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28 Aldermen Sign Letter Of Concern Over City Budget Cuts

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Chicago City Council Chambers (CBS)

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UPDATED 11/02/11 6:09 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel was experiencing a first on Wednesday – pushback from a majority of Chicago aldermen.

It’s all over his budget plan for 2012.

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports that a group of 28 aldermen were making their message loud and clear – they think some proposed budget cuts simply go too far.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

No one’s ever accused the City Council of being a great, deliberative body – no comparisons to, say, the Roman Senate, or the British Parliament. In large part, that’s because during the long reigns of both Mayor Richard M. Daley and his father, Richard J. Daley, aldermen more or less went along with whatever the mayor proposed.

That’s why a letter from 28 aldermen to Mayor Rahm Emanuel almost feels like a rebellion.

The letter reveals that most of the City Council is standing up to Emanuel and saying, “not so fast” when it comes to some of his proposed budget cuts and revenue ideas.

Emanuel, working the council floor during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, got a letter from 28 of the 50 aldermen, protesting key parts of his budget plan.

Emanuel’s budget proposal would cut finding for libraries by $10 million and lay off scores of employees, including all library pages, who shelve books.

The plan would also call for closing branch libraries on Monday and Friday mornings, although they would remain open six days a week.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said, “It just doesn’t make sense that we’re advocating for a longer school day in the schools and reducing library hours at the same time.”

Some aldermen are also wary about staff reductions at the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications where 911 calls are received, and the proposed closure of six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics.

Cuts to the city’s graffiti removal program are also of concern, and some aldermen are expressing strong reservations about the mayor’s plan to raise city sticker prices by $60 on sport-utility vehicles.

“We’re concerned about mental health. We’re concerned about the OEMC workers because of the potential of overwork; the time and effort that they put in. We’re concerned about the library cuts, especially,” said Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd).

“We need to just talk about and see where we can make it less painful for people in the city of Chicago,” added Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Ald. John Arena (45th) says he and the other members of the City Council Progressive Caucus want to sit down with the mayor’s budget team to find alternatives to the cuts. Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) says the entire City Council realizes the city’s dire financial situation, but he says the city cannot cut services upon which working men and women rely.

For his part, Mayor Emanuel says he is willing to discuss changes to his budget blueprint. But he also says for every dollar that is put back into the budget, a similar amount must be cut elsewhere.

“I made the choices on that budget because I think they’re the right thing to do for the city’s future,” Emanuel said. “We have to find those savings. That’s the destination. If people have a different road to that destination, great.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Emanuel said cutting eight hours a week from library operating hours would prevent the closure of eight library branches. He said if the libraries don’t cut hours and the $6 million in savings must be found elsewhere.

Ald. Scott Waugespack, (32nd) said, “If they just looked a little bit harder, look at the TIF surplus, look at the uncollected debt, they could close that gap overnight.”

It’s the kind of public, aldermanic defiance that, only months ago, would have been unthinkable.

Asked if such a letter would ever have been sent to Mayor Richard M. Daley, Munoz said, “Had he done these types of cuts, yes.”

But Munoz also conceded that, if he’d sent that letter to Daley, he probably would have had four or five aldermen as co-signers, not 27.

Waugespack pointed to more than $700 million dollars of uncollected debt on the city’s books as a good place to start looking for additional funds.

The aldermen who signed the letter have opened negotiations with the mayor’s budget director, in talks that continued on Wednesday.

The aldermen said they are working on alternative cuts, but on Wednesday, they offered no ideas on what areas should be cut in order to save the areas they would like to see preserved.

The mayor’s budget also calls for the closure of three police stations and the merging of some Police and Fire department functions, a “congestion premium” on parking at downtown garages during rush hour, and an increase in water rates.

The budget slashes 510 middle or senior managers for a savings of $34 million, and cuts 776 vacant positions.

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