Progressive Chicago aldermen will call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot Thursday to get rid of hundreds of Police Department vacancies in her budget, eliminate the controversial ShotSpotter program and direct tens of millions more dollars to protect affordable housing, help protect tenants from evictions and replace lead water pipes as part of a package of proposed amendments to her 2022 city spending plan.
Those budget amendments will be introduced to the City Council as the body prepares to vote in upcoming weeks on Lightfoot’s proposed $16.7 billion budget for next year.
It remains to be seen whether the aldermen can get Lightfoot to agree to make changes, or whether many of their colleagues will join in passing them. Thanks largely to nearly $2 billion in federal recovery funds, the mayor was able to spread around money and avoid large tax and fee increases or painful cuts in her 2022 proposal, in spite of the huge city funding shortfall exacerbated by the pandemic.
Lightfoot already calls for spending considerable funds on community programs like housing protection, mental health services and a proposal to pay 5,000 low-income Chicago families a monthly $500 stipend for a year. She may not need to make many changes in order to get a majority of the council to back her plan.
North Side Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, said it’s “always a possibility” that Lightfoot will decline to alter her budget if she thinks she has plenty of City Council support already.
But Hadden said it’s also worthwhile to try to use the opportunity presented by the federal aid to do as much as possible to help struggling Chicagoans.
There are now about 900 vacant sworn police officer positions, and police Superintendent David Brown told aldermen during his department’s budget hearing earlier this month that the city can hire and train at most 600 new officers in 2022, Hadden noted.
So why not zero out the 300 vacancies that won’t be filled in 2022, she said. Progressive aldermen estimate the city could save $50 million by doing so, money that could be used to help fund a proposed $70 million earmark to protect existing single-room occupancy apartment buildings in need of maintenance and repairs, Hadden said.
Lightfoot announced $75 million in her budget for developers to build new affordable units, but Hadden said it’s much more cost-effective to preserve those that already exist.
“There are a lot of great things that were presented to us this year that align with our priorities to help our residents,” Hadden said of Lightfoot’s spending proposal. “We want to be able to work with the administration to look at what we have the ability to actually accomplish next year, and really focus the funds we have on those initiatives.”
Regardless of the logistic reality of hiring and training new officers, however, it would be politically difficult for the mayor and many aldermen to support a budget that calls for fewer cops at a time when rising violent crime has become a crisis for the city.
There’s also a progressive proposal to do away with the ShotSpotter devices that police officials say help them pinpoint the locations of shootings. Critics contend the equipment allows officers to justify profiling Black and Latino residents and it provides limited information on gun crimes.
The city extended its contract with ShotSpotter this year for three more years, at a cost of about $8 million per year.
Another proposed amendment would set aside an additional $50 million to replace lead water service lines across the city.
And the group wants $15 million more for violence prevention, beyond the $45 million the mayor has set aside for “intervention programming and supports for community groups.”
The Progressive aldermen also will propose a new City Council subcommittee to track spending of federal aid and money the city has borrowed to jump-start Chicago’s recovery.
“Because otherwise it’s just numbers on a page,” said Northwest Side Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st. “We need to have real transparency and accountability. It’s on us to make sure this money makes it into the hands of Chicagoans.”
Lightfoot might not need a handful of progressive aldermen’s votes to pass her package, La Spata said. But he hopes he and his colleagues can perhaps prevail upon her to go further anyway, because he thinks she wants to “do something transformative with this budget. Let’s really do something powerful with it.”