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Open Letter

None of you wear ruby slippers. For the most part, it's wingtips, tassled loafers and some tasteful heels - though I have often seen one of your female members wearing gym shoes with her business skirt and jacket on the council floor. Any of these will do. Now, click your heels together three times and say:

There's no reason we can't vote against Mayor Daley's budget.
There's no reason we can't vote against Mayor Daley's budget.
There's no reason we can't vote against Mayor Daley's budget.

That's right, you've always had the power to vote against his budget. It's the law - you can look it up. You probably won't believe me, though; you have to learn it for yourself. But I'm afraid you won't figure it out in time for the budget showdown this week, so I'm going to lecture a bit anyway.

It wasn't a dream last year when 31 aldermen voted against Mayor Daley's veto of the so-called Big Box ordinance, which would have required giant retailers like Wal-Mart to pay workers at least $13 an hour in wages and benefits. True, the mayor won that vote. You needed 34 votes to overturn the veto, and Daley managed to get three aldermen to change their votes, just squeaking by. Still. It happened. And this time, for the budget, you only need 26 votes.

Worried about the Daley fallout, I suppose. Don't bother - for the same reason Daley picked this year to propose a 15.1% property tax increase, now scaled down slightly to about 11%: You just got re-elected to spanking-new four-year terms in office. Defiance and rebellion will never be easier.

Plus, the toll of federal investigations and convictions on Daley's administration will be four years heavier by the next election, making the mayor that much weaker . . . assuming he runs for office again. That's no slam-dunk. Hell, Daley could be under indictment by then, or facing an actual opponent. U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will probably run a real campaign next time. He's installed wife Sandi Jackson as Seventh Ward alderman, moved his kids back to Chicago from Washington, and now Sandi's running for ward committeeman. Jesse Jr. recently wrote - or at least delegated a staff member to write - a blistering Op-Ed for the Tribune blasting Daley's 2008 budget and the cost to taxpayers of City Hall corruption. I hope you all read it. And frankly, I just don't think Jesse Jr. lost all that weight to hang around the House of Representatives. He could have stayed fat if that's all he wanted.

Daley should be a lame duck, though he hasn't quacked about retirement yet. The only reason he isn't, I think, is due to the magic of the Daley name. The rest of the flock believes he's immortal. He's not, though. He's getting up there, even in Daley years. A budget loss in the City Council would certainly clip his wings.

In any case, federal attacks on City Hall's flouting of the Shakman decree, combined with HDO's demise amid the Hired Truck scandal, have already decimated the Election Day army the mayor once commanded. Just ask some of your former colleagues who got the mayor's endorsement and lost this year anyway. Dorothy Tillman . . . Ted Matlak . . . Shirley Coleman. And Coleman was one of the suckers who changed her Big Box vote to sustain Daley's veto.

What about the 28 aldermen who signed the petition asking the federal courts to force Daley to give the City Council the list of police officers with the most allegations of excessive force? He's already unhappy with you. Voting for the budget won't make that one go away.

Let's look at the people who have actually voted against a Daley budget. Ald. Toni Preckwinkle opposed the 2006 budget, all by herself. Yet she walks among us still, seemingly alive, unharmed, in possession of all her extremities. Presumably, we would know if she was a zombie.

Preckwinkle, Tillman and Arenda Troutman all voted against the 2005 budget, and five aldermen voted against the revenue package of taxes and fees that funds the budget - Tillman, Troutman, Tom Murphy, Howard Brookins and Brian Doherty. The 2000-2004 budgets were passed unanimously, but before that, Helen Shiller voted "no" every year. Of these aldermen, only Tillman and Troutman were bounced out of office , and neither can pin their demise on a budget vote. Murphy is gone, but he has passed on to a better place. He's a judge.

So there is life after voting against a Daley budget. Perhaps you are still wondering why you should try it. The number one reason, to me, is the mayor's stunningly cynical arrogance in proposing a 15% property tax hike right after re-election and tying it to the funding of public libraries. This is the fiscal version of using hostages as a human shield.

The Civic Federation's budget analysis points out that the $108 million in new property taxes first proposed for the libraries included just $8.7 million to fund long-term debt for a new library capital program. The vast majority - $90.7 million - was pegged for the Library Maintenance and Operation Fund. The property tax increase isn't all new funding going to build more libraries, then, as most taxpayers assume. Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey actually used this as an argument for the property tax increase during her appearance at the City Council budget hearings, when aldermen were clearly not feeling the urgency of building new libraries.

The actual new library construction could easily be covered by the modest rate-of-inflation increase of 2.5% in property taxes recommended by the Civic Federation - $17.8 million - which wouldn't violate the city's current self-imposed tax cap. The rest of Daley's proposed property tax increase is mainly the usual annual library money, separated from the budget and treated like something new. Daley could just as well have separated out something easier to criticize - like, say, the $2.5 million budgeted for a new "Office of Compliance," which at best duplicates the inspector general's office, but is probably intended to undermine the independent inspector general's efforts to sniff out City Hall corruption.

The Civic Federation also points out that Daley's 2007 budget does nothing to improve the city's pension funding or its emergency reserve fund. The Fire, Police and Municipal pension funds are funded at "40.4%, 49.3% and 67.2%, respectively," according to the Civic Federation, when a 90% funding level is considered healthy. The emergency reserve fund should be "5-15% of operating expenditures or revenues," says the Civic Federation, while the $15.5 million budgeted for 2008 is only 0.5%.

I'm not sure I hear any heel-tapping yet. I may have picked the wrong popular culture metaphor; perhaps I should be making allusions to The X-Files instead. This budget is certainly scary enough. And naive as it may be, when it comes to a simple majority of Chicago aldermen taking their fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers seriously, I want to believe. Are there any "no" votes out there?


Cate Plys


Open Letter is open to letters. Please include a real name if you wish to be considered for publication.


From Paul McCartney On The Occasion Of Your Latest Release to The Person Who Let Their Dog Defecate Near The Southeast Corner Of 58th And Kimbark, Cate Plys writes the Open Letters that need writing. Check out her entire collection.


Posted on November 12, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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