Joseph Ferguson doesn't mind being an unpopular guy. If you are the Inspector General for the corruption capital of North America, you have to expect that friends won't come easy.
Since Joe is already Mr. Unpopular, he is the perfect scribe for the budget report released last week that lists several controversial recommendations to reigning in city finances. The city expects revenues to fall $300 million short of expenses in its 2013 budget.
No matter which political ideology you subscribe to, there is something for everyone to dislike in this report. That is how you know it is a good set of recommendations.
Real fiscal reform is only achieved when everyone is a little ticked off.
Here is a condensed version of recommendations.
- Civilianize the Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau
- Civilianize the Police Department’s Forensic Services
- Civilianize Positions in Administrative Sections of the Police Department
- Convert Street Sweeping to a Grid System
- Fully Privatize Parking Enforcement
- Reduce Fire Apparatus Staffing to Four Persons
- Reduce the Number of Fire Suppression Districts from Six to Four
- Replace Twenty Percent of Fire Suppression Apparatuses with Ambulances
- Eliminate Non-Salary Compensation for Police and Firefighters
- Eliminate Regular Weekend Schedule Pay Premium for Certain Water Department Employees
- Include Police Officers in the City’s Wellness Plan
- Increase the Health Insurance Contribution for Employees Earning Over $90,000
- Eliminate 311 Overnight Hours of Operation
- Eliminate the Subsidy to World Business Chicago
- Reduce Hours of Payment Service Offices by 25 percent
- Discontinue Advertising Contracts in Newspapers
- Reduce Janitorial Contract Service
- Set the Default on All Printers and Copiers to Double-Sided Printing
- Eliminate 200 Motor Truck Drivers Positions
- Eliminate Personal Computer Operators
- Reduce Communications Staff by 25 Percent
- Reduce the Number of Holidays for City Employees to 10
- Base Sign Permit Fees on Square Footage and Increase Charges Downtown
- Broaden the Amusement Tax
- Broaden the Sales Tax to Include More Services
- Charge a Fee for Service for False Residential Burglar Alarms
- Eliminate Free Sewer Service for Seniors
- Eliminate Reduced Rate City Vehicle Sticker for Seniors
- Establish a Pedicab License and Impose the Ground Transportation Tax on Pedicabs
- Implement Congestion Pricing
- Institute Variable Pricing for Street Closures
Mayor Emanuel has promised not to raise a single city tax or fee so you should be able to nix all the revenue increases in this list. I admire his position; but, it is dishonest.
The portion of your property taxes that fund Chicago Public Schools will increase by the maximum amount due to prior ordinances. The water fee from the city will also increase as locked in by prior law. If you are a property owner in Chicago, you will pay a higher tax rate next year no matter what the Mayor's new budget says.
Most of the reductions and savings would only be realized if the city wins new provisions in upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with the police and fire unions. The mayor got rolled by the teachers union so the police and fire unions have the playbook on getting what they want. So don't hold your breathe for any real savings from either contract.
Some of the proposed reductions are pretty simple and non-controversial. For instance, street sweeping should be based on a grid system. Most of our city is set up in a grid so why shouldn't we schedule sweeping days and times based on that same grid?
Why do we subsidize World Business Chicago. It is a great organization, but why does it need city taxpayer money?
Of course the city should stop advertising contracts in the newspaper. Welcome to 2012 (sorry Chicago Sun Times ad department).
Double sided printing? duh.
Those simple idea alone will save city taxpayers $1.775 million annually. However, if the city proceeds with reducing the number of paid holidays a year to 10, the city would save $5.4 million. So clearly, the latter makes a much bigger difference even though it it much more challenging to negotiate.
Other huge savings could be realized if the mayor can negotiate savings, particularly from the Chicago Firefighters Union.
$144.5 million could be saved by eliminating non-salary compensation for police and fire. These eliminations would include duty availability, uniform allowance, tuition reimbursements, holiday premiums and fitness exam payments.
Replacing 20% of the city's fire trucks with ambulances would save $51.4 million a year.
Reducing the number of firefighters on each truck from 5 to 4 would save the city more than $70 million a year. Most major cities in the U.S. keep just 4 crew members per apparatus. This would require laying off or eliminating about 547 fire fighter positions. Good luck with that in a union negotiation.
IG Ferguson made another valiant attempt to propose budget solutions this year. However, Mayor Emanuel proved during the CTU negotiation that his team will fold under political pressure. No one can bring more political pressure than the police and fire unions and their families. So the Mayor will get rolled again.
These proposals don't even touch the pension and health care cost issues. Those are truly frightening numbers considering how deeply underfunded they are.
Joe Ferguson gets another "A" for effort but he is pitching it to a "W" Mayor and a "P" city council.
"W" stands for weak.
"P" stands for pushover.
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