The City Council Battle Over Lightfoot’s Budget

Despite opposition from progressive aldermen, the Chicago City Council on Tuesday approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $11.6 billion budget by a vote of 39 to 11. 

“What I’m going to do today is enjoy this victory. I’m going to later smoke this cigar, probably have a little Scotch and welcome my mother home for Thanksgiving,” Lightfoot said at a press conference after the vote. “This is a day to celebrate. And I’m going to do that.”

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Joining us to discuss the budget are Alds. Pat Dowell, Scott Waguespack, Anthony Beale, Raymond Lopez.

Below, edited comments by the mayor and these four aldermen during budget debate Tuesday on the floor of City Council.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

“A special thanks to all who voted yes today. You know that speeches are easy, but governing is hard. This budget will close and an $838 million gap and as everyone here knows, to accomplish that, we first look inwards and not to the taxpayers.

“Together, we found $538 million in strategic government reductions and efficiencies, along with an additional $352 million and carefully chosen revenues.

“At my State of the City address three months ago. I promised to usher in a new wave of transparency and openness throughout this process. And that is exactly what we did. Through extensive community engagement, we welcome 2,600 participants at five community town halls and more than 7,300 responses via an online public survey. My team responded to over 600 questions from aldermen and responded back in record time before the vote today. We listened to our residents and stakeholders.

“This budget is balanced with 61% structural changes, which means that we have created a long-term fix to our budget challenges on which we can build a fiscally sound future. This budget contains no significant property tax. And let me say that again: This budget contains no significant property tax increases and only a modest increase in the library levy to support Sunday hours. And despite the historic deficit, we were still able to make important investments in mental health, double the commitment in homelessness, and provide additional support towards violence reduction.

“Furthermore, this budget raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021, which will directly impact roughly 430,000 workers.”

Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, Budget Committee chair

“The budget we are considering today offers a path to stability moving forward that meets all of our financial obligations while also investing in the priorities important to us as a city of Chicago. This budget is not a one-shot deal. This is not the end of the discussion on funding our city priorities. That discussion is ongoing and will continue throughout the year so that the 2021 budget continues to reflect who we want to be as a city.

“We all wish there were unlimited funds available to exceed the needs of every program that’s important to us all. But unfortunately, that’s just not the reality of today. The budget situation we find ourselves in requires each of us to make hard choices and deliver a balanced budget. We need to continue working with our partners and our stakeholders to make available the funding we all want to see. What we have today is a balanced budget, one that meets our growing needs and legally required financial obligations while increasing investment in key priority areas. And it does so without a massive property tax hike, without further burdening our taxpayers.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, Finance Committee chair

“As you know, last year we faced a $97 million budget gap in the AFA from 2018, projected a potential gap of $251 million for 2020. Since then, we have learned that the city’s true financial standing is actually much worse, an $838 million budget gap. Such a budget gap sprung on a new administration in its opening days gives me confidence that I made the right votes in the past and that the process by which we arrived at today gives me confidence that this is the right budget to support today. 

“Now, saying that, whether you vote against this budget or for it, you should have no fear in your choice. You should have no fear that a city worker is not going to do their job as they have in the past. Streets and San workers will still get out there and do their job. Police and fire will still do their job. Our workers in forestry, family services, in every department will continue to do their job regardless of how you vote today. Now, this budget does close this enormous gap, not with another property tax fee increase, not with an increase of regressive taxes and fines. Not by cutting the vital services as I’ve said, in the neediest of our communities. Mayor, you’ve asked us to make sacrifices in our committees and we’ve done that. You’ve made changes in areas that have not seen significant reform in decades, if at all. This budget actually anticipates what we will need to pay for it.

“When we talk about the police increase of $153 million, that is actually taking it from where it used to be hidden and putting the liability where it should be and holding the police department accountable for what they should be.

“You’ve asked us to look at the settlements and what we need to pay. Instead of pretending they won’t happen. And we’ve also hired a chief risk management officer to look for reforms that will help prevent the malfeasance and waste in many of our departments. We can’t really tackle many of these endemic issues plaguing our city for decades without challenging the status quo. And this administration with this budget does just that.”

Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, Finance Committee member

“We started this year with over a billion-dollar deficit. With reforms and changes, we got it down to $838 million with one-time revenue fixes, inflated revenues, taking $93 million from the school system, zero-based budgeting. Again, over-inflated projections with a small tax increase and a sweeping, whopping TIF surplus. With all of that, we stated that when we go to Springfield, if we didn’t get what we wanted, that we would have to look at property taxes. Well, we went to Springfield and we didn’t get what we wanted. We got zero from the real estate transfer tax. We got zero from what my good friend Willie Wilson says, a casino that we didn’t get. But we know that the casino revenue was for future revenues and not this particular budget. But at the same time, we didn’t get it.

“We are supposed to do more with less when we have a deficit and not rely on the people to bail us out. How in the heck can we even think about adding to an expense account for each and every alderman when we have a deficit like this? Once again, we should do more with less. How do we reopen libraries on funding to the tune of $18 million when they will close on Sundays because of lack of participation and a drain on our budget? Well, we could have taken that same $18 million and open up the mental health clinic that the people are screaming about. Screaming to get the people off our streets that are having mental issues that need to be addressed.

“We’re losing tens of millions of dollars in water collection every single day because of some of the reforms that we put in place. The one thing that troubles me out of everything in this budget, with everything going on in this budget, how can we in good conscience vote on revenue from marijuana when not one person of color is benefiting from the marijuana in this state? Not one person of color is benefiting from a substance that has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people of color. And then we legalize it, can’t get any revenue from it. But yet, we’re going to pass this? This is not a legislative body. This is a go-along body.”

Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th Ward, Finance Committee member

“I am in full, unequivocal opposition to this entire package being presented today. Gone are the days when independents would stand and say we had to be prepared, we had to be guardians of the taxpayers.

“What we’ve seen in this budget is that, for starters, it’s a violation of the law. This budget is not balanced. This budget, as many of my colleagues and I have stated from the very beginning, isn’t just precariously balanced, it’s completely unbound to the tune of $163 million.

“And to say that it is magically somehow going to change the way the city operates is foolishness and deception at its finest. Not honesty, not transparency, not what this city voted for and not what someone was given a mandate to use. It is the same trick on a different day, because this is not a historic budget. This is a deja vu budget of the same peril that have brought us to this point year after year after year after year administration, from one to the next to the present that we’re speaking to. This is not what taxpayers need. It’s not what our communities need. All it is, is rebranding and rehashing the same nonsense one year to the next. This cannot be how we govern the city of Chicago, how we work together. People expect better. People demand better. Our communities need better.”

Related stories:

Chicagoans Avoid Major Property Tax Increase as Lightfoot’s 1st Budget Passes

The Week in Review: Lightfoot’s Budget Advances Despite Pushback

Mayor: Progressive Pushback to City Budget ‘Untethered’ from Reality

Lightfoot: No Property Tax Hike If Springfield Chips In

Lightfoot Outlines $838M Budget Deficit in ‘State of the City’ Address

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