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Progressives Push For Amazon Head Tax To Plug City’s Budget Shortfall, But Aldermen Send Plan To Purgatory

A plan to reallocate $5 million from the police to create a mental health crisis response team was also sent to the Rules Committee by unsupportive colleagues.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) at a City Council meeting in February 2020.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot formally introduced legislation Monday to support her $12.8 billion pandemic budget, setting the final stage of negotiations with City Council as she pushes for 26 votes needed to pass the plan.

After announcing the city would avoid laying off 350 city workers in 2021, the mayor introduced a bevy of ordinances for a $94 million property tax hike, a $0.03 per gallon gasoline tax increase, adding new parking meters to city streets and refinancing or restructuring more than $501 million in city debt, among other items, to close an anticipated $1.2 billion 2021 budget deficit. In an effort to buy votes, Lightfoot has offered to delay the $94 million property tax hike until January 2022, according to the Sun-Times.

Faced with the unenviable task of voting for a property tax hike, aldermen searched for alternative revenue streams. But two proposals introduced Monday were sent to legislative purgatory during the virtual meeting, effectively limiting their already bleak chances of being approved without Lightfoot’s support.

Three progressive aldermen, Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) and Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) introduced a measure to charge large logistics companies like Amazon a monthly head tax on their employees.

The ordinance would hit Chicago logistics companies that employ more than 50 people with a $16 month tax for each full-time employee, although it creates exemptions for certain employees residing in Chicago neighborhoods with high crime rates or other hardships.

But the measure, along with another by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) to tax and regulate the video gaming industry, were sent to the Rules Committee by unsupportive colleagues. The ordinances would have to be voted out of the committee, which meets infrequently, and subsequently placed on the agenda of a new committee before they could receive an up or down vote.

Saying the three aldermen proposing the employee tax did not share their plan with her, Lightfoot offered no opinion on it, but she did raise concerns that O’Shea’s ordinance may upset the casino industry.

Lightfoot said she disagrees with O’Shea’s ordinance because potential operators of a future Chicago casino have communicated they’re “very reluctant to go into a market where there is already some form of gaming.”

“I think we are better served by moving through the casino process as quickly as we can to get a casino license,” she said. “I’m very concerned about doing anything that has the potential to chill the market.”

Two other proposals put forth by the Council’s most progressive aldermen were sent to the Rules committee: one to close the much-maligned police operations facility at Homan Square and another to create a mental health crisis response team to respond to some mental health emergencies in place of police officers.

The measure, introduced by Rodriguez Sanchez, would reallocate approximately $5 million in funds from the Chicago Police Department to the Department of Public Health to pay for the program supporters say would save lives and no longer send police officers into situations they weren’t trained to handle.

RELATED: Cops And Mental Health Pros Would ‘Co-Respond’ To Some 911 Calls Under New City Plan

Her plan received the backing of the 18 member Progressive Caucus, but is not supported by Lightfoot.

Lightfoot’s budget creates a limited pilot co-responder effort that would station a mental health professional inside the 911 call center and send a mental health professional along with a police officer to respond to some mental health emergencies in two police districts.

Instead of laying off city workers, the city will borrow $15 million backed by future tax revenues from cannabis sales. The city could pay 3.25 percent interest on the debt, according to WTTW.

Laurence Msall, president of the influential Civic Federation, criticized the plan to borrow against revenues from weed sales less than one year after recreational weed was legalized in Illinois, saying the plan needs “much better transparency.”

Msall also chastised the mayor’s plan to tie annual property tax increases to the consumer price index.

“Describing the annual increase as “modest,” Lightfoot said it’s needed to keep up with the city’s pension obligations.

However, The Civic Federation has offered it’s “qualified support” of Lightfoot’s budget, saying, “it is reasonable within the context of the extreme uncertainty surrounding the pandemic crisis.”

After the meeting, Lightfoot said there are “zero easy choices” when introducing a budget in a pandemic and that talks continue to secure 26 votes, but she said tough decisions must be made now.

“A lot of thoughtful and productive conversations with a variety of members of City Council, as well as our friends in organized labor,” she said. “I feel like we are on the right path … “

City Buys Land For Restaurants Near New Police Academy

City Council also approved a long planned intergovernmental agreement to buy property from the Chicago Transit Agency at 4331 W. Chicago Ave. in the 37th Ward to build two restaurants, Peach’s and Culver’s, next to the planned Police and Fire Training Academy.

Ald. Emma Mitts, who represents the 37th ward, supported the purchase, saying the two Black-owned restaurants or franchises would not only serve those attending the academy, but the entire West Side.

While some aldermen have been critical of the plan to build the $95 million training facility, no one spoke in opposition to the land purchase supporting the restaurants on Wednesday. The plan was approved by council last year.

The full City Council will next meet on Monday, bypassing a tentatively scheduled Friday meeting, where an amended version of Lightfoot’s budget is expected to be presented. The earliest the proposal could be voted on is Nov. 25.

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