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Chicago budget hits smokers, drivers; No new sales, gas or property taxes

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Chicago budget hits smokers, drivers Chicago budget hits smokers, drivers Chicago budget hits smokers, drivers Mayor Emanuel 2014 Chicago budget to be unveiled

''We are making tough choices,'' Mayor Rahm Emanuel said as he presented his $6.97 billion budget to the Chicago City Council. ''Residents are moving back to Chicago after decades of flight. It's a vote of confidence in the future.''

The mayor's budget includes higher parking fines and higher taxes on cigarettes, but no increase on property, sales and gas taxes for the third year in a row.

"We have reduced our structural deficit by making city government smaller, smarter and simpler," Mayor Emanuel said. "Three years ago we were on course for a deficit of $790 million. In two years, we've cut that in half."

Mayor Emanuel is counting on $120 million in fines from red-light and speed cameras, $10 million from a 75-cents-a-pack increase in the city's cigarette tax and $10 million from higher parking and impounded vehicle storage fees to help balance the budget.

If approved, Chicago would have the highest cigarette tax in the country. Jim Bayci, who owns a 7-Eleven downtown, said he will lose business.

"As we lose customers based on the price going up, it doesn't just represent a cigarette sale, they represent sales for other products like candy, gum, mints, coffee, other things that we make more money out of our margin we're selling," Bayci said.

Alderman Scott Waguespack said he believes the fines on drivers make the city unwelcoming.

"Speeding cameras or red light cameras, nobody knew how they were being run and they were bringing in tens of millions of dollars a year for safety reasons," Ald. Waguespack said. "Nobody can back up that information. Basically, yes. It's cracking down on motorists."

"They never send the tickets to your house, and by the time you get it you have a boot on your car, so I feel like everything is a stick-up," Gave Bates, Chicago resident, said.

Nobody likes the fee hikes, but the argument is: Where else do you go? And, more important, what happens next year when the city will have to make good on a $600 million pension obligation.

"We keep going to the same trough to balance the budget, but we have to be creative to balance the budget, and the mayor got creative without hitting the big three," Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, said.

"It's going to be out of money - the Chicago Fire Department Pension Fund within the next eight years, and if we wait and try to put it off we may not be able to save these pension funds," Laurence Msall, Civic Federation, said.

The mayor said his priorities are educating Chicago's children, creating safe neighborhoods and bringing businesses to town.

"Their success must be our collective mission," Mayor Emanuel said of the city's children. He said with a public library card, children can get help with their homework. "In this budget, we are also investing more than $13 million in after school opportunities for nearly 16,000 children."

To create safe neighborhoods, he said the keys are "policing, prevention, penalties and parenting."

"I will not rest until all residents realize the same sense of safety regardless of neighborhood, zip code or income," Emanuel said.

The mayor also said the city has streamlined the process of starting a business in Chicago, and plans to take the process completely online by 2016.

The full Chicago City Council will now have to consider and vote on the mayor's budget proposal.

If you park within 15 feet of a hydrant you would pay more. If you fail to move your car when the street's being cleaned, or during rush hour, you'd pay more. Handicapped spot violation: $250.

"Should Springfield fail to pass pension reform for Chicago soon, we will be right back here in council early next year to start work on the city's 2015 budget, a budget that will either double city property taxes or eliminate the vital services that people rely on," Emanuel said.

There is considerable displeasure that State Senate President John Cullerton recently said the pension issue was not a crisis. No mix of fees - including an alderman's suggestion for annual fee for bicyclists - will plug the pension need. Will anyone suggest to the Senate president that there is a crisis?

"I'm not in the business of giving distinguished public officials, like President Cullerton, advice. He's a very able and astute man," said Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward.

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