A group of Chicago aldermen proposed a package of ordinances Wednesday to generate revenue for the city's cash-strapped public schools.
The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district has a $300 million budget gap, and schools are reportedly facing a 7 percent funding cut in the upcoming academic year.
"We've received some money from the state, but it's just not enough," Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said at a press conference before the council meeting with fellow aldermen, the Chicago Teachers Union and other education advocates.
"We need to find more progressive and more viable solutions to increase revenue so that all of our schools can be adequately financed, so that we can give quality teachers an opportunity to teach in our schools," he continued. "When I had a conversation with a principal yesterday, she was perplexed that she could not hire a 20-plus year veteran school teacher because she could not afford it. That's not right."
Chirag Mehta is a CPS parent from Agassiz Elementary School on the North Side.
"Contrary to CPS' claims that the budget that they sent us would not result in cuts, what we're now finding is that the new budget released by CPS is going to amount to a 7 percent budget cut, which only continues the trend of balancing this budget on the backs of school children and teachers," he said.
Sawyer and Alds. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), George Cardenas (12th), Matt O'Shea (19th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) introduced the revenue package, which saw support from about a dozen total aldermen at this morning's press conference.
The proposed ordinances seek to stave off school budget cuts by:
***Redirecting an estimated $150 million in surplus funds from the city's tax increment financing (TIF) program to CPS.
***Reinstating and increasing the employee "head tax" for larger companies to produce $94 million in new revenue.
***Increasing the personal property lease tax to generate $35 million for CPS.
"If we cannot invest in our children's future, we are nothing as a society," Sadlowski Garza stressed. "Education is the key to our future. We need to stop giving money to corporations, and we need to start giving that money back to our schools."
The mayor's office provided the following statement to Progress Illinois:
While TIF funds allow for important neighborhood, infrastructure and school investments in our communities, the administration also believes these investments should be coupled with an aggressive TIF surplus policy. That's why the city has made several reforms and surplused nearly $700 million since 2011, with more than half of that going to Chicago Public Schools. TIF surplus is a one-time revenue source, and the administration will continue to provide TIF surplus revenue to CPS and other taxing districts, but we will also not stop working towards sustainable funding solutions for CPS, with all stakeholders doing their part.
Property Tax Rebate Plan Clears Council
During Wednesday's city council meeting, aldermen approved a revised property tax rebate program to give homeowners some relief from the city's record property tax hike.
Approximately 155,000 households with incomes less than $75,000 will be eligible for a property tax rebate of up to $200. Also under the plan, seniors will get a $150 rebate if they have experienced at least a 30 percent increase this year in the assessed value of their homes.
An "extraordinary hardship" clause is now included in the property tax rebate plan, allowing extra protection for certain homeowners with annual incomes up to $50,000.
The city plans to pay for the $20 million property tax rebate program with transfer taxes generated when the privately owned Skyway was sold to Canadian pension funds in November.
The rebate proposal follows the $589 million property tax hike the council approved last year to pay for police and fire pensions and school construction.
Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st) was among the aldermen who proposed a property tax relief plan in light of the massive property tax hike.
"It's not as robust as the ordinance that I introduced, but it is a good and decent step for us to try to get some relief for those in our communities that are going to be impacted mostly by this property tax increase," Moreno said of the new measure.
"We all know that a homeowners exemption from Springfield would have been a better option," he continued. "Springfield is not acting on almost anything, and so we have the power to do a rebate, not an exemption."
Ramirez-Rosa released a comment on the property tax rebate plan after the vote:
Today's passage of the mayor's property tax rebate program is a big win for working class Chicago homeowners and council progressives. For eight months, I have worked with the Mayor's office, Budget Director Holt, and my city council colleagues to ensure that we pass a progressive property tax rebate program to help working Chicagoans. I'm proud to have been part of this effort to win this progressive property tax rebate program, but my work is far from over. I will continue to fight for property tax relief that benefits working class renters, and work to ensure that every eligible homeowner applies for their rebate by the December 31, 2016 deadline."
Seventy-two percent of my ward's homeowners are eligible for this property tax relief program, and I want to make sure every one of those homeowners applies for their rebate. In the coming months, I will host workshops throughout my ward - in English, Spanish, and Polish - to assist homeowners with their rebate application.
Three Police Settlements Approved
Three settlements totaling $4.75 million related to cases of alleged Chicago police misconduct were also approved Wednesday.
A settlement of $3.75 million involves the March 2013 fatal Chicago police shooting of Esau Castellanos. Police initially claimed Castellanos fired at them after a car chase on the Northwest Side, though no gun was recovered at the scene.
The city will also provide a $550,000 settlement to Chicago firefighter Robert Cook, who alleged police beat him during an illegal home invasion in 2002. One of the officers involved in the incident was Jerome Finnigan, a former member of the Chicago Police Department's now-disbanded Special Operation Sector. Finnigan led a group of corrupt Chicago police officers and is currently serving a 12 year prison sentence for a murder-for-hire plan against a fellow cop.
The third settlement of $425,000 will go to Gentila Mitchell, whose two children were injured after a car being pursued by the Chicago police crashed on the South Side.
Third Ballot Question Advances
By a 39-8 vote, the Chicago City Council approved a third advisory voter question for the November ballot.
The referendum, proposed by Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), is about infrastructure spending. It asks: "Should the city of Chicago work with the federal government and the state to prioritize significant new investments in important infrastructure like roads, bridges, public transportation, river and lakefront redevelopment and additional green space?"
The eight "no" votes came from Alds. Ramirez-Rosa, Sadlowski Garza, Sophia King (4th), David Moore (17th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Anthony Napolitano (41st).
Only three citywide referendums can appear on the ballot at one time. As such, a union-backed advisory referendum about creating an "Independent Airport Authority" has now been crowded off the November ballot.
Members of the council's Progressive Reform Caucus introduced the airport advisory referendum with the support of SEIU* Local 1.
The Chicago Aviation Department opposed the idea, and the mayor's council allies worked to keep the question off the ballot.
The two other questions set for the November ballot focus on school funding as well as gun background checks and penalties for illegal gun trafficking.
Other Approvals, Introductions
Aldermen also greenlighted ordinances to provide greater protections for coyotes, increase the fines for multi-unit buildings that don't recycle and eliminate the $30 fee for police and fire department entry exams.
As for introduced legislation, Ramirez-Rosa submitted an ordinance to establish an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council in the city, while Sadlowski Garza put forward a resolution calling on the Illinois Congressional Delegation to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.