Mayor Emanuel lauds city financial improvements in budget speech

FOX 32 / AP - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel used his annual budget speech to laud the cash-strapped city for being "back on solid ground."

Emanuel told members of the Chicago City Council on Tuesday morning that the 2017 budget he's proposing is free of a pension crisis and insolvency threatening city employee retirements. He warned though that the city has "stay vigilant in making the fiscally difficult choices" because the work is not done.

Emanuel said the city still has a budget shortfall but it's $137.6 million compared to $635 million in 2011.

The mayor's proposed budget includes nearly $134 million for previously announced addition of 970 Chicago police officers to address the city's increase in violence. It also includes an increase in spending on children, including an expansion of summer jobs programs.

In addition to a record amount of taxing and spending, some say it reads like a roadmap to a re-election campaign.

One lesson that aldermen are drawing from the mayor's $9.8 billion spending plan is that he clearly plans to run for re-election.

“I'm seeing it by his actions and by his words. He's running again,” said Alderman David Moore.

The political signs South Side Alderman David Moore and others see include the mayor’s tentative and apparently very expensive contract settlement with the Chicago Teachers Union. To avoid another politically damaging school strike, Mayor Emanuel seemed to abandon demands he's made for years.

His 2017 budget includes previously announced tax increases totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it going to the public employee pension nightmare Emanuel inherited. Having taken that political risk, the mayor's budget speech dwelt on ways part of the money will be spent, especially programs - such as hiring new police - aimed at reducing the shocking level of violence in some African-American neighborhoods. He also proposes a new police facility where veteran officers will receive community relations and other ongoing training.

“In this budget, we're going to expand our summer jobs program, which we've doubled since two thousand and eleven,” Emanuel said.

Millions of new dollars will be paid to mentor, eventually, 7,200 at-risk young men in the most violent areas, which is a program likely to boost the mayor’s popularity.

“So, is it going to go to different organizations? Different ministers groups who may support him? Things like that. I want to see where that money's going to go,” Moore added.

Think the mayor's plan to spend $9.8 billion in 2017 is too much money? Too little? You can weigh in at the public hearings that start next Monday at 10 a.m. and continue until October 28th.

One proposal likely to stir comment at next week's public hearings: the mayor wants a new 7 cents apiece tax on disposal paper and plastic bags. It would raise about $9.2 million for the city.

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