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The Chicago City Council has been moving at a breathtaking clip to sign off on a series of deals forged by the Daley administration that involve billions of dollars--to slash city services and raise fees; sell off public assets; and turn a south side hospital site into a housing complex for the 2016 Olympics. The scale of the deals, and the council's relative lack of scrutiny of them, appears to be unmatched anywhere in the United States.
That said, other city governments have found their own less-than-ideal ways to deal with budget problems, redevelopment slowdowns, and annoying laws against payoffs and backroom deals:
* The New York City Council just approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to hike property taxes 7 percent--the kind of bad news Mayor Daley said he was saving Chicago from with his own "bad-news budget." On the other hand, New York's tax increase is, more precisely, a repeal of an earlier property tax cut.
* Los Angeles, facing its own massive budget deficit, is cutting back on police overtime, library book acquisitions, and sexual harassment prevention programs. And it's borrowing money to pay a $20 million lawsuit settlement--a figure dwarfed by Chicago's legal payouts.
* The city council of Kansas City, Missouri, found more than $20 million during its own tough budget times to help a big development project that's already getting another $44 million in tax increment financing assistance.
* In the kind of move that Chicago pols mastered ages ago, several members of the Atlanta City Council are taking a little heat for accepting donations from connected local businesses and using the money to throw parties and "play Santa" with voters whose support they need for re-election.
* The council of Port Angeles, Washington, may have evaded the state's Open Meetings Act when it apparently hired a new city manager--replacing the one who'd recently quit because of "untenable, hostile work conditions--behind closed doors, then held a public meeting to rubber-stamp the decision.