Lightfoot, Vallas trade war of words over city finances

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says it's too early to discuss.

Experts, though, warn that her already-unbalanced city budget will likely be hit very hard by the coronavirus crisis.

Back before hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans lost their paychecks as large parts of our economy shut down, Mayor Lightfoot drew up an optimistic city budget reliant on revenues rising by hundreds of millions of dollars. Once the current coronavirus crisis fades, budget experts say Chicago’s taxpayers face an ugly day of reckoning.

“I’m not blaming Mayor Lightfoot. She wasn't in a position to have prepared us. We're certainly not prepared. We are certainly not prepared for the financial pandemic. And we would be foolish not to consider some legitimate ideas out there on how we could shore up the city's cash reserves,” said former mayoral candidate Paul Vallas.

Vallas, who's overseen government budgets in at least four states as well as City Hall, offered some ideas in a Tribune Op-Ed, including:

-Temporary pay cuts for elected officials and top city executives;    
-Temporarily defer pay raises for rank and file city workers;
-Reduce payments to city contractors;
-Shift to City Hall some of the $750 million expected to flow into Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds this year.

Mayor Lightfoot's response? A snarky blast at Vallas.

“Unfortunately, some people are desperate to be relevant,” Lightfoot said. “The suggestion that somehow our city budget is in tatters, as Mr. Vallas dramatically suggests, it's just foolish.”

“They have not prepared us for the financial pandemic. And like the health care pandemic, the failure to prepare is going to have long-term, extremely negative consequences,” Vallas said.

There is one budget bright spot. Chicago's public schools could get a couple hundred-million dollars from the giant federal stimulus law approved last week.

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