Wednesday’s City Council meeting is likely to be very unpleasant for a number of Chicago’s aldermen who agreed to sign on to proposed legislation months ago that they ostensibly thought would die in the rules committee.
At stake is a move to call for a vote on two measures—one an ordinance requiring millions of dollars in surplus Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) funds be given to Chicago Public Schools and the other a resolution calling for a referendum on an elected school board in Chicago—that have been stalled for months in the Council’s Rules Committee.
Under a relatively obscure rule in Council proceedings known as Rule 41, Progressive Caucus members, including sponsors Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Ald. John Arena (45th), have decided to go for broke and call the measures out to the entire City Council floor for a vote.
"We're working to jumpstart the stalled democratic process in City Council,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a member of the caucus, told Ward Room. “These ordinances could have a major impact on the lives of thousands of CPS students. They may not pass--but they deserve a debate and a vote."
It’s a risky move, but Caucus members feel they have no other choice. Both measures are opposed by Mayor Emanuel, who is reluctant to give up control over the millions of surplus dollars sitting in TIF funds or allow for an elected school board.
As a result, both measures have been stuck in the Rules Committee since they were introduced, in July for the TIF measure and September for the call for school board elections.
Known as the place where “good legislation goes to die”, the Rules Committee is chaired by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who is widely seen as strongly allied with the mayor. However, Rule 41 says that after 60 days of inactivity, a measure’s original sponsor can call the matter to a vote on the Council floor.
Many aldermen support the idea of an elected school board in theory, at least off the record. However, the resolution, sponsored by Arena, has only 14 co-sponsors, most of them Reform Caucus members and not a majority needed to pass.
But the TIF surplus ordinance? That’s a different story. In an effort to put their names to a popular measure and provide political cover, no less that 24 aldermen outside of the caucus signed on, bringing the total number of sponsors to 32—more than enough for the measure to pass on a floor vote.
Many of those 24 aldermen no doubt signed on because when the ordinance was originally introduced back in July, pressure was building across the city to do something about the fact that the mayor was closing schools and laying off thousands of teachers and staff.
Suddenly, the TIF ordinance arrived and voila! Alderman could look like they were doing something in the face of Emanuel’s decision. Even if they figured the ordinance would be buried in the Rules Committee forever and they would never have to think about it again.
Now, however, those aldermen are going to have to make a choice: vote against the mayor, or vote for an ordinance they have publicly said they support. To make matters worse, outside groups such as the Grassroots Collaborative have been organizing around the TIF issue, and are pushing videotapes of alderman promising to support the measure once it came up for a vote.
In a sure sign panic is starting to take hold amongst some aldermen, Ald. Harris has called a meeting of the Rules Committee before tomorrow’s full Council meeting after months of inactivity and silence.
As well, on Friday Mayor Emanuel signed an executive order creating a formal definition of a TIF surplus, although it's unclear for what use surplus dollars may be intended.
No one knows how some of the aldermen who will be put on the hot seat tomorrow will react. For me, I’m guessing a whole lot of them are suddenly going to be called away from the Council floor on some emergency business at the moment the vote is called for, leaving the chamber without enough votes to pass.
But that’s me. I happen to think nothing terrorizes most aldermen more than voting against the mayor, and would rather duck and cover than take a chance on incurring his wrath.
Whatever their reaction, the truth is 32 aldermen put their names on ordinance O2013-5698, known as “Redistribution of Surplus Funds from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts”.
And it’s coming up for a vote tomorrow.
Whether they’re in the room or not.