Emanuel's $8.2B budget sails through City Council

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $8.2 billion budget by a vote of 48-0 Wednesday. Most of the big issues were hashed out ahead of time.

The mayor's 2017 spending plan will be bolstered by a series of tax hikes already approved in the last year.

One of those hikes includes the tax on consumers for paper and plastic bags at the grocery store or at any Chicago store without reusable bags. That will cost shoppers 7 cents.

Consumers who bring their own bags to the store will not have to pay the tax. The goal is to change people's behavior when it comes to plastic bags, while at the same time reimbursing retailers for their costs and providing much-needed resources to the city.

The tax is a reversal of a partial ban imposed 16 months ago, which forced large retailers to replace thin plastic bags with thicker bags that can be reused. Consumers were not reusing the new bags and they cost three times as much to make.

"At the end of the day we're paying more money for it and our customers are paying more money for it," said Tanya Triche, Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Environmental experts said the average Chicagoan goes through 500 plastic bags a year, a total of 1.3 billion bags citywide. There is hope the new tax will change behavior and provide an incentive for people to make the switch to reusable alternatives once and for all.

"It goes right on my keychain. I pull it out like this and it goes right into a bag. It's about 1.5 times capacity as a single-use bag, as those flimsy ones that are coming back, and it's washable and it's durable," said Jordan Parker, Bring Your Own Bag Chicago.

Average consumers had mixed reactions to the new tax.

"More money. That's all the city wants, more money. More money. They don't fix the streets, they don't fix anything else. And they give us more taxes," said Melanie Pizano.

"I would prefer not to pay, but if I had to I guess it would force me to be prepared and make sure I had bags in my car or wherever," said Landis White.

The plastic bag tax has proved effective in other cities. In Washington D.C. consumers cut their use of disposable bags in half after being hit with a 5 cent tax per bag. The city is hoping the same will happen here.

The budget also raised other taxes to help bring in revenue. Ticket re-sellers can expect to pay a 3.5 percent amusement tax on the full value of tickets for concerts, games and musicals, like the wildly popular "Hamilton."

Parking rates at Midway and O'Hare international airports are also going up. Some of the revenue will be used to fund airport operations.

For those tired of the taxes, some aldermen said they are a necessary evil.

"These are the same people who want their garbage picked up and their graffiti removed and their trees trimmed. We have to pay for them," said Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward).

There will also be about 750 new parking meters throughout the city. Chicago Cubs fans will have to pay $2 more for meters around Wrigley Field two hours before game time. That also goes for concerts at the ballpark.

Much of the revenue generated from many of the new taxes will be used to fund mentorship programs for at-risk young people and pump money into the mayor's promise to hire 970 police officers to stem the tide of violence in the city.

"I think this year, clearly, there is money available. But my hunch is we're going to have to incrementally raise revenue. That's a conversation that we should be hopefully starting next year," said Alderman Amaya Pawar (47th Ward).

"This budget includes more mentorship, more police, more city services throughout every neighborhood in Chicago. To me that's something to feel good about," said Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th Ward).


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Mayor Emanuel pledged that Chicago will remain a sanctuary city for immigrants, but that could affect the city?s federal funding under the Donald Trump administration.

Emanuel pledged that Chicago will remain a sanctuary city for immigrants, but that could have repercussions for the city's federal funding under the Donald Trump administration. Aldermen worried that once Trump takes office much of Chicago's federal aid could be in jeopardy.

"We're scared. We're scared because I represent an immigrant community, a working class immigrant community," Munoz said.

"I do not trust him. I am worried," said Alderman Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

During his campaign, Trump vowed to cut federal aid to the nation's 13 sanctuary cities - most of the nation's largest cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. Emanuel, whose government received over $1 billion from Washington this year, said punishing sanctuary cities makes no political sense.

"That will mean every major city in the United States will be targeted and that is not what an administration would do," the mayor said.

Trump, who wants to deport 2 to 3 million immigrants with criminal records, frequently singled out Chicago during his campaign for it violence, saying things like, "It's terrible. I have property there. It's terrible what's going on in Chicago."

Not knowing what to expect from a Trump administration, some aldermen said the city should prepare for a court fight.

"I think we'll take it to federal court. I think we'll fight the legal battle first and then we'll see what happens," said Alderman George Cardenas (12th Ward).

But others doubted that in its current fiscal situation, sanctuary city Chicago could find the money to replace federal funding that might be lost.

"We have no money. We're doing everything we can right now to balance this budget and move the city forward. So we have no money to throw at outside entities such as that," said Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward).

Emanuel cited his own experience as a White House Chief of Staff to base his belief that Donald Trump would ever cut federal aid to cities where tens of millions of people live. He said the pressure on Trump not to do so would come from lawmakers from both political parties.
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