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Chicago on pace to spend $300M on overtime this year, Lightfoot says

In a pivotal speech to investors, mayor uses overtime spending that tripled in eight years as “Exhibit A” of her efforts to cut costs

Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks city finances with the Sun-Times editorial board last month.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks city finances with the Sun-Times editorial board last month.
Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago is on pace to spend more than $300 million on employee overtime in 2019 — triple overtime spending just eight years ago — with the Chicago Police Department leading the way, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday.

During a pivotal speech before the Chicago Investors Conference, Lightfoot used overtime spending in general and police overtime in particular as a prime example of her efforts to cut costs to chip away at an $838 million shortfall.

“We’re not talking about patrolling streets. Most of the overtime comes from detectives and is driven by administrative processes that call all detectives that worked on a case in for testimony, regardless of the content of that testimony,” the mayor said.

“The city has had a time and attendance system for years that requires employees to swipe in when they arrive and swipe out when they leave. This rule has never been consistently enforced with police officers. That’s changing. All police officers will soon be required to swipe electronically twice a day…This is important because it’s changes like these which [allow us to eliminate] fraud, waste and abuse in our system.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this month that CPD spent $67.6 million on overtime through the first six months of this year despite a ten-year high in manpower and an all-time high in technology.

Lightfoot responded by saying she was “angry and frustrated” and plans to hold Police Supt. Eddie Johnson personally accountable for reining in an abuse that beleaguered Chicago taxpayers “can’t afford.”

On Friday, she disclosed that the city was “on track to spend over $300 million” in overtime this year, more than triple the $96 spent just eight years ago.

She also highlighted her decision to hire a professional outside claims administrator to ride herd over a $100 million-a-year workers compensation program loosely run for decades by now-indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th)

“There was no political will to take on this powerful alderman…I guess lucky for us, my former colleagues at the U.S. Attorneys’ office charged this alderman. And that opened up an opportunity and political will, which we have taken full advantage of,” she said.

“While we’re still peeling back the onion, I feel confident that, in the out years, we’re gonna see significant savings in that program, simply because we’re shining the light on it.”

Lightfoot said she plans to eliminate the city’s $838 million shortfall through “structural solutions and a combination of efficiencies, expenditure reductions and new revenues.”

The new revenues were the same ones she’s been mentioning: a graduated real estate transfer tax; a “series of taxes to address congestion in the city” and a revised and more realistic “tax structure that makes a casino financeable.” She hopes to avoid a property tax increase, but hasn’t taken it off the table.

The transfer tax and casino gambling need legislative approval. The mayor also continued to beat the drum for a “statewide solutions for pension reform,” citing the dire solutions proposed in Peoria, Carterville, Kankakee and Alton.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel put his once-formidable political capital on the line to identify dedicated funding sources for all four city employee pension funds.

Even so, Lightfoot argued that the financial crisis she inherited is so severe, there is simply no way she can achieve “full structural balance in one year.”

She plans to deliver “a near-term solution” to the 2020 budget gap, a “medium-term solution that brings us to a structural balance and financial sustainability” and a “long-term growth strategy” to reverse the mass exodus from Chicago and build the city’s population back to three million.

“To finally escape this historic gap and build long-term financial sustainability, my administration is unafraid to make the tough but necessary decisions to get us on a path to financial health and stability,” the mayor told investors.

“I will make these decisions, even if they come at a political cost to me. I didn’t run for office to perpetuate my power and build a personal empire. I ran to change the way we do business in Chicago…If I need to sacrifice myself politically to do the right thing, so be it.”