Here's QueBlog's definition of political cyanide for a city councilmember: being forced to cut $14 million in planned street repairs a week before election day. Coming out at a neighborhood forum as a parishioner of the Church of Satan would be only slightly more damaging to your grassroots rep.
That was the conundrum faced by the Council this morning after enduring some bitter fiscal medicine from Management and Budget Director Peter Zanoni. Zanoni's presentation confirmed universal suspicions that the City is facing revenue shortfalls this year and must make some tough choices to maintain a balanced budget. He recommended four mid-year budget adjustments, including a $7 million cut in the CPS Utility Rate Transfer from the City's General Fund to the Solid Waste Fund.
Lourdes Galvan, facing a tough re-election contest in District 5, and chronically frustrated at the City's poor record of handling infrastructure problems on the West Side, balked at the street-repair provision (which would defer scheduled 2009 repairs to next year).
"These streets are in disarray and many of them have been started and haven't been finished," she said.
Sheila McNeil and Jennifer Ramos also expressed concerns about the infrastructure cuts. Ramos moved that the Council vote on the rest of Zanoni's suggested adjustments and put off a vote on street improvements until they had a better sense of what CPS revenues might look like this summer. Galvan even suggested that Councilmembers whose districts didn't face urgent street problems could agree to the recommended cuts and allow the most needy districts to proceed with their repairs this year.
Mayor Phil Hardberger supported Ramos and Galvan in their request for more time to consider the issue, but warned that if the Council didn't defer street improvements this year, they'd probably be looking at cutting libraries, parks, summer youth programs, or Project Quest. "You cannot cut without bleeding," he said. "So it's going to happen, and it's going to be painful."
The Council unanimously voted to defer their vote on the deferment until May 14. Why then? It'll be the first Council meeting after the election, of course.