Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday branded former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas “the architect of kicking the can down the road” and said the city is not going back to those bad old days.
“This is a person who is the architect of kicking the can down the road — from skipping pension payments, eliminating direct-line revenue support for teachers pensions to Chicago’s corporate account . . . It took the city seven long, hard years to fix what he broke,” Emanuel said.
“We’re not going back. It’s not gonna be back to the future . . . Since this is the day, we’re not gonna have Ground Hog Day again here in Chicago. It’s not gonna happen.”
Vallas accused the mayor of spreading a “bald-faced lie.”
He argued he left CPS with “massive cash reserves,” pensions “fully-funded” and an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union that, if pensions ever fell below full-funding, the necessary contributions would be made.
“The rating agencies don’t upgrade you 12 times if you’re kicking the can down the road . . . What has Rahm gotten — 12 downgrades?” Vallas said.
“This is what politicians do when they have a lot of money, and they have a record they don’t want to run on . . . Like Trump, they hope that, if they repeat the lies enough times, people will begin to believe them . . . That’s Rahm’s modus operandi.”
Earlier this week, Vallas accused the mayor of “punting” Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis during his first term in office, blowing a chance to fix the problem when he had a Democratic governor and Democrats in control of the Illinois House and Senate.
“They punted for four years and, after the election, suddenly the sword of Damocles comes crashing down. What’s gonna happen in the next four years?…They’re talking about major post-election tax increases . . . Who are you gonna trust to navigate the city through those troubled financial waters?” he said.
Vallas also questioned whether Chicago has the “financial infrastructure to sustain” Emanuel’s two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers. He noted that rookie salaries are low, but rise fast.
“What happens after the election when the city’s financial crisis continues? Do you begin not filling the police vacancies? . . . Those shell games have been raised before. Approaching election, you fill vacancies. After the election, you don’t fill vacancies,” he said.
Vallas’ broadside took aim at what Emanuel views as his greatest strength.
The mayor points with pride to the progress he has made in reforming school funding and identifying dedicated funding sources for all four city employee pension funds.
Chicago taxpayers have paid a heavy price — with $1.2 billion in property tax increases for police, fire and teacher pensions, a 29.5 percent tax on water and sewer bills for the Municipal Employees pension fund, and a pair of telephone tax hikes for the Laborers pension fund.
Still more tax increases will follow, beginning in 2020, to keep all four pension funds on the road to 90 percent funding.
That’s apparently why Emanuel was loaded for bear on Friday — so much so that he broke with his longstanding tradition of ignoring potential challengers.
“It has been a long hard effort by all of us in the city to fix what he left behind….designed to literally kick the can down the road for somebody else to fix the problem,” the mayor said.
The mayor walked away when asked to comment on Vallas’ charge that he “punted” the pension crisis into his second term.
Vallas served as revenue director and budget director under former Mayor Richard M. Daley before being dispatched to the Chicago Public Schools as CEO after the Illinois General Assembly gave Daley control over CPS.
Those were the days when the four city employee pension funds were so flush with cash, Daley actually skipped payments with union approval and used the money to bankroll a pre-election tax hike and capital improvements.
Attempting to portray Vallas as the “architect” of the pension crisis without also blaming Daley, Emanuel’s predecessor and political mentor, is virtually impossible to do.
But Emanuel signaled Friday that he intends to try. That’s an apparent sign of how seriously he takes a potential challenge from Vallas.