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In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Daley announced that the city, state, and feds, with help from corporate and nonprofit donors, had come up with more than $100 million in assistance for people who’ll need help covering and reducing heating bills this winter.
But he also said that several business leaders had recently told him they were planning major layoffs over the coming months. "If everything goes we’ll be close to a depression," Daley said. "That’s a frightening word to say, but we’ve been in a recession. Washington doesn’t want to admit we’re in a recession, I don’t know why, but everything’s collapsing."
Businesses and governments across the country are struggling to figure out how to pay their bills, Daley noted, making his point with an extended metaphor that ended up sounding like he was wishing he could sail away from it all. "I think everybody’s in the same boat. No one’s outside the boat. Everyone’s in the boat—that’s one thing they are. Your industry, government, everybody—except the federal government. They print money."
With something of a cross between a sigh, a whine, and a boast, he added: "We have to balance our budget by law."
Daley wasn’t saying anything he and countless others hadn’t said before, but as always there was a political purpose behind his musings: he was telling the city, starting with its aldermen, that his team’s financial plans are as good as it gets; in these tough times, it’s important to come together and do as he says.
"No one’s happy," he said after being reminded that aldermen didn’t like his proposed layoffs or cuts in service and infrastructure. "No one’s happy."
The City Council had just finished a meeting called primarily to advance the Daley administration’s 2009 budget proposal so it could get a final council vote next Wednesday. That happened according to plan, but off the council floor some aldermen were vowing to … stay really pissed off about it.
Aldermen have been grumbling about the budget since it was introduced a few weeks ago. But few have come up with serious counterproposals, and not until the last few days did it really seem to sink in that, rotten economy or not, they’re going to be the ones who take a public beating if more people find their cars booted, their garbage piling up, or their alleys falling apart. The grousing turned to outright bitching when it became clear that cuts would also be imposed on aldermanic menu budgets—the $1.3 million pots of money each gets to spend on handpicked ward improvements. Suddenly the whole budgetary process became an issue of "respect," as longtime northwest-side boss Richard Mell put it earlier this week. And he didn’t seem any happier during the rather succinct exchange we had Wednesday.
MICK: So is the budget going forward now?
MELL: Who knows.
MICK: Have you gotten the respect you want?
Not to worry—I found a few other aldermen who were more conversational in explaining that, yes, it's true, the whole thing’s really a pisser.
"The economy is bad, and you don’t get all those amenities you want because the economy is so bad, but in the final analysis you’ve got to have a budget, and one of the responsibilities of the City Council is to produce a budget … and you do the best you can with what you’ve got," said 28th Ward alderman Ed Smith. "I’m hoping for the best, but I’m expecting the worst."
"First of all, we all know that next year’s just going to be worse—so where are the layoffs going to be?" wondered the Second Ward’s Bob Fioretti. "What will be the cuts? Are we then going to move into the TIF funding? We don’t have any other items that we can lease, so how are we going to move government along? We need to come up with a comprehensive analysis." He wisely wouldn’t swear this would happen in the next seven days.
Michael Zalewski, alderman of the 23rd Ward, said he and several other aldermen were going to get together Wednesday afternoon to talk about possibly raising the gas tax and finding ways to reduce layoffs. "We’re going to go brainstorm now," he said.