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Emanuel Blames CPS Budget Woes On Pensions, Conveniently Ignores TIFs

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 26, 2013 8:20PM

Photo by: Patrick Pyszka

Mayor Emanuel found a convenient scapegoat for the budget woes facing Chicago Public Schools that has parents and teachers in an uproar—the Illinois Legislature’s failure to reach an agreement on pension reform.

Emanuel told the Sun-Times and DNAInfo Chicago he did what he could to lobby for pension reform, but Springfield just would listen. Per the Sun-Times:

“I went to Springfield [in May, 2012] and I said, `If we don’t reform our pension, there are gonna be some very difficult choices to be made. I warned everybody….I said, `This is a critical decision.’ …[Lawmakers said], `Not now. We won’t deal with this.’ Small problems became big problems. When we all debate the choices around pensions, that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The mayor said years of inaction have resulted in 45 percent of the Board of Education’s stated $1 billion shortfall is tied to pension payments. (Chicago magazine’s Whet Moser has a good breakdown of the underfunded teachers’ pensions here.)

We wrote about this last week and we’ll repeat it now: While the state’s Gordian Knot of a pension problem is certainly a contributing factor, it isn't the only one. Emanuel failed to address TIF reform as a possible solution to filling the deficit. The school system has been slowly starved over the years from tax dollars being diverted away to be spent at the will of the Mayor’s office, like building a Grossinger autoplex, or tax breaks for big box retailers, or anything besides the schools.

The TIF districts divert nearly $225 million a year in tax revenue from public schools. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley declared a TIF surplus three years ago, providing an influx of nearly $100 million to the school system. And there is a growing chorus of residents calling their aldermen to pressure Emanuel to do the same.