We Need to Protect Pensions With Progressive Revenue

by Rossana Rodriguez & Colin Bird-Martinez

Budgets that invest in the needs of corporations, millionaires and billionaires with money that could have otherwise been invested in our neighborhoods have been the hallmark of the Emanuel administration. The mayor raised revenue from fines, fees and regressive taxes and made cuts that targeted Black communities and hurt all working class people. So it’s no surprise that Emanuel‘s December budget address called for more regressive policies, including a state constitutional amendment to allow of reduction workers’ pension benefits.

We have a moral and an inescapable legal obligation to keep our promises to workers who accepted pensions in place of raises and who have paid into this system rather than Social Security. Emanuel’s latest recommendations will only result in more seniors living in poverty and allow the state to muddle along with one of the most regressive tax structures in the nation.

City Council also has a moral obligation to make Chicago more equitable, and therefore safer, especially for people of color living far from the Loop. Rolling back fines, fees and regressive taxes that continue to place a disproportionate burden on already disinvested-in communities of color is a first step. These racist practices are exemplified in reliance on parking tickets that target Black communities or TIFs that take money from Chicago public schools that predominantly serve students of color.

The second step to is to reverse Emanuel’s transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich by ending the massive subsidies for corporations and developers and requiring these corporations, millionaires and billionaires to pay their fare share in taxes. When Emanuel wants to fund rich developers like Sterling Bay, hundreds of millions of dollars suddenly appear, but when working people are at risk of losing their pensions there is somehow no equitable solution. With the political will, there are meaningful ways to raise new revenue in City Hall, including reinstating the corporate head tax and implementing a graduated real estate transfer tax. We can also end the syphoning of tax dollars from Chicago Public Schools to areas such as the Loop via TIFs, so that we can get closer to fully funding schools.

Other reforms will require action by the state legislature. Although state reforms are outside the direct control of city council members, we can use our leadership positions - and our partnerships with grassroots organizations like Reclaim Chicago - to keep the need for a progressive income tax front and center in the public conversations and to organize people in our wards to demand state reforms. We will need a grassroots movement to ensure JB Pritzker and the Democratic supermajorities keeps their campaign promises to make our tax system fairer. Democrats should close hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax loopholes as a downpayment on that promise. A healthy state budget will provide more money for education, housing, and social services that all Illinoisans need.

If we do these things, we can both keep our pension commitments and make big investments in neighborhoods. Emanuel’s election year budget made a nominal increase in funding for garbage cans, sidewalks and tree trimming. We do deserve garbage cans, but also so much more. Our communities need affordable housing, mental health services, fully funded neighborhood schools and more public transportation. The current plans and resources are completely inadequate to our needs.

Robert Quellos