Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he has a new plan for how to spend whatever money Chicago might get from a new casino. He would put every dime toward shoring up the city’s pension systems.
That makes good sense, though the mayor previously said all casino revenue should be earmarked for another worthy cause, building and modernizing schools. Chicago’s first priority has to be resolving the crisis of underfunded city and teacher pension funds.
This doesn’t really get Emanuel off the hook if he’s trying to avoid raising property taxes. He still has to figure out right now, for example, how to make a required $550 million payment next year into the police firefighter funds. But in a mayoral election in which candidates have trotted out all sorts of long-range partial solutions to Chicago’s revenue problem, such as a tax on commuters, a Chicago casino is the most sensible idea.
A workable blueprint for a Chicago casino — essentially the same as a proposal that never came to a vote last year — is pending in the state Legislature. It includes ethics safeguards demanded by former Gov. Pat Quinn, who had vetoed two earlier bills. The Legislature should pass it and Gov. Bruce Rauner should sign it.
In a Sun-Times candidate questionnaire, Emanuel’s opponent in the April 7 mayoral runoff election, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, stated that he also could support bringing a casino to Chicago, if it is “fairly and effectively implemented.”
For too long, Chicago has seen its gambling enthusiasts head out of town, particularly across the border into Indiana, pumping up revenues for other governments. That’s money that Chicago and Illinois need. Two years ago, state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, estimated expanded gambling could bring in an extra $269 million just for the state.
In February, state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, introduced two casino bills. One would give Chicago a gambling behemoth. The other bill — the one modeled on last year’s bill —would allow five new casinos. Chicago would get one, along with the south suburbs and Lake, Vermilion and Winnebago counties. The Chicago casino in the second bill would be smaller than that allowed in the first.
We’d be happy to see a Chicago-only casino bill get signed into law. But the broader bill is far more likely to pull enough votes. So be it. After 10 years of failed efforts to bring a casino to Chicago, it’s time Springfield delivered.