Mayor Rahm Emanuel lashed out at his buddy Bruce Rauner on Thursday for attempting to torpedo the mayor’s plan to raise property taxes by $250 million to save two city employee pension funds.
Emanuel is having a tough enough time convincing Chicago aldermen ten months from re-election to cast a vote for the massive increase.
What he doesn’t need is Republican gubernatorial candidate Rauner — the mayor’s longtime friend and former business associate — making robo-calls to thousands of Chicago property owners urging them to pressure Gov. Pat Quinn to veto the bill that sets the stage for that increase by increasing employee contributions by 29 percent and reducing employee benefits.
“He hasn’t even gotten into the governor’s mansion to measure the drapes and he’s already acting like a career politician,” Emanuel said, throwing Rauner’s campaign rhetoric back in the Republican nominee’s face.
“When he was part of the Civic Committee, he put his name on a proposal that mirrors exactly what we passed. In fact, what we passed is much more serious reform. Part of leadership . . . is making the hard choices and telling people the hard truths. Once he was for it. And I suppose now he’s against it when he’s running for office. And he’s acting like a career politician in my view.”
Rauner wasn’t the only target of the mayor’s verbal barrage. So was downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who this week declared his opposition to Emanuel’s plan for a massive property tax increase and outlined three alternatives, two of them involving tax increment financing.
Without mentioning Reilly by name, the mayor ridiculed the alderman’s proposal to: dedicate up to 50 percent of all existing and future TIF funds toward pension liabilities; borrow up to $2 billion against future proceeds of TIF districts and demand that the Illinois General Assembly increase the “distributive share” of the state income tax increase earmarked for local governments, including Chicago.
“If I’m not mistaken, the alderman won’t commit on where he is on the income tax [extension]. Well, you can’t be for more of something you’re not sure you’re for,” the mayor said.
“And that means every year, you have to go back and get that. What if they don’t give it to you the second year? Does that mean the retirees and workers don’t make their changes the same year? We have to get this on a sustainable path.”
In a TIF district, property taxes are frozen for 23 years. Increased taxes within those boundaries are put into a pool of money that’s used for specific purposes, such as infrastructure improvements.
Emanuel shot down the idea of issuing TIF expiration bonds after announcing plans to use $60 million in TIF money to build a new selective-enrollment high school.
“Would you like me to borrow [from] the TIF for the pension or the school? We have TIF dollars that built the Back-of-the-Yards school. We still have to pay that off. . . . You have Coonley being built. You have a list of schools across the city of Chicago that use TIF dollars that are going to our future,” the mayor said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Emanuel’s plan to raise property taxes by $250 million — and a looming, $600 million payment to stabilize police and fire pension funds — has aldermen looking under every rock for alternative sources of revenue.
They include: a London-style congestion fee on motorists who drive downtown; a new and lower sales tax on high-end professional services performed in Chicago; a commuter tax on suburbanites; a garbage collection fee and going along with Quinn’s plan to make permanent a temporary increase in the state income tax, only if municipal revenue sharing is restored to bring Chicago $150 million a year.
On Thursday, the mayor said he was “always open to ideas” to reduce the massive property tax increase.
But, he said, “I’ve heard ideas about casinos. I’ll just tell you this: I don’t think you should go to the roulette table with somebody’s retirement check. I’m not gonna do that.”
Referring to a looming, $600 million payment to stablize two other pension funds, Emanuel said, “I would like to remind everybody we have police and fire pensions we have to still deal with. We have a lot of other challenges ahead of us. This was the most responsible way to do it. If people have ideas, bring `em forward. But, they have to be sustainable and consistent.”