Voters got a limited idea of Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's plans to remedy Chicago's financial woes when he previewed his budget plan Friday.
The challenger to incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a morning press conference to provide a preview of his budget approach, offering vague details on his plans should he win the runoff election in April.
The 7th District commissioner has made bold promises in his campaign for City Hall but has yet to provide specifics on how he plans to pay for it all. If elected, he's vowed to put 1,000 more police officers on city streets, which the Emanuel campaign has said would cost $120 million, and he's pledged to completely abolish the red light ticket cameras that have brought millions of dollars into city coffers.
Chicago currently has a $300 million budget shortfall and needs a solution for $20 billion in pension promises.
On Friday, Garcia outlined four areas where he believes the city could save money, but noted those savings were not enough to fix several budget shortfalls. Those areas included more efficient services for city residents, transparency and public accountability, comprehensive reforms and collaboration between county and city agencies.
Garcia said he does not support reducing pension benefits for current or retired city employees.
“I recognized that a part of the pension solution is going to be additional and new revenues but we owe it to taxpayers to look at a whole host of possibilities that experts will provide me with as we move forward,” he said.
Garcia avoided saying whether tax increases would be implemented under his budget instead saying he plans to first plans to appoint a committee to review the city’s budgeting.
“It’s too early to tell residents of Chicago that we’re going to be giving them bad medicine,” Garcia said.
“In short obviously this is not the whole plan for city’s financial future but I think these are very good ideas to take the city in the right direction,” said Dean Baker, one of Garcia’s economic advisers and the co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Also on Friday, Emanuel released his “fiscal framework,” which included his plans for pensions, a highly debated topic in the runoff election.
Emanuel’s plan included slowing interest rates for city pensions and increasing employee and taxpayer contributions.
He also said he plans to control the cost of health care, find better ways of providing government services, reforming teacher pension fundings, closing state tax loopholes, continuing a TIF surplus policy, exploring non-tax revenue options like a gaming proposal and reforming the worker compensation system.
In his four years in office, Emanuel has offered a budget each year that doesn't include a property tax increase, but this year’s plan also does not exclude that possibility.
Emanuel’s plan instead claims a property tax would be a “last resort.”
“Chicago has come a far way in four short years, and now is not the time to risk that progress on empty promises,” Emanuel said in a statement. “My budget and pension framework builds on our accomplishments of the last four years – four balanced budgets and three pension agreements with organized labor.”