cigarette tax, and the fee for taxi cabs, as examples of regressive taxation.
“Our neighborhoods need more money in our pockets, not to put the burden of the budget on Chicago residents in the version of fees and fines,” said Patel, whose organization recently released a report finding that few new jobs in the Loop actually went to Chicago residents, even though their tax dollars were used for subsidy programs. “We need to stop the corporate welfare of projects like the DePaul stadium instead.”
In what has become a regular pattern, the City Council’s Progressive Reform Coalition will host a town hall to hear concerns about the budget at 7 p.m. Wed., Oct. 30 at the UE Hall, 37 S. Ashland Ave. The City Council also will hold a hearing in its chambers at 10 a.m. on Mon., Oct. 28.