Saddled with a shortfall that’s $700 million and growing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday she will have no choice but to order employee “layoffs and furloughs” without another round of stimulus money to replace revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lightfoot has said repeatedly that raising property taxes is her last resort and layoffs and furloughs are next to last. She has called previous rounds of furloughs demoralizing to city workers.
But, during a panel discussion Tuesday at the virtual Democratic National Convention sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the mayor said she’s running out of options to avoid that painful choice.
“If we don’t get [revenue replacement] help from the federal government, we have nothing but bad choices, including looking at layoffs and looking at furloughs,” Lightfoot said.
“This is not the time for government to be putting people into an uncertain economy. We need to make sure that we do everything that we can — that we’re prudent fiduciaries of taxpayer dollars. But the last thing that we should be doing is putting people into the unemployment ranks because we can’t get help from the federal government for this once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis.”
AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall said the mayor is “exactly right.”
“Cuts to public services and jobs are the last resort. They shouldn’t happen. But if Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate majority continue to obstruct, then terrible cuts will be inevitable,” Lindall said.
“AFSCME members have been on the job throughout the pandemic helping their communities. The thanks they get cannot be a pink slip. It’s up to Congress ... to provide this critically-needed infusion of funds — for not only cities, but school districts and state governments as well.”
The Trump administration and congressional leaders are stalemated over Democratic demands for $1 trillion in revenue replacement money for cities and states.
Lightfoot said it’s time to “put aside the partisanship and make sure that we are building bridges to come together to help state and local governments shore up our economies.”
“In a city like Chicago, where we are 80 percent of the economy for our state, we need to make sure that we can deal with the revenue losses that have flowed from the COVID economy. That really requires the federal government, who has more discretionary resources than any other level of government, to step up and do their part,” she said.
For months, Lightfoot has sounded the alarm about “impossible choices” Chicago faces, with the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus blowing a $700 million hole in her 2020 budget.
Since then, the hole has only gotten bigger.
A short-term deal with the Chicago firefighters union includes $95 million for three years of back pay. That will pale by comparison to the back pay owed to Chicago Police officers, whose contract also expired on June 30, 2017, but have yet to strike an agreement with the city.
The Chicago Sun-Times has also reported the city spent more than $47.1 million on overtime in June as murders and shootings skyrocketed and demonstrations after the death of George Floyd devolved into looting and mayhem.
The June figure covers the last two weeks of May and the first two weeks of June. That means overtime in the July report, covering the last two weeks of June and the July Fourth weekend, could be even worse.
The police overtime meter is continuing to run.
Lightfoot canceled days off and ordered Chicago police officers back on 12-hour days after a second round of looting earlier this month left giant swaths of downtown, River North, Lincoln Park and the West Side ransacked.
During Tuesday’s discussion, titled “COVID and the Economy,” Lightfoot also talked again about longstanding inequities — in health care and access to education, jobs and economic opportunities — that existed in Chicago long before the coronavirus targeted blacks and Hispanics most heavily.
“It’s not like we didn’t know that there were vulnerabilities in our country, in our cities and our states. But, COVID has exposed them and really they’re flashing like a neon sign,” the mayor said.
“One of the most important things that we can learn from this experience — aside from making sure that people have access to good quality health care — is to really think about how we can use this moment to build different kinds of economic opportunities.”
Lightfoot noted she is using federal stimulus funds to build a “very robust” contact tracing program.
“We are intentionally making sure that we are focusing on hiring from those communities that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn and building opportunities for people that, maybe, haven’t had good-paying jobs or have come out of circumstances that have left them economically destitute,” she said.