Amid contract negotiations to end a massive Chicago teachers strike, Mayor Lori Lightfoot will deliver her first budget address Wednesday.
“Budgets are a statement of values and I believe that wholeheartedly,” Lightfoot said Tuesday at a press conference. “And we will be speaking our values tomorrow.”
The mayor and her budgeting team have been keeping most of the details under wraps.
“We’ve made a lot of tough choices and hard sacrifices and more to come. And I won’t get into the particulars here,” she said.
However, part of Lightfoot’s plan has been revealed. City officials say that refinancing $1.3 billion will save $200 million dollars. They also say this is a one-time fix to help plug Chicago’s $838 million deficit.
But there’s debate on whether that plan is a good one.
“It is a good idea because interest rates are at a historic low,” said Michael Belsky, executive director of the Center for Municipal Finance at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and former mayor of Highland Park. “It’s a one-shot deal. It’s not going to be a recurring thing. Given the deficit, her options are limited.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Ted Dabrowski, president of the nonprofit Wirepoints, which offers research and commentary on Illinois’ economy and government. He’s also a writer for The Heartland Institute and was previously with the Illinois Policy Institute. “I have a lot of questions. If you’re saving 1%, that’s $13 million. How is the city realizing $200 million?”
The mayor’s finance team says this is not the so-called scoop and toss practice of past mayors.
“This is not a scoop and dump thing,” said Belsky. “This is about refinancing the debt service. She’s taking advantage of low interest rates and realizing savings up front.”
Belsky and Dabrowski join “Chicago Tonight” in discussion, along with Laurence Msall, president of The Civic Federation, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group.