Surge in city sticker sales to help mayor bankroll mentoring push

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Mayoral hopeful Toni Preckwinkle says if elected, she will address inequities highlighted by a study released last year that showed fines for not displaying a city vehicle sticker were more aggressively enforced against minorities. | File photo

A surge in city sticker revenues and a bit of budget sleight-of-hand is helping Mayor Rahm Emanuel make good on his promise to provide a three-year, $36 million mentoring program for young men who live in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.

Locked in a big bucks battle for state comptroller against Republican Leslie Munger, City Clerk Susana Mendoza is delivering $15 million in new revenue for the dramatic expansion in mentoring programs that was a cornerstone of Emanuel’s citywide campaign against violence.

The city sold 77,000 more vehicle stickers this year, thanks to emailed courtesy reminders, year-round sticker sales and better coordination with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office to track motorists through their license plates and vehicle registrations.

No longer can motorists who purchase new vehicles “wait it out” until the next sticker season. That paves the way for the money to come in sooner.

The bottom line is a 13 percent surge in annual sticker revenue — to a record $140 million. That has Mendoza pledging to deliver $15 million for mayor’s mentoring push.

But, there’s a catch. By law, sticker revenues must remain in a vehicle tax fund used exclusively for transportation improvements.

How, then, can those dollars be used to help the mayor provide a mentor to every one of the 7,200 eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade boys in Chicago’s 20 most violent neighborhoods?

That’s where the budget sleight-of-hand comes in.

“It’s somewhat unprecedented. Our money goes to the vehicle tax fund that would typically fund programs connected with roadways as well as the salaries of employees at Streets and Sanitation, CDOT and public way inspectors,” said Pat Corcoran, a spokesman for the city’s clerk’s office.

“But revenue is revenue. It’s gonna take a little work to port it over and free up the dollars. But, the way we’re discussing it with folks in the budget office is they’re identifying projects and other expenditures that could be shifted over to the vehicle tax fund, effectively freeing up revenue in the corporate fund that could be used for mentoring.”

Mendoza is the Democratic candidate for state comptroller against Munger, Gov. Rauner’s hand-picked choice to replace Judy Baar-Topinka, who died in December 2014.

It’s the ambitious city clerk’s first run for statewide office.

Earlier this year, Mendoza reduced an assortment of fees that her office charges people for handling city stickers, denying that her motives were political.

On Tuesday, Corcoran offered a similar denial for the mentoring push.

“We’re doing this because the mayor made a call to Chicagoans to help address a crisis,” Corcoran said.

In a press release touting her contribution to the mayor’s mentoring challenge, Mendoza was quoted as saying that her $15 million contribution was “made possible” by the fact that a city clerk’s office so tarnished by corruption scandals that sent two of her predecessors to prison is now “producing for Chicago better than ever before.”

“Last month, Mayor Emanuel called on us to help meet the greatest challenge facing our city and we answered that call. Together, we’re going to pave a positive path for young men and women. This sizeable investment in human capital is going to change the lives of thousands of students,” Mendoza was quoted as saying.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this week that Emanuel had set aside $3 million to bankroll an immediate expansion of the mentoring program with the best track record for results: Becoming A Man, also known as BAM.

BAM served 2,700 students in the last school year and has seen crimes fall and graduation rates soar among its participants.

On Nov. 7, the program will boost capacity by 1,300 students — to 4,080. That will help deliver on the mayor’s promise to provide a mentor to every one of the 7,200 eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade boys in Chicago’s 20 most violent neighborhoods.

The $15 million from Medoza’s office is in addition to that $3 million. That means Emanuel has already reached his goal of providing half the money needed for $36 million in mentoring programs over the next three years.

The mayor has challenged corporate donors to meet the city half-way. Already, the city has received $7 million in contributions.

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