Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday ruled out layoffs in city government to accommodate declining revenues and rising costs tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are not expecting to do any layoffs,” the mayor told a news conference hours before Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order was extended for another month.
“Our economy in this region is incredibly diverse. And if you look at how we have fared in other economic downturns — whether it was 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008 or 2009 — we’ve had some impact, of course. But, we rebounded back very, very strong and well.”
Scores of conventions have been canceled in Chicago. A McCormick Place convention center that housed the auto show just a few weeks ago is being converted into a 3,000-bed hospital.
Airline travel has slowed to a trickle, triggering layoffs. Hotels have closed and laid off workers. Restaurants are serving take-out and delivery only. Non-essential businesses have closed and laid off workers. Stores on Michigan Avenue have boarded up their windows. Everyday life in Chicago has literally ground to a halt.
The only thing people working from home — if they’re lucky enough to still have a job — are buying more of is groceries in general and hand sanitizer and toilet paper in particular.
All of that is certain to have a dramatic impact on city revenues — everything from taxes on sales, hotel rooms, restaurant meals and gasoline to ride-sharing fees, ground transportation taxes and revenue from CTA fares.
That’s particularly true now that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has extended his statewide, stay-at-home order until April 30.
But Lightfoot argued yet again that Chicago is well-positioned to weather the storm of increased costs and declining revenues tied to the coronavirus pandemic without blowing a giant hole in her precariously-balanced, $11.6 billion budget.
For the umpteenth time, she noted “no one revenue stream is more than 13 percent” and that all of the “economically-sensitive” revenues together total just 25 percent.
“I’m not gonna sit here and say there’s not gonna be some impact. There will be. But I think we’re very well-situated to weather this storm because we anticipated in our budget forecast for 2020 that we would experience in this year some kind of economic downturn,” she said.
“Now, nobody anticipated that it would be due to a pandemic. But we built the budget this year to be able to be responsive to that kind of worst-case scenario.”
The mayor’s claims about the city being well-positioned to weather the storm does not take into account that when the stock market drops and city pension funds don’t meet their expected investment returns, Chicago taxpayers have to make up the difference.
800 cops call in sick each day — as they should, mayor says
After announcing a deal to provide 274 South Loop hotel rooms for first-responders, both Lightfoot and Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said they are not at all concerned about the fact that 800 Chicago Police officers are calling in sick each day.
That’s an absenteeism rate of roughly six percent, up from a normal daily rate of four percent.
“We have asked our members, if you are feeling ill — if you do not think you should be at work — be on the medical. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Graham said.
“If people are feeling ill, if they’re not sure, they should stay home. Get checked out. And as we’ve seen over the weekend, when people realize they’re gonna be OK, they return to work. So a slight uptick in what we have asked them to do—there’s nothing wrong with.”
Lightfoot said Graham is “100 percent right.”
“We’ve been saying from the beginning of this virus, `If you’re sick — even a little bit — you should stay home.’ That same [rule] applies to our first-responders, our CTA transit workers, our sanitation workers. The people that we have designated as essential to providing services in the city. ... And I’m grateful that people are abiding by that,” she said.
“This disease doesn’t discriminate. … It’s not surprising that we’re starting to see confirmed cases among our first-responders. We expected that to be true.”
No hospital ship coming in
Although the Norfolk-based USNS Comfort hospital ship has been dispatched to New York, the epicenter for the coronavirus, Lightfoot said she sees no need for a similar hospital ship here.
“I don’t anticipate a large Naval vessel on the shores of Lake Michigan. That’s why we are taking other steps to make sure that we have added capacity to help meet the challenge and the surge that’s gonna come to our hospitals,” the mayor said.
“McCormick Place is a perfect example of that. We’re working hand-in-glove with the state, with the Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Emergency Management to make sure that we get that alternative facility set up as quickly as possible so we meet the need.”