Austin aldermen split on new city budget

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Two Austin aldermen rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2016 budget that includes a major property tax increase, while two others voted for it.

The Chicago City Council Wednesday approved the mayor’s $7.8 billion budget, which includes a four-year, $588 million property tax hike that will go toward pension payments the city is required to pay next year.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Jason Ervin (28th) joined 12 council members in voting against the measure. Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) was among 36 aldermen voting for the budget, as was Ald. Michael Scott (24th).

Supporters said the spending plan was the city’s only viable option to deal with its crippling structural deficit. Opponents cited the tax hit to property owners as their main reason for opposing it. Some supporters said they had their own reservations about the budget and would reject parts of it if they could.

The budget includes spending for summer youth jobs as well as manufacturing job placement for qualified city workers. That, according to Mitts, was enough to win her vote.

“I’ve always talked about jobs, and this budget will continue to support jobs for Chicago manufacturing programs,” she said.

Ervin, however, said the tax hike and the new monthly $9.50 garbage collection fee will hurt poor communities.

“It would be difficult for me to sleep at night knowing that some of my most vulnerable people will have to make some decisions that no one should have to make,” said Ervin, who had called the new fee a “black tax.”

Taliaferro did not speak during Wednesday’s vote but had told AustinTalks his vote would represent his constituents’ voice. Most of the 100 residents who attended his community budget meeting Oct. 20th said they opposed the mayor’s budget and tax increase. Many urged Taliaferro, voting on his first city budget after defeating incumbent Deborah Graham earlier this year, to vote no.

The budget will allow the city to meet its pension obligation next year, a total of $550 million, the mayor said. But Emanuel is banking on that figure being sliced to $220 million due to legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly last spring but not signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Opponents argued the city can’t reply on Springfield to bail them out.

Emanuel said the city’s operating budget and pension costs have been “a shadow over the city’s future.” The property tax increase, he added, was necessary because the city’s public sector financing “hung over the city like a dark cloud.”

“We held off property taxes for four years and worked through this budget every time to find savings and make cuts,” Emanuel said just before Wednesday’s vote.

Opponents warned more people will lose with this budget than gain.

“It’s easy to go to those with the least power and say, ‘Give me more out of your pocket,’” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said.

But the mayor and his supporters maintained the pain will be felt by everyone.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who chairs the council’s budget committee, praised the new budget.

“We have to do the responsible thing in this body, and that’s to vote yes on this.”



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