CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed $12.8 billion spending plan for 2021 on Thursday cleared the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations on a 26-8 vote, drawing support from the minimum number of aldermen the ordinance would need for approval in the whole City Council.
And despite a brief skirmish, the proposed management ordinance, which among other measures, creates a controversial new City Council Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, also passed with near-unanimous support.
Approval of the proposals comes one day after the City Council Committee on Finance passed Lightfoot’s proposed $94 million property tax increase (O2020-5747) and her proposed revenue ordinance (O2020-5743).
The spending plan (O2020-5216) has been modified since Lightfoot first introduced the proposal in October to skirt layoffs of more than 300 employees, and it includes additional funding for violence prevention and a non-law enforcement pilot program to respond to mental health calls, it still doesn’t pass muster with at least eight aldermen.
The proposed budget recommendations got “no” votes from Alds. Debra Silverstein (50th), Marty Quinn (13th), Matthew O’Shea (19th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Tom Tunney (44th). Most of the dissenting aldermen are also on the City Council Committee on Finance and on Wednesday voted against the proposed $94 million tax increase and the proposed revenue ordinance.
Budget Director Susie Park on Thursday outlined amendments made to the budget since its original introduction, including the removal of furloughs for non-union employees with salaries under $100,000.
Park said the amended budget also includes an additional $10 million in funding for violence prevention with $5 million from the Cannabis Regulation Tax Fund and $5 million from Community Development Block Grant CARES Funding. The additional funding brings the total allocation for violence prevention in the proposed budget to $36 million.
According to Park, $1 million in the Department of Public Health’s budget will fund pilot programs for two new models to respond to mental health-related emergency calls: The co-responder model, which sends police and mental health professionals to the calls was included in the initial budget proposal, and a non-law enforcement model added following advocacy from groups including the City Council Progressive Reform Caucus.
Still, while the non-law enforcement model was a consistent ask from the Progressive Caucus, Ramirez-Rosa said the proposed funding level is not enough.
Ramirez-Rosa on Thursday said the $1 million to be split between the two pilot programs for responding to mental health calls “is fully insufficient.”
Ramirez-Rosa also cited results of a survey that 466 of his constituents responded to showing 71 percent want to balance the budget by cutting funding from the Chicago Police Department and 92 percent want an alternative to the proposed property tax increase.
“So unfortunately, I cannot support this budget at this time,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
Almost in direct response, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said the current budget “makes steps in the right direction” toward righting “inconsistencies and imbalances that we have in our social fabric.”
“It’s never going to be enough,” Cardenas said, adding that the city has to start with figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
“A lot of people on the other end are being passionate about how they feel about things that are not working well, I’m passionate about the fact that I know we’re moving in the right direction and I want to say that loudly.”
Additionally, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) questioned why exempt employees in the police and fire departments are not required to take furlough days that employees in other departments will be required to take. She said the police and fire departments have not been exempt from furlough days in the past.
Park said she’s had discussions with leaders of the police and fire departments and “due to their operations” and “for their flexibility for operational purposes they are being exempted.”
Still, Hairston charged that aldermen “come up with solutions, and you reject them. It is unfair, so I would suggest that you revisit that.”
Aldermen tussle over new committee
Lightfoot’s proposed management ordinance (O2020-5746) drew criticism off the bat from Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) who said he would not be supporting it due in part to a proposed new Committee on Immigrants and Refugee Rights to be chaired by Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th).
Sawyer chairs the Committee on Health and Human Relations, which he told aldermen on Thursday he believes handles immigrant and refugee issues without the need for a separate committee.
Ald. David Moore (17th) followed Sawyer’s comments by proposing to hold the new committee proposal in the budget committee. Hairston followed with her support of the move, citing how much the committee would cost.
Park said the city has budgeted $111,000 in the 2021 spending plan for the proposed committee.
“We could use that in mental health,” Hairston said.
The budget committee recessed for nearly an hour to sort things out.
Once aldermen returned, Sawyer requested the ordinance be approved with his name removed. Moore withdrew his motion to hold the proposal in committee, and it passed out of the budget committee with no further objections.
Sawyer told The Daily Line on Thursday he was “originally just expressing my ‘no’ vote to the chair, and I was surprised to see a lot of people wanted to support that endeavor.”
Sawyer said he received quick support from both the Latino and Black Caucuses and was also answering calls and messages from the Progressive Caucus during the recess.
“I appreciated everybody’s support,” Sawyer said. “I know the mayor really felt strongly about the committee for whatever reason.”
Sawyer estimated about 20 percent of the work in the Human Relations Committee is immigrant-related. “We handle it quite well,” he said.
Sawyer also did not support a component of the management ordinance that would prohibit new private clubs from allowing smoking indoors. He said he believes it would prevent new cigar smoking clubs from opening throughout the city.
Aldermen on Thursday also passed ordinances out of committee that allocate $2.5 million in Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grants to North Lawndale Employment Network (O2020-5164) for a new North Lawndale Employment Network Campus, including Sweet Beginnings Cafe, at 1111 S. Homan Ave.; and another (O2020-5163) that would allow the Department of Administrative Hearings to hold remote hearings. Both proposals passed without opposition.