If you didn’t make it to the Aldertrack 1st Anniversary Celebration panels last Wednesday night at the University Club, you missed out some some big statements and some important insights. Demographer Rob Paral, on our first panel answering, “Is Chicago shrinking?” with Marisa Novara and Richard Wilson, encapsulated almost the entire conversation by suggesting a new hashtag, #stoptalkingaboutDetroitifyouliveinChicago.
While our first panel confronted the reality that Chicago is getting smaller, it was a hopeful conversation. Our second panel, led by a trio of political insiders, Brian Sleet, Greg Goldner and Victor Reyes, not as much.
Reyes, about halfway through made this bold statement, to which nobody argued with: “I think by 2019 you will likely have an elected school board.”
The enabling legislation raced through committee, 42-16, he said. “It’s a bill where if you put it on the board, it’s going to pass.”
But Reyes, probably one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s best known directors of Intergovernmental Affairs and now founder and CEO of public affairs firm Reyes Kurson, doesn’t think an elected school board will absolve Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Council members from responsibility. “[The Mayor] has to care about who gets elected there. The aldermen, have to care about who gets elected. They’re going to held accountable for those property tax levies that schools make, which are bigger than anybody else’s.”
“Whenever property taxes go up, people blame City Council and the Mayor,” agreed Brian Sleet, the campaign manager for Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic nominee Kim Foxx.
Later, the discussion turned to funding Chicago Public Schools. At one point Greg Goldner, also a former Daley director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and founder and CEO of Resolute Consulting, perfectly illustrated the money problems CPS has.
Goldner: Where do we get the other $700 million for next year? Seriously. We’re talking about a $1.1 billion deficit for Chicago public schools, out a $5.6 billion budget… Under the Democrats plan [in Springfield], House or Senate, the [bailout] ceiling anyone is talking about is $400 million, and CPS’ authority to raise property tax is capped. You can’t go to the markets, you already paid 8.5%, maybe they’re open, maybe they’re not. If they are it’s going to cost a lot, and you gotta pay it back at some point. I don’t think you gotta wait too long to figure out what are going to be the dominant issues. What are the solutions, how are we going to track all that? That’s a big number. Is CPS going to get its cap lifted in Springfield? Probably not. Is the City of Chicago City Council going to vote to raise property taxes to give to CPS and how much?
Fourcher: I’ve been told that would be a disaster from a legal perspective, because it would open up the city of Chicago to legal liability by paying off another government entity’s bills. Bondholders would be angry about it.
Goldner: Someone in government would say, who cares? Because we cannot cut $700 million from CPS. And that’s if there’s $400 million [coming] from Springfield.
That second part, if you’re a bondholder, should be chilling to you. Goldner is no slouch. He ran Rahm Emanuel’s successful 2002 Congressional campaign and is the manager of Illinois Go, the super PAC associated with Gov. Bruce Rauner. While I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t talk out of school, he has personal knowledge of what Illinois’ top leaders are willing to do.
People who make a living listening hard to politicians, and staking their reputations on what they think they’ll do, like Reyes, Sleet and Goldner, think things are going to get much rockier this year. I think I agree with them.