By Mark Weyermuller -
Another day, another protest. In Chicago, somebody is always complaining about something. Tuesday it was the Chicago Teachers Union. They were complaining about $55 million dollars that Mayor Rahm Emanuel used to renovate the food court at Navy Pier. The group displayed "golden hot dogs" as a symbol of the project.
Navy Pier's food court was renovated with TIF money. Tax Increment Financing is a special funding tool used by the City of Chicago to promote public and private investment across the city. The protests claim that Emanuel is "laundering" that money to Navy Pier rather than blighted neighborhoods of Chicago. Navy Pier is considered the largest tourist attraction in Illinois. The protesters referred to it several times as a "tourist trap" in their talking points.
The group appeared to be mostly union teachers but also joined by some community groups, CPS students, and four Chicago Alderman.
The Chicago Tribune has reported serious drops in enrollment between 11,000 to 14,000 less students two years ago. Based in these numbers many more schools should close and consolidate. There should also be a hiring freeze and perhaps more layoffs.
The year before they reported a drop of 4400 students. These numbers are misleading as numbers released by CPS are often questioned. They make a big push on the first day of school to build numbers but as the year progresses the exact numbers as the year goes on are hard to obtain. Bottom line is enrollment is decreasing as families leave Chicago.
Last week, the Better Government Association and Crain’s Chicago Business revealed after their investigation the dollar-for-dollar shift of the TIF money from McCormick Place to the pier. The teachers want that money. In addition, they want the employee head office tax along with a financial transaction tax on stock trades. Most agree these taxes would kill business and create more job losses. The city's residents are suffering from the state income tax increase, huge property taxes, the bag tax, and Cook County's pending soda pop tax.
I asked during the press conference why the schools need more money with the declining enrollment. My question was not answered and no other media outlets covered this aspect of the story. With the huge declines in enrollment, there have been no decreases in escalating property taxes. In addition, no mention was made about the unsustainable Chicago teacher pension which is bankrupting the city and the state.
There always seems to be controversy of TIF money especially with government picking winners and losers. Teachers can bring out golden hot dogs, but it does little to improve education and nothing to freeze or lower property taxes.