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Library cuts and TIF surpluses

Is protecting TIF dollars more important to the chairman of the Chicago Public Library Foundation than protecting branch libraries?

After Mayor Emanuel restored $3 million of a $10 million library budget cut under pressure from aldermen last week, CPL Foundation board chairman Robert A. Wislow issued a statement endorsing the remaining $7 million reduction.

Wislow termed the budget cuts “necessary” and praised Emanuel for “coming up with a thoughtful and creative plan to reduce the impact.”  The “thoughtful and creative plan” was to raise auto sticker fees.

Emanuel’s plan “is the right balance for our children and the city’s budget,” Wislow said in a statement.

At branch libraries, neighborhood supporters were less sanguine.

Friends of Blackstone Library noted in a message to community supporters that two-thirds of Emanuels cuts remain, including shortened hours and two-thirds of the staff cuts.  “That is still unacceptable. Our alderman must push for further concessions,” said Friends chair Brenda Sawyer in the message.

“We all need to support our libraries as centers of culture, knowledge, and access to tools that help us make the transitions that life is requiring of all of us in these times,” Sawyer said.

“The Chicago Public Library is entrusted with a sacred mission: Read, Learn, Discover,” notes Kang Chiu of Friends of the Rogers Park Library.  This mission “must be embodied in a reliable, vital, and well-funded institution.

The remaining $7 million cut “will still profoundly reduce library service,” Chiu said.  “I urge the mayor and the City Council to amend further this budget and make the Chicago Public Library a higher priority.”  That means keeping library services at current levels, he said.

Branch libraries or upscale development?

The $7 million budget cut is a noteworthy figure, because two years ago Wislow’s firm, U.S. Equities Realty, received $8 million in TIF subsidies for developing the Chicago French Market at the Ogilvie Transporation Center in the West Loop.

As Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke noted at the time, Mayor Daley was right that the French Market “is an excellent example of what the TIF program is all about.” But, they added, “it’s not a good example of what it’s supposed to be about.”

They noted that Wislow had contributed thousands of dollars to campaign funds for Mayor Daley and Alderman Burke — and that his development was getting a good bit more than the entire community of Roseland was slated to get.

While Emanuel is cutting libraries, physical and mental health clinics, and family services, so far he’s rejected a call by aldermen to double the size of the TIF surplus he’s tapping for this year’s budget.

The $7 million being cut from libraries is the same amount given to a group of suburban developers in July to build an upscale grocery – also in the West Loop – across the street from an existing Dominic’s.

On Wednesday, community activists from across the city will highlight this discrepancy in an action declaring City Hall a “budget crime scene,” complete with crime scene tape.

Grassroots Collaborative and ally organizations will stage the action at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, November 9, outside City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle.

They point out that Emanuel’s budget leaves $240 million in the mayor’s TIF “slush fund” and out of the budget discussion. “The mayor protects corporate subsidies at the expense of Chicago’s families,” said Amisha Patel.


Note: An error in identifying Robert A. Wislow has been corrected.

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Category: city budget, libraries, TIF

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