An alderman, who first told FOX 32 News about his city income tax proposal two weeks ago, offered new details Monday and won praise from the Chicago Teachers Union.
Ald. Bob Fioretti said Chicago does not face a public employee pension crisis. The government funds that write retirees' checks could soon be broke, but Fioretti called it a revenue crisis. He appealed for a new income tax on the 600,000 commuters he said work in Chicago, but live elsewhere.
"If those people who live outside the city, but work here, paid as little as 1% in their taxes we could generate more than $300 million annually," Fioretti says. "This could help stabilize our pension funds and reduce class size in CPS schools."
$300 million, though, falls far short of the $1.1 billion additional dollars that current state law requires Chicago to pay next year to pension funds for police, firefighters and teachers. The Chicago Teachers Union opposes any move to reduce the cost of retirement benefits.
"Revenue is the issue," says Stacy Davis Gates, Political Director with the Chicago Teachers Union. "Pensions are not the issue. He proposed a commuter tax. He also proposed other innovative ideas."
Among Fioretti's other ideas: broadening the city sales tax to apply to services that he did not specify today. He's also proposed taxing the international financial exchanges based Downtown. Experts said Fioretti's tax proposals would likely require approval from the Illinois General Assembly and the City Council, where they would be a tough sell.
"I think it's a bad idea," Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green says about Fioretti's proposal. "I don't think you want to set up city-suburban fights. It's bad enough as they keep fighting for the various business locations as United and other places leave the suburbs and come to Chicago."
Commuters are not happy about the proposed tax.
Several Chicago commuters told FOX 32 they think the tax is a bad idea and the city should have been saving money to use for pensions.
"I don't think it is a good idea," one person said.
As Ald. Fioretti lays the groundwork to run for mayor himself, he used some of his toughest language yet attacking Mayor Emanuel. Quoting a poet, Fioretti suggested Emanuel is "building a second city" for Chicago's elite, "a Gold Coast Heaven" sequestered from the "low-end Hell" where he said Chicago's "damned" reside.
Several city officials say the tax may be a tough sell.
FOX 32's Lisa Chavarria contributed to this report.