Watchdog Sees “Good News Budget” From Mayor, But Still Seeking Details

CHICAGO (CBS) — A leading government financial watchdog has said Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave the City Council a “good news budget,” but said there are still some open questions about the 2017 spending plan.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said the mayor’s budget plan provides money to hire hundreds more police officers without a major tax increase, and it confronts the city’s pension crisis.

“The city has shown the potential for better stability in terms of its pensions. The city still needs the legislature and the governor to approve the municipal pension deal, even though they increased the … tax on water fees that has basically been passed by the City Council. It still needs General Assembly approval, but as has been reported by the rating agencies, their outlook is more positive, much more positive than it was in the previous year, and so that is a step in the right direction,” he said.

The City Council begins budget hearings next week, with Emanuel’s budget director Alex Holt and chief financial officer Carole Brown up first in the hot seat. Msall said he’ll be looking to hear more about the mayor’s proposal for a $100 million “Community Catalyst Fund,” which Emanuel said is designed to boost economic development in the city’s “most resource-starved neighborhoods.”

“We have not seen the details of the neighborhood catalyst fund. We just are starting to hear about it. Certainly other communities have embarked on such activities. We want to see who is actually making the investment decisions, what money is going to be at risk, and the city treasurer and the mayor are hopefully going to provide a lot more detail,” he said.

Aldermen will hold two weeks of budget hearings with city department heads before voting on any possible amendments to the budget, and then a final vote in mid-November.

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