The Agenda

Rahmbo vs. Chicago’s public employee unions

I have a new piece today at about Chicago’s mayoral election, which will take place a week from today. Despite being a Democratic candidate in a left-leaning city, frontrunner Rahm Emanuel has been aiming squarely for the city’s public employee unions. He’s calling for further school reforms, including the expansion of charter schools; he’s the only candidate in the race saying that the city must cut the pension benefits that current employees will earn in the future, not just benefits for new employees; and he wants to take the charter model beyond education to other agencies of city government, where services could be improved with more bureaucratic autonomy (and, if the experience with charter schools is any indication, less union influence.)

Unsurprisingly, with an agenda like this, Emanuel has no backing from Chicago’s public worker unions, which have divided among his opponents or are sitting out the race. He does, however, have wide public support: he’s polling between 49 and 54 percent in a six-candidate field, with his closest opponent trailing by 30 points. If Emanuel gets to 50 percent in next week’s vote, he’ll win outright; otherwise, he’ll be highly likely to win a runoff election in April.

As I note in the piece, Emanuel is probably taking such a tough line on the unions because he knows he has to:

In Fiscal Year 2011, which ends in July, Chicago faced a $650 million budget shortfall. But only about 15 percent of this gap was actually closed with spending reductions. The gap was closed mostly with one-time revenues, particularly proceeds from selling the Chicago Skyway toll road and city-wide on-street parking. In the case of the parking deal, the city sold seventy-five years of parking meter revenue, and spent 93 percent of the proceeds from that sale to close just three years of budget gaps.

This cannot go on, as the asset sale money is running out. It will likely be all gone within the next eighteen months. Once that happens, the only ways out will be spending cuts or tax increases–and fresh off a 66 percent rise in the state income tax, there is little appetite for tax increases in Chicago. Since about 83 percent of Chicago’s Corporate Fund (the local equivalent of a General Fund) is spent on employee compensation, spending cuts will have to include cuts in spending on public workers.

Like Andrew Cuomo in New York, Emanuel is seeing that the math for business-as-usual with public employee unions just doesn’t pencil. Combine that with Emanuel’s legendarily ball-busting personality, and you’re likely to see a very tough line on public employee compensation issues coming out of the Chicago mayor’s office for the next four years.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More