Chicago Aldermen Advance Property Tax Increase And Major Borrowing for 2021

Ald. Tom Tunney speaks with reporters after chairing his first zoning meeting
Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney voted against Mayor Lori Lightfoot's revenue and borrowing plans Wednesday. Claudia Morell / WBEZ
Ald. Tom Tunney speaks with reporters after chairing his first zoning meeting
Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney voted against Mayor Lori Lightfoot's revenue and borrowing plans Wednesday. Claudia Morell / WBEZ

Chicago Aldermen Advance Property Tax Increase And Major Borrowing for 2021

The Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee on Wednesday advanced the package of taxes and fees needed to fund Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2021 “pandemic” budget, but none of the votes were unanimous even as the mayor’s office made attempts to win over some aldermen.

Some City Council members just couldn’t stomach the $1.6 billion property tax levy for next year or the sizable borrowing plan proposed to close what had been a projected $1.2 billion deficit. Since most of them aired their grievances the day before during a three-hour hearing, there wasn’t much of a debate Wednesday.

The property tax levy for 2021 passed in a roll call vote of 21 to 12. The amount to be levied is a $93.9 million increase over this year. A significant portion – about $1.3 billion – will cover the city’s annual contribution to its four employee pension funds.

The budget’s revenue ordinance, which comprises all the taxes and fees in Lightfoot’s budget, also advanced on a vote of 21 to 12. It includes a hike in the cloud tax from 7% to 9%; a $.03 increase to the city’s share of the gas tax, to $.08; additional parking meters; new fees on harbor permits; and changes to how the city collects ambulance fees.

The mayor’s plan to restructure debt and borrow more than $1.5 billion for the city’s capital budget and up to $2.3 billion in sales tax-backed bonds also passed Wednesday, on a vote of 23 to 9. It includes money for repairs to city streets and bridges, as well as for the aldermanic menu program. That’s the yearly discretionary allowance each alderman gets to pay for street repairs, lighting and other infrastructure needs.

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, voted no across the board on Lightfoot’s proposed revenue and borrowing plans.

On the borrowing plan, he expressed concern that the Lightfoot administration’s proposal mirrored past deals of her predecessor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“He was heavily criticized for adding to the debt and this seems to be only exacerbating that situation, regardless of what the interest rate is,” Tunney said.

Lightfoot’s chief financial officer, Jennie Bennett, countered that the city’s debt burden as compared to other cities is “right in line.”

Aldermen were mostly concerned with getting a breakdown of how their wards will benefit from the city’s capital budget. Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, jokingly asked Park if voting no on the budget will mean his ward will miss out on those investments. That’s after the mayor reportedly threatened aldermen who might vote against her budget.

The same aldermen who voted against the levy also rejected the mayor’s proposed 2021 revenue package. They included aldermen who represent affluent areas on the Lakefront or downtown and those who represent the Southwest Side, rich with bungalows and single-family homes.

The votes on Wednesday are the first of several scheduled this week.

The Budget Committee meets Thursday to consider the expense side of the ledger, or what’s referred to in City Hall as the “management ordinance.” Any last-minute concessions the mayor has made to whip votes for her pandemic budget will be folded into this ordinance.

The City Council must give final approval to a 2021 budget before the end of the year. Aldermen are set to do that next week.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.

Correction: A previous version misidentified who made Jennie Bennett’s statement.