Welcome to Issue #17 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on, and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
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Reviewing the Fair Tax
Ballots in Illinois for the general election in November include a referendum to amend the State Constitution to allow for a progressive income tax structure. Currently, the state income tax is set at the same percentage (4.95 percent), regardless of total income. The “Fair Tax,” as Governor J. B. Pritzker has coined it, would require the state to set a higher income tax percentage for those with higher incomes.
You have likely seen a lot of propaganda related to the Fair Tax since both Pritzker and Illinois’ wealthiest resident, Ken Griffin, have been pouring money into campaigns which, respectively, support and oppose the Fair Tax.
Amending the State Constitution to allow for a graduated income tax as opposed to a flat tax would give Illinois’ government the ability to tax the rich without burdening those at lower income brackets. The referendum requires that higher tax brackets have higher income tax percentages than those below them, which would prohibit politicians in the future from reverting to a flat tax.
Illinois’ annual operating budget is over $6 billion in the red, the state’s total debt is over $60 billion, and there are hundreds of billions of dollars of unfunded pension obligations on Illinois’ books. If the Fair Tax amendment does not pass, the state will be limited on how it can meet the significant financial challenges caused by decades of mismanagement and corruption.
Without the Fair Tax, it is reasonable to expect our future to be one of austerity and deepened suffering for those who can least afford it. It is imperative that the Fair Tax pass. You can sign up to canvass for the Fair Tax and against the retention of Judge Michael Toomin here.
Recapping the October 7 Council Meeting
Chicago’s City Council met virtually on Zoom due to the ongoing pandemic for a long three hours and 56 minutes on October 7, 2020.
During the meeting’s Public Comment period, members of the community are allowed three minutes each to address the mayor and City Council. Several Chicagoans representing Black Heroes Matter urged the city council to commit to recognizing Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable through a city holiday, a monument, and the renaming of Lake Shore Drive. A number of adjunct professors from City Colleges of Chicago voiced demands for the Mayor to support their efforts to receive more equitable pay. A Chicagoan who had campaigned for the Mayor spoke directly to her to express her disappointment in the mayor’s lack of support for community oversight of the police (the speaker supported GAPA, however; CDSA supports CPAC, an abolitionist-oriented measure).
Following the public comments, the City Council spent nearly two hours on resolutions—largely symbolic documents. The first resolution of the meeting honored the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A resolution for the late Governor James Thompson followed. The Council then took time to remember Reverend Dr. Leon Finney before moving on to a nearly 44-minute-long resolution regarding the retirement of Fred Waller, CPD’s Chief of Operations for 34 years. The City Council dedicated more time at this meeting to celebrating a retiring cop who was put on suspension immediately prior to his retirement announcement for comparing police reform discussions to groping and rape than it did to public comment. Two aldermen were so personally moved to speak on Waller that they actually referred to him as “Chief Wallace.” A final resolution honored Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
How Did the City Council Spend their Time?
Resolution Calling for Expansion of Gender-Based Violence Prevention Sent to Rules Committee
The same City Council that showered compliments on Chief Waller later voted to send Alderman La Spata’s (1st) resolution calling for expanded gender-based violence prevention programs to the Rules Committee. The resolution (R2020-805) was supported by eleven other aldermen, including five members of the Chicago City Council Socialist Caucus. La Spata’s resolution was submitted in collaboration with The Network, an organization dedicated to increasing community support systems for survivors of domestic violence. Resolution R2020-805 called for an expansion of public health initiatives related to the prevention of domestic violence, long-term housing for survivors, “funding services for those who cause harm,” increasing community care, and community-based advocacy work. It is unclear what the fate of this resolution will be. However, on October 8, Alderman La Spata tweeted his commitment to “press on in this fight for the tens of thousands of Chicagoans who aren’t safe in their own homes.” The Network has also urged Chicagoans to reach out to Alds. Dowell, Harris, and Sawyer to ask for swift movement on the resolution.
Development for All Ordinance Blocked, Sent to Rules
The graveyard that is the Committee on Committees and Rules gained another hostage at the meeting: Alderman Sigcho-Lopez’s (25th) reintroduction of a proposal that would make it harder for aldermen to block affordable housing developments. Commonly known as the Development for All Ordinance, the proposal addresses Chicago’s massive affordable housing gap, estimated to be nearly 120,000 homes, according to a 2018 study by DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies.
Under the ordinance, developers would be required to reserve a percentage of their units for affordable housing: 10 percent in “low-rent neighborhoods,” 20 percent in “moderate-rent neighborhoods,” and 30 percent in “high-rent neighborhoods.” It also requires the construction of wheelchair-accessible homes. As things stand, developers can take advantage of a loophole in the Affordable Requirements Ordinance, allowing them to pay a fee rather than build affordable housing. This, of course, reinforces Chicago’s segregation; families in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods get pushed out in order to make way for overpriced developments. This displacement hits Black and Brown families the hardest, forcing them from their homes.
In addition to lead sponsor Sigcho-Lopez (25th), the proposal has the support of 19 other aldermen and a coalition of community organizations.
As we stare down the barrel of an unprecedented and frankly terrifying eviction crisis, blocking affordable housing seems particularly cruel. But it shows us where the City’s priorities lie. This ordinance is the latest example of Lightfoot’s fair-weather progressivism; she supported the proposal during her campaign but now opposes it.
For now, the ordinance sits in the Rules committee. Such referrals are a favorite delay tactic of the Mayor and City Council; legislation gets sent to Rules, which is then responsible for assigning said legislation to the appropriate venue. This rarely happens. Instead, legislation languishes, ignored, and cannot come to a vote.
The Development for All Ordinance must now await action by the Rules committee before moving forward. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for November 16.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Ali Cassity, Brent Glass, Nick Hussong, Charlotte Kissinger, Anna Kochakian, Alan Maass, Ian McCollum, and Nick Thomas. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.