CHICAGO — Propped up by a massive one-time influx of federal cash, Mayor Lori Lightftoot’s $16.7 billion 2022 budget won City Council approval Wednesday.
The spending plan was finalized by a 35-15 vote. A $76.5 million property tax increase also was approved in a separate 32-18 vote.
The $1.9 billion in federal relief funds allowed Lightfoot to avoid a hefty tax increase, close a $733 million 2021 deficit and scrap a costly long-term borrowing plan approved last year.
The budget also devotes more than $1 billion to help struggling Chicagoans through social programs long favored by progressive community groups and their allies on City Council.
City Council also agreed to pair $1.2 billion of federal American Rescue Plan funds with $660 million in new borrowing to support Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan, which invests in affordable housing, violence prevention and aid to business corridors in an effort to jump start the city’s economy.
Those voting no on the spending plan were: Alds. Brian Hopkins (2nd), Anthony Beale (9th), Marty Quinn (13th), Ed Burke (14th), Ray Lopez (15th), David Moore (17th), Matt O’Shea (19th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Nick Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and James Gardiner (45th).
Four council members endorsed the spending plan but opposed the property taxes: Alds. Stephanie Coleman (16th), Felix Cardona (31st), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Debra Silverstein (50th). Sposato voted against the spending plan but voted to approve the property tax increase.
Nine other ordinances comprising the budget were also approved with at least 30 votes.
Progressive Caucus chair Ald. Sophia King (4th) said the “2022 budget is a progressive win.”
“While we need to prioritize more progressive structural revenue and direct these resources equitably, especially around racial redress, this is a progressive budget,” she said.
Last week, Lightfoot and progressive alderpeople agreed to commit even more dollars to social spending than what was first proposed, including $6.3 million to expand services and boost staff at the city’s five mental health clinics. Lightfoot also agreed to $5 million for preserving single-room occupancy buildings to prevent homelessness, a new homelessness outreach team and funding to chop through the city’s lengthy tree-trimming backlog
Another last-minute change will create a City Council subcommittee to monitor the massive spending, a sign of the distrust remaining between some alderpeople and the Lightfoot administration.
But by tracking to the left in final negotiations, Lightfoot was able to shore up support for her third spending plan since being elected in 2019.
Lightfoot even picked up the support of three of the five members of the newly formed Democratic Socialist caucus that had opposed her previous two spending plans. Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) approved the budget while Taylor and Sigcho-Lopez opposed it.
Ramirez-Rosa said the split was due to “philosophical differences.”
“I think some people see the vote as an endorsement of the Mayor, I don’t view it that way,” he said. “I think that you vote because you think that you’ve gotten enough progress on issues that are impacting your community.”
He argued that the 72 percent increase in funding for staffing at the city’s mental health clinics was a direct result of “members of the socialist caucus fighting to get it in there and then voting to secure it.”
Taylor told reporters after the meeting a “yes” vote would have been a “vote against my constituents.”
“The median income in my ward is $25,000 dollars. I’m not going to vote to raise property taxes,” she said.
Taylor was also concerned that not enough of the federal funding was spent directly in Chicago communities, saying the city received “crumbs and cakes, as usual.”
“Just because you’re throwing money at little things, $5 million for (single room occupancy buildings)? That’s not enough, we know that’s not enough,” Taylor said. “We could have done so much better. We had all this money and this great opportunity and we just didn’t do it. We did the bare minimum, as usual, and you wonder why I voted no.”
The $6.3 million for the city’s five mental health clinics was a compromise with progressive alderpeople, who wanted $10 million. The funding will not reopen any of the clinics that were closed under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012, but it will launch child and adolescent mental health services, expand evening hours at the clinics and support 29 staff positions, Budget Director Susie Park said last week.
The spending plan also commits funding to pilot a non-police response to some mental health crisis 911 calls, a measure long championed by Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), a freshman socialist alderman.
Ramirez-Rosa, the chair of the socialist caucus, said the budget reflects the longtime organizing of progressive community groups.
Because of progressive community pressure, “this budget includes significant investment in the things we need today,” he said. “Because of what we’ve been fighting for the last several years, for the first time in a decade, we have seen an investment in the city’s public mental health clinics.”
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) drew criticism last year from socialists for supporting the 2021 budget. On Wednesday, he said, “We can be proud of what we fought to do for our communities” in the 2022 proposal.
The budget includes “investments in violence prevention, in public mental health and non-police crisis response,” he said. “In this budget, we provide support for our unhoused population, cash assistance for those families that need it … support for our local business and a landmark investment in our environment.”
But several alderpeople voted against the budget, citing the property tax increase. Some conservative members said they opposed a $31.5 million pilot program to give $500 in monthly direct cash assistance to 5,000 low-income Chicagoans for one year.
Lopez called the budget a “$16 billion spending spree” that is “grossly out of balance yet again” and will force the city into difficult financial decisions in the future.
The $660 million in new borrowing will be devoted to:
- $157.4 million toward affordable housing, including $75 million to “create mixed-use, mutli-family housing developments in neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19.”
- $31 million towards “assistance to families,” including $18 million to expand broadband internet access
- $5 million to “assist survivors of gender-based violence.”
- $77.8 million in “environmental justice initiatives,” including $46 million to expand the city’s tree canopy by 15,000 annually for five years.
- $85 million to support homelessness prevention and support services.
- $101.3 million toward “climate investments.”
- $136 million to community development, including $82 million to “reactivate vacant city-owned land.”
- $50.6 million toward infrastructure and parks.
- $16 million to support small businesses.
The budget also includes $31.5 million to launch the guaranteed basic income pilot program.
The plan had been opposed by some alderpeople, including members of the Black Caucus, who wanted the money allocated to violence prevention, and the council’s more conservative members, who sought strict regulations on who was eligible for the cash assistance.
Other “no votes” came from those concerned there were no assurances the broad spending included in the plan would flow into their communities.
Moore (17th), told Block Club he wanted a $5.8 million promise from Lightfoot to fund a new fieldhouse at Ogden Park in West Englewood. He also hoped for $100,000 in violence prevention dollars “so I can direct a violence prevention team to some of my hot spots.”
Moore said his community wants “specifics” in the budget process.
“I needed something I can point to that I know that’s critical to my residents, what they’ve been talking about,” he said. “If you would have said ‘we’re going to do that for the 17th Ward community, $5.8 million out of a $16 billion budget,’ I’d have voted yes for everything.”
After the meeting, Lightfoot said alderpeople had “plenty of opportunity to put on the table things that they wanted” during the budget process.
“He voted no on everything and he will have to explain to his community why he didn’t support affordable housing, support for the homelessness, support for mental health, for small businesses, for making sure that our residents were able to get access to a $500 a month over a year stipend many of whom in his community would probably qualify,” she said.
An influx of cash towards affordable housing wasn’t enough to persuade Maldonado, who said he won’t vote for a property tax increase for his “severely gentrifying” Northwest Side ward.
“You have $100 million of investment for affordable housing citywide, that doesn’t mean $100 million of investment for affordable housing in the 26th ward,” he said. “So in the meantime, if we get, the 26th ward, a very small percentage of that investment in the 26th ward, it does not offset the continual displacement of families from the 26th ward.”
Last year, City Council narrowly approved a $94 million property tax increase. Next year’s increase included an annual rise to keep up with inflation, set at 1.4 percent in 2022 and tied to the rise in a federal inflation calculator from December 2019 to December 2020.
The new taxes include $22.9 million increase tied to the rise in inflation, $25 million to pay the first installment of a capital infrastructure bond approved last year and $28.6 million collected from new properties.
The owner of a $250,000 home would see an increase of $38 on their property tax bill, city officials have said.
But with inflation rising faster in 2021, the annual increase next year could be above 4 percent. The increase tied to inflation is capped at 5 percent.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who chairs the Finance Committee, said the annual increase tied to inflation provides “stability and predictability” to homeowners, rather than large one-year increases if City Council kicked the can down the road, as in years past.
Lightfoot said “no mayor likes to pass property taxes,” but she is committed to keeping the annual inflation increase.
“We’re all about making sure that we are real fiscal fiduciaries of our taxpayers and looking out for them with a stable, predictable property tax that they know is coming, that they can plan for and isn’t going to sack them right in the gut every few years because politicians wouldn’t make the tough calls when they needed to,” Lightfoot said. “Those days are over as long as I am mayor.”
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