King, Hairston vote yes on city budget that includes $15 minimum wage and tax levy increase

Ald. King at a press conference following the passage of Mayor Lightfoot’s budget. (Photo courtesy of SEIU Healthcare Illinois)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first city budget passed Tuesday, with Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) voting in favor of it and the corresponding revenue plan.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and the other City Council socialists voted against the budget and the levy.

Both King and Hairston are members of the Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus, whose members split on the budget vote. South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who spoke passionately from the City Council floor against the budget, said King and Hairston would have to answer to Hyde Parkers for their decision.

Taylor said Light understood that her vote was one of principle and that the mayor acted respectfully during the budget process. She does not think her vote will affect their working relationship.

The budget includes a $15 hourly minimum wage for Chicago workers, King’s major legislative priority over the past several months, but it excludes tipped workers, whose minimum wage will still rise $2 to $8.40 an hour in 2021.

King had supported including tipped workers under the $15 minimum, calling tipped wages a carry-over from the days of government-sanctioned racial wage discrimination against workers like the Pullman porters and African American waitresses. But Lightfoot sided with the strong opposition from the city’s restaurant industry and did not support including them.

In her speech before the vote, King said, “We left progressive and structural revenue on the table that could have been used to uplift those who needed it the most. We could have done more public mental health or affordable housing or safety — and even the fight for $15.”

“I see the pushes and the investments that you’re putting in place to right-side the many years of disparity that a number of our communities, mostly Black and Brown, have faced over the years,” King told Lightfoot from the City Council floor.

“While I appreciate and truly, truly respect the view of my younger progressive brothers and sisters that I’m happy to have you on board and proud to work alongside, mayor, I see that you have righted the ship,” King continued. “You turned it in the right direction. The ship hasn’t moved yet, and so it seems as though we haven’t moved. But that alone, righting the ship and turning it around, is huge.”

During debate, Budget Committee Chairwoman Pat Dowell (3rd) said the budget contains no “massive” property tax increase and that it helps close the city’s $838 million deficit through structural changes.

But tax increases remain in the budget. Rideshare trips will face a tax hike, raising $40 million, as will taxes on restaurant food and drinks, raising another $20 million. Through a levy increase, property taxes $18 million, in addition to $32 million the City Council approved earlier to pay off bonds, as reported by the Tribune. Lightfoot said this amounts to around $48 per household.

The Tribune reported that mental health funding is doubled, but the six clinics that closed under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first, unanimously passed budget will remain closed. Libraries will stay open every day of the week, thanks to the property tax levy change. Aldermanic budgets increase by $25,000. The Chicago Police budget increased 7% to $1.7 billion, as reported by CBS 2.

“There is a difference between campaigning and governing, and, Madam President, I think we are moving in the right direction,” Hairston said during debate. “This is a valid process, and I have been here 20 years to see that process. And no, I have not been a rubber stamp.”

She called the budget “patchwork … but it is a budget nonetheless.” After having pointedly told the Herald that she attended all of the Budget Committee’s meetings, she said, “Those who chose not to attend the hearings and then criticize the budget hearings have no credibility with me.”

“Those who negotiated for things and were part of the negotiation team and then turned around and pressed a ‘no’ vote, that’s disingenuous,” Hairston said. “We have no property tax increase. We have the congestion tax, which is a progressive measure. We have the TIF surplus, which is a progressive measure. We have the $15, which is a progressive measure. We have more on mental health, which is a progressive measure. And we have ethics reform, which is also a progressive measure.”

Hairston told the Herald last month that she would not support higher property taxes for her constituents. At her press conference, Lightfoot said the budget gap had been closed through “progressive revenues and smart government efficiencies” and that the budget strengthened “investments for our communities most in need,” all “without a significant property tax increase.”

“They will go up a little bit, but it’s different,” Hairston said after the vote, noting that the 2019 property tax levy was passed before Lightfoot’s inauguration.

After the vote, Taylor said the budget “doesn’t take care of all Chicagoans” but said the process made her respect Lightfoot.

“I just felt like we could do better,” Taylor said. “We’re giving more money to police. We’re not talking about reopening the mental health clinics.” She said the mental health funding increase is going to private providers, not into the public sector.

Andy Buchanan, a spokesman of the Public Health Department, disputed taylor’s statement, saying that out of $9.3 million for mental health care in the budget, $2.4 million is going to current city-run clinics, with other funds going to “non-profit community health centers.”

Nevertheless, the first-term Woodlawn alderman called the process was fair and transparent, to the credit of Lightfoot and Dowell. The mayor, she said, did not personally sweeten the deal to get her vote, and her staff wanted to hear her reasons behind her “no” vote in good faith.

“I respect that, because I feel like if we start there, then we can go on for the next three years with a better budget with some good governance,” Taylor said. She said she was able to ask questions and got answers: “I didn’t like the response to some of them.”

King and Sam Toia, the Illinois Restaurant Association president who personally lobbied against including tipped workers in the $15 minimum wage, both stood with the mayor at her press conference after the vote.

“As I’ve said before, good social policy is good economic policy,” Lightfoot said. “Just as we saw with past measures, such as the fair workweek and fines and fees, the $15 minimum wage will be a transformative measure for our families and provide greater support for our economy.”

King hailed the increase, observing the city’s rising cost of living and arguing that it will generate more spending at local Chicago businesses, “many of which line expanding corridors on the South and West sides.”

Four hundred thousand Chicago workers will benefit from the higher wage, said SEIU Healthcare President Gregory Kelley, who lives in Kenwood. He called the day “a long time coming” and acknowledged the “broader movement of folks that address the needs of working families in their city, state and nation that got us to this point.”

“When this movement for 15 started nearly a decade ago, many folks thought we were crazy,” Kelley said. “They didn’t consider the determination of workers willing to get into the streets to raise their voices and willing to elect legislators and leaders who know when there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed.”

But King lamented tipped workers’ exclusion from the $15 wage but observed that their tipped wage will still increase $2. She said she looks forward to working with Lightfoot and other industry stakeholders on drafting a study of tipped workers’ economic impact on Chicago, which she said will be used to “reevaluate” their exclusion later on.

Later, at a press conference organized by the Raise Chicago coalition of labor unions and activist organizations that backed King through the effort, King said more work would go into educating the public about the need to include tipped workers.

“I don’t think people understand the root of (tipped wages) and why it disproportionately still continues to affect Black and Brown today,” King said. “I think that’s part of the work that we still need to do, that we are willing to do.”

King said equalizing tipped workers’ minimum wage will not have to wait until Lightfoot’s successor is in office.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com