Chicago City Council Progressive Caucus holds town hall on 2017 budget

Crossing Guard Tommie Khalid in Buena Park, 2011.

By Alex Ortiz

If all politics are local, then a City Council Progressive Caucus town hall at Malcolm X College Thursday mirrored issues driving the national election conversation. Residents punctuated two main topics: child care access and jobs.

“We’re just looking for more funding in that area,” said April Drayton, a childcare professional from Morgan Park, speaking on behalf of working parents negatively impacted by Legislative cuts to the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program. “And to renegotiate the guidelines again so that families can return and so that children can have that care that they need and be able to be educated for kindergarten to eighth grade.”

Cuts to the program for affordable daycare for low-income working families has resulted in 50,000 fewer children are in childcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. Even with readjustments to program funding by the state and city, many childcare businesses have closed.

Beyond those issues, seven members of the caucus sought to hear constituent concerns for the City Council’s 2017 budget consideration.

“We need a budget that does not harm working families and that ask the very wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share,” said Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd). “We want to make sure your voices are heard. We need you to have our backs as we continue to fight for progressive budgets for the City of Chicago.”

The Progressive Caucus has proposed three plans to “generate revenue fairly and more effectively”:

  1. To reform Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to make sure taxpayer money isn’t handed out to developers and big corporations over the interests of children and schools.
  2. To implement a stormwater stress tax on big box stores and other large stressors on the city’s sewer system.
  3. To regulate big rideshare corporations like Uber and Lyft to ensure transparency about their impact on the environment and economy, and are paying their fair share in taxes.

Of nearly 30 residents who spoke, nearly 10 of them were crossing guards. The 2016 budget transferred the city’s crossing guards from the police department to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Since then, the crossing guards have seen issues with communication and covering missed shifts, which has led to unguarded street corners.

“OEMC has no infrastructure for this,” said Elizabeth Burnside, a crossing guard from Jefferson Park. “They have no management skills and they’re sure not [communicating]. They’ve gutted the program essentially. We are all fearing that worse is going to come.”

The emergency management office generally deals with large crowds during community events and traffic control, and Burnside argued that as the newest members of the department, OEMC is not familiar with how crossing guards work. She said that OEMC doesn’t know how to handle problems crossing guards deal with, and they have not been given direct supervisors where they can report problems. That has led to unmanned street corners when children go to and from school on busy streets, crossing potentially dangerous intersections.

Other issues addressed included community policing, the quality of new police hires and a lack of CTA access on the city’s South Side.

Photo at top: Chicago Police crossing guard Tommy J. Khalid helps kids cross the street in 2011 in Buena Park. (Ronnie Reese/MEDILL)