Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rahm's slush fund has money for our schools |

Rahm's slush fund has money for our schools |

Rahm's slush fund has money for our schools

Chicago can afford to pay its teachers--in fact, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a "slush fund" worth hundreds of millions of dollars that could do just that, explains Nicole Colson.

"WE DON'T have the money": That's been the sad refrain of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials like CPS CEO Forrest Claypool as the 28,000-strong Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) prepares for another citywide strike set for October 11 after working for 15 months without a contract.
Emanuel and his boys say there's nothing left in the city's piggy bank to avoid drastic pension and health care cuts for teachers--or to prevent the budget cuts that have caused schools across the city to lay off more than 1,000 teachers and staff over the past few months.
But it's a publicly verifiable fact that Emanuel controls hundreds of millions of dollars squirreled away in his own private slush fund--more than enough to meet the demands of teachers.
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THE OFFICIAL name for this pot of money is the tax-increment financing (TIF) program. In each of Chicago's 50 wards, a portion of the revenue from property taxes is diverted into what amounts to a series of local piggy banks for 148 TIF districts set up by the City Council, usually at the behest of the mayor.
At the start of 2015, these funds totaled an incredible $1.44 billion--this is in a city where the mayor cries poverty to justify cuts not only in education, but all kinds of services.
When the city creates a TIF district, the amount of property tax dollars spent on services in the area is typically "frozen" for 23 years--and any extra tax revenue generated above that amount lands in the TIF account. In theory, TIF money is set aside for construction and development projects meant to improve "blighted" areas by attracting investment and jobs in the long run.
But the way TIF money is parceled out (or not) lacks virtually any public oversight. It often seems to boil down to political leaders in the city--especially the mayor--showering tens of millions of tax dollars on their own pet projects, or those of their rich associates.
Recipients of TIF handouts over the past several years include Vienna Beef ($5 million in TIF funds), Coca Cola ($3.2 million in TIF funds), the Willis (Sears) Tower ($4 million in TIF funds) and United Airlines ($35 million in TIF money).
But wait, there's more. Under an unclear process, the city can transfer money from one local TIF district fund to another--meaning that residents of poorer South Side neighborhoods have had millions of dollars of their property tax revenue shifted out of their TIF districts, to be used to fund projects on the wealthier North Side.
And many of the projects that do get funded in needier neighborhoods end up serving the needs of gentrifiers, not the people who already live there. Case in point; a recent $15.9 million TIF subsidy to build luxury condos in the North Side's Uptown neighborhood.
"[O]ne of the TIF program's greatest flaws is that the lion's share of money supposedly intended for the poorest of the poor goes to the richest of the rich, making it a classic case of reverse Robin Hood on steroids," explained the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky in 2011.
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AN ORDINANCE is currently languishing in the City Council that would mandate that a proportion of surplus TIF money goes to the Chicago Public Schools in years when CPS is declared to be in "distress."
It seems like a no-brainer--after all, funding schools is one of the primary things that most residents think their property taxes should go toward.
The Chicago Teachers Union says that if the city declared a $205 million TIF surplus by December 2016, CPS would receive an estimated $150 million--which would go a long Rahm's slush fund has money for our schools |

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