As police reform, yawning budget deficits and pensions take center stage in City Council, and as lobbyists work feverishly behind the scenes on city regulations to sharing economy platforms like Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, we wanted to check in on some items that once generated excitement and attracted attention only months ago, but have fallen into the darker recesses of Council’s consciousness.
Paid Sick Leave – Despite a two year fight, paid sick leave legislation looks subject to the whims of Springfield, according to Workforce Committee Chair Pat O’Connor(40). Even though Chicago has the power to implement labor reforms like sick leave, O’Connor told Aldertrack last month he’s waiting for some key issues to be resolved in Springfield, “which clearly would impact the city’s future and the city’s revenue picture.” Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), one of the ordinance’s main sponsors, pointed to uncertain reforms for CPS funding as a possible contributor to the delay, but said it was no excuse. “This issue is equally as important as reforms to the police department and CPS funding inequities, because they all impact the same people. We need a vote [in June].”
Two business organizations with a strong presence in Springfield and Chicago, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, have come out strongly against the ordinance, writing a dissenting report about paid sick leave findings from a task force hand picked by Mayor Emanuel. But proponents argue the latest ordinance is much more business friendly than the first ordinance
Property Tax Rebate Plan – Property owners anticipating an unwelcome hike in their second installment property tax bills in July still don’t have hope for a break from city or state lawmakers. Despite several aldermen–Michele Smith (43), John Arena(45), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), and Proco Joe Moreno (1)–proposing their own ordinances for a city-run rebate plan since October 2015, none have had a hearing, or have a hearing scheduled, in committee. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed doubling of the current exemption from $7,000 to $14,000 has gone nowhere in Springfield, either (there are even some doubts the exemption would be workable given the County’s outdated tech).
Officials from the city’s Budget Office told Aldertrack this time last month they’d be looking at aldermanic proposals in May, and would stay “true to the Mayor’s goal of protecting low- and middle-income families that can least afford it.” Aldermen and aides Aldertrack spoke to in recent weeks said the budget office is still crunching numbers. The budget office didn’t respond to requests for an update.
Municipal Deposits – This ordinance requiring financial institutions to submit reports on employee data, community involvement, and loan data has been held up for nearly a year, despite backing from City Treasurer Kurt Summers and progressive aldermen like Roderick Sawyer (6). One source close to negotiations said the final product is likely to be a pared down cleanup bill, short of what Treasurer Summers advocated for last June.
Proponents of the measure argue banks that hold up to a billion dollars in city money should be accountable for reinvesting in local small businesses, non-profits and entrepreneurs. Treasurer Summers, who recently announced support for joining a class action suit against big banks for bad swap deals, wanted to use extra reporting required in the ordinance to create a Banking Scorecard “to ensure Chicagoans can identify if and how frequently their local banks are investing back into their communities.” The city’s 18 current municipal depositories include big banks like U.S. Bank, Citibank, BMO Harris, Chase, and PNC.
Keeping the Promise – Since a tense, day-long hearing four months ago on oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority, there’s been no movement on Ald. Proco Joe Moreno’s (1) “Keeping the Promise” ordinance, according to the alderman’s legislative aide. The ordinance, drafted with the Chicago Housing Initiative, mandates regular reporting from CHA on unspent city, state, and federal funds; progress and plans for replacement housing, outstanding “Right to Return” contracts and vouchers; and one for one replacement of affordable housing units.
At the February subject matter hearing on the measure, then-newly appointed CHA head Eugene Jones said the new requirements would be overly burdensome. While the agency closed out the books in 2015 with $221 million in surplus, Jones said, it’s expecting to end 2017 in the red because of committed projects planned over the next two years. Critics accused the CHA of diverting money that’s supposed to be used for housing vouchers and building or rehabbing units toward padding its cash reserves and shoring up pension payments instead. An analysis of CHA’s spending from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA) found on average, the CHA annually issued 13,534 fewer housing vouchers than the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded, while more than 30,000 people waited for vouchers.
Hearings on CPD surveillance of protestors, political groups – A resolution Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) filed in mid-October 2015 has similarly gone nowhere. It’s one of a few CPD-related ordinances filed before the video release of the Laquan McDonald shooting, and has yet to face a hearing. Waguespack introduced the resolution in response to an investigation by the Sun Times’ Mick Dumke into surveillance practices of the Chicago Police Department over the past six years.
Dumke’s report said even after the police department disbanded the so-called “Red Squad” that spied on activists, “the police still are allowed to gather information on demonstrators as long as they establish a ‘reasonable law enforcement purpose.’… interpreted by the department as including efforts to prevent future crimes, even when there’s no evidence any law has been broken yet.”
Video Gambling – Ald. Raymond Lopez’s (15) ordinance opening up video gambling in Chicago got immediate pushback from the Mayor when it was first introduced in November. Mayor Emanuel said he’d prefer Chicago to have one land-based casino. But Lopez would still like to see movement, saying he’s got nearly half the Council (mostly border aldermen) on board, and each would have control over where new machines are allowed in their ward. The ordinance calls for a $1,000 licensing fee per year on video gaming terminals, which Lopez says could net the city tens of millions of dollars.
“I think that with whatever’s coming down the pike, we should not leave any revenue option off the table,” Lopez told Aldertrack last week. Gold Rush Amusements, one of the largest distributors of video poker gaming machines in Illinois, has donated money to several aldermen, including a $1,000 check in November 2015 to Ald. Lopez. The company has also contributed to Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1) 31st Ward Ald. Milly Santiago ($2,500) and 40th Ward Ald. Pat O’Connor ($300). The 33rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization, run by the ward’s former Democratic Committeeman Dick Mell, received a $10,000 donation from the company.
Fair Elections – First introduced in January, the proposal from Ald. Joe Moore (49), Ald. John Arena (45) and Ald. Michelle Harris (8) would create a small donor match campaign finance system, similar to New York City’s. The ordinance would establish a special election fund to provide candidates running for mayor, alderman, city clerk, and city treasurer with $6 of public matching funds for every dollar raised, up to $175. In order to qualify for the money, a candidate can’t accept any donations more than $500 from one individual source. Since its referral to the Rules Committee, which Ald. Harris chairs, the ordinance hasn’t seen the light of day.
Mental Health Clinics – Ald. Jason Ervin’s (28) ordinance, introduced with fanfare and a press conference with stakeholders like AFSCME Council 31, and mental health self-advocates in February, has not surfaced in the Health and Environmental Protection Committee. Chair George Cardenas (12) told Aldertrack that Ald. Ervin has not been actively advocating for the item, which would require the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to join three managed-care networks that reimburse for mental health care, and work to hire psychiatrists at the city’s six clinics. Six others were closed in 2012.
The ordinance was filed in the wake of Quintonio Legrier’s death at the hands of Chicago police. Supporters like AFSCME’s Jo Patton said at the time the political will might be enough “for the mayor to put a little bit of money into mental health instead of [policing].” As part of police reforms suggested by the Police Accountability Task Force, CDPH is partnering with mental health practitioners to design a community education campaign to help “residents recognize the symptoms of mental illness and inform them how best to respond to mental health crisis.”
Odds and Ends:
Legacy Businesses – Ald. Brian Hopkins’ (2) pitch to create a property tax break for older, established small businesses that would “allow any Alderman or the Mayor to nominate a longstanding business deemed an economic or cultural fixture to the community for at least 30 years” hasn’t moved since it was introduced to the Finance Committee in February.
Redevelopment Agreement Hearing – Despite Ald. Ed Burke’s (14) sponsorship and introduction to his own committee, the resolution calling for Mondelez to testify about some Nabisco bakery jobs exiting from Chicago hasn’t moved. The company has faced criticism from city and county officials for shorting local governments who gave the company tax breaks after announcing plans to move 600 jobs from its factory on the Southwest Side to Mexico. The resolution also calls on the city’s Department of Planning and Development to report on how it tracks redevelopment agreements between the city and its corporations, how many jobs were retained because of redevelopment agreement, and the success of the Enterprise Zone program.
COFA CPS Revenue – A resolution asking Council’s independent financial analyst, Ben Winick, to look at potential revenue sources for financial aid to Chicago Public Schools has stalled since its February introduction. The resolution, introduced by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) has 34 sponsors, including new Education Committee chair Ald. Howard Brookins (21). Similarly, aa resolution spearheaded by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) on using TIF surplus funds to give CPS a financial leg up was re-referred to the Budget Committee and hasn’t surfaced since.
Workers Comp Re-Examination – A steep uphill battle is likely in store for this introduction from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) calling for a closer look into Ald. Ed Burke’s (14) Finance Department and its $100 million per year workers compensation program, described by critics as a “fiefdom” run by “political hacks.” Ald. John Arena (45) is the sole co-sponsor. The item calls for Budget Committee hearings to examine the “legal, administrative, and financial benefits of control and authority of workers’ compensation claims,” currently not subject to “full, independent and transparent audits of programs, processes, and instance of claims.”