Looking out for number Rahm | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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Looking out for number Rahm

The mayor's latest proposal would cut benefits to municipal employees to fund development projects.

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SETH ANDERSON
  • Seth Anderson

Way back in the early clinic-and-school closing days of Rahm's mayoral reign, I had a friendly debate or two with a leftie I'll call Chris over whether our mayor truly believed all the trickle-down nonsense he was spewing, or whether he was only spewing it 'cause he thought it might advance his political career.

Not that one's necessarily better than the other.

Chris contended that Rahm was a true-believing neoliberal, who thought he was doing the world a favor by taking from the poor and middle class and giving to the rich.

I said, no, he's more of an opportunist, with his finger in the air, trying to figure which way the wind was blowing. And he'd switch to more progressive economic views in a heartbeat, once he realized the times had changed.

Just as he's done with gay rights, immigration, and even the legalization of marijuana—if you recall, in 2014, Rahm declared he would always resist any attempt to legalize reefer.

Well, eight years later, I hate to say it, but—it looks as though Chris was right and I was wrong.

Certainly, the winds of change have moved most Democrats to the left on economic issues—even our billionaire governor-elect J.B. Pritzker advocates a progressive state income tax.

But Rahm? Well, his latest proposals would, if adopted, hit the poor and middle class of Chicago like a one-two combination from Mike Tyson.

Punch one—Mayor Rahm's proposing a constitutional amendment to eradicate the language in the state constitution that protects already retired pensioners from cuts. That way the city could cut millions and millions of dollars in benefits from thousands and thousands of retired cops, firefighters, teachers, and other former municipal employees.

Punch two—Mayor Rahm's rushing through the City Council an $800 million (at least) TIF handout to help Sterling Bay underwrite its the Lincoln Yards development.

So basically he wants to take money from working- and middle-class retirees so he can shower it on upscale projects in rapidly gentrifying north side neighborhoods that probably don't need to be underwritten because—they're being built in rapidly gentrifying north side neighborhoods.

And don't kid yourself, people—that Lincoln Yards development will most definitely raise your property taxes. As I've explained before.

So when all is said and done, Rahm's not proposing to save you money in taxes. He's merely trying to spend more of that money on well-to-do developers by taking it from retirees.

OK, so Rahm doesn't come right out and say he's taking money from geezers so he can give it to gazillionaires. No, he's too tricky for that.

Instead, he acts as though he's this courageous reformer who's doing us all a big favor by going after fat-cat pensioners. Consider this quote from the first draft of his December 12 pension address to the City Council: "What kind of progressive, sustainable system guarantees retirees 3 percent annual compounded pay increase, when inflation has been at basically zero and current employees have at times been furloughed, laid off or received 1 percent raises? The mantle of progressivity must not just be more taxes on the wealthy, it must be more respect for our workers' paychecks."

That's rich. Protecting the well-to-do from higher taxes in the name of workers' paychecks. My advice to city workers—stay young forever so you never get old and have to retire.

Just so you know, state legislators more or less dealt with that 3 percent compound issue eight years ago when they passed—and then-governor Pat Quinn signed—a pension law that effectively created two tiers of pensioners.

Thanks to that law, employees who came on the workforce before 2011 get the 3 percent compounded. And those who came on afterward get an uncompounded raise that's equal to half of the consumer price index for the year. Last year that would have been about a 1.5 percent increase.

Roughly a third of the city's workforce is in the second, less generous tier. And that number will rise through attrition as older workers retire and younger ones take their place.

As I said, this bill passed in 2010, a year before Rahm took office. For better or worse, he had nothing to do with it. And now here he is trying to pretend he's the only courageous politician in the state.

Now, I'm not going to say Rahm lied when he said we need a constitutional amendment to cut pensions, even though we don't need a constitutional amendment to cut pensions. As we saw in 2010.

Let's just say he was, oh, misleading the public by creating a non-existent boogieman, which he then knocked down. After which he congratulated himself for having the courage to tell the truth. Even though he wasn't telling the truth. And even though you know as well as I do that he wouldn't dare to propose snatching money from retirees if he were, in fact, actually running for reelection.

As opposed to heading off into the great blue yonder, where I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up as an investment banker—like he was before he went to Congress—using his contacts in government to win approval for deals like Lincoln Yards.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Rahm winds up making a fortune giving speeches to various business associations where he tells them things like what he told the Tribune after his council speech: "To my friends in the progressive circles, don't just think you're going to tax the wealthy as a way to grow this economy. You're going to cut jobs doing that."

All right, folks, let's consider that in the context of his Lincoln Yards handout and his proposed pension cuts.

According to Rahm, it's an unsustainable waste to distribute tax dollars to thousands of retirees—many of whom live in the city. But it's job creation to give billions to a handful of developers and their unknown financial backers, wherever they live.

It doesn't get any more trickle-down than that. Just call him Rahmy Reagan.  v

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