Lois Scott ’82, MBA ’83: Balancing Chicago’s Books
By Mark Rader, MFA ’02
When Lois Scott agreed to become CFO of the City of Chicago under Mayor Rahm Emanuel and serve on its newly created Economic, Budgetary, and Business Development Council in May of this year, she knew she was taking on the biggest creative challenge of her career. The city was running a $600 million deficit, as the result of nearly a decade of bloated budgets, and was just now feeling the sting of the 2008 economic downturn, as federal stimulus monies dried up. If she signed on, the task of cleaning up the fiscal mess would fall heavily upon her. Co-founder of Scott Balice Strategies, a hugely successful financial advisory firm, Scott had already established herself as one of the most respected and creative public finance professionals in the country. But the opportunity to shape the financial future of her beloved adopted city was too tempting to pass up: “You plan and exercise and train for years, and when they ask you to play in the Super Bowl, you say yes.”
Long-term investments, a fierce commitment to schools, safety, and jobs, and nononsense, innovative problem-solving are the benchmarks of the economic team’s approach to balancing Chicago’s books, says Scott. “The mayor talks a lot about change, about having an honest dialogue. There will be no more sacred cows, no more sweetheart deals.” Proposed cost-saving measures include the consolidation of redundant city and county call centers, and competitive bidding for city-run services like blue-cart recycling. “There are bad choices here, and worse choices,” says Scott. “We’re dealing in hard truths.”
Though she has lived in Chicago for nearly thirty years, Scott was raised in Owego, a tiny town in upstate New York — an environment that impressed upon her the necessity of looking after one’s neighbors, of taking the time to listen, and care. As she and her team have been creating the city’s 2012 budget, Scott says she tries to always keep the moral component to governing front of mind, and feels “a great sense of responsibility” for the fortunes and futures of her fellow Chicagoans.
Undoing the fiscal damage incurred over the past decade isn’t going to be easy, Scott says, but one thing is for sure — it’s necessary.
“We think the public understands that the time of kicking the can down the road is over.”