Greising: A Congestion Tax Won’t Solve Chicago’s Budget Jam
BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.
In 2007, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg first floated a serious plan to bring congestion pricing to the car-choked streets of lower Manhattan. In 2019 — amid a subway crisis that has caused political havoc in New York — congestion pricing at last is set to become a reality.
In Chicago in 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot in her first State of the City address floated congestion pricing as one of several antidotes to Chicago’s long-term financial problems. Lightfoot is facing an $838 million budget deficit for 2020, and any good idea is welcome — even if its potential for the coming budget is a long shot. Congestion is a problem in Chicago. Reducing the glut of gas-guzzling autos on the city’s downtown streets would cut emissions, ease traffic and cut wear-and-tear on infrastructure.
If done right, it could even be a boon for equity in the city, an objective Lightfoot has set as a key purpose of her administration. And it would bring in new revenue — which apparently was Lightfoot’s point in mentioning the idea in her speech.
But here’s the catch: Lightfoot is facing an immediate budget crisis. It’s not as bad as the $1 billion some had expected, but $800-plus million still is a gaping hole, and although congestion pricing got mentioned in the mayor’s address, and drew questions in post-speech media appearances, actual plans for such a move are vague at best.