Mayor Lori Lightfoot is scheduled to be back in Springfield next week — this time to meet with Illinois House Republicans — after state lawmakers failed to deliver on either item on her legislative wish list during their brief fall session, House Republican leader Jim Durkin said Monday.
Lightfoot visited the State Capitol in November as she pushed for the Democratic-controlled legislature to revamp the tax structure for a long-proposed Chicago casino and authorize a graduated tax on real estate sales. Neither issue went anywhere, and the first-year mayor faced criticism in Springfield for only spending time with House Democrats.
Durkin announced Lightfoot’s upcoming visit during a discussion with former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, hosted by the Lincoln Forum at the Union League Club of Chicago.
“I invited them because I think it’s important for men and women in my caucus to get to know this mayor,” Durkin said. “Because I think that she’s a fascinating person, I think she’s fair, and I think that I’m going to give her the opportunity to make her case in front of my members.”
While a small faction within the House GOP has publicly supported efforts to kick Chicago out of Illinois, Durkin said the city’s success is crucial to the overall health of the state.
During her stop in Springfield, Lightfoot has also scheduled a meeting with Senate Democrats, according to John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon.
A Lightfoot spokeswoman did not directly address the planned meeting with House Republicans.
“We have been having ongoing productive conversations with state leaders and appreciate the opportunity to work with the governor’s office and the General Assembly this session,” spokeswoman Anel Ruiz said in a statement. “We look forward to meeting with leadership and will be working with them closely to prioritize the casino and other opportunities to generate new revenues and opportunities that will move Chicago forward.”
The main item on Lightfoot’s agenda for Springfield has been winning approval for changes to the tax structure for the Chicago casino, which lawmakers finally authorized last year after decades of discussion. A consultant’s report last summer said the taxes Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law were so high that the project could fail to attract a developer.
An attempt to overhaul the tax rates fell short in the General Assembly’s fall session, in part due to concerns raised by suburban Democrats about issues including the city casino’s potential impact on a south suburban casino also authorized as part of the massive gambling expansion.
The mayor has said she was close to having enough votes lined up in the fall. But with the legislature’s spring session just beginning, the Chicago casino fix could get bogged down in debate over related issues that include a plan to allow a racetrack and casino to open at Balmoral Park near Crete and a proposed ban on sweepstakes gambling machines.
Chicago mayors seeking help from Springfield traditionally face pushback from Downstate and suburban lawmakers who say the city is looking for special treatment. Under Lightfoot’s casino proposal, the state would have gotten a smaller share of the revenue from the Chicago casino than from any of the other new or existing casinos in the state.
But supporters of the plan say a viable city casino is a key component of funding Pritzker’s $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” infrastructure plan. Money from the Chicago casino and other elements of gambling expansion is earmarked for construction projects at state facilities and public universities, many of which are Downstate.