Johnson announces dates, times for budget forums

Three 2.5-hour sessions will be held at City Colleges locations, starting July 22 at Malcolm X College. A fourth roundtable, open only to ages 13 to 24, will be at the Harold Washington Library.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson and budget director Annette Guzman heard from young people at a Youth Budget Roundtable in the Winter Garden at Harold Washington Library on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

Last year’s youth budget forum, held in the Winter Garden at Harold Washington Library.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Tuesday announced the dates and times for four public forums where everyday Chicagoans will be invited to share their views on city services, revenue and spending.

The intense community engagement process will consist of four public forums:

July 22: Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Boulevard, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

July 25: Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

July 27: Kennedy King College, 6301 S. Halsted St., 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

July 30: Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St., 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. This event will be youth focused, open only to those age 13 to 24.

Those wishing to attend any of the first three forums are encouraged but not required to register online.

Last year, Johnson used public input generated by a similar series of budget roundtables to craft a $16.77 billion budget that, among other things, added 4,000 summer jobs for Chicago’s youth and re-established a stand-alone Department of Environment.

The mayor used a record $434 million in surplus funds from tax increment financing districts to balance his first budget. He also froze the city’s property tax levy.

But his first budget did not include any of the $800 million in tax increases he advocated during his mayoral campaign. Instead, Johnson punted the search for new tax money to a revenue subcommittee chaired by freshman Ald. William Hall (6th).

That revenue subcommittee is scheduled to hold its first meeting Wednesday. It will discuss revenue ideas, but won’t vote on any.

To prepare, Hall asked his 49 colleagues to respond “yes” or “no” to a Google survey listing 16 potential revenue ideas.

They included taxes on income; sales; property; liquor; checked bags; video gaming; groceries; traffic congestion; vacant lots; wireless services and ticket re-sellers. Also on the list were two ideas Johnson favored during the campaign amid strong opposition from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, legislative leaders and the business community: a revived employee head tax, and a sales tax on professional services, which would require legislative approval.

Hall refused to disclose results of the Google survey.

Earlier this year and again last week, Hall told the Sun-Times he wants to legalize video gaming in Chicago and explore starting helicopter service to O’Hare and Midway airports. He also wants to consider turning the downtown Riverwalk and the 30% retail vacancy rate in Chicago’s central business district into a digital advertising money-maker.

Chicago’s 2025 budget shortfall must be disclosed by July 31. That’s when the city releases the three-year budget forecast that doubles as a preliminary budget.

Every recent mayor has presided over public hearings before releasing a preliminary budget, though Johnson said his approach takes the “commitment to inclusivity and collaborative decision-making” to a new level.

City departments helped lay the groundwork for “more focused conversations” by putting forth a “series of existing and potential programs” in affordable housing and homeless services; community safety; environmental justice and infrastructure; neighborhood community development & arts and culture; and mental health and community health, officials said.

Findings from the public forums will be outlined in a public report released along with the mayor’s 2025 budget and written in collaboration with the Great Cities Institute.

“Last year, our Budget Engagement Roundtables led to significant investments in youth employment, climate resilience and mental health services, demonstrating the power of community input in driving meaningful change,” Johnson was quoted as saying in a press release.

The mayor said he expects this year’s outreach will “continue to foster deeper conversations and increase community participation in shaping our city’s future.”

“By co-designing these events with community stakeholders, we are ensuring that the voices of all Chicagoans, including our youth, are heard and reflected in our budget priorities,” Johnson was quoted as saying.

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