Brandon Johnson’s first 100 days
The city of Chicago faces a pension crisis, heightened crime and a failing public school system. New Mayor Brandon Johnson has taken no concrete steps to deal with any of it.
When Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson took office on May 15, he inherited numerous challenges plaguing the city.
According to a survey conducted by Echelon Insights on behalf of the Illinois Policy Institute in February, 75% of Chicagoans were dissatisfied with public safety, with 60% dissatisfied with affordability in the city. Just 33% of Chicagoans were satisfied with public education in the city.
Johnson has had 100 days to begin addressing these issues. To date, he hasn’t started seriously tackling any of it.
- Overall crime is up 39% this year.
- Violence against, and committed by, school-age youth has seen historic increases since COVID-19. The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab just reported a 50% increase in murders of youth 17 years and younger since 2019.
- While the number of murders and shootings dropped slightly in 2022, that positive comes with sobering caveats:
- It is in line with a national trend and not a reflection of anything Chicago is doing.
- It has settled at a much higher plateau than where it started.
- Chicago has spent $126 million on police overtime in 2023, according to a WTTW analysis of city records.
- This is ahead of last year, when the city spent a record $210 million on police overtime.
- The bump is because police strength is down by more than 1,700 since before former Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office.
- There are currently over 1,000 police vacancies.
Fewer officers is a major factor in why there’s been an over 50% drop in annual arrests since 2019 and an abysmal clearance rate of only 5% for nonfatal shootings with arrests. The lack of officers is directly to blame for the dramatic increase in the number of high-priority 911 calls for which the Chicago Police Department did not have a squad car available to respond. Chicagoans implicitly know there is a severe officer shortage.
Right now, the city has no plan for rebuilding police strength.
Decades of irresponsible spending and budgeting practices have left Chicago facing a massive budget shortfall as pensions and debt service take up a growing share of the budget and taxpayers are left footing ever-increasing bills. Here’s what Johnson will have to contend with in his first budget proposal:
- Chicago is facing a projected budget shortfall of between $306 million and $951 million for 2024.
- Debt service and pension contributions now make up 42% of the city budget, crowding out services.
- Chicago’s property tax levy has doubled in the past decade to keep up with these growing costs, now totaling more than $1.7 billion annually.
- Despite growing contributions, Chicago has more pension debt – now totaling $49 billion among the four core Chicago systems and the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund – than 44 other states, while pension funding ratios are the worst in the nation and at risk of insolvency.
Johnson needs to find ways to address these budget issues. He promised not to raise property taxes while on the campaign trail. He also pledged to make hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new investments for public schools, affordable housing and public transit. In lieu of property tax hikes, Johnson has proposed $800 million worth of new taxes on tourists, airlines, real estate transfers, employers and more.
Chicago’s failing public schools
It’s no wonder Chicagoans aren’t satisfied with Chicago Public Schools. From declining proficiency to decreasing enrollment to chronic absenteeism, the district is failing students on nearly all metrics:
- Just 20% of all students in third through eighth grades can read at grade-level, and only 15% could perform math proficiently in spring 2022. Minority and low-income students are faring even worse: just 11% of Black students in third through eighth grades are proficient in reading and less than 6% in math, and just 14% of low-income students in third through eighth grades are proficient in reading and 9% in math.
- Nearly 80% of all students in 11th grade failed to read or perform math at grade level. Only 13% of low income 11th grade students could read or perform math at grade level.
- Literacy among third grade students – a marker of a student’s future academic success – is abysmal, with fewer than one-fifth of third grade students reading at grade level, according to the district’s report card with the Illinois State Board of Education. Only 9.5% of Black students, 13.3% of Hispanic students and 10.6% of low-income third grade students can read at grade level.
- Enrollment is declining. CPS enrolled 322,106 students at the start of the 2022-2023 school year, a decline of nearly 10% of its students since 2019.
- Chronic absenteeism is rising. Nearly 45% of students were chronically absent in the 2021-2022 school year compared to 24% in the 2018-2019 school year. Among low-income students, chronic absenteeism hit 49% in the 2021-2022 school year.