The outgoing mayor of Chicago wants to legalize recreational marijuana and open a casino to help address a growing pension crisis in the nation’s third largest city, a source close to the mayor said.
Rahm Emanuel, who is set to leave office in May, will propose both measures in a major address on Wednesday, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly before the mayor’s address.
Also Tuesday, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told The New York Post that Cuomo was readying a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in that state.
It's already allowed in California, so If Emanuel and Cuomo are successful, it would be available in each of the nation's three largest cities: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Chicago's four public worker pension funds have more than $27 billion in unfunded liabilities. Emanuel will call for any tax money the city receives from legalizing recreation marijuana and a Chicago casino to be dedicated to the pension funds.
"These contributions must be made,” Emanuel says in his speech. “There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. While there is no single solution to this challenge, I believe there are sequential steps we can take to keep moving the ball down the field. And I believe those steps must be based on progressive principles.”
Emanuel doesn’t think that the revenue generated by potential marijuana legalization and casino will be a “silver bullet” for the city’s budget difficulties, the source said, but believes the revenue could go a long way in bolstering the city's finances.
Chicago will need an additional $276 million in 2020 to pay for increasing police and fire pension contributions, and an additional $310 million by 2022 to cover the municipal and laborers fund.
The mayor has long pressed for a casino, but he’s been more circumspect about legalizing marijuana.
In the leadup to his 2015 reelection, Emanuel said he didn’t “think you should balance the budget by promoting recreational smoking of pot.”
Illinois Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker said during his campaign he would push to legalize marijuana in the state. By addressing the issue now, the source said, Emanuel is acknowledging that marijuana legalization is inevitable, and setting priorities for how the revenue should be used.
Michigan this month joined nine other states and the district of Columbia in legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use.