Chicago News spoke with Tom Tresser of the TIF Illumination Project and the author of Chicago Is Not Broke. His people contacted our paper and asked how could the Chicago City Council unanimously pass this year’s budget. Unlike last year, this year’s $8.2 billion budget passed with not one no vote. Property tax hikes and increased fees will hit the people hard. But was this necessary? Is Chicago really broke?
Chicago News: What do you think about the city’s recent $8.2 billion budget that passed the City Council unanimously?
Tom Tresser: There was virtually no debate. So the idea that Chicago is not broke does not penetrate any of the aldermen. We organized 30 meetings that about 500 people attended. We debated with the citizens the $6 billion in revenue discussed in the book and none of this was discussed by the aldermen.
CN: What specifically about the budget you did you not like?
TT: A quarter of a billion dollars, about $240 million in fees over four years for water and sewer. They’re taking money from people who cannot afford it. So it’s not fair. Why can’t this be discussed and debated?
CN: Wasn’t there public hearings on this year’s city budget?
TT: We had many discussions. But where were the public forums? The only one I was aware of was at Malcolm X College a couple of weeks ago and only about 60 people showed up. You remember last year’s 2016 budget public hearing was at the South Shore Culture Center and the people there stormed the stage and chased the Mayor out. There were about 200 people and you had two minutes to speak. They had their budget director and finance directors give a 50-minute presentation. There is no real debate.
CN: What happened on the vote for last year’s budget?
TT: Last year there were 15 no votes for the 2016 budget, the most ever in history. You got to ask the aldermen about that. I have no idea – it’s pathetic.
CN: Anything else you disliked about this year’s budget?
TT: There’s about a billion in property tax increases plus $400 million in regressive fees which is unfair. For example, the soda pop tax, now that’s really sticking it to the working class. The red light cameras should be torn down.
CN: Have any aldermen read your book?
TT: Twenty two aldermen have received it. The League of Women Voters and myself delivered the book to the aldermen in the progressive caucus.
CN: How was the mayor able to pull off a unanimous vote for his budget?
TT: They made political deals. He was getting them to pass things piece meal. I guess he convinced them that it’s a good budget. Remember the mayor has a Super PAC that goes after aldermen on his radar. People have to look out for their necks. If you’re only two or three in the opposition, he’ll go after you. I don’t know.
CN: Ald. Carlos Rosa warned about a private-public venture in which the city would spend up to $100 million that private investors would match or increase, however, with no guarantee that it will be spent in blighted areas and could in fact go toward wealthier parts of the city, just like the TIFs. What do you know about this?
TT: The thing you have to know about partnering with private capital is that private money is always looking for a profit. Their investors want a return. So what is the city giving up in the deal. It sounds like another slush fund that the mayor can control, but nothing is known yet.
CN: Do you have any upcoming events?
TT: The TIF Illumination Project has had 68 meetings. Over 350 people have learned about Chicago civics. People want to know this stuff, but we don’t have the money. We are planning a public hearing January 21 at Malcolm X College to talk about the future of this city.
For more information and to order a copy of the book ‘Chicago Is Not Broke’, go to www.WeAreNotBroke.org
By Jim Vail