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Mayor To Seek $250 Million Property Tax Hike To Address Pension Debt

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Updated 04/01/14 – 2:08 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed raising property taxes by $250 million over five years as part of a pension reform plan that also would require city workers to pay more toward their pensions.

The plan would only start digging the city out of its massive pension debt, and would not address pension shortfalls for police, firefighter, and teacher pensions. It also would not affect a looming $600 million increase in police and fire payments due next year.

That means more tax hikes or service cuts could be needed to address those debts.

The mayor already has asked lawmakers to delay the increased payment for police and fire pensions until 2022, while the city seeks major changes to its pension systems.

According to published reports, the mayor’s plan would raise the city’s property tax levy by $50 million a year for five years, starting in 2016. For the owner of a $250,000 home, who has a current property tax bill of $4,000 a year, taxes would go up $58 a year – or $290 over the five-year term of the tax hike.

Retired workers’ annual pension contributions would rise half a percent a year starting next year. The current pension contribution of 8.5 percent of a worker’s salary would grow to 11 percent by 2019. For employees who make $60,000 a year, they would be paying $1,500 more a year toward their pension by 2019.

Workers would also see changes to cost-of-living increases in their pensions. Instead of annual 3 percent compounded bumps in pension benefits, retirees would get annual increases of 3 percent on their original benefit when they retired, or 50 percent of the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

They also would have to wait two years, rather than one, for those pension bumps to start after retiring.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the mayor should be more creative about revenue, “and not just tax the homeowners; but looking at taxes on luxury services, looking at taxes on people who make over a million dollars a year, looking at taxes on financial transactions.”

CTU members tried to confront the mayor with their objections at an unrelated news conference at the Merchandise Mart, but were blocked off.

A key alderman said the proposal would be painful for all involved, but it’s the right way to go.

City Council Budget Committee Chair Carrie Austin (34th) said the alternative would be a failed pension system.

“I believe that this is what we should do to be a responsible council, not duck from our responsibility because it’s more than heavy lifting,” she said, feigning a backache.

Austin said she believes voters will support the pension deal, because city officials are being up front about it.

Austin was asked if it’s fair to make city employees contribute more toward pensions and have their benefits scaled back.

“No pension at all would be unfair, so for them to still have reliability on having a pension is what’s important,” she said. “If that means pay a little bit more, I think that we should stop complaining about that part.”

The mayor’s proposal would cut about half of the city’s $19.5 billion pension debt over 40 years.

The city’s pension debt currently amounts to more than $7,100 per taxpayer, according to published reports.

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