Mayor Rahm Emanuel is ridiculing his runoff challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for saying he needs to do his “homework” before offering a solution to Chicago’s $20 billion pension crisis and $300 million operating shortfall.
To make the case, Emanuel’s re-election campaign released a new web-only video Wednesday pointedly titled “Homework.”
It features videotape of a Dec. 6 interview in which Garcia is pressed for specific solutions to Chicago’s financial crisis and promises to provide them within weeks.
“We are consulting with national and international experts on this matter. We’re going to be releasing positions on this within the next few weeks so that people can know,” Garcia is quoted as saying.
The December interview is juxtaposed against an interview done three months later, with Garcia yet still pleading for more time.“We’re stepping back to take a look at all of the financial implications of where we are. We’re looking at the operating budget as well,” Garcia told reporters Monday after joining Emanuel at Pulaski Day ceremonies at the Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee.
“When I win, we’re inheriting a very challenging situation. I can’t make any specific commitments right now. We’re trying to wrap our heads around it. We’re consulting with the foremost experts in municipal finance and pension questions also. We’re doing our homework.”
The second clip is followed by a quote from this week’s Chicago Sun-Times editorial demanding that Garcia be specific.
“Garcia has taken a brave stand on absolutely nothing. . . . Candidates can say anything, but mayors have to govern. Join us in the real world, Chuy,” the Sun-Times editorial stated.
Garcia said Wednesday he will release a financial plan for Chicago on his own time — not Emanuel’s.
“We are preparing to address the city’s financial challenges, the pension challenge included. The mayor is the last person [who] can criticize anyone else. Why? Because Chicago appears to be in a financial free-fall that happened on his watch,” Garcia said.
“The downgrading by Moody’s of the city’s [bond rating] is a verdict on his poor stewardship of the city’s finances. It is highly hypocritical for him to try to paint anyone else as being responsible for his actions over the past four years. The verdict by Moody’s is on his stewardship of the city for the past four years.”
Garcia said he plans to start releasing his financial plan “shortly” after he’s done consulting experts on municipal finance.
“I will not be pressured by his time-frames,” Garcia said.
Pressed to explain where he would find the $100 million it will take to hire the 1,000 additional police officers he has promised to hire, Garcia said he would continue to “look for additional revenue streams” and get ready to wield the budget ax.
“There was a $1.4 billion increase in expenditures over the past years. There’s $100 million that we’re using currently for [police] overtime. Some of that can be used,” he said.
Last week, Moody’s Investors Service dropped Chicago’s bond rating for the fifth time under Emanuel — to two levels above junk status — citing Chicago’s $20 billion pension crisis and the $10 billion in unfunded pension liabilities at Chicago Public Schools.
The downgrade — from Baa1 to Baa2 — will make it more costly for the city to borrow money and could force Chicago to pony up $58 million in penalties under so-called “interest rate swap contracts” tied to existing city debt.
The city’s plummeting bond rating has turned up the heat on both candidates to be more specific on how they plan to meet a state-mandated, $550 million payment due in December to shore up police and fire pension funds.
Emanuel and Garcia are also be on the hot seat to explain how they plan to meet the city’s increased obligations to the Municipal Employees and Laborers pension funds going forward, when the 56 percent increase in Chicago’s telephone tax that staved off a pre-election property tax hike falls short.
During a Round One debate before the Sun-Times editorial board, Emanuel ruled out a post-election property tax increase but confined the guarantee to the city’s $300 million operating shortfall. That prompted Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) to warn of a “massive” property tax hike for pensions if Emanuel is re-elected.
Garcia steered clear of revenue solutions on that day but resurrected a doozy afterward: legalizing and taxing marijuana.
That’s an idea touted by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and ridiculed by Emanuel.
“It’s something we remain interested in looking at as another creative potential source . . . because we need money. And if it doesn’t produce any harms to people in the state of Colorado, and if they’re able to generate revenue, we shouldn’t rule it out,” Garcia said.