Every year, when Chicago's annual budget is reviewed by the City Council, the mayor and aldermen engage in one giant Kabuki theater. City Council members rant and rave on the council floor about the Daley administration's spending priorities, even targeting some sacred cows like the tax increment financing (TIF) budget, before falling in line and voting in favor of the budget plan they've had little time to review. In each of the past two years, more than 10 aldermen have actually voted against the mayor, a development that registered as a major revolt in the world of "autocratic" Chicago politics.
This year could be even worse. The city is facing its largest annual deficit in history and has had its bond rating downgraded by two different ratings agencies. Any substantive debate, however, runs the risk of being overshadowed by the political positioning that's followed Daley's retirement announcement. To get the city's fiscal house back in order, aldermen need to take their roles as lawmakers seriously in the next few months. That means challenging the departing mayor to bust open his TIF piggy bank and avoid a privatization spree he's already contemplating. Citizens have a role in this process, too. Tonight at 7 p.m. in South Shore, the city is hosting its first of three public hearings. We will be on hand to see what changes voters want to see made at City Hall. Hopefully, committed citizens will turn, as well.