Lightfoot Opposes Chicago Restaurant Tax For McCormick Expansion | WBEZ
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Lightfoot Opposes Chicago Restaurant Tax For McCormick Expansion

Chicago’s new mayor is lobbying against the latest plan to fund an expansion of McCormick Place with an expanded tax on Chicago restaurants.

The Illinois Senate rushed through a bill Wednesday that would extend a $600 million line of credit to the convention center’s parent company.

To pay for that additional borrowing, the bill proposed adding a 1% tax on restaurants in Chicago neighborhoods like Lakeview, Wicker Park, Pilsen and Hyde Park. It would exempt the city’s sports arenas and ballparks.

But Lightfoot’s office on Thursday specifically cited those exemptions as her reason for opposing the plan.

“The Mayor is committed to ensuring that Chicago’s convention industry remains vibrant, and supports making investments that will enhance McCormick Place and drive new economic growth for the City of Chicago,” Lightfoot spokeswoman Lauren Huffman wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“However we are concerned about this proposal in its current form, specifically the exemption favoring large venue owners, whose customer base includes visitors and conventioneers, and the potential unintended consequences for small businesses in Chicago.”

Lori Healey, the CEO of McCormick Place’s parent organization, testified to senators Wednesday that she was trying to capture the “cool new restaurants that all of our conference attendees want to go to” in her proposal. Logan Square, a neighborhood home to many of the city’s new buzzworthy restaurants, is notably not included in the region affected by the proposed expansion of the 1% tax.

It’s not yet clear if Lightfoot’s opposition to the plan will stop House members from proceeding with a vote. The proposal is scheduled for a hearing late Thursday night in a House committee.

In March, Healey had proposed a $1 fee on rideshare companies to pay for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority’s proposed borrowing. But she said negotiations with Lyft and Uber over the new state fee went nowhere after Lightfoot indicated the city might impose its own stricter regulations on the ride-hailing companies.

Indeed, on Tuesday, Lightfoot put a shot across the rideshare companies’ bow when talking with reporters. She said those companies add to the city’s road congestion without paying their fair share.

“There’s been some talk among the rideshare companies in particular about agreeing to a tax as long as there’s preemption — meaning preventing the city of Chicago from taxing them,” Lightfoot said of the companies’ possible deal with the state. “I don’t know why they thought that that would be a good idea, but I’m here to tell them we’re never gonna stand for that. We will fight against preemption on any issue.”

In response to Lightfoot, Campbell Matthews, a Lyft spokesperson, wrote: “Chicago passengers already pay the highest rideshare fees in the nation and attempts to add further fees would hit those in underserved communities hardest. Over a third of Lyft rides in Chicago start or end in low income areas. While we are always looking to engage with lawmakers on solutions to challenges in Illinois, but we need to preserve the affordability of rideshare.”

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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