Community organizations declared city hall a crime scene this morning due to proposed cuts to basic city services in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget proposal. The mayor's suggested cuts come while he is simultaneously advocating for tax breaks for profitable corporations. In Emanuel’s current version of the budget, just 20 percent of the tax increment financing (TIF) surplus is directed at aiding the city's more than $600 million budget gap. Activists and aldermen would like to see at least 50 percent of the $300 million surplus added to this year's budget as a way to avoid cuts to critical services.
“Corporate Chicago continues to have access to hundreds of millions of dollars of our tax dollars,” said Beniamino Capellupo, an organizer with Grassroots Collaborative who dressed up as Sherlock Holmes to investigate the crime scene. “The mayor and our alderman still have the chance to do the right thing by working families in Chicago and declare greater a TIF surplus so that our tax dollars keep our mental health clinics open, our schools vibrant and our libraries available.”
Emergency response systems, libraries, school funds, mental health clinics and more all find themselves on the chopping block under Emanuel's proposed budget. Meanwhile, TIF funds have been given to corporations like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and United Airlines in the name of saving jobs downtown. Chicago first started utilizing TIF district funding in 1984 to build up blighted areas. Over the years the unused funds accumulated into an enormous slush fund. Taxpayers have paid in more than $1 billion in the last two years alone, just in city limits.
Here's more from today's protest at city hall:
“I have no doubt that if a serious audit is done, we will find Chicago TIFs with vague plans or projects that are frankly not in the public’s best interest,” said Cook County Clerk David Orr last month after the release of the 2010 TIF revenue report. “Evidence of abuse, conflicts of interest and poor planning are mounting. It is time for the city to take action and revamp the TIF program to benefit a wider audience.”
In the past, larger corporations like United Airlines have received millions of dollars in TIF funds; totaling over $30 million in deals dating back to October 2007 and September 2009. Willis Group Holdings received nearly $4 million to move into the tower now bearing its name. Terry Duffy, CEO of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, is pressuring state and local officials to give his multi-billion dollar company further tax breaks, even after $15 million in TIF funds was awarded to his company.
Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) introduced the Responsible Budget Ordinance to increase the amount of TIF funds returned to city services early last month, with the support of 15 other council members. The ordinance could potentially bring another $6 million to libraries alone and save hundreds of jobs. The increase under the ordinance would bring an additional $130 million into the budget discussion, offsetting many of the proposed cuts.
“TIF money has been sitting in those accounts for years and it is time to get it back to our schools and libraries,” said Ald. John Arena (45th), a co-sponsor of the ordinance. “Twenty-eight aldermen signed a letter saying we are coming to you with alternatives to these cuts ... we have not heard back on everything put in front of them.”
The budget is expected to be voted upon at next week’s city council meeting. Following the action at city hall, community activists marched down to the Chicago Board of Trade building where Sherlock Holmes once again declared a crime scene.
"The Chicago Mercantile Exchange made $316 million dollars in the last quarter, but wants taxpayers to give them even more," said Grassroots Collaborative Director Amisha Patel. "The city gave them $15 million to put in golden toilets, the state is considering giving them $100 million in tax breaks, and the community gets left in the cold. Mayor Emanuel has the chance to put people over corporations, and keep Chicago working. We hope he does right, stands with the working families of Chicago, and passes a responsible budget."