A $400 million property tax increase is the most likely way for Chicago Public Schools to shore up its finances, according to two reports released Thursday by credit rating agency Moody’s.
“If CPS fiscal pressures continue, the district may pursue additional revenue by levying for debt service, which could raise Chicago taxpayers’ property taxes by more than $400 million annually,” the reports stated.
A property tax increase of that size, through, would weaken the city’s “political and practical ability” to increase taxes to fund pensions and other city services, Moody’s said.
“CPS’ deteriorating credit profile reflects years of budget imbalance which have completely drained operating reserves, leaving the district with minimal protection against further budget pressures,” Naomi Richman, managing director of Moody’s, said in a statement.
Last December, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have given the Chicago Public Schools $215 million it’s counting on to help pay for teacher pensions.
“CPS continues to make substantial progress, eliminating a billion dollar budget deficit in the past 18 months through management efficiencies and new revenue,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in an emailed statement Thursday night. “Despite Gov. Rauner’s veto of pension dollars for Chicago that every other school district receives, CPS will maintain a balanced budget this year, even as we continue to fight for Gov. Rauner to fix the nation’s most discriminatory school funding system.”
Bittner added that some of Moody’s suggestions would harm CPS’ financial position and, in some cases, are not legally possible.
Moody’s said other, “more painful” options include forgoing or deferring employer pension contributions or seeking state authorization to file for bankruptcy, though the latter is unlikely “given the current mayoral administration’s opposition to a CPS bankruptcy.”