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Madeleine Doubek: Rahm can build a bridge between Rauner and Dems

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for 100,000 Opportunities Initiative)

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Hello, Chicagoans and all Illinoisans. While we’ve been off soaking at the beach, hitting various summer music fests, and either loving or hating the Cubs resurgence, Chicago finances have been sinking ever closer to complete collapse.

Perhaps you noticed on your way to or from the Grateful Dead or One Direction concerts that Chicago and Illinois are headed downward fast and near dead. Our politicians have run things into the ground. What’s new? Why care?

Nonpartisan government finance watchdog Truth in Accounting provided an answer. If you live in Chicago, pay taxes and all your government bills came due today:

  • You’d owe $12,700 to cover Chicago Public Schools
  • You’d need $28,600 to take care of Chicago
  • You’d need another $5,100 for Cook County
  • And a whopping $45,000 to keep Illinois afloat

OPINION

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Got that? If all the bills came due now, every taxpayer in Chicago would need to come up with $91,400 to cover their major governments’ debts.

“Instead of truly balancing their budgets, elected officials have chosen to push more than $228 billion of prior budget costs onto future taxpayers,” said Truth in Accounting Founder and CEO Sheila Weinberg. “In the future, each Chicago taxpayer will pay more than $90,000 in taxes to cover these costs, without receiving any services and benefits for those taxes.”

Keep that in mind as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel starts hosting town hall meetings next week. His press office says the meetings on the North, West and South sides Monday, Wednesday and Thursday will give residents a chance to offer savings, reform and revenue ideas. But the mayor’s already got plans and heard from aldermen. They’re getting ready to lower the boom on our wallets, our kids’ college funds and their future kids’ piggy banks.

All because none of the Democrats who run the city or the state can find a way to work with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner or make a difficult decision to save their political lives.

The pension problems have been building for years. The debts didn’t appear overnight. Democrats, while they still held the governor’s office, couldn’t muster the political fortitude to keep even a part of the higher income tax rate. They show no backbone to do it now and make needed cuts.

The state is on pace to spend $5 billion more than it takes in this year, even without a budget.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, an independent government research organization, said, “Many people express alarm, but few are taking personal responsibility for coming up with a solution or even offering meaningful long-term solutions.”

Chicago faces perhaps the most urgent crisis of any. Its credit is junk. Its schools have no teachers’ contract. The mayor will unveil a spending plan Sept. 22, a few weeks from now.

“There’s no one associated with the state of Illinois who doesn’t share responsibility for how horrible this has gotten,” Msall said. “There is nothing on the horizon that will provide parades and pats on the back when they eventually do the difficult steps necessary to stabilize our finances.

“The question is not whether they have to raise taxes,” he added, “but whether they can do it in a fashion that doesn’t frighten away business and residents from our state and provide hope for future growth.”

The mayor must shore up the foundation. He is the one who can and must build the bridge that brings Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Rauner to a solution. None of the Democrats should be willing to bear responsibility for the collapse of city schools.

This is Emanuel’s crucible.

Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.

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