Municipal Finances

Chicago’s finances are broken. An honest conversation about fixing our finances has to include new sources of revenue. We also must recognize that we cannot tax our way out of this problem. Burdensome fines, fees and taxes are contributing to a cycle of relocation from our city. New sources of revenue will provide some breathing room to allow us to govern and grow our way out of this.

Pension Governance

  • The pension crisis has two related components:There are insufficient assets available and liabilities are increasing. Without a solution, the pension fund liabilities will continue to increase at a greater pace than their assets. Educating the public about the problem and the potential solutions, as well as complete transparency in implementing solutions, are the cornerstone of my campaign’s plan to face this crisis.
  • Using the City’s own numbers, the 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. Our priority needs to be paying down these obligations to lower the cost of borrowing and to give Chicago breathing room to govern and grow our way out of this financial crisis.

Generating Revenue

  • We must recognize that we cannot solve our financial problems on the backs of residential property owners. Chicago needs to think iidentify new sources of revenue and potential creative financing solutions.
  • Efforts to generate additional revenue toward the unfunded pension liabilities should include the following proposals:
Marijuana Legalization 
  • The inevitability of recreational marijuana legalization is an opportunity for a new stream of revenue. It is important for the City of Chicago to have a seat at the negotiation table to ensure the City gets its fair share of the revenue. The Governor and the State Legislature have made it clear they will legalize recreational marijuana. I would direct any portion of the revenue generated by the tax dedicated to unfunded pension liabilities.
Publicly Owned Casino
  • A publicly-owned casino has the potential to bring in more than a billion dollars to the City in annual revenue. This would allow Chicago to capture revenue that currently accrue to nearby states and locales.
  • Establishing a Chicago casino would require State legislation, putting the City in a position to earmark all revenue generated by the casino entirely to paying down the unfunded pension liability.
  • The casino should be sited in an area that could support an entire entertainment district — potentially, the South Works Steel property. The redevelopment of the South Works site could include a sport complex, a concert venue, a water park and hotels, with the capability of future expansion. Additionally, as part of the larger development, the entertainment complex could partner with the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition to take advantage of cruising on the Great Lakes.
Sport Betting
  • The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that sports betting is permitted in all 50 states. Chicago must take advantage of this ruling and be at the forefront of this new venture.
Passenger Facility Charge
  • Increasing the cap on the passenger facility charge at Chicago airports will allow us to dedicate the additional revenue to paying down the pension obligations. This increase would sunset after a time certain and would require amending federal legislation.
Third Airport
  • Supporting the proposed third airport should be considered, given the revenues it could generate for the City.
Fire and Police Academy
  • The current proposal for the new Police and Fire Academy completely ignores the fiscal health of the City. At this time, the City should explore repurposing existing buildings for police training and the academy. We should wait until the City is on more stable financial footing before revisiting the prospect of constructing and opening a new facility
  • Rather than construct the proposed $100 million new police and fire academy, five of the remaining 37 vacant Chicago Public School buildings should be repurposed and retrofitted for the new police and fire training academies. This proposal will spur economic development and is fiscally responsible.
  • If implemented, the City could save up to $100 million from construction costs and an estimated $400,000 in annual costs currently associated with maintaining these buildings.  The proposed school sites were selected because they are located within the newly-established Federal Opportunity Zones — a federal program that provides tax incentives to spur investment.  This plan will benefit public safety, serve as a catalyst for additional investment and spark revitalization efforts in historically economically-depressed and neglected communities.
Inventory City Assets 
  • An inventory of all City-owned assets should be conducted and an analysis of the possible non-permanent transfer of any of those assets into the pension funds or into an entity established for the benefit of the pension funds.

TIF Reform

  • TIFs can be a valuable tool in funding construction or development projects – and to this end, they should continue to be used. The use of TIF revenues for specific projects which, in turn, increase property tax receipts is smart fiscal policy. However, if TIF districts are used to hijack money from other revenue-strapped arms of the government and under the radar of most taxpayers, the program becomes unfair and unwise.
  • The City has not published a comprehensive policy that would govern the establishment of TIF districts and oversight of TIF expenditures. Moreover, taxpayers have not been provided with an easy means to access information about the TIF process or to evaluate the performance of the City’s TIF investment.
  • The City’s TIF program needs to be reviewed from top-to-bottom to ensure affected communities are properly involved, appropriate controls are in place and money from taxing bodies are properly being diverted to help under-served constituents and communities.
  • Currently, one in four Chicago properties are located within a TIF district. Due to the lack of transparency surrounding the TIF program, a moratorium should be placed on all TIF-related matters until this review has occurred and new rules have been promulgated that ensure transparency and accountability.