Brandon Johnson speaks after being projected winner as mayor on April 4, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
Brandon Johnson speaks after being projected winner as mayor on April 4, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. Credit: (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

City departments must submit their requests for the 2024 municipal budget by Aug. 7, but it will be another two months until the public sees them – and then a quick three business days before City Council begins its hearings on those departmental requests.

That’s according to the 2024 budget timeline laid out in a recent memo from Mayor Brandon Johnson. The 35-day calendar for the core of the budget process – the only days in which the full, proposed numbers for the coming year are available to the public – would be the longest in Chicago’s recent history, running from an Oct. 11 introduction of the proposed budget to a full city council vote on Nov. 15. 

Over the past decade, City Council has taken an average of only 26 days to consider and pass budgets, from the introduction of the proposed budget at the mayor’s budget address to a vote in City Council following passage of the amended budget by the finance and budget committees.

The bulk of that annual timeline is taken up by departmental hearings, a series of public meetings in which each city department appears before the council and answers questions regarding their departmental appropriations. 

That back-and-forth with department representatives is typically the only public analysis or evaluation done by City Council, although departmental allocations usually make up less than two-thirds of the annual budget. The remainder – which includes debt service, pension allocations and other citywide expenses – is rarely debated or addressed during the hearings.

Departmental hearings in past years have been followed very closely by votes on the mayor’s budget, first in the budget and finance committees and then by the full City Council. During the Rahm Emanuel administration, City Council voted on the final budget an average of only six days after the end of budget hearings. 

Lori Lightfoot’s administration took longer to reach a final version after the budget hearings, averaging 10.5 days between the final hearing and the budget vote. Mayor Johnson’s proposed timeline would nearly double that window of deliberation, calling for a final vote 19 days after the last departmental hearing. 

Even with Johnson’s longer timeline Chicago will still be on the shorter end of major U.S. cities’ budget processes. 

The 10 largest U.S. cities all take anywhere from 1-3 months from the introduction of a complete budget proposal to the final vote. However, the depth and quality of information and debate publicly available before the introduction of a complete budget proposal or request varies more dramatically.

New York City releases a preliminary budget and five-year fiscal plan in November and January, including departmental estimates for the coming year’s budget. That gives the city council access to the bulk of the proposed operational spending nearly six months before the budget vote. 

Los Angeles publishes a detailed list of budget priorities and departmental figures in March, four months before the deadline for a final vote. 

San Diego runs the longest budget cycle of the largest U.S. cities, with mayoral priorities introduced the November before a June vote and the full budget proposal available in April. Their city council is supported by a robust staff and an Office of the Independent Budget Analyst, and can docket specific budget items and priorities for detailed analysis during the budget hearing process.   

Chicago’s Office of Budget and Management releases only limited information ahead of the mayor’s budget address. Detailed analysis by City Council and outside groups can be done only following the mayor’s budget address, when the detailed proposal is made available. The extremely short window between the mayor’s budget address and the first day of budget hearings means alderpersons are rarely equipped with any in-depth analysis of the mayor’s proposal or its impacts by the time debate begins. 

A lengthier period of deliberation after the budget hearings may result in more public debate and a greater depth of analysis in City Council’s hands before the final vote, but the period between the release of the budget proposal and the beginning of departmental hearings remains largely unchanged: Johnson’s proposed schedule leaves five days, including a weekend, between the release of the mayor’s proposed budget and the first day of hearings. 

With a short window of time for analysis between the release of a detailed proposal and City Council’s public hearings, Chicago’s budget cycle will still be a short one, despite Johnson’s extension of the time period after hearings but before a final vote. What remains to be seen is whether that time will be used for public debate in the budget and finance committees, or whether a vote will follow departmental hearings with little further public discussion as under previous administrations. 


Geoffrey Cubbage is a policy and budget analyst focusing on the Illinois General Assembly and Chicago's City Council. Prior to joining the Better Government Association in 2022, Geoffrey served as Director...