Category Archives: Civic Life

I Ask the Mayor About TIFs And He Answers!

Tom asks mayor-w. spreadsheet+budgetWhat a night at Malcolm X College. About 300 people showed up for the first 2016 Budget Town Hall presided over by Mayor Emanuel and attended by all his department heads. Dozens of folks got one minute to ask a question or make a statement. The room was filled with supporters of the Dyett High School hunger strikers. People young and old expressed their anger and aspirations, stepping up to the mike and demanding that the mayor first meet with the hunger strikers and accept the community-development proposal to transform Dyett into a global leadership and green technology academy.

There were also calls for coming clean on TIFs and releasing TIF funds into the general stream of local government agencies – especially our beleaguered public schools. I asked the mayor to release all documents proving his claim that most of the $1.4 billion sitting in TIFs on January 1, 2015 are NOT available for distribution. The mayor and his budget director actually responded. Budget Director Alex Holt promised Tom a meeting in the near future to answer all our questions on where the money is. Stay tuned.

Watch the exchange here:

Listen to the full exchange here.

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CivicLab Profiled in NewCity

Check out this profile of the CivicLab in the April 22, 2015 issue of NewCity.
Thanks, Mike Workman!NewCity screen
Among all the different types of maker spaces throughout the city, there’s really not another quite like the CivicLab in the city’s West Loop neighborhood. Operated by Tom Tresser and Benjamin Sugar, the space is a gathering place and laboratory for what Tresser describes as “civic science,” the enthusiasm in his voice rising as he seizes on a topic he is clearly passionate about, “we make Democracy here.” As a longtime public defender in the city, he is perhaps most well known for heading up the No Games Chicago initiative that opposed former Mayor Daley’s efforts to bring the Olympics to the city.

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Chicago, Why Are You So Lame?

April 2015 Turnout-unofficialApril 7 was a very disappointing day in Chicago’s civic life. OK, I did not agree with the results of the election for mayor and there were SOME encouraging signs of progressive independence in aldermanic races. BUT – overall ONLY a 39% turnout? 47 wards had turnout less than 50%. 27 had less than 40% and 3 had less than 30%.

What is it going to take to get people to vote in Chicago?

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Help Us Fund The TIF Illumination Project!

The mainstream media in Chicago won’t cover TIFs. The aldermen are all rubber stamps who vote with the mayor 90% of the time. The university public policy shops are not interested. The downtown civic groups won’t look into TIFs. So it’s up to US to investigate and report on what happens to the almost HALF BILLION DOLLARS IN PROPERTY TAXES that Chicago’s TIFs suck up every year.

Help support the The TIF Illumination Project via this crowdfunding campaign today.
Let’s Illuminate Tax Increment Financing Districts by Tom Tresser

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Open Letter To Chicago Candidates For Mayor

City_of_Chicago_sealHere are some ideas for a campaign for a better Chicago.

Rallying cry: Justice. Prosperity. For all. Make Chicago a city that works for everyone – not just the insiders and the mayor’s friends. More service, innovation and economic development – from the bottom up.

Calls to action: Stop privatization. Take back the meters. Re-open the closed schools – cut class size to no more than 20 students/class. World class students = world class workers = world class economy. There is no sustainable or just way to get there other than that. Can’t build another Ferris wheel on Navy Pier to get that job done.

How to get there (source of resources and funds):

General principle: Reuse. Re-cycle and re-create. If we use everything we have – we’ll have everything we need. (borrowed from Edgar Cahn, author of “No More Throw-Away People” – creator of time dollars and time banking).


(1) End TIFs, empty the TIF funds = $1.7 billion

(2) Financial transaction tax = $10 billion (split between state, county, city government)

(3) Bank of Chicago patterned after Bank of North Dakota ( ) = Huge local impact – would stop paying huge fees to corrupt and criminal Big Banks and would finance student loans, first time homeowners, small biz start-up & expansion and even back up local government finance for infrastructure – no more parking meter deals needed!

(4) Capture vacant land for local farming and production – at roughly $20,000 per lot could turn it productive to support two full-time workers making livable wage (estimate from Kenn Dunn – is a few years old and would need to be detailed)
[Could combine #3 & #4 to transfer land, foreclosed homes to homeless and working poor]

(5) Millionaire’s Real Estate Surcharge – for every property in city valued at over $5,000,000 add surcharge to property tax – $10 for every $1,000 – would need data on # properties to play with this formula to see range of options. Benefit is that ownership is not an issue – that is, if you tried to pass a personal income tax the wealthy would just register address elsewhere. This way, regardless of legal ownership of properties, the new value is extracted. Place provision in ordinance that if a currently for-profit property is suddenly “gifted” to a nonprofit the property will still be assessed based on the new formula.

(6) Look at major capital equipment expenses – such as purchasing rail cars and computers and BUILD THEM IN CHICAGO in city-owned plants. Use technical high schools and city colleges as feeder/training platforms to prepare workforce and admin staff for these ventures. DON’T EXPORT OUR DOLLARS. KEEP THEM CIRCULATING IN CHICAGO.

In addition:

(1) Conduct forensic audit on the entire city’s finance and personnel – review every hire and every contract – conducted by independent audit committee led by financial and human capital experts. Are there job descriptions, are people qualified, are they physically present at job site? Review every contract and especially every contract led without bid and under the minority allocation program which has been notoriously corrupt. Announce amnesty for ghost, patronage workers – resign now without pension and avoid prosecution. If workers are caught in our review and found to be improperly hired and not performing, they and their hiring manager will be prosecuted for theft.

(2) Review all contracts let by Public Building Commission

(3) Review all members and transactions of pension boards

(4) Review all upcoming labor contracts and strip out provisions that allow for stupid work and law suit rulings

(5) “One person one job policy” – all aldermen, city workers draw one payroll and are not permitted any other paying work

(6) Review the entire judiciary process – move to merit selection – start recruiting young people now to go to law school to be placed on bench within 6 years – if we can’t eliminate corrupt slating/election system, then start prepping our own team of young advocates to run in 2016 and beyond.


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