Despite costing $15 million, Lightfoot’s debt relief package moves to entire city council
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to alleviate misdemeanors and stop suspending driver’s licenses for no-trip violations will cost cash-strapped Chicago $15 million in annual revenue, aldermen announced Monday. .
Over time, the mayor’s top aides hope that the losses associated with the plan put forward by the city council’s finance committee will disappear and that the plan will become ‘revenue neutral’ as more motorists sign up to payment plans they can afford.
But at least initially, a city already struggling to close an $838 million deficit will cost itself $15 million in annual revenue.
These losses include:
• $7.5 million by ending the practice of doubling city sticker tickets from $200 to $400 after late fees. The city will also halt the process of issuing tickets for the same day or consecutive days in the event of non-compliance. Motorists convicted of having an expired or missing city sticker or driving with an expired license plate will have 24 hours to remedy the violation before they can be hit again.
• $4.2 million by ending driver’s license suspensions for non-travel offences. Currently, more than 69,000 driver’s licenses are in a “suspended state” for non-payment of fines and fees, officials said. About 57,000 will be eligible for reinstatement.
• $3.3 million by providing various forms of debt relief. The mayor’s plan calls for the creation of a universal six-month payment plan that includes lower down payments and more time to pay motorists in financial difficulty. Fraudsters whose vehicles are started would also be eligible to request a 24-hour extension to pay their fines in full or be granted a payment plan.
Several aldermen wondered aloud about the compliance consequences of essentially becoming a permissive parent.
“If someone had a ticket and they get another one, they can just add it to the payment plan [again and again]… At some point there’s a little tough love [needed]. We have to stop,” Ald said. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Thompson held firm, even after a top mayoral adviser argued that the city had “an obligation to educate people on how to get out of this cycle of debt.”
“It’s not a cycle of indebtedness. It is a chronic violation of the law. The only reason their debt is growing is because they keep getting tickets and we don’t do anything to stop them. We allow them,” Thompson said.
“I understand that some people find it difficult to pay for this. But residents in my community are struggling to pay increased property tax and increased fees and fines. They obey the law and pay their debts… We have to look at those who pay their debts and not burden them with this additional cost.
West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28)e) agreed that driver’s license suspensions should remain in the city’s arsenal.
“I just think the fact that you’re totally taking this off the table — for the law-abiding people — it’s unfair to them,” Ervin said.
“I understand the mayor’s objective… But at some point it may be necessary.”
Aldus. George Cardenas (12e) also said he was uncomfortable signing a plan to go further without “some limit” on the amount of debt that will be tolerated.
“If we’re going to keep adding debt and debt on top of these payment plans for these people, I’m not comfortable with that. If you want to help them, I’m with you. But this city has to work. This town needs revenue,” Cardenas said.
Aldus. Michael Scott Jr. (24e) countered that the city’s decision to bring down the mace on fraudsters disproportionately impacts black and Hispanic motorists.
He told the story of a CTA bus driver with a wife and three children who racked up $5,000 in city sticker tickets, lost his license, lost his job, and was ultimately driven into bankruptcy.
“Hopefully it’s not going to be a revenue-neutral thing. It will be a revenue generator because people don’t want to walk around with money on their backs and have that debt like a noose around their neck. They want to pay that debt,” Scott said.
He added, “This is just the first step in terms of reform to make our city a more equal city.”
Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to raise the start threshold, stop starting for non-moving violations and eliminate a chunk of red light cameras at 149 intersections if those cameras were used for revenue , not for safety.
Lightfoot defended this slow approach, arguing that vehicle tickets represent $260 million in annual revenue and such a habit cannot be broken overnight.