Chicago City Council approves Lightfoot’s $11.65 billion 2020 budget

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CHICAGO — The Chicago City Council approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $11.65 billion budget plan for 2020 Tuesday in a 39 to 11 vote.

The $11.6 billion budget plan will close the record $838 million budget gap the mayor inherited,  partly through government restructuring and wiping out most city job vacancies. The budget also increases taxes on ride-hailing services and boosts the minimum wage without raising property taxes significantly.

Lightfoot has called her budget plan a down payment and a major step in a long journey to improve the city’s economic health. But many fear the maneuvering this year will only push the pain for taxpayers into the next budget year.

It was not a unanimously-passed budget like in the days of mayor Richard M. Daley, but after Lightfoot said she would celebrate passing her first budget in a way similar to a certain Bears coach from the Daley era.

“I’m going to – later – smoke this cigar, probably have a a scotch and welcome my mother home for Thanksgiving,” Lightfoot said.

Video above: Mayor Lightfoot and others speak after City Council passed the budget Tuesday

The number of “no” votes surprised some veteran city hall observers given that the mayor faced a nearly a $1 billion deficit and managed to propose a balanced budget without a property tax increase.

“What we have today is a balanced budget without a massive property tax hike," said Ald. Pat Dowell.

There is a slight property tax increase to keep libraries open 7 days a week, but it amounts to only a about $6 a year for an average home.

Still, criticism came from a block of six progressive aldermen who argued that the budget doesn’t go far enough to increase the minimum wage.

“This budget -- for us and for people across the city -- needs to reflect our values, principles and commitment to address these solutions long-term,” Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez said.

The budget will also raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $15 an hour by 2021, but doesn’t include workers like waiters, waitresses, and bartenders who also earn tips.

One part of the budget that might be challenged in court is the increased taxes on ride hailing services like Uber amd Lyft. The budget raises the tax on single rides from 60 cents a trip to $1.13 a trip, and for rides downtown it’s even higher: $1.75 a ride.

The mayor said she won’t back down under threat of a lawsuit.

“I don’t fear litigation. They want to bring it, bring it, and we’ll see you in court,” Lightfoot said

The mayor and Alderman Ed Burke have clashed frequently, but Burke did vote for this budget. The mayor smiled at that development and said, “well it’s a good budget.”

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For now, a major property tax hike has been avoided. But it’s still looming since much still rides on what happens in the spring legislative session in Springfield.

The mayor had hoped to win approval of several key measures, like changed taxing language for the Chicago casino and a new real estate transfer tax for expensive properties.

"This is a budget with a bunch of holes that are going to have to be filled at a later date," said Alderman Anthony Beale.

Still, the city is expecting to bring in more than $100 million in new taxes and fees on things such as ride sharing and recreational marijuana, which becomes legal in January.

There's criticism the proposed budget doesn’t deliver more for mental health services, or raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

The full council is also considering the mayor’s ordinance to reduce penalties and fines for people caught in possession or use of marijuana.

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