* 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.