Mayor Daley's budget speech Wednesday made one point overwhelmingly clear, if it wasn't already: He has no fear of Chicago voters.
Why should he? Back in February, the mayor was reelected by winning every single ward and 71 percent of the votes cast citywide. While voters in a few wards took out their frustrations on their aldermen, choosing to send would-be reformers to the City Council, the last few months have shown that Daley has more than enough council support to ram through just about whatever he wants, from a police reform initiative that gives him more power over who's investigating allegations of misconduct to a new Office of Compliance that most observers believe undercuts the work of the independent Inspector General.
Daley can hardly be blamed for thinking citizens of this city have given him leave to run the place however he sees fit. They have.
So here are some of the consequences: nearly $300 million in new taxes, fines, and fees, affecting just about everyone who lives in the city or even passes through. Own a home or even rent one? You'll be paying more. Enjoy having a beer once in awhile? The beer tax is going up. Have a car here? You'll be paying more for your next parking tickets, which, as anyone who's been here awhile knows, are pretty much impossible to avoid. Comforted by the idea that you might get police to show up for an emergency? The charge on your phone bill to cover 911 is going up.
Mayor Daley explains that the new revenues are essential to "keep Chicago moving forward." That's the same slogan he used as his campaign theme last winter, and the mayor's strategy for winning this round appears to be the same as the one he employed to hold onto his throne: Show everybody they've got nowhere else to go.
In his budget address, Daley repeatedly compared Chicago to "other cities" where services have been cut and the quality of life is, by his estimation, lower. The message is that if you don't want Chicago to become Detroit or Cleveland, you're going to have to place your trust in the Daley administration, along with more of your money.
"During these tight times, cities and states around the nation are increasingly under pressure to cut services and make substantial layoffs to balance their budgets, steps we've avoided in this budget, so far," Daley said. "I believe that the people of Chicago know that if we propose raising taxes it's because we've exhausted every other option. I believe they also know we've made real progress over the years because of their ongoing support and that we'll continue to invest their tax dollars to improve our quality of life."
In these "tight times," the mayor's budget grows last year's by tens of millions of dollars, which Daley said is necessary because of labor costs and the need to build more libraries. "Today, there are still communities without branch libraries in our city. They provide safe havens for our children and residents," he said. "For the first time, we would provide an ongoing, dedicated funding source for the library system."
In other words, you can blame the unions for the tax increases. Or you can decide to oppose them and punish the children.
All that was missing was a suggestion that opponents of the budget were racially motivated.
Of course, this is a proposed budget--the City Council will be holding hearings over the next couple of weeks to scrutinize the plans in detail.
Expect some resistance. Aldermen know they'll be forced to take the heat from exhausted and embittered voters. Already, a few are shaking their heads "no."
Some aldermen noted that the payroll would only shrink by a handful of positions next year. One suggested that the administration work harder to dump ineffective or corrupt employees whose incompetence costs the city millions of dollars in legal fees each year. Others mentioned the high price of defending abusive cops.
Another alderman pointed out that Daley is proposing to save money by merging the Department of Buildings with the Department of Construction and Permits--four years after the mayor split them into two in a supposed cost-savings move.
"Who wants the title of 'The Best Unaffordable City'?" said Billy Ocasio, alderman of the 26th Ward. "Under this budget, we will be the most unaffordable, highest-taxed city in the nation."
That doesn't mean the council won't approve most of it. "We won't be, as you in the media like to put it, a rubber stamp," vowed 34th Ward alderman Carrie Austin, a Daley loyalist who chairs the council's budget committee.