• Alex Nitkin
    OCT 21, 2021

    Aldermen rush to finalize budget tweaks on spending oversight, ‘human infrastructure’ as critical vote nears

    A trio of aldermen are pushing for the 2022 budget plan to include a “formalized” mechanism for oversight of how the city spends nearly $2 billion in American Rescue Plan funds. [Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago]

    Aldermen are furiously negotiating with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration this week to finalize an array of tweaks they hope to insert into the city’s spending plan before it reaches a final vote next week.

    Some members of the council’s Progressive Reform Caucus joined the Chicago Budget Coalition to file a raft of amendments last week, including a widely-supported proposal by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33) to use $10 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to reopen the city’s shuttered mental health clinics.

    Related: Arwady clashes with City Council on mental health clinics amid gush of budget amendments

    A group of progressive aldermen joined leaders of the group United Working families to rally in support of the proposals outside City Hall Wednesday morning.

    But separately, negotiations are heating up between Lightfoot’s administration and a trio of aldermen looking to enlist an “oversight entity” to keep the administration honest on its spending of federal money. Ald. Matt Martin (47), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20) and Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) have been “talking with advocates, our colleagues and the mayor’s administration about what that oversight could look like,” Martin told The Daily Line on Tuesday.

    “We have an unprecedented amount of money that we have been tasked by the federal government to spend thoughtfully and quickly,” Martin said. “It stands to reason that when you’re talking about upwards of $2 billion plus significant bond funding…that having City Council be an effective legislative body, including having significant oversight power, is going to be really critical to making sure we’re spending these funds thoughtfully and effectively.”

    The oversight could take the form of a City Council subcommittee or a “working group” of aldermen tasked with spending oversight, Martin said, adding that his goal is to see the mechanism “formalized in the management ordinance” (O2021-4785) set for passage by the Committee on Budget and Government Operations on Friday.

    Former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said on The Daily Line’s CloutCast podcast last week that the City Council does not live up to its responsibility to act as an independent check on the mayor’s administration.

    Related: Ferguson sounds off on Lightfoot, CPD and City Council shortcomings: ‘We don’t have effective legislative oversight’

    Black Caucus pushes to boost anti-violence spending

    Meanwhile, the City Council Latino Caucus and Aldermanic Black Caucus have been working behind the scenes to advance their own agendas, including a proposal by the Latino Caucus for the city to adopt a “Hispanic Inclusion Plan” to achieve racial parity in city hiring.

    Related: Latino aldermen redouble push for racial parity in hiring as Lightfoot digs in

    The 20-member Black Caucus has finalized its list of budget asks, including a push to redirect Lightfoot’s proposed $31.5 million guaranteed income pilot toward boosting anti-violence outreach efforts.

    “There are plenty of opportunity areas in the budget, a lot of which is largely undefined — the definition has not been fully baked as of yet,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28) told The Daily Line on Tuesday, citing the guaranteed income plan as an example. “There are opportunities to move in a direction we think is beneficial for communities on the South and West Side.”

    Related: Budget that invests in South, West sides would ‘lift the city in its entirety,’ Black Caucus chair says

    Ervin, who chairs the Black Caucus, said the group’s priorities remain guiding the city toward “helping reduce violence on the South and West Side” and “bringing adequate resources to rebuild…and rectify some of the challenges that exist in many of our communities.”

    Specifically, he cited goals of beefing up city funding for “affordable housing, violence prevention and local initiatives” — in part by more than doubling Lightfoot’s proposed “human infrastructure” grant program from $100,000 per ward to $250,000 per ward.

    “I think those dollars will be helpful to support those organizations that are doing a lot of work on the ground but just aren’t at the organizational level to do large things,” Ervin said.

    The caucus is also looking to widen the city’s Request for Proposal process of how it chooses which anti-violence organizations to enlist so that smaller, community-based organizations have a better shot at city funding. Aldermen have griped that larger non-profits like Metropolitan Family Services have not coordinated with ward offices on their efforts.

    Related: Aldermen push to be more involved in street-level anti-violence programs receiving city funding

    “We have expressed concerns that the cream is not necessarily rising to the top in this endeavor,” Ervin said. “And we need to figure out a better way to get the organizations that are probably more adept at handling some of this stuff to the forefront and engaged.”

    On the affordable housing front, the caucus is pushing for the city to set aside $70 million in federal funding to help preserve single-room occupancy residential buildings — a tool Ervin said will “increase affordability” across the city.

    The Sun-Times on Tuesday reported more details of the Black Caucus’ budget agenda, including a demand for $75 million in direct stimulus funds for hotel and motel workers.

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