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Lightfoot Presses For Casino Changes In Capitol

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot leaves the Press Room in the Illinois Statehouse on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, left, moves through a corridor in the Illinois Capitol Building. It was the mayor's second visit to the Statehouse since she was elected earlier this year.

After spending Tuesday lobbying in the state Capitol, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’s optimistic lawmakers will go along with her changes for a proposed Chicago casino. Otherwise she says there could be negative consequences for the entire state.

Lightfoot has been pursuing changes to the tax structure around a Chicago casino, after a study found tax rates in existing law are too high. The report prompted fears no gambling companies would step forward to run the facility.

“If we don’t get the tax structure fixed, there won’t be a Chicago casino,” Lightfoot told reporters.

The legislature approved the casino earlier this year, with lots of claims on the money it’s expected to generate. That includes a statewide building program — for construction at schools, universities and state facilities — and to shore up underfunded Chicago pensions.

Because of that, Lightfoot’s message to lawmakers is that not passing the tax changes she's looking for could hurt the entire state of Illinois.

“(A) Chicago casino will help fuel the statewide economy,” Lightfoot said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of upside to the entire state for a Chicago casino.”

Getting To Know Her

The mayor met with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislative leaders. In the afternoon, she talked to the entire House Democratic Caucus.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters in the Illinois Statehouse on Nov. 12, 2019.
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois
NPR Illinois
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters in the Illinois Statehouse on Nov. 12, 2019.

In that meeting, some lawmakers wanted to talk about where a Chicago casino would be located — especially if it could take business away from suburban casinos.

Lightfoot, however, says that’s premature.

“I would be loathe as a mayor to talk about a particular location, because all that’s going to do is add to land speculation,” Lightfoot said.

Being mayor is Lightfoot’s first time in elective office, and she says it’s important to build relationships in the Capitol.

“Many of them didn’t know me before I ran,” Lightfoot said. “I’m a blank piece of paper to many of them. And I think it’s important for me to come and speak for what we need in the city of Chicago. And not just do it by phone or do it through proxies.”

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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