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What Chicagoans need from the 2021 budget

We are living in a time of unprecedented needs — when government has a responsibility to step up and support vulnerable folks. Crafting Chicago’s next city budget is an opportunity to do just that.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers her 2021 budget address at a virtual Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

This is a pivotal moment for our city and our people. More than 77,000 Chicagoans are experiencing homelessness. Without work, renters are hopelessly behind on their monthly payments and fighting off evictions.

Meanwhile, homeowners are struggling to pay mortgages and fighting foreclosures. Nearly 3,000 Chicagoans, disproportionately Black and Latinx, have died from COVID-19, leaving their families with unspeakable loss and staggering medical debt. Food pantry use has more than doubled this year as unemployed parents struggle to pay for meals for their families.

While downtown is lined with police officers, our neighborhoods continue to suffer the violent consequences of underinvestment.

Our people are suffering, and we are resolved to do as much as we can to alleviate their pain through the 2021 budget. This budget is an opportunity for the city to address unprecedented needs at a time when the government has a responsibility to step up and support vulnerable folks. In Chicago, the City Council has the power to reimagine public health by reprioritizing and reallocating public safety resources and generating progressive revenue to invest in the recovery measures that our communities need.

This is no time for small plans. As we head into negotiations for the city’s 2021 budget, we are prepared to put big plans on the table. These include:

Reimagining Public Safety: Chicago spends more per capita on policing and police misconduct settlements than any other U.S. city, even as violence continues to plague our neighborhoods. We support calls to reprioritize resources: to invest instead in community resources like quality mental health centers, housing, violence prevention and civilian oversight of the police. Safety is having a roof over your head, access to quality health professionals, and a restorative approach to intercommunity conflict.

Treatment not Trauma: Create and invest in a public citywide 24-hour Crisis Response and Care System that would send trained social workers — not armed police officers — to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis or housing insecurity.

Protecting Workers: The city’s essential workforce has shown incredible resilience and bravery. Now is the time to support them, not sacrifice their jobs to balance our budget. Essential workers have shown incredible fortitude as they provide care and resources to our communities during the pandemic. The city must protect the predominantly Black and brown public sector workers who have served our city, often at the risk of their own health and safety.

Progressive Revenue: We reject any attempt to raise revenue through regressive measures. Measures such as a property tax hike and increasing fines and fees for ticketing, towing or garbage should be reexamined in favor of more progressive options. Options the city can enact without state approval include a progressive real estate transfer tax, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with major universities and hospitals, and aggressively surplusing bloated TIF districts that pull resources away from our schools and vital services.

Furthermore, we need the governor and lawmakers in Springfield to do much more to ensure municipalities across the state get the revenue required to maintain quality services. Modernizing our sales tax system and restoring the city’s share of the state income tax back to the rates prior to 2011 would have the largest and most fair impact of most options available. And of course, we ask everyone to vote YES for the Fair Tax on the ballot so our working class and most vulnerable residents are not asked to continue to disproportionately carry the tax burden.

Equity in Investment: This budget season we have the sacred responsibility to lessen the human hardship and financial struggles of our most vulnerable residents as we reel from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for a recession.

Budgets are about priorities and choices. Strategic increased investments that stabilize our communities and prevent the serious long-term damage of situational poverty and institutional racism is not only the responsible fiscal stimulation needed to keep our economy afloat: it is necessary to keep all our families safe.

The Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus is chaired by Ald. Sophia King (4) and includes Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1), Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10), Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16), Ald. David Moore (17), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20), Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Ald. Felix Cardona, Jr. (31), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), Ald. Matt Martin (47) and Ald. Maria Hadden (49).

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