For the second time in a month, a widely-sponsored City Council ordinance was derailed by Budget Chair Carrie Austin. Yesterday, Austin, one of Council’s most senior members, delayed a hearing on a TIF surplus resolution from Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), a freshman alderman, by at least a month. The resolution “calls for immediate TIF surplus action to offset drastic cuts at our Chicago Public Schools.”
In a quick motion, Austin referred it to the Finance Committee without asking whether there were any objections.
After the committee voted on item three, Austin went out of agenda order. “Items six and seven will be re-referred to the Committee on Finance.” Moving back to item four, and skipping the usual “Hearing no objection, so ordered.”
In fact, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22) was vocally objecting, and asking for a roll call on the motion to re-refer. “Madame Chair, Madame Chair,” he repeated loudly, but Austin moved past his objection to an item on M/WBE procurement.
“Ald. Munoz, I’ll recognize you when I have the procurement director speaking on this matter,” she told him. The committee then spent roughly 15 minutes discussing M/WBE changes, until Ald. Austin called on Munoz again.
He asked for a roll call on the motion to re-refer to Finance, saying he had objected.
“I believe that the rule of the Chair stands,” Austin told him, “Ald. [Ed] Burke [Chair of the Finance Committee] has re-referred items and there was no vote, so my assumption…” Munoz interrupted to say that he had vocally objected.
Off mic, Ald. Anthony Beale (9) said he wanted to table the roll call, which Munoz said didn’t qualify for tabling.
At that point, demonstrators, including some parents associated with Raise Your Hand, who about an hour earlier had held a press conference in support of Ald. Rosa’s resolution, stood along the partition separating the Council floor from the gallery, chanting, “Parents want a voice,” and “Parents want a vote.” Austin and Munoz continued to go back and forth above the din.
Austin banged her gavel multiple times, trying to speak above protestors, and saying she couldn’t hear. “The parents don’t run this committee,” she said. There was, despite Munoz’s objection, a roll call to table Munoz’s motion. Austin’s aide reported 10 ayes and 8 nays aloud. The Clerk’s office doesn’t track committee votes, and aides for Austin did not respond to a request for a roll call breakdown. DNA Info reported 10 ayes and 9 nays:
Yea: Chair Carrie Austin (34), Brian Hopkins (2), Pat Dowell (3), Anthony Beale (9), Derrick Curtis (18), Willie Cochran (20), Jason Ervin (28), Emma Mitts (37), Margaret Laurino (39) and Joe Moore (49)
Nay: Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Marty Quinn (13), Rick Munoz (22), Ariel Reboyras (30), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Brendan Reilly (42), Tom Tunney (44), Deb Silverstein (50)
City CFO Alex Holt and budget staffer Molly Poppe were in the Chambers and prepared to testify, distributing a memo saying if aldermen wanted to expire a TIF, the Mayor’s Office would give up the city’s 18% cut to CPS. Poppe said she did not believe there would be a vote, but that there would be testimony.
One of Austin’s staffers later handed out photocopy of a paragraph in city’s municipal code that says the Finance Committee is the appropriate jurisdiction to hear all tax-related matters. The full City Council today will get to vote on whether to approve Austin’s re-referral to the Finance Committee, where its fate, so far, is uncertain.
At meeting’s end, reporters swarmed Chair Austin, who at first, would only take questions about the M/WBE ordinance. She pushed away a recorder placed too closely on the desk in front of her. Aides removed files, pencils, pens, and her bejeweled thermos while she took more than 15 minutes worth of questions.
Asked for a response to Ald. Rosa’s accusation that the referral was an old-school stalling tactic, “I don’t know what that means,” Austin replied. “When I say something in my committee, it is not to be at somebody else. I sent it to Finance where it belongs… now if he’s objecting to that, I’m sorry… Anything with TIFs, it’s Finance’s deal. He thinks that it’s something against him, it’s not. He thinks that it’s something against our children, no it’s not! I’m sending it to its proper committee.”
Munoz disagreed. “Both committees have jurisdiction over TIF surplus and TIF expenditures. The bottom line is the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations put it on their agenda for a public hearing. The public hearing should have been had.”
As for the immediate impact on CPS, Munoz said, “They need money as soon as possible. It’s evident,” and he doesn’t want to wait another month to see further cuts. Hours later, CPS announced it would reduce school budgets by another $120 million.
Ald. Beale said his move wasn’t politically motivated, but procedural. “We followed the proper procedures for where it was supposed to be, other than sitting here trying to grandstand on something… you know. So that’s all we did… they sent it to the wrong committee.”
Beale says there are three TIFs within his ward, including the partially TIF-fundedPullman Park redevelopment project. A freshman alderman shouldn’t be telling him what to do with it, even if he has 34 co-sponsors, declared Beale.
“It’s dead on arrival,” he said twice. “I have the largest development in the City of Chicago going on right now. I’m not going to let somebody tell me what’s best for my community when I’m creating thousands of jobs, reducing crime because those jobs are being created. Now you just want to take people’s TIFs for a one shot, shot in the arm to do what? Learn the job before you start dictating what other aldermen should be doing with their TIF money.”
Rosa reiterated that the Mayor’s office led him to believe the resolution was in the right committee, and Budget Director Alex Holt’s testimony would have cleared up Beale’s issues. Rosa said the resolution was a starting point, and he wouldn’t force aldermen to halt their TIF projects.
Rosa and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) both doubled down on commitments to explore expiring TIFs in their own wards and redirecting the surplus money toward CPS.
Expiring a TIF before its expiration date requires City Council approval. Obligations for the TIF must be paid off, and tax districts who get TIF money are notified, but don’t hold any legal authority to formally object. In her memo to aldermen today, Holt said she would be happy to work with aldermen who want to freeze or terminate TIF districts in their ward, but “it’s a balancing act,” she told Aldertrack. “In order to generate much in the way of surplus, we have to talk about canceling projects, that’s something that aldermen say they have to prefer to surplus money instead of spending it on a park or school annex.”
Other Budget Committee Actions
A Progressive Caucus ordinance aimed at recouping losses from swap deals with banks was also re-referred to Finance Committee by Chairman Austin. The ordinance directs the Department of Law to explore legal action concerning early termination penalties, recovering past losses and repayment on all interest rate swap agreements.
The committee approved an amendment to the municipal code continuing the MBE/WBE Construction Procurement Program. Last month, Budget Chair Carrie Austin called for a temporary extension of the city’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Construction Program that was set to expire at the end of the year. Yesterday, Jamie Rhee, the city’s Chief Procurement Officer, said the Mayor’s office wanted to increase all city-funded contract goals from 24% to 26% for minority businesses and from 4% to 6% for women owned businesses. The ordinance originally called for 30% and 10%.
Rhee said she believed the lower figures could be defended in court. The program will last five years, and there will be an interim review at the end of 2017 to assess whether the targets are appropriate.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), who pushed for the 30-10 goals, congratulated Austin on the changes, which he said the city could work to incrementally increase. “I know this is something that your husband [Ald. Lemuel Austin] worked on during the Harold Washington days,” he told the chair, and said he wants to continue pushing for local hiring.