• Michael McDevitt
    APR 22, 2024

    City Council passes mayor’s $1.25B bond authorization, $70M in new migrant spending from reserves

    Mayor Brandon Johnson is pictured during a City Council meeting April 17, 2024. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]

    The City Council gathered for the second time in a week on Friday to approve funding requests deferred at Wednesday’s meeting, including new spending for migrant care and the mayor’s $1.25 billion bond authorization to fund housing, economic and cultural development programs citywide.

    By a 48-0 vote, the council swiftly passed a budget amendment that included the acceptance of $48 million in federal and state grant funding to aid the city’s migrant mission.

    But when the council turned to the $70 million funding request from the city’s reserves, the body became divided, passing the funding request by a 30-18 vote.

    The $70 million allocation will come from the city’s assigned and unassigned fund balance reserves from 2022. The funding will be added to the previously allocated $150 million for migrant care costs passed in the 2024 budget.

    The vote tally is below. 


    Ald. Anthony Beale (9), who led a failed attempt last fall to place a question on the ballot to allow voters to weigh in on Chicago’s “Welcoming City” status, spoke in opposition to the funding and reiterated a familiar argument about how the availability of funding for migrants was insulting when compared to disinvestment in Black and brown areas.

    “When are we going to help us? When are we going to help the people here? … So we can find money for everybody else but us?” Beale said. “Our priorities are wrong in this city.” 

    “I don’t see my neighborhood getting that type of support,” said Ald. Emma Mitts (37). 

    Ald. David Moore (17) said he hears “as much as our hearts go out, we’re not seeing (investment) in our community” from his own constituents. 

    “I feel like once again, Black people in this city are being put in a position to vote against our own interests with a lose-lose proposition that asks us to be noble and sacrifice for others or wait on help that will never come,” Ald. Desmon Yancy (5) said while still voting yes.

    During a news conference Friday, Mayor Brandon Johnson said he understood alderpeople’s frustrations.

    “The frustration that you're hearing is that Black folks have been carrying the weight of this country for a very long time,” the mayor said. “What people are saying is ‘it's our turn, when is our turn?’ And our turn is now. I just happen to believe that we can do both.” 

    City officials have promised this was the last migrant funding request of 2024, and the mayor said during a news conference Wednesday that the federal government must expand its assistance.

    Related: Budget committee approves new $70M allocation for migrant care

    “We don't have an inordinate amount of reserves, and the federal government has to act,” Johnson said Wednesday. 

    Ald. Jim Gardiner (45) opposed the funding request because he didn’t buy the city’s promise. Gardiner said he was anticipating the council being asked to approve funding again this summer ahead of the Democratic National Convention and was expecting a property tax increase to support future “reckless spending” on new arrivals.

    Gardiner said that he didn’t have confidence most of the money approved would actually go directly to migrants, alluding to reports about exorbitant spending on staffing agencies. 

    “There was massive waste taking place,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) said, though he voted in favor. 

    “We’re paying Ritz Carlton rates for Super 8 service,” Ald. Nicole Lee (11) said in an allusion to the wasteful spending. But she added the additional funding “is the responsible thing to do. How these funds are dispersed has to be shared transparently with the City Council and in detail.” 

    Lee said she was encouraged by the participation of the state and county and the city’s stated intent to transition the migrant operation into a “unified shelter system” that includes the city’s unhoused population. The state is fronting a majority of the cost with a $182 million investment lawmakers are expected to approve in the state budget next month, while Cook County commissioners approved their $70 million investment last week. The new funding approvals are part of a February deal between Johnson, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Gov. JB Pritzker. 

    Proponents of the migrant spending noted the council had gathered Friday to also vote on the mayor’s massive bond authorization, which aims to provide financial resources in the most underserved communities and address the needs referenced by some opponents of the city’s migrant spending. 

    “We’ve got the ordinance that people are looking for,” Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) said. “If you want this city to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on economic development, on housing, on small homeowner repair, on homeownership opportunities, on affordable rental in your communities … We've got that ordinance.” 

    “I hear what some of my colleagues are saying,” Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26) said. “I just don’t want us to forget there’s another item on the agenda today.” 

    Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) urged passage of the migrant spending to prevent thousands from ending up on the street but said he didn’t want the colleagues who voted against the funding to be mistaken for bigots.

    “When I hear folks bringing up concerns, I don’t hear anger. I hear hurt,” Vasquez said. “I hear pain of a city that hasn’t invested in people for decades, for generations, and us living through the city that bears the ramifications of that lack of investment.” 

    The bond ordinance was approved by a 32-17 vote later Friday, with some of the alderpeople voting against the ordinance worried about how much say they'll have over how funds are spent. 

    The bond deal authorizes the city to issue up to $1.25 billion in general obligation and Sales Tax Securitization Corporation bonds over the next five years, divide the proceeds evenly and distribute $625 million each to the Department of Housing and Department of Planning and Development to spend on existing housing, cultural and economic development programs — programs representative of the mayor’s strategy to alleviate the root causes of poverty and violence.  

    “The investments that we are making now are righting the wrongs from previous, previous, previous administrations,” Johnson said during a news conference after the vote. 

    Planning and housing officials also said they could start spending on projects in the coming months with the authorization.

    The vote tally is below. 

    The borrowed funds will be paid back through new revenue made available to the city from the expiration of tax increment financing (TIF) districts in the coming years, and city officials and advocates have argued the bond ordinance would create a more equitable distribution of city investment and reduce the city’s overreliance on TIF, which isn’t able to be used to support certain projects.

    Related: Updated $1.25B housing and economic development bond proposal would give council more authority over spending, more frequent updates from officials 

    The ordinance requires the planning and housing departments to give quarterly updates on “any expenditure, allocation, or award of” bond proceeds toward projects in the second preceding quarter and requires the publication of bond-financed project selection criteria and a list of projects.

    The ordinance also requires an annual report that updates the council on actual debt service and revenue received from expired TIF districts, projections for future debt service and expired TIF revenue and adjustments to financial models based on the latest data.

    The city aims to issue up to $250 million in bonds each year, but the actual amount could change based on factors such as a lack of identified eligible projects or less than expected revenue returned to the city from expired TIFs.

    The bond ordinance was approved by the council’s finance committee Wednesday after a failed attempt by a dozen alderpeople to reduce the threshold by which bond-financed projects would need council approval to $1 million from $5 million and a failed attempt to lower the bond cap to $350 million.

    Related: $1.25B bond proposal passed by finance committee as second attempt to grant council greater fiscal oversight fails

    Ald. Bill Conway (34) attempted to lower the bond cap to $750 million Friday, representing just three years’ worth of the maximum annual bond issuance the city is aiming for, but his motion was tabled 31-18. Conway attempted to lower the bond cap to $350 million on Wednesday. 

    “I feel strongly on behalf of taxpayers that we need to do this right, not just fast,” Conway said. 

    Alds. Brendan Reilly (42) and Raymond Lopez (15) attempted to lower the council approval threshold Friday to $1 million and $2.5 million, respectively, but both attempts failed, keeping the threshold at $5 million.

    “I would have a lot more trust in the program if I knew any investment over a million bucks needs to be vetted and approved by … the City Council,” said Reilly. “The then public would get to see these projects before they’re approved.” 

    “The threshold is too high for oversight, and there is not enough transparency,” said Ald. Samantha Nugent (39) to explain her no vote. 

    Ald. Maria Hadden (49) said the threshold is appropriate since $5 million represents “a drop in the bucket” for some of the projects likely to receive funding under this.

    Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) said he voted against the bond ordinance because compromises he requested, such as an advisory body to monitor spending and parking funds in corridors, were rejected.

    Responding to questions about if transparency measures were sufficient, the mayor said he understands alderpeople's "trepidation ... because of their experiences from prior administrations."

    "There's nothing in my administration that is remotely close to prior administrations," Johnson said. "We're going to continue to work with people despite their level of anxiety."

Be the first to comment

Or sign in with email

    Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.