Mayor Lori Lightfoot Says Without Federal Aid, Her Budget Options Are ‘Painful’

The president’s halting of negotiations on another federal COVID-19 relief bill could spell disaster for Chicago’s budget.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a news conference, April 2020
In this April 10, 2020, file photo Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a news conference in Hall A at the COVID-19 alternate site at McCormick Place in Chicago. Lightfoot is facing a $1.2 billion budget hole and says she is looking at spending cuts or tax increases if there is no federal aid. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a news conference, April 2020
In this April 10, 2020, file photo Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a news conference in Hall A at the COVID-19 alternate site at McCormick Place in Chicago. Lightfoot is facing a $1.2 billion budget hole and says she is looking at spending cuts or tax increases if there is no federal aid. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Says Without Federal Aid, Her Budget Options Are ‘Painful’

The president’s halting of negotiations on another federal COVID-19 relief bill could spell disaster for Chicago’s budget.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city will have to figure out a way to close a $1.2 billion budget hole without federal aid and warns that this could be the toughest budget vote yet for many in the City Council.

This comes as President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday afternoon his demand that Republicans halt negotiations with Democrats on a coronavirus stimulus bill until after the election.

The news came as Lightfoot was outlining new investments the city is making to expand mental health services.

The city was banking on federal coronavirus stimulus money to plug budget holes in lost tax revenue the city relies on to fund government services. Public health-related closures and a nonexistent tourism season have had a catastrophic impact on city revenues.

For weeks, the city’s finance team has been discussing plans to close the looming budget gap with aldermen, but many of those conversations included a reliance on federal aid to plug one-time drops in revenue.

“So we have to fix this ourselves, and we will fix it,” the mayor said. “And the pain and the difficult decisions are going to have to be made.”

Although Lightfoot won’t talk specifics when mentioning cuts or new sources of revenue, such as another property tax hike, she said on Tuesday of her options: “None of them are good; all of them are painful.”

“I’ve said to my colleagues in the City Council, this will be the toughest budget they vote for, probably ever, given the size of the challenges and our desire not to discard the values that we all care about in making investments in people and communities,” Lightfoot said.

The last time Chicago aldermen were asked to brace for a “difficult” budget vote was 2015 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for a historic property tax hike to cover police and fire pension payments. Those pension funds still need money.

A spokesperson for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who is facing serious state budget shortfalls next year, said Trump should urge legislators to keep talking, as federal assistance is going to be necessary for municipalities and states across the country.

“The failure of revenue due to the pandemic is not a blue state vs. red state issue, it’s a challenge that every single state across this nation is grappling with,” the emailed statement read.

The governor “strongly urges the President to be responsible and resume talks because the people of this nation deserve a federal government that works for them.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Federation of Labor is urging collaboration with the administration to find efficiencies and cuts that don’t impact payroll.

“Chicago’s public workers are heroes who have sacrificed their own health and safety to keep this city moving during the COVID-19 pandemic,” CFL President Bob Reiter said in a statement.

The mayor is scheduled to release her 2021 budget on Oct. 21. That spending plan will have to be approved by aldermen before the end of the year.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow @ClaudiaMorell