In the many months Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been campaigning for re-election, I had never once heard him say he had a three-point plan for financing police and fire pension reform.
Especially not one that rules out a property tax increase as part of it.
But there he was Monday night in his first big one-on-one debate with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, ticking off a broader sales tax, a Chicago casino and raking off tax increment finance district surpluses as the main elements of his plan to pay the city’s unfunded pension obligations to police and firefighters.
I guess running a campaign that paints your opponent as someone without a specific plan has a way of focusing the mind.
Although the mayor put out a position paper Friday mentioning some of these items, this was the first time I’d heard the words pass his lips or him state matters so succinctly.
“My plan specifically avoids increasing property taxes,” Emanuel said.
NBC 5 political editor Carol Marin jumped on that and asked if he was ruling out a property tax increase to pay the city’s share of increased pension costs.
“Yeah, well, here’s the thing,” Emanuel answered, “the thing” never becoming clear to me, but this later statement sticking out when she persevered: “Everything I’m doing is to avoid a property tax increase.”
The mayor’s plan makes some sense to me, but if that’s really the plan, it’s notable to me that he hasn’t been saying so for the past four months.
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Garcia, meanwhile, continued trying to push his idea that Emanuel has been making insider deals with his rich “cronies,” and that Garcia needs to get into office “open up the books” to figure out the depth of the problem before he can advance specific solutions to its financial problems.
“I think there has been a lot of abuse with respect to subsidizing the rich and wealthy of this city,” Garcia said.
“We need to be honest with taxpayers, show them the truth and then come to grips with what the difficult choices are going to be,” he said.
My problem with that is that Garcia is implying the problems are even worse than we’ve been told, which may very well be, but then it’s even more important to show that he has some serious solutions in mind.
And I don’t have any sympathy for Emanuel and his cozy relationship with rich guy contributors, but I haven’t seen much to convince me he’s selling out the public either.
Is a property tax increase on the table for Garcia?
“There are many things that need to be on the table. You cannot move forward until you show Chicagoans where the tax dollars are going,” Garcia said.
That doesn’t do it for me. I’m sure Garcia’s “performance audits” could turn up some ideas for operating city government more efficiently, but it comes across as a dodge when you don’t have any concrete suggestions about where problems exist.
The contrast is striking to Garcia’s position on red-light cameras, where he comes across as strikingly sure of himself in his commitment to get rid of them.
In an indication of where Emanuel’s campaign commercials are headed in the coming days, the mayor accused Garcia of voting as a state senator in favor of one of the “pension holidays” that helped get the Chicago Public Schools in trouble by relieving them of the responsibility of making their annual payment to the retirement fund.
The only problem with that is that Emanuel’s school team was in Springfield a couple of years ago also trying to push back the date when the school system begins meeting its pension commitments.