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After Mayor Lightfoot said “We know what the solutions are,” mayor’s office can’t point to a concrete solution

Friday, May 7, 2021

* As we’ve already discussed, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told an investor conference yesterday that she wants to “force a reckoning with Springfield” over pensions and said, “We know what the solutions are, but we lack the political will.”

So, I emailed the quote to the mayor’s spokesperson and asked…

What solutions does she mean?


* The reply…

The Mayor is committed to securing the retirement of working people by partnering with allies from organized labor, the State, and other stakeholders to secure the unfunded pensions. Pensions are a promise. But that promise will become illusory if we don’t act with a sense of urgency. Moreover, she has repeatedly said that a collaborative and transparent conversation with all stakeholders–including Springfield leaders and labor movement partners–is the only way to reach a workable solution to this problem. The Mayor has spoken many times about the need to address the City’s pension challenges for the long-term, and the importance of this in the context of our city’s future financial health. Chicago is making strides in continuing to hold up its end of the bargain and to guarantee the pension benefits that tens of thousands of previous and current City workers rely upon. In recent budgets, the City has taken steps to climb the pension ramp–reaching actuarial levels for the first time ever for the city’s police and fire pension funds. The passage of the casino was also an important step forward, as it will provide access to additional revenue so that the City can afford its pension payments. The City’s annual pension payment (for all four funds) is expected to increase by another $1 billion in the coming years. That’s why this administration has made clear that doing nothing is not an option–our escalating pension costs will not be sustainable.

Whew. 244 words, people.

* My follow-up…

But that doesn’t answer my question. What specific solutions was she pointing to?

* The reply…

The parameters of any solution will have to be worked out through a collaborative process with labor and legislators.

* My follow-up…

But the Illinois Supreme Court says pensions are an individual, not a collective contract and right. And the last time a mayor and organized labor worked out a deal, it was struck down as unconstitutional [link]. So, again, she’s the one who said we know what the solutions are. What are they?

I didn’t hear back.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Chambananon - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 2:50 am:

    If I didn’t know any better, I might begin to think that the Mayor doesn’t have an actual, legally-viable solution….

  2. - Rabid - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 4:58 am:

    Lack political will to express solutions

  3. - Frank talks - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 6:04 am:

    Easy to say hard to articulate

  4. - PublicServant - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 6:36 am:

    Apparently Lightfoot likes her foot in her mouth. And her mouthpiece’s mumbling confirms it.

  5. - Chicago Blue - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 7:14 am:

    Rich, it’s an exchange like this that shows why you’re one of the best in the business and the state is lucky to have you.

  6. - Joker - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 7:20 am:

    Just another hack politicon who says something they know isn’t possible just to appease the voting base to give an appearence that they care about an issue…nothing more.

  7. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 7:35 am:

    It’s like Rauner… but with no panache for having ridiculous pat responses at the ready… that are brief.

    Love of Pete… talk about grossly inept… 244 words… that says nothing.

    It’s an email. That’s a pathetic work product. Sincerely.

    - Chicago Blue -

    Well said.

  8. - RNUG - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 7:50 am:

    Sounds like she is planning on unicorns, magic beans, and pixie dust.

  9. - Skeptic - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 8:03 am:

    I think in the comedy biz, they call that “Setup, setup, punchline.”

  10. - Roman - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 8:17 am:

    The two things she takes credit for in the statement (the ramp and the actuarial required public safety pension payments) were enacted in statute by the state legislature, not her. The same legislature she was criticizing for inaction yesterday.

  11. - Sayitaintso - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 8:29 am:

    “Partnering”, “stakeholders’, ‘transparency’, ‘urgency’, collaborative’, blah, blah….it seems like there are 15 - 50 Gotta Have words that have to be included in any message. Maybe this wordsmith simply typed all those buzzwords and filled in with junk words between them. Lazy and inept.

  12. - Bourbon Street - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 8:32 am:

    Just when I thought I was full from the word salad, the mayor’s spokesperson gave me another helping. If she has a solution that passes constitutional muster, everyone is eager to hear it. Being a lawyer, the mayor should know what the ISC has said on the subject and know the parameters of a possible solution.

  13. - DuPage Saint - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 8:36 am:

    Boy Rich if she has an enemies list (and I bet she does) you must be on it. Great questions and follow up

  14. - Dan Johnson - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 8:51 am:

    One of the only partial solutions left is to stop making the problem much, much worse with the largest tax loophole on the books: pension income is not taxable. For really no good reason.

    Ending this giveaway and putting the revenue (likely $2B or so a year by now, maybe a little shy of that) into the state pension funds would help.

    Doesn’t help the municipal pension funds, to be fair.

  15. - Montrose - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:04 am:

    Mayor Lightfoot Pension Drinking Game. Drink every time you hear:

    - “Pensions are a promise”
    - “doing nothing is not an option”
    - “the only way to reach a workable solution to this problem”
    - “labor movement partners”

    Put the bottle away and sober up:

    - “Here is my specific plan and strategy for shoring up the pension system.”

  16. - qualified someone nobody sent - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:08 am:

    Here’s a solution. Pay what the City owes….period. Wake up Ms. Mayor, there is NO OTHER solution.

  17. - Jocko - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:12 am:

    244 words (plus an additional 18) to say “we got nuthin’”

    The Mayor’s spokesperson forgot ’synergy’, ‘honest broker’, ‘paradigm shift’, and ‘outside the box thinking’. Maybe that’ll be part of the next reply.

  18. - From the 'Dale to HP - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:14 am:

    It’s amateur hour at City Hall and it honestly should be a greater concern for the entire state. We’re two years in and they continue to be completely clueless. If they’re making the same mistakes that people tried/made 10 or more years ago… I mean that’s downright frightening. And the fact that EVERYONE seems to be leaving as fast as possible is even scarier.

  19. - thisjustinagain - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:16 am:

    Word Salad?? More like nonsense doublespeak. Lightfoot and Co. don’t have a clue. No surprise they never answered Rich about the court rulings either, because of lacking said clue. She’s hoping for magic money to show up, and it isn’t coming. JB and the Legislature aren’t going to solve her problems for her, nor listen to this mythical coalition of “partners” who have ability to get anything done.

  20. - Bothanspied - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:28 am:

    This is like hearing that the new and improved Republican Healthcare plan is coming in about two weeks and it’s tremendous

  21. - northside reformer - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:29 am:

    The mayor doesn’t have a plan, just an Olympic-grade talent for spouting off.

  22. - EssentialStateEmployeeFromChatham - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:30 am:

    Did the Mayor attend the Pat Quinn School of Public Speaking?

  23. - Pundent - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:37 am:

    She knows what the problem is but nothing suggests she knows or can articulate the solution. Her original statement suggested that there was a shared acknowledgment with the legislature on what needed to be done to fix the problem, but there was a lack of willingness. The response to Rich’s 1st follow-up suggests that the conversations haven’t even started. The crickets after the next follow-up suggest that Lightfoot isn’t really serious about solutions at all.

  24. - EssentialStateEmployeeFromChatham - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:40 am:

    ==Pensions are a promise. ==

    Did the mayor’s spokesperson work for AFSCME during the Quinn administration?

  25. - Arsenal - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:46 am:

    Y’know, at base, she’s right though. We *do* know the solution- pay the pensions. She just doesn’t want to do it.

  26. - Really - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:53 am:

    The solution is either to raise taxes with the new revenue stream committed to funding pensions or to continue to kick the can down the road and see how long the funding holds out. Other unlikely solutions would be to reduce the COLA’s to slow the growth or get rid of the 4 6’s for retiring educators to slow the growth of the liability. No one wants taxes raised and the politicians won’t upset organized labor by doing either of the last two so I guess the can kicking will continue.

  27. - willowglen - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:54 am:

    Casino? A casino won’t put but a small dent in the debt. It is not a solution, and mentioning it just more narrative.

  28. - A - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 9:56 am:

    Pensions are more than a promise. They’re a legal contract. Void it, and no contract is safe

  29. - northside reformer - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 10:05 am:

    We coulda had Toni Preckwinkle

  30. - City Zen - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 10:06 am:

    Ladies and gentlemen, the Municipal Employee/Laborer/Policemen/Firemen/Teacher Annuity and Benefit Funds of Chicago Hotel and Casino proudly present the all-new Lori Lightfoot Show, Pensions High.

  31. - Annonin' - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 10:13 am:

    Pensions are really a 3 legged stool
    Investment earnings
    The current constitution and current Supreme Court have ruled about changes. Changing the constitution and the balance on the court takes time and might not be successful because of federal protections or plain common sense.
    Cutting salaries always an option — right
    Super investment returns….buy Bitcoin!
    So what is the next problem you need solved Capt Fax?

  32. - Rudy’s teeth - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 10:30 am:

    Tap dancing with words.

  33. - levivotedforjudy - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 11:23 am:

    The only thing missing from that statement was establishing a “Blue Ribbon” committee or task force. Thanks for asking the question Rich.

  34. - Amalia - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 11:25 am:

    Rich, nice example of going for it on getting information.

  35. - Norseman - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 11:31 am:

    Sounds like a great plan.

    You have to fix this and you have to figure out how. I’ll just stand here and hold my breath until you do so.

  36. - Skeptic - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 12:28 pm:

    “reduce the COLA’s to slow the growth or get rid of the 4 6’s for retiring educators ” I’m guessing you’re new here? (a) It’s not a matter of political will why those can’t be done, and (b) pensions aren’t a union benefit. The same applies to all.

  37. - Really - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 12:43 pm:

    The state had eliminated the 4 6’s for teachers for a year until Governor Blutarsky got elected. No district has to give teachers a retirement boost in their contracts. Reduce the salary reduce the pension.

  38. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===Governor Blutarsky===


    ===No district has to give teachers a retirement boost in their contracts.===

    They risk losing good teachers that way, so there’s that.

  39. - James - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 1:04 pm:

    The new revenue stream that could fund the City’s pension obligations and, over a period of years, remove the indebtedness for past pension payments is a municipal income tax.

    The income tax is the fairest tax as it takes into consideration one’s ability to pay.

    It would require State enabling legislation and City Council and mayoral approval–three major political hurdles. More than mayoral approval, the mayor would have to take the initiative to make this plan happen.

    A municipal income tax could be collected and remitted to the City by the State Department of Revenue, just as they do for the retailer’s occupation tax. So the City wouldn’t have to do any work to collect the tax, once it’s up and running. The details of who would pay the tax, workers only, residents only, or both, can be worked out after study of other municipalities’ programs.

    But the front-end political issues are such that a mayor would have to assume he or she might be voted out of office, as Governor Ogilvie was when he backed the State income tax.

    And where would we be today without the State income tax? It took rare courage by Ogilvie.

    Mayor Lightfoot is ideally situated to assume the same risk of losing an election. Unlike many political actors, she does not need to rely on a career as an elected official. She can go back to her lucrative law firm partnership, eliminate today’s mayoral headaches, and fix a seemingly insoluble problem. History will regard such courage favorably.

  40. - Chi Sox - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 1:07 pm:

    City Zen… comment of the day. Needed that laugh to start off the weekend.

  41. - City Zen - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 2:09 pm:

    ==The state had eliminated the 4 6’s for teachers for a year until Governor Blutarsky got elected==

    The state didn’t eliminate it. They made the districts cover any raise over 3%. Problem was it wasn’t limited to only the near retirement years. But instead of fixing it to work as originally intended, they scrapped it completely.

  42. - Really - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 2:31 pm:

    I love our teachers as well but their is no reason to give them a bonus that places further stress on an already financially challenged retirement system that allows them to retire 7-12 years ahead of those of us that will receive social security. Want to make the system more financially sound? Quit providing bonuses that will only stress the pension system further. This should be a no brainer.

  43. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 2:32 pm:

    === Want to make the system more financially sound? Quit providing bonuses that will only stress the pension system further. This should be a no brainer.===

    Run for a school board.

  44. - DuPage - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 2:57 pm:

    @- Skeptic - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 12:28 pm:

    ===“reduce the COLA’s to slow the growth or get rid of the 4 6’s for retiring educators===

    Very few districts are giving 4-6s. Most retiring teachers get less. The retirement incentives were originally to get higher paid teachers to retire so school districts could hire cheaper new teachers to replace them.

  45. - Skeptic - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 3:03 pm:

    ” to get higher paid teachers to retire so school districts could hire cheaper new teachers to replace them.” As they say, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

  46. - Really - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 3:45 pm:

    Just rolled off a school board. Served 14 of the last 16 years. Capping raises needs to come from the state. That reduces the pension payouts and will produce savings. Certainly better than raising taxes which would have to double to keep up.

  47. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 7, 21 @ 3:50 pm:

    === Just rolled off a school board. Served 14 of the last 16 years.===

    The fact after 14 years you still can’t grasp even the simplest of policy understandings here… is very telling.


    === Capping raises needs to come from the state. That reduces the pension payouts and will produce savings. Certainly better than raising taxes which would have to double to keep up.===

    Find 60 and 30 and a governor to sign it.

    You had 14 years to ask your legislators where you are, as a school board member, to do so.

    Either you were too lazy and never tried, or you realized… yeah, it’s not a viable solution.

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