Chicago City Council Approves Johnson’s $16.6B Budget Amid Fractious Debate Over Costs to Care for Migrants
Chicago City Council Approves Johnson’s $16.6B Budget Amid Fractious Debate Over Costs to Care for Migrants
Jul 23, 2024 4:42 PM

The Chicago City Council approved Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $16.6 billion 2023 spending plan on Wednesday after a debate shaped by an intense focus on the amount of money the city expects to spend on housing, feeding and caring for the men, women and children sent to Chicago from the southern border.

The budget, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2024, includes no new taxes, fees or service cuts, making it much easier for alderpeople to back the plan touted by Johnson as a down payment on promises to invest in working-class Chicagoans andstart transforming the Chicago Police Departmentinto an agency better prepared to take a new approach to public safety.

The progressive political organizations that fueled Johnson’s come-from-behind victory celebrated the budget as a deposit on pledges to invest in working-class Chicagoans

“We did everything we said I would do,” Johnson said. "I kept my word."

The final vote on the tax levy was 40-9. The budget itself passed 41-8.

Alds. Anthony Beale (9th Ward); Marty Quinn, (13th Ward); Raymond Lopez (15th Ward); David Moore (17th Ward); Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward); Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward); Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) voted against the budget. Ald. Felix Cardona (31st Ward) voted against the tax levy but in favor of the budget that spends that money.

The spending plan sets aside $150 million to house, feed and care for the men, women and children sent to Chicago from the southern border. More than 21,000 people have made their way to Chicago since August 2022, with more than 13,100 in city shelters and more than 2,300 migrants currently living in police stations across the city and at O’Hare International Airport while waiting for a bed to open up.

That won’t be enough, Johnson has acknowledged, and he has not identified a backup if state and federal officials ignore his increasingly impassioned pleas for financial aid. The migrant crisis is likely to cost taxpayers $361 million between January and December 2023, according to the latest financial projections released by the mayor’s office.

Ald. Bill Conway (34th Ward) called that a “blank check.”

“It is no secret that this issue is tearing the city apart,” Conway said.

While several alderpeople criticized the mayor for delaying tough decisions about how to cover the cost of caring for the migrants, his allies characterized the budget as a down payment on the city’s obligations to its newest residents.

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th Ward) said the mayor and his allies are not going to pass this budget “and hope and pray.”

“We're going to pass this budget and get to work” demanding that state and federal officials do more to help Chicago care for the migrants, Fuentes said.

After a series of intense and fractious meetings, Wednesday’s session featured fulsome praise for Johnson, who notched a significant victory by passing his first spending plan.

While the spending plan advanced to Wednesday’s final vote with little public opposition and controversy, the major changes Johnson agreed to make served to keep a majority the City Council’s Black Caucus united behind the budget as humanitarian crisis posed by the arrival of the migrants exposed deep tension between Chicago’s Black and Latino communities.

Johnson’s spending plan earmarks $5 million to createa new office designed to help those returning to Chicago from jail or prisonfind jobs or other assistance as they work to rebuild their lives. In addition, the budget includes $500,000 for a new panel that willstudy whether and how the city should pay reparations to Chicagoanswho are the descendants of enslaved African Americans.

Shortfall Eliminated, Down Payment Made, Johnson Says

Approved by the City Council precisely six months after Johnson took office, his first spending plan eliminated a $538 million shortfall and makes new investments in mental health services and environmental justice.

Johnson’s spending plan calls for the city to double the number of social workers, addiction specialists and counselors working to respond to 911 calls for help from people experiencing mental health crises and to open two new mental health clinics in facilities already operated by the Chicago Department of Public Health.

That alternate-response program, launched by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot as a pilot program, will become a permanent part of the city’s approach to those in crisis starting in 2024.

Those proposals are the core of the plan known as “Treatment Not Trauma,” which Johnson pledged to implement if elected mayor. In all, the city will spend $4.8 million more next year on mental health services.

It will also expand the city’s youth jobs program by 4,000 positions to 28,000 jobs, according to the proposal. More than 46,000 teens and young adults applied for the city’s summer jobs program in 2023, according to city records.

In addition, the spending plan includes an additional $10 million for the city’s program that offers grants to low-income homeowners to make needed repairs.

The spending plan calls for an additional $6.8 million for the city’s shelter system, which has been strained to the breaking point by the arrival of the migrants in Chicago, all of whom entered the country legally after requesting asylum.

The mayor’s budget also reestablishes the Department of the Environment as part of a renewed emphasis on environmental justice that would fulfill a key campaign promise made by Johnson.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel disbanded the department in 2012, and Lightfoot did not make good on promises to bring it back.

Johnson will also reverse Lightfoot’s 2019 decision to combine the departments of Innovation and Technology and Fleet and Facility Management. In 2024, the department known as 2FM will return and a new department of Technology and Innovation will launch.

Video: Joining “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” is Annette Guzman, budget director for the city of Chicago. (Produced by Emily Soto)

Public Safety Transformation Begins

The spending plan also representshis initial attempt to transform the Chicago Police Departmentinto an agency better prepared to implement the more “holistic” approach to public safety that focuses on the “root causes” of crime, as the mayor promised during the campaign.

Johnson’s plan makes 398 of the department’s more than 11,700 sworn positions into jobs open to civilians, who would not have law enforcement powers.

CPD is also set to add training officers and see its fleet of vehicles expand to accommodate the nearly 200 new detectives Johnson has promised to promote.

In addition, Johnson has proposed expanding the size of the Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, responsible for that work by 45 positions, and boosting its budget by approximately 18% to $582 million, according to his spending plan.

The city is in full compliance with approximately 6% of the 4-year-old court order, known as a consent decree, according to the team appointed by a federal judge to monitor the city’s progress.

The overall budget for the Police Department is set to rise from $1.94 billion in 2023 to $1.99 billion under Johnson’s proposed budget.

But the size of the police department has left some of the members of the political organizations that fueled Johnson’s victory frustrated and angry that nearly a third of the city’s most flexible funding is dedicated to law enforcement, limiting the city’s ability to address the root causes of crime, including poverty, disinvestment and mental illness.

CPD’s spending plan for 2024 is a “definite improvement” from the budget for 2023, according to the interim commission that oversees the Chicago Police Department. The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability is required by city law to review the budget before its adoption.

The commission, known as the CCPSA, still has “major concerns” surrounding how officers are deployed, efforts to step up community policing and reduce response times, according to a letter from President Anthony Driver, Jr.

The city’s budget also lacks transparency when it comes to public safety spending, with expenses for administration, vehicles and technology spread over several departments, Driver wrote in a letter to the City Council.

“Without this information, no one knows exactly how much our city spends on policing,” Driver wrote. “The budget must clearly show the information Chicagoans need to be able to accurately assess the actual cost of policing and hold public servants accountable.”

How the Budget Got Balanced

Johnson balanced the city’s 2024 budget by cutting $243.3 million and finding an additional $321.3 million in new revenue.

Johnson plans to use $49.5 million from the city’s Tax Increment Financing program to help fill the budget shortfall.

The city’s financial picture is not only being buoyed by that burst of additional TIF revenue, but also by $50 million from the city’s surplus from prior years. Chicago ended 2022 with a surplus of $307.3 million, according to the city’s annual financial report.

In addition, Chicago has $461.5 million left unspent from the nearly $2 billion in federal relief funds the city got in 2021 to strengthen Chicago’s tattered social safety net and provide direct aid to Chicagoans struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

The city’s finances will continue to be pinched by soaring pension payments, as the city complies with a state law that requires two of Chicago’s funds be funded at a 90% level by 2055 and the other two by 2058, ensuring they can pay benefits to employees as they retire.

In 2024, state law requires Chicago to pay more than $2.41 billion to its pension funds. Johnson also proposed making an additional payment to the city’s four pension funds of $306.6 million, following a policy put in place by Lightfoot, to prevent “further growth of the city’s unfunded pension liabilities,” according to the Johnson administration.

Contact Heather Cherone:@HeatherCherone| (773) 569-1863 |[email protected]

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