State Sen. James Meeks is quickly becoming the most conservative candidate in Chicago's mayoral race.
The South Side Democrat launched his campaign in mid-November with the assistance of Andy McKenna, the former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, and the chief lobbyist for the culturally-conservative Catholic Conference of Illinois. Although he did so graciously, Meeks voted against the civil unions bill in Springfield Wednesday, the only black lawmaker in either chamber to do so, which puts him at odds with the Black Caucus. Today, Meeks sent out a press release claiming he's the only mayoral hopeful who has the "conviction and the leadership to solve the [city] pension fund crisis." From the statement:
"All the stakeholders share the same goal, and we will find a solution together. The greatest risk is doing nothing or too little," said Meeks. "I believe that we must: increase employee contributions toward their pensions, move to a two-tiered system that reduces benefit accruals for new employees, and increase the average retirement age. Contributing to the employees pensions funds must also be a higher priority if we are going to head off the failure of the pension funds."
It's no secret that poor budgeting practices and the financial meltdown have severely increased Chicago's unfunded pension liability. Bold action will be needed by city officials in the coming years to get the funds back on firm financial ground. Yet Meeks' initial recommendation -- to reduce benefits and increase the retirement age for new workers -- is frustrating to read. Like state employees, it's not as if city workers make out like bandits once they retire. "Most don't participate in the federal Social Security program, and the vast majority receives modest benefits averaging about $40,000 a year," the Tribune found last month. That's a point that should not be ignored when future negotiations ramp up.