Here’s what Chicago’s 2022 $16.7 billion budget could mean for you

Chicago budget 2022
Here’s what Chicago’s 2022 $16.7 billion budget, set for a final vote Wednesday, could mean for you Libby Berry / WBEZ
Chicago budget 2022
Here’s what Chicago’s 2022 $16.7 billion budget, set for a final vote Wednesday, could mean for you Libby Berry / WBEZ

Here’s what Chicago’s 2022 $16.7 billion budget could mean for you

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday passed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to spend $16.7 billion in 2022 by a vote of 35 to 15.

The proposal is propped up by nearly $2 billion in federal stimulus funding that allowed the mayor to sweeten her pitch to aldermen with a host of progressive programs and spending on social services, like mental health, housing and environmental initiatives.

The plan closes a $733 million budget deficit, and does so without any major tax or fee increases.

It earned praise from progessive aldermen on the council floor Wednesday.

“This is a year where our grassroots movements and communities who have been struggling on the streets for so long get some of the basics we urgently need,” said Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward. “This budget delivers some wins in environmental health, violence prevention, homeless services, mental health.”

But the plan received pushback and “no” votes from some members of the Progressive and Democratic Socialist Caucuses who said it didn’t go far enough to send money directly to communities. Some conservative members of the council voted against the budget, as well, with some opposing a property tax increase and a cash assistance program for low-income families.

Here’s an overview of how the massive spending plan for 2022 impacts residents directly, for good or bad.

Expect a bump in your property tax bill

An increase to the city’s property tax pie will hit homeowners to the tune of about $38 next year — for those who own a property valued at the average rate of $250,000 — according to budget officials.

The council greenlit a $76.5 million increase to the property tax levy that includes a $23 million increase tied to inflation, about $25 million to pay back money borrowed for the city’s crumbling bridges, roads and sidewalks, and $28.6 million that won’t affect existing homeowners, as it reflects new property being added to the city’s tax rolls next year.

While a $38 increase may sound modest to some, 18 aldermen voted against that portion of the budget, but it still passed.

“I’m not going to vote against my constituents,” said progressive Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th Ward. “The median income in my ward is $25,000. I’m not going to vote to raise property taxes. We had an opportunity to do something right and again it’s crumbs and cakes.”

Ald. Silvana Tabares, 23rd Ward, also voted against the property tax increase and the budget as a whole.

“How are we going to continue raising property taxes in a pandemic year?” she said earlier this week. “I don’t want to raise taxes on the backs of homeowners, like those in my ward.”

Still, opposition to the mayor’s property tax increase was milder than last year, when a $94 million increase translated to about $56 for owners with a property valued at $250,000.

You’ll pay for speeding, but can get your city sticker fine dropped

A program that fines drivers $35 for going 6 to 9 miles over the speed limit in speed-camera zones will remain in place next year under the budget passed Wednesday.

That’s despite calls from some aldermen to take a closer look at the program and explicit proposals to boost that ticketing threshold to 10 mph.

“I think we really need to have a serious conversation about it,” said Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, at a committee hearing on the budget last week. The alderman said he got a preliminary map of where Chicagoans are getting ticketed.

“Each of the aldermen should take a look at these cameras, and how it affects every community. My first glance at it — it particularly affects Black and brown communities.”

But, the mayor is tempering that stick with a carrot — a ticket debt relief program that will forgive violations for people who forget to renew their license plate or city sticker, as long as they buy the missing sticker. The administration hasn’t said how soon people would need to buy the sticker in order to get their ticket forgiven.

In addition, “low-income” Chicagoans can have old ticket debt forgiven if they pay off all tickets received within the past three years; those Chicagoans might also qualify to have their ticket costs cut by 50% so that “it’s more proportionate to their income,” according to the mayor. People must make less than $38,640 annually to qualify, according to the mayor’s budget office.

You may have more access to mental health services

The city is promising more services for teenagers and longer hours at its public mental health clinics. In a compromise with the council’s Progressive Caucus, the mayor’s office agreed to tack on $6 million to its mental health spending plan to fund nearly 30 new positions at the city’s five mental health clinics.

The move falls short of earlier demands by progressives to reopen the six public mental health clinics that were shuttered under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, who chairs the council’s Democratic Socialist Caucus, called the additional spending “unprecedented.”

He and Rodriguez Sanchez credited the work of progressive activists and aldermen who pushed for the $6 million increase.

“Our public mental health clinics are a fundamental part of this effort and for the first time in 10 years, there’s meaningful investments. … We didn’t get any clinics reopened, but we got 29 permanent positions to support the work of our clinics.”

Your garbage cans may finally get replaced, your trees trimmed

Officials at the Department of Streets and Sanitation promised to work through a backlog of 20,000 requests from residents for garbage and recycling cans “by early 2022” using $900,000 in funding the department pushed for during the budget process.

And in another compromise with aldermen, the mayor added to her budget a plan to increase the number of Streets and Sanitation crews to 30 — which will help the city work through its long standing backlog of tree-trimming requests.

In a press release announcing that addition, the mayor’s office nodded to switching from a complaint-based system to an area-based grid system that’s similar to garbage collection. Tree-trimming requests would be handled by zones, instead of individual complaints, something numerous aldermen expressed support for during budget hearings.

5,000 low-income families may get direct cash assistance

Low-income families who’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible to apply for a direct assistance program that sends them $500 a month for one year, though the city hasn’t yet defined the specific qualifications for the program.

That direct cash assistance will come from a $31.5 million pot of money and help 5,000 families.

The program has faced pushback from the city council’s Black Caucus, which has argued the city should execute a reparations program for descendants of enslaved ancestors before moving forward with cash assistance.

However, Black Caucus chair Ald. Jason Ervin told reporters Monday the cash assistance program’s inclusion in the overall budget will not prevent him from voting “yes,” nor would it influence his message to his caucus.

“We’re talking about $30 million over $16 billion dollars,” he said.

Some conservative aldermen, including Tabares, oppose the program and its inclusion in the budget. Tabares, who voted against the overall budget, said “the jobs are out there,” and giving direct cash to families will not help the economy.

Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.