Chicago Mayor Proposes Cuts In 2010 Budget

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has unveiled his 2010 budget which includes cuts that could end popular festivals. The city has an estimated $520 million budget shortfall. With higher taxes off the table, cutbacks in city services are certain.

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Now that Chicago has lost out on the 2016 Olympic Games, Chicago's mayor is turning his attention to a more dismal task: balancing the city's budget. Mayor Richard Daley's budget plan for next year will cut some popular programs in an effort to close a massive deficit. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: On the last Saturday in July, about a half a million people gathered in the area where I'm standing along Chicago's lakefront for the city's annual Venetian Night. The festivities featured decorated and illuminated boats parading along the shoreline here, followed by what many consider to be the best lakefront fireworks display of the year. But after 52 years, Mayor Richard Daley is proposing to cancel this popular summertime event as he tries to close a half a billion dollar budget hole.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago, Illinois): Not since the Great Depression 70 years ago have so many people suffered as greatly and for so long from a bad economy.

SCHAPER: In his annual budget address to the Chicago city council Wednesday, Daley explained how the poor economy is reducing city funds, forcing him to not only cut programs but to ask non-union city employees, himself included, to take 24 unpaid and furlough days.

In addition, Mayor Daley is using $370 million in reserve funds to help balance Chicago's budget. Daley's much maligned agreements to lease public assets such as the city's parking meters to private companies put money into reserve.

Mayor DALEY: Without these agreements we would now be forced to raise property taxes both this year and next year. We'll be forced to raise other taxes and fees. We'd be forced to eliminate key programs that people depend upon.

SCHAPER: Daley's $6 billion budget for next year does hold the line on taxes and fees and provides small funding increases for police and violence prevention programs to address what he calls an epidemic of senseless violence in Chicago. But overall it appears lean, and Chicago is not alone.

Professor MICHAEL PAGANO (University of Illinois, Chicago): There are very few cities in the country who are not in the position of having to fix a budget hole.

SCHAPER: Michael Pagano is dean of the College of Urban Planning And Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Chicago and co-author of a report for the National League of Cities that finds almost 90 percent of cities surveyed say as bad as this year is, next year they'll be in even worse fiscal shape.

Prof. PAGANO: They are cutting services. Library hours are being cut back and some libraries are actually being closed. Parks and recreation services are being cut back.

SCHAPER: Some cities have been laying off workers and hiking taxes and fees on everything from restaurants and garbage pickup to cigarettes, soda pop and candy bars. Even the usually untouchable police and fire protection services are facing budget cuts in some municipalities. The problem is the revenue sources cities and towns rely upon to fund their operations.

Mayor KATHY NOVAK (Northglenn, Colorado): We've had eight straight months of decline in our revenues. And compared to where we were last year, it's down 10 percent.

SCHAPER: Kathy Novak is the mayor of the Denver suburb of Northglenn, Colorado, and is president of the National League of Cities. She says property and sales taxes, the sources cities tend to rely upon the most, lag far behind the rest of the economy in any recovery. If the economy is beginning to bounce back, as some economists say, it still may take some time for employment, retail sales and property values to recover. And that means it could be two years or more before local government finances begin to stabilize.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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