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Mayor Emanuel warns pension crisis could thrash city budget

Following Governor Pat Quinn’s launch of a new online campaign about pension reform, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed Quinn’s urgent calls for action.

On Sunday the governor launched a website that attempts to explains pension reform to kids and their families. The initiative, which features a snake called “Squeezy the Python” squeezing the state’s budget, was immediately mocked as “juvenile” and “corny.”

In an unrelated press conference Monday, Mayor Emanuel didn’t comment on the cartoon snake, but he agreed with Quinn that the issue is in need of urgent discussion and action.

“Whether it’s on a website or whatever, you have to engage the public in a serious discussion about the choices involved,” said Mayor Emanuel. “If we do nothing at all, you have to raise property taxes by 150 percent, and I will not do that.”

The Mayor said that after passing a balanced city budget last week, the next steps need to come from Springfield – or the city will face major budget problems down the road.

“You’ll have to make a set of choices about policing, investments in parts of the city whether that’s in garbage collection, recycling, tree-trimming, rodent control, graffiti removal, that are unsustainable for a great city,” he warned.

The Mayor’s own proposed reforms would increase city employee contributions to the pension fund and raise retirement ages by five years. They would also suspend cost of living increases. Legislators in Springfield are considering similar measures, but lawmakers have dragged their feet on actually passing legislation.

Mayor Emanuel said he was hopeful that the reforms can come to a vote this January.

“I do believe we’re going to work on pensions in the lame duck session, and get it done,” he said.

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