Mayor Lightfoot Takes Listener Questions On 2020 Budget, Teachers Strike
Chicago homeowners would see their property tax bills increase by about an average of $46 next year to cover Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to extend city library hours.
The mayor broke down the numbers Thursday morning during a conversation on WBEZ’s Reset. The added money would cover an $18 million increase in the budget, most of which will cover an additional 113 full time positions in order to keep libraries open on Sundays.
“What we’ve heard from people all over the city is we want more expanded library services and in particular this would be going to hire the additional personnel that we need to have Sunday hours all across the city,” Lightfoot said. “We felt like $46 to the average homeowner was a small — modest increase that most people won’t even feel.”
The additional revenue will also free up money in the city’s general fund that had been used in the past to subsidise the library system.
Lightfoot also defended her plan to raise parking rates downtown for the first time since 2013. That money will go toward covering required payments to the company that leased the rights to the city’s parking meters.
“We have a responsibility under the parking meter deal — dare I say it,” Lightfoot told a caller.
That responsibility is known as the “true-up” cost. It’s what the city must pay the private operator everytime a meter is taken out of service. The 2020 “true-up” payment is projected to be $14 million, the same amount the city anticipates it will receive from the parking rate hike.
Here are a few edited highlights from the mayor’s conversation with Reset host Jenn White.
On where negotiations stand with the CTU and SEIU Local 73
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot: SEIU Local 73, there's really nothing going on. Their leadership and bargaining team effectively told us that they will not bargain with us. They will not reach conclusion until CTU does. So, unfortunately, as a result of that choice that the leadership of that union made, there's really nothing to report because we're really not meeting with them, and that's their choice.
CTU, we continue to meet, but we're not making the kind of progress that we need to be able to bring this strike to resolution anytime soon. They told us both pre-strike and during this strike that their two big issues are class size and staffing. We have given them written counterproposals building on the discussions that have taken place. The ball's in their court, but they haven't responded. We were told late last night, again, that we would actually get a response from them today, but we're still waiting.
On the decision to raise parking rates downtown
Lightfoot: The parking rate hasn't been raised in a number of years. It's a modest increase, but we believe that it's appropriate. We have a responsibility under the parking meter deal, dare I say it, where we have to do what's called a true-up every year. We've spent almost $100 million just in the last four or five years, and we're trying to offset that by having a modest increase in the downtown area during certain hours. So we believe that that was a prudent thing for us to do.
On why a corporate head tax was left out of the budget
Lightfoot: The corporate head tax was ended some years ago, and I think the concern then, and the concern that I have, is not only with whether or not we actually raise those revenues, but the concern is whether or not we'd be driving businesses out of the city. We need to make sure that we have a city that welcomes businesses and their employees, and the concern is that by reimposing a corporate head tax, we would be sending a message to businesses, those employees, that they're not welcome in Chicago. The other concern I have is many Chicagoans commute outside of the city every single day for their employment, and if we impose a corporate head tax, there's nothing to stop those municipalities where our workers work from imposing a head tax on them.
On criticism over the proposed budget for social services
Lightfoot: My promise to the taxpayers of this city is that we would look to close the gap by … looking at ways in which we could make city government money run more effectively without cutting the quality of service, and I think we've done that. Would we like to have way more money for ... every single social initiative that's out there? Yes, of course. But I think we've been smart with the money that we had. We announced today a doubling — a doubling — of the amount of resources that we're devoting to mental health services. We've increased exponentially the amount of money that we're putting toward homelessness and affordable housing and a lot of other issue initiatives that we know are critically important to really uplift and improve the quality of life of people all over the city. And we did that within this framework of a budget deficit of $838 million.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.+
GUEST: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot