Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising to employ a full-court press to get Illinois lawmakers to reform a public pension system threatening to bankrupt the state and cities like his.|
The reform team certainly could use a captain. It remains to be seen, however, whether his clout with the Chicago-dominated Legislature will be enough to win the day.
The mayor clearly has skin in the game. Government employee pensions are crippling Chicago's budget, and his administration is facing a 2015 deadline to pay its pension debt (that's also the year the mayor stands for reelection). If Mr. Emanuel can't get Springfield to approve his proposed pension changes, that total could reach $1.2 billion. And, he warned, if no other cuts are made in Chicago's expenses, it could mean a 150 percent property tax increase for city homeowners.
The General Assembly, he said, must act. "They need to get in gear, pick up the game," he told the Chicago Tribune. "I've told the speaker (of the House), I've told the Senate president, I've told the minority leaders and the governor, I'll spend as much or as little (political) capital as you think it takes."
The mayor isn't new to the fight. Back in May he warned Springfield that the day of reckoning for pensions had arrived. It came and went, despite a special session to address the issue. Indeed, months later, all the same sticking points remain, and they won't disappear with the Nov. 6 election.
For example, many of Illinois' pension reform advocates find themselves on opposite sides with their new captain in one key area: shifting the costs of teacher pensions from the state to local districts.
Mayor Emanuel is understandably upset that taxpayers in his city are responsible for their own teacher pensions and for paying part of the costs for teacher pensioners elsewhere in the state. They are the only ones who are. That must end, he said. Downstate and suburban lawmakers, mindful of the huge hit that property taxes in their districts will take if pensions costs for their schools are shifted to their local districts, are equally adamant that a cost-shift must not happen.
Trapped in the middle are taxpayers and, yes, those government workers whose pensions are in jeopardy so long as the system continues its downward spiral, dragging Chicago and every other city and town with it.
Pronouncements and pep talks are great. But sorely needed now are courage and compromise. Without both, Springfield will never craft a winning game plan, no matter who captains the team.
East moline, IL Details
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