CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered her 2023 budget proposal on Monday, and whether it was a good-news city budget or smoke and mirrors depends on whom you ask.
As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, the mayor’s 40-minute budget proposal sounded more like a campaign speech than a budget breakdown. This was not surprising, being that next year is an election year.
But the takeaway, for the most part, is that the city is in a good fiscal spot. But not everyone agrees.
“Our city is as strong and resilient as ever before,” Mayor Lightfoot said as she presented the budget to the City Council Monday.
Mayor Lightfoot painted a rosy economic picture for 2023. It is how she began her 40-minute speech – recapping what she has done since taking office, and officially announcing she not longer wants to raise property taxes next year.
Lightfoot said $260 million more than projected in revenue – due to a stronger-than-expected post-pandemic recovery – is the reason for the about-face. But considering this is an election year, some of her critics are casting doubts.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) called the budget a stunt.
“I think the budget has been padded. I think projections are being over-inflated.” Beale said. “What’s going to happen is after the election – win or lose – if you lose, then it’s the next person’s problem to deal with. If you win, then you come back and do a mid-year adjustment to the budget.”
For his part, City Council Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd), said he does not think the budget plan is “a huge political lift.”
Waguespack said property taxes on new homes remain. He and Budget Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) call the budget proposal promising – but they want a closer look.
“I think people will want to really take apart the increases in public safety – how that money is going to be utilized by the Police Department,” Dowell said. “What are we getting from that?”
The mayor is proposing an additional $100 million go to public safety – to be used, in part, for the purchase of new helicopters and police cars.
“I’ll be looking for what we’re going to do with crime,” said Ald. Sophia King (4th). “It’s out of control, obviously, and so I’ll be looking at the budget to get to that priority.”
Other new investments would include $10 million to improve the city’s information technology systems, $5 million for a program helping migrants who are being bused to the city – and perhaps most significantly, a $242 million pension payment over and above what is owed, which Lightfoot said will save the city billions.
Laurence Msall, the president of the nonpartisan watchdog group The Civic Federation, likes what he sees.
“Many of these things should help to improve the credit rating of the city, which should bring down the cost of borrowing – which should free up money for other things,” Msall said.
The mayor also wants to set aside $3 million to create a Tiny Homes project, and she wants to create a new Office of Climate and Environmental Equity.
Of course, everything has to be reviewed and voted upon by the full City Council – which will be happening in the coming weeks.