Daley presents 2009 budget to City Council

CHICAGO The mayor said hundreds of city workers face layoffs in this new budget plan. In addition, Mayor Daley wants to raise taxes on many things to close the budget deficit. But he promised to hold the line on property taxes.

Mayor Daley cited economists who have called what's happening this year the worst crisis since the Great Depression, and with that said, he delivered a budget that offered very little in the way of good news.

The mayor's hard times budget included layoffs and spending cuts, as well as tax and fee increases, and he blamed the projected $469 million budget deficit on what he called the "out of control" national economy.

"Chicago's experienced the same challenges as every other city and state, a loss of revenue and slow or no growth in the economy," Mayor Daley said.

The Daley plan would save millions by consolidating some city departments, cutting overtime and refinancing municipal debt. But the biggest cost reductions would happen with the layoff of 929 city employees and the elimination of over 1,300 currently vacant positions.

Hundreds of those who would lose their jobs work for the Streets and Sanitation Department, many of them on dozens of garbage trucks that would operate with only one laborer next year as opposed to two.

The mayor exempted sworn police or fire department employees in the layoffs but estimated the city would save an additional $10 million next year by slowing down the hiring of new cops.

"We're already down this year. We anticipate being down more next year," said Mark Donahue, Fraternal Order of Police.

On the revenue side, the mayor proposes an increase in taxes on tickets to sporting events, theatres and concerts, and downtown parking garages. He wants to raise many permit fees and add a charge for dumpsters.

The mayor also plans to use some of the money from the lease of Midway Airport and the planned lease of the city's parking meters to help balance the budget.

Still, Daley warned Chicago residents to expect slower services than they've had in the past.

"It will take longer to tow abandoned cars, clean up vacant lots, trim trees, replace and repair street lights," said Mayor Daley.

Alderman Ed Smith opposes across the board cuts citywide. His 28th Ward is among Chicago's poorest.

"We have more problems than the rest of the wards in the city," said Smith.

But Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose wealthy 42nd Ward includes the Loop, River North and the lakefront, is also concerned about service reductions.

"Certainly, we need to protect the major economic engine that produces the vast majority of this city's revenue," said Reilly.

The first of several budget hearings is scheduled for October 20.

The mayor left open the possibility that some job cuts could be avoided if the city's unions would agree to accept furlough days or other changes in work rules that right now are locked in by contract.

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis also unveiled a plan to restructure his department that could also save money in next year's budget.

"We're talking about a half-a-billion dollar deficit. And even if you cut every single ounce of fat off the city budget, there is going to be an impact on city services," said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward.

"We can't now accrue a negative and take from the police department, so not fill the vacancies out there but we can't take them off the budget," said Ald. Isaac Carothers, 29th Ward.

Other aldermen worried about layoffs...by a city government that not too long ago was involved in a political hiring scandal.

"I don't want to see any politics involved in this and have people fired simply because of whom they are," Smith said.

As Daley finished his 31-minute speech, Chicago's 50 aldermen began preparing for the next phase: how to protect their own wards from the budget axe.

"I'm not going to give up on any of my services if other people are getting them. We may need to redistribute those services," said Ald. Billy Ocasio, 26th Ward.

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