Tax Increase Could Pay for Chicago School Construction

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel will ask city council members for approval of a $45 million property tax increase that would pay for construction projects at Chicago’s schools. This additional levy would go beyond the one the mayor’s school board raised to deal with the school district’s deficit — which could eventually lead to layoffs if the state doesn’t come through on funding.

"The [property tax increase] would assist schools in need of overcrowding relief, complete air-conditioning for every classroom ahead of schedule and provide resources for schools with facilities in dire need of overdue capital repairs," the mayor’s office told Crain’s Chicago Business.

The Emanuel administration and school officials have discussed Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) capital improvement tax for months in hopes that it would help cover the school district’s heavy debt and need for new construction, reported the Chicago Tribune. The mayor’s CPS board already quietly approved the tax in an August meeting, where it was listed at the end of the board’s resolution to levy property taxes for the year. Instead, the board voted for a $5.7 billion budget that included another property tax hike — a $19-a-year increase on a $250,000 home. The owner of the same home would also pay $45 for the new capital improvement tax, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.

"If the City Council authorizes CPS to enact the capital improvement levy, it would take effect in 2016 and would be considered on an annual basis for approval by the CPS Board of Education," city spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in a statement.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, said in a statement that the tax levy should have been approved a long time ago. He added that CPS has built several schools over the last 20 years, borrowing money along the way and paying off loans used from operating funds, according to DNAinfo Chicago.

The General Assembly authorized such tax levies as early as 2003, but they require local government approval to move forward.