Citing a $1 billion budget deficit, Chicago Public Schools will lay off more than 2,000 employees, more than 1,000 of them teachers, the district said Thursday night.While Mayor Rahm Emanuel insists there's no money for the schools, he's planning to use $55 million in taxpayer funds for a new basketball arena for DePaul University (a private Catholic university) and a new hotel. If that sounds bad, it's actually worse. The theory of the Tax Increment Funding program is that property tax money is taken from schools and public services and invested in things that will improve the city's tax base. But:
About half of the 1,036 teachers being let go are tenured. The latest layoffs, which also include 1,077 school staff members, are in addition to 855 employees — including 420 teachers — who were laid off last month as a result of the district's decision to close 49 elementary schools and a high school program.
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.If Rahm Emanuel values something—a stadium, a hotel, a hot dog factory—he miraculously finds that Chicago has money for it. Public schools? It couldn't be clearer how little value Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools management place on those.
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.