Lightfoot’s Plan to Hike Property Taxes by $93.9M Clears Key Hurdle

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to hike property taxes by $93.9 million cleared a key hurdle Wednesday, with the City Council’s Finance Committee advancing the mayor’s $12.8 billion spending plan to the full City Council for a final vote Monday.

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The committee approved the property tax increase on a 21-12 vote.

The 12 aldermen who voted against the property tax were: Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward); Anthony Beale (9th Ward); Patrick Daley Thompson (11th Ward); Marty Quinn (13th Ward); Ed Burke (14th Ward); Raymond Lopez (15th Ward); Matt O’Shea (19th Ward); Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward); Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward); Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward); Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and Debra Silverstein (50th Ward).

The 2021 budget, which closes a $1.2 billion shortfall caused in part by the coronavirus pandemic with a combination of tax hikes, debt refinancing and the elimination of vacant positions, is set for a final vote on Monday. It needs at least 26 votes to pass.

For weeks, aldermen across the political spectrum pleaded with Lightfoot’s budget team to find another way to balance the city’s budget. But time and again, Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett and Budget Director Susie Park said there were no other options.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward) set the tone for what is sure to end up as the most divided City Council vote in Chicago history. For decades, aldermen rubber stamped mayoral budget proposals with little debate.

“I’d rather face the music now,” Cardenas said. “Years from now, it just gets harder.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward) agreed.

“God knows that we don’t want to pay more taxes,” Burnett said. “But we know the city has to function.”

Aldermen also agreed to count on an automatic annual property tax increase in the budget every year, in order to keep pace with the cost of living. That hike would be capped at 5% or the increase in the consumer price index, whichever is less, officials said.

The proposal advanced Wednesday also gives the city’s Department of Transportation the green light to start issuing $35 speed camera tickets to motorists caught driving between 6 mph and 9 mph in excess of the speed limit.

In addition, the plan calls for Chicago’s 5-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax to rise to 8 cents per gallon. That will likely add 36 cents to the bill for 12 gallons of gas, according to city officials.

The gas tax hike as well as a plan to increase the lease tax on computers and servers to 9% would generate $25 million in new revenue, officials said.

Even though the mayor’s budget plan advanced, a number of her closest allies voted against her plan, including Reilly, the president pro tem of the City Council, and Tunney, the chair of the powerful Zoning Committee, and O’Shea, the chair of the Aviation Committee.

The total property tax increase, equal to 1.3% of a property’s value, will add $56 per year to the tax bill for the owner of a home worth $250,000. But wealthy Chicagoans have homes worth much more, and could pay more than double that amount if the hike is approved by the City Council.

In addition, the city is not the only tax district set to raise property taxes — hikes have also been approved by the City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools, which means that the total increase for the owner of a home worth $250,000 will be $112 annually, officials said.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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