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Rauner Slams Rahm For Using TIF Funds On Batting Cage, But Not To Help CPS

By Heather Cherone | March 10, 2017 12:09pm | Updated on March 13, 2017 8:49am
 The batting cage will be situated in Humboldt Park at Division Street and Kedzie Avenue.
The batting cage will be situated in Humboldt Park at Division Street and Kedzie Avenue.
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HUMBOLDT PARK — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel for agreeing to use $325,000 in tax increment financing funds to build a batting cage in Humboldt Park — but not to fill the massive budget gap facing Chicago Public Schools.

In an interview on WBEZ Friday morning, Rauner said the plan for the Chicago Park District facility at Division Street and Kedzie Avenue was "lovely" but suggested the mayor should re-evaluate his priorities.

"Batting cages are good, but you know what? Our teachers need that money, and our kids need that money," Rauner said. 

The governor said that Chicago's TIF accounts have more than $1 billion in them.

Emanuel has rejected that proposal, calling it "half-baked" and unfair to Chicago taxpayers.

"This is the governor doing what he does best, blaming everyone else for the problems he's created," said Adam Collins, a spokesman for Emanuel. "The mayor is proud to invest in a recreation center for children on the West Side of Chicago."

Rauner made the TIF proposal just hours before Grammy Award winner Chance the Rapper held a news conference Monday at a Chatham elementary school to announce he would give $1 million to Chicago's schools and blasted the governor for his role in the crisis engulfing Chicago's schools.

Rauner said on WBEZ that he had hoped Chance would "stand with" him after the two met March 3 and urge Emanuel to use TIF funds to solve the crisis.

Instead, the musician said he told Rauner to “take our kids off the table” and "do your job."

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.

The City Council has the final say on how TIF money is spent. With the mayor's support, the funding for the batting cage is expected to be approved by the Council later this month.

"Frankly, nothing develops a community like excellent public schools," Rauner said. "We could put some of that money into CPS right now."

The Chicago Teachers Union also has proposed using money from TIF districts — along with taxing corporations — to solve the school's fiscal crisis.

In October, Emanuel agreed to use $88 million from the city's TIF districts to avert a strike by the teachers union.

But Emanuel long has resisted using TIF funds to bolster the public schools budget, saying that it was inappropriate to use money from a one-time revenue source to pay for school operations.

The fiscal crisis for CPS began in November, when Rauner vetoed a bill that would have given Chicago schools an additional $215 million to help cover CPS pension obligations.

Rauner blamed Illinois Senate President John Cullerton for violating a compromise signed last June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised more money for Chicago schools in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor. 

But Rauner contends there was no reform, and in a message to legislators in December, he said he refused to sign a school-funding bill because it would amount to a "bailout" for CPS.

Cullerton denied breaking the agreement and said he was willing to continue working on pension reform with the governor.

CPS must pay its employees' pension fund $721 million by June 30.

In February, five families sued the state on behalf of CPS, claiming that the state has violated the civil rights of their children by giving Chicago's public schools less funding than other school districts. CPS lawyers have said they will make a final decision on May 1 on when the school year will end.

Unless Chicago's schools get more state money, CPS officials have said they will end school June 1 instead of June 20 to save $91 million. CPS would save another $5 million by canceling summer school for all students except those in high school, officials said.

Even with more state money, CPS will "have to borrow hundreds of millions" to pay its bills, according to the court filing.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool declined to say how much CPS would have to borrow.

In January, Claypool ordered four unpaid furlough days for all CPS employees to save $35 million. He also canceled professional development events for CPS central office staff to save $5 million and slashed charter school budgets by $15 million by the end of the year, officials said.

In February, Claypool cut another $31 million by freezing a portion of schools' discretionary funds, which can be used to buy textbooks and technology and pay for after-school programs, field trips and hourly staff.

Those cuts have whittled the deficit to $129 million, officials said.