STATEMENT FROM ALD. VASQUEZ REGARDING THE CITY OF CHICAGO 2024 BUDGET VOTE
These are pivotal times for our great City of Chicago. In a time of opportunity, but also of crisis, it is the responsibility of this council, city departments, and our new Mayor to envision a path forward that serves all Chicagoans. The public understands our challenges and feels them deeply. They want to have the confidence in their elected government to deliver on the promise of Chicago’s potential. It is in that spirit, and in full understanding of our responsibility to the public, that I will vote yes in support of this 2024 Budget.
Whether it is reimagining public safety solutions that break us out of generational cycles of harm and violence, balancing the challenge of new arrivals looking to build a better life with the needs of families who have been here for generations and still face poverty and disenfranchisement, or thinking about our city’s global responsibility to protecting the future of our planet, this 2024 Budget is the first step, the pivot that will lead us to a more progressive path forward.
I would like to commend your choice in leadership Mayor Johnson. Budget Director Guzman, CFO Jill Jaworski, and Comptroller Rehwinkel showed not only the passion and work ethic necessary for this endeavor, but also the focus on improving our operations that I believe are needed desperately in city government. The work that Director Guzman and team did on the front end to hear the different Caucus and Alder priorities helped inform much of the direction of this 2024 Budget, which in turn helped facilitate negotiations once the budget was introduced.
I also very much appreciate that Director Guzman and I share a vision for a year-round aldermanic budget workshop to help develop ideas––not just react to challenges––and become more forward thinking fiscal stewards for our city. Thank you for your leadership, Director Guzman.
I’d also like to thank Chairman Jason Ervin for his leadership in the Budget Hearings. You had some big shoes to fill after Chairwoman Dowell’s masterful run last term. You rose to the occasion by finding ways to consolidate department hearings to make them more efficient, digging in to follow up on points raised by members of this Council, and fearlessly holding to account those who could have come better prepared. It showed a responsibility to the role, but also a deep care of the process, and I want to thank you for bringing your full self to these hearings.
Mayor Johnson, I don’t believe the hand that you have been dealt, just six months into your term as Mayor, can be understated. Those of us who began our political lives in the last term felt the tension of being newly electeds one year in, as we faced a global pandemic. As challenging as it was for us, we found our path forward together.
You don’t have the luxury we had of having that first year in our positions without a crisis. Instead, from your first day on the job, you were forced to face the true scale of a crisis that was on the horizon at the end of Mayor Lightfoot’s term, but that we truly wouldn’t understand until May of this year and every day since.
The challenge of 20,000 new arrivals––of mothers, fathers and children fleeing violence and seeking refuge in our city, just like many of our parents + grandparents did––presents the kind of humanitarian challenge that defines generations. It is a moment that demands the resolve of true, principled leadership that recognizes the humanity in all of us.
At the same time, it has also made painfully clear the inequity that our city has been plagued by since its inception: the segregation and marginalization of our Black siblings here in Chicago. We have long lived in a nation and a system that pits one group against the other, fighting for resources, in a zero sum race to the bottom. I commend you, Mayor, for not accepting that premise and instead working to address the needs of all to the best of a city’s ability in this budget.
In this budget we see a substantial amount, $150M, appropriated towards the migrant mission. While we can all admit that that number isn’t enough, it does show a commitment to finding solutions rather than to ignoring the problem, while acknowledging that more support is needed by our Federal and State partners. Chicagoans can stand proudly, knowing that when asked to embody the values this nation purports to champion, we, unlike nearly every other city in the union, didn’t hesitate, or flinch away from our responsibility to other human beings who come to us seeking help.
Nor did we forsake our responsibility to those communities who were already suffering from disinvestment before this current crisis. This budget, in recognizing and addressing the historical inequity in our city’s investments, centers those who need our support most, knowing that a rising tide lifts all boats—and that when we rise, we do so shoulder to shoulder, as one people.
This budget establishes the Office of Reentry, strengthens the Office of Labor Standards, and invests funds to establish a Reparations Commission and Subcommittee, as well as the Treatment not Trauma and the Peacebook Ordinances. These steps are tangible, progressive, equitable solutions to the problems we face. Instead of repeating the failed strategies and rhetoric of the past, this budget jettisons us forward by addressing the causes of poverty, of violence and criminality, of homelessness and trauma at their roots, rather than treating symptoms.
This budget also re-establishes the Department of Environment, a win for our city and our planet. This is a measure that many of us fought for, unsuccessfully, last term. This term, this goal was achieved without a fight, and in a true spirit of collaboration. There is more work to do, but in this budget, the seed has been planted.
Now, in my time in government, I have strived to operate fairly and independently, and in full transparency, there are some concerns in this budget that I would be remiss not to mention.
There is what I believe to be an over-reliance on surplussing TIFs, and a lack of structural revenue in this budget that I fear will lead to larger deficits and tougher budgets to come.
I do believe that the CPI-indexed tax increases that passed last term should have continued in this budget, as it is better to have incremental increases rather than larger, more unpredictable increases to fill larger accumulated deficits in future years. I do not believe it is the most responsible path forward, especially as we have yet to identify other structural revenue sources.
I am also concerned about the unaccountable spend on the Police Budget, which currently takes up over 40% of the corporate fund. This budget not only continues the trend, increases it to over $2 Billion dollars, when factoring in the appropriations related to Police in the Office of Public Safety Administration, Fleet and Facility Management, and other departments. When we have 36 city departments and only one takes up 40% of the corporate fund, I do find it irresponsible to increase that department’s budget without an independent forensic audit of how that money is spent and how effective its operations are.
In talking to our officers on the ground, who take on some of the hardest, most dangerous work in government, even they don’t see the results of that spend. We fail those who put their lives on the line by failing to do our due diligence in ensuring that the dollars we appropriate towards public safety are spent effectively. My hope is that in advance of future budgets, we engage in the necessary work of auditing the Chicago Police Department to ensure that it is as effective and well-managed of a resource as our city and taxpayers deserve.
We have much work to do, but I do want to thank you for negotiating in good faith, as the negotiations I was directly involved in led to improvements in direct services to the neighbors of the 40th Ward and across town: among others, the re-establishment of a Department of Technology and Information, an increase of positions in the City Clerk’s Office, and an increase in ward office staff to every ward in the City of Chicago, as well as work towards a commitment to Reparations. Thank you Mayor Johnon and team, for working with us to make those necessary changes.
By modernizing how our city works in every department and in the City Clerk’s office, we make government more convenient, more efficient, and therefore more effective, which benefits us all. By increasing the staff in each office, we improve that level of service for the constituents who pay our salaries. We deliver better for the people we serve everyday. This is even more important given the changing nature of that work, as we have dealt with more trauma and crisis than the generations of Alders who came before us. This government belongs to the people, and it is our duty to ensure that the delivery of service as well as the constituent experience is constantly improving and held to the highest standards. It’s what our people deserve, and I thank you and your team for engaging in the good faith negotiations that led to those improvements.
As we consider the work left unfinished, I ask that, in future budgets, we invest more directly in the organizations that address Gender Based Violence, rather than appropriating those funds to the police department, that we invest in true and meaningful Language Access for all of our neighbors, and that we find structural revenue to keep us on a responsible fiscal path forward.
Next year, I also hope you’ll consider spending time to dissect Finance General spending, as called for by myself, civic accountability groups and COFA. I’m sure we share the stance that we alders deserve those details, just as the public deserves a deeper understanding of what we choose to do with the tax dollars we are entrusted with.
While there is always more work to do, I believe this is a budget that all of us can be proud of, especially given the challenges a brand new administration tackles during the same time as it was being developed. It forges a solid and intentional path forward that centers the humanity of all the Chicagoans that we serve, and I’m proud to vote in support of it.
Yours in Service and Community,
Andre Vasquez—Alderperson, 40th Ward