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Emanuel: CPS can’t ‘TIF their way out’ of crisis

Updated: August 26, 2013 4:15PM

The Chicago Public Schools “can’t tax or TIF their way out” of a budget crisis caused by a $400 million increase in teacher pension payments, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday, rejecting demands that he declare a TIF surplus to reverse some of the 3,000 school layoffs.

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus has introduced an ordinance mandating that Chicago’s 165 tax-increment financing districts be scoured for surplus funds that would be used to reverse some of the teacher layoffs, which, the alderman claim, threaten to make a mockery of Emanuel’s vaunted longer school day.

But Emanuel made it clear that the ordinance was going nowhere. He argued that it would only postpone the day of reckoning.

“In 2010, there was a pension holiday. In 2011, there was a sweep of the TIFs. All the while, costs for the pension rose. You cannot either tax your way or TIF your way out of this problem. It’s a structural problem that needs to be addressed in a structural way, which is why we need pension reform,” he said.

In the closing days of the spring session, Emanuel tried and failed to persuade the General Assembly to ease the $400 million increase in teacher pension payments bearing down on CPS.

The rejected bill would have extended for two more years a pension “holiday” that allowed CPS to pay just $196 million into the teachers retirement fund this year.

Those annual payments are scheduled to balloon to more than $612 million next year. But the failed bill would have eased those obligations — to $350 million next year and $500 million in 2015.

“Next year, it goes up by another $20 million to $30 million. . . . That means you have to fundamentally do what has not been done before: Address the problem and fix it. . . . This problem will recur and recur each year until you solve it,” Emanuel said.

“You have to deal with this problem so . . . we’re done . . . being able to give our teachers the security of retirement, which they do not have, give our taxpayers the certainty they deserve, knowing what they can afford and the ability of our education system to get focused.”

Under pressure from aldermen, former Mayor Richard M. Daley declared a $187 million TIF surplus, generating $90 million for the Chicago Public Schools.

If Emanuel did the same again this year, it could easily generate “tens of millions” for cash-strapped schools, the Progressive Caucus has claimed.

“The public sentiment citywide is, ‘Stop doing what you’re doing.’ Reverse the layoffs of these teachers so that their kids have gym teachers, they have math teachers and they have art teachers,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said this week.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said Emanuel championed his vaunted longer school day as a vehicle to “enrich” the school curriculum and guarantee students the art and music that “leads to better outcomes” for kids.

“To walk back from that, say, ‘Give ’em [a longer] day, but less programming’ and not have the experienced teachers there to execute it — we really have to look at what are our priorities,” Arena said.

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