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Mayor Brandon Johnson's first budget easily passes Chicago City Council

Mayor Brandon Johnson's first budget easily passes Chicago City Council
Mayor Brandon Johnson's first budget easily passes Chicago City Council 02:27

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Brandon Johnson's first budget plan sailed to easy approval on Wednesday, despite concerns from some alderpersons that it earmarks only $150 million to fund assistance for migrants in 2024.

The City Council voted 41-8 to approve the mayor's $16.6 billion spending plan for 2024. The no votes came from Alds. Anthony Beale (9th), Marty Quinn (13th), Raymond Lopez (15th), David Moore (17th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Brendan Reilly (42nd), and Jim Gardiner (45th), most of whom are among the council's more conservative members.

The council also voted 40-9 to approve various taxes and fees that will fund the budget, with Ald. Felix Cardona (31st) joining the eight who voted against the spending plan in opposing how to pay for it.

After his budget passed, Johnson announced that state and county leaders on Thursday plan to unveil plans to provide "new investments to meet the needs of this humanitarian crisis."

"I am grateful that the county and the state have heard our advocacy – their commitment to fund this mission. My plan has always been very clear: to create a system of care in a responsible way," Johnson said.

Although the mayor did not specify how much funding that would mean to help the city provide housing and other services to newly arrived migrants, Johnson said the investments would help the city establish a 60-day limit on shelter stays for asylum seekers, and increase the number of personnel on the ground where migrants are arriving in Chicago to assist with intake. 

Johnson also said that any newly arrived migrants in Chicago who don't want to stay in the city will be given assistance reuniting with relatives or sponsors outside the city. In addition, the city plans to crack down on bus companies that disregard city curfews, loading and unloading rules, or designated arrival locations when bringing migrants into Chicago.

"Above all, we are treating our new neighbors with compassion, because it is the humane thing to do, because with support they can become productive members of our communities," Johnson said.  

Johnson has acknowledged the $150 million set aside in the budget to provide housing and other assistance to thousands of asylum seekers in Chicago is not enough to cover all of the city's expected costs in 2024, but has said his administration will continue to pressure the state and federal government to provide additional funding.

That wasn't enough to appease the mayor's most vocal critics. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said, with the city currently spending approximately $40 million a month on migrants, the mayor's budget will cover less than four months of expenses.

"That gets you through four months. So what are we going to do come April, when we run out of money? What are we going to do? Hope and pray that the federal government gives us enough money? Hope and pray that the state gives us money?" Beale said.

Beale predicted the City Council would have to approve a major tax hike next year to make up the difference, noting 2024 is an election year when state and federal lawmakers will be reluctant to increase funding for the migrant crisis.

"That's the reality that we're facing coming down through the near future when our money runs out," Beale said. "We're not doing anything fiscally responsible to plug the hole going forward, and we're spending migrant money like a madman."

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), who said he is the child of Irish immigrants, and one of seven children who grew up in a one-income household, said his parents "taught us to love everybody, but they also taught us to be fiscally responsible."

He said the city needs to rethink its strategy for helping migrants who are already here before planning to spend more on efforts to continue welcoming even more asylum seekers.

"For the safety of the over 20,000 migrants that are already here in the city of Chicago, and the safety of our residents that are already here, we need to pump the brakes, and say we need to take a bigger look at this and what we are doing, and we need to be fiscally responsible with our taxpayers' money," he said.

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) said every member of the City Council is concerned about the migrant crisis, but said the city can't be expected to bear the cost of supporting thousands of asylum seekers on its own. She said all 50 alderpersons need to pressure both the federal government and the Illinois General Assembly to provide federal and state funding to help alleviate the city's costs.

"We are here to meet the moment, and I'm confident that we will," she said.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said he is confident the city's efforts to help asylum seekers will ultimately boost the economy, by bringing them into the workforce once they obtain work permits.

"Our new neighbors, as much as they are a challenge more than a crisis, I believe they will bear out to be an opportunity for our city. What they are going to contribute to our city, to our neighborhoods, to our schools, to our economic corridors, it cannot be overstated. I really do believe the investment that we are making in our new neighbors now is going to bear out tenfold," he said. "So I'm really proud of what we're doing."

Ald. Bill Conway (34th), who has been among the mayor's most vocal critics for his handling of the city's migrant crisis said Johnson needs to work closer with alderpersons before opening shelters in their wards.

"It is no secret that this issue is tearing the city apart," he said. "This is a major humanitarian crisis, and we need to work together to solve it. … We need more collaboration, and most of us in this body want to help. We all need to work together to solve this."

Nonetheless, Conway said he was supporting the 2024 budget plan, praising the mayor for not raising property taxes, while still providing more funding for the Chicago Police Department, and reopening two city-run mental health clinics.

Despite alderpersons' concerns over funding for migrants, the mayor's budget plan won easy approval, in large part because he kept his campaign promise not to raise property taxes.

Johnson was able to avoid a property tax hike or other tax increases by declaring a surplus of tax increment financing dollars totaling approximately $400 million, with $49.5 million of that going to the city's coffers, and the rest going to other government bodies, including the Chicago Public Schools.

But Johnson's reliance on that TIF surplus, as other mayors have done to balance the budget, faces criticism from government watchdog groups and others, because it's a one-time revenue bump.

As part of his effort to win support from the City Council, Johnson also agreed to add funding to his budget plan to provide a fourth full-time staffer for all 50 alderpersons, rather than requiring them to pay for extra staff through their expense accounts.

The mayor also provided $500,000 to fund a new subcommittee to study how Chicago can provide reparations to the city's descendants of enslaved African Americans, and another $5 million to create a new Office of Re-Entry to help people returning from jail or prison find jobs, housing, counseling, and other support.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) praised the mayor for creating the new Office of Re-Entry to help meet the needs of people who were formerly incarcerated, and hopefully keep them from ending up back in jail or prison.

"When you help those folks to sustain themselves and get themselves back on track, you help the whole society," Burnett said.

Johnson's budget plan also will relaunch the Department of Environment eliminated by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011; create a new Department of Technology and Innovation by once again separating that office from the Department of Fleet and Facility Management, after they were merged under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot; and add $4.8 million for additional mental health services – including opening two of the six mental health clinics shuttered by Emanuel, though doing so in existing Chicago Department of Public Health facilities.

The mayor's budget also would slide 389 sworn positions inside the Chicago Police Department to civilians, allowing officers to be on the street more. CPD also will create 100 new detective positions, 440 "promotional opportunities," and boost the number of training officers.

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