1) City Pensions
Q: Chicago's fire and police pensions are greatly underfunded, and the city is required by the state to make a $550 million payment into the pension funds by the end of 2015. Do you support restructuring the pension systems, inevitably reducing benefits, to put the funds on sound financial footing?
I support putting the burden on the backs of those who the city gave those misappropriated dollars to in the past. I support an audit, perhaps a forensic audit to investigate who and what benefited from contracts that had enormous cost over runs, corporations that have and are using TIF dollars and have realized profits as a result, and who are currently benefitting from waivers on the backs of the City of Chicago.
As for the retirees of the city, a deal is a deal. Reducing city that were earned years ago is unfair now that those employees have retired. The city is responsible for the poor management of the pension funds. For decades powerful mayors ignored their fiduciary responsibilities. The employees fulfilled their end of the contract, now its’ the citys’ turn.
Q: Chicago's pension systems for municipal workers and laborers already have been restructured, reducing benefits, but the city has yet to identify where it will find the revenue to sufficiently fund those systems. Under what circumstances would you support a property tax increase to raise the needed revenue for the fire and police pensions and/or the municipal workers and laborers pensions?
A: I will be an alderman that will protect the fixed income of the retired employees of the City of Chicago. Reduced benefits, property taxes and user fees are already digging deeply into a monthly amount of money that is set. This lazy administration finds creative ways of spending our money but falls short when it comes to creating new revenue sources. I not going to say that I would not support a property tax increase but here are the circumstances that must happen before I would consider it.
¥ Reduce City Council committees by 25%.
¥ Require any institution that has money that 100 million dollars in a trust fund pay full water and sewer rates.
¥ Restrict alderman pay raises to be no more than the smallest city worker pay increase.
¥ Restrict aldermanic current and retiree benefits to the level of city employees and retirees.
¥ Reduce current terms the TIFs in the central business district.
2) Chicago Public Schools pensions
Q: Large and growing payments required to keep the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund solvent are squeezing CPS' budget, forcing cuts elsewhere and limiting investment. The Chicago Board of Education has increased property taxes, but it is not enough to keep up with the high annual costs. What measures do you support to ensure a solvent retirement system and to improve the district's finances?
A: I question if CPS has acted in any way that their investments are limited. They are planning a $14 million expansion of Walter Payton H.S. and a brand new high tech high school on the former Cabrini Green location. I would first propose that they scale those plans back and utilize some of the closed schools in their inventory. I do support a couple initiatives to increase revenue for all of the above municipal pension funds.
¥ Restricting the use of TIFs in central business districts.
¥ Canceling plans to construct the DePaul arena on city land (DePaul can BUY the land and pay for the total project if they think that it is still a good idea.
¥ Construction of one, maybe two casinos with proceeds from them dedicated to municipal pension relief.
Q: In light of the financial issues discussed above, do you support any or all of the following measures, each of which would require, at a minimum, approval by the Illinois Legislature?
* A statewide expansion of the sales tax base to include more consumer services
No, however, I would support a deposit on all plastic and glass soft as well as hard drink containers. This has been very successful in other states at reducing litter. Uncollected annual deposit revenues can be used to generate income.
* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city
Yes. We should have done this long ago.
* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges, known as the “LaSalle Street tax”
Yes. A small tax (1/4 cent per $100) would not adversely affect the market nor the rates of exchange. We supported these institutions who fell apart in 2008 with our tax dollars. Its their turn to support us now.
Please explain your views, if you wish, on any of these three revenue-generating measures.
Q: Do you support hiring more police officers to combat crime and gun violence in Chicago?
Yes. The city has been very creative in redeploying officers in certain areas of the city but the hiring rate has not kept up with attrition. We need more police officers walking the streets and riding bikes throughout the neighborhood in order to improve community relations and crime prevention.
Q: What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal guns into Chicago?
A: Require the recorded transfer of every gun in Illinois when there is a new owner.
Require the states attorney to prosecute the last owner of a gun if it is used in a crime.
5) Elected school board
Q: An advisory referendum on switching Chicago to an elected school board, rather than an appointed board, is expected to be on the ballot in more than 30 wards on Feb. 24. Currently, the mayor appoints all seven board members and the Schools CEO. Do you support a change to an elected school board?
I support an elected school board. I would also support the mayor nominating the president of the school board but the nominee must be approved by the elected school board.
6) Tax-increment financing districts
Q: TIFs are the primary economic development tool of the city. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth in property values are set aside for 23 years to be used for public projects and private development. Do you support increasing the annual TIF surplus that the mayor and the City Council have declared in each of the last few years, money that goes to the schools and other city agencies?
A: I support reducing the number of years from 23 to 10 years. I also support restricting the use of TIFs to economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Finally, I do support surpluses for schools and city agencies.
Q: What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program?
7) Neighborhood economic development
Q: What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward, and bring jobs to your community?
A: I would establish a Chamber of Commerce along the 87th street corridor. It is unfortunate that one of the largest areas of retail business do not have a business organization to advocate for them or that the residents can not refer to. This will happen when I become alderman. Secondly, I will utilize TIF money to provide facade upgrade opportunities to small business strips in the ward. Creating curb appeal to area businesses is the first steps to encourage shoppers to support stores in their neighborhood. Additionally, I will insist that developers and architects bring with them the contractors that intend on bidding on their projects before they are approved by the community. Contractors will be responsible to insure employment opportunities for skilled workers that represent the ethnic community. Finally, I will establish collaborations with community non profit organizations for job training programs for the chronically unemployed.
8) Size of the Chicago City Council
Q: The City Council has 50 members, but civic groups and other regularly argue for reducing the size of the Council. What should the size of the Council be? Please provide a specific number. And why?
A: 25. I believe that the city council can easily function being reduced by half. This reduction should accompany a term limit for the mayor’s office of 8 years.
9) A Chicago casino
Q: Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?
I support a casino(s) with all revenues being dedicated to shoring up municipal pensions. The residents could support this as well given the choice between this or a property tax increase.
10) Red light and speed cameras
Q: Does the city have an acceptable number of red light and speed cameras currently, and are they properly employed?
A: No. There are too many deployed in areas that do not make driving safer. Speed cameras are worse. Areas where speed cameras accompany large signage indicating required speed, digital signs signifying your current speed before the speed camera sees safer driving and fewer tickets than speed cameras that are camouflaged into the landscape.
11) Ward issues
Q: What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on the campaign trail?
A: 1. Reliable city services. Sidewalk and streets scheduled to be repaired are placed on the ward’s menu only to be removed. I have pledged to create a system in which repairs are catalogued on a worst first basis. After that residents will be able to track their blocks and know what streets are being repaired, where they are being repaired and when theirs is scheduled to be repaired.
2. Enhanced community policing. The residents wants a closer relationship with the police officers on their beat. I contend that there is not a code of silence but a code of trust. When officers know personally the residents of the ward and vice versa you will see a dramatic solving and prevention of crimes within the community.
3. Employment. I will advocate for ethnically based employment. Instead of trying to create new jobs I want to fight for the jobs that are already in my ward which are currently going to people that for the most part do not relate to or live near my community. Many contracts are bided on years in advance. I want to hold contractors accountable way before it is time to break ground on projects. This gives contractors ample time to work with the unions to insure this goal is met.
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses
Office running for: Alderman, 21st Ward
Political/civic background: former 6th Ward Democratic Committeeman (1998 - 2002)
Occupation: Retired Zoning Code Enforcer, City of Chicago (30 years)
Education: Bachelor of Science degree Industrial Technology
Campaign website: http://www.marvinmcneil.com/
Marvin McNeil is endorsed by the Sun-Times Editorial Board. Read the endorsement here.