Mayor Rahm Emanuel today declined to say whether he got a specific pledge from legislative leaders to deal with the city’s pension mess, even as the Illinois legislature is preparing to vote in Springfield today on a state pension reform package that does not address the city’s shortfall.
The city’s pension funds for city workers, laborers, police officers and firefighters are $19.5 billion short. The mayor has been seeking some help from Springfield to address the shortfall that looms as a major budget problem next year. It was thought the city might try to piggyback on a state solution. That’s unlikely to happen today, however.
Emanuel didn’t directly respond to questions today about whether he has agreed with lawmakers on any framework for a potential fix. The mayor reiterated his oft-stated position that he expects the state legislature will deal with the city’s pension trouble soon.
“I’ve been working on it since day one, and we have had major progress in righting our fiscal ship,” he said. “This is an essential piece of that, and I do believe we will get it done this coming year because it’s essential to get it done. And we will get it done.”
It’s far from clear lawmakers will soon have the stomach to go through another politically risky process of crossing powerful public unions by voting to reduce employee benefits in order to close the pension hole. Emanuel again argued Illinois’ pension problems aren’t solved until the General Assembly does something to help cities and towns. And he again said he has an obligation to give city employees a pension they can rely in retirement.
Emanuel talked about pensions as he unveiled a new task force to look at domestic violence in Chicago. The task force is getting no new city funding, but the group intends to add online training for police on how to respond to domestic violence calls and comes with a pledge that police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will work together on how best to report domestic violence cases.
The mayor also responded to a federal report that faulted the Chicago Fire Department for inadequate staffing and communications failures at a 2012 Gage Park fire where Fire Department Capt. Herbert Johnson was killed. Emanuel said he called on Fire Department brass to figure out how to avoid those shortcomings on fire scenes in the future.
“My office talked to (Fire Commissioner) Jose Santiago and the Fire Department this morning and told them I want to see their response to that report and the recommendations they have in it, so that we don’t see what happened to Mr. Johnson happen again, and that we have the training to insure that does not happen again,” Emanuel said.