Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed hiring of 457 police officers as the third-most-populous U.S. city grapples with a 28 percent spike in homicides.
“When homicides are up, even if overall crime is down significantly, our residents will not feel truly safe, and we must work even harder to stop the violence,” Emanuel, 52, said today in remarks released by his office before he presented his budget proposal to the City Council. “Violent crime continues to rip through too many of our neighborhoods, victimizing the community, and stealing our children’s sense of safety along with their childhood.”
The bolstering of the 12,500-officer force is part of Emanuel’s $8.3 billion spending plan for 2013 that eliminates a $298 million deficit and holds the line on taxes. It also ends a business tax for each worker employed.
Emanuel said next year’s budget shortfall would be closed with $67 million in cuts, $42 million in projected revenue growth, $40 million in debt refinancing, and $20 million in unspecified dimissals, among other reductions.
The biggest financial threat to Chicago -- an estimated $15 billion unfunded pension liability -- is beyond the control of the city because changes in the retirement funds would have to be approved by Illinois lawmakers in Springfield, the capital.
Emanuel cautioned in his address to the City Council that without a pension overhaul in the legislature, it will be hard to avoid a 150 percent property-tax increase or “dramatic” cuts to services in future budgets. He said that within four years, 22 percent of the budget, or $1.2 billion, will be devoted to pension obligations.
“If we do not come to terms with our past and fix the crisis surrounding our pension payments, our work will be for naught,” he said. “The residents of Chicago elected us to tell the hard truths so that we can make the tough decisions.”
State lawmakers are expected to address the Chicago and Illinois pension shortfalls after Christmas, Senate President John Cullerton said last month.
Illinois has the nation’s weakest pension-funding ratio. The state, which has an unfunded retirement gap of $83 billion, was downgraded in January by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited “severe pension under-funding.”
Cops on Streets
Chicago’s homicide rate jumped 28 percent through the first nine months of the year. Chicago police reported 406 homicides as of Sept. 30, up from 317 during the same period in 2011, according to department records. Emanuel and police officials have blamed gang activity for the increase.
Aldermen are pushing for more than the 457 recruits that Emanuel proposed today.
“Everybody would like the see more police, but can the city afford it? That’s the question,” said Alderman Ed Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee. “I think most experts would say you can never have too many police, but you have to deal with the reality of the situation.”
Emanuel, who formerly worked as a mergers and acquisitions adviser in the Chicago office of Wasserstein Perella & Co., took office in May 2011. He inherited a city that lost 6.9 percent of its residents from 2000 to 2010 and faced a $600 million budget deficit.
Chicago’s public schools, which Emanuel also runs, have a separate deficit projected to be about $1 billion in 2013. Teachers in the district went on strike for the first time in 25 years on Sept. 10. The walkout lasted seven days.