Mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy showed up Tuesday at a jam-packed Daley Center courtroom to demonstrate his support for former city employees fighting to restore the 55 percent retiree health care subsidy abolished by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
If he is elected mayor, McCarthy said he is determined to find the $130 million a year needed to restore the subsidy for retirees, 10,000 of whom started working for the city prior to April 1, 1986 and, therefore, are not eligible for Medicare.
“Emotionally, it disturbs me greatly that this is the way we treat retirees. It’s not fair. You’ve heard me say we need more compassionate government. This is exactly what I’m talking about,” McCarthy said.
“Underneath my being a cop for 35 years, I’m kind of a sensitive person, which a lot of people don’t realize it. The more time I’ve spent with the retirees, the more it’s gotten to me. I wanted to know more about it and show my support for them. I don’t think this should have happened. It needs to be corrected. It’s just another fiscal challenge we’re gonna have to face.”
Earlier this month, Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen ruled that the four city employee pension funds were not obligated to provide coverage for 22,000 retirees. Their only obligation was to provide a small subsidy for retirees to purchase coverage on their own.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Cohen provided the legal language that will enable retirees’ attorney Clint Krislov to immediately appeal that ruling to the Illinois Appellate Court.
Cohen also ordered a briefing schedule aimed at determining how the subsidies will be brought current, at a cost that Krislov estimated at $13.2 million dating back to January, 2017, when the city cut them off, and $600,000-a-month going forward.
Krislov was asked who would be on the hook to pay that money. Will it be the pension funds or, ultimately, beleaguered Chicago taxpayers?
“It’s not our problem. The city and the funds can figure out between themselves how to finance that,” Krislov said.
“Annuitants have a right to these monthly subsidies, and they haven’t been paid in like two years now. And they should be brought current and kept current. We had demanded that the funds pursue that months ago, and they just blew us off.”
Last year, a private email written by Emanuel bragging about the phase-out of the retiree health care coverage took center stage in the ongoing legal battle to restore the program and a 55 percent city subsidy.
The retirees’ attorney highlighted the mayor’s cavalier reply to an October, 2015 email from venture capitalist Henry Feinberg in an Illinois Appellate Court brief filed in a failed request for preliminary injunction that sought to compel the city to restore the benefit.
“Since when did Rahm Emanuel let a judicial ruling get in his way and not find a creative work-around solution?” Feinberg wrote then.
Emanuel replied, “Never. Which is why I eliminated retiree health care. Only elected official to eliminate-not cut or reform-a benefit. Thank you very much. A $175 million saving!”
Emanuel has said he “wasn’t bragging” as much as he was “acknowledging how we stabilized” skyrocketing health care costs.
Krislov didn’t buy the mayor’s argument. His brief branded Emanuel’s email “boasting” and “Trump-like.”
On Tuesday, McCarthy said the “callous” exchange was par for the course for the boss who fired him.
“That goes to his mindset. It’s that simple. He just doesn’t care about people,” McCarthy said.
“But I’m really done bashing him. I’m turning the page on him. He’s gone. … The problems that he left behind are still here, and we have to deal with them. That’s really what we’re doing. Planning to correct all of the things that are now broken.”
Pressed on where he would find the $130 million-a-year needed to restore the retiree health care subsidy, McCarthy pointed to Emanuel’s controversial plan to build a $95 million police academy “that I don’t think we need in the first place” in West Garfield Park.
Not to be outdone, mayoral candidate Paul Vallas reiterated an earlier pledge to restore the retiree health care subsidy and make the specific amount the “product of strategic bargaining” with union leaders.
“There are multiple pathways…for providing a subsidy that will not impose a permanent, long-term funding mandate on the city,” Vallas said.
Possibilities include diverting “a portion of the salary increase in the next contract” to fund retiree health care and requiring a “small annual contribution from active employees, which could be tied to income,” Vallas said.