Mayor Lori Lightfoot outlines budget proposal, featuring property tax increase, layoffs

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Manuel Martinez/WBEZ)

By Diane Pathieu, ABC7 News

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presented her 2021 budget proposal for Chicago, which includes a property tax increase and layoffs to address the city’s more than $1 billion budget deficit amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Mayor Lightfoot’s $12.8 billion budget plan, property taxes would increase by $94 million and the gas tax will increase by three cents a gallon.

For a home worth $250,000, the property tax increase translates into a $56 increase, Lightfoot’s office said.

2021 Chicago Budget: Read full overview here

“Chicago’s 2021 Budget represents our city’s roadmap toward an inclusive and fiscally responsible recovery from the extensive challenges of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “These decisions were developed through a robust community engagement process, prioritizing the long-term health and stability of our all our families and businesses, and rooted in our shared commitment to expanding opportunity across our entire city. It’s these same values that have guided us throughout this crisis and will continue to carry our great city through the choices we face now, and in the successes that await us in the months and years ahead.”

Lightfoot said her proposal features more than $573 million in savings. Included in that is $106 million in personnel cuts through eliminating vacant positions, layoffs and furloughs.

The cuts mean layoffs for 350 workers and eliminating more than 1,000 vacant positions as well as furlough days.

“While we cannot do nothing, hoping for an election to forecast different, better days ahead, this budget assumes that no layoff notices will be issued until next year, and any layoffs won’t be effective until March 1,” Lightfoot said. “This schedule will allow us to see if there is any new federal stimulus on the horizon. If that happens, then we can make any appropriate pivots at that time.

All non-union workers will also be asked to take five furlough days, with Mayor Lightfoot saying she would take one herself.

Mayor Lightfoot cited down revenues from COVID-19 due in 2020, with a $77.5% decline in the hotel tax and a 49.5% decline in the amusement tax. However, the mayor pointed to studies by the Brookings Institution and Bank of America which she said showing Chicago’s economic recovery is ahead of other big cities.

Additional revenue sources for the budget include $76 million of TIF surplus funding and $30 million form the city’s rainy day fund.

Many of the vacant positions could come from the police department, which currently has 700 sworn, non-exempt vacancies, further straining relations with the union which is negotiating a new contract for the rank and file.

“It’s pretty ridiculous to think you’re going to cut spots on the police budget in this very violent year,” said Chicago FOP president John Catanzara.

A budget watchdog group calls the property tax increase a tough sell during a pandemic.

“You’re putting already beleaguered taxpayers, citizens, people that are fighting to hang on to their homes and their businesses in a much more difficult place,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation.

ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington says there are simply no good options.

“It’s looking like she is going to have to insist on a tax increase, perhaps a small one,” Washington said. “There is no way to get out of this budget crisis without a property tax increase.”

Starting next Monday, there will be a series of public hearings. If any federal stimulus money comes through, the budget can be revisited. It must be approved by December 31.

This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.

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