CITY HALL — A powerful alderman blocked a measure Tuesday that would have encouraged the city to appropriate emergency funding to Chicago Public Schools.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), lead sponsor of the Tax Increment Financing Surplus Action Resolution, wants the city to weed out "surplus" TIF funds and redistribute them to taxing bodies, with about half going to CPS, which recently declared $100 million in midyear cuts to address a budget shortfall. Some 34 aldermen have signed on in support.
Yet Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee assigned the measure, abruptly and almost by caveat sent it to the Finance Committee at a hearing Tuesday.
Austin declared it moved to Finance and at first tried to ignore Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) as he called for a vote on the action. When Munoz finally was granted the floor, he called for a roll-call vote.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) immediately called for the vote to be tabled, even as Munoz objected that a roll call can't be tabled.
"Parents want a vote!" chanted members of the audience in the gallery, many of them from the grassroots education group Raise Your Hand, which backs using TIF funds to address the $100 million shortfall at CPS.
Beale's tabling measure passed by a narrow 10-9 vote. Austin and Aldermen Jason Ervin (28th), Brian Hopkins (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Derrick Curtis (18th), Willie Cochran (20th), Emma Mitts (37th), Margaret Laurino (39th) and Joe Moore (49th) joined Beale in voting for the roll call to be tabled.
Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th), Marty Quinn (13th), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Deb Mell (33rd), Brendan Reilly (42nd), Tom Tunney (44th) and Debra Silverstein (50th) joined Munoz in voting against the tabling measure and, in effect, in support of the resolution.
"This is just an old-school stalling tactic," said Ramirez-Rosa, who is not a voting member of the Budget Committee. Still, he acknowledged that "this has started the conversation."
"I don't know what that means, 'an old-school stalling tactic,'" Austin responded after the meeting. "I sent it to Finance where it belongs," she added, insisting her committee does not deal with TIFs.
TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.
"On the same day our principals are getting their budgets slashed, the head of the Budget Committee along with a few colleagues blocked democracy and immediate funding for our schools," said Wendy Katten, executive director of Raise Your Hand. "This City Council failed the public by allowing CPS to borrow over $700 million at exorbitant rates when there was cash available to use for the short term."
Ramirez-Rosa said he was "very disappointed" by the maneuver, and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had signaled acceptance of the resolution, as Budget Director Alexandra Holt was prepared to testify on the estimated $1.4 billion balance in TIF accounts before the measure was derailed.
"Despite today’s delay there is nothing preventing Mayor Emanuel from beginning the process of structuring a TIF surplus that can be voted on in March," Ramirez-Rosa said. "Gov. [Bruce] Rauner has made it clear that he will not act to protect our schools and our children. As a city, it is our responsibility to protect our children from dangerous layoffs and cuts by taking TIF surplus action and moving some of the $1.38 billion TIF balance to our schools.
"We cannot play politics with our children’s future," Ramirez-Rosa said.
Earlier, aldermen and activists rallied support for the resolution.
"We have to do everything possible to alleviate this crisis" at CPS, Ramirez-Rosa said. He called using TIF funds "not a cure-all," but "a stop-gap."
Ramirez-Rosa laid the crisis on "a madman in the governor's mansion" in Springfield, adding that Rauner "is holding the state hostage" over what Ramirez-Rosa labeled his "crazy turnaround agenda."
"We cannot afford any more cuts at our schools across Chicago," said Joy Clendenning, a Raise Your Hand member and parent at Kenwood High School. "This is our tax dollars, and our children need this money now."
"We know this is a short-term solution, but we need a short-term infusion of cash," said Brenda Delgado of Raise Your Hand.
The vote effectively ended the Budget Committee meeting, even as Raise Your Hand members chanted, "Shame on you!"
Saying it was "noble" of individual aldermen like Ameya Pawar (47th) to disavow TIFs and suggest sending the surpluses to CPS, Ramirez-Rosa emphasized that it was up to the City Council to determine how to redistribute the money, and that his resolution only reflected the desire of the council to act on TIFs.
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