Mayor Brandon Johnson at a City Council hearing Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Alderpeople approved Mayor Brandon Johnson’s 2024 budget on Wednesday, dealing a win to the freshman mayor who has called his spending plan a “first step” in enacting the progressive agenda he was elected on this year.

The $16.77 billion proposal was unveiled by Johnson’s administration last month as officials sought to close a $538 million spending gap by relying on a surplus of tax increment financing dollars, “expenditure savings” and projected revenue increases in the city’s share of various state taxes.

The budget re-establishes a standalone Department of Environment, long a priority for some progressive alderpeople. It also reopens two city-run mental health clinics and expands a pilot program that deploys non-police workers to mental health emergencies — one part of a larger proposal known as Treatment Not Trauma.

Quinn Myers explains how Mayor Johnson’s proposed budget is funded:

The spending plan will dedicate $150 million to support asylum seekers coming to Chicago next year — less than half of what the city is expected to spend on housing migrants in 2023. Johnson and his staff have said they’re optimistic the state and federal government will step in to cover additional costs, although some City Council members are skeptical that funding will come through.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 12,000 migrants were living in 25 temporary shelters across the city. About 1,800 asylum seekers continue to be housed at police stations, with almost 600 at O’Hare airport, according to city data.

Still, alderpeople on Wednesday mostly praised the 2024 spending plan, which does not include any increase to the city’s base property tax levy, a promise Johnson made repeatedly on the campaign trail this year.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), chair of the Council’s Committee on Finance, called the budget “transformational” for its expansion of mental health resources, adding summer jobs for Chicago teens, funding a committee to study reparations and numerous other initiatives.

“This budget is a down payment on those priorities. It’s a huge down payment,” she said.

The 2024 budget’s spending plan was approved 41-8.

Alderpeople approved Mayor Brandon Johnson’s 2024 budget on Wednesday Credit: Provided

Department Of Environment

A revived Department of Environment has long been on the wish list of progressive City Council members, who argue it’s necessary to coordinate and enforce the city’s efforts to combat climate change.

When former Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the department in 2012, its responsibilities — including environmental enforcement — were transferred to the public health department and other city agencies.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed to bring back the department, but ultimately did not. Instead, she established an office of Climate and Environmental Equity last year. The new environment department would absorb and expand that office while keeping Angela Tovar, the city’s chief sustainability officer, as its leader.

Industry in South Deering on Aug. 9, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

But department officials would initially have no authority to enforce environmental laws upon the department’s reopening, Tovar said at a budget hearing last month. Johnson has committed to restoring some of those lost powers to the new environment department, though his administration is still figuring out its plan to do so, Tovar said.

That prompted some pushback from some alderpeople, who said if the department was going to exist at all, it should be able to actually hold polluters and other bad actors accountable.

“Where’s the beef? Where’s the enforcement-regulatory [powers]?” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said during the Oct. 26 budget hearing. “If we’re having a Department of Environment, let’s really have a Department of Environment. You should have inspectors. You should have a regulatory and enforcement wing to be able to issue citations when necessary, like we did back in the good old days.”

The new Department of Environment will be funded with $1.8 million from the city’s general fund. The department would employ 14 full-time workers in its first year, and their salaries would make up about $1.2 million. The other $600,000 would go toward contracts, tech equipment and assistance from the Department of Fleet and Facility Management.

Asylum seekers living at the Ogden (10th) Police District, 3315 W. Ogden Ave, on Nov. 1, 2023. Migrants have been using nearly 40 tents for shelter as the temperatures drop. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

Migrant Funding

The 2024 budget allocates $150 million to shelter and provide services for asylum seekers arriving in Chicago next year.

That’s less than half of what the city will likely end up spending on migrants in 2023, according to data shared by the Mayor’s Office in October. Some of those funds have come from the state and federal governments, but the bulk has been provided by Chicago taxpayers.

More than 21,000 migrants have come to Chicago since August 2022, mostly via bus from Texas and other border states, leading to overwhelmed city shelters and a logistical and political crisis that has roiled communities and City Hall.

Johnson and his budget team have said the $150 million represents what they believe is the city’s fair share to house new arrivals, and that the federal and state governments need to help Chicago “carry the burden” as more people arrive here next year.

But numerous alderpeople worry the city could be left on its own to foot the bill.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), a frequent Johnson critic who is working to put a referendum question on the ballot next year regarding Chicago’s sanctuary city status, said Wednesday the lack of migrant funding compared to what the city expects to spend means the budget “is not balanced.”

“We’re spending $40 million a month to date on the migrant crisis. That gets you through four months. So what are we going to start doing come April, when we run out of money?” Beale said. “We have a big election in November, and we have a president who is fighting for his life. And we have a Republican House [Of Representatives] in D.C. The likelihood of us being bailed out by the federal government during an election year is slim to none.”

Johnson has pushed for additional funding from the federal government for migrants since announcing his budget in October. Earlier this month, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby lawmakers and the White House for more money and expedited work authorizations for asylum seekers.

His trip followed a letter signed by Johnson and the mayors of New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and Denver and sent to President Joe Biden requesting $5 billion “to cover the expenditures our cities have already incurred and to continue serving the growing number of people arriving in our communities.”

The Office of Emergency Management and Communication will also see a $4.4 million budget bump next year. The department, which oversees the 311 and 911 systems, has been on the front lines of responding to the influx of asylum seekers, including staffing bus drop-offs when migrants arrive in Chicago.

At a budget hearing last month, some alderpeople criticized the office for not having enough Spanish-speaking employees to take calls and help migrants. Of 311’s 43 call takers, only six speak Spanish, officials said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson stands with Larry Snelling after he was unanimously confirmed as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department by City Council on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Police Budget ‘Essentially’ Flat, Mayor Says

The Chicago Police Department budget will rise at least $91 million in 2024 to just under $2 billion under Johnson’s plan.

During a news briefing Oct. 13, Johnson said the increase was mainly due to contractually obligated pay raises for police officers and officials.

“The police budget is, essentially it’s flat,” Johnson said. “The slight increase is primarily based on, was solely based on, the gradual raises that workers get. So this is not my administration pouring more dollars into the police budget. This is about workers getting their raises.”

At a budget hearing in October, police Supt. Larry Snelling and other officials spoke about their plans to promote 100 detectives next year while creating about 400 civilian jobs to free up sworn officers from desk duty — a central plank of Johnson’s budget address last month.

For the civilian positions, 100 newly created civilian roles would be assigned to the department’s training academy while the other 300 would work at districts throughout the city, officials said.

The department is “looking at retired police officers to be trainers” for the civilian jobs to reduce the number of sworn officers responsible for the role and “put more officers on the street,” Snelling told alderpeople.

A yet-to-be approved contract with the department’s rank-and-file union that includes expanded raises and a one-time bonus for officers next year would further increase police spending. A Council vote is expected next month, Crain’s reports.

Under Mayor Brandon Johnson’s budget proposal, the city’s health department will increase mental health support services. Credit: Chicago Department of Public Health

Public Health Spending

The Chicago Department of Public Health will see about a 10 percent funding cut in 2024, mostly due to COVID-19 related grants ending. The city is investing $6.5 million more in the department from state and local tax dollars, but the health budget will still shrink by $96 million.

The 2024 budget does fund key aspects — though not all — of the long-stalled Treatment Not Trauma initiative, which calls on the city to create a network of professionals to respond to mental health emergencies without armed police officers and reopen city-run mental health centers closed in 2011.

Chicago will open two mental health clinics next year and double staff dedicated to a 911 alternate response pilot program.

Called Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement, or CARE, the initiative deploys behavioral health workers, paramedics, officers and other experts in several neighborhoods to respond to certain non-violent 911 calls.

The budget items follow the creation of a Treatment Not Trauma working group in September tapped with forming a plan to implement the proposal.

Mayor Brandon Johnson gave his budget address for the 2024 fiscal year to City Council on Oct. 11, 2023.

City Council Salaries

Police officers and other workers aren’t the only city employees in line for a raise next year.

Forty-eight out of 50 alderpeople, plus Johnson, City Clerk Anna Valencia and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin are all set for a 2.4 percent pay bump Jan. 1.

Annual cost-of-living raises for elected positions — the mayor, city clerk, treasurer and each City Council member — are tied to the Consumer Price Index and go into effect automatically, unless officials opt out of them.

Only two alderpeople declined the raise this year: Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd).

Johnson, Valencia and Conyears-Ervin all accepted the pay hike, according to budget documents. That means Johnson will make $221,052 in 2024, a boost of about $4,800.

Valencia and Conyears-Ervin will each make $164,628 next year. Each received a more than 20 percent raise in 2023, the first for the clerk and treasurer positions in almost two decades.

In total, 29 alderpeople — who technically hold part-time positions — will make the top salary of $145,974 in 2024.

No rookie alderpeople declined the automatic salary bumps, budget data shows, which means all 13 will get a raise and earn the top pay rate after just seven months in office.

The 2024 budget also includes funding for alderpeople to hire an additional ward staffer, $5 million to create a Department of Re-Entry for people returning from incarceration and $500,000 for a subcommittee to study issuing reparations in Chicago, according to WTTW.

Block Club’s Maxwell Evans, Alex V. Hernandez, Melody Mercado and Jake Wittich contributed.

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