The idea of a high-speed rail system from downtown Chicago to O'Hare International Airport has reemerged in the city, with the Emanuel administration seeking an engineering company to study the project's potential costs, designs and routes.
There is a lack of "political will" to improve the state of public housing in Chicago, participants at a roundtable discussion on the "future of public housing" argued Friday morning.
At the discussion, attended by a few dozen thought leaders in the nonprofit, academic, community development and affordable housing arenas, Breann Gala with the Metropolitan Planning Council pointed to the sluggish pace of Chicago's Plan for Transformation -- a huge undertaking launched in 2000 to relocate public housing residents to mixed-income housing units.
"There was momentum under [former Chicago Mayor Richard M.] Daley, for better or worse, whether people liked it or not, there was something happening," she said. "And I feel like now ... we're just kind of stalled in this conversation."
Volunteers with Chicago's CivicLab want a full accounting of the more than $1.7 billion that was sitting in the city’s collective tax increment financing (TIF) district bank accounts at the end of 2013.
Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab and leader of its volunteer-based TIF Illumination Project, said the group plans to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the city within the week to "demand the mayor to come clean" about how those unspent funds will be used. Tresser said the group is prepared to take legal action if the city denies the FOIA request.
"We asked for (similar information) last year, and they told us to go take a leap," Tresser said at a TIF discussion Wednesday evening at the CivicLab, 114 N. Aberdeen St. "This time, we're going to sue if we don't get it."
Ald. Ed Bus (53rd) thinks things really started to go wrong with the city when voters began worrying about reform, corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
Things worked best when The Machine was in charge, and if he has his way it will be again — soon. Bus won’t say he’s running for mayor in 2015, but you could say he’s showing all the signs.
“Ed Bus exposes a lot of the feelings people have about Chicago government — what has changed and what hasn’t,’’ says Ald. Scott Waguespack, a colleague and frequent foil of Bus. “I love his motto: ‘Keep it like it was.’"
Bus, of the 53rd Ward, is a fictional character, the creation of veteran Chicago improv group Schadenfreude and played by Justin Kaufman, a founding member of the group and a long-time producer and sometime on-air personality at WBEZ radio. Bus is part and parcel of the Chicago Machine: an insider, a nepotist, a backroom deal maker and a ward heeler.
With the media and public spotlight on Chicago's pension crisis, the non-partisan research center Good Jobs First is turning the attention to the city's controversial tax increment financing, or TIF, program.
"It's really hard to ignore the evidence that TIF has had some sort of impact on pensions," said Tommy Cafcas, research analyst at Good Jobs First, which works to promote corporate and government accountability.
"We know that TIF costs grew, and they started growing really quickly after 2000. We know that general fund revenues declined ... and we know that the city addressed its budget gap in part by making inadequate contributions to public pensions, so it seems reasonable that TIF plays a role in how the city thinks about addressing the pension issue."