Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Chicago Aldermen Vote on Mayor’s $16.4 Billion Spending Plan

On Monday, Nov. 7, the city’s aldermen voted on whether to pass Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2023 budget, which had received some pushback for not including funding for a Department of the Environment and including annual raises for future mayors.

(TNS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot will ask Chicago aldermen to vote on her $16.4 billion 2023 budget Monday, Nov. 7 — her last chance to present a city spending plan before facing voters next February.

With election season ongoing, Lightfoot’s administration designed her budget to be as uncontroversial as possible, though it wouldn’t be a Lightfoot initiative without a few fights. In Council Chamber speeches ahead of the vote, several aldermen said they would oppose it; others were critical but said they’d vote in favor.

As part of her budget, Lightfoot has faced criticism for pushing a measure giving the next mayor an automatic annual raise tied to inflation, though the mayor can opt out of the pay hike.

Lightfoot also faced pushback from aldermen who are upset with her decision not to create a Department of the Environment, even though she campaigned vigorously on the idea in 2019. She has touted money in the budget for a much-smaller Office for Climate and Environmental Equity, staffed with fewer than a dozen positions.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, Lightfoot also went on the radio and blasted a member of the City Council, Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea, for not backing her budget and questioned his support for law enforcement. For his part, O’Shea bristled at the notion that he doesn’t support police and fired back that her spending plan doesn’t do enough to keep cops from retiring at exorbitant rates.

Still, this budget season’s negotiations are notably muted compared to those of previous years, when some of Lightfoot’s most contentious fights with aldermen broke out. In 2020, she told the Black Caucus, “don’t come to me for s—-” if they didn’t support her budget. This year, Lightfoot has taken a less openly combative tone and even backed off a property tax increase she initially proposed. Her administration announced this year’s revenue will come in at $134 million above what’s expected, negating the need for the property tax hike — although political convention urging politicians to avoid higher taxes during election years likely also played a factor.

Another provision of Lightfoot’s budget that faced scrutiny from aldermen was the move to lower the maximum combined fines for vehicles blocking bike lanes or containing tinted windows or obscured license plates from $500 to $250. A representative from the city’s Law Department explained that an Illinois appellate court decision from earlier this year mandated the lower cap, and only an amendment to the state statute by the General Assembly can change that.

Aldermen criticized the Lightfoot administration for not addressing the problem, which they said will hurt public safety and the city’s finances.

Outgoing Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, blamed the mayor’s office for not utilizing lobbyists in Springfield, leaving City Council blindsided.

“There is a total breakdown of communication,” Hairston said. “We’re sitting here in the dark about everything. Our representatives have not communicated with us.”

On policing, the mayor’s budget plan attempts to reflect her ethos that a strong police department coupled with street outreach and other holistic programming is the solution to solving the city’s persistent gun violence. Shootings and homicides are down so far this year from a worst-in-decades 2021, but they are still higher than they were before Lightfoot took office.

Monday, prior to the vote, Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, said on the Council floor that, though he backed Lightfoot’s last budget, he could not vote yes this time because he is disillusioned with what he said were priorities that “have fallen on deaf ears” such as homeless prevention and youth anti-violence programming.

“The budget that I voted for last year was encouraging for me for what we were endeavoring to do for this city,” La Spata said. “This (budget) is not it. I wish that it was it.”

That was followed by a speech from outgoing Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, who praised Lightfoot’s spending plan and accused colleagues of nitpicking.

“Don’t tell me it’s raining when it’s sunny,” said Cardenas, who is Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader but has resigned ahead of his expected election Tuesday to the Cook County Board of Review. “Things are happening. … It doesn’t always take as quickly as you would have wanted it to. But there’s intention.”

The lack of a Department of Environment in Lightfoot’s budget was a sticking point for many aldermen who criticized the plan, even though some such as 22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodriguez ultimately said they would still vote yes.

Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, noted the recent extreme climate events that plagued her Far North Side ward — a tornado, lakefront erosion as well as deaths of senior residents during a heat wave, all in Rogers Park — and said the city must do more for environmental justice.

“There’s some great investments, but we could have done more,” Hadden said. “We could have done better. And we should.”

Public safety was another topic that surfaced during the many aldermanic speeches ahead of the budget vote. Outgoing Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th, praised aspects of the plan for tackling homelessness but warned his colleagues that there must be better communication with Chicago Police Department leadership before next summer. He also criticized the city for what he said was a slow pace in spending this year’s anti-violence programming funds.

“You go into violence with everything you got — kitchen sink — to knock it down and make it safe,” Osterman said. “We don’t have the luxury to wait and use this money glacially over the next five to 10 years. We have to use it now.”

But some council members said the real mistake in tackling safety in the city was too much funding for Chicago police that could be better spent investing in schools and social services.

“We cannot say that our communities feel safe, that this budget does justice,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, said before announcing he will vote no. “This is the last opportunity to make sure that the funding goes toward our communities in need.”

One of the more striking goals of Lightfoot’s budget is to spend $242 million in additional contributions to all four of the city’s pension funds, which the mayor likened to ending the practice of paying only the monthly minimum on a credit card. That would shave $2 billion off future contributions, provided current market performance holds, officials said.

Overall, pension payments would cost $2.7 billion in the 2023 budget, up from $2.3 billion last year. Lightfoot has said better financial planning and cash flow management has led to the city increasing its annual pension contributions by $1 billion over three years and reducing its outstanding debt by $377 million.

©2022 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
From Our Partners