Greising: A Congestion Tax Won’t Solve Chicago’s Budget Jam

Pricing tied to gridlock could be a boon for equity in the city, an objective Mayor Lori Lightfoot has set as a key purpose of her administration. And it would bring in new revenue. But here’s the catch: Lightfoot is facing an immediate budget crisis.

(Marcos Assis)

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.

Read the rest at chicagotribune.com.