Council Nov. 7

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th, right) speaks to Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd, left), chair of the City Council Budget Committee, and Ald. Sophia King (4th), Monday, Nov. 7

On Monday, Chicago City Council voted 32-18 to pass Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget. Like the City Council, local alderwomen were divided.

Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) both voted to pass the budget at the Nov. 7 City Council meeting, while Ald. Sophia King (4th), who is challenging Lightfoot for her mayoral seat in February, voted against. 

The council also narrowly voted 29-21 to pass the mayor’s property tax levy, which does not include a property tax hike to keep up with the rate of inflation, which Lightfoot had initially proposed in September.

Notably, it's the first of Lightfoot's budgets Taylor has supported and the last budget Hairston will have voted on before ending her 24-year aldermanic career.

King, speaking from the council floor, agreed with the budget’s supporters that there were good things included in it, namely hundreds of millions to pay down the city's pension debt and for housing, but said it fell short on meeting the city’s priorities, specifically public safety.

"I do not think that this budget addresses gun violence in a significant way," King said, noting an allocation of $85 million last year towards public safety, most of which has not been spent by Lightfoot’s administration.

Only $5 million of that $85 million in the last budget has been spent. King said alderpersons have asked the administration for details about anti-violence spending but have received none in turn. (She suggested the city spend $200 million on those efforts.) She said she herself has asked for more information about city funding for Chicago Public Schools but has received none.

King said there should be money set aside for jobs training for young men of color, trauma-informed care and non-police responses to certain mental health 9-1-1 calls for service — all anti-violence initiatives — but that there is none. And she complained, alongside other alderpersons, that no Department of the Environment would be established in this time of climate change, something the mayor had campaigned on creating in 2019.

"This budget is not equitable,” she said. “The resources, especially this year in our budget, spent towards African American contracting is down."

"Even low-hanging fruit, like having blocks in Black and brown communities just be clean — those are our city blocks.."

Taylor, for her part, said she was happy to see Black organizations get anti-HIV funding and to get an assurance that the Chicago Torture Justice Center, a Woodlawn nonprofit borne out of the city's history of police torture that plans a memorial for its victims, will get $250,000 in funding.

"They would raise $2 million — I got that in writing," Taylor said of the city's promises, adding that she was also happy to see no rise in the city's property taxes. But she still said that the city needed to do a better job in equitably funding street repairs in her ward and others like it, observing that South Side wards are bigger than North Side ones, due to lower population density, though funding levels do not recognize these physically larger areas. 

As alderpersons pontificated on the floor before the vote, Hairston claimed in an interview that "a lot of the comments being made are being made by people who didn't actually attend the budget hearings (and) did not submit amendments to the budget."

Hairston said she has worked to get a transfer of the $15 million the city allocated in July for at-risk and in-need-of-repairs South Shore condominiums and co-ops. 

"Anybody can hold a press conference and say something. Actually getting it done is different," she said. "The work is at the beginning, the middle and the end to make sure that everything is tied up to make sure that it actually happens."

Hairston actually voted against the budget in committee last month and said her vote was motivated by the city making efforts to fix long-identified infrastructural issues in the 5th Ward. "That doesn't discount the rest of the budget," she said.

Despite the divided vote, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who chairs council's Budget Committee, received widespread acclaim from her peers at council for her leadership during the process.

In her statement after its passage, Lightfoot praised the city's continued ratings upgrades from Fitch, purchasing of hundreds more emergency vehicles and millions of dollars for new police equipment, station renovations and public safety cameras. The budget ups the Chicago Police Department funding by $64 million to nearly $2 billion.

While a Department of the Environment was not established, an Office of Climate and Environmental Equity was with $1 million in funding. Lightfoot's administration has proposed reviving the Department of the Environment in the coming years.

More than $200 million is going to homelessness support services, including the construction of "supportive" housing and housing programs. Nearly $90 million was allocated for mental health services. The city has paid down $747 million in its outstanding debt. 

“Over the past three years, we have steered our city through some challenging fiscal storms,” said Lightfoot in the statement. “However, each and every time, we came together to collaborate on how to enhance the quality of life for all of our residents, and emerged to become the stronger, more vibrant city that we are today. This budget is a reflection of our hard work and values.”

In her speech to council, Lightfoot said that $2 billion will have been made in economic development programs by the end of the year, touting her Invest South/West initiative.

"From streetscapes to vertical construction, retail, health care, affordable housing, community gathering spaces, and more, these are transformative, catalytic investments," she said. "When we raise the fortunes of the South and West sides, we raise the fortunes of the entire City."

At the post-council press conference, Cecilia Cuff, co-owned of the Bronzeville Winery, 4420 S. Cottage Grove Ave. in the Invest South/West 4400 Grove project, praised the mayor for her investments. (The winery received city funding.)

"I'm sure that funding like the Invest South/West initiatives has acted, for other businesses across Chicago, like a springboard," she said, praising the public-private partnership for the confidence it gives entrepreneurs and the additional capital it attracts from banks. 

Without it, Cuff said it would have been hard to find funding for "a space that doesn't seem like it's investment-worthy." And she praised the city for improving the neighborhood by developing businesses — ones where local workers can get paid a good wage in their own community.

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