A new competition will allow students to address Chicago's $35 billion pension problem. The Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago is allowing students to submit solutions to address the issue with its Harris Policy Innovation Challenge.
The competition, which will be led by Justin Marlowe, a research professor at the Harris School and faculty director of Harris' Center for Municipal Finance, will include seminars featuring faculty, city officials, investment experts and union leaders during the autumn, winter and spring quarters.
Solution packages are encouraged to include "new revenue sources, changes to pension investment policies, legal requirements on future contributions, constitutional amendments and/or changes to actuarial assumptions," according to the school's website.
The competition is open to all undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Chicago. Students can join teams to participate, but the teams must include at least one student from the Harris School.
"We want teams to work towards serious, viable proposals for policy steps to address the pension crisis," Marlowe said in a statement. "That's why we're involving real-world practitioners to ensure that students look at solutions holistically." The university will announce a winner from three finalists in April. The winner will be picked "based on novelty, efficacy, and political feasibility," and will receive an award of $10,000. The challenge comes as Chicago's pension debt continues to grow and weigh down its finances. Mayor Brandon Johnson announced in June a pension working group to address the debt in a fiscally sustainable way.
According to Chicago's annual financial report, "Net position of the city's governmental activities decreased $503.5 million to a deficit of $29,934.4 million primarily due to an increase in pension expense and corresponding net pension liability, due to changes in pension assumptions as well as the impact on recognized investment income related to the global market volatility."