Comparing Chicago’s budget size to other U.S. cities


Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently unveiled her $16.7 billion budget proposal to the City Council for FY 2022. Having the third largest population in the Union (2.7 million), the city of Chicago’s budget is also one of the largest among U.S. municipalities. This piece will compare the size of Chicago’s General Fund budget to the top ten highest populated U.S. cities.

Benchmarking Municipal Budget Size to Population

We took a look at the highest populated U.S. cities and compared that to the city’s General Fund budget size. Figure 1 illustrates these findings below.

Figure 1: Chart created by Prairie State Policy via data from World Population Review

A couple of notes from the chart above. First, the data on population is from the most recent U.S. Census. During the last decade, cities such as Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio have all experienced rapid growth in population the last decade. Interestingly, these are all warm climate cities.

This is important to point out because of the size of these cities’ budgets relative to their population. For example, no U.S. city experienced greater growth in the last decade than Phoenix. Comparing public spending per capita across all ten cities, Phoenix’s ratio is rather low. With the size of Phoenix rapidly growing, it seems the size of the budget has not yet kept mass with the region’s population growth on a per capita basis.

If the population of warm climate cities continue to grow the next decade as forecasted, this will certainly impact municipal budget as they will need to meet the fiscal challenges of a growing population. In effect, expect municipal budgets only to increase moving forward.

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