Civic Federation Urges Sufficient Time for Public Input on Local Government Budgets

July 25, 2012

In its recent analyses of the $5.7 billion FY2013 budget proposed by Chicago Public Schools and the $659.5 million FY2013 budget proposed by the City Colleges of Chicago, the Civic Federation expressed concern about the limited time allowed for public review. In each case, the Federation found that the time allowed for public input was inadequate for budgets of such magnitude.

All governments have a duty to allow for public input related to their proposed budget. The Civic Federation recommends that public review periods for local government budgets follow the criteria described below:

  • Public hearings on the proposed budget should be separate from regularly scheduled meetings at times and locations convenient to the public;
  • At a minimum, ten working days should be allowed for the public review period before the first public testimony is heard;
  • Public hearings should be held at least five working days before the proposed budget comes to a vote; and
  • Governments should consider holding more than one public hearing if necessary to allow for adequate public participation.

Only in this way can citizens give fully informed commentary on the budget. The Civic Federation’s recent budget analyses included the following recommendations specific to the FY2013 budget processes of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and City Colleges of Chicago.

Recommendations for Chicago Public Schools

The CPS FY2013 Proposed Budget was released on Friday, July 6, 2012 and its first public hearing was held on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 – only three working days after the budget was released. This is a woefully inadequate amount of time for the public to comprehend a complex 206-page budget document. As an educational institution, CPS’ failure to allow for sufficient time for public input on the proposed budget is a missed opportunity to help educate, inform and build support for their proposed expenditure of tax dollars.

Recommendations for City Colleges of Chicago

This year City Colleges held a public budget hearing at Kennedy King College one week after the budget book was available on the District’s website, affording members of the public limited time to review the document. In previous years, the District held multiple hearings in various campuses to receive feedback on the annual budget. However, since many meetings were sparsely attended, City Colleges decided to limit public hearings to one while increasing outreach. City Colleges incorporated various social media applications to allow members of the public to ask questions and engage the District’s leaders online during and after the hearing.

The Federation applauds City Colleges and its staff for encouraging interested constituents to comment on the annual proposed budget before the Board took a vote through new and innovative forms of social media. However, more than one week’s time should be allowed for the public to review and understand the City Colleges’ $659.5 million budget.

Public Review Periods for FY2012 Local Government Budgets

Several governments made significant improvements to their public review processes last year. Of the nine Chicago-area governments analyzed by the Civic Federation, five governments released their budgets at least ten working days prior to the first public hearing: City Colleges of Chicago, DuPage County, the City of Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

In its analyses of the City of Chicago and Cook County FY2012 budgets, the Civic Federation noted improvements to the budget review process.

In the past, public hearings on the City of Chicago proposed budget have been held as part of regular City Council meetings. There was no designated time for the public hearing to begin because it took place only after other Council business had been conducted. The Civic Federation supported the Council’s decision last year to schedule a public hearing separate from their regular meetings.

Cook County’s public review process also improved in FY2012 because of the introduction of a preliminary budget estimate released prior to the beginning of FY2012. The preliminary budget estimate is a useful tool to inform stakeholders of the County’s fiscal situation and help shape the development of the final proposed budget. The County also improved its budget process by releasing its FY2012 budget proposal on October 25, 2011, a dramatic improvement from prior years when the budget was not presented or adopted until the first quarter of the new fiscal year.