In her first budget address Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago will be “looking to Springfield” to avoid raising property taxes and help the city fill its $838 million gap in its $11.65 billion budget for 2020.
Lightfoot said she has been in talks with state lawmakers “to support a Chicago casino as well as develop a statewide pension reform package.” If these things don’t happen, she warned the city may have to make some painful choices, adding, “We all know what that those choices are.”
Lightfoot said her balanced budget was achieved “by a combination of savings and efficiencies… totaling $538 million along with a number of carefully chosen revenue sources.” She said over 60 percent of the funding gap was closed by creating what she called “structural solutions,” which included saving $200 million through debt refinancing.
In addition, Lightfoot’s budget would make reforms to the Chicago Tax Increment Financing Program, or TIF. This year’s additional surplus to the city from TIF is $31.4 million, she said, and “the days of TIF fund slush fund are over.”
Other sources of projected revenue include funds to be generated by the legalization and sale of recreational marijuana in the city, doubling the tax on food and drinks in restaurants to a half of a percent, increasing the rates on downtown parking meters and the levying of a “congestion tax” on rideshare services operating in the downtown area weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Lightfoot said if her plan is successful, it would have a positive impact for police, fire and emergency personnel. “For the first time in the city’s history we will have climbed the ramp to pay for our police and fire pensions at the level outside experts say we should be paying for them to ensure their longtime financial stability,” she said. Her budget also includes putting more than 160 emergency responders back on the streets.
Other priorities and programs to gain funds in Lightfoot’s budget include violence prevention, affordable housing initiatives, aid for the homeless and an expansion of library hours that will allow branches to stay open seven days a week. “Sunday hours are coming [to libraries],” she said.
Notably absent from Lightfoot’s speech was any mention of school financing or the large crowds of Chicago Public School teachers, staff and supporters who picketed outside City Hall, voicing their frustrations about the ongoing impasse in contract negotiations with the city.
The protesters’ march shut down some streets and snarled traffic as teachers chanted “Fair contract no.” Some carried signs that read: “I’d rather be teaching, but this is important.”
After marching to and around City Hall, many then sat down in the street outside City Hall and in front of the James R. Thompson building that houses Illinois state government offices.
For additional coverage on the CTU strike, check out live tweets by our reporters from the picket lines:
Wednesday marked the fifth day that school was canceled due to the teacher’s strike. More preparation time and smaller class sizes have been among the teachers’ demands.
“Our kids go through so much, they need extra support,” said one North Grand High School teacher who teaches special education math and physics. She said she has to rely on administrators to manage her class of more than 30 students.
Along with overcrowded classrooms, the teachers also cited an overall lack of support staff as a driving force for the ongoing protests.
“[We need] more nurses [as well as] counselors,” said J. Weiss, an 8th grade teacher on Chicago’s Northwest Side. “Students will really benefit from these resources.”
Among those at the protest were those school support staffers — members of the SEIU Local 73 — including one who urged the crowd over a loud speaker, “You’re not just fighting for a better contract, you’re fighting for a better Chicago.”
The mayor’s plan still needs City Council approval to be implemented.
Clorice Bair, Sam Diaz, Dante Jones, Kaya Lane, Ryan Rosenberger, Lourdes Sanchez, Inana Zomaya and Reyna Zuno contributed to this report.