I love Chicago. It’s home to the Blackhawks and the Cubs. It’s also home to the best restaurants, best cultural attractions, best entertainment and best shopping of any major city in the country.
Sadly, Chicago is also mired in a huge financial mess.
Chicago city pension systems that cover city employees, teachers and police and firefighters are in real danger of sinking into insolvency and Chicago Public School teachers have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike over benefits and wages. Rather than embracing meaningful and substantial fiscal reforms, however, Chicago leaders continue to look to taxpayers here in the suburbs and across the state to bail them out.
Last year alone legislators from Chicago pushed several state taxpayer bail-out measures in Springfield, including a city police and fire pension bailout (SB 777) and Chicago Public School teacher pension bailouts (HB 2472 and SB 318). As I write this, the state’s backlog of bills we are unable to pay is $7.8 billion. The two proposed CPS pension bailouts above would have cost taxpayers an additional $374 million or $207 million respectively.
Should Chicago, because of its size and statewide financial impact, receive special treatment in Springfield? It already does. And that’s especially true when it comes to state funding for schools.
While Chicago Schools represent approximately 19% of the state’s student population, in 2016 they will receive 21% of the state’s General State Aid dollars, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that are not readily available to our suburban districts. Funding for Early Childhood Education is one of many examples. CPS will automatically receive 37% of all available state funds allocated, regardless of actual need or expenses. Our local schools must compete for what’s left.
Chicago also receives an extra $15 million annually for Community Colleges in the city as well as 20% off the top of state construction grant funding for schools, parks, museums and libraries. All other municipalities must apply and meet strict criteria to qualify for grants.
I am not writing this to belittle Chicago. It’s truly a world-class city that we are fortunate to have less than an hour from our doorsteps. But its financial troubles are serious and their causes are much the same as the State’s – year after year of spending and spending promises that residents can’t afford. And, like the State, simply asking for more money from taxpayers won’t fix the problems.
Recently, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Minority leader Christine Radogno presented a path to solvency for Chicago Public Schools; a plan for the future that was quickly dismissed by Mayor Emanuel, Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton. Instead Rahm, Madigan and Cullerton continue to look to Springfield to bail out Chicago Public Schools. They want you to pay for the decades of mismanagement of CPS. No reforms. No accountability. Just more money to fund a failed education system.
It’s time for reforms, planning and an education system in Chicago that puts the students first.