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Emanuel and Madigan replace Rauner and Quinn as focus of Illinois Statehouse

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Emanuel and Madigan replace Rauner and Quinn as focus of Illinois Statehouse

Now that the Illinois Primary Election is over, the attention in the Illinois Statehouse has shifted from Governor Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and House Speaker Michael Madigan. The reason is because for the first time in a while, governing took center stage from politics with only 29 session days left before the General Assembly’s May 31st scheduled adjournment.

Earlier in the week, it looked like a Chicago pension plan negotiated and crafted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for Chicago’s municipal employees and laborers would sail through the Illinois House. It went through committee on Wednesday and was expected to go to a floor vote on the same day. But, in an unexpected move, House Republicans formed a bloc to put the onus for passage on Chicago House Democrats who were squeamish about a vote their constituents would probably not favor. So, Speaker Madigan pulled the bill until a path for a “passable” roll-call emerges.

The problem is that although this is a municipal issue, any changes to municipal pension funds in Illinois must be approved by the state. The Emanuel plan would call for a 5-year property tax increase that would raise $250 million, an increase in employee contributions and a reduction in retiree benefits to get those pensions 90 percent funded by 2054. But, many members of the Illinois General Assembly do not want the blame for it. This is an especially hard vote for House Democrats who live in Chicago and fear retribution from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Chicago Teachers Union, who do not support the plan.

The irony is that a lot of the members of the Chicago Aldermanic Council don’t want to hold that “hot potato” either. Yesterday sentiments in City Hall were that many of the aldermen want the General Assembly to take the blame/hit because they too fear the Chicago Teachers Union and aldermanic elections are less than 10 months away. Another factor is that Chicago police, fire and teachers pensions funds are also in trouble, but the unions who represent them are against the Emanuel plan creating a stalemate in their negotiations – with a pending $600 million contribution to stabilize the police and fire pension funds looming next year. The Emanuel plan would delay that until 2022. So, when session resumes next week here are some issues that may come to bear on the situation.

A suggestion made this week to not directly put the passage of the property tax on the General Assembly (but to provide it as an option for the alderman) was attacked by the SEIU Local 73 which supports the Emanuel plan, but only with the revenue guarantee. SEIU Local 73 is one of 28 unions Emanuel negotiated with and received their support on the plan. This is a key point for negotiation.

Sometimes things that don’t seem related can become also be factors. Earlier this week, Speaker Madigan stated that his chamber could pass raising the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $10.65 an hour by 2016. This is the type of legislation that could provide cover for Chicago-based House Black Caucus members squeamish on voting for the Emanuel plan. A similar item is Speaker Madigan’s push to impose a 3 percent surcharge on Illinois’ 14,000 millionaires is still in play. Passing/enacting it would create a $1 billion windfall for Illinois schools. That would definitely resonate with working class voters on Chicago’s South and West sides.

Overall, Emanuel and Madigan are dealing with an expenditure crisis that needs very creative revenue generation, because no one wants to give up anything hard. Hard is voting on raising property taxes and contributing more to receive a reduced pension. So, don’t be surprised if the annual talks of Chicago casino gaming come back up. It always does when the wallet is empty and the bills keep piling up in the Illinois Statehouse and the ‘City of Big Shoulders’.

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