• Erin Hegarty
    AUG 09, 2021

    Latino Caucus leaders to prioritize economic recovery, racial parity in 2022 budget

    Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), who chairs the City Council Latino Caucus, outlined the caucus' 2022 budget priorities.

    Leaders of the City Council Latino Caucus will push for a majority of the $1.9 billion in federal stimulus dollars to go to residents and businesses instead of using the windfall to pay off the city’s debt, according to caucus leadership. 

    The Latino Caucus will also push for racial parity in the city’s spending plan and in city leadership, as Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), who chairs the Latino Caucus, told The Daily Line his caucus has not seen promises of “diversity” and “equity” come to fruition.  

    Leaders of the City Council’s major caucuses are gearing up to ensure their priorities are included in the city’s 2022 spending plan as Chicago’s budget season is scheduled to begin in September, one month ahead of the city’s typical schedule.  

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2021 spending plan (O2020-5216) was narrowly approved with a 29-21 vote, and a corresponding $94 million property tax increase (O2020-5747) was approved with a 28-22 vote.  

    Now, as the city has more than one year of the pandemic under its belt and a financial windfall from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, aldermen are jockeying to squeeze their priorities into the city’s budget for 2022.  

    Lightfoot and city budget officials on Saturday held the first of three “budget engagement forums” billed as opportunities for residents to give input on next year’s budget and how the city should use the $1.9 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars.  

    But the mayor’s office and aldermanic priorities for the city’s 2022 spending plan have already shown some signs of divergence, particularly around how and when the city will spend its $1.9 billion in federal stimulus dollars as budget officials told aldermen in April that the city would prioritize using the American Rescue Plan dollars to pay off the $900 million in short-term debt the city took on last year.   

    Related: American Rescue Plan dollars will pay down debt as first priority: finance officials  

    Lightfoot in May told investors that while the city used the one-time measure known as “scoop-and-toss,” to balance its 2021 budget, American Rescue Plan money gives the city “an opportunity to dispense with some of those one-times and really move forward.”  

    Related: Lightfoot lays out budget plans to investors, touts new revenues in casino and water deal  

    Latino Caucus priorities  

    Villegas told The Daily Line last week that if Lightfoot’s administration considers using more than half of the American Rescue Plan funding to repay debt, “that’s going to be a big issue.”  

    The city should consider paying back some short-term loans, but that move should be balanced with ensuring “some of the American Rescue Plan funds are used to rescue businesses and make sure the economy recovers,” said Villegas, who during last year’s budget season was serving as Lightfoot’s floor leader. He resigned from that position in February and was replaced by Ald. Michelle Harris (8).   

    “In representing the Latino Caucus, my job is to make sure I’m bringing resources back to the community,” Villegas said.  

    Villegas said he will push not only for federal American Rescue Plan dollars to help his caucus’ communities, but for racial parity in the budget and city leadership.  

    “Diversity has not been working for us, equity has not been working for us,” Villegas said, adding that only two of the city’s departmental commissioners are Latino. And he sees similar patterns in the police and fire department leadership.   

    “Parity has to be key for us,” Villegas said. Caucus leadership will “make sure some of the funding is going to Latino organizations.”  

    “Diversity has been spoken on for two years, and equity has been spoken on for two years,” Villegas said. “What we’re seeing is not reflective of that. A better approach for us is going to be parity.”  

    Villegas told the Sun-Times last week that Latino representation is lacking in the mayor’s office and other agencies including the police department.   

    Lightfoot said during a news conference Thursday that she doesn’t think Villegas’ evaluation is “accurate,” though she appreciates Villegas’ “focus on making sure that there’s diversity.”   

    “I’m going to have to just disagree with my friend Alderman Villegas,” Lightfoot said last week, adding the city is looking for opportunities to “bring more people of color into the administration.”   

    The mayor said she would “challenge” Villegas to find a mayor’s office staff more diverse than hers. “You’re not going to find it,” she said.  

    Villegas said he will also continue pushing for a guaranteed income program as part of the 2022 budget. A resolution  (R2021-213Villegas introduced in February calling for a guaranteed income program received initial support from aldermen.  

    Related: Aldermen line up behind guaranteed income: ‘2021 is our New Deal moment’  

    But earlier this year, on the same day Villegas hosted a committee hearing to discuss his guaranteed income plan, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Reparations held its inaugural meeting. Ald. Jason Ervin (28), who chairs the Aldermanic Black Caucus, said that as Chicago is dealing with reparations, “there's no way in hell we can support direct payments to anybody other than American descendants of slaves.”  

    Related: Chicago, Evanston aldermen press reparations subcommittee to begin work immediately  

    Ervin in April quickly sent to the City Council's rules committee an ordinance (O2021-1564) Villegas proposed to officially establish the guaranteed income program. Villegas proposed using $30 million in federal stimulus dollars from the American Rescue Plan to send as many as 12 monthly payments of $500 to 5,000 families.  

    Related: Affordable housing overhaul clears City Council; Basic income proposal knocked off track  

    Villegas’ guaranteed income proposal was re-referred to the City Council’s budget committee last month. While the City Clerk’s office does not list any additional sponsors on Villegas’ ordinance that would create the program, his resolution calling for such a program has six additional aldermanic sponsors.

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