Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti vowed Friday to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand vocational education “systematically dismantled” at Chicago Public Schools and use tax-increment-financing only to revive blighted neighborhoods.
By returning TIFs to their “original purpose” instead of doling out developer subsidies, Fioretti hopes to generate a surplus large enough to re-open shuttered mental health clinics, shore up the CPS budget and help solve the city’s $20 billion pension crisis.
Fioretti’s economic agenda also calls for using $25 million in TIF money to bankroll a summer jobs program and using everything else that’s not committed to specific projects or debt to convert at least some of the 50 schools closed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel into “community centers that drive economic development.”
Fioretti acknowledged that TIF money alone will not be enough to meet a state-mandated, $550 million payment to shore up police and fire pension funds.
Nor will it meet the city’s increased obligations to the Municipal and Laborers pension funds when a 56 percent increase in the city’s telephone tax runs short.
To make up the difference, he favors a 1 percent commuter tax on 620,000 suburbanites who earn their paychecks in Chicago and a land-based casino that has been on the city’s wish list for 25 years.
He also has talked about imposing a financial transaction tax on La Salle Street exchanges while acknowledging that state and federal laws currently prohibit such a tax.
That gave Emanuel an opening to contrast his economic record with Fioretti’s.
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a $35 million cargo facility at O’Hare Airport, Emanuel noted that he improved Chicago’s business climate by modernizing public transportation, pushing a “colleges-to-careers makeover” at City Colleges and by eliminating the employee head tax long-despised by business.
“I didn’t talk about increasing taxes. I actually eliminated a tax. I also balanced four budgets in a row without any property, sales or gas tax. And four years in a row, we put back money into the rainy day fund. Those are the tough decisions . . . that give companies like DHL the confidence to create their largest facility in the world here in Chicago,” Emanuel said.
Zeroing in on the La Salle Street tax, the mayor said, “You would be chasing an industry out. The governor, the president of the United States, the two United States senators and legislative leaders down in Springfield are opposed to [it]. I don’t think you build an economic plan on raising taxes other people are opposed [to raising]. It would chase an industry that puts [Chicago] in a dominant place of job creation.”
Earlier this week, Emanuel unveiled an ambitious, second-term economic development agenda that calls for spreading the wealth outside Chicago’s glistening downtown.
But Fioretti claimed Friday that the mayor’s downtown-centric approach to economic development has been a dismal failure.
“There’s huge unemployment on the South and West Sides. Foreclosures are everywhere. We need to create opportunities for small businesses to survive and thrive. We need tax incentives and tax breaks for small businesses. Ownership is empowerment,” the alderman said.
Fioretti credited Emanuel for making vocational education a focus at City Colleges. But he argued that the mayor has done just the opposite at CPS.
“We used to have trade and vocational schools across this city. They’ve been slowly chipping away at them to the point where there are none,” Fioretti said.
Fioretti’s economic agenda also includes:
- Requiring Chicago businesses with more than $50 million in annual revenues to pay employees $15 an hour immediately. The City Council recently approved Emanuel’s plan to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019.
- Mandating community benefits agreements on all projects above a designated dollar threshold and creating “worker-owned cooperatives” that give local residents an opportunity to both “work for and own” their own companies.
- “Un-bundling” city contracts to assist small business and giving them fee waivers, tax breaks and access to capital.
- Establishing “technology and innovation” centers in Chicago neighborhoods, instead of putting all of the focus on the Merchandise Mart incubator known as “1871.”
In July,CPS closed its last electrical training program for what it called a lack of student interest, but supporters including Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) and the Chicago Teachers Union rallied to eventually save it.
SimeonCareer Academy High School, 8147 S. Vincennes, spoke up for weeks after the announcement was made to let goof Latisa Kindred,the longtime teacher of the program, which was the lastin the district to teach electrical skills to students. Supporters said the courses helped students find jobs and kept them off the streets.
“Electricity in CPS is the fourth program to close atSimeonin four years. First it was graphic design, then machine shop, then auto shop and now electricity,” Kindred said at the time. “They need to save CTE [career and technical education] because my students leave this program and find jobs, and that’s an alternative to what they face on the streets.”
Eventually, the district relented, keeping the program going through a partnership with theInternational Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW which gives jobs to high school graduates of the electricity pathway as well as points towards becoming an electrical apprentice.
Contributing: Lauren Fitzpatrick