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Beale predicts City Council resistance to massive property tax increase

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critic predicts mayor will come up empty in Springfield and have no choice but to raise property taxes by as much as $500 million.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) sits down with Fran Spielman.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be forced to propose a massive property tax increase to erase an $838 million shortfall, but she’ll have trouble getting the City Council votes because aldermen are fed up with her attempts to “neuter” them.

That’s the dire prediction from Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the former Lightfoot ally-turned-adversary who is now trying to rally his colleagues to stand up to the new mayor.

Ald. Anthony Beale is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.
Ald. Anthony Beale is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Lightfoot will deliver her first budget address — and outline the taxes she plans to raise and programs she plans to cut — five days before the start of the Illinois Legislature’s fall veto session.

Although she needs state help and wants desperately to avoid a property tax increase, she must introduce a balanced budget without having any idea how much money, if any, she can count on from Springfield.

On Friday, Beale predicted that the mayor would come up empty in Springfield and, therefore, will have no choice but to raise property taxes more than doubled by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I’m thinking between $400 million and $500 million,” Beale said.

Appearing at the Chicago Investors Conference, Lightfoot said Friday Chicagoans will “tolerate almost any other tax, but they don’t want their property taxes raised.”

“To go to people and say, ‘Your assessments have gone up. The system we know is broken. But we want you to give more’ is a tough sell,” she said, refusing to take it off the table.

Pressed on whether the mayor can get the 26 votes for a massive property tax increase, Beale laughed out loud.

“It’s gonna be tough,” he said.

In 2015, Emanuel convinced 35 aldermen to approve a $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction. It was the largest property tax increase in Chicago history.

Beale said that was different because, unlike Lightfoot, Emanuel “communicated with everyone” in the Council.

“If there’s no communication — if there’s no dialogue, I don’t see how you get the votes to pass a budget,” he said.

An early Lightfoot supporter, Beale has been in the doghouse — stripped of his committee chairmanship — ever since he tried and failed to marshal opposition to Lightfoot’s choice of Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Earlier this week, he threw down the gauntlet by stalling confirmation of a Lightfoot appointee to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

On Friday, he upped the ante — first by writing a full-page op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, then by urging his colleagues to stand up to the mayor’s attempt to roll over them.

“If I can’t call and get Mrs. Jones a new garbage cart. If they’re breaking into garages, but I can’t call to get those lights back on. If I can’t do the minimal things for the quality of life in my community, what good are we as aldermen?” Beale said.

“The path that we’re going, we don’t need aldermen. Everything is being directed to the departments.”

Lightfoot’s communications director Michael Crowley said the executive order that stripped aldermen of their control over licensing and permitting gives Chicago residents and businesses “a uniform process” to access city services and “seeks only to eliminate the possibility of corruption, not to prevent aldermen from serving and advocating for their residents.”

The mayor has promised to end aldermanic prerogative over zoning, but that will require a City Council vote.

“If there is any attempt to go after zoning, I guarantee you there will be the biggest wall that they will hit because no alderman is gonna give up that amount of authority,” Beale said.

Lightfoot has dismissed the mischief made by Beale and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) as a “political stunt.”

She has accused Lopez and Beale of trying to make her appointees “swear an oath to them as aldermen” in a “back door to aldermanic prerogative” that won’t be tolerated.

On Friday, Beale was asked whether this week’s antics signal a broader City Council rebellion during a brutal budget season by aldermen chafing behind the scenes at Lightfoot’s decision to chip away at aldermanic prerogative.

“I hope not. But if things continue to go in the manner that they’re going — with a total disregard of our voice in city government, our voice in our community — then it’s gonna continue to percolate,” Beale said.

“I’m hoping that it doesn’t happen. I’m hoping the olive branch is extended….Nobody wants a war...If the mayor calls me, I will drop whatever I’m doing to meet with her to do whatever is in the best interest of this city. But my voice is never gonna be silenced.”