Mayor Rahm Emanuel looks to resolve city budget crisis

October 3, 2013 (CHICAGO)

This was not a public event. In the controlled environment of a Northwest Side middle school, Rahm Emanuel tried to stay positive during Chicago's continuing fiscal crisis:

From a friendly, mostly handpicked audience at his first "budget roundtable," the mayor wanted feedback on his administration's programs for young people.

"I wanted to hear about what works, what do we need to change," said Mayor Emanuel.

Emanuel must decide which programs of all types to keep or cut as he looks for ways to resolve a 2014 city budget shortfall projected between $300 and 400 million.

"We have to find other creative ways, now, and what will that be," said Alderman Carrie Austin, 34th Ward.

Alderman Carrie Austin, the council budget chairwoman, says after resolving deficits each year for the past decade, there is little left to cut.

"We already have scaled back to almost bare bones so what else would there be," said Ald. Carrie Austin.

Council members agree. And as the day of budget reckoning nears, aldermen more often use the "r-word."

"We need revenue. We need to find sources of revenue and divert the revenue back into the general budget," said Alderman Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward.

"Each year, we have made major investments even while we're finding cuts, savings, efficiencies," said Mayor Emanuel.

The mayor, who vows not to increase property or sales taxes, talked only about spending or "investing" money in successful programs and nothing about possible tax or fee increases under consideration.

"That would have been much appreciated because I think there could be other sources that can be tapped," said Marvinetta Woodley-Penn, The Global Studio.

Fines levied by new speed cameras now under installation and improving real estate transfer tax revenues are expected to help reduce the shortfall.

But chairwoman Austin hinted if not sales or property, some kind of general tax increase is on the table, tax or fines. "It would have to touch everybody. It cannot touch just one group of people," said Austin.

The mayor plans two more budget roundtables in other parts of the city. His budget address, with all the details, is scheduled for October 23.

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