public pensions

Chicago’s Financial Reckoning Day Has Arrived

Chicago readers of Survival And Prosperity were warned that the City of Chicago’s poor financial health would result in a sustained hunt for much more revenue (new and higher fees/fines/taxes) for the foreseeable future.

The warnings were constant, and issued over the last couple of years.

So the following headlines on the websites of the two major local papers should not have come as a surprise to the courageous Chicagoans who’ve continued to read this blog on a regular basis despite the steady barrage of depressing news coming out of the “Windy City” lately.

“Emanuel to seek $500 million property tax hike”
Chicago Sun-Times website, September 2, 2015

“Emanuel set to call for largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history”
Chicago Tribune website, September 3, 2015

By the looks of things, Chicago’s financial reckoning day has arrived.

Time to pay the taxman.

Hal Dardick and Bill Ruthhart reported on the Tribune website this morning:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to call for the largest property tax increase in modern Chicago history to raise enough money to make a major pension payment for police and firefighters next year, the mayor’s City Council floor leader and a City Hall source told the Chicago Tribune late Wednesday.

The mayor also plans to push a new garbage collection tax, a new per-ride fee on taxis and ride-hailing services such as Uber and a new tax on electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman broke all this down brilliantly last night. The City Hall Reporter wrote:

Sources said the 2016 budget that Emanuel will present to the City Council on Sept. 22 will include a $450 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions the mayor once hoped to shore up with revenues from an elusive Chicago casino.

In addition, Emanuel will ask aldermen to adopt a separate levy of $50 million to bankroll school construction and pay off old projects…

Emanuel has offered to raise property taxes by an additional $170 million for the schools, but only if teachers accept the equivalent of a 7 percent pay cut and the state reimburses CPS for “normal” pension costs…

Together, the increases for both the city and CPS have the potential to raise the annual property tax bill for the owner of a home valued at $250,000 by nearly $700.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Home valued at $250,000 by nearly $700.”

Holy crap. That’s some pretty serious coin.


PSA from Alderman Al Czervik, Chicago City Council
YouTube Video

Keep in mind this hit to Chicago property owners doesn’t account for that other recent property tax hike I wrote about on August 27:

There are so many new and increased fees, fines, and taxes being proposed and implemented around the Chicagoland area these days, it’s hard to keep track of all of them. But here’s one Chicago tax hike that’s just been approved that’s making local headlines. Juan Perez, Jr., reported on the Chicago Tribune website last night:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school board on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget that relies heavily on borrowed money and the hope of a nearly $500 million bailout from a stalemated Springfield, with the specter of disruptive cuts in January if that help fails to materialize.

The $5.7 billion spending plan contains another property tax hike — an estimated $19-a-year increase for the owner of a $250,000 home — as well as teacher and staff layoffs. The Chicago Board of Education also prepared to go to Wall Street to issue $1 billion in bonds and agreed to spend $475,000 so an accounting firm can monitor a cash flow problem so acute that Chicago Public Schools mulled skipping a massive teacher pension payment at the end of June…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

So there it is. And if Chicagoans think this major tax increase is some sort of one-off, well, I know of a certain bridge for sale out east. Like I’ve been warning all along, emphasizing it as recent as August 21:

New/higher fees, fines, and taxes, coupled with reduced government services

I also added in that post:

Chicago readers of this blog- what are you planning to do about the crisis? Or, what are you already doing? Maybe you don’t think a crisis exists? Please share your thoughts or experiences in the “Comments” section of this post, as I’d really like to talk more about this going forward.

Not much of a response was received (save for Mihail- thanks buddy). Anyone care to chime in now? Vent a little perhaps? Keep it civil, of course.

One more thing. With the cat out of the bag concerning the property tax hike and renewed attention on Chicago’s fiscal issues, I wonder what the impact will be on Chicago’s housing market (which had some positive momentum) going forward?

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Dardick, Hal and Ruthhart, Bill. “Emanuel set to call for largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history.” Chicago Tribune. 3 Sep. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-rahm-emanuel-property-tax-hike-met-0903-20150902-story.html). 3 Sep. 2015.

Spielman, Fran. “Emanuel to seek $500 million property tax hike.” Chicago Sun-Times. 2 Sep. 2015. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/928338/emanuel-seek-500-million-property-tax-hike). 3 Sep. 2015.

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Chicago Property Taxes Hiked As School Budget Passed

There are so many new and increased fees, fines, and taxes being proposed and implemented around the Chicagoland area these days, it’s hard to keep track of all of them. But here’s one Chicago tax hike that’s just been approved that’s making local headlines. Juan Perez, Jr., reported on the Chicago Tribune website last night:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school board on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget that relies heavily on borrowed money and the hope of a nearly $500 million bailout from a stalemated Springfield, with the specter of disruptive cuts in January if that help fails to materialize.

The $5.7 billion spending plan contains another property tax hike — an estimated $19-a-year increase for the owner of a $250,000 home — as well as teacher and staff layoffs. The Chicago Board of Education also prepared to go to Wall Street to issue $1 billion in bonds and agreed to spend $475,000 so an accounting firm can monitor a cash flow problem so acute that Chicago Public Schools mulled skipping a massive teacher pension payment at the end of June…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

My old neighbors on the city’s Northwest Side, in their single family homes that are selling just south of the $350K-mark on average these days, probably aren’t too thrilled to hear about this latest tax hike.

Oh, but it gets “better.” Perez added:

To help patch over a budget gap the district said exceeds $1.1 billion, CPS raised its property taxes to the maximum amount allowed under state law. But CPS may not be done — [Chicago Public Schools chief Forrest] Claypool has floated the idea of restoring a property tax levy dedicated to teacher pensions that would generate an estimated $170 million

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Keep in mind this is just the school’s portion of the Chicago property owner’s tax bill we’re talking about here.

Once again, a couple of bucks here, a couple of bucks there, and all these new and increased fees, fines, and taxes from various levels of government will have Chicago taxpayers going bonkers soon enough.

And Illinois taxpayers- note that bit about:

The hope of a nearly $500 million bailout from a stalemated Springfield…

You too could be on the hook for this debacle.

Head on over to the Chicago Tribune website here to get the full story on this latest tax hike.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Chicago Taxpayers To Be Hit With Property Tax Hike, Garbage Collection Fee?

Chicagoans- think all the recent talk of new/higher fees, fines, and taxes is garbage?

You’re right, in a way.

I just finished reading some material from Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman over on that paper’s website.

Chicago taxpayers had better be prepared for their pocketbooks to take a hit in the coming months.

Spielman talked Sunday afternoon about the City’s need for $754 million in new revenue, and the options submitted by City Council to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to help “generate” it. That included:

• Property tax hike
• Garbage collection fee
• Ride-hailing companies (Uber) surcharge
• Congestion fee
• Bicycle license
• Gas tax hike
• Sales tax hike
• City income tax

Which ones stand a good chance of being put into play by City Hall? Spielman wrote:

Ald. Carrie Austin, outspoken chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, put Emanuel on the spot during the mayoral campaign when she called a post-election property tax hike inevitable. But she was right — especially now that a Circuit Court judge has overturned Emanuel’s plan to save two of four city employee pension funds.

The only question is, how much will property taxes be going up?

Emanuel has already offered to raise property taxes by $225 million for the Chicago Public Schools, provided teachers accept the equivalent of a 7 percent pay cut and the state reimburses CPS for “normal” pension costs…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

In a separate Sun-Times piece from last night, Spielman added:

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, said it’s no longer an issue of whether Chicago will have a garbage-collection fee. The question is, how much?

“That’s where the real discussion will take place. It will be around the cost, rather than the enablement. We need to see the numbers that show how much we’ll save and how much it would generate,” he said…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Property tax hike. Check. Garbage collection fee. Check.

Waiting to see what actually transpires. In the mean time, Chicago taxpayers might want to check out those Spielman articles to get a better idea of what might be in store for them shortly.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Spielman, Fran. “Property tax hike, garbage fee, congestion tax all on the table.” Chicago Sun-Times. 16 Aug. 2015. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/876236/chicago-budget-revenue-tax-ideas). 20 Aug. 2015.

Spielman, Fran. “Chicago homeowners likely to pay for garbage pickup soon.” Chicago Sun-Times. 19 Aug. 2015. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/891070/garbage-collection-fee-looks-likely-chicago-homeowners). 20 Aug. 2015.

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Chicago Public Schools Budget: Property Taxes Hiked To The Max

“Property tax hikes.” Something Chicagoans better get used to hearing in the coming years. Hal Dardick, Heather Gillers, and Juan Perez, Jr., reported on the Chicago Tribune website last night:

Chicago Public Schools unveiled a budget Monday meant to pressure Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers into providing nearly a half-billion dollars in pension relief, a gambit school officials warn will bring painful cuts if help doesn’t arrive by Jan. 1.

In addition to help from the state, the $5.7 billion operating budget relies on extensive borrowing, an influx of tens of millions in dollars in surpluses from special city taxing districts and an increase of the district’s property tax

To help patch over a budget gap the district said exceeds $1.1 billion, CPS will raise its property taxes to the maximum amount allowable — resulting in a $19 tax bill bump for the owner of a $250,000 home, the district said — while pushing $200 million in debt into the future…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

$19 here, a few bucks there, and pretty soon all these “bumps” start to add up, leading to mass frustration among Chicago taxpayers. And’s this particular increase isn’t a one-off either. From the Tribune piece:

And if Springfield does comes through — which is far from a sure thing — [Chicago schools chief Forrest] Claypool said the district would still need concessions from unions and larger tax hikes in years to come to keep up with the cost of ballooning pension payments…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Like I said, “mass frustration.”

At what point does it all boil over?

Chicago taxpayers should probably read this article in its entirety to get a clearer picture of what looks to be in store for their pocketbooks in the near future and farther down the road. You can find the piece on the Tribune website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Chicago Requires $754 Million In New Revenue, Cuts To Balance Books

For a couple of years now, regular readers of Survival And Prosperity have witnessed me blog about higher fees/fines/taxes and reduced government services as Chicago’s financial reckoning day draws closer.

I fear the pace of all this is about to pick up.

Hal Dardick reported on the Chicago Tribune website late Friday afternoon:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel must come up with at least $754 million in new revenue and budget cuts to balance the city’s books, according to preliminary 2016 budget estimates the administration released Friday.

A little less than half — $328 million — would cover increased payments to the police and fire pension funds that Emanuel and aldermen did not account for in this year’s budget. That number could be even higher if the mayor doesn’t get the pension relief he’s seeking from Springfield.

In addition, City Hall must figure out how to close a projected $426 million hole in next year’s budget, an annual financial analysis showed. The shortfall comes as Emanuel has been borrowing at high interest rates to keep the city afloat.

Unlike previous years, Emanuel is not taking a property tax increase off the table. At a news conference this week, the mayor would not rule out a politically unpopular property tax hike, saying he’ll wait to show his hand until September, when he rolls out “a full budget with all parts in there.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Chicago property owners are probably hoping for an endless summer- considering what could be in store for them next month.

A significant property tax hike in and of itself might not be enough to make Chicagoans think about moving out of the city. However, sustained pressure on household finances from all applicable fees, fines, and taxes could do it, particularly if government services (public safety comes to mind here) steadily erode.

You can read the entire piece on the Tribune website here (registration required).

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Pension Reform Ruling Could Cost Taxpayers Extra $200 Million A Year Through End Of Decade

In my Sunday post about Chicago’s pension reform legislation being ruled unconstitutional, I blogged:

Chicagoans- let that last line from Dardick and Pearson sink in real good:

“Taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation…”

How many hundreds of millions are we talking about here?

Greg Hinz wrote in his blog on the Crain’s Chicago Business website Monday:

The court decision throwing out a deal to refinance two Chicago pension funds appears to be among the most costly in the city’s history, in some ways ranking right up there with the Great Chicago Fire.

Exact figures are not available and vary some depending on who’s doing the estimating. But based on statements by city officials and documents filed by the pension funds themselves, it’s likely that the decision by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak will cost city taxpayers around $200 million a year through the end of the decade—and will keep rising for decades thereafter.

“You’d have to go back to either the Depression or the Great Fire to find a comparable situation in which the city faced either greater challenges or more painful decisions,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said. “It’s clearly going to result in increased taxes and reduced services.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Remember, that additional $200 million hit to Chicago taxpayers would come on top of addressing fire and police pensions. And bailing out the Chicago Public Schools, which had its credit rating reduced to junk status today by Fitch Ratings. In May, I noted Moody’s downgraded the Chicago Board of Education (the primary debt issuers of CPS) three notches to junk.

You can read Hinz’s entire blog post on the Crain’s Chicago Business website here. If I were still a Chicago resident, I’d probably find it disturbing. But at least I’d be clued in as to what could be coming down the line.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Judge Rules Chicago’s Pension Reform Legislation Unconstitutional

Here’s the latest on Chicago’s public pension crisis. Hal Dardick and Rick Pearson reported on the Chicago Tribune website last night:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said it will appeal a Cook County judge’s decision Friday that ruled unconstitutional a state law reducing municipal worker pension benefits in exchange for a city guarantee to fix their underfunded retirement systems.

The 35-page ruling by Judge Rita Novak, slapping down the city’s arguments point by point, could have wide-ranging effects if upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. Her decision appeared to also discredit efforts at the state and Cook County levels to try to curb pension benefits to rein in growing costs that threaten funding for government services.

The issue of underfunded pensions, and how to restore their financial health, is crucial for the city and its taxpayers. The city workers and laborers funds at issue in Friday’s ruling are more than $8 billion short of what’s needed to meet obligations — and are at risk of going broke within 13 years — after many years of low investment returns fueled by recession and inadequate funding.

Without reducing benefits paid to retired workers, or requiring current workers to pay more, taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Chicagoans- let that last line from Dardick and Pearson sink in real good:

“Taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation…”

And the City’s response to the ruling? Mayor Emanuel’s Press Office countered Friday:

Statement of City of Chicago Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton on SB1922

“While we are disappointed by the trial court’s ruling, we have always recognized that this matter will ultimately be resolved by the Illinois Supreme Court. We now look forward to having our arguments heard there. We continue to strongly believe that the City’s pension reform legislation, unlike the State legislation held unconstitutional this past spring, does not diminish or impair pension benefits, but rather preserves and protects them. This law not only rescues the municipal and laborer pension funds from certain insolvency, but ensures that, over time, they will be fully funded and the 61,000 affected City workers and retirees will receive the pensions they were promised.”

As to the City of Chicago’s credit rating possibly getting whacked after the decision? Timothy W. Martin reported on The Wall Street Journal website Friday afternoon:

Moody’s said Friday’s ruling had no effect on Chicago’s bond grade. But rival Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, which currently has an investment-grade rating for the city, said that “regardless of the ultimate outcome” of Mr. Emanuel’s pension law, it “will likely lower” its Chicago rating in the next six months, unless city leaders chart out a solution to address its pension problems.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Like I’ve been saying for a couple years now, that proverbial brick wall keeps approaching for Chicago.

Since City Hall can’t get its affairs in order, Chicagoans might want to look at straightening out theirs if they intend to stick around for the long haul.

Sources:

Dardick, Hal and Pearson, Rick. “Judge finds city’s changes to pension funds unconstitutional.” Chicago Tribune. 24 July 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-pension-ruling-met-20150724-story.html). 25 July 2015.

Martin, Timothy W. “Chicago’s Pension Overhaul Plan Tossed Out by Judge.” The Wall Street Journal. 24 July 2015. (http://www.wsj.com/articles/judge-rules-2014-law-to-reduce-chicago-pension-shortfall-unconstitutional-1437754525). 25 July 2015.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: City’s Rising Fees, Fines, And Taxes Look To Continue

Chicago readers of Survival And Prosperity might want to read two articles that recently appeared on the Crain’s Chicago Business website concerning rising fees, fines, and taxes in the city. In a piece entitled “Chicago’s expanding appetite for new taxes,” Thomas A. Corfman wrote Saturday:

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel has held the line on property taxes, revenue from other local taxes has climbed nearly 20 percent since he took office.

A strengthening economy explains much of the surge. But Emanuel has fueled the growth by raising taxes on things such as cable TV and parking…

Keep in mind that “line on property taxes” may soon be breached. Significantly. Corfman added:

While property tax revenue has fluctuated slightly since 2011 after accounting for new construction, that’s likely to end soon. The badly undercapitalized police and firefighter pension funds are supposed to receive a state-mandated $550 million payment next year. Property taxes will likely account for the bulk of the increase, says Ald. Roderick Sawyer of the South Side’s 6th Ward

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

This comes on the heels of another Corfman article entitled, “How much could Chicago pension payments jack up your property bill? Try 30%”. He wrote on July 4:

Even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel warns about a property tax hike of up to $250 million for the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools, another big wave of increases likely is coming to rescue the pensions of police officers and firefighters.

A massive payment due to those retirement plans next year could drive up Chicago property taxes by more than 30 percent, according to a Crain’s analysis. And if the current logjam in Springfield continues, it could be a lot worse

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

As I wouldn’t steal Crain’s thunder, you can read Corfman’s July 18 article here and his July 4 piece here.

And as always, my intention is not to scare Chicago residents/businesses by blogging about such material. Rather, as a former Chicagoan this is something I feel my former neighbors should be made aware of, especially if they plan on staying in the “Windy City.”

Got to figure out some way to keep ahead of those rising fees, fines, and taxes and eroding public services.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Size Of Cook County Sales Tax Hike Necessary?

No surprise here. Hal Dardick reported on the Chicago Tribune website yesterday:

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle persuaded just enough commissioners to approve a 1-percentage-point sales tax increase Wednesday — the culmination of a major political about-face, but a move she said was needed to bail out the county worker pension system.

Following weeks of one-on-one lobbying sessions by Preckwinkle, nine of the 17 commissioners voted to raise the county share of the sales tax to 1.75 percent. Add up the state, city and public transit portions, and the total sales tax rate in Chicago once again will hit 10.25 percent — one of the highest rates in the nation

Preckwinkle first rose to power in 2010 on a campaign pledge of repealing what remained of an identical sales tax increase under predecessor Todd Stroger…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Opponents of the sales tax hike claim the County didn’t perform enough belt-tightening before approving the measure. County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (10th District) penned on the Tribune website on July 1:

Don’t get me wrong, the county has a serious budget and pension cost gap, predicted to be $479 million. The proposed 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax would raise some $474 million annually.

But $130 million of the deficit goes away with pension reform. An additional $50 million in savings has already been identified by the budget staff. Yet another $50 million is in reach if we are finally willing to consolidate our redundant taxing bodies and duplicative services…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Back on December 5, 2013, I pointed out Illinois has the most units of local government of any state in the country at 6,963 local governments (U.S. Census Bureau).

It’s been reported Cook County is home to 1,300 of these taxing agencies alone.

The sales tax hike goes into effect starting January 1, 2016.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Dardick, Hal. “Cook County Board votes to raise sales tax.” Chicago Tribune. 15 July 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-cook-county-sales-tax-increase-met-0716-20150715-story.html#page=1). 16 July 2015.

Gainer, Bridget. “Commentary: Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer: I won’t vote for a sales tax hike.” Chicago Tribune. 1 July 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-cook-county-tax-preckwinkle-gainer-perspec-0702-jm-20150701-story.html). 16 July 2015.

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S&P Cuts Chicago’s Credit Rating Twice In Less Than 2 Months

Surprise, surprise. The City of Chicago’s credit rating was lowered yet again.

This time, it’s Standard & Poor’s that did the cutting.

Karen Pierog and Tanvi Mehta reported on the Reuters website last night:

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services cut Chicago’s credit rating one notch to BBB-plus with a negative outlook on Wednesday, citing the windy city’s nagging structural budget deficit and the lack of a plan to close it.

S&P analyst John Kenward said the U.S.’ third-largest city needs “a credible, public, detailed plan” to deal with budget gaps projected to grow to $588 million in fiscal 2017, largely due to escalating contributions to its police and fire fighter retirement funds.

S&P also warned Chicago’s general obligation bond rating may fall further if a credible plan does not surface within six months…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

According to the S&P website, “BBB” indicates:

Adequate protection parameters. However, adverse economic conditions or changing circumstances are more likely to lead to a weakened capacity of the obligor to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.

It was less than two months ago that Standard & Poor’s last downgraded the City of Chicago’s credit rating. I blogged on May 17:

Standard & Poor’s joined in on the downgrade parade later in the week. From a press release Friday:

Chicago, IL GO Bond Ratings Lowered To #A-# From #A+#, Placed On CreditWatch Due To Short-Term Liquidity Pressure
CHICAGO–15 May–Standard & Poor’s

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) May 14, 2015–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating to ‘A-‘ from ‘A+’ on the city of Chicago’s outstanding general obligation (GO) bonds, and placed the ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications…

Stay tuned…

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Mehta, Tanvi and Pierog, Karen. “UPDATE 1-S&P downgrades Chicago’s GO bond rating to BBB-plus.” Reuters. 8 July 2015. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/08/usa-chicago-sp-idUSL3N0ZO60H20150708). 9 July 2015.

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Chicago Board Of Education Could Borrow More Than $1 Billion With $600 Million-Plus Pension Payment Due Next Week

I fear Chicago’s celebratory mood post-Stanley Cup could be fast disappearing as the city’s financial reckoning day rapidly approaches. Juan Perez, Jr., reported on the Chicago Tribune website tonight:

The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday approved plans to borrow more than $1 billion in an effort to manage an immediate cash crunch and get through the coming budget year.

The borrowing is on top of an existing line of credit of up to $500 million. The initial $200 million in borrowing authorized Wednesday could help the district cover its bills through the end of June, but the district would be short of cash to cover payments shortly after that, according to documents obtained by the Tribune.

A separate line of credit of up to $935 million would take the district through the coming budget year. The loans will be secured with the promise of future property tax revenue.

The board’s unanimous 5-0 vote in favor additional borrowing came one day after the Illinois House fell 18 votes short of approving a three-week extension on a $600 million-plus pension payment due next week

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Democrats have a supermajority in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, and “Machine”-controlled Chicago still couldn’t get that pension payment deadline extended.

Oh well. Long-time Survival And Prosperity readers shouldn’t be the least bit surprised about the latest bad news concerning Chicago’s public schools. I blogged way back on September 13, 2012:

By now, many of you have probably heard about the teachers strike going on in Chicago. Day 4 and counting. While many Chicago public school teachers are probably worth every red cent of the $71,017 median salary they command- and more- when all things are considered, considering the precarious financial situation of the Chicago Public Schools, a larger crisis looks to be right around the corner.

Looks like we’re almost there.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Perez, Juan. “Chicago school board approves more than $1 billion in new borrowing.” Chicago Tribune. 24 June 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-school-board-meets-met-0625-20150624-story.html). 24 June 2015.

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Cook County Sales Tax Hike Coming?

Cook County, Illinois, could soon have one of the highest sales tax rates in the country (again). The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board wrote on the paper’s website this evening:

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is weighing the idea of imposing a penny-on-the-dollar increase in the local sales tax to balance the county’s books…

Preckwinkle is lobbying Cook County Board members to raise the county’s portion of the sales tax by 1 percentage point, which would push Chicago’s tax rate to 10.25 percent, among the highest in the nation

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

This should come as no surprise to regular readers of Survival And Prosperity. I blogged back on April 10 of last year:

For a while now (last time being earlier this week), I told my girlfriend we were lucky to have escaped the fiscal debacle and revenue grab going on in the city of Chicago.At the same time, I pointed out that as Cook County residents we’re still on the hook for the same type of nonsense.

Brian Slodysko reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website yesterday afternoon:

Hoping to ward off another credit rating downgrade, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday that she will soon present a plan to reform the county’s underfunded pension system.

And she’s leaving the door open to hiking property, sales and other taxes.

When asked repeatedly about the possibility of tax increases, Preckwinkle responded: “We’re looking at all the options. Everything is on the table.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

According to the local press, it’s the sales tax hike Preckwinkle’s now pushing.

And considering Cook County’s fiscal challenges, it shouldn’t surprise blog readers to hear of hikes on “property… and other taxes” down the road.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Editorial Board. “Editorial: Watch out for the Toni Tax.” Chicago Tribune. 23 June 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-tonitax-0624-20150623-story.html). 23 June 2015.

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Property Tax Blues For Chicago, North Suburban Homeowners

While Chicagoland was preoccupied with the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory parade Thursday, the Cook County Clerk’s office released the following:

Cook County Clerk David Orr released the 2014 property tax rates for the county’s more than 1,400 taxing agencies on Thursday, the final step in the tax process before bills are mailed out. The average homeowner in the city of Chicago and the northern suburbs will see their tax bill increase slightly, while the average homeowner in the southern suburbs will see a slight reduction in their tax bill.

In the south suburbs residential tax bills will on average be 1.0 percent lower. In north suburbs there will be an average increase of 2.4 percent, and most Chicago homeowners can expect an increase in their bill of 2.8 percent.

For the average single family home, this will translate to a decrease of $51.33 for south suburban homeowners, an increase of $155.49 for north suburban homeowners, and a property tax bill that is $89.44 higher than last year’s for Chicago homeowners…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

By the way, that $89 plus change property tax increase is based on an “average home with market value of $199,000″ in Chicago. Good luck finding a decent-sized family home that cheap in my old neighborhood on the northwest side of the city.

That being said, even a low three figure dollar increase in property taxes would likely be welcomed around my old stomping grounds compared to what could be coming down the line. John Byrne reported on the Chicago Tribune website this afternoon:

The threat of much steeper property tax hikes looms in Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to find enough money to make police and fire pension payments set to balloon next year, and CPS faces a $1 billion budget hole driven by pension shortfalls of its own…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

You can read the entire press release on the Cook County Clerk’s website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Byrne, John. “Chicago property taxes to rise $90 on average.” Chicago Tribune. 18 June 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-cook-county-property-tax-rates-met-0619-20150618-story.html). 18 June 2015.

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Thursday, June 18th, 2015 Education, Entitlements, Government, Housing, Taxes No Comments

Moody’s Downgrades Cook County’s Credit Rating, Issues Negative Outlook

The following is kind of stale, but the local press didn’t really publicize it and Cook County residents are entitled to know the financial health of the local government unit in these uncertain times. The Global Credit Research division of Moody’s announced on their website back on June 5:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Cook County, IL’s GO to A2 from A1; outlook negative

A2 rating applies to $3.6B of GO debt

New York, June 05, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to A2 from A1 the rating on Cook County, IL’s general obligation (GO) debt. The county has $3.6 billion in GO debt outstanding. The outlook remains negative…

The Global Credit Research division explained:

The A2 rating incorporates credit pressures associated with Cook County’s unfunded pension liabilities. Based on the Illinois Supreme Court’s May 8 overruling of the State of Illinois’ (A3 negative) pension reforms, we perceive increased risk that the county’s options for reducing unfunded pension liabilities have narrowed considerably. As it currently stands, Cook County-despite its home rule status-has little direct control over its single largest liability. Whether or not the statute that governs Cook County’s pension plan stands, we expect pension-related costs will place increasing strain on the county’s financial operations. Furthermore, approximately half of Cook County’s tax base is highly leveraged by the debt and unfunded pension liabilities of the City of Chicago (Ba1 negative) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) (Ba3 negative). We believe that the revenue demands of these entities could place practical limitations on the county’s ability and willingness to increase revenue to fund its pension costs. Other credit challenges for the county include enterprise risks inherent in operating the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS)…

As for that negative outlook:

The negative outlook reflects our view that Cook County’s credit quality could weaken given continued uncertainty in the county’s future pension funding framework. Our outlook on the county’s credit is also informed by our expectation of growth in the pension costs of the local governments that share half of the county’s tax base. Finally, the negative outlook incorporates continued pressures in the health care sector, improved financial results for CCHHS notwithstanding…

On June 8, the major U.S. credit rating agency also announced a downgrade of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s general obligation debt to A2 from A1, with a negative outlook as well.

You can read that entire June 5 Moody’s rating action on their website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 Credit, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Government No Comments

Cook County Public Pension Fix Could Mean Property Tax Hike

Blog readers in Cook County, Illinois, should prepare themselves for the possibility of higher property taxes shortly. Hal Dardick and Monique Garcia reported on the Chicago Tribune website Friday:

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is trying to revive a plan to overhaul government worker pensions, with supporters arguing the proposal is vastly different from changes to state retirement benefits recently struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The proposal would cut benefits and raise retirement ages but also guarantee health care benefits for workers when they retire. It calls for the county to put almost $147 million more a year into the pension fund, though Preckwinkle continues to be vague about how she’ll fund that increase by repeatedly saying “all options are on the table.”

If the County Board chooses to foot the bill with a property tax increase, the average homeowner would pay up to $65 more a year starting in 2017, according to one internal county document the Tribune obtained when Preckwinkle sought the same legislation last year.

That measure was approved by the Senate last year but stalled in the House. It is now scheduled to be heard by a panel of House lawmakers next week…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Readers shouldn’t be surprised about the prospect of higher property taxes. I blogged back on January 13:

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also gave a speech yesterday in which she hinted at county residents having to make future sacrifices. John Byrne reported on the Chicago Tribune website Monday:

Preckwinkle gave a speech to the City Club of Chicago about her first-term achievements and laid out a blueprint for her second four years in office. Asked afterward about the likelihood she will be forced to raise taxes, Preckwinkle said only that it will be “a challenge” to meet the county’s financial obligations.

“We have significant challenges, both around the spike in our debt obligations and our pension obligations, and my charge to our chief financial officer is that he has to do everything he can to be creative in figuring out how to address these problems,” she said…

Preckwinkle crafted a $4 billion budget for 2015 that includes no new taxes, fines or fees. She has warned that the 2016 budget will be far trickier to balance because debt payments will increase and the county could need to come up with $144 million more to pay into the county workers retirement system if she gets the pension fund changes she has asked for from the General Assembly.

“I can’t predict now, because we don’t even have a pension bill, how much it’s going to cost or what it’s going to take, but it’s going to be a real challenge, I’ll say that,” she said Monday.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Dardick, Hal and Garcia, Monique. “Preckwinkle tries again on Cook County pension changes.” Chicago Tribune. 15 May 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-cook-county-pension-proposal-met-20150515-story.html). 17 May 2015.

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