Stand Up Chicago – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.14 Will higher wages hurt the economy? http://www.newstips.org/2013/08/will-higher-wages-hurt-the-economy/ Sun, 04 Aug 2013 19:28:40 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7581 Higher wages for fast food and retail workers could hurt the economy, according to an analysis by the Chicago Tribune.

The analysis includes comments from the Workers Organizing Committee, which led hundreds of workers from national chains, from Wendy’s to Potbelly and from Sears to Victoria’s Secret, in strike actions here last week.  They’re not looking to double wages to $15 an hour overnight; they’re trying to organize a union and address a range of issues.

It also includes a Whole Foods employee who works two additional jobs and still qualifies for food stamps, and a labor economist who is quoted to the effect that high unemployment helps lower wages.

But its major thrust is whether consumers can stand to pay the higher prices that they say higher wages would require.  The economists they ask about this specialize in consumer psychology and marketing behavior.

One crucial piece of information is omitted, curiously:  how big of a price increase are we talking here?

In a column reviewing “the boilerplate argument against higher wages” — which is precisely that it would hurt consumers with “enormous” prices increases — David Sirota fills us in.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.50 would add 5 cents to the price of a Big Mac, according to one analysis.  Another study found that raising McDonalds workers’ hourly rate to $15 would drive the price of a Big Mac up by 22 cents.

Run that by your consumer psychologist.

A recent study by Action Now and Stand Up Chicago found that  raising Chicago retail and restaurant workers’ wages to $15 an hour would cost about $100 million for a sector with $14.2 billion in yearly revenues in the city.  That’s about 2.6 percent of revenue.

“Downtown employers can afford a very significant increase in wages,” they argue.

It’s an important reality check to vague scare talk about higher prices.  That line of arguent works because it involves a “populist insinuation that higher wages would hurt the Average Joe,” according to Sirota.

Here’s another hard economic fact that deserves more attention, courtesy of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability:  the largest, most profitable retailers in Illinois pay the lowest wages.

On average, the huge chains, those with more than 500 employee in the state — about 2 percent of the firms, with about 60 percent of market share — pay 18.5 percent less than smaller companies.

McDonalds’ profits last year were $5.5 billion.  And they don’t want to give their workers a $3-an-hour raise because they’d have to charge 5 cents more for a hamburger?

“Retail and fast food outlets in the Magnificent Mile and the Loop are among the country’s most profitable, but their workers take home poverty wages to the city’s poorest neighborhoods,” said Katelyn Johnson of Action Now in a statement supporting WOC strikers.

“We know that they need and deserve a living wage to support their families. And every dollar invested in a living wage will raise up the economy for all of the city’s neighborhoods.”

CTBA estimates that by increasing consumer spending, raising the minimum wage by two dollars would generate 25,000 jobs in Illinois and increase economic activity in the state by $2.5 billion.

But there’s a much larger question missed by the Trib’s analysis:  can the U.S. economy handle the wholesale replacement of middle-class employment with low-wage jobs?

Middle-income jobs represented 60 percent of job losses from 2008 to 2010 but only 22 percent of job growth in the recovery.  On the other hand, low-wage jobs accounted for 21 percent of lost jobs but 58 percent of subsequent job growth.  (The Tribune has covered this.)

It’s happening in Chicago:  nearly one-third of Chicago workers now work for $12 an hour or less (up from 24 percent in low-wage jobs in 2001) according to a report from Women Employed and Action Now. 

Those are the kinds of jobs where Chicago is “showing strength” — “lesiure, hospitality, food, retail industries,” especially tied to tourism — as Mesirow chief economist Diane Swonk tells the Sun Times.

According to Women Employed and Action Now, those are jobs “paying too little to support an individual, much less a family, without public assistance or charity.”

Meanwhile, as I’ve argued, Mayor Emanuel’s policies seem aimed at turning Chicago from the union town to a low-wage town.

Is this really the direction we want to go?

Maybe Chicago’s retail and fast food workers and the Workers Organizing Committee can do something about that.

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Public left out of Emanuel’s budget http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/public-left-out-of-emanuels-budget/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/public-left-out-of-emanuels-budget/#comments Fri, 05 Oct 2012 00:02:17 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6681 A Sun-Times headline from last August may be the crux of the matter:  “Rahm hears boos at budget chat.”

Rahm will hear no boos this year.

With virtually no notice from the media, Mayor Emanuel has sharply reduced public participation in the city’s budget process and completely eliminated public information about his budget proposal.

For over 30 years, the city has held open public hearings on the mayor’s proposed budget.  Emanuel has ended that, substituting closed sessions with specially-selected groups.

And while Mayor Daley always released his draft budget in August, Emanuel has released nothing – not even the standard update on expenses and revenues for the second quarter of the year.

On Wednesday, a delegation representing dozens of community and labor groups delivered an open letter to Emanuel calling on him to “release a proposed budget immediately and schedule public town hall meetings to ensure that our communities are involved in all steps of [the budgeting] process.”

“The Mayor’s shift away from community participation is not only a dramatic break with precedent, but also directly contradicts his campaign promise to create ‘the most open, accountable and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen,'” said Elizabeth Parisian of Stand Up Chicago, one of the groups signing the letter.

“I didn’t think anybody could be more closed-door than Daley, but lo and behold, Rahm’s done it,” said Jerry Morrison of SEIU Local 1.  He believes Chicago is now “the only large city in America that has no public process for its budget.”

“Rahm is good on transparency in terms of putting things on the internet,” commented Dick Simpson, a former independent alderman now at UIC.  “He’s not so good on community participation and democracy.”

***

Mayor Harold Washington initiated town hall budget meetings with the 1984 city budget.  “It was very, very important to him,” recalls Alton Miller, Washington’s press secretary and author of “Harold Washington: The Mayor, The Man,” who’s now at Columbia College.  “He filled his administration with people who had spent many years working on issues from the outside, banging on the doors of City Hall, and he said, let’s do it right.

“It was important to him that when budgets were being decided, it wasn’t just an inside deal with a few people at the table but was genuinely informed by what people in the neighborhoods said they needed,” Miller said.  “And the best way to get that was with open town hall meetings where anybody could ask a question or raise an objection or take issue with any of the proposals.”

It was remarkable to witness: any resident could ask anything and get a concrete, substantive answer from the city’s top decision-makers.

And according to Miller, the feedback from the town halls “was funneled into the actual writing of the budgets.”

Daley continued the town halls, though they were pro-forma: his draft budget was never significantly revised, and instead of getting an answer from the commissioners sitting up front, residents with questions or problems would get to confer with an aide off to the side.  Nonetheless, any taxpayer in the city could come and speak his or her mind to the administration, and many did.

“Say this for Daley – he took what came his way,” commented Ben Joravsky.

***

That all changed with Emanuel’s first budget.  The new mayor seemed to prefer a talk-show format.  He’s “going Oprah,” as Joravsky put it.  “It was the Rahm Emanuel Show,” said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative.

It was tightly controlled, too.  At a town hall at Kennedy King College last August, Emanuel sat on a raised stage with City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, his commissioners filling the first rows of the studio audience.  Rahm did most of the talking.  Hyman read questions from cards that had been filled out by audience members, who were invited to stand while their question was asked and answered.

That’s where the problems started.  Some people weren’t satisfied with the mayoral talking points and tried to engage in a discussion.

“That’s when some of our members got to make some points,” said Patel.  “And that’s when Emanuel couldn’t control it.  And he can’t deal with that, so he’s not going to have any more hearings.”

“Rahm doesn’t like to be questioned,” said Morrison.  “Of course he’s smarter than anybody else.  And clearly he decided he’s not going to have any more of that.”

The small private meetings with friendly groups featured this year are an attempt to give the impression of a public process in a setting he controls, said Simpson.

Press notices for the meetings say “B-roll only,” which means no sound.  They’re essentially photo ops.

Patel said Grassroots Collaborative is encouraging aldermen to hold their own budget hearings.  One problem, of course, is that the budget hasn’t been released yet.

***

Daley released complete line-item draft budgets every August, and civic groups and unions representing city workers could go over them line by line, job by job, and ward by ward, said Don Wiener, a budget analyst who consults for labor groups.

By the time the City Council held budget hearings in October – a two-week process in which each department head submitted to extensive questioning – aldermen were well-versed in the concerns of their constituents.  “There was plenty of opportunity to ask question and suggest changes – and sometime Daley’s people would agree to make changes,” Wiener said.

This year Emanuel is presumably releasing his budget with his October 8 budget address, and the City Council is set to start hearings less than a week later.  It reminds Morrison of the notorious parking meter deal, when aldermen were barely given time to read the contract.

Morrison notes Emanuel has scheduled a special council session at the end of October, and fears he’ll try to ram his budget through then, when most attention — and activism — will be focused on the presidential election.

On top of that, Emanuel’s administration has yet to release budget numbers for the second quarter of this year, which ended three months ago.  “Rahm wants government to be run like the private sector,” said Wiener.  “Well, any publicly-traded corporation issues an earnings report within four or five weeks after the end of the quarter.”

Since Emanuel discussed increased revenues a week ago, “we know the city has the numbers,” said Wiener.  “We know the rating agencies are getting that information, and the financial institutions.”  It looks like the Inspector General, which has offered a menu of budget fixes, is in the loop.

“Everyone knows what Chicago’s budget is — except the citizens of Chicago.”

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To grow jobs, raise wages http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/to-grow-jobs-raise-wages/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/to-grow-jobs-raise-wages/#comments Tue, 24 Jul 2012 00:46:38 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6478 Workers and community groups continue a push to raise the minimum wage here, arguing that it’s a way for Illinois to reduce poverty and create thousands of new jobs.

Tuesday morning (July 24) at 8:30 a.m., a trolley will leave from 209 W. Jackson to visit three Dunkin Donuts and other low-wage employers, and at 2 p.m. at Presidential Towers (570 W. Monroe), Walmart workers will talk about the challenges of making ends meet on a their paychecks.

According to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the largest and most profitable retailers pay lower wages than small and mid-sized companies in the industry.

Homecare workers will rally at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Dearborn, at 3 p.m., and at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, laid-off janitors will call on Mayor Emanuel to endorse an ordinance to protect jobs and wages when the city bids out contracts.

Fifty janitors lost their jobs last month when the city awarded a new janitorial services contract to a South Holland firm.  According to Progress Illinois, the Responsible Bidders Ordinance has the backing of a majority of aldermen – but it won’t move without Emanuel’s say-so.

With marches leaving at 4:30 from three locations – the Thompson Center, CPS headquarters (125 S. Clark), and P. J. Clarke’s (Ontario and St. Clair) – a thousand workers are expected for a march by Stand Up Chicago on the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce offices in the Aon Center, 200 E. Randolph.

In recent decades the minimum wage has fallen far behind inflation.

According to CTBA, a $2 increase would inject $2.5 billion into the state’s economy and generate 20,000 new jobs.  (Several studies of adjacent areas with different minimum wage laws have debunked the myth that wage increases cause job loss.)

It’s a jobs program that wouldn’t cost the state anything, said Ron Baiman of CTBA.

Businesses would benefit from lower worker turnover, saving the costs of recruiting and training new workers, he said.  And since the minimum wage sets a wage floor, an increase would raise wages further up the pay scale.

The Raise Illinois coalition has been building support for Senate Bill 1565, which would increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.65 over four years.  The bill passed the Senate Executive Committee in May, and could be considered in the fall veto session.

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Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/coalition-questions-g8-costs-calls-for-community-investment/ Thu, 01 Mar 2012 19:36:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5962 Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

“At a time when our city is experiencing a serious budget deficit and facing record unemployment, record foreclosures, record poverty, and drastic cuts to services, it is negligent to direct such a large sum of money to a weekend-long event that benefits the 1 percent without also ensuring that a similar sum is invested in Chicago’s 99 percent — our communities,” according to the letter.

It calls on Emanuel to seek federal funds equivalent to federal summit spending to support community programs here.

A release from Stand Up Chicago includes statements from leaders of several groups that signed on to the letter:

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Community Renewal Society: “The G8 Summit presents an opportunity for our mayor and business leaders to demonstrate that Chicago is a world-class city that, foremost, invests in its social infrastructures and the upward mobility of its residents, especially poor people.”

Amisha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative: “At the drop of a hat, Mayor Emanuel can raise $60 million for the global elite, and yet our neighborhoods suffer from unsafe vacant buildings, gun violence, and skyrocketing unemployment. Instead of throwing a party for the 1 percent, the mayor and corporate Chicago should be creating jobs for the 99 percent — jobs to clean up abandoned housing, jobs to keep school children safe, and summer jobs for youth.”

Beatriz Merlos, parent organizer, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council: “This money could go to renovating public spaces like Kelly Park, which has been in disrepair for years, and could fund more youth programs to keep our kids off the streets and out of gangs. And we could put more police in neighborhoods where shootings are reaching staggering levels.”

Rev. C.J. Hawking of Arise Chicago, the faith-based labor rights group: “The 99 percent have been struggling through harsh budget cuts while the city is doling out our tax dollars in corporate welfare to the CME and other World Business Chicago members. And now we’re going to invest millions in events for and by the 1 percent? We’re calling upon the city and World Business Chicago members to make at least an equal investment in the working families of the city.”

Margaret Sullivan, Southside Together Organizing for Power, a client at Beverly-Morgan Park Mental Health Clinic, which is slated for closing, said she broke down in tears thinking about “the comparison between the $2 million we need to save our clinics and the millions of dollars that will go to the insane and insatiable greed surrounding the NATO/G8 summits.”

Stand Up Chicago and other groups are planning protests that will raise these issues during the summit, a spokesperson said.

The city’s press office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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TIF money for city jobs, and accountability for CME http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/tif-money-for-city-jobs-and-accountability-for-cme/ Tue, 07 Feb 2012 23:16:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5631 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.

CME auditors missed evidence of fraud in an audit shortly before the firm’s collapse, according to a bankruptcy trustee, the Sun Times reports.

Regulatory loophole

Public assurances that over 70 percent of $1.2 billion in fraudulently diverted customer funds have been returned serve to obscure the fact that big investors will be paid off first, while farmers who depended on MF Global to hedge against losses (and CME to protect them) have to wait in line, said Elizabeth Parisian of Stand Up.

With the Commodity Futures Trading Commission launching an investigation of CME and MF Global – and members of Congress calling for regulation of CME by the CFTC – the exchange is scrambling to maintain its regulatory loophole, Parisian said.

She said self-regulation by CME and similar exchanges is a “conflict of interest.”

“Instead of working behind the scenes to try to avoid regulation, CME should publicly acknowledge the need for outside oversight,” she said.

It’s an issue of accountability, Parisian said, which stretches beyond the MF Global scandal. She points out that a huge state tax break recently enacted on CME’s behalf included no commitments regarding job creation or retention.

Some 450 jobs were eliminated after CME bought the Chicago Board of Trade in 2007, the deal which the TIF subsidy was supposed to support.

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’99 Percent’ vs. CME tax break http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/99-percent-vs-cme-tax-break/ Tue, 25 Oct 2011 21:10:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4856 CME has been successfully bidding for the attention of Illinois politicians – and now regular folks are starting to notice.

On Tuesday, a statewide allliance is protesting at City Hall and then marching to State Senate President John Cullerton’s office to protest his legislation granting a $50 million tax break to CME, owner of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade.

On Wednesday, a coalition of community and labor groups will launch a campaign to derail CME’s tax break – and press for a small financial transaction tax on CME trades – with a march on protest at the Chicago Board of Trade and a stand with Occupy Chicago.

“It’s a shakedown,” said Mehrdad Azemun of National Peoples Action, of the new tax break.  NPA is one of several regional and statewide networks of community and church groups that are joining to protest the measure on Tuesday.

“Corporations as large as these need to pay their fair share, especially at a time when every day brings news of more cuts to state and city programs, more police stations being closed.”

He points out that just a few years ago, CME threatened to leave – and then promised to stay, after it received a $15 million TIF subsidy and millions more in property tax breaks.

“Our sense is that the state leaders and the Chicago mayor are just giving in to threat after threat,” he said.  “It’s really not a responsible way to govern – and it’s not a responsible way to run a budget.”

To Cullerton and Mayor Emanuel, who have made the tax break a top priority for the veto session, Rev. Marilyn Pagan Banks of Northside POWER said, “We are demanding that you reverse your position, and stop acting only for the 1 percent.  We need you to stand with the 99 percent.”

On Wednesday, the community-labor coalition Stand Up Chicago will march from the Chase Plaza at Dearborn and Monroe (starting at 11:45 a.m.) and join Occupy Chicago at LaSalle and Jackson for a press conference.  Members of Workers United will be donating winter wear and sleeping bags to Occupy Chicago.

Speakers will include Workers United president Noel Beasley.

They’ll proceed for more activity across the street to the Chicago Board of Trade, where they’ll protest Cullerton’s tax break and continue building a campaign for a financial transaction tax.

“In this age of austerity, it’s obvious that we can’t afford to be offering more tax breaks to corporations that are most assuredly in the black,” said Susan Hurley of Chicago Jobs with Justice, part of the Stand Up coalition.  (CME’s profits last year were over $950 million, and they’re even higher this year.)

“And we need to create tax instruments to generate funds to keep our ship of state afloat,” she added.

The transaction tax – just 25 cents on an average trade of $233,000 – would be charged to traders, not the exchanges themselves.  But with 12 million trades a day, the fee would generate over a billion dollars a year, supporters say.  (See our earlier report for more detail.)

Cullerton’s tax break would also apply to the Chicago Board of Options Exchange; with additional tax breaks in the legislation, its total cost could be $100 million a year.  The transaction tax would also apply to trades on the CBOE.

NPA’s Azemun and Stand’s Catherine Murrell said members of their coalitions would be contacting their legislators to oppose Cullerton’s bill.

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‘An amazing convergence’ http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/an-amazing-convergence/ Thu, 13 Oct 2011 22:34:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4821 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.

“It’s an amazing convergence,” said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago.

It was activists from National People’s Action who kayaked down the Chicago River, past the Mortgage Bankers Assocation meeting, dressed as Robin Hood, on Monday.

It was Rev. Patrick Daymond of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation and others who “embedded” themselves in an MBA session and took the floor there.  “We asked how they could sleep at night,” Dayden said, according to Progress Illinois.  “We asked how they can show their faces in Chicago knowing the devastation they have brought to our communities.”

On Tuesday, it was Action Now members who dumped garbage taken from a foreclosed, bank-owned inadequately-secured West Side home on the floor of Bank of America (five women aged 56 to 80 were arrested in the action).

Also Tuesday, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council members boarded up a vacant home owned by JPM Chase and brought a bill for the work to the bank’s downtown office; Albany Park Neighborhood Council members protested at the Chicago Association of Realtors.

Outside the MBA meeting, members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs erected a sukkah, inviting MBA participants inside the ritual shelter (constructed for Sukkot, the holiday which marks the Israelite’s period of homeless wandering in the desert) to hear personal testimony from victims of the housing crisis.

Members of SOUL were arrested trying to enter the MBA conference.

On Wednesday, it was the Grassroots Collaborative which set up a giant Slushie – symbolizing the use of TIF as a corporate slush fund – and then held a “corporate welfare” trolley tour of downtown TIF subsidy recipients.

Also Wednesday, 100 teachers marched through the lobby of Bank of America, demanding the bank renegotiate “toxic rate swaps” they say are robbing Chicago schools of millions of dollars.

Thursday there was a series of protests at low-wage employers – and in the afternoon, Stand Up Chicago set up a casino outside the Chicago Board of Trade while demanding a financial transaction tax to pay for a Chicago Jobs Fund (discussed here last Saturday).

“It feels different,” said Kader, who’s been involved with Stand Up Chicago in planning the week’s actions – timed for two financial industry summits – for several months.  “In the past we would turn out our members,” but this time he’s been struck by the number of unaffiliated folks and passersby joining in.  “There’s something out there, and we just have to say here’s a time and place to come together.”

Media attention was notably greater than past protests – for example, see this Newstip on “anemic” local coverage of NPA’s 5,000-strong demostration at the American Bankers Association here in October 2009.

Only Mary Bottari of the Center for Media Democracy notes another convergence, tying the week’s protests to Mayor Emanuel’s efforts “to balance budget deficits on the back of public workers.”  (She also notes the recent revelation of Emanuel’s role as White House chief of staff in dissuading President Obama from his initial inclination to break up big banks, which progressives argue became dangerously oversized after the wall between commercial and investment banking was torn down in 2000.  Since then they’ve gotten bigger.)

What happens now?  Van Jones of Rebuild The Dream sees a period of “innovation and improvisation.”  He tells Alternet that Occupy Wall Street “is a huge, big deal; there will be other huge, big deals. There is a big thaw happening.  People have gone through a grieving process, and people want to fight.”

“The economic crisis [will get] worse,” says Jones, and “you’re going to have a lot of people suffering due to the economy.  That’s going to create a need for a response….That’s going to be a driver of innovation, the economic crisis.  People have to eat.  People have to live indoors.  People aren’t going to just lay down and die because Wall Street wants to hold up the economic recovery.”

His group has called for nationwide actions – leaving the details up to local groups – on November 17 on the theme of “jobs not cuts.”  Before that, according to Think Progress, a new group  has called for actions around the world to “demand true democracy” – on Saturday, October 15.  They report actions planned in over 800 cities in 71 countries.

And they’ve posted a short video highlighting the year in protests: Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Israel, New York.  Who knows what’s next?  And as Phil Rosenthal points out in the Tribune, “one can only imagine what will greet visiting leaders in Chicago for the G8 and NATO summits next May.”

Take Back Chicago shows what can happen when diligent, energetic organizing, rooted in communities, aligns with the zeitgeist.

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Alternatives to cuts http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/alternatives-to-cuts/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/alternatives-to-cuts/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2011 21:49:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4806 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.

Though the city hasn’t provided current figures, the measure could provide as much as $500 million to the city, schools, and other agencies, Patel said.  The bulk of the surplus is in 16 downtown TIFs, where subsidies have gone to highly profitable corporations, she said.

‘High-rent’ areas

Those are the “high-rent” areas where Emanuel said TIFs are inappropriate during his campaign.  His TIF reform panel, however, recommended criteria that would allow them to remain in place.  (It also recommended reviewing TIFs with the option of declaring a surplus.)

Emanuel has opposed using TIF surpluses, but he may be “coming around,” the Sun Times notes in an editorial backing the measure.

He should.  The reason he’s given – he’s against “one-time budget fixes” – doesn’t really apply.

It resonated with voters who’ve seen parking meter and Skyway privatization funds squandered.  But TIF accumulations are a different animal – taxpayer money sitting unused in a mayoral slush fund, to be handed out to politically favored developers and corporations.

Declaring a surplus would be sweeping the slate clean, a first step toward reform – and the TIFs will go on to accumulate new funds, taking in $500 million every year.

It’s a smart response to the recession, which is a big reason city revenues are down.  Freeing up the funds would also act as a stimulus to the city’s economy; heavy job cuts will add to the downward spiral of unemployment, foreclosures, disinvestment and destabilization.

Grassroots Collaborative will hold a press conference with supporters of the Responsible Budget Ordinance at City Hall on Wednesday morning (October 12, 9 a.m.) followed by a trolley tour of downtown corporations that have gotten TIF subsidies, including the Chicago Board of Trade, Miller Coors, the Willis Tower, and United Airlines.

Taxing traders

The campaign for a financial transaction tax got renewed impetus last week with a specific proposal from Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group spelling out just how it would work here.

It would cover contracts sold on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Options Exchange, though the exchanges wouldn’t pay the fee.  Buyers and sellers would pay 25 cents per contract – a trivial amount on an average contract of $233,000, but with 12 million contracts a day, it would add up to $1.4 billion a year.

As we noted Friday, Bill Gates and, at one point, President Obama are among many prominent supporters of the concept; the New York Times just urged consideration of a national transaction fee.  In Chicago, 25 aldermen backed a related proposal last year.

Since Emanuel is a former CME board member, this could be his “Nixon goes to China” moment.  If not, it’s likely that support for the measure will grow, as discontent over corporate profiteering rises.

Commuters

Meanwhile there’s another huge pot of money that goes untouched.  As Inspector General Joe Ferguson noted in his report on budget options, there are 620,000 commuters earning a living in Chicago but paying their taxes elsewhere.  He estimates their earnings at $30 billion a year, based on the area median, but it’s likely much more, since they include many of the highest earners, economists say.

In a study done years ago, UIC economist Joseph Persky says he found that more than half of all earnings in the city went to suburban residents.  “I don’t see any reason that would have changed,” he said.

Indeed, the imbalance could well have increased – particularly because downtown development spurred by TIF seems to have benefited suburbanites far more than city residents, as the Chicago Reporter revealed earlier this year.

According to data supplied by the Reporter (thanks to Angela Caputo), residents of the collar counties held 23,824 more Loop jobs in 2008 than in 2002, while Chicago residents lost 21,057 Loop jobs in the same period.  (Suburban Cook residents lost about 1,900 Loop jobs.)

Nonresidents making a living in Chicago take advantage of all the city’s services and infrastructure; they just don’t pay for it.

One possibility for capturing a portion of that wealth is a commuter tax – an income tax on nonresidents working in the city.  Philadelphia and other cities have one, and New York City had one for two decades, before the state legislature abolished it in a bid for suburban votes.  (Mayor Michael Bloomburg has been pressing for its reinstatement.)

Ferguson estimates a 1 percent tax would generate at least $300 million; it could well be much more.  Several City Council members have spoken favorably of the idea, but politically it’s a tough climb, requiring approval from the state legislature.

Congestion pricing – a charge on vehicles entering the central district during business hours — would capture some of the revenue now being lost from out-of-towners, suggests Ron Baiman of CPEG.  The City Council could enact it.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology supports such a charge, said Maria Choca-Urban, the group’s director for transportation.   It would reduce congestion and auto emissions, she said – but revenue should be used to improve public transportation.  “If you’re going to put in place a deterrent to driving, you have to improve the alternatives,” she said.

With the CTA facing billions in unmet capital needs – and major portions of the city (notably the Far South Side) still unserved by rapid transit – there’s plenty of room for improvement, and those investments would mean badly-needed jobs.

[The Active Transportation Alliance points out that CTA service cuts and fare increases are expected in the forthcoming budget.  “Unfortunately, the threat of fare increases and service cuts have become an annual tradition in our region because our elected leaders have failed to adequately fund transit,” the group comments. “The consequences of service cuts and fare increases would be far-reaching, impacting our mobility, our economy, our quality of life, our environment and the congestion on our streets.”]

Ferguson envisions a complex collection system requiring electronic tolling sensors on every street leading downtown and transponders in every car.

London has a somewhat simpler system; commuters buy permits at shops, and a system of cameras identifies vehicles entering without paying.  Buses, cabs, and delivery vehicles are exempted, and residents of the central area can get a 90 percent discount on the charge.  In 2006, London’s congestion charge brought in nearly $400 million.

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