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“What I said is 3% compounded annually is a tough climb”

Monday, Sep 16, 2019

* Center Square

Mayors from various corners of Illinois agree with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s comments: Illinois’ mandates on pensions are unsustainable.

In an August interview with the editorial board of Crain’s Chicago Business, the freshman Chicago mayor called Illinois’ state-mandated sweeteners to public worker pensions “unsustainable” and called on lawmakers to take action in the coming veto session.

She immediately faced criticism and was forced to clarify her statement, telling Crain’s that “We must secure the retirement of our working people by partnering with our allies from the state to identify progressive revenue streams. Mayor Lightfoot remains opposed to a constitutional amendment on pensions.”

In her initial interview, she said Chicago wasn’t alone in struggling to pay for pension promises mandated by state lawmakers, that cities like Rockford and Peoria are all under pressure.

“She absolutely is right and we’re not talking about a light coming through a tunnel a long ways away,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said. “We’re talking about a freight train that’s just around the block. This isn’t unique to Chicago and Peoria. Literally every municipality in the state is under the same type of pressure.”

* Forbes contributor Elizabeth Bauer transcribed the interview

“I want to be careful about this obviously, because it raises lots of concerns amongs lots of quarters, not least of which is in organized labor. I think we have to put as many options as we possible can on the table. We know that the circumstances we find ourselves in with the COLA compounded annually is unsustainable, but I also really feel strongly that we cannot undercut the working men and women that are relying on their pensions, and that puts us in a very precarious position, limits the options, I am aware of that.”

Later in the interview (about 20:00), she is asked about her statement that the COLA is “unsustainable” and she backtracks:

“What I said is 3% compounded annually is a tough climb. It means that we have to consistently feed that beast.”

And upon being question on whether this position is fair to the taxpayers who will have to shoulder these burdens, she replies:

“Pensioners are taxpayers. The thing that gets lost in these conversations is that in the city of Chicago people who have public pensions make up the middle class of our neighborhoods. They are our teachers, our workers, and if they leave, if they are treated unfairly, it can have a potentially catastrophic effect on what happens in our neighborhoods.”

And, keep in mind, the 3 percent compounded increase doesn’t apply to police and firefighter pensions in her city, which make up over half the problem.

Either way, for a skilled lawyer, the mayor isn’t very precise in her word usage.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

28 Comments
  1. - Jibba - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:47 pm:

    ==the COLA compounded annually is unsustainable===

    If you use the language of pension grabbers, expect pensioners to see this as an attack. Pension foes been using that word for a long time to escape any tax increases on themselves that would make the pensions actually sustainable.


  2. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:48 pm:

    ===for a skilled lawyer, the mayor isn’t very precise in her word usage.===

    Like most first time electeds…

    Mayor Lightfoot is learning each and every word is parsed, and each fact and statement of “fact” will be scrutinized.

    What’s then highlighted? The missteps.

    The more common the misspeaks, the pattern is formed to be a perception, as the new elected has no record to show honesty to words.

    Folks like Center Square and IPI take the half truths and then make their hay… likely with half truths of their own.


  3. - Juvenal - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:49 pm:

    Anyone given a chance to clarify their remarks who comes back with “feed the beast” probably should have just emailed and waved.

    She is not ready for editorial boards, this is the language of a candidate at a high-end donor event chit-chatting with some CEOs.

    Who scheduled these and why? Who prepped her? Who was with her?

    This bell cannot be unrung,

    Someone is going to have to be the scapegoat, and somebodies need to be brought in to right this ship.


  4. - Steve - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:57 pm:

    The fact that many other towns in Illinois , other than Chicago, have major pension problems is important. It makes a state level bailout very difficult. The state can’t bailout everyone given the financial situation.


  5. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 3:07 pm:

    At the end of the day, mayor lightfoot is correct either way she states it.


  6. - Morty - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 3:36 pm:

    -likely with half truths of their own.-

    That’s more generous than I would put it (/s) but yes, that’s what they do.


  7. - Norseman - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 3:43 pm:

    === Either way, for a skilled lawyer, the mayor isn’t very precise in her word usage. === [Emphasis added]

    As we’ve seen all too often, those skilled in a profession doesn’t necessarily transfer to being skilled as a political leader. Her performance to date has been lackluster at best.


  8. - City Zen - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 3:46 pm:

    ==pay employees below market wages in return for agreeing to fund pensions.==

    And yet you often had to know someone to work for the city. Apparently there’s big demand for “below market” wages.


  9. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 3:49 pm:

    ===And yet you often had to know someone to work for the city.===

    Argumentative to the anecdotal, built on the wanted perception of “no one nobody sent”

    Is this also why you don’t like don’t like pensioners?

    Honestly, it’s about 62% snark.


  10. - anon - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 4:02 pm:

    We should acknowledge that it is difficult for the Mayor of Chicago to directly state what Chicago wants: State aid to defray the cost of pensions.


  11. - SSL - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 4:16 pm:

    Lori can’t seem to get out of her own way, but man does she know how to pick out a good hat.


  12. - Hal - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 5:01 pm:

    Since 1950, the inflation rate is over 3.5%. So historically speaking, a 3% yearly raise in should be a good thing for the pensions. They’ve been mismanaged. They weren’t necessarily over promised.


  13. - RNUG - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 5:03 pm:

    Reading the initial remarks followed by the clarifications, I get the feeling she is just winging it as opposed to having a well thought out policy put on paper and then reduced to sound bites. Seems awful sloppy for an experienced lawyer.

    She did get a good line in about government workers are retirees often being the middle class foundation in some neighborhoods.


  14. - RNUG - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 5:10 pm:

    == Since 1950, the inflation rate is over 3.5%. ==

    None of the complainers take a long term view of things; if it isn’t in front of their face, it isn’t real.

    To add to your comment, the CPI has averaged between 2.9% - 3.2% over almost every 20 year period since the government started tracking it in the 1920’s. The one exception is the most recent period with the Fed using zero interest to try to influence the economy, but we can’t expect it to stay below 3% long term.


  15. - Sue - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 5:29 pm:

    Nice try- inflation have averaged less then 2 percent since 2007


  16. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 6:09 pm:

    If I had the assurance that my investment portfolio had a guaranteed 7.5% annual rate of return, I would, for the good of others, forgo my 3% AAI.


  17. - Truthteller - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 6:11 pm:

    Cities other than Chicago don’t have a problem with the pensions of their non-uniformed employees. Those pensions have been properly funded because state law has mandated it.
    Those municipalities have a problem with their police and firefighters pensions whose benefits are not fully-funded(state law didn’t require it), and they don’t have a 3%compounded COLA.
    So how is it the 3%COLA is the problem? It’s not .
    The pension funds that are in trouble have one thing in common: proper payments were not being made over the years.


  18. - Hal - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 6:22 pm:

    Blue Dog dem, that isn’t how the pension works. No one is guaranteed 7.5%. There are things called historical average returns. That’s how these things work.


  19. - Cronish - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 7:37 pm:

    Without a doubt, the state has to get rid of the constitutional protection of government worker benefits so this mess can never happen again.


  20. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 7:39 pm:

    ===the state has to get rid of the constitutional protection of government worker benefits so this mess can never happen again.===

    Either learn about politics and governing or please stop spamming as you know better but can’t help repeating your ignorance.

    You’ve been told why this isn’t happening.


  21. - Bruce - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 7:59 pm:

    Merge city of Chicago pension with IMRF. Issue 50 year revenu bonds to fund buy in. IMRF should be able to keep city contributing.


  22. - truthteller - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 6:13 am:

    pensioners are taxpayers?? LOL, last time I look all retirement based income is exempt from Illinois state income taxes. 3% COLA is way out of line and that does need to be changed.


  23. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 6:59 am:

    ===pensioners are taxpayers===

    Sales and property taxes? Maybe? Yes?

    Yes.

    We’re all taxpayers.


  24. - Babaloo - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 8:46 am:

    3% was changed. See Tier 2. For Tier 1, of course, it cannot be as per ILSC. But you knew that.


  25. - City Zen - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 8:53 am:

    ==No one is guaranteed 7.5%. There are things called historical average returns. That’s how these things work.==

    The 7.5% assumed rate of return determines the pension liability which determines the pension contribution which determines how much money can go into operational expenditures which determines how much the govt can pay in salaries.

    That 7.5% is more relevant to today’s expenses than you think.


  26. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 8:59 am:

    ===assumed===

    I stopped reading here.

    :)


  27. - Simple Simon - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 9:23 am:

    ==Without a doubt, the state has to get rid of the constitutional protection===

    I doubt. A better solution that protects both taxpayers and pensioners is to guarantee full annual funding of pensions. Removing constitutional protections is almost never a good idea.


  28. - John 56 - Wednesday, Sep 18, 19 @ 8:24 am:

    Are state benefits to non-citizens being reduced?
    Illinois needs to pay its bills before giving charity to all comers.


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