Updated 09/22/15 – 6:28 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel told aldermen Tuesday the city must raise property taxes by $543 million to shore up police and firefighter pension funds, or face laying off thousands of firefighters and police officers.
The mayor’s budget plan includes phasing in that $543 million property tax over the next four years, with the bulk of it scheduled for this year. He also proposed a new garbage collection fee, and a bevy of other new taxes and fees, as he aims to eliminate the city’s structural budget deficit, and solve the city’s pension crisis. Emanuel also called for an additional $45 million property tax hike to fund school construction.
If approved by at least 26 aldermen, the mayor’s budget plan would amount to what analysts have called the largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history.
Emanuel called the proposed property tax hike a “last resort” to avoid massive cuts to essential services.
The mayor told aldermen the bill has come due for the years when the city paid as little as possible toward its growing pension obligations, and unless they want massive layoffs at the Police Department and Fire Department, his proposed property tax hike is needed.
Emanuel said meeting police and firefighter pension obligations through spending cuts alone would mean laying off 2,500 police officers — 20 percent of the current force — and 2,000 firefighters — about 40 percent of the force. The city also would have to close 48 fire stations, reduce trash collection from once a week to twice a month, eliminate recycling services altogether, stop repairing potholes, halt rodent abatement programs, and eliminate graffiti removal.
“In short, if we were to fund our pensions with cuts alone, our city services would become unreliable. Our City would become unlivable. And that would be totally unacceptable,” he said. “We must solve our pension challenge and there are only two options: we can make the damaging cuts that I spelled out and undermine all of the hard work and progress that we made, or we can raise property taxes to meet our obligation to police and firefighters who answer our every call. The bill is due today. And that is the choice that is in front of us. I know where I stand.”