* The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association live-tweeted testimony today by Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter to the Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee about the city’s convention business…
@BobReiterJr from @chicagolabor during IL Senate Tourism Cmte. hearing: Decisions made now will impact the #travel industry for this summer and beyond. Without a roadmap, current regulations are causing events to be canceled as far out as 2022.
@BobReiterJr: Other states like Nevada & New York are moving ahead w/ changes to allow for events to reopen. We have been working w/ health experts on protocols and believe events should resume w/ 50% occupancy cap and no maximum as long as precautions are implemented.
A balancing act needs to be had that protects people’s health but also need to look at what needs to be done to get people back to work. 25-30,000 union hospitality & convention workers are out of work & are making the decisions b/w paying for healthcare, mortgage or buying food
Home ownership rates in Chicago’s Black and Latino communities have been falling, according to information presented by Anthony Simpkins, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago.
Citing research by the DePaul Institute for Housing, Simpkins said not only are banks lending less in Black and Latino neighborhoods, they are also filing more foreclosures.
And he said borrowers of color who are able to get a loan are often charged a higher interest rate; in 2019 he said Woodstock Institute found nearly 35% of African American mortgage borrowers in Chicago paid higher rates, 17% of Latino borrowers.
It’s possible some majority-white ZIP codes have higher rates of vaccination in part because they have higher concentrations of people in groups prioritized for the first round of vaccines.
Experts said the findings reflect festering systemic problems, including poor health care access and distrust of vaccines, colliding amid a chaotic rollout that failed to ensure equal access to communities of color.
If Pritzker and Welch are serious about winning trust, they’ll allow Illinoisans to vote on a standalone constitutional amendment repealing the so-called “pension protection clause.” To build public support and treat retirees fairly, such an amendment could be narrowly drawn to permit only reductions in future pension increases under the COLA mechanism.
Sure, public employee unions are likely to fight any change in pensions. But it’s worth trying to win their support. It can be done; Arizona unions backed a narrow amendment to a pension protection clause in that state’s constitution. If unions won’t cooperate, Pritzker and Welch should forge ahead anyway, as Rhode Island officials—led by Democrat Gina Raimondo—did in tackling a similar pension crisis.
Only after passing such an amendment and reducing the overall pension obligation can state officials justifiably ask taxpayers for money to close the remaining gap. Would a graduated income tax be the right way to raise the necessary revenue? Maybe. I’m not opposed to it on principle. The vast majority of states with an income tax charge higher rates on higher incomes. And the necessity of a constitutional amendment would give voters the final say.
In July, a city official told The Trace andthe Sun-Times that the city would be releasing additional funds to address mental health, including several million for the expansion of existing mental health services and $1 million for suicide prevention. The official also said the city would seek proposals for a suicide-prevention plan in late 2020 or early 2021.
In October, the city announced that more than 30 community-based mental health organizations would receive $8 million in annual grants to expand existing services. However, the grants do not fund suicide prevention specifically. Asked about the status of the city’s suicide-prevention efforts, a spokesperson with the Chicago Department of Public Health declined an interview request and said the agency was “finalizing our planning in regards to what we will be funding.”
A bill that awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature would boost pensions for about 2,200 active and retired firefighters, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants the governor to veto it. Sun-Times file photo
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to veto a bill boosting pensions for thousands of Chicago firefighters, arguing it would saddle beleaguered taxpayers with perpetual property tax increases and cripple a pension fund dangerously close to insolvency.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, a Lightfoot political nemesis, passed in the waning hours of the lame duck session and awaits Pritzker’s signature or veto.
It removes the “birth date restriction” that prohibits roughly 2,200 active and retired firefighters born after Jan. 1, 1966 from receiving a 3% annual cost of living increase. Instead, they get half that amount, 1.5% — and it is not compounded.
I’m not saying solving Illinois’ pension mess will be easy. It won’t. But dead silence surely won’t solve it. Voters hired Pritzker to fix problems. On this huge problem, he’s been a sad failure.
Which leads to pension story No. 2: That’s the utter turmoil that seems to have overtaken one of the larger public retirement systems in the state, the $11 billion Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, which receives a nice chunk of Chicago homeowners’ property tax payments every six months.
When I last looked at the fund in October, its executive director and other key officials had just resigned, one commissioner had been censured by other board members, and board President Jeffery Blackwell was publicly complaining of an agency “culture of intimidation, intentional misinformation, discrimination, slander, misogyny, fear-mongering, blatant racism, sexism and retaliatory actions.” But interim Executive Director Mary Cavallaro said in a statement there was no reason to worry, and that “the fund is committed to ensuring financial stability, operational efficiencies and seamless service to members.”
Well, guess who now has resigned—with a blast? That would be Cavallaro. “I can no longer tolerate the chaos and toxicity of the boardroom, along with the vile disrespect and insults directed toward me, the leadership team and the hard-working staff of the fund by certain misinformed trustees,” she said in a letter to the board. “I have grave concerns about the ability of fund operations to sustain the continued loss of key staff members because of bad trustee behavior and poor board governance.”
There’s really nothing to strongly disagree with. The city has routinely moved the birth date restriction, but it’s been done in a way that the costs are not funded, which pushes the fund closer to insolvency. This bill would essentially take that routine practice, make it official and force the city to finally pay for it.
Pension debt increased $7.1 billion to $144.4 billion in fiscal year 2020, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or COGFA, the fiscal analysis unit for the General Assembly. The total cost of that debt burden to taxpayers in fiscal year 2022 will be nearly $11.6 billion, including:
$9.4 billion in direct contributions from general revenue sources
$1.1 billion in “other state funds”
$797.9 million in debt service costs on previously issued pension obligation bonds
Pensions will consume 28.5% of the budget. That is based on $38.5 billion in expected general revenue for fiscal year 2022, adding in that $1.1 billion from “other state funds” – which would go to critical programs were it not being used for pension debt.
In early February, the Department of Public Health announced a plan to help ease some of those technical problems: a partnership with Zocdoc, the popular online health-care scheduling company. Zocdoc is acting as a unified portal for multiple providers, so that people can sign up with a single, more user-friendly tool rather than wrestle with several different systems at once. While Chicago is the first city to make this specific agreement with Zocdoc, other health agencies are launching similar partnerships with private startups.
Before the pandemic, Zocdoc acted as a one-stop shop where patients could check out different doctors, compare medical providers, and make appointments. The company’s CEO, Oliver Kharraz, says the years spent bridging a fragmented health-care system unknowingly prepared it for taking on covid-19 vaccination appointments. After the idea was tested with the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, Zocdoc says, Chicago reached out about a partnership—and the system was up and running within a few weeks. Zocdoc connects with 1,400 different scheduling systems: doctors’ workflows remain unchanged, but patients all see the same simple interface no matter which provider they’re using.
A new report from government finance watchdog Truth in Accounting gave the Windy City an “F” for financial health. Chicago’s massive $36 billion net debt stems primarily from pensions.
Chicago city taxpayers were just hit with $94 million in property tax increases and $38 million in higher fines and fees, including a policy for speed cameras to ticket drivers for going just 6 mph over the speed limit, to help close the city’s budget deficit. City leaders placed much of the blame on COVID-19’s impact on government revenues, but a recent report from fiscal watchdog Truth in Accounting shows Chicago’s problems existed long before the pandemic.