CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is set to unveil her 2022 spending plan Monday, about one month earlier than the city’s typical budget schedule, amid calls for the city to pump directly into communities nearly $1.9 billion in federal pandemic-related grant money.
Lightfoot will introduce her third budget plan more than one month after she announced as part of the city’s budget forecast that Chicago is facing a $733 million budget shortfall heading into 2022, far smaller than the $1.2 billion gap the city faced last year.
Lightfoot’s budget introduction will take place in City Council chambers after a 10 a.m. City Council meeting, which was scheduled last week after two aldermen temporarily delayed a vote on the mayor’s proposal to loosen zoning regulations for pot shops throughout the city.
The council is also scheduled Monday to give a final stamp to five items that were dispatched in committees on Friday: two appointments to the search committee to find a new inspector general, and three re-referrals of legislation out of the Committee on Committees and Rules.
The mayor’s budget plan is likely to be met with tough scrutiny amid ongoing calls from some aldermen and advocacy organizations to divest money from the police department, dedicate more dollars to public mental health and to use federal pandemic grant money on programs directly impacting residents rather than to pay down debt.
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Lightfoot said during her budget forecast address she expects to propose a spending plan with an increase in the Chicago Police Department’s budget. “No question,” Lightfoot said. “We have to.”
The police department needs more resources to recruit the “next generation” of officers, and city officials also need “to do more to increase the resources devoted to the health and wellness of our police officers,” Lightfoot said last month.
Aldermen last year with a 29-21 vote narrowly approved Lightfoot’s 2021 “pandemic budget” appropriation ordinance (O2020-5216). Even closer was the 28-22 vote on her proposed revenue plan (O2020-5747), which called for a $94 million property tax hike and subsequent increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Budget officials in August said the city does not expect to hike property taxes outside of an expected $20 million increase tied to the Consumer Price Index.
City leaders in the 2021 budget also hiked from 7.25 percent to 9 percent the personal property lease tax, which covers the lease of computer and cloud space.
Lightfoot during a news conference last week declined to detail any tax increases residents can expect to see in next year’s budget, instead saying, “I think you’ll have to wait until Monday.”
“I feel very good about the budget that we will be proposing,” Lightfoot said last week. “In thinking about this budget, we’re not just thinking about this year but we’re thinking about next year.”
Lightfoot added the city has “some very innovative proposals to address a lot of what we heard through what I think has probably been one of the most robust public engagements leading up to the budget.”
Budgets are “value statements” and the city is “coming out of a pandemic that has devastated many communities” and “has made the people that were vulnerable pre-pandemic even more vulnerable,” Lightfoot continued, adding the spending plan needs to be fiscally smart and address “immediate pain.
“I feel like our budget that we will propose to the City Council strikes that appropriate balance, but obviously the members of City Council will be the judge of that,” she said
City Council last week in a 40-8 vote approved the long-overdue collective bargaining agreement (O2021-3449) with the Fraternal Order of Police that includes about $378 million in retroactive officer pay extending back to 2017, when the union’s last contract expired.
City budget officials already budgeted $103.3 million of the 2021 spending plan for back pay for the rank-and-file officers, according to the preliminary budget forecast Lightfoot released in August.
The forecast charts out a plan to make up most of the rest of the cost through a “refunding transaction” that replaces existing debt with lower-interest bonds.
Lightfoot’s budget forecast also calls to use $782 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars to plug “eligible operating expenses” for 2021 so that the city can scrap its “scoop-and-toss” debt restructuring plan.
Recent revenue reports show that the city raked in about $1.7 billion in revenue through the first half of 2021, surpassing budget officials’ projections by nearly $89 million. The city’s transaction taxes brought in more than $51 million more than was budgeted in this year’s spending plan.
Chicago also netted more than $106 million from personal property replacement taxes, about 74 percent more than officials had budgeted. The city’s share of revenue from state income taxes came in around $139.2 million, about 37 percent more than expected.
“Total collections for the first half of 2021 are above budget expectations due to strong transaction tax performance, including the personal property lease tax and real property transaction tax, as well as income tax revenue and personal property replacement tax revenue,” the city’s budget office’s June report reads.
Aldermanic priorities differ from mayor’s
Individual aldermen and City Council caucuses have already laid out some their budget priorities, including through proposed legislation.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) and 11 other progressive aldermen in June proposed the “Chicago Rescue Plan” (O2021-2860) as a prebuttal to Lightfoot’s plan for spending the federal grant money.
The Chicago Rescue Plan proposes to allocate the largest portion of the federal aid dollars to the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services for initiatives including child care, domestic violence prevention and direct payments to residents who were not eligible for federal stimulus checks. The proposal also prioritizes funding for the Department of Housing and the city’s Department of Public Health.
La Spata’s proposal leaves out funding for the police department.
Pressure from advocacy organizations mounted during last week’s City Council meeting as several organizers from the group United Working Families refused to leave a microphone in the Council Chambers gallery after demanding during public comment that Lightfoot use the $1.9 billion federal American Rescue Plan dollars to “rescue our communities.”
Organizers could be seen being forcibly removed from the gallery.
United Working Families plans to preempt Lightfoot’s budget address with a 9 a.m. news conference Monday to roll out its own budget proposal.
In another move to seize the conversation on the 2022 budget, Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) introduced his own 229-page budget proposal (O2021-3921) during last week’s City Council meeting.
Vasquez’s package of ordinances calls for the city to hike fines and enforcement of building and health code violations in order to expand the city’s investments in mental health and anti-homelessness programs.
City Council Latino Caucus leaders have already begun their push to prioritize racial parity, including in city leadership positions, in the 2022 budget.
Members of the caucus during recent committee meetings have voted against contracts that they charge do not include enough Latino representation and have regularly rebuked Lightfoot’s appointments to city leadership as lacking Latino representation.
Leaders of the Aldermanic Black Caucus are looking to next year’s spending plan to bring additional resources and regional development to the city’s South and West sides.
Black Caucus chair Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) told The Daily Line in August that areas of the city on the South and West sides are under-resourced with youth investments and infrastructure, and investing in those communities helps to “lift the city in its entirety.”
And the Progressive Caucus is prioritizing quelling Chicago’s gun violence by putting money toward attacking the issue systemically.
Ald. Sophia King (4th), who chairs the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, told The Daily Line in August that working to curb gun violence across the city with more non-police programming is a primary issue that members want to address in next year’s budget.
“I would put gun violence at the top, but there are certain direct and indirect costs with that,” King said, adding that combating gun violence in the city will require more money to be put toward programs like violence interruption and mental health.
Pot zoning ordinance returns
Prior to Lightfoot’s budget address, the City Council is set to convene at 10 a.m. to take up the mayor’s proposed ordinance (O2021-3249) loosening regulations on where pot shops can open in the city.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) last week deferred and published Lightfoot’s proposal, delaying action on the vote.
After the ordinance was temporarily delayed, Lightfoot announced the City Council would reconvene Monday to take up the measure.
The mayor’s pot zoning deregulation measure proposes to downsize the downtown “exclusion zone” where pot businesses are currently banned, shrinking it to Michigan Avenue and Grand Avenue between State Street and Navy Pier.
Under the measure, growers and dispensaries will be able to open in C1 commercial and DS downtown zoning districts, where they are now banned. The measure gets rid of the city’s cannabis districts and lottery system and allows growers to open in M2 and M3 manufacturing zoning districts without first seeking permission from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Aldermen during the council meeting are also expected to approve a resolution (R2021-1001) setting the date and time for a public hearing on the 2022 budget for noon on Oct. 14.
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