On Thursday, The Civic Federation released “Recommendations for a Financially Sustainable City of Chicago,” a report detailing 40 recommendations to improve the city’s finances long term. These recommendations range from public works to pensions, and are primarily directed at Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council.
“The Civic Federation sees a need for the Mayor and aldermen to work together to improve the long-term fiscal sustainability of our city, including implementing significant reforms to the responsibilities of the City Council, Treasurer and City Clerk,” said Laurence Msall, president of The Civic Federation.
The Civic Federation recommends that City Council be halved to 25 members. Although the cut would be a large one, it would also put Chicago’s City Council size more in line with the number of council members for other larger cities in the U.S. The Civic Federation also wants to establish a new policy analysis office with these savings. This office would be similar to the federal Congressional Budget Office and would make the City Council a co-equal legislative partner to the executive branch.
“Given the scope of Chicago’s fiscal predicament, it is imperative that every elected official be engaged in the difficult and painful process of prioritization and reduction,” said Msall.
The report also addresses escalating personnel costs, which comprise 83 percent of the operating budget. Possible solutions include layoffs, benefit reductions and changes in staffing structure, including that of the police and fire departments.
“With a growing structural deficit, high levels of debt and staggering unfunded pension liabilities, every option to control costs must be on the table for discussion,” said Msall.
The Civic Federation advises that benefits not yet earned by current employees be reduced and that changes to retiree health programs be made in order to address the City’s pension crisis. It also suggests the City look into raising contributions to the pension funds by both employees and the City itself.
Not every recommendation can be implemented in time to close the fiscal year 2012 budget shortfall. Some will need time to have an effect, and others will only make a small dent. For instance, The Civic Federation advises the city to revise its budget format and process. Such adjustments would not only improve financial stability but also make the process more transparent and accountable, in line with the Mayor’s desire for more open government.
The full 115 page report is open to the public on The Civic Federation’s website. The Federation plans release another report this fall on the status of the recommendations as well as more reports in the upcoming fiscal years.