Emanuel puts brakes on Rauner plan to sell Thompson Center
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Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he’s holding up Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to sell the Thompson Center because he’s not about to “stick Chicago taxpayers” with the $100 million tab to rebuild the busy CTA station there.
Rauner’s office fired back that Emanuel is using an inflated number in order to “extort the state taxpayers for more money than the property is worth.”
The mayor noted the Thompson Center station is “one of the busiest stations in the entire network of 140-plus L stations.” That begs the question: “If you sell it and it has to come down, who builds it and who takes the cost?”
“I’m not gonna stick that on Chicago taxpayers. The developer or the state has to do it,” the mayor said.
“I’m not gonna have a short-term gain [and a long-term loss] when you have one of the most important stations and the reason that property is so valuable [being demolished]. Yes, the state gets to book the money when they sell. But, who’s gonna build or rebuild that station? I’m responsible to make sure that tab is not on the Chicago taxpayers.”
The mayor pegged the cost of rebuilding the Clark and Lake Station that serves as a nexus for multiple CTA lines at $80 million to $120 million.
“I have spent a lot of my time going to Washington when President Obama was president and getting resources for the Red Line redevelopment, for the Blue Line redevelopment, for new L station across the city,” Emanuel said.
“I am not gonna let the state have a short-term — book a couple hundred million, then stick Chicago taxpayers with $100 million. How ‘bout paying the teachers’ pensions? If I did that, I wouldn’t be negotiating on behalf of the taxpayers of Chicago. It’s not a glitch. Just tell me how you’re gonna fix the L station and I’ll be open to your suggestion.”
Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for Rauner, accused the mayor of trying to “extort the state taxpayers for more money than the property is worth” — even though the sale of the Thompson Center would generate $45 million in annual property tax revenue for the city.
Mike Hoffman, acting director of the state Department of Central Management Services, argued that Emanuel’s $100 million price tag for replacing the station was “inflated.”
“I’ve never heard that number before — even from his own staff. There are ways of keeping the station [largely] intact that would cost a lot less money,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman rejected the mayor’s demand that either the state, the developer or a combination of the two foot the bill to replace the station, with Chicago taxpayers getting off scot free.
“We’re still in negotiations on that. But, our stance from the beginning has been it’s got to be a cooperative effort between the city, the state and the developer,” he said.
The Thompson Center feud leveraged by Emanuel’s ability to hold up zoning approval was not the only new skirmish in the escalating political war between Emanuel and Rauner, who were once close friends, school reform allies, vacation buddies and business associates who made millions together.
The mayor also noted that Tuesday marked the 90th day since Rauner’s bipartisan commission declared that poor children, especially those living in concentrated poverty, need more money to be as successful in school as their wealthier peers.
“There has been no legislation introduced to fix a broken formula or to fix and add more resources to educational funding,” the mayor said.
Instead, Emanuel said Illinois remains “dead last” among the 50 states in funding its public schools. Rauner did not create the problem, but he hasn’t fixed it, either, the mayor said.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the state “does not equitably and fairly across the board fund pensions for teachers.”
“They fund everybody else’s pensions but Chicago public teachers. That’s only left to Chicago taxpayers while we subsidize everybody else’s pensions. And second, the way the school formula is structured in Illinois — and the governor himself acknowledged it — is if you’re poor and you’re a minority kid, you get penalized,” the mayor said.
“Kids here in Bronzeville and in other [inner-city neighborhoods] have enough challenges and enough head-winds. The state of Illinois should be knocking down those speed bumps, not building bigger speed bumps in the way of the kids.”
The Chicago Public Schools made the same argument in a lawsuit against the state, but it was thrown out — even though CPS had threatened to close schools three weeks early if they didn’t win a court order mandating a change in, what it calls a discriminatory school funding formula.
Emanuel responded by taking the “boy who cries wolf threat” off the table.
The mayor did not outline how he plans to keep the schools open or what source he may have found for a “bridge loan” needed to keep the doors open past June 1.
He would only say that he will not tolerate a premature end to the vaunted longer school year that he endured a 2012 teachers strike to achieve.
On Tuesday, the mayor shed no new light on how he plans to ride to the rescue — whether through a bridge loan from tax-increment-financing (TIF) funds or a loan and more school budget cuts. He said he’s still working on it.
But, he was asked why he put the parents of CPS students through months of emotional anguish — possibly prompting some of them to put their houses on the market in favor of a move to the suburbs — when he knew all along that he would not allow the school year to be shortened.
Once again, he pointed the finger at Rauner. The mayor said he allowed the threat to linger because of, what he called the “irreparable damage being done by the lack of funding” from the state.
Rauner’s spokeswoman noted that three bills have been introduced to “better meet the needs of students across Illinois since the Rauner commission issued its report and two of those bills will get hearings this week in the Illinois Senate.
“The mayor continues to point fingers instead of acknowledging the fact that the General Assembly is responsible for passing a new school funding formula,” Demertzis wrote.
“We stand ready to work with lawmakers as they pass a bill that meets the needs of every district in Illinois.”