Aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel are working on the final pieces of a plan to shore up two city worker pension systems in the hopes a bill could start to move at the Capitol on Wednesday.
The mayor’s plan involves getting taxpayers and government employees to put more money into the retirement systems covering laborers and municipal workers. Without the extra money, the funds could go broke in a decade or so.
The first hang-up: The municipal employees pension fund board balked at provisions that would have given Emanuel the power to appoint an additional trustee and put the retirement fund in line behind city bond holders for city payments. The Emanuel administration agreed to nix both points, and that was enough to win support from the municipal pension fund board.
The second hang-up: Unions were concerned late Tuesday about the specifics of a provision that would increase the amount newly hired government workers would have to pay toward their pensions from 8.5 percent to 11.5 percent. The concerns centered around possible changes that would allow employees to pay less than 11.5 percent if number crunchers decided less money was needed to ensure the solvency of the retirement plans.
The issue is whose number crunchers would have the say on what employees would be on the hook for. Emanuel’s office says that duty should fall to the administration, while unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, say the pension funds should set that figure.
Sponsoring Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she hoped the “kerfuffle” could be worked out in another amendment to the legislation that could surface as soon as Wednesday.
Emanuel’s plan also would require aldermen to work just as long as all other city workers before getting full pension benefits. Current aldermen are able to reach full benefits in just 20 years, instead of the 30 required of city workers.
Even if the city can satisfy union leaders and get a General Assembly dominated by Democrats to approve the plan, it’s not clear yet whether Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign the bill into law. Rauner wants a broader pension reform deal, an issue that’s caught up in the record budget impasse with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Under Emanuel’s plan, city taxpayers will be contributing hundreds of millions of dollars more a year to the municipal workers’ and laborers’ pension funds. That, along with increased employee contributions, is designed to ensure the funds have 90 percent of what is owed to workers in benefits within the next 40 years.
To pay for the increased contributions to the municipal fund, the City Council this year approved a new tax on city water and sewer service that will top 30 percent when fully phased in over the next four years. That’s expected to raise $239 million a year.
Aldermen already had approved a $1.40 increase in the monthly emergency services fee on all cellular and landline telephones billed to city addresses to raise about $40 million a year for contribution increases to the laborers’ fund.
That comes on top of a record $543 million property tax increase to boost contributions to pension funds for police officers and firefighters, and a $250 million property tax increase at the Chicago Public Schools to increase contributions to the teachers’ pension fund.
And even all those increases may not be enough. The city by the early to mid-2020s will have to come up with hundreds of millions of additional dollars a year to keep up with its proposed contribution schedules to the city’s four pension funds. (Hal Dardick, Monique Garcia)
*D’oh: Charges dropped against man accused of "Simpsons" graffiti in Naperville.
From the notebook
*Pawar seeks more power?: The latest Democrat mulling a run for Illinois governor is Ameya Pawar.
The 36-year-old, second-term alderman from the North Side upset the Democratic powers that be when he was first elected to lead the 47th Ward as a rookie politician in 2011.
Pawar said Tuesday he’s “seriously considering” a run for governor in the 2018 Democratic primary. He said he’d run as a progressive on a platform of bringing a graduated income tax to Illinois and rewriting the state school aid formula to provide more money for education.
He also said he would eschew the politics of division that “keeps everyone fighting over scraps and not focusing on the issue of income inequality and inequities around education funding,” which he believes is a tactic of “wealthy politicians because it maintains the status quo.”
And, yes, Pawar believes Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is one of those wealthy politicians that ”pit Chicago against Downstate, Downstate against Chicago, western Illinois against eastern Illinois, one university against the next.”
Enacting a graduated income tax in Illinois would require a change to the state constitution, and a complete revamp of state school funding is an idea that’s been bandied about for decades without going anywhere. Equally difficult would be running for a statewide post from a political base of just one of the city’s 50 wards.
“I didn’t have any base when I ran in 2011,” said Pawar, who eked out a victory then against a candidate backed by the Cook County Democratic Party. Four years later, he won decisively.
Pawar also has talked about a run for mayor, but said he won’t challenge Emanuel — who lives in Pawar’s 47th Ward — if the mayor seeks a third term. But when it comes to governor, Pawar says his decision doesn’t depend on who else runs.
“I’m comfortable with who I am and what I stand for, so I’ll go and talk to people,” said Pawar, who first floated his name to Politico. “The only hesitation that I have is I want to be present in my family’s life. We have a 9-month-old, and I just got married two years ago. . . . I feel like I can add a lot to the broader conversation around the governor’s race, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Other names being bandied about for governor on the Democratic side include Chris Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and former chairman of the University of Illinois board of trustees; J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist and co-founder and managing partner of the Pritzker Group; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who last time ruled out a bid because her powerful father, Michael Madigan, remains the House speaker; first-term Democratic state Treasurer Michael Frerichs of Champaign; state Sens. Kwame Raoul of Chicago and Daniel Biss of Evanston; U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson; and former Gov. Pat Quinn, whom Rauner vanquished in 2014.
The Democratic field is wide open after U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin ruled out a run for governor earlier this month. (Hal Dardick)
*Illinois gets preschool money: For the third year in a row, Illinois is set to receive $20 million in federal funds to help expand preschool programs in the state.
The U.S. Education Department provided $247 million to be split among 18 states in what’s known as the Preschool Development Grant. The intent is in part to give more 4-year-old kids from low- or moderate-income families access to solid preschool programs.
According to state education officials, the first year of money from the Preschool Development Grant was used to expand on Illinois’ Preschool for All initiative. Illinois made headlines when it became the first in the country to offer state-funded preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds under then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The first year Illinois was able to bring in 3,110 more children from 19 “high-need communities” to preschool programs, according to a performance report from the state. That was just shy of the state’s initial target of 3,200 children.
The state has requested a total of $80 million from the program through the federal government’s 2017 budget year, according to the Education Department.
Early childhood education is routinely promoted by politicians including Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Rauner. The governor, for example, has called for spending an additional $75 million as part of an effort to help more kids enroll in preschool, though it’s not clear where money for that or other education-related proposals from state lawmakers would come from. (Juan Perez Jr.)
*Former Paul Simon leader gets new gig: David Yepsen, who recently retired as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, has returned to Iowa where he has been named the new host of the weekly “Iowa Press” program.
Yepsen was formerly the national political reporter and columnist at the Des Moines Register before moving to Carbondale in 2009. He begins working for the Iowa Public Television broadcast on Jan. 20 following the retirement a week earlier by longtime host Dean Borg.
Yepsen had been a longtime regular guest of the Iowa program prior to taking on his duties at SIU. (Rick Pearson)
Follow the money
*The Republican State Senate Campaign Committee reported a $3,000 contribution from Ameren, the downstate utility that now supports the major Exelon legislation pending before Illinois lawmakers. Three GOP senators also sent a total of $69,000 back into the caucus political fund.
*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.
*Donald Trump picks Bush II vet Elaine Chao as transportation secretary, Rep. Tom Price for HHS; maps victory tour.