Progress Illinois recaps some of the highlights from Wednesday's city council meeting.
More than 100 residents representing 40 different Chicago wards flooded City Hall before Wednesday’s council meeting. They called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to declare a tax increment financing, or TIF, surplus as a “stop-gap” measure to help close the Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) $1 billion budget deficit.
Due to the school district's budget woes, individual schools have seen drastic cuts to their funding for next school year. CPS also announced last week that more than 2,000 public school workers were being let go; earlier this summer, approximately 850 school workers were laid off. That’s on top of the 50 neighborhood schools the Chicago Board of Education voted back in May to close.
“Our school budgets have been decimated,” Jennie Biggs with Raise Your Hand For Illinois Public Education said before the council meeting. “Our schools cannot function with the budgets we’ve been handed.”
Members of the city council’s Progressive Reform Caucus have also demanded a TIF surplus be declared and the money funneled back to the school district to help plug its budget hole. The caucus introduced an ordinance at Wednesday’s council meeting that would require non-committed money in TIF districts that had revenues of more than $1 million in 2012 to be part of a surplus. That surplus would then be used to help offset the massive school budget cuts, according to the ordinance.
As of Wednesday, 32 aldermen had signed on to the measure, which has been sent to the budget committee. The education activists applauded the aldermen who have already backed the ordinance and said they want other aldermen to follow suit.
In related news, Tom Tresser with the CivicLab started a MoveOn petition on the topic of TIFs. The petition, to be sent to Emanuel, demands a full accounting of TIF funds. The petition says money sitting in the city's TIF district funds should be released to the local units of government, which rely on the tax revenue that gets siphoned into the program. Just after 4:30 p.m., more than 1,540 people had already signed the petition.
“Schools start in one month,” Biggs added. “Our schools cannot open and run with these current budgets. This is no time to prioritize a stadium for DePaul or a move for Vienna Beef over our children’s education.”
Protestors also rallied outside the Chicago Board of Education’s meeting today regarding the budget cuts.
In a statement today, CPS said its proposed operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year includes some $700 million in one-time reserves, as well as a $112 million reduction in central office and other administrative costs to help tackle its deficit. CPS maintains its $405 million pension payment is driving the budget deficit.
Council approves $500 million Wrigley Field project
The city council unanimously approved the $500 million Wrigley Field renovation project, which includes a revamp of the ballpark and a new hotel across the street from the ballpark.
In an emotional speech, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said the proposed project has been “trying” on his community. But he thanked the Ricketts family for pledging to invest in the ballpark and the community, because that’s something the Tribune Company had not done when it controlled the iconic field, the alderman said.
Tunney added, “It’s a big day for the city of Chicago” because Lakeview and the city came out wearing “the bigger pants.” Emanuel praised Tunney and called him a “tireless advocate” who ensured his constituents’ interests were brought to the table. According to the mayor, Tunney helped lock in 44 items in the overall proposal, such as safety, traffic and parking plans. Emanuel also stressed that “not one single taxpayer dollar” is being used for the project.
Cubs officials made some concessions to satisfy a number of the concerns plaguing alderman and area residents, including differing the proposed pedestrian bridge over Clark Street indefinitely. There will also be a 10-year moratorium on any new outfield signs beyond the already approved Jumbotron in left field and an advertising sign in right field. Talks involving moving the proposed hotel’s entrance off Patterson Avenue will also continue.
Later in his speech, Tunney said the team has to “be a good neighbor,” otherwise he is going to be “up (the Ricketts’) butt every day” making sure the various commitments are met.
Aldermen to Obama: Stop deportations
The city council approved a resolution put forth by the council’s Latino caucus that calls on President Barack Obama to put a moratorium on deportations until a comprehensive immigration reform bill is signed into law.
“This country is based on immigrant values and we must uphold those values, and that’s the message to President Obama,” Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said in remarks before the council meeting.
Dozens of community groups, residents and faith-based leaders gathered with the caucus members before the meeting to support the resolution.
Ahlam Jbara with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) said the group wants Obama to use his executive power to stop deportations immediately. She said the president should put the needs of the people first before politics.
“Stop tearing apart our families,” she added.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said it shows a “lack of respect” that the president has not exercised his power “with the stroke of a pen” to stop deportations until immigration reform passes.
“He can do that,” Maldonado said. “He has refused to do that”
Other council news
Alds. Ed Burke (14th) and Will Burns (4th) introduced a resolution that will allow the finance committee to hold hearings examining the issue of payroll debit cards. Many major companies use these prepaid cards to pay their employees with instead of a paper check or direct deposit. The payroll debit cards are gaining popularity, but they often slap employees with unexpected fees.
“Workers have a right to see a list of all of the fees associated with such debit cards,” Burke said.
State Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago) was also sworn in to take over her retiring father’s 33rd Ward seat. Former Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) announced earlier this month that he was retiring after serving on the city council for 38 years. Aldermen took the start of the meeting to welcome Deb Mell to the council. She said she was “honored and humbled” to be part of the council.
“I think my father probably speaks a little longer than I do, so I suspect our council meetings are going to be a little shorter,” she said.
Tunney offered the new alderman a piece of advice: “Please do not jump on your desk.” (Back in 1987, Dick Mell famously jumped on his desk and yelled at his fellow aldermen for recognition in a raucous and divided council meeting following the death of Mayor Harold Washington.)
Mell will serve out the rest of her father’s council term, which ends in 2015.