A committee of Chicago aldermen easily approved the mayor’s plan to hike water and sewer fees on Chicagoans in order to pay into one of the city’s severely underfunded pension funds, yet there are still some lingering concerns among aldermen that the tax is too regressive and won’t be enough to fix the city’s pension issues.
The city’s Finance committee passed the proposal 26-6, which moves the plan to be voted on by the whole City Council. The proposal would gradually increase water and sewer taxes by 29.5 percent over the next five years, allowing the city to increase payments to the municipal fund, bringing it to 90 percent funded by 2057.
Yet the mayor’s financial team told aldermen that more revenue will be needed in the future.
“We’re going from the potential of bankruptcy to the potential of solvency,” CFO Carole Brown said.
“And while we’re not trying to make light of the fact that we have work yet to do in terms of revenue, what this does is puts us on a path where we’re addressing the needs of not only this fund, but every other pension fund and every other expense that is an expense of the city as part of due course and not as part of crisis.”
Chicagoans are already paying more property taxes to pay the city’s police and fire pensions and they’ll be paying even more to help out the financially strapped Chicago Public Schools. Aldermen also recently passed a $9.50 garbage collection fee.
“We keep relying on the same tax base and it’s the homeowners,” Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) said. Thompson was one of the six aldermen who voted against the plan. “I believe we have a moral obligation for our public employees and I support labor but I just think there’s a different way in which we can generate the revenue necessary to pay that.”
Ald. John Arena (45) also voted against the water and sewer tax, as he said he was still waiting on more information from the mayor’s office. But he said he was also concerned that while these tax increases are hard on homeowners, he’d prefer the city ask more of Chicagoans now, so the city can solve the pension issues sooner rather than later.
“It might be the time to be a little more aggressive than politically safe,” Arena said.
Aldermen are scheduled to meet for the full city council meeting on Sept 14.