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From idea to implementation, the twists and turns in the life of the city budget

by Jen Thomas
Nov 18, 2008

The City Council will vote on the proposed 2009 city budget on Wednesday, but how much does the average Chicagoan know about the budget process? From idea to implementation, residents have access to the budget and can have a say in what goes into it, yet few take advantage of that right.

The budget process is long and confusing and a glance at the four heavy books of material that explain the process is enough to make any math-loather nauseous. But, really, all it takes is knowing where to look and a lot of patience.

This is the life of the budget:

Summer 2008 – City departments inform the Office of Budget and Management of their needs for personnel and non-personnel expenses for the upcoming years. OBM prepares the preliminary budget based on requests from the departments and revenues the city expects will be available.

Aug. 14 – The city releases a preliminary 2009 budget.

At that time, Paul A. Volpe, the city’s chief financial officer, explains that tough economic times have hurt the city and the effects are reflected in the budget. "The preliminary estimates reflect the impact of the recession on two annual budgets – we've had slow revenues and greater-than-expected expenses in 2008, and we expect weaker revenues in 2009, even as we shoulder increases in wage, benefit, and pension costs," he says.

By law, the preliminary budget is to be filed by July 31, but the city delayed the release for the first time since Mayor Richard M. Daley took office, in order “to collect, review and analyze the very latest revenue data.”

Aug. 19 to Aug. 21 – Preliminary budget public hearings held at three locations. At the last hearing – held at South Shore Cultural Center – the mayor promises he will not raise property taxes and tells residents he will put “better management” ahead of “turning to taxpayers for new revenue,” according to Chicago Citizen Newspapers.

August and September – OBM holds meetings with departments and receives detailed budget requests. The budget office works to balance department requests with available resources.

Oct. 15 – The mayor unveils the 2009 budget to a standing-room only audience at a meeting of the City Council. His plan calls for 929 city layoffs, a hiring freeze, and tax and fee hikes, namely in the parking and amusement taxes to deal with the volatile economic situation nationwide.

“This is not a good news budget, but it is a responsible budget that balances the need to substantially cut spending with our commitment to minimize the impact of these cuts on working families and those who need our support,” Daley says.

Oct. 20 to Oct. 31 – The City Council holds departmental hearings on the budget.

Nov. 5 – City Council hosts a public hearing, where fewer than a dozen residents show up to speak in three-minute increments. Representatives from the Civic Federation, which calls itself a nonpartisan government research organization, and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce also speak about possible solutions to the $469 million budget deficit.

Nov. 17 – Chicago city officials and labor leaders announce that layoffs will be reduced to no more than 770 jobs. Aldermen propose an amendment that would see funds for jumping jacks – or inflatable bounce houses – for kids at special events returned to the budget. To pay for it, two aldermen propose doubling annual application and permit fees for Maxwell Street Market vendors.

Nov. 19 – The City Council will vote to adopt the budget and if accepted, it will become the Appropriation Ordinance. The ordinance is effective on Jan. 1, 2009.