Baby steps

It’s that time of the season where I measure a year’s worth of political progress by comparing steps forwards and steps back, in the hope that overall we’ve made progress.

I could fill this issue with many examples of elections, budgets, and spending plans from 2022. But I’ll settle on a few items. Starting with some good news . . .

The CTA’s Red Line Extension project

I’m happy to say that the year ended with Mayor Lori Lightfoot doing something right. That’s right as in correct—not as in ideology.

I’ve been critical of Lightfoot for much of 2022. But on the Red Line, I have to say thank you, Madame Mayor (and thank you City Council for overwhelmingly approving her proposal). You did what your predecessors—Mayors Emanuel and Daley—said they wanted to do, but never got around to actually doing.

That’s extending the Red Line south from where it currently stops at 95th to 130th Street, and building four new stops—at 103rd, 111th, Michigan Avenue, and near Altgeld Gardens.

The mayor and council did it by committing about $959 million in Tax Increment Financing dollars (the feds will pick up most of the rest of the cost). So finally some worthwhile economic development from the TIF scam.

Frankly, I don’t think those two aforementioned mayoral predecessors wanted to extend the Red Line, no matter how many times they said they did. Frankly, I think those predecessors saw that project as a waste of money.

So they did just about every other CTA project. They built the Pink Line. They repaired the Brown Line. They fixed up the Red Line. They built the flyover at Belmont. They rebuilt the 95th Street station, but no Red Line extension.

The extended Red Line will bring service to Washington Heights and Roseland, communities that have suffered for investment under Daley and Emanuel.

As far as I can tell, the governing principle of Daley and Emanuel was to mostly spend TIF money in areas that were already booming, thus gentrifying already gentrifying communities, while leaving lower-income communities, like Washington Heights and Roseland, to fend for themselves.

We all know what happened.

Over the last 20 years, Chicago’s Black population has drastically fallen—including in Washington Heights and Roseland.

It was demographers like Alden Loury, now an editor at WBEZ, who brought this to my attention. I remember asking Loury why Chicago’s powers-that-be did not sound the alarm about the outward Black migration.

To which he said something like,”Ben, I don’t think they saw it as a problem.”

Truer words were never spoken.

I hope extending the Red Line sparks renewal on the far south side. So, one giant step forward. On the other hand . . .

The only no vote in the council was cast by Alderperson Pat Dowell on the grounds that her near south-side ward was largely paying the city’s share of the project.

Or as she put it at a city council hearing, “Because these benefits are citywide, everyone should have skin in the game of paying for this project. This has to include the entire city.”

That’s inaccurate. TIF is a citywide tax hike. The Red Line TIF district will raise property taxes on every Chicago property—not just property in Dowell’s ward.

To say otherwise is to feed the notion that somehow 3rd Ward residents will, as the Sun-Times put it, “bear the burden” of the extension’s costs.

Again, not true. Again, every property owner’s taxes will rise for this project. Again, a TIF is a citywide tax hike. Whether she intended to or not, Alderperson Dowell contributed to Chicago’s ignorance of TIFs. 

So it’s like a quarter step back. I’ll settle for that.

Now onto the national front. Democrats defeated MAGA attempts to take control of the Senate—even picked up a seat. So that’s a big step forward—if you believe in democracy as opposed to Trumpocracy.

And yet, last week House and Senate Democrats joined their Republican counterparts to add $45 billion to the defense bill that President Biden had already requested.

Let me repeat that to make sure there is no confusion about what Democrats did.

Next year’s entire defense budget is not $45 billion—it will be about $858 billion.

No, the $45 billion is what Congress is adding to what Biden wanted to spend. Like $851 billion on bombs and guns was not enough!

That $45 billion is obviously a lot more than the $3.6 billion it will cost to extend the Red Line. They could probably extend the Red Line to Carbondale for that kind of cash.

Now, I obsessively followed the 2022 elections in many states (not just Illinois). And I don’t recall any Democrats running on platforms of upping the defense budget by $45 billion.

Never heard one of them say—we have to hold onto the House and the Senate so we can spend even more money on weaponry than what President Biden wanted to spend. As opposed to spending it on transit, schools, health care, or any of the dozens of programs that people in this country really need.

Quite the contrary: I know of activists who worked their tails off for Democrats who they hoped would cut defense.

This headline from the Sunday, December 18, New York Times print version said it all: “Bonanza for Arms Makers As Military Budget Surges.”

I don’t recall one Democratic candidate or voter saying, “We need a bonanza for arms makers!”

Certainly, I didn’t read that refrain in any of the hundreds of solicitations I received all year long from Democratic candidates.

As always, Democrats are their own worst enemies. So one step back.

Finally, on the state level . . . 

Democrats beat MAGA in every statewide race, including governor and supreme court. And all those Republican candidates managed to concede defeat without crying that the election was stolen and storming the state capitol. Call that a step forward.

As you can see, I’m really trying to look on the bright side, folks. Hope 2023 is one giant step forward for all of you.

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All the usual TIF lies come out on both sides in the debate for and against the Red Line extension.

The Florida strategy

MAGA’s attempt to scare white voters into voting against Pritzker didn’t work so well, to put it mildly.

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