Lightfoot says ‘balanced’ budget takes on $838M deficit without large property tax hike

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CHICAGO — Despite hinting that Chicago's dire budget situation could force the hammer to drop on taxpayers, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday her 2020 budget is balanced without including a massive property tax hike.

"I am here to tell you that we didn’t solve our $838 million budget gap with a large property tax increase in 2020, and folks that’s good news," Lightfoot said.

Chicago is staring down an $838 million budget deficit, but despite that staggering figure the mayor is proposing $51.8 million in new spending, including $10 million for affordable housing and $9 million for violence prevention.

New investments are offset by $537.6 million in savings and efficiencies. One savings proposal includes refinancing $1.3 billion in debt to generate $200 million right away.

There's also $352.2 million in new revenue. Mayor Lightfoot wants to raise $47 million from taxing downtown congestion, including a 53 cent increase on downtown solo Uber and Lyft rides. She is also proposing $37 million in service and sales taxes, including asking people who dine in Chicago restaurants to pay more for food and drinks.

Additional revenue will flow from the state, including recouping $163 million more for emergency services and a $314 million TIF surplus. A proposed $50 million Real Estate Transfer Tax requires approval from Springfield, but the mayor is counting on it now.

Finally, the mayor estimates $23.6 million in new tax revenue after recreational cannabis becomes legal January 1.

"This budget was created to honor our responsibility as good stewards to our residents and taxpayers," Lightfoot said.

Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation calls the budget a good start.

"This gets you through the first year, I think the mayor talked about that in the speech. The city has some ongoing financial challenges," Msall said.

Next comes the herculean task of convincing Chicago aldermen to approve the plan. Two Lightfoot critics say they’re nervous supporting a budget that assumes assistance from Springfield.

"This budget was something that was thrown up against the wall and we’re going to find out what sticks," said Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward).

"I’m not comfortable voting on a budget that’s based on wishful thinking," said Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th Ward).

A spokesperson for Governor Pritzker said he will encourage the General Assembly to give the mayor’s proposal their full consideration during the veto session.

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