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Illinois

The council voted in favor of the mayor’s plan today

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will ask Chicago aldermen to vote on her $16.4 billion 2023 budget on Monday, her last chance to present a spending plan for the city before going to voters next February.

With the election season underway, the Lightfoot administration designed its budget to be as non-controversial as possible, though it wouldn’t be a Lightfoot initiative without a few controversies. As part of her budget, Lightfoot faced criticism for pushing a measure that would give the next mayor an automatic annual raise based on inflation, although the mayor can opt out of the pay raise.

Lightfoot has also faced pushback from councilors who are upset by her decision not to create a Department of Environmental Protection, even though she campaigned heavily for the idea in 2019. She touted money in the budget for a much smaller Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, staffed with fewer than a dozen positions.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, Lightfoot also went on the radio and blasted Southwest Garden City Councilman Aldo. Matt O’Shea for not supporting her budget and questioning his support for law enforcement. For his part, O’Shea bristled at the idea that he doesn’t support the police and responded that her spending plan doesn’t do enough to keep cops from retiring at exorbitant rates.

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Still, this season’s budget negotiations are noticeably muted compared to years past, when some of Lightfoot’s most contentious clashes with aldermen erupted. In 2020, she told the Black Caucus, “Don’t come to me for…” if they don’t support her budget. This year, Lightfoot has taken a less overtly bellicose tone and even backed down on an originally proposed property tax increase. Her administration announced that revenue this year would be $134 million higher than expected, negating the need for a property tax increase, although the political convention that urges politicians to avoid raising taxes in election years likely also played a factor.

Another provision of Lightfoot’s budget under scrutiny from aldermen was lowering the maximum aggregate fines for vehicles blocking bike lanes or with tinted windows or blacked-out license plates from $500 to $250. A spokesman for the city’s legal department explained that an Illinois appellate court ruling earlier this year provides a lower limit, and only a state charter amendment passed by the General Assembly could change that.

Aldermen criticized Lightfoot’s administration for failing to address the issue, which they say will hurt public safety and the city’s finances.

Exit ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, accused City Hall of failing to engage lobbyists in Springfield, leaving the City Council in the dark.

“There is a complete disconnect,” Hairston said. “We sit here in the dark about everything. Our representatives have not contacted us.”

On law enforcement, the mayor’s budget plan tries to reflect her spirit that a strong police department, combined with street outreach and other comprehensive programs, is the answer to the city’s persistent gun violence. The number of shootings and homicides this year is down from the worst in decades in 2021, but they are still higher than they were before Lightfoot took office.

One of the more prominent goals of Lightfoot’s budget is spending $242 million in additional contributions to all four of the city’s pension funds, which the mayor likened to ending the practice of paying only the monthly minimum on a credit card. That would reduce future contributions by $2 billion at current market rates, officials said

Overall, pension benefits will cost $2.7 billion in the 2023 budget, up from $2.3 billion last year. Lightfoot said better financial planning and cash flow management led the city to increase annual pension contributions by $1 billion over three years and reduce outstanding debt by $377 million.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-chicago-city-council-budget-20221107-pzakjppe5baqxcbzrt65wntbte-story.html#ed=rss_www.chicagotribune.com/arcio/rss/category/news/

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