Property tax authorizes first committee, but Chicago City Council members balk at giving Lightfoot ‘blank check’ for capital projects

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to raise Chicago’s property tax by $76.5 million cleared its first legislative hurdle on Thursday, but aldermen balked at signing a ‘blank check’ for the 660 capital plan. million dollars from the mayor.

The city council’s finance committee was forced to take a break after allied mayors and critics demanded a list of capital projects that would benefit their neighborhoods and constituents.

But after a 20-minute break, the massive borrowing plan was approved, 27 to 3, with only a mere promise of more details to come.

Charged Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) abstained ‘out of an abundance of caution’ because his uncle, former mayor Richard M. Daley, is ‘of counsel’ for Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, a law firm that enjoys patronage with thin stripes. Aldus. Roderick Sawyer (6th) did the same because his cousin is “on one or more of the fundraising teams”.

The $660 million tranche of Lightfoot’s $3.7 billion five-year capital plan will be funded by general bonds backed by a $25 million increase in property taxes.

In addition to the capital bonds, the finance committee approved $1.55 billion in O’Hare airport bonds, including an $850 million refinancing and $700 million to fund the airport’s modernization plan. “O’Hare 21” terminal, mainly the construction of Terminal 5, the International Terminal.

The committee also authorized $1.2 billion in funding for water and sewer, including $600 million in refinancing for savings and $600 million to fund water main replacements, upgrades water treatment plants and sewer lining.

Before Board members could even ask the question, Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett proudly pointed out that the minority stake in the pinstripe patronage sauce tied to the bond issues was 52%, which she referred to as “historic double targets”.

Last year, Lightfoot told members of the Black Caucus who dared to vote against his 2021 budget, “Don’t bullshit me for the next three years” when it comes to choosing projects for his plan. fixed assets.

Aldus. Jason Ervin (28th) said there was no evidence Lightfoot acted on those threats.

Even so, Council members are demanding details ahead of next week’s final budget vote.

“What we have here is a matter of trust, to be perfectly honest. Believe that most of us don’t have in this administration to do good by our neighborhoods and the people we represent,” Ald said. Ray Lopez (15th), one of the most vocal critics of the Mayor’s City Council.

Even Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), chairman of Lightfoot’s hand-picked zoning committee, demanded to know ‘by community area or neighborhood where this work is going to happen so that I can let my constituents know that by voting for this, we will see improvements in my parish.

He added, “If it’s not in the pipeline, it won’t happen next year. I’m in the dark, so to speak, on what I can present to my community, even for 2023.”

Aldus. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), the mayor’s ally who chairs the Workforce Development Committee, added: “We need to know what the plans are. It’s really hard to justify things to our constituents if we don’t have the projects that are being funded. “

The $76.5 million municipal property tax increase was approved without debate by a vote of 27 to 12.

As the Sun-Times was first to report last month, the increase includes: $22.9 million for automatic indexation linked to the consumer price index; $25 million for the capital plan and $28.6 million from new properties.

This will bring Chicago’s total property tax to $1.71 billion. All but $300 million of that money will support four underfunded city employee pension funds, two of which are near insolvency.

In a heated meeting last week, Lightfoot rejected a request from the Hispanic caucus asking him to declare an additional $100 million surplus in funds to finance tax increases – enough to reverse part of the tax increase. this year’s property tax which is supposed to increase automatically, based on cost. of life.

Lightfoot claimed the automatic escalator would cost the owner of a home valued at $250,000 just $1.53 per month.

Budget Director Susie Park said Thursday it was just $37 more a year for that same homeowner when the $25 million property tax increase for capital along with the cost adjustment of life were taken into account.

Also on Thursday, the finance committee approved a revenue ordinance that includes:

• Increase in fines for environmental violations.

• $2 million in higher fees for building permits, as well as annual cost-of-living increases.

• Reduced registration fees for vacant buildings, to improve compliance.

• A host of new or improved programs to ease the burden on low-income Chicagoans who are going into debt and bankruptcy due to the city’s overreliance on ticket revenue.

The plan includes so-called “repairable tickets” for certain compliance violations, such as an invalid or missing city sticker, and a 50% reduction in tickets for low-income drivers.

Penny D. Jackson