In an evening filled with procedural twists and turns, aldermen at the March 10 City Council meeting overrode Mayor Lorraine Morton’s veto of the budget the Council approved on Feb. 25. Citing the number of homes in foreclosure and at risk of foreclosure, Mayor Morton said the 7-percent increase in the City’s portion of the property tax was too great a burden for the taxpayers of Evanston to bear and not in the best interest of the community.
Information the Mayor had prepared for Council members suggested, she said, that the Council could reduce the City’s contributions to the police and firefighters’ pension funds, thereby reducing the overall tax burden to the citizens.
Aldermen unanimously rejected the Mayor’s proposal and overrode the veto, suspending Council rules so they could vote on the veto the same night they received it. First Assistant Corporation Counsel Herbert Hill told the aldermen they had to decide whether the Mayor was offering a line-item veto of the pension fund contributions or a blanket veto of the entire budget. The aldermen chose to view the veto as a veto of the entire budget, the effect of which, were it to survive, would be to shut down all City operations, Mr. Hill said.
Council’s approval of the budget came on Feb. 25, too late for the Mayor to return a veto during the previous fiscal year, which ended on Feb 29. Had Council not overridden the veto, the budget for the present fiscal year would have been invalidated, thus rendering all City contracts and expenditures null and void, Mr. Hill told the Council.
Aldermen said they felt they had no choice but to override the veto. Those who spoke gave two main reasons for overriding it – that they believed it was not possible to reduce the contributions to the pension fund and that they did not want to shut down the operations of the City.
“We heard from our previous actuary and our present one that we do owe $140 million to the pension fund, and one of our first votes on the budget was to fund the fire and police pensions,” said Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, and other aldermen voiced agreement.
“We cannot support the veto if it paralyzes the City,” said Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “My first concern is the operation of the City.”
“We all appreciate your concern for the taxpayers of Evanston. You have been a leader in protecting the taxpayer,” said Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward.
Council members had to vote to suspend then amend the Council rule mandating that consideration of the “return” [the veto] occur at the Council meeting after the return. Only then could they vote on the veto, which, in a rare show of Council unanimity, they overrode.