Protesting another TIF theft in Chicago

Gabriel Paez reports from Chicago on a protest against the looting of more money from the city's schools and other services to pay for a fancier tourist attraction.

Students, teachers and community members demand increased funding for Chicago schools (Grassroots Collaborative | Facebook)Students, teachers and community members demand increased funding for Chicago schools (Grassroots Collaborative | Facebook)

CHICAGO MAYOR Rahm Emanuel and his corporate collaborators have made a troubling yet honest statement with their latest money-laundering scheme: New hot dog stands and a taller Ferris wheel at Navy Pier are more important than our children's education.

An investigation by the Better Government Association and Crain's Chicago Business found that Emanuel funneled $55 million from a tax fund that is supposed to be devoted to used for renovating blighted areas to renovations at Navy Pier, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, located in one of the richest area of Chicago.

The Chicago Public Schools will begin yet another year this September with deep cuts in essential services, continuing a long legacy of underfunding schools that mainly serve poor children of color.

But it seems like Rahm Emanuel would rather fund new shiny toilets for tourists than fix schools for poor and working-class residents.

On July 24, nearly 100 people gathered in front of the Pier, chanting "Whose money? Our money! Whose schools? Our schools!" The protest and press conference was organized jointly by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Grassroots Collective, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Logan Square Neighborhood Association and several other organizations.

Several speakers, including two aldermen, challenged the mayor's financial shenanigans and demanded a full return of all TIF funds, with the money to go directly into the embattled CPS system.

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EMANUEL'S "ELABORATE financial shell game," as Crain's put it, to deliver tens of millions of dollars to Navy Pier is outrageous even by the standards of U.S. politicians.

Essentially, Emanuel dipped into the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program--a slush fund, controlled entirely by the mayor, of tax revenues siphoned off from paying for schools and other services.

TIF money is supposed to be used to promote development in "blighted" or underserved neighborhoods of the city, but both Emanuel and his predecessor, Richard Daley, found ways to funnel money to some of the richest companies and developers in the city.

The TIF program has been a scandal in plain sight for years, but in the case of the Navy Pier scam, there was another twist to the story: The TIF money was originally earmarked for the construction of a hotel connected to the city's main convention center on the Near South Side, near the poor Bronzeville neighborhood--but the city agency that took the cash then funneled it to Pier renovations.

Thus, TIF funds ended up going to a construction project in one of the most obviously non-blighted areas of the city.

The CTU and supporters of public education have been pointing for years at the TIF slush fund as the source of money to fix the crumbling Chicago Public Schools system and restore all the cuts that have taken place under Emanuel's reign and before.

In last year's contract battle with the CTU, Emanuel caved at the threat of another strike and agreed to dip into the TIF fund to meet the demands of teachers for better schools and a decent contract.

But he has kept the pressure on since, and the Navy Pier scam is clear evidence that he, his unelected School Board and his corporate collaborators oppose well-funded schools. They are part of a national neoliberal education reform project that would put an end to public schooling as we know it.

We know that with every education cut, children pay with their lives on the streets of Chicago. Only struggle and organization can challenge the mayor's attacks and put forward an alternative vision of quality free education for all children.