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‘Durbinville’ dramatizes safety net cuts

Local protestors will erect a “Durbinville” shantytown at the Federal Plaza at noon on Thursday, continuing their challenge to Senator Richard Durbin’s embrace of the austerity agenda that’s dominating budget talks in Washington.

Since Monday, a coalition of grassroots groups has been staging a soupline outside Durbin’s downtown office “to make visible the hunger and suffering that budget cuts will create,” according to a statement from IIRON.

All kinds of people are accepting the homemade soup being offered, and many are expressing surprise when they learn that Durbin is backing drastic safety net cuts, said Kristi Sanford of Northside POWER.

The long-term spending reductions Durbin is calling for — outlined in the Simpson-Bowles commission report he backed in 2010 – would be no better than the cuts required by “sequestration” if Congress fails to come up with a budget deal by the end of the year, Sanford said.

“They would push us back into recession, and we’d have more lost jobs and suffering,” she said.  “It would cut education, food security, a whole range of government services we rely on.”

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North Side voters back financial tax

By a wide margin, North Side residents backed a referendum calling for a sales tax on financial transactions Tuesday.

Voters in 17 precincts in the 46th Ward voted 3-to-1 in favor of “policies to tax speculative financial transactions including, but not limited to, derivatives and futures contracts.”

A one dollar per contract sales tax on trades on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which have an average value of $230,000, could generate $6 billion dollars a year for the state or city, according to Northside Action for Justice, which backed the referendum.

The group sponsored the referendum because “politicians have not been taking this seriously,” said Kelate Gaim of Northside Action in a release.

“Why do I pay more sales tax when I buy a pair of shoes than these traders do placing speculative bets?” asked Francis Tobin, the group’s chair. The financial transaction tax would be borne by individual traders, not by exchanges.

By a similar margin, voters in those precincts also backed a TIF reform proposal calling for returning surpluses to schools and other taxing bodies, and restricting future TIF spending to affordable housing, living wage jobs and businesses, and youth and senior services.

Int’l Women’s Day: spotlight on low wages, sexual harassment

Two events will highlight the concerns of women workers on International Women’s Day:  a rally at the Chicago Board of Trade highlighting low wages for women janitors paid by the highly profitable and tax-favored CME Group; and a hearing in Joliet focused on retaliation against women warehouse workers complaining of sexual harassment, including a case where a complainant was herself arrested.

Janitors represented by SEIU Local 1 will rally at the Board of Trade on Thursday, March 8 at 3:30 p.m. and march from there to the Willis Tower. Contract negotiations are starting for 13,000 area janitors, including 4,000 at downtown office buildings, whose contract expires April 8.

With annual pay ranging from $24,000 to $31,000, area janitors are classified “very low income” under HUD’s standards, and earn $20,000 or more below the Economic Policy Institute’s estimate of the cost of living for a family of four, according to Nell McNamara of Local 1.

The union is casting the issue as one of income inequality, noting soaring salaries and bonuses for CEOs while Chicago has the third highest poverty rate and the highest racial income disparity of any major U.S. city.

Janitors are calling on wealthy corporations “to do their part,” said McNamara.  “When hard-working people have good jobs with benefits, we’ll begin to restore balance to our economy and vitality to our neighborhoods.”

In December the state passed an income tax break worth $85 million a year to CME after the corporation threatened to leave town.  In 2009, Willis Tower benefited when United Airlines got a $31 million TIF subsidy to move its corporate headquarters into the building.

Arrested for complaining

In Joliet, in response to an increasing number of complaints of sexual harassment by women workers at warehouses in the area, Warehouse Workers for Justice is holding a hearing on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Mt. Carmel Church, 205 E. Jackson.

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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’s next

In honor of the Year of the Protestor (as proclaimed by Time Magazine), the Journal of Ordinary Thought has reposted three poems from its summer issue on Art as Activism.  I like “What’s Next” by Lester Hemingway  (I like them all, but as you’d expect from a Hemingway, this one is pithy):

 

WHAT’S NEXT

you’re angry.  me too

attention! the fruit is rotting

let’s save what we can

 

One of the best overviews of Occupy Wall Street is “The New Populists” in this month’s American Prospect.  Participant-observer Christopher Ketcham illuminates the fascinating dynamics of the movement with a depth and detail missing from most accounts, from the earliest discussions, to the intricate network of solidarity built on hard work and endless discussion, to the “blitzkrieg” – and markedly violent – police eviction on November 15, followed by a massive protest.

He notes the parallel with the populist movement of the 1890s – even citing a populist song on “the ninety and nine” who live in hunger and cold “that the one may live in luxury” – and America’s history of occupiers: Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Martin Luther King’s Resurrection City, sit-down strikes in Flint, Coxey’s Army and the Bonus Marchers.  “The idea of occupation has outlasted Zucotti Park,” he writes.

Homes, schools, clinics 

We’ve covered the local movement to “occupy foreclosures”  — its roots in Boston and Florida go back years, and its opportunities are expanding everyday.  Another arena for occupiers is the fight to defend public schools.

At a recent teach-in by CTU and community allies, several angry parents spoke about the need to “occupy our schools.”  The Nation reports on occupy tactics being deployed to oppose the encroachment of charter schools in New York City and New Jersey as well as CPS chief Jean-Claud Brizard’s previous domain of Rochester — and his new one of Chicago.

The fight over school policy presents all the issues of the Occupy movement – the post-hoc, pro-forma charade of public input by CPS , presided over by a rubber-stamp Board of Education, makes a mockery of democracy.  Politically connected groups like UNO and AUSL have the inside track.  The wealthy elite – Penny Pritzker and the “billionaire boys club” – has overwhelming influence, even as corporate interests undermine school funding by evading taxes and sucking up TIF subsidies.

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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.

CME tax break is ‘occupied’

About the time CME representatives were meeting with legislators in the state capitol yesterday, a huge group of people filed into the building’s rotunda and began a “people’s mike.”

The first mike leader began: “We are Occupy Springfield,” and the crowd repeated each statement he made, amplifying it through people power.  “We are the 99 percent.  We will be heard.  Vote no on SB 397.”  That’s the bill granting CME a break on the state income tax worth $60 million or more (see previous post).

As the first leader was escorted out by Capitol police, another was tagged and continued the statement, a process that continued until the police apparently decided to just let them finish.

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