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Chicago poll: 57 percent say they’ll swallow the pension payment medicine

Monday, Mar 25, 2019

* I’m gonna disagree a bit with my good buddy Greg Hinz on this one

With just a week to go until voters head to the polls, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot holds a commanding lead in the race for mayor, according to results of a Temkin/Harris poll, conducted in partnership with Crain’s and WTTW.

But there’s trouble ahead for whoever is elected on one of the top issues they’ll have to face: fiscal pressures. An eyebrow-raising 40 percent of those surveyed say they oppose raising taxes to pay for pensions for city workers and Chicago Public School teachers—something that the new mayor almost certainly will have to do. […]

The survey asked voters which programs they would be willing to support with higher taxes. Better roads and other infrastructure fixes got the highest support, 71 percent, followed by mental health and public schools at 69 percent each and more police at 60 percent. Taxes for pensions got the lowest support, 57 percent. It also got the highest “disagree” figure, with 29 percent of voters saying they strongly disagree with more taxes for pensions and another 11 percent indicating they somewhat disagree.

After all the screaming over lo these many years by the pundits about the high cost of public pensions, the fact that 57 percent of Chicagoans say funding the pensions of city workers and public school teachers is “something you personally would be willing to pay higher taxes to get” strikes me as pretty darned good, particularly if a popular mayor is behind the push.

Also, infrastructure, mental health treatment and schools always score high. Everybody wants that stuff. Nobody supposedly wants to make pension payments. That’s usually seen as forcing an unwillling populace to ingest bitter medicine. The fact that 57 percent said they could stomach that medicine is, in this context, surprising to me.

* What also jumped out at me was that, after a decade of wall-to-wall reporting about Chicago’s crime problem, fewer Chicagoans, 29 percent, said they “strongly” support higher taxes for “more police officers patrolling city neighborhoods” than the 31 percent who said the same about pensions. Seems counter-intuitive, but numbers is numbers.

In the end, though, the 57 percent who backed higher taxes for pensions was within the +/- 4.4 percent margin of error of the 60 percent overall who supported more money for cops. Same goes for the strongly support and strongly oppose numbers for both categories, and for the overall opposition (40 percent for pensions, 38 percent for more police).

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments
  1. - Honeybear - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 1:37 pm:

    I believe that enough people are personally effected by it. Most folks know a teacher or someone who works for local government.
    I believe that folks are realizing we are talking about someone’s retirement when we are talking about pensions. Personalization is what happened with, I believe, with gay marriage. It get’s normalized. Folks get that taking away someone’s retirement pension is an awful thing and not their fault.
    That’s my theory.


  2. - Truthteller - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 1:38 pm:

    Crain’s sub-head on Hinz’s column: “but 4 in 10 voters oppose higher taxes for pensions
    Had to read the rest of the article to find out about the 57% support.
    Good catch, Rich. You should nominate the Crain editors for the Rupert Murdoch Excellence in Journalism award.


  3. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 1:48 pm:

    I wish unions and politicians pushed defined pensions for private sector workers. We have to right-size pensions and do a reverse race to the bottom. Some want to make government workers have a less secure retirement, like the private sector. There should be organized opposite pressure, to make private sector workers have better pensions and a more secure retirement.


  4. - lincoln's beard - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 1:55 pm:

    Current clearance rate in the CPD homicide division is 15%. If it takes 13,500 officers to solve 1 in 7 murders, will it take 31,000 more to get that up to 50%?


  5. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 2:02 pm:

    Maybe it means that the public is far ahead of these media types who still think “pay the bill” somehow means “there’s surely a way to get out of paying the bill”? Better headline: “Poll shows the average Chicagoan understands the ramifications of IL Supreme Court rulings better than editorial columnists”


  6. - ChicagoVinny - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 2:11 pm:

    My personal epiphany on pensions was the people advocating shorting gov workers on their pensions would use the same arguments for shorting social security for me later.


  7. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 2:25 pm:

    Maybe my recommendation to add 1/4% city earnings tax isnt so nuclear after all.


  8. - Hmmm - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 3:04 pm:

    Are really to believe that Lightfoot leads the runoff 53-17?


  9. - Boone's is Back - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 3:52 pm:

    ===The survey asked voters which programs they would be willing to support with higher taxes.===

    As any good pollster knows, it’s how you ask the question. Pension payments got the least amount of support to a question presupposing additional revenue from raising taxes.

    I’d love to see the poll numbers to a question phrased “would you be willing to pay more in taxes to pay for increasing pension payments.”


  10. - Honeybear - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 4:06 pm:

    ChicagoVinny- Yep, you are right on the money.


  11. - Bemused - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 4:24 pm:

    I think certain folks have watched big Corporations get underwater on their pensions after underfunding them for years and then turn around and shed that debt in bankruptcy court. Even though that is not yet possible with Public Pensions in this State, I think they believe they just need to find a clever way around the law. Of course the real problem in both the Private and Public sectors has been the laws allowing the shorting of promised payments into retirement funds. Maybe some are coming to understand you have to pay the Piper. My feeling is we are all going to have to pay higher costs for social programs for those unable to support themselves in the not to distant future. The take down of defined benefit pensions and the lie of the 401K are going to come home to roost.


  12. - Roman - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 4:47 pm:

    Those numbers illustrate how the city of Chicago’s employee residency requirement influences politics. Any random survey of Chicago voters is gonna catch a whole lot city employees or retirees and their family members. They want the pensions funded and they’re willing to pay more taxes to make it so.

    Law enforcement finishing lower on the list of top concerns is illustrative of something people who actual live in the city understand: crime in Chicago, regardless all the international attention it receives, is a tangible problem in only a handful of neighborhoods. Not saying it’s not a issue that must be dealt with, just saying that for a lot of folks there are more immediate concerns.


  13. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 5:55 pm:

    ==shorting social security benefits later==

    Yep! They’re mostly the same people but those receiving social security benefits somehow join them when it comes to shorting government pensions. They are too uninformed to know that for some, their government pension is 100% of their retirement income with no SSI.

    But yes, they’ll come for that too soon.


  14. - TinyDancer(FKASue) - Monday, Mar 25, 19 @ 8:11 pm:

    =I think certain folks have watched big Corporations get underwater on their pensions after underfunding them for years and then turn around and shed that debt in bankruptcy court. =

    Actually, the private sector pensions were so well-funded the executives couldn’t resist raiding them. They stole the money because they could.

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?301767-1/retirement-heist

    And the 401k was never intended to be a retirement plan. It was a provision in the internal revenue code that allowed executives to avoid taxes on deferred compensation.

    All workers should be in a defined benefit plan.


  15. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Mar 26, 19 @ 5:23 am:

    ==Current clearance rate in the CPD homicide division is 15%. If it takes 13,500 officers to solve 1 in 7 murders, will it take 31,000 more to get that up to 50%?==

    To fix that we need to get the word out about Illinois’ witness protection program. Scared people don’t become witnesses.


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