Lightfoot cancels pre-election property tax increase

The mayor announced the “good news for Chicago taxpayers” one day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported some of her closest allies had urged her to avoid risking an embarrassing budget defeat.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is shown presiding at a Chicago City Council meeting earlier this month. On Thursday she said she was taking a $42 million property tax hike off the table.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday scrapped plans for a $42.7 million pre-election property tax increase — half of what an automatic escalator would have allowed — but kept in place the inflationary trigger some City Council members are determined to repeal. 

Lightfoot announced what she called the “good news for Chicago taxpayers” one day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported some of the mayor’s closest allies were urging her to find another way.

A statement issued while the mayor was on a trade mission to Mexico City quoted Lightfoot as saying city revenues that “exceed our estimates” by $200 million would allow her to “forgo, for one year” the increase in Chicago’s property tax levy she persuaded a divided City Council to tie to the consumer price index two years ago.

“As a result of this strong improvement in revenues, we have determined it is important to give our taxpayers some additional relief,” the mayor was quoted as saying. 

“I have heard from residents and businesses across our city that continue to recover from the pandemic and have supported this strong recovery in city’s revenues. This one-time relief keeps our city on the course we’ve set in our previous budgets: protecting taxpayers, keeping our promises to workers on pensions, and making historic investments in public safety, mental health and public health in general and much more.”

But as the mayor made clear, it was only a one-year reprieve because “our pension obligations are real and continue to grow,” she said.

“As long as I am mayor, we will never shirk those obligations to our retirees who have every right to depend upon the pensions they earned, and we will use all tools at our disposal ... to meet those obligations.”

The mayor’s statement was first reported by WBEZ

Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez (15th), one of three alderpersons giving up their Council seats to challenge Lightfoot, branded the move an “election-year stunt to make it look as though she’s actually listening,” adding: “She never needed the $42 million to begin with. Her budget is so bloated with vacancies that she could not only cancel the $42 million increase, she could also give a $300 million refund because of all of the unfilled positions that she has in that budget.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), still mulling a race for mayor, agreed that Lightfoot made a political decision driven by election-year politics. 

“At least she’s starting to respond to complaints from the voters that I represent who are overtaxed,” Hopkins said.

“If she’s listening now, when she didn’t listen last year or the year before, let me say it loud and clear: Adding an automatic inflationary property tax increase was the absolute wrong decision, and it needs to be repealed. It’s a political gimmick to try and play this game every year where we’re going to either tax people, overtax people or give them a false gift in an election year and say, ‘Guess what? We’re not gonna tax you after all.’” 

Mayoral challenger Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said Lightfoot should have been “responsible and stuck to her convictions.” 

“If you thought it was responsible to have a modest tax increase, you should stand by that. And if you feel it’s not, you should stand by that. If you’re not gonna do that, you’re just blowing with the wind,” he said. 

The escalator automatically increases Chicago’s property tax levy by the rate of inflation or 5%, whichever is less. This year, that would have meant an $85 million increase.

In August, Lightfoot announced she would cut that in half, with all $42.7 million going toward pension payments. She added it would cost the owner of a home valued at $250,000 just $34 more each year.

“That’s about the price of an Al’s Italian beef — hot, dipped, with extra cheese — for a family of four,” the mayor said.

Lightfoot said then that she anticipated pushback from the same Council members who opposed the automatic escalator the first time around. But she argued the annual trigger makes sense because it gives “predictability” to home and business owners.

“It’s easy in an election year to say, ‘Let’s do nothing.’ But our pension obligation continues to grow year after year. So if we do nothing, be sure, taxpayers, they’re coming back for you later,” she said then.

Thursday, Sawyer predicted that if Lightfoot wins a second term, she would, in fact, “come back for us later.” 

He added: “Let’s work it out now, and work it out responsibly, so the taxpayers can understand what they’re getting into, as opposed to stuntery and just succumb to the will of a group of people that may feel they can threaten you with loss of an election if you don’t do what they say.” 

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