A coalition of Chicago public sector unions resistant to a push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel for changes to the pension system released a report Monday that concluded that the city should focus on new or higher taxes instead of significant cuts to benefits.
The We Are One Chicago group contended that cutting pension benefits would send negative economic ripples through the city and suburbs where retired Chicago Public Schools and city workers live.
The impacts of pension benefit cuts would hit women and people of color in disproportionate numbers and in turn hurt the economies in the cityâ€™s African American communities, concluded the study, which was dubbed â€œThe Great Chicago Pension Caper: Neighborhood Destabilization in an Age of Austerity.â€
To prevent those negative consequences, the group proposed several ways to pump up to $2.4 billion more into city and CPS coffers each year. Among them: closing state corporate tax loopholes; replacing the stateâ€™s flat income tax with a graduated tax that would require people making more money to pay more; and expanding the sales tax to include services while lowering the overall rate. That sales-tax approach is similar to the so-called â€œRahmâ€ tax that Emanuel proposed during his 2011 campaign but that never went anywhere in the face of withering criticism.
The coalition also proposed implementing a graduated city income tax, an idea rejected by Emanuel; raising city property taxes;Â putting an end to some special taxing districts that critics say divert money to the mayorâ€™s pet projects; and imposing a tax on financial transactions, another idea Emanuel opposes.
â€œWe actually think the people who do the work in this city should be a priority, and that we canâ€™t simply solve every problem on the backs of retirees or the people who do the work,â€ said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey. â€œThere needs to be a conversation about revenue.â€
To put a human face on the folks earning city and CPS pensions, the union group on Monday brought out seven current and future public sector retirees to tell their stories at a union facility on the Near West Side.
They included a Chicago police officer who had been shot in the line of duty, a firefighter who had hip replacement surgery he believes was made necessary by on-the-job incidents, and a widowed Chicago Public Schools history teacher on disability who will depend on her pension in her upcoming retirement.
There also was a onetime parking enforcement aide who said he was attacked and badly hurt on the job, an 81-year-old retired former Department of Public Health audio-visual technician who said her pension is less than $18,000 a year, a 69-year-old Chicago Public Health nurse who retired after 40 years and helps support her extended family and a younger nurse who helps pregnant women and hopes to rely on a pension when it comes time to retire.
Several noted they had contributed to the pension account, as is required, while the city and CPS have failed to make adequate payments to maintain the pension fundsâ€™ financial health.
â€œWe worked hard for our money,â€ said Patricia Boughton, 61, the history teacher. â€œWe paid ourÂ 9 percent (into the pension fund) faithfully . . . We earned this money, and we should not be penalized because the politicians in this city refused to live up to their obligations to their pensioners. I keep saying that I feel weâ€™ve been robbed, that somebody is stealing from us.â€