CHICAGO — As the city battles an ongoing pandemic and a surge in gun violence, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday laid out her 2022 spending plan, which relies heavily on federal relief funds to fill the city’s budget shortfall.
The 2022 budget shortfall is projected to be $733 million, an improvement on 2021’s $1.2 billion deficit. Thanks to $1.9 billion in federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan, Lightfoot is proposing the city use $782 million to plug this year’s budget gap, $385 million to close next year’s shortfall and $152 million to do the same in 2023.
In unveiling the plan, Lightfoot said she’s not imposing any new taxes or fees on Chicago residents.
But the plan does call for an automatic property tax hike of $22.9 million in line with the Consumer Price Index, a much smaller increase than the $94 million hike approved for 2021.
Lightfoot’s plan earmarks $635 million for affordable housing, $86 million for mental health services and $135 million for violence prevention, among other initiatives. The mayor is also putting money toward cleaning up thousands of vacant lots and planting 75,000 trees.
Notably, Lightfoot’s plan increases the Chicago Police Department’s budget from $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion, according to the Tribune. The increase frustrated police reform activists who have long said the way out of the city’s gun violence crisis is to invest in communities, rather than the Police Department.
As first reported by Politico, Lightfoot’s plan also includes a direct-cash assistance program for 5,000 low-income families hit hardest by the pandemic. It could be the largest program of its kind in the country, Politico reported.
Lightfoot started her budget address on Monday saying Chicagoans are “tough and resilient” despite the extreme challenges brought on by the pandemic. Still, she said many are “hurting and in need of continued support and healing.”
“Yes, this most recent chapter of our Chicago history has been brutal, marked by too many stories of hardship, pain and even death. Ushered in by the insidious reach of a global pandemic, first of its kind in 100 years, which brought with it a pandemic-sized economic meltdown, civic unrest and unacceptable levels of violence,” the mayor said.
“But we must be honest and recognize that the fault lines revealed during the pandemic were actually decades in the making, borne of persistent, intentional acts dating back to our earliest days as a union and compounded and refined over time.”
In calling for unity, Lightfoot evoked the Old Testament story of Moses leading Israelites out of Egypt and into the “Promised Land.”
“Their struggles seem not unlike what we have endured over these last 18 months— hunger, plagues, and death,” she said.
“… We have no Moses, but we do have each other, and we have the lessons of history from those Biblical times to the present. Our people need us and importantly, we have an obligation to them, to ourselves, and to future generations to seize with gusto the opportunities that this moment presents: to learn the lessons of history, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
So far, Lightfoot’s budget is drawing cautious optimism from some of the city’s progressive leaders and scorn from others.
At a press conference before Lightfoot’s address, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) told reporters, “It’s pretty clear that people in the administration have been copying this coalition’s homework,” referring to the Chicago Budget Coalition, a group that has been calling on the mayor to use American Rescue Plan funds on things like violence prevention and childcare.
“As we know with this administration, the devil is always in the details,” Ramirez-Rosa said to reporters.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) told reporters he was “carrying hope” after reading initial reports on Lightfoot’s budget.
Emma Tai, executive director of the progressive group United Working Families, said in a written statement the budget “would not have happened without months of organizing from the communities hit hardest by generations of neglect.”
But Tai added that the budget includes “more of the same failed policies that have harmed poor and working-class communities of color for generations: a shell game to use federal relief dollars to pay bank interest. An increase in funding to the Chicago Police Department. The continued defunding and privatization of mental health.”
Black Lives Matter Chicago slammed Lightfoot for increasing the Police Department’s budget in a Tweet, saying, “One day after CPD killed 28 year old Turell Brown in his home, Lori will unveil yet another budget to increase money to CPD.”
A police officer fatally shot Brown, 28, in Englewood Sunday morning.
The budget includes:
- $635 million to maintain and expand affordable housing
- $26 million in arts & culture investments to expand place-based arts and events opportunities
- $86 million for mental health to increase access to mental health service
- $135 million for direct violence prevention initiatives to increase community safety
- $188 million in environmental justice and climate investments
- $150 million for youth services and jobs to expand opportunity for youth to access employment and out-of-school programming
- $166 million in community development initiatives to drive equitable growth and job creation.
- $87 million in workforce and small business support to expand economic opportunity
- $144 million in assistance to families to connect families with critical resources to improve health outcomes and increase opportunity
- $202 million for homelessness initiatives to expand services and housing opportunities for those experiencing homelessness
- $144 million in other key initiatives including parks and infrastructure, food equity, and tourism and industry support
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