The Chicago Public School Board plan to raise taxes on homeowners is getting support from an unlikely source.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends the proposed $150 million property tax increase to balance the 2012 budget.
That's the maximum amount allowed by law.
The increase comes to about $84 a year on a $250,000 home
It wasn't too long ago that Emanuel said he wouldn't raise taxes.
Last April, Emanuel was asked whether he would support a property tax hike for Chicago’s public schools. His answer could not have been clearer.
"No, I do not support it,” he said.
The mayor sang a new tune on Tuesday.
"It's not something I relish,” Emanuel said. “It's about the tough choices we have to do."
So what changed?
Mayor Emanuel said CPS leadership - facing a $700 million deficit - did a good job squeezing new efficiencies out of the system, cutting $400 million of fat out of the bloated school bureaucracy.
"They've reigned in the bureaucracy and they've made fundamental reforms,” Emanuel said. “Close to 60-percent of the savings were found through cuts and reforms."
But it's getting a frosty reception in City Council.
"Yes, they've made cuts. We know the numbers are down,” Alderman Bob Fioretti said. “But a property tax increase at this time has a devastating effect on our economy and our fragile housing market here in the City of Chicago."
Mayor Emanuel also argues the tax hike is tied to improvements in critical school programs, and should be regarded as an investment in Chicago’s future.
"Other school systems throughout the country are cutting early childhood and pre-kindergarten,” Emanuel said. “We're expanding it. Other school systems are cutting gifted programs like the magnet. We're expanding it."
Chicago’s Teachers Union, who saw their pay frozen this year, said the property tax hike doesn't go far enough.
"Chicago's children need more than another Band-Aid approach," Union President Karen Lewis said in a statement. ”The proposed property tax increase doesn't begin to fix the massive funding inequities in our schools."
Aldermen may not like the tax hike, but there's not much they can do about it.
The school board gets the only vote - and that'll come after a quick round of public hearings that ought to generate plenty of heat.
The mayor has said he will not consider a property tax hike to fix the city's budget problems. He feels there's still too much waste and bureaucracy at City Hall.