Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was expected to detail how the nation’s third-largest city should deal with a $838 million budget deficit when she delivered her first budget address Wednesday morning, Oct. 23, as striking teachers marched through the city’s downtown.
Lightfoot’s speech to the City Council came on the fifth day of canceled classes for Chicago Public Schools students as the Chicago Teachers Union and the district remained at odds over teacher pay, class sizes, and additional staff for schools.
The budgets for the city and the Chicago Public Schools are proposed and approved separately, but Illinois law since 1995 has ensured the city’s mayor has control over the schools’ governing board and its finances.
The same taxpayers also fuel the two budgets, which the city’s mayor must consider, said Michael Belsky, executive director of the Center for Municipal Finance at the University of Chicago.
“(City taxpayers) don’t care if your tax revenue is going up for the city or the school,” Belsky said. “It’s still all going to be paid by them. The mayor in Chicago does have to be sensitive to that.”
Unlike the rest of the state’s school districts where voters elect a governing board, Chicago’s mayor has sole power to appoint the district’s board of education members.
Lightfoot, who said during her campaign that she supports changing state law to give Chicago an elected school board, replaced all seven sitting members with her own picks once elected.
The appointment system also means mayors often wind up facing off with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, whose 25,000 members went on strike Thursday, Oct. 17. Negotiators have met for hours every day but progress has been slow.
Striking teachers and staff have been on the picket line outside schools since Thursday but are ramping up pressure on Lightfoot with Wednesday morning’s march through the city’s downtown streets and planned stops outside City Hall and the downtown offices of state agencies.
Lightfoot has already said her budget proposal will include a tax on solo riders using ride-hailing services in or out of downtown and doubling the tax on food and drinks in restaurants.
In her first State of the City address, Lightfoot said she wanted to avoid raising revenue from those least able to pay or by using strategies that could drive businesses from Chicago.