Ald. Pat O’Connor (40) says the city may be in bad shape, but Springfield needs to get it’s act together. Speaking at a City Club breakfast Tuesday, the senior alderman and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s unofficial floor leader talked more about Springfield’s inaction than solutions for the city to fix budget problem on its own.
“It’s a little bit tricky when you have a mayor who is so driven, with so many ideas on how to make Chicago work, and so much of what’s going on around him is totally outside of his control or ability to make it happen,” O’Connor said, noting how the solution to the pension crisis starts in at the statehouse, not in Chicago. “Someone should kind of tell them the election is over, they’re in office now, they’ve won. And they should get on with the business of trying to help us solve some problems.”
He drew the state legislature’s open partisan fights in contrast with the City Council’s mostly closed door process, who he says spends months in discussions ensuring the budget is ready to pass when it hits the floor. “That budget essentially passes the exact way it was introduced after weeks of hearings, with the exception of one percent, one half a percent. That’s where we fight.” But he says there are tough times ahead for city government, and the recent bond downgrade has only made things tougher. Whether those hard times included a property tax hike, O’Connor wouldn’t say. “This is a quasi-press event. The last thing we want to do is make news.”
He did however offer up one possible solution: Mayor Emanuel’s plan to defer the city’s pension payments and tie future revenue from a proposed Chicago casino to help pay the bill. But that too needs approval from Springfield. It passed in both the House and Senate, but has yet to make it to the governor’s desk–Senate President John Cullerton used a parliamentary move to keep it from advancing to the Governor, who has said it is just another example of the city “kicking the can” down the road. But Ald. O’Connor said it was actually more like, “eating half the loaf today, and finishing the loaf in the next couple of years.” But loafs and cans aside, the Civic Federation’s analysis of current casino gambling revenue raises serious doubts over whether a Chicago casino is the answer to the city’s debt problems.
O’Connor was quick to criticize Springfield for their inaction on teacher pensions. He echoed Mayor Emanuel’s frequent claim that Chicagoans pay more than their fair share. “We pay our portion, we pay 7% of the 9% that the teachers are supposed to pay in the pension pickup, and then we get to pay for the rest of the state’s teachers in our income tax.” He says he wants to combine pensions “so we’re all in the same boat.”
It was around this time last month that Gov. Bruce Rauner made a personal visit to the City Council to scold the aldermen for years of poor budgeting and said the state couldn’t afford to bail the city out. But O’Connor says most of those mistakes were made years ago, and he immediately ticked off a list of cost-cutting measures the city has made since Mayor Emanuel took over the reins from Richard M. Daley. O’Connor says the the city needs to focus on the future, but it’s key that Springfield play along, too.