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CHICAGO (CBS) – They laughed, they joked, and even more surprising, they agreed on most issues – unlike other Chicago mayors and Illinois governors in recent years.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine was at Wednesday night’s forum hosted by the Chicago Tribune, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn agreed the ticking time bomb of underfunded public employee pensions is threatening to explode – or implode, as the governor put it.
“What I would say to all of the union members, on the pension, if we don’t reform this, there won’t be a pension, because the system will implode,” Quinn said.
Emanuel echoed that stance when it comes to underfunded city pensions.
“If we don’t fix this, across the five funds for the city of Chicago, property taxes will have to go up 150 percent,” he said. “I will not raise property taxes 150 percent. You won’t recruit a business, you won’t recruit a family to move here. It’s just not gonna happen, so we have to make changes.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
The mayor said, starting Thursday, a new city website will show Chicago residents exactly how much they could be on the hook if there isn’t significant reform of the public pension system.
Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green said there is at least one other prominent Illinois politician who must get on board to achieve real pension reform – House Speaker Mike Madigan.
“One name wasn’t mentioned that should have been: Speaker Madigan. So, if they can get him on board, they got a shot,” Green said.
The governor hinted that negotiation, rather than legislation, might be the answer to constitutional questions some have raised over whether any significant pension reform could be applied to existing government employees.
The Illinois Constitution states that pension benefits of public employees “shall not be diminished or impaired.”
The governor said, “If members of the pension system make an exchange – agree to changes – then that can comply with the Constitution.”
For the most part, the mayor and governor were in agreement, although when it came to a casino for Chicago – blocked by the Quinn’s resistance to slot machines at Illinois racetracks, a key provision to winning legislative approval of a Chicago casino – the mayor put his foot down.
“I don’t want the city of Chicago, the casinos, caught between the governor’s view and certain things as it relates to ‘racinos’ (racetracks with slot machines),” Emanuel said.
As for hints of a deal between the Mayor and Chicago Cubs owners on renovating Wrigley Field, by using amusement tax revenue to help fund the upgrades, the governor wasn’t so sure.
“I think the mayor and I are on the same wavelength. We don’t think the team should have the public pay for fixing up their stadium,” Quinn said.
“It’s a private company, they bought. They bought it in 2009, eyes open, well aware,” Emanuel added.
As for pension reform, the governor is waiting for a report from a working group looking into possible changes, while the mayor suggested temporarily suspending cost of living increases. But no one is implying a deal there is anywhere near imminent.