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"Department of Finance" written on glass door

The city of Chicago’s Department of Finance at City Hall.

Ashlee Rezin

The Rundown: Billions in debt owed to City Hall

Happy Friday! It’s December and I’m thinking about how to spend time outside this winter (at least until the temperature drops below zero). Here’s what you need to know today.

1. As Chicago faces steep budget challenges, City Hall is owed billions of dollars it hasn’t been able to collect

More than $6.4 billion in unpaid fees, fines and other debts from companies, people and other entities has piled up since 1990, my colleagues Mitchell Armentrout and Tim Novak report for the Chicago Sun-Times.

The tab, which would cover more than 40% of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $16.77 billion budget, includes administrative hearing debt, parking, speed and red-light camera tickets and unpaid water bills.

Officials say the biggest debts are from a small group of entities — many of which are actually from the suburbs or even outside the Chicago area.

“Collecting really old debt is very difficult,” City Comptroller Chasse Rehwinkel told the Sun-Times. “A lot of it is a function of entities that don’t exist, companies that have dissolved, people who have left the country, people who were involved in fraud. There’s just no way to claw back some of that money.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. CTA and CDOT call for more bus-only lanes and lights that let buses go first

The transit agencies say their new Better Streets for Buses proposal would bring about shorter wait times and more consistency in bus service.

Buses would be able to alert traffic signals to their presence, changing light timing so they can cross intersections before other vehicles.

Upgrades to bus stops are also on the table, including adding more shelters, heating, lighting and signs that track arrival times.

Transit advocates say they appreciated that the plan’s improvements could be made to existing bus stops and routes, but worried about the lack of specifics — including a timeline. [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. How does corruption impact democracy? Take a look at Illinois.

While Illinois residents may be cynical after multiple high-profile corruption trials in recent years, voter interest in state elections has only increased, my colleague Dave McKinney reports for WBEZ.

National research found that those who believed their state government was becoming more corrupt were less likely to vote because they doubted their votes would matter. Illinois appears to have defied that trend.

As McKinney writes: “Looking at just gubernatorial elections between 2002 and 2022, state election records show the number of total ballots cast statewide grew by more than 13%. Likewise, statewide voter registration totals grew by more than 15% during the period. By contrast, population gains in Illinois between 2000 and 2020 stood at slightly more than 3%, U.S. Census data shows.”

But reform advocates say Illinois could do more to stem political wrongdoing in the first place, including tightening pension laws to hold corrupt politicians accountable; banning political contributions from state-related entities; and extending greater powers to the state inspectors general. [WBEZ]

4. Insurers must cover cyclists and pedestrians hit by uninsured drivers in Illinois

The state Supreme Court ruled that a provision of many auto policies violates the Illinois Insurance Code, reports Emmanuel Camarillo for the Chicago Sun-Times. That provision requires a person to be inside a vehicle.

The decision stems from a 2020 hit-and-run crash that injured a 14-year-old boy riding a bicycle. The boy’s father, Fredy Guiracocha, sued his own insurance company, Direct Auto, after it wouldn’t cover the damages to the teenage cyclist.

As Camarillo writes: “Direct Auto denied the claim, citing language in its policy stating that uninsured motorist coverage is only available to insured people who are injured while they are in an insured automobile, and Christopher was on a bicycle during the accident.”

However, the Illinois Supreme Court said “an injured person’s status as an occupant of a vehicle is irrelevant because the statute includes the words ‘any person.’ ” [Chicago Sun-Times]

5. What’s on Chicago’s Spotify Wrapped?

The popular streaming service has released 2023 data on listeners’ music habits — and this year you can see the breakdown by city.

To no one’s surprise, pop superstar Taylor Swift was the world’s most-streamed artist — including in Chicago.

Rap was the city’s favorite genre, though country artist Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” was the most-streamed song.

Other popular artists included Drake, Bad Bunny and Peso Pluma. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, died at 93. [NPR]

  • The U.S. House voted to expel New York Rep. George Santos. [AP]

  • Israel resumed airstrikes on Gaza after its truce with Hamas collapsed. [NPR]

  • An appeals court says Former President Donald Trump isn’t immune from being sued over the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

This week’s episode of WBEZ’s Curious City is a fascinating look at the history of Indian Boundary Park on the Far North Side.

The park’s name, and elements of its design, offer clues about the area’s past but falls short of telling a full or accurate story. For example, despite what you might see in some of the artwork at the park, Native people of the Great Lakes region didn’t wear the Plains-style headdresses.

The history of Indian Boundary Park is part of the U.S. government’s “Federal Indian Policy,” a war waged with ink and parchment that displaced Native American communities. Now there are efforts to dispel myths about Native Americans and movements to correct historical wrongs at the park’s fieldhouse and playground. [Curious City]

Tell me something good ...

What are some of your favorite small businesses?

Matt writes:

“Small business shout for Jack’s West End in LaGrange. This store carries outdoor, casual and retro clothes and other items, mostly for men. The staff is super-friendly, and often includes the owner and her husband (Jack). She started the store to sell ‘stuff Jack likes.’ Super-cool decor with a beer can wall and funky artwork.”

And Erin writes:

“My favorite small business is Mashallah in Pilsen. It’s a boutique that sells hand made jewelry, vintage clothes, and so many cute, unique things. The shop is owned by a Palestinian woman named Mashallah who is a pure joy. I also adore Pilsen Community Books and of course my own small business, a film production company specializing in documentary film, called On The Real Film.”

Thanks for all your responses this week! We couldn’t include them all, but it was great hearing from everyone.

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