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Lightfoot’s $12.8 billion budget sails through committee

A day after the Finance Committee approved the mayor’s $195.7 million revenue package, the Budget Committee approved the spending plan 26-to-8.

Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
Chicago City Hall.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $12.8 billion budget sailed through a City Council committee Thursday, setting the stage for final approval next week with as many as 20 dissenting votes.

One day after the Finance Committee signed off on the mayor’s $195.7 million revenue package — including a $94 million property tax increase, followed by annual increases tied to inflation — the Budget Committee approved the spending document itself.

The vote was 26 to 8.

Despite claiming she “doesn’t buy votes,” Lightfoot has been forced into several concessions.

She canceled 350 layoffs in favor of borrowing against future revenues from the sale of recreational and medical marijuana. She added another $10 million for violence prevention— for a total 2021 investment of $36 million—and $1 million for an alternate response pilot program for emergency calls related to mental health.

She nixed plans to link eliminating “carve-outs” in the city’s Welcoming City ordinance to the budget and pledged, instead, to honor that campaign promise by introducing a separate ordinance next month.

And she used her five-year, $3.7 billion capital plan to increase the value of the treasured aldermanic menu program from $1.32 million for each of the 50 wards to $1.8 million.

Prior to the final vote, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) questioned why police and fire brass are excused from the mayor’s revised plan to require non-union city employees paid $100,000 or more to take five unpaid furlough days.

Budget Director Susie Park said the decision was made after discussions with Police Supt. David Brown and retiring Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II.

“Due to their operations, it is harder. … For their flexibility and for operational purposes, they are being exempted from this,” Park said.

Hairston countered: “They haven’t been exempted in the past and they were able to function back then.”

Park replied: “I know you mentioned that last time.”

Hairston retorted: “And you just ignored it. See, that’s the problem. We come up with solutions and you reject them. It is unfair. I would suggest that you revisit that. Of course, they would say they wouldn’t. But they’ve done it before.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) cast one of the eight “No” votes, saying affordable housing was, once again, getting short shrift.

He was joined by Aldermen Marty Quinn (13th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Tom Tunney (44th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).

“At a time when we have rising homelessness, when so many people in our communities are seeing the impact of COVID-19 in their family incomes, this budget fails to include $12 million in funding for homelessness that was supported by the Progressive Caucus and the Latino Caucus,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“The $1 million that was included at the last minute to be split between two pilots for a co-responder pilot and a non-law enforcement, mental health crisis first responder pilot is really insufficient.”

The salary resolution mandating that non-union employees with six-figure salaries take five unpaid furlough days between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2021, also recognizes June 19 as a “day of observance” to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

Earlier this year, the City Council agreed to recognize Juneteenth, but stopped short of declaring it an official paid city holiday. The ordinance approved Thursday does not change that stance.

The only hiccup came when opposition to Lightfoot’s plan to create a $111,000 City Council Committee on Immigrants forced the Budget Committee to recess to prevent the management ordinance tied to the mayor’s budget from going down to defeat.

Ald. David Moore (17th) argued a Committee on African-American issues was equally justified.

Hairston added: “I don’t think we should be setting this precedent. ... Then, we’d have to have a special committee for everything.”

Budget Committee Chair Pat Dowell (3rd) ended Thursday’s meeting by telling aldermen, “We have rowed this boat almost to conclusion.”

Her colleagues then gave her the virtual equivalent of a standing ovation — complete with cheers and applause — for the patience she demonstrated during two weeks of budget hearings conducted over Zoom that often dragged into the evening.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said Thursday he has no doubt Lightfoot will have the 26 votes needed to pass the budget, now that layoffs are off the table.

“While the rest of the city has been shutting down, these people have been showing up. They’ve been protecting us. Now, we need to protect them and the services they provide,” Reiter said.

“The question isn’t whether we have the votes to pass this budget. The question is, who’s gonna stand with us to pass the budget. A budget that protects city services. A budget that protects city workers. That’s gonna be a vote that you’re gonna want to be on.”

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