Chicago aldermen created this mess. Now they dislike Emanuel’s proposed fixes.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE – Editorial Board 

Nice work if you can get it. Nice and cowardly and irresponsible:

You’re a Chicago alderman. Year after year you voted to approve Mayor Richard M. Daley’s budgets — as if City Hall was spending no more than it would collect in revenue. Or, if you joined the City Council after Daley’s departure, you didn’t ask rude questions such as, “How did we get so broke?” You kept quiet. You went along.

You and yours didn’t confess to voters that the council and the mayor knowingly had underfunded workers’ pensions by many billions of dollars — a debt sure to come due. You held your breath. In the short term, almost nobody noticed. And in the long term, you blithely assumed, city revenue would just keep rising. And there would never be another serious recession. And some future mayor’s brainiacs would conjure a magic trick to erase all this debt. And remember what your predecessors told you: Somehow, we’ve always made it work. Heh.

But now the roof of City Hall is collapsing on you. The national recession that ended in June 2009 still won’t quit in your ward. City debt — taxpayer debt, really — is measured in tens of billions and rising. Chicago has the bond market spooked. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has no magic to keep the pension funds from going bust. So he’s asking you for yet another vote to raise a tax, this time on water and sewer bills. Let’s be honest, it’s a property tax hike by another name.

And you? Because you’re an alderman in denial of the mess you’ve made — your budget votes or your pension-pretend or both — you want a pain-free solution. You always do. Because your constituents are wide awake and their tax burden has them in a fury. They’re catching on to what you’ve done to them. So this time:

You want a progressive income tax to squeeze the millionaires (which, in fact, would require a state constitutional amendment). Or maybe a financial transactions tax (which state government would have to approve). Or a tax on commuters (again, Springfield). Or a sales tax hike (to go atop the biggest sales tax of any big U.S. city, and thank you too, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, for pushing it to 10.25 percent).

Sure, if you wanted to, you could slash spending and outsource all sorts of operations to more economical private-sector companies. Except slashing spending is as foreign to you as whatever language the locals speak in Uzbekistan. It’s just not done here. Besides, if you propose consolidating and streamlining and, yes, outsourcing, the unions that bring you money and muscle and votes will make your life a horror.

So you don’t beef too loud at The Hall because you know you’ll probably wind up voting for this tax. Instead you complain around the ward. And you bad-mouth the mayor. And you sympathize. Because after years of your negligence setting up your constituents for the financial crisis that now plagues Chicago, you want them to know that you, um, stand with them in opposition to tax hikes!

This gets tricky, though, if folks in the ward start asking why you voted for those phony budgets that hid the pension fiasco. Why you didn’t tell them before the last election that, owing to City Hall’s giveaways to workers, their taxes would rise.

But wait, you have one escape route. You can suggest a real alternative to this tax increase some way to raise not chump change, but billions of dollars to feed the pension monster that is eating Chicago.

You have a better idea than Emanuel’s proposed tax hike? Let’s hear it now.