More taxes and fines in 2021
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on October 21 a property tax hike to balance the $1.2 billion budget deficit worsened by the pandemic—and will tie it to inflation, meaning that property tax bills would go up every year. A study by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas released the same week found that in the past twenty years taxes on residential Chicago properties have skyrocketed 164 percent, although the cost of living has only risen 36 percent. Lightfoot also proposed laying off 500 public sector workers and eliminating 1,900 vacant city positions, including more than 500 Chicago Police Department posts. The city is also counting on an 11 percent increase from fines, forfeitures, and penalties, compared to last year. Among those fines are traffic citations from ramped-up “speed enforcement” that will ticket drivers going more than 6 mph over the speed limit instead of the current 10 mph max. The City Council’s Progressive Caucus called the mayor’s budget “regressive.”
Second wave of COVID
Mandated closures of schools and businesses brought about a significant drop in COVID-19 cases over the summer, but infections and hospitalizations are rising again (see our online tracker of Chicago deaths due to the novel coronavirus). Last week, Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot publicly disagreed with one another about whether restaurant and bar openings helped cause the increase in COVID infections. On October 27, prompted by the upswell of infections in Chicago—where the seven-day rolling average of positive test rates is at 7.4 percent as of this writing—Pritzker announced a ban on indoor seating at bars and restaurants, as in phase three, scheduled to take effect Friday, October 30. (Similar restrictions to suburban Cook County went into effect.) On PBS NewsHour that evening, Lightfoot again broke with Pritzker, saying she would continue to “engage” the governor on closures, and that metrics other than the rolling average (such as hospitalizations) should be considered. Data from the Cook County Medical Examiner shows the largest surge has been on the Southwest Side, where majority-Latinx ZIP codes show that one in eighteen residents has tested positive.
Jail rejects judicial voting guides
Earlier this month, South Side Weekly teamed up with Injustice Watch to help design and print their judicial election guide. The “Check Your Judges” guide, which was included in our October 14 issue, is a ten-page tip sheet for voters confused, as so many are, by the lengthy and obscure judicial retention section on the ballot. Judges are, in many cases, the only agents of the state a citizen might come in contact with, and have the power to make decisions that can radically affect a person’s life. With early voting privileges extended to Cook County Jail for the first time, Injustice Watch organized a campaign to get the guide to eligible voters inside the jail. One thousand copies were printed and mailed to the jail, after getting clearance from the Sheriff’s Office—only to have them be rejected as “contraband” by a worker in the mailroom. Even if one accepts, as Injustice Watch has, the Sheriff’s Office explanation that it was a simple mistake by an ill-informed staffer, the debacle lays bare once again the absurdity of expecting a dysfunctional bureaucracy in which even the most basic communications can fail to be capable of administering any form of “justice.” With less than a week to go before the election, IJ says it will re-send the guides, but for many voters it’s already too late.