I wrote a few weeks ago about the two major crises that Mayor Brandon Johnson must deal with in order to take on his massive new job. It’s about lowering the temperatures for what could be an extremely hot summer in the city, and finding resources to house, feed and otherwise help the refugees and immigrants who are now crammed into city police stations and any other places available.
Johnson has made a good start in both areas. He visited one of the police stations and highlighted the city’s commitment towards helping those who are in need. Johnson also hired an insider with experience to act as temporary police chief while a review committee vetted candidates for the permanent position.
But I would have been remiss if I had not mentioned the third crisis, which is brewing: city finances. Johnson’s scores are not as impressive.
Johnson failed to retain the team of his predecessor Lori Lightfoot, but Annette Guzman is highly regarded for her tenure as Cook County’s Budget Chief. Johnson could have avoided the City Council’s chairmanship race, but his choice of Pat Dowell as the head of the influential Committee on Finance is well-considered. Dowell has an excellent reputation as a seasoned professional with a level-headed approach. She is also not afraid to speak her mind. It’s a great combination.
Johnson’s friends in the Chicago Teachers Union, and other progressive interests, did him no favours by laying off the majority of police officers in a department that was already depleted.
It’s difficult to know how to start a criticism of the plan, which is so poorly designed and counterproductive. We can say that the plan is so ill-designed and counterproductive that it’s hard to know where to begin a critique.
Team Johnson claims that this plan is based upon but dramatically increases the $800 million tax hike he made during his election campaign. Some people are suspicious and think the plan is a big test balloon or an attempt to gain political cover for Johnson when he announces something more moderate. By not ruling such moves out, it is unclear whether Johnson will be the mayor of New York City or if he’s training to become a professor of socialist economy in the future.
Johnson’s next move is a given. It was to not interfere and stay out of the spotlight as the Illinois General Assembly passed two bills that, according the recently-departed Chicago Chief Finance Officer Jennie Huang Bennett will increase the city’s unfunded liabilities by more than $3 billion, and cost taxpayers $55 million annually.
Johnson could have convinced Springfield to postpone action to give him more time to examine whether the costly measure was really needed to fix the flaws in pension benefits for employees hired after January 1, 2011 – so-called “Tier 2-employees”. He would not have had to look any further than Christina Pacione Zayas, his deputy chief of Staff, who is also one of the principal sponsors of the bill. Didn’t happen. The unions wanted to pay the bill. Johnson will either have less money for his long-promised investments in poor neighborhoods to combat crime, or he will increase the list of tax increases (see above).
One step forward and another back. The next few years will be very interesting at City Hall.