WBEZ | Chicago City Council http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-city-council Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Ferguson to stay on as City Hall watchdog http://www.wbez.org/news/ferguson-stay-city-hall-watchdog-110291 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/joe_ferguson_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It looks like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be stuck with City Hall&rsquo;s corruption-fighting inspector general for longer than he anticipated.</p><p>Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson said Wednesday he will stay in his job beyond the end-of-summer departure date he discussed with the mayor last year.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, there&rsquo;s work to do and I think there&rsquo;s a general sense that the office of Inspector General is doing a pretty good job of advancing it, so we keep on keepin&rsquo; on,&rdquo; Ferguson told WBEZ Wednesday.</p><p>News that Ferguson will stay on as the city government watchdog comes weeks after the City Hall finally <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-seeks-end-federal-hiring-oversight-110188">struck an agreement</a> to emerge from years of federal hiring oversight. With the end of monitoring under the so-called &ldquo;Shakman decrees&rdquo; - which aim to stomp out political patronage - the role of hiring oversight will now shift to Ferguson&rsquo;s office</p><p>The inspector general has had a frosty relationship with Emanuel&rsquo;s administration at times, which initially cast doubt on whether the mayor would reappoint Ferguson to the job. Emanuel initially wanted to make Ferguson reapply for his post, but the mayor reversed course and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/despite-disagreements-emanuel-reappoint-city-hall-watchdog-108590">reappointed </a>him last year, following complaints from some aldermen.</p><p>In a statement released by the mayor&rsquo;s office announcing the reappointment in September 2013, Ferguson was quoted as saying he would &ldquo;move on to other things&rdquo; by the end of this summer, after the city emerged from the federal hiring oversight.</p><p>But on Wednesday, Ferguson told WBEZ he now plans to stay on longer than that. Under city ordinance, Ferguson is free to fill out the rest of his four-year term, though he declined to say whether he would.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m gonna answer the question by telling you I&rsquo;m not gonna answer the question, and I&rsquo;m not gonna answer the question because that&rsquo;s just not how I look at things,&rdquo; Ferguson said. He continues to take a day-by-day approach to his job because &ldquo;any other approach puts me and the office at risk of taking our eye off the ball.&rdquo;</p><p>In an interview Wednesday night with WTTW&rsquo;s &ldquo;Chicago Tonight,&rdquo; Emanuel said Ferguson was key in helping City Hall reach an agreement to end court hiring oversight under the Shakman case, but said he asked the inspector to stay on the job to help during the transition.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, we have a very good working relationship,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;Joe has been a partner, his office has been a partner, every report he has - he issues, we don&rsquo;t let it sit on the shelf and gather dust.&rdquo;</p><p>A federal judge must still give final approval to end the court hiring oversight, which could happen at a hearing on June 16.</p><p>Ferguson credited the Emanuel administration for making strides in coming out from under the Shakman heel, which has cost the city millions of dollars over the years. But he said there&rsquo;s still work to be done in order to come into &ldquo;full compliance&rdquo; with the court orders, particularly with police and fire departments.</p><p>The inspector general&rsquo;s office is also looking into whether police followed the proper protocol when they investigated the 2004 case of <a href="http://projects.suntimes.com/koschman/latest-news/vanecko-koschman-mom-in-court-for-hearing/">David Koschman</a>, who died after being punched by R.J. Vanecko, a nephew of long-time Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Vanecko was charged with manslaughter and pleaded guilty only years after the assault, following an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times.</p><p>Additionally, Ferguson said his office is still working on implementing the city&rsquo;s new <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/ethics/supp_info/governmental_ethicsordinance.html">ethics ordinance</a>, as well as other investigations he wouldn&rsquo;t disclose.</p><p>&ldquo;One thing I do know, there&rsquo;s four years&rsquo; worth of work out there to do,&rdquo; Ferguson said. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s probably a lifetime of work out there to do. And right now, my intention is to keep on doing it.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ferguson-stay-city-hall-watchdog-110291 Alder-MAN-ia: Why Chicago hasn't dumped a gender-exclusive term http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/alder-man-ia-why-chicago-hasnt-dumped-gender-exclusive-term-110215 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/150633976&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>In 1987 <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/alder-man-ia-why-chicago-hasn%E2%80%99t-dumped-gender-exclusive-term-110215#toddmelby">Todd Melby</a> was a student at Northwestern University&rsquo;s Medill School of Journalism, and as part of regular class assignments he&rsquo;d cover Chicago&rsquo;s City Hall. The experience stuck with him for decades. Even from his present-day home of Minneapolis, he was motivated to send along this question concerning the most fundamental term used in City Council:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Why hasn&#39;t Chicago dumped the guy-centric &quot;alderman&quot; title yet?</em></p><p>Maybe Todd&#39;s onto something. Cities across the country have been moving away from official use of the term, as language has become more gender-inclusive over time. That&rsquo;s especially true in cases where political and service titles can be regulated by local and state government. Firemen have officially become firefighters, for example. Ditto when it comes to police officers. As to why the term &quot;alderman&quot; in Chicago (as well as other Illinois cities with the aldermanic form of government) is a holdout, we found it has to do with law, for sure, but political inertia has played a part, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Women as Chicago aldermen</span></p><p>To back up a bit, the origin of the word alderman is inherently based on a single gender. The &quot;alder&quot; part comes from the Old English &quot;aldor&quot; meaning chief or patriarch, and the &quot;man&quot; part comes from the Old English ancestor of the same word.</p><p>&quot;Our language in government still reflects a bygone era when most elected officials were white males,&quot; said Gerald Gabris, a municipal government expert based at Northern Illinois University.</p><p>The earliest mention we found of a possible Chicago &ldquo;alderwoman&rdquo; candidate came in an 1902 in a <em>Chicago Daily Tribune</em> article.</p><p>&quot;&#39;The Alderwoman&#39;&quot; would be welcomed as a refining influence in the City Council &mdash; if she could get in,&quot; the article begins. But aldermen and city department heads quoted in the article voiced concern about whether women would want the job, or how they would act in it. &quot;Imagine a woman thinking that she had to answer to her constituents for those streets,&quot; the head of the city&#39;s Street department is quoted as saying. &quot;The whole office force would have to get out with whisk brooms and clean up for her.&rdquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago didn&rsquo;t have women on the council &mdash; regardless of what they were called &mdash; until 1971, when Marilou Hedlund and Anna Langford were elected.</p><p>Fast forward to 2014, when women hold fewer than one out of every three seats in City Council &mdash; a fact that some female aldermen say is a bigger issue than their gendered title. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think focusing on the word is less important than the fact that there are only 16 women in city council,&rdquo; said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cowlishaw-yourhighness.png" title="An excerpt from a 1993 transcript from an IL House of Representatives debate on whether to change the term ‘alderman’ to ‘alderperson’. Rep. Clem Balanoff-D introduced the bill. Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw-R supported it." /></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">An official title and some pushback</span></p><p>According to the <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=&amp;ActID=802&amp;ChapterID=14&amp;SeqStart=35300000&amp;SeqEnd=36200000&amp;Print=True">Illinois Municipal Code</a>: &quot;In all cities incorporated under this Code there shall be elected a mayor, aldermen, a city clerk, and a city treasurer.&rdquo; Another state statute, <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=79&amp;ChapterID=2">which governs state statutes</a>, says: &quot;Words importing the masculine gender may be applied to females.&quot; Based on those two lines, <em>alderman</em> is the only legislative municipal title, and that&rsquo;s the case for all Illinois cities, not only Chicago.</p><p>And, the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/ethics/general/Ordinances/GEO-DEC2011.pdf">city&rsquo;s own language </a>on the matter, tautological as it may be, mirrors that of the state: &ldquo;&lsquo;Alderman&rsquo; means any person holding the elected office of alderman of the city council.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/carrie austin crop.png" style="float: left;" title="Ald. Carrie Austin, who's advocated to use the term alderwoman. (Source: cityofchicago.org)" />That&rsquo;s not to say there hasn&rsquo;t been some pushback against the term. Some aldermen, like Bob Fioretti, say they&rsquo;ll use the terminology informally.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, I refer to them as alderwomen or aldermen,&rdquo; Fioretti said.</p><p>Still, the fact the official language is exclusionary bothers Alderwoman Carrie Austin of the far South Side.</p><p>&ldquo;I want all of the women that are part of the city council to sign onto legislation such as that. To change our name, our legal title as alderwoman. So that we can circulate in that manner as well,&rdquo; Austin said.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Austin would like to see, but even she hasn&rsquo;t kick-started a legislative campaign. And doing so could be complicated, considering past attempts to get a gender neutral term on the Illinois books were fraught with trouble.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Harold Washington nominates an alderwoman</span></p><p>There were two fights waged to put &ldquo;alderwoman&rdquo; or &ldquo;alderperson&rdquo; into official use. (There&rsquo;s no spoiler alert warranted here: You already know both failed!)</p><p>In <a href="http://docs.chicityclerk.com/journal/1983/121683optimize.pdf">December 1983</a>, then Chicago Mayor Harold Washington nominated Dorothy Tillman to represent the 3rd Ward located on the South Side. At the time, the City Council was in the midst of the infamous &ldquo;<a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/342.html">Council Wars</a>,&rdquo; in which dozens of aldermen vehemently opposed nearly everything Washington wanted to do.</p><p>Washington&rsquo;s opponents in the council blocked Tillman&rsquo;s nomination based on a single mistake in the appointment papers.</p><p>&ldquo;Harold Washington appointed me &lsquo;alderwoman&rsquo; of the 3rd Ward,&rdquo; Tillman said.</p><p>But the committee that considered nominations wouldn&rsquo;t have it, with the officially stated objection being that the use of the term &ldquo;alderwoman.&rdquo;</p><p>So on <a href="http://docs.chicityclerk.com/journal/1984/021584optimize.pdf">Feb. 15, 1984</a>, the mayor resubmitted the nomination, changing the word &quot;Alderwoman&quot; to &quot;Alderman.&quot; He noted that he was doing so in &quot;an effort to meet objections expressed by the chairman of that committee,&quot; referring to Rules Committee Chairman Frank Stemberk.</p><p>&ldquo;He [Washington] &nbsp;had to reappoint me as the alderman of the 3rd Ward,&rdquo; said Tillman, who took the seat the seat the following year and served until 2007. &ldquo;I wore the title of alderman proudly.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s unclear whether this battle over Tillman&rsquo;s nomination rested on gender politics, or whether it was just collateral damage from the ongoing council wars, in which the friction often came down to race. Harold Washington was the city&rsquo;s first African-American mayor. Dorothy Tillman is African-American.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/balanoff%20png.png" title="An excerpt from a 1993 transcript from an IL House of Representatives debate on whether to change the term ‘alderman’ to ‘alderperson’. Rep. Clem Balanoff-D introduced the bill. " /></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The second coming &hellip; and losing</span></p><p>In 1984 the term &ldquo;alderwoman&rdquo; became political fodder, but later there was a direct challenge to the gender-specific title of alderman.</p><p>In 1993, then-state Rep. Clem Balanoff (D) introduced a bill that &quot;does nothing more than change the term &#39;alderman&#39; to &#39;alderperson&#39;, in making the term gender neutral,&quot; according to a <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/house/transcripts/htrans88/HT031093.pdf">transcript of the floor debate.</a></p><p>Balanoff recently explained that he introduced the bill because a female Chicago alderman had relayed how annoyed she was at the state law.</p><blockquote><p><a name="debate"></a>(Here&#39;s the full floor debate, re-enacted by WBEZ staffers. Clem Balanoff stars as himself!)</p></blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/150599511&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Balanoff imagined the title change would be a slam dunk, as it had already passed in committee.</p><p>&ldquo;It just seems like something that makes so much sense,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It doesn&rsquo;t bother anybody. It&rsquo;s not going to change state statute so big, it doesn&rsquo;t cost any money.&rdquo;</p><p>But the bill never made it out of the Illinois House; Republican leader Bill Black successfully argued against it during the floor debate.</p><p>&ldquo;Let&rsquo;s, for once in a rare moon, use a little common sense,&rdquo; Black told his fellow representatives. &ldquo;Let those people be referred to or called by whatever they want, by whatever body they represent. I implore you not to clutter the state&rsquo;s statutes. I urge a &lsquo;no&rsquo; vote.&rdquo;</p><p>Balanoff said after Republican Bill Black spoke, most of the GOP followed suit.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to say they follow lockstep, but it&rsquo;s pretty close,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Balanoff added that, after the no vote of 1993, he imagined he&rsquo;d bring the issue up again down the line. He never did.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CoggsHead.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Ald. Milele Coggs, the only woman serving on Milwaukee's 15-member council. (Source: city.milwaukee.gov) " /><span style="font-size:22px;">Support for the word &ldquo;alderwoman&rdquo;?</span></p><p>While alderpersons or alderwomen aren&rsquo;t official terms in Illinois, they do exist in Wisconsin. In 1993, their state statutes were amended to refer to &ldquo;<a href="http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/62.pdf">alderpersons</a>.&rdquo; Just a few years before (1988), a rewrite of the <a href="http://city.milwaukee.gov/ImageLibrary/Groups/ccClerk/Ordinances/CH1.pdf">Milwaukee&rsquo;s city charter</a> officially recognized female council members as &ldquo;alderwomen.&rdquo;</p><p>That word has special significance to Milwaukee Alderwoman Milele Coggs, the only woman currently serving on the city&rsquo;s 15-member council.</p><p>&ldquo;For me to be called alderman, is to not give recognition to who or what I am, and although my gender is only part of what I am, it is part of me,&rdquo; Coggs said. &ldquo;Just like men who happen to serve as council members prefer to be called aldermen, I just prefer to be called alderwoman. It&#39;s recognition.&rdquo;</p><p>A handful of Chicago&#39;s suburbs use the term &quot;council member&quot; instead of alderman. Joliet, Wheaton and Naperville are among the suburbs that go as far as referring to members as &quot;councilman&quot; and &quot;councilwoman.&quot; No suburb with aldermen refer to female council members &quot;alderwomen.&quot;</p><p>But such a measure isn&rsquo;t likely to gather momentum anytime soon in Chicago. Few of the other aldermen interviewed for this piece suggested changing the word.<a name="toddmelby"></a></p><p>&quot;It personally doesn&#39;t make a difference to me how I&#39;m referred to,&quot; said Ald. Mary O&#39;Connor (41st). &quot;I worked really hard to become the alderman of the 41st Ward and I truly believe that there are more important issues for me to be advocating for than to change a title, so I&#39;m comfortable with being called alderman.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Todd%20Melby%20photo%20by%20Ben%20Garvin%20%28CREDIT%29.JPG" style="width: 270px; float: left; height: 194px;" title="Todd Melby, who asked us this question. (Photo by Ben Garvin)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Todd Melby</span></p><p>Todd Melby is an independent media producer based out of Minneapolis, a place where people on the City Council used to be addressed as &ldquo;alderman,&rdquo; but are now referred to as council members.</p><p>Melby said, &ldquo;As I guy, I usually don&rsquo;t encounter this gender-specific stuff. However, as a father, people often use the term &ldquo;mothering&rdquo; when I would parent my children, 20-25 years ago. When they were young there were lots of ads that talked about &lsquo;mothering&rsquo; as a synonym for parenting. So I guess I was kind of sensitive to that as a father who was a very involved parent.&rdquo;</p><p>(Editor&rsquo;s note: Todd Melby also heads up <a href="http://blackgoldboom.com/">Black Gold Boom</a>, a project which &mdash; like Curious City &mdash; was initiated by <a href="http://localore.net/">Localore </a>from the <a href="http://www.airmedia.org/">Association of Independents in Radio</a>.)</p><p><em>Tanveer Ali is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tanveerali">@tanveerali</a>. Jennifer Brandel is Founder and Senior Producer of WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/JnnBrndl">@jnnbrndl</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 21 May 2014 12:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/alder-man-ia-why-chicago-hasnt-dumped-gender-exclusive-term-110215 Emanuel skeptical of teachers union pension plan http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-skeptical-teachers-union-pension-plan-110148 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rahm-crop.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s administration is swatting down key aspects of the Chicago Teachers Union&rsquo;s proposal to shore up the ailing pension fund for city teachers.</p><p>On Tuesday, Emanuel suggested a proposed tax on financial transactions would hurt the big Chicago-based financial exchanges like the Chicago Board Options exchange and CME Group, which owns the Chicago Board of Trade and other exchanges. The Chicago Teachers union is pushing what it calls a &ldquo;LaSalle Street tax&rdquo; on futures and derivatives trades. CTU estimates it could reap $10 billion to $12 billion a year.</p><p>But Emanuel seemed to dismiss that idea when asked about it Tuesday.</p><p>&ldquo;Years ago, people referred to &lsquo;Lasalle Street&rsquo; because it was a financial center, and Chicago had a lotta banks that were...Chicago-based. There&rsquo;s only one left. They&rsquo;re all gone.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel also suggested a financial transaction tax might hurt the city&rsquo;s thriving futures and options industry.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a place where Chicago&rsquo;s still, economically, a dominant player,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;And there&rsquo;s more competition.&rdquo;</p><p>The transaction tax was just one part of the Chicago Teachers Union&rsquo;s pension plan, first reported last week by WBEZ. The union wants to borrow $5 billion to help shore up the underfunded Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. Right now, the fund only has about half the money it would need to pay out in future benefits, for about $9 billion in projected future pension debt.</p><p>The union&rsquo;s plan would pay for the borrowing with several new streams of revenue. In addition to the transaction tax, the teachers would also impose a &ldquo;commuter tax&rdquo; on people who work in the city but live elsewhere. Union officials also propose extending the life of the city&rsquo;s tax increment financing districts, or TIFs, which divert tax money into economic development projects. The union would use the extra money generated during the life of the TIFs to pay for their proposed borrowing.</p><p>But Emanuel&rsquo;s administration is giving those ideas a chilly reception, raising questions about whether the two sides can reach any sort of compromise on pensions before next year. In 2015, Chicago Public Schools&rsquo; state-mandated payment into its teachers pension fund will jump to $613 million - a roughly $400 million spike - after three years of making reduced payments into the fund.</p><p>Emanuel didn&rsquo;t directly address the question of a tax on commuters, but mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said City Hall doesn&rsquo;t have the authority to levy such a tax.</p><p>&ldquo;It would be unconstitutional under the Federal constitution for commuters living out of state, such as Indiana and Wisconsin,&rdquo; Quinn said via email. &ldquo;It would also be unconstitutional under the Illinois constitution as to Illinois commuters.&rdquo;</p><p>Additionally, Emanuel said a financial transaction tax would first require approval from both state lawmakers and federal regulators.</p><p>Emanuel has said repeatedly that he wants pension negotiations to focus on &ldquo;reform before revenue,&rdquo; which some critics have interpreted as referring to the<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fmayor-emanuel%25E2%2580%2599s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEkaheRa-XzrnvOzy_rLdgFgfy0EA"> type of benefit cuts the mayor</a> has pushed for the city&rsquo;s laborers and municipal workers. But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a vociferous adversary of Emanuel&rsquo;s, has said tackling benefit changes first without new revenue streams in place would be like &ldquo;cutting our own throats.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fusers%2Fakeefe&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHCooL3ruU-DUyQdnHprdBP25WItg">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FWBEZpolitics&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNE7HeV8c3K0gV2LF_GODmIGo6nkkg">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 07 May 2014 15:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-skeptical-teachers-union-pension-plan-110148 Morning Shift: A contest for Chicago's biggest and best liars http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-01/morning-shift-contest-chicagos-biggest-and-best-liars <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Pinnochio Flickr The Wolf.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>From plastic bags to ride sharing, we recap the action at Chicago&#39;s City Council meeting. We hear about a contest to find the best liar in Chicago. Plus, a local university&#39;s dominance in a sport that usually doesn&#39;t get much attention.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-a-contest-for-chicago-s-biggest-and/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-a-contest-for-chicago-s-biggest-and.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-a-contest-for-chicago-s-biggest-and" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: A contest for Chicago's biggest and best liars" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Thu, 01 May 2014 07:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-01/morning-shift-contest-chicagos-biggest-and-best-liars Chicago aldermen crack down on plastic bags, pedicabs http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-aldermen-crack-down-plastic-bags-pedicabs-110113 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Plastic bag FILE - AP_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Grocery shoppers and pedicab drivers alike will feel the effects of tougher regulations approved Wednesday by Chicago&rsquo;s City Council.</p><p>Aldermen, by a vote of 36 to 10, gave final approval to a partial ban on plastic carryout bags. Several aldermen abstained.</p><p>The partial ban, championed for years by 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno, had been pitched as an environmentally friendly measure meant to reduce the number of bags stuck in trees and snagged on chain link fences.</p><p>&ldquo;You can&rsquo;t be a &lsquo;City in the Garden&rsquo; and have a set of policies that actually hurt the environment,&rdquo; said Mayor Rahm Emanuel after Wednesday&rsquo;s vote, echoing Chicago&rsquo;s city motto.</p><p>Under the new law, both franchise retailers and groups of three or more chain stores will no longer be allowed to hand out plastic bags to customers. Retailers must also provide or sell recyclable paper bags, reusable bags or compostable plastic bags as an alternative.</p><p>In response to concerns from some aldermen and business groups, the ordinance exempts owners of independent shops from having to ditch their plastic bags. All restaurants are also exempt.</p><p>Moreno had originally pushed for an outright ban on plastic bags, and he has said he hopes to tighten restrictions further once a partial ban is in place. Some business groups, including the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, bemoaned the ban, saying paper bags cost three times as much as plastic ones.</p><p>The Washington, D.C.-based American Progressive Bag Alliance lobbied against the ordinance, saying it would cost plastic bag manufacturing jobs in Chicago.</p><p>Fifth Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston said she was voting against the bag ban because she worries it will increase costs for grocers, arming them with a new excuse not to open shop in her South Shore neighborhood, which already suffers from a dearth of grocery stores.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m watching my community go to hell in a handbasket while rich communities debate plastic bags,&rdquo; Hairston said during Wednesday&rsquo;s debate.</p><p>&ldquo;Why would I support an ordinance that limits the food choices I get to make based on the type of bag I get to use?&rdquo; Hairston said. &ldquo;Right now, the type of bag I use really doesn&rsquo;t matter because I can&rsquo;t buy groceries to put them in. If I voted for this ordinance, where would I bring my bags to shop in my community?&rdquo;</p><p>Big chain stores - larger than 10,000 square feet - have until August 2015 get rid of their plastic bags. Stores smaller than that have until August 2016.</p><p><strong>Chicago&rsquo;s first pedicab regulations</strong></p><p>Also on Wednesday, aldermen approved the city&rsquo;s first-ever regulations on so-called &ldquo;pedicabs.&rdquo;</p><p>The new restrictions come just in time for warmer spring weather, when the tricycle rickshaw taxis can be seen ferrying passengers to and from baseball games and downtown tourist hotspots.</p><p>After years of operating in a <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fno-rules-road-chicago%25E2%2580%2599s-pedicabs-thrive-106557&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFsBfWvdKL2fvg5iDZx9d_j4alTbw">legal grey area</a>, the new ordinance imposes restrictions on how, where and when pedicab operators can peddle their trade. It requires operators to get a city-issued $250 license for each pedicab, and drivers to get a $25 &ldquo;chauffeur&rdquo; license. Pedicab owners must also buy insurance and they post fare their schedules.</p><p>Some in Chicago&rsquo;s pedicab industry have lauded the move toward some regulations. But other restrictions have drawn protests from pedicab drivers who worry their industry will take a hit.</p><p>The ordinance caps the number of pedicab licenses at 200 citywide. In an effort to cut down on congestion, it also bans all pedicabs from riding through part of the Loop during rush hour. They also would be banned entirely from riding on Michigan Avenue and State Street, between Congress Parkway and Oak Street.</p><p>&ldquo;Ninety percent of my time is spent down here in the restricted [area],&rdquo; said operator Antonio Bustamante, who said he spends 50 to 60 hours a week operating one of the two pedicabs he owns. Bustamante and a handful of other drivers parked their pedicabs on the sidewalk along LaSalle Street outside City Hall after Wednesday&#39;s vote, protesting what they see as an unfair restriction on their industry.</p><p>&ldquo;I need to look for another job,&rdquo; Bustamante said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll have to sell both of my cabs and move on to something else, which is ridiculous. It&rsquo;s very upsetting that this is where we are.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Pet coke ban in place, but Southeast residents aren&rsquo;t exactly cheering</strong></p><p>The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance today that places stricter restrictions on the storage of a product known as pet coke.</p><p>Pet coke is stored in large quantities on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast side where it arrives by the train load from the nearby BP Refinery in Whiting, Indiana.</p><p>Since last summer, residents have pushed loudly for an all out ban, believing it makes them ill when it becomes airborne.</p><p>It appeared that the mayor and others agreed but political support for a ban waned in recent months. 10th Ward Alderman John Pope says a ban isn&rsquo;t legal.<br /><br />&ldquo;Obviously, there&rsquo;s concerns and desires from pretty much everyone to have a ban but legally that&rsquo;s almost impossible,&rdquo; Pope said. &ldquo;So, the next best recourse is I think what we&rsquo;re doing: Making any new uses impossible and limiting to the three existing operators. It does a lot.&rdquo;</p><p>The largest handler of pet coke, KCBX Terminals Inc., which is owned by the wealthy Koch Brothers,, says its already invested millions in a dust-suppression system so the pet coke doesn&rsquo;t blow away.</p><p>Residents worry that the new law only regulates the storage of pet coke and may invite companies who want to use the product for other uses, such as converting pet coke, considered an energy source, into diesel fuel. Residents, working with national environmental groups, say will continue to push for an all-out ban.</p><p>&ldquo;It is thoroughly unacceptable for these piles to sit just a few hundred yards from people&rsquo;s houses,&rdquo; said Southeast Environmental Task Force executive director Peggy Salazar said in a statement. &ldquo;People are complaining about finding dust from these sites inside their homes. Black dust is coating their houses and probably their lungs. This has to stop.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, Henry Henderson, Midwest Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the City Council is moving in the right direction but more needs to be done.</p><p>&ldquo;The City is to be commended for attacking the petcoke problem, but a lot more has to be done before Chicagoans who live near sites where petroleum coke and coal have been mounded by their homes, schools and parks can feel safe,&rdquo; Henderson said in a statement. &ldquo;The Mayor has been very public in his desire to push this dirty stuff out of Chicago. Given the City&rsquo;s multi-pronged approach today&rsquo;s vote is a step forward, but we need ongoing, concerted effort and enforcement to achieve Emanuel&rsquo;s goal.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Deferral of rideshare vote</strong></p><p>Council members deferred a vote on a set of regulations for controversial ridesharing services until Springfield legislators have a chance to consider state rules for the new industry. Alderman John Arena (45th) asked to &ldquo;defer and publish&rdquo; the <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fmorningshiftwbez%2Frideshare-ordinance-passes%3Futm_source%3Dsoundcloud%26utm_campaign%3Dshare%26utm_medium%3Dfacebook&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNF3255bBLHeonjfuX7UqqFrXfN5tg">mayor&rsquo;s proposed ordinance</a>, with the backing of Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Roderick Sawyer (6th). The parliamentary move requires the support of only two aldermen.</p><p>&ldquo;This was clearly an effort to protect taxi owners from competition and preserve the existing taxi monopoly,&rdquo; said Uber Midwest Regional Director Andrew MacDonald, in a statement released to the media. Uber and Lyft, the two largest ridesharing services in Chicago, favored the proposed regulations. The companies provide smartphone applications to help people use their personal cars for hire.</p><p>Scores of Chicago cab drivers gathered in the lobby outside Council Chambers, and let out a big cheer immediately following the deferral. But they still remained uncertain of what city council might do when they reconsider the issue. The drivers also remain concerned about how ridesharing services have cut into their industry.</p><p>&ldquo;Can they still operate as they have been in the past and make money (and) interfere with our money?&rdquo; asked one driver, who floated the idea of a taxi driver strike. Organizers from the American Federation of State, County &amp; Municipal Employees told them they would do better to focus their efforts on organizing and lobbying aldermen.</p><p>State legislators are expected to consider a <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fillinois-house-moves-rein-ridesharing-110011&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNExxaXHMc-BPpJ5R6hPiTbjx9cmiQ">much stricter set of standards</a> in the Senate for the ridesharing industry in May.</p><p><em>Alex Keefe is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FWBEZpolitics&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNE7HeV8c3K0gV2LF_GODmIGo6nkkg">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p><p><em>Michael Puente contributed to this report. You can follow him on Twitter @<a href="https://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews">MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p><p><em>Odette Yousef contributed to this report. You can follow her at <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Foyousef&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHKQ6bayggMubwgs9U53FsOML-b9A">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FWBEZoutloud&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGciFiqidUKx7xm655BDbaPU9eB3g">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Apr 2014 16:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-aldermen-crack-down-plastic-bags-pedicabs-110113 Madigan drops property tax mandate in pension bill http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Pat-Quinn-AP-Seth-Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is removing a controversial provision from a Chicago pension bill that would have required the City Council to raise property taxes in order ease the city&rsquo;s nearly $20 billion pension crisis.</p><p>The move to strip the property-tax language in the bill came late Monday, just a few hours after Gov. Pat Quinn signalled he would not back a proposed property tax hike that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing in order to bolster the ailing pension funds for Chicago laborers and municipal workers.</p><p>&ldquo;Working with legislative leaders, bill sponsors, the Governor, and our partners in labor, we have addressed their concerns and can now move forward to save the retirements of nearly 60,000 city workers and retirees in Chicago,&rdquo; Emanuel was quoted as saying in an emailed statement late Monday afternoon.</p><p>But the removal of the property tax language doesn&rsquo;t mean Emanuel&rsquo;s tax hike proposal is going away. That plan, which would bring the city $750 million in revenue over the next five years, still seems to be central to the mayor&rsquo;s plan to pump more money into the city&rsquo;s pensions.</p><p>The difference is that state legislators, who must approve changes to Illinois pension law, don&rsquo;t have to worry about being blamed for raising Chicago property taxes during an election year. The bill&rsquo;s original language mandated that the City Council raise property taxes to pay for pensions. The latest version allows the city to use &ldquo;any available funds&rdquo; to make its annual payments.</p><p>Speaking at an event Monday morning, Emanuel said he is not trying to hang a potential property tax hike around legislators&rsquo; necks.</p><p>&ldquo;It was never anybody&rsquo;s intention to have Springfield deal with that,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s our responsibility. But I do believe to actually give the 61,000 retirees and workers the certainty they deserve, you need reform and revenue. And we&rsquo;ll deal with our responsibility.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel said he will continue to &ldquo;address people&rsquo;s concerns&rdquo; about the pension plan, though he would not speak directly to its fate in the City Council, which would also need to approve any property tax hike.</p><p>To placate public worker unions who had wanted a dedicated revenue stream, Madigan&rsquo;s changes also beef up the penalties if City Hall wriggles out of paying its pension contributions. The bill directs Illinois&rsquo; Comptroller to cut off state funding to the city indefinitely if it doesn&rsquo;t pay its pension tab, and it gives pension funds the right to sue City Hall in order to get their money.</p><p>The new bill would also guarantee that retirees who make $22,000 or less in annual benefits would get a cost-of-living increase of at least 1 percent each year. Prior proposals set the annual increases at the lesser of 3 percent or half the rate of inflation. Right now, city laborers and municipal workers get a guaranteed annual benefit increase of 3 percent, which builds on the previous years&rsquo; increases.</p><p>The changes to the mayor&rsquo;s proposed pension fix came just hours after Gov. Pat Quinn slammed Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve gotta come up with a much better comprehensive approach to deal with this issue,&rdquo; Quinn said at an unrelated press conference. &ldquo;But if they think they&rsquo;re just gonna gouge property taxpayers, no can do. We&rsquo;re not gonna go that way.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn, a populist Democrat who is seeking re-election in November, has made property tax relief central to his 2015 state budget proposal. And while he shot down Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike, the governor did not offer an alternative source of revenue for Chicago pensions.</p><p>&ldquo;I think they need to be a whole lot more creative than I&rsquo;ve seen so far,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>State legislators could consider the new amendment as soon as Tuesday.</p></p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 Quinn quiet on mayor’s pension plan, questions property tax hikes http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-quiet-mayor%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-questions-property-tax-hikes-109966 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Quinn - AP Seth Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is raising questions about whether he would support a plan to bolster Chicago&rsquo;s underfunded public pensions by raising property taxes, telling reporters today that property taxes are already &ldquo;overburdening&rdquo; state residents.</p><p>State lawmakers are now debating <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Femanuel-pension-deal-would-raise-property-taxes-trim-benefits-109948&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHVMds9AwIwUN5U23ljh0rlrgfAPg">Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s plan</a> to prop up city&rsquo;s pension funds for laborers and municipal workers. Central to that is a proposal to raise property taxes by $50 million each year for five years, which would ultimately net the city $750 million. The mayor also is calling for city workers to chip in more money toward their retirement benefits, and he wants to scale back the rate at which those benefits grow each year.</p><p>But Emanuel&rsquo;s blueprint, which he said would solve about half of Chicago&rsquo;s nearly $20 billion public pension crisis, first needs approval from the state legislature and the governor, because all Illinois pensions are governed by state law.</p><p>Quinn on Thursday would not say whether he would sign the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Flegislation%2Fbillstatus.asp%3FDocNum%3D1922%26GAID%3D12%26GA%3D98%26DocTypeID%3DSB%26LegID%3D73354%26SessionID%3D85&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHCEIli0kRUcM8Np1l1LxGkpZmWDg">Chicago pension bill</a> if it landed on his desk.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know what that bill is, frankly,&rdquo; Quinn told reporters in Chicago. &ldquo;I think it has all kinds of different descriptions. They&rsquo;re, I guess, looking at it in Springfield. When they have something put together we&rsquo;ll look at it. But I wanna make it clear: I believe in reducing the burden of property taxes in our state.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn would not detail any specific concerns he had with Emanuel&rsquo;s pension plan. But he returned repeatedly to the talking points he has been using to push his own 2015 state budget proposal. &ldquo;The bottom line in our state is we have to reduce our reliance on property taxes and we have to invest in education,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>The governor&rsquo;s 2015 budget would make permanent a <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fstory%2Fincome-tax%2Ftemporary-tax-hikes-dont-always-stay-way&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHDXygwYKimhgniQZB0Efijo86f_Q">income tax hike</a> enacted in 2011, while guaranteeing all Illinois homeowners a $500 property tax refund. The governor is hoping that will allow municipalities around the state, boosted by trickle-down state income tax revenue, to lower local property taxes, which Quinn thinks disproportionately favor wealthy areas.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s Springfield allies put his plan into legislative form on Tuesday, shortly after he outlined it for reporters. The bill passed a key House pension committee on Wednesday, but is still awaiting a debate before the full House.</p><p>The State Senate, meanwhile, adjourned for the week on Thursday without taking up the plan.</p><p>The blueprint Emanuel outlined earlier this week aims to pump more money into the two pension funds for more than 56,000 city workers -- one for city laborers and the other for municipal workers, including administrators and skilled tradesmen.</p><p>By 2020, Emanuel&rsquo;s plan would finally do away with the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fexperts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGzLcw0b8YPzM-h-NQSYombAlYX5g">archaic math</a> the city has been using for decades to calculate how much money to chip into its workers&rsquo; retirements. Experts say that is a primary reason the pension funds have been shorted for decades, leading to their current dire shape. Instead, the proposal in Springfield would slowly ramp up contributions from the city, before switching over to a self-adjusting funding formula.</p><p>If the city tries to skimp on payments -- or skip them altogether -- <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Flegislation%2Ffulltext.asp%3FDocName%3D09800SB1922ham004%26GA%3D98%26SessionId%3D85%26DocTypeId%3DSB%26LegID%3D73354%26DocNum%3D1922%26GAID%3D12%26Session%3D&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEL9MZWqOZTKPul1CQW64R2_sAHpA">the current proposal</a> allows the pension funds to take Chicago to court, or even garnish City Hall&rsquo;s share of state grant money.</p><p>But the stabilization of the pension funds would also come at a cost for taxpayers and city workers.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike, which would still need approval from the City Council, would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $58 more in property taxes each year for the next five years, according to the mayor&rsquo;s office.</p><p>Current and retired city workers would also kick more into their pension funds, but get less out of them. Employee contributions would jump from the current 8.5 percent of each paycheck to 11 percent by 2019.</p><p>But the mayor also wants to scale back the rate at which those benefits grow each year. Retirees in the municipal and laborers pension funds currently see their retirement benefits grow at a 3 percent compounded annual rate. The mayor wants to cut that down to a flat 3 percent, or half the rate of inflation, whichever is smaller. And retirees would see no benefit increase in 2017, 2019 or 2025.</p><p>Several of Chicago&rsquo;s most powerful city workers&rsquo; unions quickly came out against the mayor&rsquo;s plan, arguing it violates a part of the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Fcommission%2Flrb%2Fcon13.htm&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHYjOR9TNeMJMsYGbhWyAumt2lbbA">Illinois Constitution</a> that says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>That includes the unions for police, firefighters and teachers, whose members all have their own woefully underfunded pensions systems that would not be affected by Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal. What&rsquo;s more, the mayor&rsquo;s plan does nothing to stave off a state-mandated spike in the city&rsquo;s contributions to its police and fire pensions next year, which will cost nearly $600 million.</p><p>The jump in required payments was designed to finally bring the city&rsquo;s police and fire pensions into the black, after decades of City Hall shorting the funds. But Emanuel has threatened that such a huge, one-time increase would force drastic budget cuts or steep property tax hikes.</p><p>A spokesman for venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, Quinn&rsquo;s Republican opponent in the November election, said in a statement that Rauner disagreed with the mayor&rsquo;s proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;Bruce has always maintained that true pension reform requires moving towards a defined contribution style system and believes that should also be part of the solution for Chicago,&rdquo; said campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fusers%2Fakeefe&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHCooL3ruU-DUyQdnHprdBP25WItg">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FWBEZpolitics&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNE7HeV8c3K0gV2LF_GODmIGo6nkkg">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 15:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-quiet-mayor%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-questions-property-tax-hikes-109966 Mayor's borrowing authority hiked by council http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-borrowing-authority-hiked-council-109644 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP168520649673_1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago aldermen today gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s administration its final okay to borrow up to $900 million dollars to pay for city equipment, capital projects, and legal settlements, and to refinance old debt.</p><p>The City Council also approved another $1 billion in borrowing for Midway Airport, and agreed to double the city&rsquo;s short-term borrowing limit from the current $500 million to $1 billion.</p><p>The borrowing plans all passed on a 43-4 vote, with no debate.</p><p>Alderman John Arena (45th Ward) said he voted no because the Emanuel administration did not give specifics on exactly how the newly borrowed money would be spent.</p><p>&ldquo;Unless we have a real debate on this, a real dialogue, and get real information from the administration in real time -- and enough time to make an educated vote -- then I&rsquo;m gonna continue to vote no on these types of things,&rdquo; Arena said after the vote.</p><p>Also voting against the borrowing plans were 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack and 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti. Ed Burke, the alderman of the 14th Ward and chairman of the powerful Finance Committee that held a hearing on the borrowing plans, abstained from voting.</p><p>Though the city got the council&rsquo;s authorization to issue up to $900 million on bonds, the Emanuel administration will likely issue about $650 million, said city Finance Department spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. About $349 million of that would help pay for legal settlements, capital projects, and so-called &ldquo;aldermanic menu&rdquo; accounts that aldermen use at their discretion to fund projects in their wards.</p><p>But some financial watchdogs have raised concerns about the other roughly $301 million in borrowing, which will be used to restructure debt. At least some of that -- up to $130 million -- could be used to push upcoming debt payments off into the future. That means the city saves money with smaller payments in the short term, but ends up paying more in the long-run.</p><p>The city will likely issue $550 million of the Midway Airport bonds for upgrades to runways and taxiways, Quinn said.</p><p>The short-term credit extension doubles the amount of so-called &ldquo;commercial paper&rdquo; the city can borrow. It is often used to cover city operations.</p><p>The first bond issue, set for March, will mark Chicago&rsquo;s first test of the municipal bond market since July, when Moody&rsquo;s Investors Service <a href="https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-downgrades-Chicago-to-A3-from-Aa3-affecting-82-billion--PR_278069">hit the city</a> with a triple downgrade of its bond rating, citing the city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/experts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329">massive pension problems</a>.</p><p>Much like a person with a bad credit score, governments with low bond ratings have to pay higher interest rates when they borrow money.</p><p>Emanuel defended his borrowing requests after Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting as the usual course of government business.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s typical efforts to invest in our streets, our sidewalks, light poles -- all the other infrastructure that improves our neighborhoods,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>Emanuel added the city&rsquo;s budget problems are deep enough that it will take time to dig out of them.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe" target="_blank">Alex Keefe</a>&nbsp;is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 05 Feb 2014 16:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-borrowing-authority-hiked-council-109644 Experts say Chicago has a public pension system set up to fail http://www.wbez.org/news/experts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329 <p><p>Illinois lawmakers may have approved a fix for the state&rsquo;s pension crisis. But Chicago is still facing a massive spike in required pension payments to help bring its own funds up to speed.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s four pension systems &mdash; for police, firefighters, laborers and municipal workers &mdash; were short by a whopping $19.5 billion at the end of 2012. That does not include the ailing pension fund for Chicago teachers, which has its own $8 billion shortfall at the end of the last fiscal year.</p><p>Increased benefits for city workers, early retirement offers and market downturns put pressure on the city&rsquo;s four pension funds in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But pension experts, labor leaders and politicians also point to a more fundamental problem &mdash; a quirk of state law that experts say may have set the system up to fail.</p><p>Retired Chicago firefighters George Beary, 70, says he wasn&rsquo;t making a lot of money when he started at the fire department back in 1967. But he still remembers the words of consolation he got from one of his officers in the fire academy.</p><p>&ldquo;When we got on the fire department, we were taken care of from the time we walked through those big red doors, to the time they haul your ass outta church to go in the ground,&rdquo; Beary recalled. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re covered. Exact words.&rdquo;</p><p>But for Beary, they don&rsquo;t ring as true today.</p><p>He and a group of fire department retirees - they call themselves &ldquo;oldtimers&rdquo; - sipped coffee and munched on donuts one recent morning at the Chicago Firefighters Local 2 Union hall, on the city&rsquo;s South Side.</p><p>Altogether, Chicago&rsquo;s four pension accounts were just 36 percent funded at the end of 2012. But the one for firefighters and paramedics is the worse off by far.</p><p>For every dollar it owes in benefits, it has just a quarter in the bank.</p><p>&ldquo;See the gray hair? That comes from worry,&quot; said retired Capt. Peter Qualizza.</p><p>He&rsquo;s one of roughly 4,100 beneficiaries in the firefighters&rsquo; pension fund which some experts project could go broke in less than a decade.</p><p>&ldquo;So everyone here has gray hair,&rdquo; Qualizza said, drawing laughs from the other retirees sitting around a long conference table. &ldquo;Some of &lsquo;em color it, some of &lsquo;em don&rsquo;t, okay? But everyone of us has gray hair because we&rsquo;re concerned about the future.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Chicago&rsquo;s unrealistic pension math</strong></p><p>The roots of Chicago&rsquo;s pension troubles go back decades, long before Qualizza and the other oldtimers starting going gray.</p><p>At issue is the so-called &ldquo;multiplier&rdquo; equation by which City Hall calculates how much money to chip into its pension piggy banks each year. It may sound complex, but the math is simple: City Hall bean-counters take the amount that workers in each fund paid into their pensions from two years prior, then they multiply that by a number that&rsquo;s set in state law.</p><p>As a matter of state law, Chicago&rsquo;s pension math is set by Springfield legislators. But the unique multiplier number for each of the four funds hasn&rsquo;t increased since 1982.</p><p>&ldquo;This is really one-of-a-kind in my experience,&rdquo; said actuary Jeremy Gold, who studies public pensions all over the country. &ldquo;There are no other public pension plans that I am aware of...that pays the way Chicago pays.&rdquo;</p><p>Gold says the fundamental problem is this multiplier doesn&rsquo;t change with the times. That means the money going into each fund stays relatively flat, regardless of whether retirees get richer benefits, stock markets crash or the system is burdened by thousands of early retirements, as it was under former Mayor Richard Daley in 1998 and 2004. (Daley declined WBEZ&rsquo;s interview request.)</p><p>The relatively static funding level is akin to offering to pay your grocer the 1982 price for a gallon of milk.</p><p>A 2010 <a href="http://www.chipabf.org/ChicagoPolicePension/PDF/Financials/pension_commission/CSCP_Final_Report_Vol.1_4.30.2010.pdf">report</a> commissioned by Daley found this inadequate funding was the main reason Chicago&rsquo;s police and fire pension funds have taken a such dive in the 2000s. The report blamed benefit increases for the dire condition of the laborers&rsquo; and municipal workers&rsquo; funds, though the inadequate funding has made it harder for them to recover.</p><p>&ldquo;At this point, after having been in place for 30 years, it no longer bears any relationship to the realistic cost of providing these benefits,&rdquo; Gold said.</p><p><strong>Pension problems that go back decades</strong></p><p>In fact, the problem is much older than that.</p><p>In his downtown office, fire pension fund secretary Tony Martin flips through a massive, shopworn book containing notes from pension board meetings going back more than a century, from 1887 to Dec. 18, 1931.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pension_chart_for_al.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pension_chart_for_al.jpg" style="height: 247px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="Sources: WBEZ analysis of data from the Chicago Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund, Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund, Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund and the Laborers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund" /></a></div><p>Martin finally lands on a<a name="chart"></a> yellowed, typewritten letter the firefighter&rsquo;s pension board sent to state lawmakers on Wednesday, May 4, 1927.</p><p>The letter&#39;s author is complaining about the way Chicago funds its pensions - about a system that&rsquo;s awfully similar to today&rsquo;s multiplier - and the board is asking state lawmakers for relief.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s amazing!&rdquo; Martin said. &ldquo;We never really dealt with the structural issues of these pension funds.&rdquo;</p><p>Martin says the stock market boom of the late 1990s only masked those structural issues - especially for police and fire pensions. But he says the chronic underfunding means investment losses hit them even harder during the Dot-com bust and the 2008 recession.</p><p>Now, the pensions are forced to sell off the very assets they&rsquo;re supposed to be investing.</p><p>&ldquo;Basically what&rsquo;s happening is the money that&rsquo;s coming in from firemen today and the money that&rsquo;s coming in from the city today, is going out the door today,&rdquo; Martin said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not saving for tomorrow.&rdquo;</p><p>The rate at which the city&rsquo;s pension funds are cashing out investments has more than tripled since the year 2000, according to a WBEZ analysis. Last year, the four funds liquidated more than $1 billion.</p><p>The more the funds liquidate, the less money they can make on investments, which could lead to even more liquidation in order to have enough money to pay out to retirees. Pension experts say this is a dangerous cycle - kind of like eating yourself to avoid going hungry.</p><p>This whole situation makes Tony Martin angry - and he says it should make taxpayers angry, too.</p><p>&ldquo;They should be outraged that we&rsquo;re even in this situation,&rdquo; Martin said. &ldquo;It should have never gotten to this point. And who is to blame?&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Blame everybody</strong></p><p>The structural funding problem with Chicago&rsquo;s four pension systems is not entirely responsible for the current crisis, experts and observers say, but it left the funds ill-equipped to deal with the market downturns of the early 2000s.</p><p>And political deals between City Hall and labor unions burdened the system even more.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re looking for who to blame, it&rsquo;s everybody,&rdquo; said Dana Levenson, who served as Chicago&rsquo;s Chief Financial Officer from 2004 through 2007.</p><p>Levenson says even Daley&rsquo;s partly responsible, when he agreed to benefit increases and early retirement offers in order to ease budget pressures on City Hall. Levenson says it would have been hard to justify short-term pain, such as property tax hikes or layoffs, because the problem hadn&rsquo;t yet reached the crisis point.</p><p>&ldquo;By nature, we are all crisis managers,&rdquo; Levenson said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t necessarily want to do anything that is going to solve a potential crisis when that potential crisis is way off in the distance.&rdquo;</p><p>After all, the pension funds for city laborers and white-collar workers started the new millenium in pretty good shape. They had so much money the city stopped paying into the laborer&rsquo;s pension fund, and cut back payments to the municipal fund.</p><p>In hindsight, this was a bad idea, said Henry Bayer, who heads up the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, a union representing about 3,500 city workers.</p><p>&ldquo;You know, if this were going on in the private sector, there&rsquo;d be employer&rsquo;s going to jail,&rdquo; Bayer said.</p><p>But along with those cutbacks in funding in 1998 came benefit increases - increases the union fought for, even though they heaped more future debt onto the pension funds.</p><p>Although he wasn&rsquo;t directly involved in the negotiations, Bayer defended the deal.</p><p>&ldquo;These folks getting these pensions have no social security,&rdquo; Bayer said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re a world-class city, and we can&rsquo;t afford a pension system for people that served the public?...I don&rsquo;t accept that.&rdquo;</p><p>Finally, in 2010, Illinois lawmakers tried to rectify these decades of underfunding by <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago/daley-calls-general-assembly-change-police-firefighter-pension-plans">forcing City Hall</a> to dump more money into the police and fire funds - about $590 million more in 2015 - a payment Mayor Rahm Emanuel says Chicago simply can&rsquo;t afford.</p><p>&ldquo;Should Springfield fail to pass pension reform for Chicago, we will be right back here in the council early next year to start work on the city&rsquo;s 2015 budget -- a budget that will either double city property taxes or eliminate the vital services people rely on,&rdquo; Emanuel told aldermen during <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel-warns-pension-cliff-2014-budget-speech-108993">this year&rsquo;s budget speech</a>.</p><p>Emanuel says Chicago needs a break from its state-mandated spike in pension payments. He says there is no Plan B.</p><p>And exactly what Plan A looks like is still unclear.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 08 Dec 2013 11:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/experts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329 Emanuel to raise cable TV tax to balance budget http://www.wbez.org/sections/media/emanuel-raise-cable-tv-tax-balance-budget-108984 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/artworks-000048217955-envwyq-crop.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Cable TV customers could end up paying more as part of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s plan to help balance a nearly $339 million budget deficit next year.</p><p>Emanuel&rsquo;s administration hopes to bring in $9 million in 2014 by raising the city&rsquo;s amusement tax by two percentage points on cable television providers, from four percent to six percent, according to mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn.</p><p>Concertgoers and sports fans would see no change in the nine percent amusement tax tacked on to those ticket prices, or the 5 percent tax on mid-sized venues, Quinn said.</p><p>The city had granted cable television companies a five percent exemption from the amusement tax in order to let them compete against satellite TV providers, which aren&rsquo;t subject to the tax. Emanuel wants to cut that exemption down to three percent, effectively hitting cable TV companies a two percent tax hike.</p><p>It&rsquo;s unclear how much that might cost the average customer, Quinn said, if cable companies decide to pass on the cost to consumers.</p><p>About $2 million of the amusement tax money next year will go toward expanding the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;Night Out in the Park Program,&rdquo; for which the city puts on concerts and screens movies in parks around Chicago.</p><p><em>Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/akeefe" target="_blank">@akeefe</a></em></p></p> Tue, 22 Oct 2013 13:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/media/emanuel-raise-cable-tv-tax-balance-budget-108984