Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion budget heads to full City Council vote – Crain’s Chicago Business

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Wednesday’s votes follow the Finance Committee approving the 2023 property tax levy on a narrow 11-8 vote.

During her nearly four years in office, Lightfoot has repeatedly said she has no interest in making the sort of concessions necessary to run up the score in the annual budget votes, instead governing to the 26 votes necessary for approval.

But with this being an election year, Lightfoot made concessions in her proposal in an effort to ensure she clears that narrow 26-vote threshold, including a series of last-minute adjustments that were not revealed publicly until provided to aldermen Wednesday morning.

Aldermen grilled Susie Park, the city’s budget director, over the creation of a new Office of Climate & Environment Equity, which Park described as a “first, small step” between what exists now and a full-fledged department.

The standalone office is meant to mollify aldermen who spent the last month urging Lightfoot to follow through on her 2019 campaign promise to restore the Department of the Environment.

Lightfoot’s initial proposal was to place the city’s chief sustainability officer, Angela Tovar, in charge of a small team within the mayor’s office to coordinate the city’s response to environmental issues and ensure the city meets its own goals outlined in a climate action plan.

Progressive aldermen and both the Black and Latino caucuses urged Lightfoot to, instead, launch a separate department that they argued would be better able to focus the city’s environmental efforts and would be more accountable to the City Council.

The new proposed office will be staffed with 10 positions and have a $967,060 budget.

Tovar, who will lead the office, told aldermen the office “is intended to work . . . across all sectors and departments to advance the vision that we set forth in the climate action plan.”

But aldermen continued to probe why Lightfoot was reluctant to fulfill a campaign promise in the final budget of her first term.

“I’m curious as to who is against this,” said retiring Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th. “The Black Caucus supports it, the Progressive Caucus supports it, the Latino Caucus supports it, aldermen who are not in a caucus but are allies with all those caucuses support it . . . I’m kind of scratching my head trying to see why we can’t do this.” Osterman eventually voted yes.

Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza, 10th, said she was afraid the office would become a “smoke and mirrors” agency that would “hold a lot of meetings,” but wouldn’t have the authority to carry out its ambitious goals. Garza voted against the spending plan.

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, who chairs the Black Caucus, said, “I do understand the desire to walk prudently in this particular process.”

But the compromise was enough to get the ordinance through the committee by an 18-12 vote.

Other changes include funding for a 75-member labor pool, which Park hopes will be ramped up by April, to help the Department of Streets & Sanitation maintain garbage pickup during staffing shortages. Also changed was an increase in the number of rapid rehousing units, from 800 to 1,200, used to aid those experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. Both were demands of the City Council Black Caucus.

A new position in the mayor’s office to coordinate the city’s programs and outreach to veterans, which had been pushed for by Latino Caucus Chair Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, will also be created.

Aldermen also approved an amended management ordinance that tweaks the city’s municipal code. Part of the ordinance covers yearly raises, beginning in 2024, for the mayor, city clerk and city treasurer, designed to keep pace with inflation but capped at 5%. Also included is the commitment to complete—by June—a study on the feasibility of forming the Department of the Environment.

City Clerk Anna Valencia and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin are set to see their salaries rise more than 20% in 2023, from $133,545 to $161,016. The two defended the raises during their budget hearings, arguing the positions had not received a bump since 2006.

Lightfoot argued in October the raises are “not a salary increase,” but rather a cost-of-living adjustment. The mayor currently receives a $216,210 salary, which also hasn’t changed since 2006. Under the proposal, the three officials could decline the annual salary bumps each year.

A veteran alderman and ally of Lightfoot’s conceded Wednesday that the full votes in the City Council will be “very close.”

The City Council will meet on Nov. 4 but is not expected to vote on the budget. Instead, in keeping with tradition, allies of the mayor will defer and publish the budget ordinances to prevent opponents of the mayor from blocking a vote themselves.

The City Council will then meet again Nov. 7 when it’s expected a final vote will take place.

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November 2, 2022 at 07:27PM

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