These are tough times, but last summer aldermen successfully fought off the idea of cuts to their expense allowances—accounts worth $73,280 that they can spend on “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the performance of an alderman’s official duties,” as the budget ordinance puts it. Before 2008, aldermen were receiving $33,280, a figure that most said was just too low to cover even basic needs like rent, utilities, and office supplies.

As Channel 32 showed with a series of investigations last year, and I noted here, the meaning of “ordinary and necessary” can be rather wide-ranging for aldermen, who in the course of their work in 2007 required taxpayer-funded pizza, trips out of state, rubber stamps, low-mileage cars, and the gas to fill them (the cars).

Not much changed in 2008, according to the most recent set of aldermanic expense reports. A few highlights:

·          Aldermen racked up a total of $3.1 million in itemized expenses in 2008, up from $2.3 million in 2007.

·          Forty aldermen spent less than their allotment. In fact, two of them didn’t even use half of it: the 31st Ward’s Ray Suarez, who spent $21,014; and the 11th Ward’s James Balcer, $33,775.

·          $486,816 worth of expenditures wasn’t itemized. That’s 16 percent of the total.

·          The biggest chunk of the money went toward rent—more than $805,000. But the amount aldermen spent varied widely, and not always in line with market rates in their neighborhoods. Alderman Isaac Carothers, whose 29th Ward includes some of the poorest parts of the city, paid $49,500 in rent, tops in the council. On the other end, 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller paid less than $11,000 for rent in her Uptown office.

·          Phone and Internet service cost aldermen at least $311,945; office supplies and printing, $269,902; and utilities $174,744.

·          Nineteen aldermen are leasing cars out of their expense accounts, costing taxpayers more than $115,000. They and other aldermen spent another $40,000 on gas and parking fees.

·          Though Chicago has some of the best tap water in the country, aldermen spent more than $10,000 on bottled water.

 ·        We the people also paid for aldermen’s coffee (Lona Lane, Ariel Reboyras, Scott Waguespack, Richard Mell), parking tickets (Danny Solis), and political consulting (Anthony Beale).

 You can look over an Excel file of the reports by clicking here.

UPDATE: Alderman Waguespack’s office tells me the coffee bills were racked up by his predecessor, Ted Matlak.