The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Gov. Rauner Teases CPS Funding Path: Just Sell The Thompson Center

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 5, 2017 8:04PM


Controversy seems to forever swirl around Gov. Bruce Rauner in terms of Chicago Public Schools funding—or lack thereof. So it was a decidedly bold (some might say cynical) move when the governor used CPS funds as something of a bargaining chip to push the sale of his despised Thompson Center on Friday.

Rauner and Illinois Republicans on Friday put forth a bill that would allocate property taxes raised from redevelopment of the Thompson Center site straight to funding CPS. Given the paltry state of the districts coffers, it's quite the, shall we say, aggressive maneuver.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel—the target, along with Speaker Michael Madigan, of Rauner's high-pressure selling tactic—had another phrase, calling it a "political stunt" intended "to distract from his own failure to fund education fairly," according to the Sun-Times and the Tribune.

"Suddenly he's interested in funding CPS? That's rich," sneered mayoral spokesman Adam Collins, via Crain's.

Rauner of course was responsible for the uber-contentious veto of a proposal that would have sent $215 million to Chicago Public Schools. There's also the fact that the state was sued for discriminatory education funding practices—although a judge tossed the suit, while still expressing sympathy for the district's very real predicament.

With plenty of flair for the dramatic, Rauner put his CPS chips on the table from within the very belly of the postmodern beast itself, at a press conference inside the mechanical room of the Thompson Center, to underline the state-owned building's high heating and cooling costs.

Rauner and proponents of a Thompson Center sale claim that it would rake in $45 million every year in property taxes. But not everyone is convinced of those calculations.

Alex Holt, the City of Chicago’s budget director, said via Politico that Rauner's bold property tax claims are inaccurate:

“The Rauner administration's argument that the city will collect $45M in property taxes from this land - ‘in perpetuity’ - is inaccurate.

1) Only 20% of property tax revenues come to the city. So for the city to net $45M, the property's total tax bill would have to be over $200M a year. That's almost 10 times the annual property tax payments from the Willis Tower.

2) The city would see no additional property tax revenue, because the city's property tax levy is a set figure. $45M in property taxes on this building wouldn't mean $45M more for the city, it would mean that all other owners in Chicago would pay less. The city won’t see that money unless we increase our property levy.”

Ahead of Rauner's offer on Friday, Emanuel had had the previous last word. Earlier this week he sought guarantees that the city would not be left holding the bill as far as the CTA station near the Thompson Center, specifically the Clark/Lake multi-line hub.

The very expensive to operate but beloved-by-architecture-preservationists Thompson Center led this year's list of the states' most endangered historic sites. Landmark Illinois, who created the list, said it would support a sale only if it includes reuse options.

As for CPS funding, well, we're probably gonna need a real budget at some point for that. Not even Chance the Rapper can do it all.