City’s pro­posed bud­get will erase $1.2B short­fall with­out fed­eral help: may­oral aides

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

Mayor Lori Light­foot’s 2021 bud­get will erase a $1.2 bil­lion short­fall with­out as­sum­ing any re­place­ment rev­enue from Wash­ing­ton — but with hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in tax in­creases and bud­get cuts that in­clude a mix of lay­offs, fur­lough days and pay cuts, top may­oral aides said Thurs­day.

Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Jen­nie Huang Ben­nett and Bud­get Di­rec­tor Susie Park said a prop­erty tax in­crease is “last on our list” as home­own­ers and busi­ness own­ers strug­gle to pay their mort­gages and stave off fore­clo­sure.

But it must re­main on the ta­ble, they said, be­cause it is the most broad-based and reli­able source of rev­enue to help erase a short­fall of his­toric pro­por­tions. For the same rea­son, a sales tax in­crease also is pos­si­ble but would re­quire au­tho­riza­tion by state law­mak­ers.

“In­creas­ing taxes in this dif­fi­cult eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment does not cre­ate a stim­u­la­tive en­vi­ron­ment. But we also have to bal­ance that with the fact that we have to make rev­enues match ex­penses and have a bal­anced bud­get,” the city’s CFO said Thurs­day.

Chicago is so des­per­ate for money, the city is se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing a tem­po­rary casino to get the jack­pot rolling in un­til a per­ma­nent casino and en­ter­tain­ment com­plex can be built.

Mc­Cormick Place East, re­built af­ter a 1967 fire, is one of many pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions for a tem­po­rary casino, Huang Ben­nett said.

Ear­lier this week, Light­foot blamed ris­ing coro­n­avirus case lev­els in Chicago and two rounds of loot­ing for a dra­matic in­crease in the city’s bud­get short­fall — to a com­bined $2 bil­lion for this year and next.

Light­foot made a strong case for re­place­ment rev­enue from Wash­ing­ton and said she would of­fer “con­tin­gen­cies” if the pre-elec­tion stale­mate con­tin­ues.

But Park said Thurs­day it’s the other way around.

“We are gonna put this bud­get to­gether as­sum­ing we are not get­ting fed­eral fund­ing,” she said.

So far, the city work­force has es­caped the pain en­dured by pri­vate sec­tor em­ploy­ees who have seen their hours cut and pay­checks shrunk if they’re lucky enough to have jobs at all.

That will not con­tinue. The mayor needs con­ces­sions.

“What we need from or­ga­nized la­bor is for them to come to the ta­ble with ac­tion­able so­lu­tions that can help to sup­port us in the 2021 bud­get. In pre­vi­ous years, we had the lux­ury of pri­or­i­tiz­ing cer­tain so­lu­tions over oth­ers. This year, all of them are gonna be needed,” Huang Ben­nett said.

Does that mean a mix of lay­offs, pay cuts and fur­loughs?

“Yes. We put that on the ta­ble . . . . What the size and shape of this is, we’ll ob­vi­ously have to have those con­ver­sa­tions . . . . A lot of cities across the coun­try have had sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of per­son­nel ac­tions,” she said.

Chicago Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor Pres­i­dent Bob Reiter could not be reached for com­ment. The CFL has an own­er­ship stake in Sun-Times Me­dia.

Ear­lier this week, Reiter told the Sun­Times the mayor made no spe­cific de­mand when she ad­dressed the la­bor fed­er­a­tion’s board on Mon­day.

Pressed on what con­ces­sions union lead­ers are pre­pared to give, Reiter said, “We al­ways have ideas that stay away from cut­ting es­sen­tial ser­vices. I would al­ways of­fer those — both in rev­enue and ways to save money — be­fore we ever get to any­thing else.”

Jen­nie Huang Ben­nett

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