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Mayor Lightfoot heads to Springfield to push agenda — including Chicago casino

If Lightfoot does not get her preferred casino plan and the real estate transfer tax passed this week, it will once again spark talk of a much dreaded property tax hike for Chicagoans.

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot shakes hands with Gov. J.B. Pritzker after a meeting in his offices at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot shakes hands with Gov. J.B. Pritzker after a meeting in his offices at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield earlier this year.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has vowed that she needs Springfield’s help to erase the city’s $838 million shortfall — and she’ll make that pitch personally as lawmakers return to Springfield for the veto session on Tuesday.

The mayor’s office said Lightfoot will push for a cleanup measure to finally get Chicago a casino, among her other legislative priorities.

In her pursuit of the elusive Chicago casino, Lightfoot was forced back to the table after a feasibility study by a Las Vegas consultant found “onerous” taxes in the gambling bill passed this year would prevent any developer from getting the financing to break ground on the city casino. The focus is now on adjusting that effective tax rate of 72%.

Lightfoot is also pushing for a tax break for real estate sales valued at less than $500,000, while also setting four tiers of tax rates for higher-value sales. The top rate of 2.55% would apply to property transfers valued at more than $10 million. That plan faces some opposition from progressives, who want more revenue to fund homelessness, as well as Republicans and real estate groups.

The mayor’s office did not provide further details about Lightfoot’s Springfield visit besides providing a statement touting the real estate transfer tax as a “progressive and fair revenue priority.”

“We continue to have conversations with state leaders about authorizing Chicago to implement a graduated RETT [real estate transfer tax], whether that happens this week or in the spring,” mayoral spokeswoman Anel Ruiz said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office on Monday also did not have information about the mayor’s visit and did not answer questions about whether they were given a heads up.

In response to questions, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement that “the governor looks forward to meeting with the mayor tomorrow to discuss her plans to advance her priorities in the General Assembly, along with his efforts to encourage lawmakers to support her initiatives.”

Lightfoot has previously denied claims that she has left Pritzker in the dark. But in June, the governor learned of the mayor’s plan to try to get the state to take over the city’s pension funds via the media. The governor promptly nixed that plan.

Procedurally, it’s not the end of the world if Lightfoot does not get her preferred casino plan and the real estate transfer tax passed this week. But it may be a bad look politically if she can’t produce either win, and it will once again spark talk of a much dreaded property tax hike for Chicagoans.

If Lightfoot needs the real estate transfer tax to take effect anytime before June 1, she’ll need a supermajority vote this week. The clock resets on Jan. 1 — and those measures would require only a simple half-plus-one majority to go into effect immediately.

Lightfoot has said she plans to eliminate the city’s $838 million shortfall through “structural solutions and a combination of efficiencies, expenditure reductions and new revenues.”

The new revenues were the same ones she’s been mentioning: a graduated real estate transfer tax; a “series of taxes to address congestion” in Chicago; and a revised and more realistic “tax structure that makes a casino financeable.” She hopes to avoid a property tax increase, but hasn’t taken it off the table.

The transfer tax and casino gambling need legislative approval. The mayor has also continued to beat the drum for a “statewide solutions for pension reform,” citing the dire solutions proposed in Peoria, Carterville, Kankakee and Alton.

Even so, Lightfoot has argued the financial crisis she inherited is so severe, there is simply no way she can achieve “full structural balance in one year.”

Lightfoot first visited Springfield as mayor-elect in April. She predicted she would have good working relationships with the governor ­ — “a very, very good, open guy, very no-nonsense” — and House Speaker Mike Madigan, calling him a “very important person to the city of Chicago.”