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Grassroots claim victory on corporate TIF

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

The Grassroots Collaborative is claiming victory over $15 million in TIF money returned to the city by the CME Group after more than eight months of action by the 11-member labor-community organization.

“For us this victory of the CME returning $15 million is so huge; $15 million for a company that makes $950 million is nothing but it is something when you are talking closing schools, shutting six of 12 mental health clinics, cutting library hours, all very real services that working families in the city depend on,” said Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative. “It is the first time, we believe, that a corporation has agreed to give back this money.”

CME Associate Director of Corporate Communications Michael Shore said that CME never accepted the TIF assistance approved by the city. In the meantime, “tax law changes approved last year are much more important to CME Group’s ability to serve as a leading employer in Chicago. CME Group never received any of the approved TIF funds, and it is the company’s hope that formally declining the funds will allow the city to put them to use in incenting economic development in other parts of the city.”

The collaborative first protested outside CME offices at the Board of Trade, 141 W. Jackson Blvd., on the day before Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration last May, as neighborhoods were struggling with a lack of park and library resources. “We were very clear that what we needed to see was TIF reform: returning that money to communities and not targeting the wealth to downtown,” Patel said.

Then in June, the collaborative hosted a “bake sale for billionaires” in front of CME headquarters, 20 S. Wacker Drive. “We sold ‘millionaire muffins’ for $1 each and raised $6 we wanted to deliver to CEO Terrence Duffy because that is when he first started complaining how high their taxes were and how they would have to leave the state,” Patel said.

Later in the summer, the Collaborative held a “class” at the Wacker Drive location with 30 young people from the Brighton Park neighborhood in school desks, as well as members of the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union. “Because they got all this TIF money, the money wasn’t going to our schools, so we thought we would take the students to where the money was going to educate them,” Patel said.

The core of the LaSalle Street financial district became the focus of activists’ attention, she noted. “Occupy Chicago set up camp across the street from the Board of Trade and Stand Up! Chicago gave them a golden toilet last week. In all of these different ways we were able to show creatively what is wrong with the system, that there is potential for families to win on an agenda of things working families care about. Collectively we see it as a movement: we show power when we all come at an issue in multiple ways with amazing success. It’s very hopeful for us. ”

The Stand Up! Chicago award was an attempt to focus attention on potential use of CME Group’s use of the TIF for renovating bathrooms, building a fancy employee cafeteria, a fitness center for employees and a high-end audiovisual digital conference room, according to the Huffington Post.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the $15 million was promised over 10 years for renovations at the CME’s 20 S. Wacker Drive headquarters, its offices at 550 W. Washington and the Chicago Board of Trade’s three buildings at 141 W. Jackson Blvd. CME Group acquired the art deco CBOT buildings after the merger of the Mercantile Exchange and CBOT in 2007. CME said it needed the TIF money to fend off a competitor in its bid for CBOT. The funds were also an enticement to stay in Chicago after CME Group acquired the New York-based NYMEX Holdings Inc. in 2008. Shore told StreetWise the TIF monies originally were sought for building renovations, including revising the trading floors to combine those at 141 Jackson and 20 S. Wacker Drive into one facility, following the CME/CBOT merger.

“TIFs,” or tax increment finance districts, allow the city to freeze taxes for up to 24 years for itself and underlying districts such as schools and parks. Originally designed for blighted areas where development would not otherwise occur, TIFs create a pool of money from increases in assessed valuation; these funds are supposed to be used for development such as streets or sewers.

But Patel called the TIFs “huge slush funds for corporate elite in Chicago, siphoning off $500 million in taxpayers’ dollars away from schools, parks, libraries, mental health clinics.” She said Mayor Emanuel should declare as surplus the $33 million in TIF money returned from CME, Bank of America and CNA. She also urged a conversation in City Council about the growing gap between wealthy and poor, especially given the corporate money that will be spent to host the NATO/G8 event here in May.

“They lobby with corporations for $50 million or $60 million each for this event and they are not pushing for jobs for Chicagoans, dealing with the foreclosure crisis or the closing of schools, making sure there’s tangible benefits for families to get,” she said.

Written by Suzanne Hanney,
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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