Do they still play the blues in the Windy City? Absolutely.
Remember the old saying that “outside of Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.”
Well, today, in light of the city’s and state’s shaky finances, there’s a new slogan that goes, “Inside of a Chicago, there’s a ticking financial time bomb that threatens to blow everything — city and state — sky high.”
At least that’s the warning Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered last week.
Citing the city’s massive $838 million budget deficit, the new mayor bemoaned the disastrous financial situation bequeathed to her by her predecessor, lamented the absence of any contingency plan to deal with it and indicated she’ll be asking the Legislature to help her address the problem.
That final point — more than anything — indicates just how desperate Chicago’s financial situation is.
The state is effectively bankrupt. For Lightfoot to suggest that state solutions are the answer is another example of the blind leading the blind.
Lightfoot did suggest several city-driven tax revenue solutions, including that generated by the sale of newly legalized marijuana and a Chicago-based casino.
But those are long-term ventures that won’t be producing revenues in the near future, certainly not the revenue that Chicago needs now.
So it looks like all the near-term action will be in Springfield, and Lightfoot is not without substantial resources there. After all, Chicago dominates politics in this state.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is likely to be amenable to Lightfoot’s proposals that do not make the state’s problems worse. For example, Pritzker might be willing to support legislation allowing Chicago to impose new taxes. But, as he already has made clear, he’s not willing to have the state assume Chicago’s pension debts.
The question, of course, is just how bad is Chicago’s financial situation? It is, obviously, so bad that Lightfoot contends it’s necessary for “the entire state to come together.”
“People in this state know — as do I — that I-80 is not a border. That there cannot be a ‘Chicago’ versus ‘the rest of the state.’ All of Illinois is looking for solutions. And to really solve these problems, we all have to be partners in reform,” she said.
Reform? That’s a vague word that means whatever people want it to mean. Both Lightfoot and Pritzker consider one reform to be passing the progressive income tax hike amendment that would produce a gusher of new income tax revenue.
Beyond that, what does she have in mind?
Lightfoot didn’t say exactly. But it’s pretty clear — given the history of state and local politicians in Illinois — that they’ll want more revenue to support their spending plans.
That, of course, is how Illinois and Chicago got in financial trouble — consistently spending more than they had. But that kind of approach can’t last forever. So it will be interesting to see what Lightfoot has in mind and, more important, what she seeks for Chicago from the rest of the state. She insists she’s serious about taking on a horrible problem. But Illinoisans and Chicagoans have heard that before and are well advised to view her words with skepticism until she’s put all her cards on the table.