SPRINGFIELD — With Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s legislative wish list still up in the air, the mayor took questions from a packed House Democratic caucus Tuesday — reminding them a Chicago casino “benefits the entire state.”
It was a rare — and largely symbolic visit — to the caucus for a Chicago mayor, both Lightfoot and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan attested. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel rarely visited Springfield himself.
But by Tuesday evening, it became evident that Lightfoot would leave the Capitol without having seen any major movement on a measure needed to revamp the tax rates for a Chicago casino. And top mayoral aides told the Chicago Sun-Times Lightfoot’s plan for a graduated real estate transfer tax is dead, at least for now.
Still, Lightfoot reframed the visit, saying it was largely about building relationships. Her day also included meetings with legislative leaders and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“Here’s what I hear from legislators, we never have seen a mayor fill-in-the-blank. So I have, from day one after the election, done — I think appropriately — an effort to try to reach out and build relationships with members of the General Assembly,” Lightfoot said when asked if she left the Capitol empty-handed. “Many of them didn’t know me before I ran. I’m a blank piece of paper to many of them, and 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.”
Meanwhile, the casino bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, said state Sen. Terry Link, is no longer involved in negotiations.
Link, D-Vernon Hills, had been a key player in gambling talks. Sources have told the Sun-Times that Link wore a wire in the investigation that ended with bribery charges against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo. Link denies any involvement, and he has not been charged.
“I haven’t talked to Sen. Link since the bill signing. No, he hasn’t [been involved],” Rita said. “I’ve talked with some of the senators, and I asked who was going to be the Senate sponsor, and we’re still waiting on that. But we have been negotiating with the Senate and staff. I’ve had talks with Senate President [John] Cullerton too.”
Rita said there were a number of questions from lawmakers in the south and north suburbs — areas where new casinos are proposed — about where the Chicago location would go. And negotiations aren’t just focused on restructuring the 33 percent tax rate. Rita said a change in fees is also in play, should the tax rate be adjusted.
“We’re getting close, but you know there’s other outlying issues that we need to address that [Lightfoot has] seen in caucus here that have been around,” Rita said. “So it’s not all just about the tax rates … and what it’s going to impact on the city of Chicago in the state, but there’s other issues that we’re faced with that we’re trying to work through.”
Chicago priorities aside, there are some key measures that are likely to see movement this week, including a pension consolidation plan heralded by Pritzker. Despite some new resistance from the Illinois Municipal League, an amendment to the measure passed a House committee Thursday evening, clearing the path for a vote this week.
And the Illinois Senate is poised to take up a measure to ban flavored vape and tobacco products in a committee Wednesday. Hundreds of pro-vaping advocates packed the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon with signs that read, “I vape. I vote.”
There’s not enough time on the calendar for a final vote from the House during the veto session, however, and debate will continue when lawmakers return in January.