Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday morning that she’s going to declare a $300 million surplus of special taxing districts called TIFs, with half going to Chicago Public Schools.
A city official said this is the largest surplus in recent history. It comes as Lightfoot is being pressured to not only fill a massive city budget deficit, but also meet the demands of the Chicago Teachers Union, which has been on strike for five days.
Union leadership said Tuesday evening that in order to reach a deal, Lightfoot would need to provide more “resources” to meet their outstanding demands. However, a city official said the TIF money won’t open up the more money to meet the union’s demands. Instead, it will be used to cover offers already on the table.
The school district had already budgeted $94 million in TIF surplus, so this move gives it an additional $66 million for a total of $160 million. A city official said this extra money is expected to pay for offers already on the table, including a salary increase, more than $9 million for class size reduction and money to hire more staff.
It is doubtful this additional money will satisfy the demands of the Chicago Teachers Union. The union does not think that the existing offers provide enough money to make class size caps enforceable, nor enough to ensure that staffing demands for more nurses, social workers and case managers are met. They also want to win additional salary increases for office clerks and teacher assistants, who they also represent.
Lightfoot has insisted repeatedly that there is no more money to satisfy the union’s additional demands beyond what’s on the table..
Also, TIF surpluses are one-time revenues and the city official said this year the city was aggressive in what it surplused.
“We wanted to get this money out into the community,” said the city official, who spoke to WBEZ on background. TIFs can be surplused when more tax revenue is brought in than what is needed for redevelopment projects. She said the city not only looked at downtown TIFs, but also ones in neighborhoods.
Therefore, she warned, there will likely be less to surplus in the future.
This could spell trouble for the school district. Many of the offers on the table promise to phase in things like increased staff, which means costs will increase overtime.
TIFs also are highly controversial because they prevent increased tax revenue from going to schools, parks and other taxing bodies. The increased tax revenue then is spent on projects, such as improving infrastructure, school construction and commercial redevelopment.
TIFs are supposed to be used to transform blighted areas, but have been used to redevelop areas in wealthy parts of the city, such as the Near North Side or downtown.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.