Lightfoot hints strongly at veto if Chicago City Council raises threshold for speed camera tickets
The mayor’s latest veto threat comes two days before a long-stalled Chicago City Council showdown on the volatile issue of how far over the speed limit motorists can drive before getting a speed-camera ticket.
The last time a Chicago mayor vetoed legislation passed over his or her objections, it was Richard M. Daley snuffing out the big-box minimum wage ordinance in 2006.
It doesn’t happen often in a city better known for its rubber-stamp City Council. But, it could be on the verge of happening again.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot hinted strongly at it on Monday, two days before a long-stalled City Council showdown on the volatile issue of how fast motorists can drive before getting a speed-camera ticket in Chicago.
“One way or the other, I am not gonna stand idly by and allow the City Council to do something that, I know, will be detrimental to the health and well-being of the city,” Lightfoot told reporters after announcing $50 million in community development grants to support 79 economic development projects.
The mayor pointed once again to the 174 “traffic-related fatalities ... as a result of speed in 2021 alone.” She argued the number of fatalities has continued to grow this year.
“It makes no sense for us to be increasing the speeds around parks and schools when we know what the horrific consequences are for pedestrians and for other drivers when the speed is exceeded in the way that’s being proposed by Alderman Beale and the other people who voted for that,” the mayor said.
Beale has acknowledged he cannot muster the 34 votes needed to override a veto.
Last month, Lightfoot used a disputed parliamentary maneuver to preserve the lower threshold and prevent Beale from spearheading a move to raise the threshold — from 6 mph over the posted speed limit to 10 mph.
She was forced to use another stalling tactic because she didn’t have have the votes to maintain the lower threshold, which has generated an avalanche of tickets and $59 million in revenue for the city since being imposed in March 2021.
The day before mayoral allies exercised their right to defer consideration of the higher threshold until this Wednesday’s council meeting, the Finance Committee approved the higher threshold, 16-15.
Lightfoot responded by calling out those 16 members, challenging Chicagoans to “remember their names” when they vote in February. Six members of Lightfoot’s handpicked council leadership team joined the rare rebellion, including Budget Committee Chair Pat Dowell (3rd) and Zoning Committee Chair Tom Tunney (44th).
Top mayoral aides have spent months arguing the lower ticketing threshold is about safety — not revenue.
Earlier this month, Lightfoot changed her tune.
The mayor said she was confident the council would maintain the lower threshold because the alternative is a pre-election property tax increase.
On Monday, the mayor doubled down on that argument.
She also noted state law requires revenue generated by speed cameras go toward “things like improving infrastructure around parks and schools to help slow down traffic” as well as programs like Safe Passage, a Chicago Public Schools initiative to post trusted adults along the routes children walk to and from school.
“If that bill were to go into law — and I don’t anticipate that it will — it would create at least a $30 million deficit this year, which no one who is a supporter has said how they would replace that income. And then, $40 million next year,” she said.
“I do not intend to go to the taxpayers of this city and ask them for more resources when the City Council may approve something that is absolutely antithetical to safety in our city and is as fiscally imprudent as this one is.”
Late Monday, Beale countered with what he called “troubling new evidence” relayed to him by the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. He said it shows there have been 72 traffic fatalities in the city so far this year, 11 more than in the same period last year. Meanwhile, of $38 million the city collected in the first half of 2022 from speed-camera revenue, $24 million is tied to the lower threshold.
That $38 million works out to $207,000 a day — or one $35 ticket every 14 seconds, according to the think tank.
“It tells me her plan is hurting, not helping,” Beale said. “It’s hurting in two ways — more fatalities, and more revenue from the people who can least afford it.”
Still, even without a higher speed camera threshold, there will be a pre-election property tax increase.
Lightfoot did that by persuading the council to approve an automatic escalator that ties property tax increases to the annual rate of inflation as part of her 2021 budget.
Now, with inflation now soaring levels not seen in 40 years, Lightfoot vowed Monday to “put some guardrails” up to prevent the city from collecting the entire 9.1%.
“We will take some measures to address that challenge. We will ... make sure that there isn’t a significant burden on taxes for our taxpayers,” she said.
• Also Monday, Lightfoot categorically denied that the changes she demanded be made in the sweeping ethics ordinance championed by Ethics Committee Chair Michele Smith (43rd) had “weakened” the ordinance, as the Better Government Association has claimed.
“If … installing actual due process in the Board of Ethics process is something that the BGA is against, go figure. But for me, due process matters,” said Lightfoot, a former BGA board member.
“I want to make sure that the board is viewed with legitimacy and not as judge, jury, executioner before they even get the other facts from the person who is the target of the complaint.”