Mayor Lightfoot’s ’Pandemic Budget’ Avoids the Hard Choices

Apparently, the year 2021 appears to be a pick-your-poison budget for Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

Even before the pandemic hit, we knew 2021 was going to be a pick-your-poison budget for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Thanks largely but not exclusively to costs and consequences from COVID-19, the budget gap Lightfoot faces is a bitter pill: $1.2 billion. That amounts to about 10% of last year’s budget — and it could get worse.

Shuttered businesses, near-empty streets, CTA trains with plenty of legroom, industrial districts without much industry: Chicago has the look of an urban economy hitting the skids. Office vacancies are on the rise — and will get worse, thanks to 6.5 million square feet of office space currently being built, less than half of which is leased, according to real estate broker CBRE.

Lightfoot, speaking at the Cultural Center on Monday, ascribed the pending problems to the “catastrophic collapse of our local and national economy,” compounded by the costly impact of looting and civil unrest. This has left her with the task of building a “pandemic budget” for next year.