Lightfoot rules out public safety cuts, but worried about state shortfall’s impact on state aid to Chicago
A die-hard baseball fan and Sox season ticket holder, Lightfoot said Chicago is “probably in, like the 4th-inning” of its fight against the coronavirus “in a very, very tough game that looks like it’s gonna go into extra innings.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she’s “not ever gonna cut back on public safety” — no matter how much city revenues plummet because of the stay-at-home shutdown of the Chicago economy — but she’s worried about a cutback in state aid to Chicago.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has projected a $2.7 billion shortfall for the current state budget and a $4.6 billion gap for the fiscal year beginning July 1. With short-term borrowing to get through the coronavirus pandemic, the total shortfall for the fiscal year 2021 budget would be $6.2 billion when compared to the budget that Pritzker released in February.
Lightfoot has refused to project Chicago’s budget shortfall, fearing an initial estimate would end up too low and must be revised upward at a time when laid off Chicagoans are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. She has said repeatedly that to the extent possible, she wants city government to act as a “local stimulus” and that the last thing she wants is to lay off or furlough city employees.
On Monday, the mayor was asked whether Chicago could be forced to follow the lead of other major cities now considering previously unthinkable cutbacks impacting lifeguards at public pools and even police officers on the front lines of the pandemic.
“We’re not ever gonna cut back on public safety. I can tell you that. That’s not a thing that I can or will do — particularly not when we’re also continuing to fight the epidemic of gun violence,” Lightfoot said.
Before the pandemic, Lightfoot had rolled the dice that the Illinois General Assembly would deliver a fix needed to make a long-stalled Chicago casino financially viable. And before the real estate market was frozen by the pandemic, she was counting on state lawmakers to deliver her plan for a graduated real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales by mid-year so she could raise $50 million from it while fending off demands to dedicate a portion of that money for affordable housing and the homeless.
All of that has forced the mayor to play defense instead of offense.
“We are in regular conversation with the governor and the legislative leaders and others to understand what options they’re looking at to fill the budget hole created at the state level and, of course, advocating both for a Chicago casino and no cuts to the local government fund. … That’s a great concern to us because we’ve heard a number of different things floated,” Lightfoot said.
“We’re also concerned what other revenue-raising ideas that folks in Springfield are thinking about because there are many businesses that are hurting. Individuals are hurting. And so, this is all gonna be balanced against the realities on the ground in municipalities all across the state, including Chicago.”
Lightfoot said the impact on the city budget depends on how long the stay-at-home order lasts and how quickly she can “kick-start” the Chicago economy.
She noted that after the 2008 recession, there was a “pretty significant bump that re-started the economy.” That’s unlikely this time “because of how widespread” the pandemic-induced slowdown has been and how careful the city must be in lifting the restrictions, the mayor said.
“We might be a little further along than the second inning, but we’re not at the 7th-inning stretch. We’re probably in, like the 4th-inning … in a very, very tough game that looks like it’s gonna go into extra innings,” she said.
Lightfoot said she soon will provide guidance to businesses on how and when to re-open.
It’ll include how many people-per-square-foot will be allowed inside brick-and-mortar shops and how many resources must be on site to treat employees and customers who get sick.
“I don’t see a world in which we simply flip the light switch and say, `Whatever you were doing in February, go back to that.’ That’s not gonna happen,” Lightfoot said.
“We’ve got to keep running that race. No matter if the crowd thins. No matter if no one’s with us. We’ve got to stay the course. We cannot be swayed by what people do in other parts of the country. We have to focus on the data and what that tells us for Chicago and the region and do what’s best for us.”