At the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, I must say the sight of Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson and Father Michael Pfleger walking arm in arm down the Dan Ryan at last weekend’s protest march left me with a tinge of hope about the future of Chicago.
Oh God, I feel really naive just writing that.
Yes, I realize Johnson was at the march only at Rahm’s permission.
And of course, I understand that Father Pfleger has generally been an ally to Emanuel, as he was to Mayor Daley—despite the major roles both have played in perpetuating the economic inequities Pfleger denounces.
But as long as Johnson and Pfleger are united in demanding that something must change to lessen the inequities in this town, I’m eager to join the chorus.
So allow me to direct them to the giant cookie jar the mayor doesn’t want any of us to know even exists.
It’s called the tax increment financing program, and each year upwards of $500 million or so of property tax dollars pours into it. Last year, the take was $566 million. The county has’nt itemized this year’s TIF take yet.
Basically, state law allows the mayor to slap a surcharge on the property tax we pay for things we want—like schools and cops. And then that money gets diverted into bank accounts controlled by the mayor, who’s pretty much free to spend it on things we might not want.
One of the worst parts of the TIF scam is that the money is not evenly distributed ward by ward. Instead, most of the money goes to gentrifying communities, even though the program was intended to eradicate blight in low-income communities.
For example, there’s the North Branch South TIF district near North Avenue and the Chicago River—in one of the hottest areas of town, where Jeff Bezos is thinking of moving his second Amazon headquarters.
Since it was created in 1998, it’s gathered about $89 million in property tax money.
In contrast, there’s the 79th Street Corridor TIF, which was also created in 1998. Pfleger’s church, Saint Sabina, happens to be located in that TIF district. It’s gathered about $12.7 million.
So let’s get this straight. In the same 20 years, the booming north-side community has collected $89 million and the struggling south-side neighborhood has collected $12.7 million in TIF dollars.
In what universe is that fair, just, or right?
Pfleger’s community isn’t the only victim of the TIF scam. TIF dollars are diverted from all Chicago’s schools, parks, libraries, and police.
I tend to focus on how schools have been shortchanged by the TIF program. But the police department could also use some of that money.
Wednesday’s Sun-Times had a somber story by Fran Spielman about Brandon Krueger, a 36-year-old police officer who committed suicide last Sunday while sitting in his squad car in the parking lot of the Calumet District station.
“Officers have very high rates of exposure to trauma similar to the communities in which they serve,” Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Sun-Times. “You wear your vest. You carry your weapon. You make sure you go home at the end of the night. We do everything to mitigate physical injury to our law enforcement. We have to do the same for their mental wellness.”
And yet, according to the Sun-Times, the CPD’s “employee assistance program has only three full-time counselors to provide mental health services to 13,500 employees and their families.”
You could hire a whole lot of police counselors with just a little of the TIF cash that flows into the one north-side district.
Just to remind you, Mayor Rahm infamously closed mental health clinics in low-income, high-crime areas as part of his infamous budget, unanimously approved by the City Council in 2011.
There wasn’t enough money to keep the clinics open, the mayor said.
Apparently, black people have more in common with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods than anyone realized.