Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Jerry Joyce: I think its more accurate to say the Chicago taxpayers are on the hook for the pension liabilities, and it’s a big number. Educating the public about the problem and the potential solutions, as well as complete transparency in implementing solutions are cornerstones to my campaign’s economic agenda.
The Constitution should not be amended and neither should benefits be limited or removed. Our priority needs to be paying down these obligations to lower the cost of borrowing and to give Chicago breathing room.
Raising revenue by increasing taxes alone will not solve the pension funding crisis – and trying to solve the pension problem by unduly burdening current or future pensioners through a constitutional amendment is not only unfair, but also is not a viable solution.
We must generate new revenue that is dedicated to the unfunded pension obligations that have driven up the cost of borrowing, denying revenues to public safety, education and city services. And forevermore, political contributions to municipal candidates from anyone who derives a benefit from managing or investing in city pension funds must be banned.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
Jerry Joyce: A casino must be publicly owned and all revenue should be dedicated to paying down the unfunded pension liability. This would allow Chicago to capture revenue that nearby states and locales already have access to.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
Jerry Joyce: The Governor Elect and the State Legislature has made it clear they will legalize recreational marijuana. Any portion of the revenue generated by the tax that is dedicated to the City of Chicago I would direct to paying down unfunded pension liabilities.
- A LaSalle Street tax
Jerry Joyce: I don’t think this is a good option considering the importance of the financial exchanges to Chicago’s economy.
- A commuter tax
Jerry Joyce: Perhaps, but further analysis must be done to determine the impact on Chicago’s business community. Alderman Burke has proposed this in the past and it has not lead to positive results.
- A property tax increase
Jerry Joyce: We cannot solve our financial problems on the backs of residential property owners. Doing so would run the serious risk of creating a cycle of relocation.
- A municipal sales tax increase
Jerry Joyce: No.
- A real estate transfer tax increase
Jerry Joyce: I would consider a real estate transfer tax increase on commercial properties that exceed a certain minimum dollar amount. Better, however, is a tax increase on rezoned property whose value is increased due to the rezoning.
- Video gambling
Jerry Joyce: I support video gambling as a means to generating additional revenue, including machines at O’Hare Airport. We must recognize neighboring casinos would oppose this effort and it would need federal rules and legislative approval.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Jerry Joyce: Using the City’s own numbers, the city’s required combined pension contributions to the City’s four retirement funds (excluding CPS) grows from $1.184 billion in 2019 to $2.130 billion in fiscal year 2023. As such, all potential new sources of revenue should be considered, and economic solutions are going to come as a result of a package of new revenue and liability management.
Chicago needs new streams of revenue that don’t unfairly burden working families. These revenues must go directly to help lower the cost of borrowing and rehabilitating Chicago’s long -term fiscal health. I favor the following proposals:
- Revenues from a new casino and recreational marijuana legalization should be dedicated to paying down unfunded pension obligations.
- A passenger facility charge at Chicago airports dedicated to pension obligation pay-down. This would require changing federal law. Speaking with members of Congress, I realize this is an uphill battle but is one that must be explored.
- Consider the proposed south suburban airport and explore ways that Chicago could directly benefit from its opening.
- The parking meter deal needs to be aggressively reviewed. Devise a strategy that involves legislation that seeks to bring parties “back to the table” that address this onerous contract.
- In addition, we must maximize the value of our city’s other assets without relinquishing control of their associated revenue, like we did with the Parking Meters and Chicago Skyway. For example, the State of New Jersey decreased its pension underfunding liability by $13 billion by transferring the lottery system to its pension funds. Inventory of city-owned assets and consideration of a non-permanent transfer of those assets into the pension funds or entities established for the benefit of the pension funds.
- Acquire by Eminent Domain the 440 acre U.S. Steel lakefront site and use federal funds to remediate the site. Collaborate with the Great Lakes Initiative or an entity comprised of the Great Lake states to greatly expand a “cruise the Great Lakes” recreational industry. A development of this nature is a long-term proposition but so are the pension obligations. It is time to start thinking out of the box.
- Explore transferring a portion of the Obama Library complex real estate to the National Park Service. Additionally, utilization of Park Service security should be explored to increase safety for all residents.
- At this point, I am not inclined to favor issuance of a pension bond. With the near term market volatility, I am not willing to gamble taxpayer money. I would consider a pension bond if the federal government would avail us of their Full Faith and Credit.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Jerry Joyce: I support a Chicago Police Department that is effective, accountable and fair. There are many components of the consent decree that can help achieve this. The consent decree will likely be in place by the time the next mayor is sworn in. As mayor, I would work with the FOP to implement and satisfy the terms of the decree as expeditiously as possible.
The decree calls for better training, better supervision, better equipment and departmental guidelines that are clear, these components could help improve the operations and efficiencies of the police department.
Estimated costs that will be associated with implementation of the consent decree vary from several million up to hundreds of millions of dollars. To my knowledge, there has not been any federal or state funding identified to cover the costs of implementation and that is an issue that needs to be addressed.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Jerry Joyce: Chicago does not have a gun problem; it has a gun EPIDEMIC. And it’s an epidemic that has been stealing innocent lives and destroying Chicago communities for decades with no solution to date. Between 2013 and 2016 Chicago Police seized almost 7,000 illegal guns each year and in 2017 that number jumped to more than 8,600. The amount of illegal guns coming into the city through illegal trafficking from neighboring states continues to exacerbate this problem.
As mayor of Chicago I would lead the charge by bringing every level of government to the table including federal, state, county and city agencies to develop a coordinated response that shares strategic and financial resources and utilizes the best tools available to law enforcement.
I would seek more assistance from the federal government and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I would work with the ATF on a pilot program focused exclusively on removing guns from our streets.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Jerry Joyce: The Number One responsibility of any government must be the protection and safety of its people and the city of Chicago is failing at this job. We have to get back to the basics and address the violence that is destroying our neighborhoods, starting with cracking down on repeat gun offenders, restoring staffing levels to solve crimes, and employing an authentic “All Hands On Deck” brand of community policing.
Police Department staffing levels have been decimated which has directly contributed to the impact of crime in communities across Chicago. City budgeting must be prioritized to hire more officers in order to restore a more responsive and accountable Chicago Police Department. I would implement regular monthly reviews of appropriate numbers, not just before an election.
Chicago lags the nation in murder clearance rates, a direct result of significant cuts to the Detective Division. Solving murders and gun crimes cannot be done without adequate investigative manpower and the Detective Division must be restored so that violent crime can be investigated in a timely manner. Too many cases are languishing because of the manpower shortage. Once restored to appropriate levels, the division can be supplemented by a pool of retired detectives. This pool should be retained by the Cook County Prosecutor and available upon request of the detective division for specific cases.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Jerry Joyce: Nationwide charter schools in large part resulted from the dissatisfaction with the public school system.
The question is, does Chicago want a neighborhood public school system? I am in favor of that. Presently enrollment in CPS is 290,000 and approximately 75,000 students are enrolled in charter schools, 80,000 attend parochial schools and 4,000 – 5,000 are homeschooled. I am in favor of strengthening neighborhood schools I believe every neighborhood should have a viable public school option. Having said that, charter schools that utilize innovative educational programs, such as Waldorf Education, can be an appropriate alternative for parents. However, to avoid unfair competition with neighborhood schools, the field should be leveled. Things like residency requirements and administrative pay should be subject to similar regulations as traditional CPS schools.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid? Please explain.
Jerry Joyce: It is imperative that the Chicago Board of Education has input from parents and community members. Without this, the Board is ill-equipped to make decisions that impact the education of Chicago students. I support a School Board made up of 7 members – 6 elected by districts and one appointed by the mayor. The mayoral appointee must be a parent of a child currently enrolled in CPS at the time of the appointment.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Jerry Joyce: Neighborhood schools are a necessary component for the future success of Chicago. Every parent should trust that their neighborhood school can provide an effective education in a clean and safe learning environment. I would dedicate resources to ensuring all CPS schools can provide all students with access to educational opportunities that prepare them for a successful future. To this end, I would prioritize improving and expanding the vocational and technical training opportunities offered through CPS. College is not the only post-high school option and students should be given access to alternative styles of learning and career paths.
Students should not only be safe from physical harm but emotional harm. I would establish a program that provides a mechanism to report and follow-up on allegations or concerns of emotional or other abuse by a teacher or staff member. I would also fight to enact legislation that mandates a sentence of no less than 20 years in prison for convictions of sexual abuse of children by a person in a position of trust.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Jerry Joyce: The concept of a “welcoming city” is an important tool that helps enforce basic human rights and safety for all Chicago residents. I agree that Chicago police officers should not waste time or resources investigating civil violations related to immigration status. There must, however, be a careful balance so that local law enforcement is not curtailed from investigating criminal activity or accessing past criminal behavior of individuals living in Chicago. Any city ordinance that limits collaboration between CPD and federal immigration authorities should not conflict with the process of investigating criminal activity — regardless of immigration status.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Jerry Joyce: 1. Lead in Water
Chicago has had a persistent problem with lead in the city’s tap water for decades, a problem that has not been properly addressed by leadership at City Hall and the Emanuel Administration, in particular.
Toxic lead was found in tap water drawn from nearly 70% of 2,797 homes across Chicago within the past two years, according to a media analysis of city data published earlier this year. Tap water in three of every 10 homes sampled had lead concentrations above 5 parts per billion, the maximum allowed in bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to that same analysis.
Dozens of cities across the country are already replacing lead service lines and many cities offer financial help for residents to pay for the work. Chicago needs to follow suit with a comprehensive, long-term plan to tackle this public safety crisis.
In the short term, the city should offer all Chicagoans water filters to begin to try to mitigate the dangers. In the long term, we need to replace the dangerous lead service lines that are causing this problem. I would begin the process by conducting public hearings with input from city government officials, outside experts and the public and move forward from there.
- Toxic Air Pollution
The American Lung Association’s 2018 ‘State of the Air Report’ gave Chicago an “F” grade for air pollution based on an increase of unhealthy ozone pollution days. Chicago’s air quality is getting worse, according to the report, putting residents at higher risk for asthma and other lung-related diseases.
And studies show Chicagoans in minority neighborhoods on the West Side and South Side have among the greatest exposure to toxic air pollution and other environmental health hazards in the city. The far southeast side of Chicago is also one of the most polluted regions as a result of steel production, metal recycling and petroleum refineries.
Chicago has a dedicated Pollution Prevention Unit that must review industrial planning practices and policies with a renewed sense of urgency working with the Environmental Protection Agency, community groups and other clean air initiatives. We must ensure that we are working to improve air quality and reduce emissions across the city through stringent inspection, permitting and enforcement.
- Plastics Pollution in Lake Michigan and Chicago River
Plastics account for the vast majority of the litter on our lake’s shoreline and in the Chicago River.
Illinois made great progress this past year through legislation and other means in the fight against plastics pollution in our local waterways and this must be a priority for the next Mayor of Chicago. Federal and state laws banning the sale and manufacture of personal care products containing plastic microbeads are a very important start.
The Chicago River system is cleaner and healthier than it has been for many years, but we still have an extensive pollution problem related to plastics. Banning the use of single-use plastics can help. Chicago must also develop a comprehensive Call to Action plan that enlists the participation and resources of city government, our civic institutions, businesses and our citizens to help reduce plastic pollution in our waterways.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Jerry Joyce: I have had active involvement in dozens of our Chicago communities, whether working through schools, criminal justice, volunteering or mentoring. Since July, I have visited all 77 communities. I have found that everyone wants the same thing, strong honest leadership that can ensure safe streets, good schools and livable communities. I would leverage my involvement in Chicago neighborhoods and experience to help build bridges to all our communities. Our civic and faith communities must play a strong role, too, and, most importantly, our neighborhood schools provide an anchor for positive interaction, regardless of racial, ethnic or social lines.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Jerry Joyce: Mayor (later Gov.) Ed Dunne fought the Klan, helped women’s suffrage and led Chicago and Illinois during times of great tumult. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to powerful special interests and he never forgot the working men and women who put him in high office.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Jerry Joyce: I would not have chosen “Boss” so I will give you two. The 20 Incredible Years by William Stuart and Eagle Forgotten by Harry Barnard.
See the full article at Chicago Sun Times.