After spending the last four years feuding with now-outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday outlined an ambitious city agenda for the four months he’ll have to work with Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker before leaving office.
Topping Emanuel’s legislative wish-list is a transportation funding bill, possibly bankrolled by an increase in the gasoline tax, that’s needed to pay for a backlog of capital projects at the CTA and Metra.
Emanuel hopes to use it to defray at least some of the $2.3 billion cost to extend the CTA’s Red Line from its terminus at a renovated 95th Street Station all the way to 130th Street.
“It’s been a decade since they had a transportation bill. It’s been 30 years since they’ve come up with additional resources for it,” Emanuel told reporters after a City Council meeting.
“I have been a proponent and will continue to push early on for a major investment in transportation dollars. … I will lead that effort,” the mayor said.
The lame-duck mayor’s priorities also include state help with the $175 million perk he rolled out last spring to provide substantial savings for Chicago families with young children: universal full day pre-school for 24,000 4-year-olds by 2021.
Emanuel will be long gone by then. But his successor will be stuck with the tab or be forced to play the heavy by eliminating the freebie.
Chicago Public Schools are paying for it initially with increased state funding tied to the budget deal that ended the marathon state budget stalemate, as well as with extra money built into the school funding overhaul approved last year.
“When we did our social impact bond to help expand pre-K and make it universal full-day for every child, J.B. Pritzker and [wife] M.K. Pritzker helped back up those social impact bonds,” the mayor said.
“He has a very strong interest in early childhood education going back years. That’s a common interest that J.B., myself, M.K., Amy [the mayor’s wife] all share. I hope to work on that with the governor because I think the state should be a real partner. … We’re gonna do it in Chicago, but making it a statewide effort. The state should be putting resources towards that mission.”
Emanuel also talked about seeking pension relief after striking out repeatedly on that front with Rauner. Emanuel offered no specifics, but has promised a major speech next month laying out ways to confront a looming, $1 billion spike in pension payments.
Yet another item on the mayor’s list is more money for the City Colleges of Chicago and other colleges and universities that took a beating during the state budget stalemate.
Emanuel and Rauner are longtime friends and former business associates. They made millions together. Their families vacationed together and shared expensive bottles of wine.
Their inability to make that friendship work for the good of both the city and the state will go down as one of the great mysteries and failures of both of their administrations.
Emanuel maintained the pretense of neutrality throughout the gubernatorial campaign, but his formidable network of fundraisers and campaign organizers rallied behind Pritzker.
Now, he hopes to parlay that association into tangible benefits for Chicago before leaving office.
Also on Wednesday, Emanuel characterized the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House as a “rejection of Donald Trump.”
“You have a midterm election. The economy is 3.7 percent unemployment. Perceived by the public as good. Democrats had no business winning the House and making a majority,” the mayor said.
“If you look at every result — from `74, `82, `94, `06 and 2010 — this is the best economy of any one of those midterms. And because the map was gerrymandered, the system was tilted to favor the Republicans.”
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Emanuel said if his fellow Democrats hope to turn the “rejection of Donald Trump” into a more permanent political “realignment,” they need to court voters in the city and suburbs.
You can’t “just rely on him to push voters your way,” the mayor said.
“There’s a new emerging metropolitan majority between urban and suburban voters on a shared set of issues and interests — from education to transportation to quality-of-life issues,” he added.
“It’s incumbent upon us to keep speaking about health care costs, quality-of-life issues on transportation, education of their children and increasing funding.”
The mayor noted that Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where voters were “most resounding” in their rejection of Trump — spent a lot of time talking about education, health care and investing in transportation.
“Those issues … focused on where people live in both their pocketbook and their home. [Those] are the opportunities where Democrats can build a majority more responsive to their needs,” Emanuel said.