Snagging a Chicago casino, getting help with city pensions and landing an infrastructure bill are at the top of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s list of priorities as Illinois lawmakers head into the legislature’s final week.
The city’s new mayor said a casino was “a big priority” for her in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly’s closing days and that she’s had productive conversations about it. She said her team also is working on other issues and discussing her administration’s priorities with lawmakers.
“We are making sure that we’ve got our wish list down there,” Lightfoot said Thursday after an unrelated news conference. “So we’re firing on a lot of different cylinders to make sure that the city of Chicago gets its fair share of resources from Springfield.”
Lightfoot was sworn into office Monday, just 11 days before the legislature’s scheduled May 31 adjournment. She said her administration’s work in Springfield, however started before then.
The city and state have dim financial forecasts and rapidly mounting public employee pension costs to grapple with both in the immediate and long-term future.
Chicago alone is facing a first-year budget shortfall that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration recently estimated at more than $700 million, though it’s expected to be even worse.
The state legislature still has a lengthy to-do list that includes passing a state budget and dealing with first-term Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s agenda. Pritzker took office with his own ambitious agenda that included changing the state income tax system, legalizing recreational marijuana, expanded gambling to include sports betting and approval of a public works plan, among other things.
“Obviously we started this discussion early on, so before Monday, when we were officially sworn in,” Lightfoot said. “But we are trying to work and develop relationships with legislators to help us on pensions. Casino is a big priority for me. … I’ve had some productive conversations on that front as well. But we’ve had a number of different things that we’re working on.”
Lightfoot recently told the Tribune that she was looking for a structural fix to the city’s financial situation that includes help from state lawmakers and the governor in addition to the City Council.
Shortly after winning the mayor’s race, Lightfoot headed to Springfield to meet with Downstate legislators and addressed both the House and Senate. She also flew to Washington, where she met with members of Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration.
She told the Tribune that she’s aware of the timing of when Chicago needs to have her first spending plan in place and when Illinois voters might be asked to overhaul the state’s tax code — a proposition that has been touted as a tax hike for the wealthy.
“There is a finite number of people who are high net worth, and the vast majority of them in the state live in the city of Chicago. So, we have every interest in making sure that solving Chicago’s fiscal issues are aligned with the state and vice versa,” Lightfoot said last week. “We’re going to go first. That’s just the nature of the timing. If we clobber people with outsized taxes, it’s going to make making the case for the fair tax that much more challenging. We are all in. We support the governor’s program, but it’s important that we are looking at this issue holistically and Chicago’s fiscal circumstances have to be part of the calculus as well, and I think they get that.”
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May 23, 2019 at 08:42PM