DOWNTOWN — The mayor said the city would continue to make "the tough choices" to invest in education Tuesday, but passed the buck to the General Assembly on much-needed pension reform to ease the budget crunch at Chicago Public Schools.
"Springfield will step up. That's Plan A, and that is Plan B," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "There is no other option."
Emanuel cited figures that the CPS pension obligation would go up $600 million this year, which translates to a cost of about $1,000 a student. "That means you were denying things that you needed to do for the kids and the teachers and their investment," Emanuel said at a news conference at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
The media event celebrated the announcement by Wells Fargo & Co. that it was opening a new regional headquarters at the CME. Emanuel said that reflected the importance of "investing in children" to address the city's business need for skilled labor.
"If we keep investing in high-quality high education, from K through 12 to college, we're gonna win," Emanuel said.
Yet, the state and the city had allowed the pension crisis to fester, he added.
"Denial is not a long-term strategy," Emanuel said. "We didn't do the tough things that are necessary to be honest with people about our challenges, whether that's on the fiscal side or reforming government."
Emanuel again defended school closings and the improvements made as a result at so-called welcoming schools, saying, "Fifty of those schools got major upgrades that in the past we never could make."
Emanuel said that, if the city were forced to pay its pension obligations as is, without reforms from Springfield, property taxes would have to rise 150 percent.
"And that's not right," he added. "You cannot tax your way out of this."