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Emanuel won’t say whether he’ll ride to CPS rescue

Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled the new graduation requirement last year at Malcolm X College. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday refused to say whether he was prepared to borrow money, raid tax-increment financing funds or raise taxes again to prevent the Chicago Public Schools from closing three weeks early.

“Taxpayers of Chicago already are taxed twice. In this state, [they are] the only people who are doubly taxed on pensions. We pay for every other teacher in the state of Illinois pensions. And then we also pay when we pay our property taxes for our Chicago teachers,” Emanuel said.

“And before I ask them — and I don’t believe it’s right that they should be asked to pay three times when every other person in the state of Illinois is only paying once — I want equity across the system. If you threw in your towel there, what I know about Springfield is they would actually do exactly what they always do: treat the children of Chicago as second-class citizens. And that has to end.”

The mayor was asked how he could countenance lopping three weeks off the school year when he fought so hard — and took a 2012 teachers strike that was Chicago’s first in 25 years — to make that longer year happen.

“You know my view, having fought for a full school day and a full school year when Chicago used to have the shortest in America. And not only for every child, but to make sure that we no longer had about 50 percent of our kids getting only a half-day of kindergarten,” he said.

Earlier this week, the City Council’s Black and Hispanic caucuses filed friend-of-the-court briefs that joined the civil rights lawsuit that CPS has filed against the state.

At the same time, Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and George Cardenas (12th) raised the possibility of either raiding TIF funds again or raising taxes and fees yet again to prevent CPS schools from closing early.

The City Council was fortunate enough politically to be let off the hook when it came to approving a $250 million property tax increase for teacher pensions.

That was done with a simple vote by the mayor’s hand-picked school board.

Now, they’re offering to step up to the plate and raise taxes again if Springfield refuses to ride to the rescue in time for CPS to make a state-mandated, $730 million payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.

“We have to work on revenue options. . . . We have to find the funding source that will get us through the last three weeks of the school year. We’ve been crawling under every rock,” Sawyer said.

“A TIF depletion. Maybe we can do something like that,” he said. “I know there’s additional money floating around through the treasurers office. Maybe we can use some of that. We need to do what’s necessary to give the kids a full school year. . . . We’re talking about children. We’re doing bad enough with children being murdered in the streets. If we can’t at least educate them, what are we doing?”

Cardenas cited the $57 million in excess earning income on the city’s $7 billion investment portfolio and the $20 million saved by the milder than expected winter. He also talked about draining TIFs and reinstating the head tax that Emanuel had phased out.

“The schools should be open and we’re gonna use all means possible to accomplish that goal,” Cardenas said. “We’re not for shutting the schools [early] whatsoever. That issue is a non-starter. We’re looking to make sure that our kids are in school so they don’t end up on the street.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill that would have provided $215 million in pension help already built into the CPS budget has prompted the mayor’s hand-picked school team to threaten to cut the school year three weeks short and dramatically reduce summer school programs.

The Chicago Teachers Union has repeatedly demanded that Emanuel dig even deeper into the city’s tax-increment financing funds — even after using a record $87.5 million TIF surplus to stave off another teachers strike.

Rauner also has called on the mayor to use $215 million in tax-increment financing funds to fill the gap caused by his veto.

Chicago taxpayers have already paid a heavy price for easing the city and CPS pension crisis.

They have been hit with $838 million in property tax increases for police, fire and teacher pensions; a 29.5 percent tax on water and sewer bills to save the Municipal Employees pension fund; and a 56 percent increase in the monthly tax on telephone bills — cellphones and land lines — for the Laborers Pension fund.