Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quoted in a New York Times story Tuesday, basically saying that union contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
The story detailed how the city’s pension funds are short $19.5 billion -- the same amount as Detroit’s. In 2015, the city will have to start paying an extra $338 million toward teacher pensions, as the result of a state law that gives municipalities more responsibility for teacher retirements.
Meeting those obligations would require the city to raise property taxes 150 percent, a solution Emanuel calls unacceptable. His solution is to reduce public employee benefits by raising retirement ages, increasing worker contributions to pensions and freezing retirees’ cost of living increases.
Unless the legislature agrees to a complete overhaul of the pension plans, Mr. Emanuel said, he will not even entertain the notion of raising Chicagoans’ taxes.
“What the system needs is a hard, cold dose of honesty,” Mr. Emanuel said. “I understand the anger. I totally respect it. You have every right to be angry because there were contracts voted on.”
He added: “People agreed to something. But things get updated all the time.”
The public schools are used disproportionately by renters. Homeowners can often afford to send their children to private or parochial schools. Forced to choose between the interests of the two groups, Emanuel is naturally siding with homeowners. But indicating that union contracts are subject to revision when circumstances change will inevitably reduce the quality and the commitment of public school teachers.