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A newly created revenue subcommittee of the Chicago City Council will soon issue its report outlining some ways for the city to bring in more money.

Chicago’s search for new revenue targets video gaming, wealth taxes, heliport, downtown digital ads

A City Council subcommittee overseeing the search for new revenue will report back in 30 days with ideas that include video gaming, expanded helicopter service to and from O’Hare and Midway airports and turning vacant downtown retail space into a haven for digital advertising.

Freshman Ald. William Hall (6th), Mayor Brandon Johnson’s hand-picked chair, also warmed to possibly leveling the tax playing field between the haves and have-nots by seeking legislative approval for a city income tax on salaries over $100,000 earned in Chicago or taxing stock holdings and personal liquid assets of wealthy residents.

Both ideas, as well as a digital advertising tax, were included in the $12 billion revenue smorgasbord outlined by the Action Center on Race & the Economy and the People’s Unity Platform shortly after Johnson took office.

The reportwas co-written by a member of Johnson’s transition team. Groups behind it had ties to the Chicago Teachers Union that Johnson served as a paid organizer.

“Billionaires and millionaires are not even paying taxes. … It makes no sense that a mother who’s making $45,000 to $50,000 a year working two jobs, robbing Peter to pay Paul, hoping that an iPad would keep her kids occupied, is paying more taxes than, you know, Ken Griffin and company,” Hall said, referring to the hedge fund billionaire who was Illinois’ richest man before moving his Citadel hedge fund offices to Florida.

“We have to make sure that there’s a fair distribution of taxes. Period,” said Hall.

Hall never answered directly when asked if his report would recommend taxing all Chicago salaries over $100,000. He said only that he favors a “fair tax rate” and that it’s not at all fair that “millionaires and billionaires know how to work a tax code while those who are working day to day” do not.

“The middle class is a trick to keep you occupied. Either you got it, or you don’t got it. And when I look at my community, where the average income is $47,652 and they’re paying higher taxes than a millionaire, a billionaire — that’s not right,” he said.

William Hall talking with another City Council member

Ald. William Hall (6th) chats with another Chicago City Council member at a Council meeting in June 2023.

Ashlee Rezin

Hall’s reasoning was much the same when he was asked about a wealth tax on stock holdings and liquid assets that, he claims, are “passing wealth into trust funds.”

“Trust fund babies … get away with not paying their fair share, but using services to increase their lifestyle — that’s not fair,” Hall said. “We need tax parity, tax equity.

“You need to pay your taxes so that police officers can go to work. … If you don’t pay your taxes, how are you gonna have firehouses open? How are you going to continue to pay for firefighters? Then, you get mad when there’s no response because we have to cut workforce because the taxes are not paying for public service jobs.”

Four years after the stay-at-home-shutdown tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 30% of Chicago’s central business district retail space remains vacant, according to a recent report by a retail brokerage firm.

Hall said he believes it’s time to face reality. The “retail model has changed,” he said. Many of those shuttered stores are never coming back, he added, and those empty spaces could make money for Chicago just like New York City is “making millions of dollars in digital marketing in Times Square.”

And he promised a tasteful, not “cheesy” approach to the advertising.

“We’re not going to put a big old advertisement board on the Sears Tower. ... We’re not going to take away from the integrity of some of the greatest architectural designs in the world. But what we can do is be innovative. … As beautiful as the riverwalk is, can you imagine what maybe some digital on the river would look like?”

More than 20 years after former Mayor Richard M. Daley closed Meigs Field, Hall also floated the idea of using at least a portion of the shuttered airport-turned-nature park into a money-making heliport operated by an airline to offer connections to either airport. The heliport at Cook County Hospital also could be revived for that purpose, he said.

“If United [Airlines] wants to have helicopter flights, let’s figure out a way in which we have fair landing fees and locations that Chicagoans can use,” he said. “We have to be careful about innovation that takes away … park space and natural preserve. But Friends of the Parks needs to be a little bit more ‘friend.’ … We have to find a way to construct something that’s convenient, that’s a revenue source and makes sense — and it does.”

Hall referred to the long-stalled move to authorize video gaming in Chicago as low-hanging fruit. He said that would “absolutely” be part of the revenue mix because it’s something that “most neighborhood bars want” because their patrons do.

“When you look at neighboring suburbs [like] Cicero and Burbank, they have those,” he said. “And a lot of Chicagoans literally cross the street and have their little mini-casino moment.”

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