Austin Berg, Illinois Policy Institute Aug. 9, 2016, 8:10am


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is heralding a massive water-sewer-tax hike as a grand bargain between taxpayers and city employees, but new payroll data show it’s not exactly a shared sacrifice.

Berg
Berg

The number of Chicago city workers earning a base salary of $100,000 or more has gone up by 92 percent since 2013, according to research from the Better Government Association. Three years ago, 2,502 city employees earned six-figure salaries. But more than 4,800 employees, or 15 percent of the city government’s workforce, currently enjoy those large paychecks

The median city-worker salary is more than $84,000.

The median worker in Chicago earns just under $32,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city-worker salary numbers do not take into account overtime pay or other bonus pay. Some employees can double their salaries on those payments. For example, in 2015, six Chicago police officers earned more than $100,000 in overtime pay alone.

Over the next four years, Chicagoans will shoulder a combined $838 million property-tax hike, the largest increase in city history. The overwhelming majority of that tax money will go to pension funds for police officers, firefighters and teachers.

A $239 million water-sewer tax, announced Aug. 3, will go entirely to the municipal workers pension fund.

In exchange for paying hundreds of dollars more per year on their water bills, and even more in property-tax increases, Chicagoans have seen no meaningful spending reform from City Hall.

Because the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled any changes to unaffordable pension promises unconstitutional, the city must control skyrocketing pension payments with the remaining tools at its disposal: pay freezes to rein in the salary levels that determine pension payouts and a rightsizing of payrolls.

But as city-worker salary data demonstrate, City Hall has no interest in taking those steps. They’d prefer to hit up taxpayers again and again.

Emanuel has refused to even stop the bleeding by enrolling new city workers in 401(k)-style retirement plans, instead of the defined-benefit plans that are extremely rare in the private sector.

Before the most recent round of hikes, Chicago government already took in more tax and fee revenue per person than any major city in Illinois by a vast margin. And city revenue has grown much faster than inflation over the last 20 years.

Hitting up a flatlining city population for more and more money can only work for so long. If city politicians continue to do little more than bail water from Chicago’s sinking financial ship, taxpayers will have little choice but to abandon it.

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