Mayor’s budget light on tax hikes, heavy on social spending

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Particularly noteworthy is a pilot program in which some low-income people will begin receiving a monthly check from the city, something some aldermen strongly have encouraged.

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At the same time, except for $76 million in property tax hikes that already had been authorized in prior years or result from new construction, the budget calls for no major new tax or fee hikes. And the city has completed the ramp up and will now be funding its pension programs at the actuarially required level.

All of that is due to $1.89 billion from the latest COVID relief program passed by Congress. Almost none of that money will be available next year, but for now a mayor who’s gearing up for a likely re-election race doesn’t have to worry about that.

The new budget "will allow us to not only fulfill the obligation we have to our residents, but future generations—and that is to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our city for the better," Lightfoot said in prepared remarks to aldermen. "With $1.9 billion in key and enhanced investments, we will develop Chicago into a safer, stronger and more prosperous place."

The city a month ago had projected a budget hole of $733 million. Most of it was filled on the revenue side, with $385 million from the feds, $67 million, a $25 million increase what Lightfoot did last year, from declaring an additional tax-increment financing surplus and $63 million from revenue growth. On the expenditure side, $131.4 million will come from "improved fiscal management," believed to be mostly debt refinancing; and $46.2 million and $21.6 million from personnel and health care savings, respectively.

But what’s notable in the budget, prepared after an intense series of community meetings, is all of the proposed new spending on social programs—so much that the City Council’s progressive caucus immediately praised the mayor’s actions.

"I’m very happy that the mayor has been copying this coalition’s homework, but as we all know with this administration, the devil is in the details," said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, leader of the council’s Socialist Caucus.

Included in the new spending:

  • $635 million to maintain and expand affordable housing, enough according to the city to create 4,000 new units.
  • $188 million for "environmental justice"—everything from flood mitigation to increased tree planting in neighborhoods, mostly on the South and West sides, which the mayor says have been shortchanged.
  • $202 million for aid to the homeless, including assistance for temporary housing.
  • $166 million for community development initiatives, most likely in South and West Side areas that will gain from programs including vacant-lot reactivation and "vacant building rehab programming." Also included here is a new pilot program to give direct monthly aid to some families.
  • $135 million for violence-prevention programs. Until recently, the city had been spending only $15 million a year on such work.
  • $86 million for mental health services, another area in which progressives had attacked Lightfoot for what they said was inaction.
  • $144 million for other initiatives including parks and infrastructure, food equity and tourism support. It was not immediately clear whether that includes the direct assistance sought by officials of the hard-hit hotel and lodging industry.

Other notable intiatives: a $15 million pilot program to divert some 911 calls involving health emergencies and the like from police to other agencies, and $5 million for temporary sobering-up centers that would serve as an alternative to jails and emergency rooms for intoxicated people.

Lightfoot said all of these initiatives would create 40,000 jobs, including youth jobs, connect 100,000 residents to mental-health services, plant 75,000 trees and provide Internet access to 300,000 people.

The City Council will hold a series of hearings on the budget this fall, with key votes in November and final passage no later than December.

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via Crain’s Chicago Business

September 20, 2021 at 11:29AM

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