With Mayor Emanuel’s annual budget address coming next week, just a few tweaks are needed to the shock-and-awe one we suggested two years ago. Chicago’s financial position has deteriorated, its insurmountable pension hole has deepened and the can was kicked again on funding for them. Changes are marked:
Upon completion of this speech I am ordering implementation, as rapidly as law allows, of the emergency financial measures I will describe.
Each of these measures can and will be accomplished through a combination of voluntary agreement, legislation and bankruptcy. We have prepared a full reorganization plan that incorporates these measures, all of which we need to end our crisis and all of which are achievable in bankruptcy. All city employees, creditors and other stakeholders will be asked to agree voluntarily to them but if they refuse we will get them through bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy is a bad option, but unavoidable. If you think it’s avoidable you must understand that the courts left us only two options for fixing our pensions, which are now at an impossible funding level of just 21% — bankruptcy or a state constitutional amendment. The state constitutional amendment, however, may not work for legal reasons and would take many years to implement and litigate. Moreover, it would leave other debt untouched, and that wouldn’t be fair. Simply put, our debts cannot be paid in full, and only bankruptcy can reduce them.
The state legislation needed to authorize bankruptcy for Chicago and other municipalities must include appointment of a highly qualified Financial Control Board to run the bankruptcy. We incumbent politicians are obviously incapable.
Our Congressional delegation is sponsoring amendments to Chapter 9 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, which are already drafted. Those amendments will make bankruptcy, for cities like Chicago that need it
if it becomes necessary for a city our size, a much faster, firmer and more predictable route to robust recovery. Recognizing the severity of our crisis, we are confident Congress will act quickly on those amendments. Stakeholders who balk at voluntary agreement to the concessions we need will regret waiting until those amendments become law. Regardless of the outcome of those amendments, we are confident all the measures I propose below and our full reorganization plan would be confirmed in bankruptcy.
– No further contributions will be made to Chicago’s four pensions or the Chicago teachers’ pension. Instead, a new, affordable plan will be funded to cover new employees and certain participants in the old pensions who are particularly hurt by terminating the old plans, which will be allowed to run dry.
– All existing collective bargaining agreements will be terminated.
– Layoffs and pay cuts will be broad and deep.
– Massive operational changes mostly designed to reduce excessive labor use will be aggressively enforced.
– Overtime will be eliminated to the the full extent allowable under Federal law.
– Underperforming workers will be fired summarily.
– The Chicago Public School System will be reconstituted. An entirely new one will be created that will acquire needed assets from the old entity and all funding for education will go to the new entity. The new system will include elements of privatization and choice. Liabilities of the old system will be left unpaid except insofar as they must be assumed by the new system to acquire needed assets. Good employees of the old system will be rehired.
-Taxes must be raised again, temporarily, but not until our entire list of reforms is fully implemented. I pledge that no further tax revenue will be squandered in vain. Those tax increases will be reversed when we achieve stability.
Those financial measures will fail in the long term unless matched by a cultural revolution in Chicago area government. From this day forward nothing will be the same about the ‘Chicago Way.’ Nothing:
– We will adopt a radical, new ethical ordinance that includes, for example, a ban on lawmakers working on property tax assessments and appeals. That ordinance will be enforced by inspectors general with broad powers and full budgets. The leeches and mopes among you left over from the Daley years would be wise to retire now.
– As for rank and file workers who have been part of the problem, you have disgraced the many who work with commitment. The joke about public employees here has long been “one guy working and two guys watching.” No more. To the contrary, the layoffs coming mean remaining employees will shoulder more work than normally should be expected. I recognize the unfairness for you who already work hard, but I ask you to stick it out and help see us through this.
– Of the private sector, I ask for your generosity. We’ve failed to provide many public services that should be expected from a city with our resources, and I beg you to fill in where you can until we get this fixed.
Chicago, you have been misled, and I have been horribly wrong. The crisis we face is more severe than commonly known and much worse than I ever admitted
understood. To date, I’ve made some tough decision but mostly denied and delayed.
That’s over. The remedy must fit the malady or we are doomed.
–Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints. Opinions expressed are his own.