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City to hire cops, boost kids programs with tax refunds taken from scofflaws

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces, as a result of a scofflaw crackdown, an additional 20,000 youth opportunities this summer and 50 new police cadet slots in the June 2012 academy class. He made the announcement at Harris Park 6200 S. Drexel. Monday March 5, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Chicago will hire 50 more police officers and keep 20,000 more young people occupied this summer, thanks to what Mayor Rahm Emanuel called a “safety surplus:” the first $8.5 million in city debt siphoned from the state income tax refunds of chronic scofflaws.

“I cannot have a system that tilts toward the deadbeats and the cheaters,” the mayor told a news conference at Harris Park, 6200 S. Drexel.

“We have written them, called them [and] asked them to pay…because the people of Chicago are bearing too much of a burden….Without the change that was gotten in Springfield, it would have just sat out there uncollected. Because of the change, we were able to finally get people…to pay what they owe and we now have the opportunity to invest in our children. “

Two weeks ago, Chicago moved to take advantage of a controversial tool authorized by the Illinois General Assembly to whittle down its mountain of debt.

At Emanuel’s request, the City Council gave State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office the go-ahead to put a brick on the state income tax refunds of more than 100,000 Illinois residents and businesses with overdue Chicago parking tickets, red-light camera citations and judgments rendered by city hearing officers dating back to 2005.

At the time, top mayoral aides predicted that the new partnership with the state would result in an $8 million-to-$20 million windfall for Chicago.

Just two weeks after launching a crackdown that critics called over-the-top, the city has already raked in $5.2 million and expects to collect another $3.5 million by the April 15 deadline for filing state and federal income tax returns.

The money withheld from state incomes tax refunds comes from 28,000 deadbeats, 55 percent of whom do not live in Chicago.

On Monday, Emanuel unveiled plans to use the first $8.5 million as a “safety surplus” to provide sorely-needed police manpower and keep kids occupied and off the streets this summer. The spending includes:

– $2 million to hire 50 more police officers. The mayor’s budget already includes funding for 100 new officers. Now, the cadet class expected to enter the police academy in June will double – to 100 recruits. Another class of 50 will start this fall.

– $2 million to create 2,900 additional summer jobs for young people between the ages of 16 and 24. The steadily shrinking program currently serves 2,400.

– $2.5 million for Chicago Park District programs for 14,800 kids this summer. The spending includes: $1 million to provide 8,800 more summer day camp slots; $575,000 to double the capacity of a youth soccer program to 700 in each of the next three years; $500,000 to reduce violence during high-crime weekend periods with extended park hours and programs in “targeted zones” and a 25 percent increase in the Junior Bear youth football program.

– $2 million for apprenticeships and internships at After School Matters. That’s a 50 percent increase for the program championed by former First Lady Maggie Daley.

Joining Emanuel for Monday’s announcement was the Rev. Michael Pfleger, crusading pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church who was chosen by the Catholic Archdiocese recently to develop anti-violence initiatives.

“Violence, far too often, becomes an option when other positive alternatives are not given our young people. A 17-year-old told me about two months ago. He said, ‘When every other door is shut and there’s not opportunities for me to get involved in that are positive, the street never says no to me,’ ”Pfleger said.

He added, “Summer jobs not only give our young people something positive to do in the summer. It puts money in their pocket that helps their family and helps themselves. It is the kind of aggressive action we need if we’re gonna have a safe summer of 2012.”