Attention shifts to business development, environmental concerns in third budget town hall

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CHICAGO – With the city facing an enormous $838M 2020 budget deficit, Mayor Lightfoot hosted her third budget town hall Thursday night on the Southeast Side.

At George Washington High School, the mayor was planning on hearing revenue ideas from the public as she scrambles to come up with a fix before next month’s City Council meeting.

But that’s not what residents wanted to talk about. Speaker after speaker grabbed the microphone to ask the mayor for help.

"The business district is suffering. We’ve lost 30 businesses in just a little over 10 years. It’s difficult for us to compete," one man told the mayor.

Environmental issues were a big concern for neighborhood rooted in the old steel community.

"High pollution rates and contamination within the soil is what we face," a woman said.

Mayor Lightfoot told the crowd she too is worried about environmental injustice.

"What I hope we will be rolling out in the coming days is announcement about standing up a new Office of the Environment in the mayor’s office," Lightfoot said.

With the budget deadline looming, the mayor has not committed to the biggest revenue raiser at her disposal, a property tax hike.

Instead, she’s considering a graduate real estate transfer tax.

The mayor is also hoping on changes to the new Chicago casino law, a congestion tax and help from Springfield with pensions.

Although, any hope the state would take over the pension debt is reportedly dead on arrival.

Mayor Lightfoot may have added to the deficit this week when City Council approved her program to provide relief to people behind on auto fines and fees.

Lightfoot critic, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), says the mayor's reforms may prove to be too costly.

“Sometimes the reforms that get rolled out sound good and there are feel-good ordinances that come through but at the same time they’re adding drastically to the deficit,” Beale said. “So, where you give relief over here… sometimes it’s going to add to the deficit and you’re going to have to find the revenue to plug the overall deficit hole which has just jumped 35 more million.”

Mayor Lightfoot is also getting pushback on her recreational marijuana plan.

She wants to divide the city into seven zones, but hopes to keep downtown and the Mag Mile free of dispensaries.

Alderman in the Central Business District want to maximize revenue by hitting tourists. The mayor wants communities that have been left behind to benefit from marijuana sales.

“We want to do it in a way that focuses on equity and expanding whatever economic opportunities there are to our neighborhoods and not just the downtown area,” Lightfoot said.

You can provide your feedback in an online survey by the city here.

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