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Still no specifics on how pension fix would work



Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivers his budget message City Council Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivers his budget message to the City Council on Wednesday.

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Updated: November 25, 2013 1:25PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel went further than ever Wednesday to acknowledge the city will need to come up with added revenue to fix its pension crisis rather than relying solely on benefit reduction “reforms.”

But he still stopped short of explaining how he expects to generate that revenue — whether from higher property taxes or some new source.

For the second year in a row, Emanuel used his annual budget message to sound the alarm on the city’s looming pension crisis. The only obvious change since the last time was the date on the calendar.

If the state Legislature doesn’t approve a fix soon, Emanuel made clear he won’t be waiting for the calendar to roll around to this time next year to begin dealing with a potentially calamitous 2015 budget.

Politicians are fond of saying they aren’t going to negotiate through the news media, but you had to wonder if there was just a little bit of that taking place in the mayor’s speech.

Unions and the city employees they represent are wanting a commitment that any solution to the city’s pension crisis won’t be borne entirely by them.

While Emanuel’s emphasis was on the need for reform, which usually translates into benefit reductions for retirees and increased contributions for current employees, his recognition of a willingness to “put some skin in the game” sent a message that many on that side of the issue have been wanting to hear. Just the same, I know they’d rather see some specifics.

“Make no mistake: we need pension reform, and Chicago is willing to do its part. But that solution must couple revenue with reform. It must not offer one without the other,” Emanuel told the City Council.

Later, in a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Emanuel refused to explain what he had in mind.

“I think it would be wrong for a whole host of reasons to try to put the entire burden on the taxpayers to fix this problem,” Emanuel told the editorial board, later adding: “What I support is what I said, that there be revenue to match the reform.”

I don’t think there’s ever been any doubt that the mayor does not want to stick taxpayers with the cost of making the city pension plans solvent. The question was how he would apportion the pain. That still has not been answered.

Notably, on the state pension front, there has been very little public discussion of finding additional revenue other than from increased employee contributions, which has been one of the sticking points.

Emanuel said the mistake the state made was approving an increase in the income tax before it had negotiated pension reform with its unions.

“Look at Springfield, they raised taxes with no reform, and now how is the reform process going?” he said.

From what I’ve seen, the city pension negotiations haven’t gone any better. Maybe this will help.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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