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Emanuel’s Budget Advances; Aldermen Seek Tobacco Tax Expansion

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Chicago City Hall (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The City Council — as a formality — moved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $6 billion budget another step closer to its expected passage Wednesday.

The final vote comes in one week, on Nov. 16.

But WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports some aldermen are still hoping to make changes. Specifically, some aldermen proposed an expansion of the city’s tobacco tax to include chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco and other such products, rather than just rolled cigarettes.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

City Council Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Edward Burke (14th) says the proposal is similar to a measure in the 2012 Cook County budget plan.

“It would seem that if the city is taxing tobacco products, that it ought to close the loophole,” Burke said.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who represents Beverly, and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who represents South Shore and parts of Hyde Park, co-sponsored the measure. O’Shea says the revenue is needed.

“In my community, overwhelmingly, people are still upset about library cuts; mental health cuts,” O’Shea said.

He said closing the tobacco tax loophole could raise funds to avert some of the cuts.

“Twelve million – what’s the figure they came up with – I think that figure is probably a little high,” he said.

Still, he said any help restoring budget cuts is welcome.

Some aldermen have complained about other features of Mayor Emanuel’s 2012 budget, including a $2 congestion fee for parking in lots and garages. While the mayor says the goal is to reduce the number of rush hour motorists downtown, some aldermen argue that the tax would also hit motorists parking in lots and garages elsewhere in the city, and doesn’t say it is limited to any particular time of day.

Emanuel has made some revisions to his original plan. Rather than make steep cuts to the Chicago Public Library system, Emanuel proposed raising city sticker fees for all vehicles by $10 or $15 a year. Cars would pay $85, while larger SUVs would pay $135.

Originally, Emanuel wanted to impose a steep increase on larger vehicles only.

Some staff positions and library hours that had been slated for cuts will now be saved under the plan. Hours would only be cut on Mondays and Fridays when students are in school.

The budget plan also calls for closing three police stations – the Wood (13th), Belmont (19th) and Prairie (21st) districts, and combining some duplicative functions of the Police and Fire departments.

Water rates will be doubled in an effort to fund overdue infrastructure upgrades, and the ward-based garbage collection system now in effect will be replaced with a grid-based system.

Cuts will also be coming to the city’s workforce. The budget slashes 510 middle or senior managers for a savings of $34 million, and cuts 776 vacant positions.

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