Thursday, November 20, 2008

“635” is the key stat in city budget

The scene of the budget cuts, including all those job layoffs.

I have mixed emotions to the new budget proposal approved Wednesday by the Chicago City Council. And no, I’m not getting all bent out of shape at the thought of the various fees being created and increased to try to balance out a $6 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The number that catches my attention is “635.”

THAT IS THE number of city government employees who are going to learn their labor is no longer affordable towards the goal of maintaining municipal services for city residents, although the Chicago Tribune at one point reported a potential total of 770 people to be laid off from their city jobs.

That strikes me as a lot of people to suddenly put out of work, particularly as we approach a Christmas holiday season that already was anticipated to be a down moment for the U.S. economy.

Now I know all the jokes people tell about government workers who sleep on the job, or who do menial tasks for great pay, or who manage to use their government access to eck out perks for themselves and their friends.

And from the one summer of my life that I spent on a government payroll (Cook County recorder of deeds, back in the days of Harry “Bus” Yourell), I know there are some government workers who give the impression of working for the government because they’re too un-ambitious to get a job in the private sector.

YET THAT IS still a lot of people to put out of work. When one notes the numbers of people left unemployed due to cutbacks at private companies, the competition for jobs and employment is going to be all the more tougher.

Now perhaps I’m too sensitive to the concept of unemployment and layoffs – having been laid off from three jobs (one of which was pretty close to being my fantasy job) in the past eight years. I’ve even lost some part-time employment because companies determined they couldn’t afford the pittance they were paying me for my labor.

So I know first-hand how depressing it can be to go through the concept of unemployment. I know the joys of getting a new job the exact week that one’s unemployment benefits run out, and I also know what it is like to have those benefits come to an end with no new income source lined up.

The idea that there are now 770 (or as few as 635) more people in Chicago who will endure the same things I have gone through in recent years is depressing to me. This isn’t a fate I would wish on my enemies.

IT IS WITH that attitude in my mind that I have to give a bit of praise to Billy Ocasio. He’s the alderman who represents the largely-Puerto Rican Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods in the City Council.

And he’s also the lone alderman who dared to vote against the budget proposal put forth by Mayor Richard M. Daley.

It’s not that Ocasio doesn’t realize that cuts in municipal staffing are going to have to comprise a portion of the $469 million that city officials needed to cut in order to ensure that the new city budget would be balanced.

Yet he became the “1” in the 49-1 vote because he was convinced that too many laborers who actually do work in the neighborhoods are going to be included in the ranks of the laid off – rather than middle-management types who work in offices at City Hall.

IT WAS NICE to know someone was keeping those soon-to-be-unemployed city workers in his mind while taking a vote on the city’s near-term financial future.

Now I’m not one of those people who thinks everybody wearing a tacky tie while working a desk job at “the Hall” is somehow worthless. I’m not convinced that every “Streets and San” worker is a noble creature worthy of eternal job protection.

But I do realize that fewer workers in Streets and Sanitation, or any city agency for the matter, means remaining staff being burdened to do more and more work to maintain city services at the same level.

Eventually, it becomes a situation where they just can’t do the same amount of work, and city services suffer. That will give Chicago residents yet more issues to gripe about when they think of city government.

TO ME, DECLINING levels of service is a significant issue. In my mind, it is more important than the increase in parking garage taxes charged by the city, or the hike in taxes charged on sporting event tickets.

Some people are going to hear about the new budget and complain – I’m paying too much already. And perhaps they are.

But I’m going to think just a bit about the several hundred people newly unemployed in order to ensure a balanced budget.

Part of it is a sympathetic thought of being unemployed around the winter holidays. But part of it also is worry about whether these people have the potential to compete with me for work.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Considering the declining financial status of the newspaper industry, both nationally and in Chicago, will this be one of the last news events where we (,budget-chicago-2009-city-council-111908.article) will be able to compare and contrast dueling news coverage of an event ( in the Sun-Times and Tribune?

Some people are trying to create partisan political spats by claiming the added security in downtown Chicago on account of President-elect Barack Obama’s presence there during (,daley-obama-transition-chicago-police-111808.article) the transition period is adding to the city’s police expenses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. Finally someone puts a "human" spin on government layoffs. It always strikes me funny when I hear for certain people calling on Todd Stroger to cut county staffers. You probably could cut thousands of workers but what about them and their families? and then the media will be all over Stroger for putting people out of work...with follow up stories of what the laid off county workers are doing now.