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Lori Lightfoot To Hold 4 Forums To Tout Plan To Close Budget Gap That Could Reach $1 Billion

The mayor will hold public forums around the city to talk about the city's budget.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot
File photo
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CITY HALL — Four years ago, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel laid the foundation for the largest property tax hike in the city’s history by holding a series of forums across the city designed to give residents a chance to weigh in before he presented his proposed spending plan to aldermen.

Although Mayor Lori Lightfoot won an overwhelming victory in April by promising to undo much of Emanuel’s legacy, she will take a page directly from his playbook after delivering an address on the state of the city at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Harold Washington Public Library.

“With the city facing financial challenges this year, it is crucial that we have an open and honest conversation with residents from across the city, as well as with departments, city leaders and other stakeholders to develop solutions that will make our government stronger and work more efficiently for all of our neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said in a statement

Lightfoot said her administration plans to release a 2020 Budget Forecast in the place of the Annual Financial Analysis released by Emanuel’s budget office.

Lightfoot can only hope she is better received in the fall of 2019 than her predecessor was during the fall of 2015.

Emanuel had to be rushed off the stage at the second of three forums after protesters rushed the stage demanding that the mayor reverse his decision to close Dyett High School. 

One of the dozen activists who went on a hunger strike to protest Emanuel’s closure of the Bronzeville institution, new 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor, will have a vote on whether Lightfoot’s spending plan becomes law.

Emanuel was also roundly criticized at the final forum on the budget he held at Wright Community College in Dunning, as homeowners pleaded with the mayor not to move forward with a plan to hike property taxes to bridge the city’s budget gap and to shore up pensions for police officers and firefighters.

But Emanuel did not waiver. A month later, he pushed through a $589 million property tax hike, at that timethe largest in city’s history.

The forums on the city’s 2020 budget will take place in each of the city’s four corners:

  • 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 4 at Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
  • 9 to 11 a.m. Sept. 14 at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave.
  • 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Southeast United Methodist Youth and Community Center, 11731 S. Avenue O
  • 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 25 at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave.

Residents can also weigh in on what the city’s budget should prioritize via an online survey through Sept. 30.

Lightfoot is scheduled to deliver her formal budget address to the City Council on Oct. 16.

Lightfoot has repeatedly declined to detail the size and scope of the city’s deficit, saying only that it was worse than she had expected before taking office.

The city’s financial condition is being pinched by a state law that requires the city to boost payments to its four pension funds by 31 percent starting in 2020 to meet actuarial estimates.

By 2023, the city will have to find an additional $1 billion to fund employee pensions.

On June 13, Lightfoot said there is “no question” a tax hike will be needed to close the gap, which could swell with pay raises for teachers, police officers and firefighters yet to be negotiated.

Lightfoot reiterated that again Friday at an unrelated news conference, and promised to demonstrate to Chicago taxpayers their money was being well spent by city officials.

“And I get it. I hear it literally everywhere I go, particularly around property taxes, and I’m very mindful of that,” Lightfoot said. “But the reality is, given the gap we’re going to face next year, given the pension payments that are demanded, we are going to have to look for additional revenue sources, there’s no question about that.”

In addition, for the second day in a row, Lightfoot put state lawmakers on notice that she will ask them to ease some of the financial pressure on the city’s residents — and pointedly noted that she has only a limited ability to generate new revenue.

“We need to have help from Springfield to address the challenges that we have in the city,” Lightfoot said. “Now some people say, ‘Well, we can’t do a Chicago bailout,’ but the reality is, Chicago is 80 percent  of the economy of this state. We are the driver of the economics in the upper Midwest. So investing in Chicago, investing in our kids, helping us address some of our financial needs, is investing in the state.”

Hours after Lightfoot’s remarks, the Illinois Republican Party proved with a tweet that the mayor’s crystal ball was up and running.

“NO! The rest of the state should not bail out a city and it’s leaders who are not willing to make the tough decisions to get their finances in order!”

However, with Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker ready to sign legislation passed by supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate, Lightfoot will need only the backing of her fellow Democrats to push through a budget relief package during this fall’s veto session, set to take place in October.