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TIF money for city jobs, and accountability for CME

In a march on City Hall tomorrow, community and labor groups will present Mayor Emanuel with a golden toilet representing the TIF subsidy recently returned by CME Group, which was to help build a luxury bathroom, cafe, and fitness center.

Led by the Grassroots Collaborative, the groups are asking Emanuel to use $33 million recently returned by CME, Bank of America, and CNA, to restore jobs and services in the city’s schools, clinics, and libraries.

They’re also calling for a moratorium on new TIF projects in the LaSalle Central TIF district, which they view as the epicenter of TIF subsidies benefiting corporations at the expense of neighborhoods.

Community activists from across the city will rally at the Chicago Board of Trade, 141 W. Jackson, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, February 8, and march to City Hall.

Jobs for Chicagoans

Eric Tellez of Grassroots Collaborative cited recent research showing that jobs from downtown development spurred by TIFs have largely gone to suburban commuters.

“This is Chicago’s tax money – why isn’t it being used to employ Chicagoans?” he asked.  Restoring funding for city services “protects jobs with good wages for people who we know will live in Chicago.  They provide services for our neighborhoods, and they employ people from our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, as details emerge regarding CME’s role in the collapse of MF Global last October, Stand Up Chicago is highlighting issues of accountability – including the need for outside regulation of “self-regulating” exchanges.

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On TIF reform, a long way to go

TIF subsidies returned by three corporations should be declared surplus and used to restore cuts in public services; and Mayor Emanuel should hold off on new TIF spending until he can implement his TIF reform panel’s recommendations, groups working on the issue said Tuesday.

News broke Monday that CME, CNA and Bank of America were returning a combined $33 million, CME saying it didn’t need the money now that the state has cut its taxes, CNA and Bank of America admitting they hadn’t met job creation goals.

CME had been the target of a series of protests by Grassroots Collaborative, which on different occasions set up a classroom outside the corporate headquarters to dramatize lost school funding, declared the site a “corporate crime scene,” and held a bake sale for the corporation.  Last week Stand Up Chicago delivered a golden toilet to CME, which was to get $15 million for a luxury bathroom, cafe, and fitness center.

Restore public services

“With communities reeling from proposed school closings, cuts to libraries, and the shutdown of six mental health clinics, the $33 million dollars should be immediately returned to critical public services that working families of Chicago depend on, and not redirected back to downtown TIF slush funds,” said Amisha Patel.

She said the news reflects the impact of groups working to highlight the issue of corporate subsidies and tax breaks.

Also Monday, Emanuel announced he would create an online TIF database and order random independent audits of TIFs.  It was his first action on the recomendations of his TIF reform panel since its report last August.

Illinois PIRG released a report calling on Emanuel to fully implement the panel’s recommendations as a first step toward TIF reform, and to declare a moratorium on new TIF spending until the reforms are in place.

“If the Mayor and the City Council admit that TIF is broken, why would they continue to use the program before it gets fixed?” said Celeste Meiffren, author of the report.

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What to do with CME’s TIF?

Chicago Mercantile Exchange CEO Terrence Duffy told the Tribune he hasn’t “accepted” or “approved” the TIF subsidy passed by the city in 2009 – and the Grassroots Collaborative has called on Mayor Emanuel to declare it to be surplus and return the money to the schools, libraries and clinics that he’s proposed cutting back and closing.

As Ben Joravsky has reported, then-Mayor Daley took it upon himself to offer the subsidy 2007 when CME was bidding on the Chicago Board of Trade, though the corporation never asked for it.  While the city approved the deal in 2009, apparently CME never did.

So the money is still sitting in the reserves of the LaSalle Central TIF, which as of last year had collected $76 million, taking in $24 million a year.  The Grassroots Collaborative has called for winding down the LaSalle TIF and returning funds to schools and city services.

But here, suddenly, is a huge pot of money that we’ve been told is committed, when it isn’t, really.

“We are thrilled that CEO Duffy agrees with the community that CME does not need this money,” said Amisha Patel, executive director of the Collaborative.  “The hard-working taxpayers of Chicago would be glad to put this money to immediate use.”

The money could go to plug $3 million in cuts for mental health clinics and $7 million in cuts to libraries in the 2012 city budget now under consideration, as well as heavy cuts to schools in the latest CPS budget, she said.

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.

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‘An amazing convergence’

It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.

Coming Friday:  a rally for “jobs not cuts,” with MoveOn, Stand Up Chicago, Chicago Jobs With Justice and Occupy Chicago joining forces, at noon at the Federal Plaza.

Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations.  But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.

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Alternatives to cuts

With Mayor Emanuel’s budget proposal expected to emphasize austerity with heavy cuts to city services, proposals to bolster revenues — and ensure that sacrifice is truly shared — are gaining traction.

“We’re afraid [the budget] is going to be heavy, heavy, heavy on cuts” including public safety and other city services, with the main impact “on working families and public sector workers,” said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative, which is holding a “corporate welfare tour” Wednesday morning (see below).

The group’s initiative to return hundreds of millions of TIF funds to the city and other taxing bodies has the most momentum right now.  Seventeen aldermen cosponsored the Responsible Budget Ordinance – which would return 50 percent of surplus TIF dollars from all TIFs with balances over $5 million – and more have signed on since it was introduced last week.

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TIF reform? Not yet.

With the release of his TIF Reform Panel report, Mayor Emanuel may want to check “TIF reform” off his to-do list, but community activists who work on the issue say that would be highly premature.

“They’re talking about transparency as if that’s all we have to do,” said Sonia Kwon of the Raise Your Hand Coalition.  “Transparency and accountability are just tools to reform TIF.  I don’t see this as TIF reform.”

In any case, Emanuel’s panel skips “the first step in transparency” – listing TIF information on property tax bills, said Kwon.  “To know you are in a TIF district and how much of your tax money is going to TIF – that’s the first step.”

That was a major proposal of the Community TIF Task Force of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which brought together dozens of community groups, said Jacqueline Leavy, former executive director of NCBG.  (It was also a major proposal of then-Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, apparently forgotten when he reacted enthusiastically to the report this week.)

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On TIF reform, Bronzeville has ideas

Bronzeville residents turned out in impressive numbers for last Thursday’s public forum of the Mayor’s Task Force on TIF Reform, which was held at the Bronzeville Chicago Military Academy.

Other communities were represented, but more forums in additional communities would certainly offer the task force greater breadth of public input.  But last week’s was the only hearing that is planned.

Bronzeville is one of the city’s most heavily TIFed communities, with thirteen TIF districts covering 80 percent of the area, many created to finance CHA redevelopments – with more in the works had Mayor Daley won the 2016 Olympic games, according to Housing Bronzeville.

Sheila Carter testified on behalf of the group that TIFs have “failed local taxpayers” in their lack of transparency and accountability.  It’s been “virtuallly impossible for local residents to understand how TIF monies were being raised and spent in our area,” she said, suggesting “this confusion and lack of documentation was intentional.”

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