CHICAGO (CBS) — Two weeks before she unveils her 2021 budget plan, Mayor Lori Lightfoot still isn’t willing to say if she’ll be able to avoid a property tax hike or massive layoffs to help plug a $1.2 billion shortfall, but acknowledged “there are nothing but painful choices” awaiting her and aldermen.
One thing Lightfoot knows she can’t count on, however, is financial help from Congress before she lays out her spending plan for next year.
The mayor will present her annual budget address to the City Council on Oct. 21, and has repeatedly said all options are on the table; from furloughs, layoffs, or pay cuts for city employees, to a possible property tax hike, although she has stressed those are both measures of last resort.
“In this dire circumstance where there are nothing but painful choices, everything has to be on the table,” she said.
In a her budget forecast in August, the mayor said more than $780 million of the city’s $1.2 billion budget shortfall for 2021 was the result of tax revenue that has been lost due to the pandemic. The rest comes largely from the city’s growing pension costs.
Lightfoot acknowledged she has been in talks with the labor unions representing city employees about options for cutting costs before resorting to layoffs or furloughs, but has declined to get into specifics ahead of her budget address.
“This is a moment that demands more than just dollars and cents. It’s a moment that will require each of us to step into our truths, and lead with our values of equity and inclusion, and I look forward to the continued conversation with members of the City Council once we formally introduce our proposed budget for 2021,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor has ruled out counting on help from Congress, especially after President Donald Trump announced he would no longer negotiate with House Democrats on a coronavirus relief package until after the election. Democrats had been pushing for a stimulus plan that would provide billions of dollars in funding to help state and local governments make up for lost revenue due to the pandemic.
“It’s not going to happen in time for us to be able to provide a budget, a balanced budget to the City Council. It’s unfortunate,” Lightfoot said. “I hope that I’m wrong about that, because cities and towns, not just in Chicago, but really all across this country that have been dramatically impacted by COVID-19 economic consequences; blue states, red states, purple states. This is a bipartisan issue because it has bipartisan impact.”
Meantime, the mayor also declined to say when Chicago Public Schools would announce a decision on whether students will return to in-person classes or possibly a hybrid model for the second quarter. CPS has started the school year with remote learning for the entire first quarter, which ends in November.
Lightfoot said she remains committed to getting children back in the classroom as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt whatsoever that children learn best, particularly our youngest children, with in-person instruction,” she said.
As for when students and parents can expect an announcement about how schools will operate in the second quarter of the school year, Lightfoot would only say “relatively soon.”