City Council approves furlough plan

CHICAGO The mayor was too sick to attend Wednesday's City Council meeting, where the aldermen unanimously approved his plan to make the city's 4,100 non-union employees take two or three unpaid furlough days. But, with City Hall facing the worst budget crisis in a generation, Daley was apparently well enough to order another round of budget cuts from home and to sign an executive order delaying release of the preliminary 2009 budget for two months, which is unprecedented.

"It is not a pretty picture, so we just need some more time to get the data, to get the revenues in to really get a solid, accurate number where we can begin the process," said Bennett Johnson III, city budget director.

The looming budget crisis at Chicago City Hall is so ominous the Daley administration is delaying the release of preliminary deficit figures for up to two months to get a better handle on the situation.

But the delay is disappointing some of the aldermen who want to start working on solutions now instead of later in the year.

"By then, frankly, it's too late. I believe that we're going to have to have start having these discussions sooner rather than later before we can effectively analyze the situation to come up with alternatives," said Ald. Manny Flores, 1st Ward.

Earlier Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved the mayor's furlough plan for non-union workers and Daley also announced another round of cuts that includes the cancellation of pay raises and a limited early retirement program, all of which sets the stage for similar concessions from police officers and other union workers with contracts whose first priority is to avoid layoffs.

"If the city is able to convince my membership that the crisis is as serious as it is, they will give consideration to certain issues," said Mark Donahue, Fraternal Order of Police president.

"We don't want to see anybody laid off, but we understand that there's a problem, and we know we have to come up with solutions to try to help them solve their problem. We're always willing to work with the city. We've done it in the past and I'm sure we'll do it in the future," said Dennis Gannon, Chicago Federation of Labor.

The administration is ruling out another hike in property taxes, but they're considering every other way to raise revenue or cut costs.

"Internally, both management and union both, processes, services, facilities, we have to look at them all," said Johnson.

The city is in the process of privatizing Midway Airport, three recycling facilities and all of its parking meter collections, which could bring in billions of dollars. And if the governor's revised capital construction plan, set to be released Thursday, passes in Springfield, finally, that could provide Chicago with several hundred million additional dollars.

But that capital plan is iffy and the privatization projects won't be finalized until well into next year, which makes the budget process and the concession dance with the unions very, very complicated.

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