OCT 27, 2021
Lightfoot lauds passage of ‘progressive’ $16.7B budget as aldermen grouse over $77M property tax hike
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 spending plan was approved on Wednesday. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]
Aldermen approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $16.7 billion so-called “recovery budget” for 2022 with plenty of votes to spare, as many aldermen touted the spending plan as a “progressive” use of the federal stimulus money that sets standards on how the city should allocate dollars in the future.
In a vote less contentious than the budget decisions aldermen were asked to take last year, when the city was still in the throes of the pandemic, aldermen voted 35-15 to approve Lightfoot’s 2022 appropriations ordinance. The ordinance bolsters spending on affordable housing, mental health resources and public safety and creates a new $31.5 million guaranteed basic income program.
Lightfoot touted the 2022 spending plan approved Wednesday as “truly the most progressive and forward-looking budget in our city’s history.”
“I've had a hard time sleeping the last few days, not because of fear, but because of excitement — excitement of what the possibilities would be in this moment if we got this budget over the threshold,” Lightfoot said during a news conference on Wednesday.
The vote splits were more reminiscent of Lightfoot’s first budget proposal, which passed with 11 detractors in 2019. Prior to her election, budget plans routinely sailed through the City Council with little opposition.
Lightfoot’s nearly $77 million proposed property tax levy hike for 2022 passed by the smallest margin of any budget-related ordinance on Wednesday with the vote of 32-18. A portion of the increase is tied to inflation.
Next year’s spending plan includes the Chicago Recovery Plan, Lightfoot’s blueprint to combine the infusion of $1.9 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars with $660 million in new borrowing to help Chicagoans recover the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Progressive aldermen who had previously called for the city to distribute the stimulus money before the city’s budget season were largely complimentary of the spending plan approved on Wednesday, which includes amendments crafted by some aldermen.
Changes that made it into the spending plan include the creation of a new City Council subcommittee that would be tasked with reviewing Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan initiatives and spending. Plans for the subcommittee are outlined under Lightfoot’s proposed management ordinance (O2021-4785), which was approved with a vote of 38-12.
The 14-member committee would examine the city’s “progress toward equitable goals, and potential course corrections, as necessary,” according to city documents.
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The budget approved on Wednesday also adds 29 additional employees to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s budget for mental health, including 10 clinical therapists, five behavioral health assistants, three community outreach coordinators and two epidemiologists, among other positions.
For the "first time in 10 years, there's meaningful investment" in building city mental health clinics, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33) said on the council floor Wednesday. "We didn't get any clinics reopened, but we got 29 permanent positions to support the work of our clinics" with funding from the city’s Corporate budget.
Rodriguez-Sanchez had filed a budget amendment calling for the public health department to peel off $10 million in federal funding to reopen the clinics closed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012.
Next year’s budget also adds 16 tree trimming crews to the Department of Transportation’s Forestry Bureau, bringing next year’s total to 30 tree trimming crews. The city currently sends out 14 tree trimming crews each day, and the original budget proposal sought to add 11 new crews.
"Working class Chicagoans demanded funds should go to our communities,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), who chairs the City Council’s Democratic Socialist Caucus, adding that “because of that work" of progressive Chicagoans, next year’s budget includes more funding for affordable housing, resources for Chicago’s homeless residents and the guaranteed basic income program.
Additionally, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29), who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, praised the spending plan for its investments in mental health support for police officers.
"With this budget, the city makes a significant investment [in] the mental health of our officers," Taliaferro said. The spending plan approved Wednesday adds 11 mental health clinicians to the police department’s budget, placing a clinician in each of the city’s police districts.
"We have to protect their mental health,” Taliaferro said, speaking to the stress of being a police officer at this time paired with the traumatic things they see during the course of their work.
"Today we have the opportunity to not only bridge the gap to a brighter future but to make a historic investment in our city to make Chicago what we all want it to be,” Dowell said just before aldermen embarked on their series of votes on budget-related measures.
“No” votes on Lightfoot’s budget allocations came from Ald. Anthony Beale (9), Ald. Marty Quinn (13), Ald. Ed Burke (14), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), Ald. David Moore (17), Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20), Ald. Silvana Tabares (23), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41), Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) and Ald. Jim Gardiner (45).
Property tax hike
Aldermen approved Lightfoot’s nearly $77 million property tax levy hike (O2021-4759) with "no" votes from Ald. Brian Hopkins (2), Beale, Quinn, Burke, Lopez, Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16), Moore, O’Shea, Taylor, Tabares, Sigcho-Lopez, Maldonado, Ald. Felix Cardona (31), Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), Napolitano, Reilly, Gardiner and Ald. Debra Silverstein (50).
O’Shea told reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting that he thinks the city could have “mitigated” the property tax hike by removing the guaranteed basic income program from the spending plan.
“In two years, we won’t be able to afford [the guaranteed income program],” O’Shea said. “We have a workforce with tens of thousands of jobs right now that nobody’s taking. We should have been talking about possibly childcare, getting people back to work.”
“But just giving money out to people when there's tens of thousands of jobs in our city right now, that's not something I can support,” O’Shea said.
“My main concern right now is public safety because it’s the main concern of 13th Ward residents,” Quinn said in a written statement. “I can’t vote for a budget that does not address the police shortage we will continue to face.”
Aldermen voted 40-8 to approve Lightfoot’s bond ordinance (O2021-4788) with "no" votes from Beale, Burke, Lopez, Moore, Taylor, Sigcho-Lopez, Maldonado and Napolitano. The ordinance, in part, paves the way for the city to take on debt to bolster funding for affordable housing, expand the city’s tree canopy and rehab neighborhood parks through the Chicago Recovery Plan.
Lightfoot’s revenue ordinance (O2021-4786), which proposes to hike fines for environmental violations among other revenue measures, was approved by a vote of 36-14.
Aldermen who voted "no" on the revenue ordinance were: Beale, Quinn, Burke, Lopez, Moore, O’Shea, Taylor, Tabares, Sigcho-Lopez, Maldonado, Napolitano, Reilly, Gardiner, Silverstein
Aldermen approved an amendment to the 2021 appropriation ordinance by a vote of 31-19 with “no” votes from La Spata, Beale, Quinn, Burke, Lopez, Moore, Taylor, Rodriguez, Tabares, Sigcho-Lopez, Maldonado, Rodriguez-Sanchez, Ramirez-Rosa, Villegas, Vasquez, Napolitano, Reilly, Gardiner and Ald. Maria Hadden (49).
The amendment uses American Rescue Plan funds to pay back $465 million in borrowing incurred, which some aldermen contend puts the dollars back in the hands of banks rather than Chicago residents.
Democratic Socialist caucus split on budget votes
The City Council’s newest caucus, the five-member Democratic Socialist, split their votes on most of the budget-related ordinances.
Ramirez-Rosa, who chairs the caucus, told The Daily Line on Wednesday that all five caucus members aligned their voting against amendments to the 2021 budget but that members had the OK to vary their votes on other components of the budget.
“If you look at the roll call as a whole, of the five caucus members, three of them voted ‘yes’ on the entire budget package,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
Ramirez-Rosa also pointed out that “the bulk of the ‘no’ votes came from the right wing and the conservatives in the City Council, so I think that really paints a picture of where this party was and how this process unfolded.”
Additionally, Ramirez-Rosa said the city is in a “very rare, strange moment…where we have the weakest mayor we’ve had in decades.”
“We're also beginning to see the ideological and philosophical fractures that exist in the City Council,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “What that means then is that we're beginning to see democracy, [and] democracy is messy.”
Additionally, that means “that each of us has one vote, and we get to decide how we want to cast that vote and what we want to end up at.”
Taylor agreed saying each alderman “represent[s] different parts of the community” and her votes reflect the needs of her constituents, adding she is not disappointed in the votes other members of the Progressive Caucus and Democratic Socialist Caucus made.
“What Maria Hadden can vote for in her ward, I can't vote for in mine. So as long as people know that I'm voting for the interests of my constituents, the people who pay my salary, I'm fine with it.”
Taylor said another sticking point for her was the property tax hike.
“I'm not going to vote against my constituents,” Taylor said. “The median income in my ward is $25,000, I'm not going to vote to raise property taxes.”
Referencing the city’s budget allocations of the federal American Rescue Plan dollars, Taylor said “we had an opportunity to do something right and again, it's crumbs and cakes as usual.”
The line was a reference to a speech she gave in advance of last year’s budget votes, which she began by saying, “Don’t give me crumbs and tell me it’s cake.”
Taylor told The Daily Line’s CloutCast podcast in August that she would not support any budget plan that raises spending for the Chicago Police Department by “one dollar.” The 2022 budget plan boosts spending for the department by about $190 million, mostly due to retroactive pay raises negotiated by the Fraternal Order of Police.
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Sigcho-Lopez was the only Democratic Socialist Caucus member to vote “no” on all of the budget-related ordinances, but he agreed that each alderman “should vote for what’s best for their constituents [and] I assume they are voting in the best interest of their constituents.”
Still, Sigcho-Lopez said his ward and Taylor’s ward more acutely have “seen the effects of the pandemic on the South Side and Southwest Side.”
“On behalf of 25th Ward residents, we want to see a budget that reflects our priorities” and does not “continue to put burdens on people with more fines and fees and property taxes.”
Additional items aldermen approved Wednesday include:
A2021-157 — Lightfoot’s appointment of Luis Gutierrez, founder and CEO of the immigration legal services group Latinos Progresando, to the Chicago Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. Gutierrez is not related to the former Chicago congressman of the same name.
O2021-4066 — Sale of eight city-owned parcels at 6411-13 S. Cicero Ave. in the 13th Ward to GW Property Group for the development of a drive-thru Starbucks. The lot was appraised this year at $1.6 million but the city bumped down its sale price to $825,000 after discovering “environmental contamination…due to prior usage,” according to briefing materials. The site had previously been home to a used car sales lot but has sat vacant for years, Quinn said during a housing committee meeting. The city had sold the property to Culver's, but the restaurant chain "walked away" upon finding contamination, he said.
O2021-4132 — An ordinance authorizing the Department of Housing to issue $3 million in federally backed Multi-Family Program Funds to Chicago House and Social Service Agency so it can acquire and renovate a 13-unit affordable building at 1650 W. 63rd St. in the 15th Ward. The building was previously operated as Clara's Place by the late Clara Kirk, who was known as the "Mother of Englewood" for the transitional housing facilities that she established and operated, according to Kara Breems, financial planning analyst with the city’s housing department.
O2021-4195 — An ordinance granting developers R2 Companies and Blue Star Properties Class L historic tax credits to transform the Morton Salt shed at 1357 N. Elston Ave. in the 27th Ward. into a 4,000-ticket theater. The plan to remake the four-acre salt shed site while keeping the iconic exterior structure intact has steadily marched through a series of city approvals this year, including by achieving historic landmark status so that the “Morton Salt” logo and umbrella girl illustration remain to greet concertgoers. The plan also calls to add restaurants and 61,000 square feet of office space to the site.
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