Friday, May 24, 2013

Rahm Emmanuel is a Cartoon Villan

I'm kind of amazed he can propose these two things just about simultaneously while keeping a straight face. The Chicago Reader does a good job of summarizing the situation:

When I heard that Mayor Emanuel intends to spend $55 million of your property tax dollars to build a hotel and basketball arena on the near-south side, I thought it must be a cruel joke he's playing on the people of Chicago.

Sort of like the way a sadistic little boy will pull the wings off a fly—just because he can.

Let's start with the mayor's timing. His grandiose announcement came about a week before the May 22 meeting at which his school board appointees are expected to vote on closing 54 schools.

The closings have been opposed by students, parents, teachers, and, in a number of instances, the Chicago Public Schools' own hearing officers. These opponents consider the plan wasteful, hasty, unwise, counterproductive, and dangerous. Other than that, it's great.

As I write, protesters have taken to the streets in the hopes that angry demonstrations will accomplish what crying, begging, pleading, and reasonable argument haven't: convince the mayor to change his mind.

So far, no luck. The mayor says he has to close the schools because the city's too broke to keep them open. Tough times requiring tough measures, and all that.

Of course, as broke as we are, there's still $55 million lying around to buy up some land and hand it over to private entities that don't need it.

Because there's the kind of broke that means we don't have any money for schools, and there's the kind that means we don't have money to subsidize the rich and powerful. We haven't come close to reaching that second kind of broke—and probably never will, so long as this mayor's in charge.

The $55 million will come from tax increment financing districts near McCormick Place. That gives me a chance to discuss a topic I love almost as much as Derrick Rose's left knee—the great scam known as the city's TIF program.

At its essence—if I give it the best possible spin—the TIF program lets the mayor take property tax dollars from the schools, parks, and county in order to invest the money in projects that he hopes will someday generate even more property tax dollars.

Think of it like pulling ten bucks out of your paycheck and investing it in Starbucks stock. In several years, if all goes well, your $10 may have grown into $100. Incidentally, if you do this several thousand times over, you might get wealthy enough to become one of the few people the mayor makes time to meet with—unlike, for example, everyone else who lives in Chicago.

In the case at hand, Mayor Emanuel has decided to take the $55 million and buy some property on which he'll build the aforementioned hotel and basketball arena.

But once the city owns it, this land will move off the property tax rolls because publicly held property is exempt. So instead of investing your property tax dollars in developments that create more property tax dollars, Mayor Emanuel has decided to invest them in a scheme that will yield no property tax dollars whatsoever. Think of it as spending $55 million to lose money.

Just so you know, the land in question, near the intersection of Cermak and Prairie, is not blighted property that no one wants. Which, by law, is what TIF funds are supposed to be invested in.

And even before the mayor announced a TIF handout, developers were already over there clamoring to build things like hotels and retail and tech centers. In other words, had Mayor Emanuel just stayed out of the way, the area would have boomed on its own, bringing in more money for the schools, parks, and county.
The funny part about Rahm is that he really has this warped political view where he thinks this will be a positive for him in the long run. I remember hearing stories about how he would tell freshmen members that going against unions is actually a positive if you own the fight. I haven't seen the polling on this school closing fight, but considering Chicago's support of the teachers during their strike  I'm guessing he's on the wrong side of public perception in this fight as well.

And beyond the polling and such, what type of monster proposes the largest mass school closure in US history AT THE EXACT SAME TIME he is proposing using that money to fund a private college's basketball arena? That is some seriously depraved shit.

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