Emanuel Calls for Legalized Weed, Chicago Casino to Fund Pensions

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on state lawmakers to legalize marijuana, allow for a casino in Chicago and approve an amendment to the state constitution in order to address the city's pension crisis Wednesday.

Emanuel revealed his proposals in a "state of the city" type of address to City Council, laying out his plans to confront Chicago's unfunded pension obligation.

While he leaves office in May, the pension issue will certainly be an issue for the next mayor, with Tuesday's speech setting the table for debate among those looking to take his job.

His proposals include a constitutional amendment to allow for reductions to the three-percent compounded cost-of-living adjustments on retirees' benefits - to remove the clause that was the basis of the Illinois' Supreme Court ruling against prior pension reform efforts.

Emanuel also called for the city to finance its pension obligation through "fund stabilization bonds," which he said boils down to refinancing pension debt at rates lower than the anticipated returns on the funds' investments.

Emanuel also eyed a casino in Chicago as a source of revenue to stabilize the pension funds.

"I believe a clear plan to direct gaming resources to pensions could represent one piece of a broader four-part strategy," Emanuel said in his speech. "But we need to be clear-eyed about the fact that revenue would not materialize until years from now."

He also threw his support behind legalizing recreational marijuana - noting that he believed it would have "social costs that must be considered" - and dedicating a portion of the revenue to pension obligations.

"But if the State goes down that path, those resources can and should be used to further solidify our pensions without asking more of Chicago taxpayers," Emanuel said.

On Tuesday, Emanuel also said he supports raising the state's motor-fuel tax to fund highway and bridge improvements, increasing the gas tax by as much as 30 cents. The gas tax is currently 19 cents per gallon and has not been raised since 1991.

Emanuel's speech Wednesday served as a chance to reflect on his administration's work as well as a look ahead at what awaits the next mayor - and he made it clear that he wants his suggestions known, even if he won't be the one in charge.

"The City of Chicago’s pension challenge has accrued over decades, and will not be solved overnight," Emanuel said. "We got into this challenge because elected officials and labor leaders made promises, without telling the full truth about what they would cost."

"Whatever the results of the coming election, we cannot afford to return to the politics of the past, where promises are made without the means to fulfill them, or where we refuse to confront challenges by delaying and denying the choices that are required," he continued, calling the looming pension crisis "the last summit to climb."

While Emanuel looked to drive the debate, it will be up to the next mayor, and the next Chicago City Council, to decide what happens to his proposals.

Contact Us