Community groups sponsor law to fight corporate welfare... Unions, community groups join for ordinance on TIF money going back to schools, other agencies

A coalition of community groups including the Chicago Teachers Union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Action Now. the Grassroots Collaborative, and a number of aldermen introduced the "Responsible Budget Ordinance" on Tuesday, October 4, 2011, at Chicago's City Hall. The ordinance is to demand that most tax payer dollars currently in TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts go back to the schools, parks and other city services to solve the city’s budget crisis.

“You have to remember the number one thing, it’s tax payer dollars, it’s not corporate funds,” said Alderman Scott Waguespack, who has introduce the proposed ordinance in the City Council on Wednesday, October 5. “This money is for our neighborhoods, our schools and our police officers. We need to hold the administration’s feet to the fire.”

The proposed city ordinance would return hundreds of millions of dollars sitting unallocated in a Tax Increment Financing account back to the city budget, schools, parks and libraries without laying off city workers, raising taxes or privatizing any valuable city assets, according to the Grassroots Collaborative.

The ordinance calls for 50 percent of all unused TIF funds in districts with balances over $5 million dollars to be declared a surplus and returned to the original taxing bodies.

However, the hypocrisy of some of the aldermen speaking out against corporate abuse of the TIFs has to be noted. One reporter at the press conference announcing the ordinance asked if in fact TIFs were good since they attract investment in the downtown area which increases tourism.

One of the major complaints is that TIFs are benefiting wealthy sections of the city instead of the blighted areas it was originally set up to help.

Alderman Waguespack said that giving tax payer dollars to corporate entities with no restrictions is wrong. He cited the case of Republic Windows which received $10 million in TIF funds, but then walked out of the city (and didn’t pay its workers until a massive protest).

“We can hire our youth with the $25 million left over,” Ald. Robert Fioretti said to large applause. “It’s almost immoral that we have over $800 million in the bank and our people don’t have jobs.”

One observer noted that the reporter who asked about TIFs benefiting the downtown area could have directed his question to Alderman Fioretti. The 2nd ward alderman supported the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) TIF, which gave the wealthy investors almost $4 million because Fioretti said companies don’t want to invest in downtown Chicago.

But Fioretti's argument that companies are unwilling to invest in downtown commercial real estate is ridiculous. In addition to the $3.8 million it is receiving from Chicago taxpayers, Willis Tower was spending an additional $13.2 million to refurbish its swank new headquarters in the landmark building that now bears its name, Progress Illinois reported.

In fact, Fioretti is a big supporter of TIFs. He also supported giving a $6 million TIF corporate subsidy to MillerCoors to move its headquarters to Chicago. Neither corporate entity was required to create jobs.

Another interesting alderman to take note of on the subject of TIFs is CTU-backed and upset winner Ameya Pawar in the 47th ward. Pawar was a big critic of the TIF program, but now that he’s in office he is no longer against TIFs. At a meeting of the Raise Your Hand coalition at Coonley Elementary School on September 27, according to Substance staff who were there, Pawar spoke about how TIF money in the 47 Ward would go to improving schools. He acted as if the 47th Ward was a separate city until challenged by Kelvyn Park High School teacher Liz Brown to explain how he could ignore those parts of Chicago that were not as affluent as Pawar's ward. Pawar did not attend the press conference on Tuesday.

Pawar told Progress Illinois in July that TIF funds have been misused (he demanded a "forensic audit" of the city budget during the campaign), but said he now believes TIFs can work, because the problems with the cash-strapped school system run deep and are multi-faceted.

“There is a lot more gray than black and white," Pawar told Progress Illinois. "We’re not having honest conversations [about the problems]. [There are] components that work and components that have a lot of gray."

TIF districts have sprouted up throughout the city like a beginning more than a quarter century ago. Under Mayor Richard M. Daley, they were primarily used as a slush fund for the mayor to fund corporate entities with very little oversight. Daley was often able to control independent-minded alderman by threatening to withhold funding in their wards.

TIFs are also not listed on Chicago residents’ tax bills.

Under former Mayor Richard Daley, the system had been so perverted that it is now using taxpayer dollars to build executive suites in the middle of downtown. The TIF network has expanded so rapidly that it now siphons hundreds of millions of dollars each from the cash-starved taxing bodies, such as the city, county, park district, and board of education.

Daley was forced to declare a TIF surplus last year and return about $90 million to the schools after the CTU and the Ben Joravsky of the Reader raised the issue, forcing even the city's corporate media to report the scam.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with most aldermen, continue to support this corporate welfare giveaway, despite the fact that the blighted areas of the city continue to deteriorate in the face of growing foreclosures and disappearing jobs.

“Mayor Emanuel, are you the mayor of downtown Chicago, or all of Chicago,” asked Action Now’s Donna Roberts Williams, who has lived 50 years in the Englewood community. “I’d love to see Englewood get some of that TIF money.”

About 50 supporters from the CTU, Action Now, SEIU and the Grassroots Collaborative attended the press conference that featured dozens of reporters from all the major corporate media outlets.

The aldermen who attended included Scott Waguespack, Bob Fioretti, Will Burns, Joe Moreno and Joe Moore.

David Hernandez, a history teacher at Social Justice High School, noted that lots of schools have no arts or humanities and are not being fixed up in the blighted areas of the city that the TIFs were supposed to fix.

“I ask Mayor Emanuel to put working kids first,” Hernandez said at the press conference.

This proposed ordinance comes on the heels of the vacant properties safe passages ordinance proposal that will require banks which own foreclosed property to provide maintenance and security on homes within 1,000 yards of the schools.


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