Mayor Lori Lightfoot chastises Newsmax reporter William Kelly at a press conference after the City Council meeting on June 25, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 budget looks set for City Council approval next week after picking up key endorsements from several progressive alderpeople Friday.

Armed with $1.9 billion in federal relief funds, Lightfoot’s proposed $16.7 billion budget avoids hefty tax increases, closes a $733 million deficit and scraps a costly long-term borrowing plan approved last year.

The spending portion of budget also spreads hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to struggling Chicagoans through social programs. But Lightfoot and members of City Council were locked in final negotiations this week to reach the 26-vote majority needed to pass the budget. 

The revenue side of the plan, supported by a property tax hike tied to inflation, was approved in split votes Thursday.

Lightfoot’s final proposal tracked to the left and included a few more “wins” for progressives to tout to constituents, like an additional $6 million investment in the city’s five mental health clinics and $5 million to preserve of single room occupancy buildings to help prevent homelessness.

The City Council’s Budget Committee passed two ordinances comprising the bulk of the budget in a 27-5 vote. Alds. Marty Quinn (13th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Nick Sposato (38th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) voted “no.”

“This is a progressive budget, I have to be the first to say it,” said Ald. Sophia King (4th), who serves as chair of the City Council Progressive Caucus. “I appreciate there is more work to do … in getting this money out the door, but I appreciate the collaboration we had on this budget.”

Ald. Sophia King (4th) attends a City Council meeting on Sept. 14, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the chair of the five-member Democratic Socialist Caucus, also endorsed the budget, praising the efforts of a coalition of progressive alderpeople and community groups that fought for the changes.

Ramirez-Rosa voted against Lightfoot’s previous two budgets, but this version sailed through a committee hearing, showing the “countless hours” of work behind the scenes between aldermen, departments, mayoral staff, working hard to move forward a budget that we believe will move forward the interests of our communities,” the alderman said.

He singled out the extra $6 million investment in the city’s public mental health clinics. Progressive alderpeople and community groups had initially asked for $10 million.

The investment would launch child and adolescent mental health services, expand evening hours at the clinics and support 29 staff positions, Susie Park, the city’s budget director told the committee.

The funding would not reopen shuttered mental health clinics, but Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said she would be “certainly open to exploring” stationing some of the city’s mental health clinicians at offsite locations, including libraries.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) speaks at a City Council meeting on Sept. 14, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The budget still includes $31.5 million in funding to launch a guaranteed basic income pilot program to provide 5,000 Chicagoans with $500 a month for one year. The plan was opposed by alderpeople, including some members of the Black Caucus who preferred the money was allocated to violence prevention and more conservative members who sought strict regulations on who was eligible for the cash assistance.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Cheryse Singleton Nobles, who received direct cash assistance through a separate program, urged the committee to retain the pilot program. Singleton Nobles, who owns a home-based daycare, said the money provided her family “with hope.”

“I was able to buy the replacement piece for the tub for my mom so she won’t slip and fall, and also to get a computer to continue my drive to be” a published author, she said. “It is desperately needed and we need it so we can strive and move forward.”

The full City Council is likely to take up the package of budget-related ordinances Oct. 27.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), the Budget Committee chair, said the administration heard the concerns of City Council and made several changes.

In addition to the funding for mental health clinics and preservation of SRO’s, the changes included increased funding to expand broadband access in the city, funding to support 30 tree-trimming crews citywide, a $10,000 boost in the Animal Care and Control advertising budget and the creation of a City Council subcommittee to monitor how the city spends the federal relief funds provided through the American Recovery Plan. A new homeless outreach team will also be created inside the Department of Family and Support Services.

In a statement after the vote, Lightfoot touted the 2022 budget as “a once-in-a-generation investment that provides us with the opportunity to transform Chicago’s future.”

“The amendments made today are a result of the dialogue that continued through this week with our Council colleagues and with labor partners and represent our commitment to transparency, inclusion, and equity as we build a more prosperous Chicago together,” the mayor said.

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