Finance Committee OKs $94 million property tax increase

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she’ll “take nothing for granted” even after her $195.7 million revenue package — including a $94 million property tax increase followed by annual increases tied to inflation — cleared a key legislative hurdle.

The property tax increase cleared the Finance Committee 21 to 12 — still five votes short of the 26 needed for final approval in the full City Council.

That’s apparently why Lightfoot went out of her way to thank the aldermen who took the tough vote Wednesday and are prepared to do it again next week.

With at least 20 potential “no” votes, she can’t afford to gloat. She’ll run through the finish line and keep lining up votes until the full Council meets two days before Thanksgiving, to make sure there’s no 25-25 deadlock requiring her tie-breaking vote.

“We’ve done a lot of work over these past couple of weeks … listening to our colleagues in City Council. Listening to our partners in organized labor. And the changes that have been made to the budget over time really reflect that listening, that learning and that partnership,” the mayor said.

Lightfoot said the relative ease with which her revenue package and massive borrowing cleared its first hurdle shows a majority of aldermen understand their responsibility to “meet the challenges that this very difficult year has presented.”

“Our residents expect us to lead. They expect us to step up and make the hard decisions, particularly in difficult times like these,” she said.

“I am grateful. We take nothing for granted. … We’re gonna continue to work hard. We’re gonna continue to listen to our partners in the City Council.”

Eighteen votes were needed in the Finance Committee to pass the city’s $1.63 billion property tax levy, which includes the $94 million increase that will cost the owner of a home valued at $250,000 an extra $56 a year. It also includes the automatic annual property tax increase of either 5% or the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

The final vote was 21 to 12. Union leaders whose 350 members have been spared from layoffs by the mayor’s plan to borrow against future marijuana revenues lobbied their City Council allies in the days and hours leading up to Wednesday’s vote.

Aldermen casting “No” votes were: Brian Hopkins (2nd); Anthony Beale (9th); Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); Marty Quinn (13th); Edward Burke (14th); Ray Lopez (15th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Tom Tunney (44th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).

Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) was a surprise “yes” after railing against both the property tax increase and the massive borrowing.

The vote on the rest of the revenue package was 20 to 12. Of the 20-member Black Caucus, only Beale voted against the mayor.

Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) told the Sun-Times the Black Caucus came around after the layoffs were canceled and Lightfoot increased funding for violence prevention and for a pilot program to respond to emergency calls involving people with mental health issues. She also agreed to pinpoint future capital projects on the South and West sides, Ervin said.

Before the final vote, Burke told Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett: “I hope you’ll be a hero and figure out how this property tax increase can be avoided.”

Lopez, one of Lightfoot’s most outspoken Council critics, homed in on the mayor’s $1.7 billion debt restructuring and refinancing, which claims nearly $949 million of the savings in the first two years.

“We’re running out of revenue to borrow against. We’re even borrowing [against future marijuana revenues] to avoid the layoffs. What happens to those 350 employees next year? At what point do we reach a tipping point?” Lopez said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) praised Lightfoot for her 11th-hour concessions in frenzied negotiations that continued up to Wednesday’s vote.

“I’ve never seen so many of my colleagues work so hard to come up with solutions. … I thank the administration for listening to us and allowing us to push the envelope. … This is a great exercise for all of us,” Burnett said.

“This is really hard. If you look around the world, the whole world is going through what we’re going through. We’re not in this by ourselves.”

To erase a $1.2 billion shortfall largely caused by the coronavirus, the budget includes $195.7 million in new revenues.

It raises taxes on gasoline ($10 million), computer leases and cloud services ($15 million) and eliminates the “ride-share subsidy” to the CTA ($16 million).

To generate $6 million, ride-hailing companies no longer can claim a ground transportation tax credit on 50% of their trips to under-served neighborhoods.

To generate $68 million, the city would add 750 parking meters in the Loop and Central Business District and start issuing $35 speed camera tickets to motorists caught driving 6 mph to 9 mph over the speed limit.

When it came time to debate the massive borrowing, including the mayor’s five-year, $3.7 billion capital plan, Lopez asked about the threat Lightfoot made last week to members of the Black Caucus who dare to vote against her budget.

“Our mayor has said, ‘Don’t ask us for crap.’ … That means one-third of this committee is on the ‘don’t ask’ list,” Lopez said.

Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi assured Lopez projects would be chosen based on need.

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