During a Nov. 3 town hall meeting on the next fiscal year’s budget held at Malcolm X College, the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus fielded concerns and requests from roughly 60 community members.
Those who spoke during the meeting urged the aldermen to provide financial aid for parents who need daycare, spend more money on workforce development, give incentives for people to clean up vacant lots and invest in healthcare in under-served communities like West Garfield Park.
When Richard M. Daley was mayor, he held town hall-style budget hearings every year, even as critics questioned whether they hearings had any impact on the budgets that got approved. Mayor Rahm Emanuel followed the tradition during his first year in office, in 2011, but he didn’t hold them over the next three years. He held two in 2015 before unveiling the budget proposal, but none this year.
The City Council did hold its own public hearings in all those years, but they were usually scheduled in the late morning or in the early afternoon, when most residents were working. This year, the meeting took place at the tail end of the Nov. 1 City Council meeting, which started at 10:00 a.m.
Over the past few years, the Progressive Caucus held its own hearings in the evenings to fill the gap. This year, they held it at 6:30 p.m. Most of the aldermen that were part of the caucus attended, but the only West Side caucus member, Ald. Chris Taliaferro, was absent. Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) were absent as well.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), summarizing some of the Progressive Caucus’s goals this year, touted proposed ordinance that would introduce tougher requirements for spending Tax Increment Financing funds.
He also said that the caucus is trying to implement a Storm water Stress Tax on big box stores and other businesses where storm water tends to accumulate in large quantities, regulate rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, and work with legislators to push through laws and advance constitutional amendments necessary to create taxes on companies and wealthier residents — such as a graduated income tax, a financial transactions tax and a corporate income tax.
“We have proposed, over the last five years, several different approaches to finding sources of revenue to pay for city expenses and making sure we’re doing the right thing by [residents],” Waguespack said.
The Progressive Caucus aldermen will compile residents’ feedback during the meeting and try to amend the budget before the entire council votes on it.
Several West Side residents offered their opinions during the town hall discussion.
Jamila Wilson, of Austin, urged aldermen to push for something to help families cover childcare costs. She said that she operates Bright Start Home Daycare, located at 5044 W Superior St., and she said that the recent changes in Illinois Department of Health’s Chicago Care Assistance Program, which provides childcare subsidies for low-income families, meant that five out of ten families who sent their kids to her could no longer afford to do it.
“Two parents were denied because they were over the [raised income limit] by $20, and three parents were denied who were trying to go to school, but they no longer qualified,” Wilson said in an interview after the meeting. She urged aldermen to fill the gap.
Austin education activist Dwayne Truss, who fought against the 2013 school closings in the community, argued that citizens should have more involvement in the budget planning process.
“It’s the mayor who prepares the budget,” he said. “I’d love to see, at least in my part of town, more ward-driven discussions on the budget.”
And while Truss said he supports adding more police officers, he noted that the measure isn’t enough.
“With the increase of policing, I don’t see the priority on how we redirect individuals from that type of behavior,” Truss said.
Sel Dunlap, a long-time North Lawndale activist who has been working to clean up the community’s vacant lots and encourage others to do the same, suggested that the aldermen looking into some way to offer college credits to residents who agree to keep a lot clean for three years.
“Cleaning up is the least expensive tool toward economic development,” Dunlap said.