The [Tuesday] Papers
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pitching the $70 million he expects to collect from speed camera tickets next year as a way to help children - spending the windfall on a mix of after-school programs, early childhood education, summer jobs, violence reduction, crossing guards, police outside schools and other efforts," the Tribune reports.
"I promised that the revenue from new speed camera enforcement in children's safety zones would go to keeping our children safe, and this budget does exactly that," Emanuel said as he presented his spending plan last month. "We will be creating a Children's Fund to ensure that this . . . new money is dedicated to keeping our kids learning and safe."
Of course, there's a catch. A huge one.
"There is no children's fund in the proposed city budget. Instead, the money from speed camera fines will go straight into the city's $3.3 billion general fund to spend as the mayor and City Council see fit."
Um, wow? What a great story.
Unfortunately, the Trib mucks it up the rest of the way.
"Talking about helping children is more politically palatable than discussing the revenue from speed cameras that drivers are starting to pay."
I've never understood why reporters (and/or editors) find it necessary to plant such observations in their stories. In many cases, they serve to tell readers that "this is just what they do; don't be alarmed."
In other cases, like this one, it's blindingly obvious. Just stick to the story.
"If all of that sounds a little familiar, it should. Longtime Illinois residents remember a similar approach used to sell the state lottery in 1973. Lawmakers said all the proceeds would go to education. What they didn't advertise was that a like amount of money that had been going to schools was shifted to other programs - a move critics slammed as a shell game."
Um, why go back to 1973 to find an example that sort of fits? That was 40 years ago!
Why not just stick to the current duplicity you've just revealed?
"A real children's fund would be one in which the lines went into a special fund and can only be spent for these purposes, and that's not what they're doing," said Dick Simpson, a former alderman and political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
It's not Simpson's fault but, yes, we get that already! There is no Children's Fund. What of it?!
"The mayor also is making a for-the-children pitch to sell a 75-cents-a-pack cigarette tax increase, saying it will pay for more free vision care and health care for Chicago Public Schools students. The smoke tax hike is expected to bring in about $10 million next year, but only about $1.1 million will be spent on the children. The rest goes into the general fund to help balance the budget."
Yes, that's very interesting, but what about the non-existent Children's Fund? Did you run out of things to say about it?
"The mayor defends the kids-first theme by noting that the federal government has cut grant funding for children's programs in recent years."
I don't see the connection; because the feds have cut funding to children the mayor has to make up a kids-first theme to . . . fill the gap with . . . deceitful rhetoric?
"This year the city lost $6.6 million in Head Start funding, used for early childhood education, because of automatic U.S. government spending cuts known as sequestration, city officials said."
And that's a big, underplayed story. But it's not this one.
"The city also has lost funding for after-school programming and summer jobs for youths, they added."
Therefore, the city will make up a fund that doesn't really exist?
"Despite those cuts and the loss of other funding, the city has maintained or increased spending on those programs during Emanuel's tenure, which began in mid-2011. The speed camera revenue will allow the city to fill those gaps and keep up with current spending levels should there be future cuts, the mayor told the Tribune editorial board."
So what's happening now in this story is that it's being shaped by Rahm's pushback; sure there's no Children's Fund, but look at how much I'm spending on children! (And has that claim been vetted?)
"The idea is to make sure 'the kids are held harmless,'" Emanuel said. "Whether it's after-school, summer jobs, pre-K, library (learning programs), crossing guards, police officers in front of schools that we have, those are the resources coming out of the safety zones that will pay for those, all those so the kids are never . . . at risk."
I think the Trib left out "The idea behind the fund that doesn't exist . . . "
And now we're a long way from the opening of this story. Are you trying to make us forget what drew us to it in the first place? In other words, what about the freakin' non-existent Children's Fund?
"City budget officials say that the term 'children's fund' refers to $73 million that will be spent next year on after-school programs, early childhood education, summer jobs, violence reduction efforts, homeless youth programs, library programs, crossing guards and cops outside schools."
Finally, back to the topic at hand. Now, city budget officials may say that, but Rahm clearly said "We will be creating a Children's Fund to ensure that this . . . new money is dedicated to keeping our kids learning and safe."
That means a "fund" that is "dedicated," which in budget parlance means a pool of money with its own bank account or line item that can only be spent in a narrowly prescribed way. Instead, there's no guarantee that any camera revenue will be spent on children.
"The city paid for those programs this year mostly out of the general fund before the first speed camera ever went up."
Which is how they're saying they'll pay for the programs next year, too. There is no Children's Fund!
"Some of the programs will be expanded next year."
To not be paid for out of the Children's Fund!
"The cost of the expansion and making up for other funding losses add up to at most $21 million, by the Budget Department's own reckoning.
"The mayor, however, did not a create a special fund to limit spending of speed camera money solely to children's programs."
Yes, we get that! Is this the most frustrating great story ever? There is no Children's Fund! Focus, people!
"That would have boxed Emanuel and aldermen in during tight budget times, and the speed cameras are expected to bring in far more than the $70 million predicted next year."
A) Why would that box in the mayor and aldermen any more than any other dedicated funding streams the city has? And what's wrong with a Children's Fund that would be safe even in bad times? That seems like a pretty good idea. Not only that, this is a news story - why is the Trib explaining away the mayor's deceit to make it seem rational?
B) If the speed cameras are expected to bring in far more than predicted, wouldn't that argue in favor of setting at least a portion of that money aside in a Children's Fund that would actually exist? Is the Trib making an editorial judgement that that that's too much money for a Children's Fund?
"The whole idea (the mayor presents) is it's all for the children, it's all for the safety of the kids," said Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 36th, who last year voted against allowing the speed cameras. "We all know it's about revenue."
Now this is on-point. If it wasn't about the revenue, the revenue (arguably) wouldn't be used to fill gaps elsewhere in the budget. It would be about the children, and the money would be dedicated to . . . a Children's Fund!
"To sell the speed cameras and cigarette tax revenue, Emanuel also is touting other benefits for children. With traffic slowed near schools and parks, kids will be safer, and with cigarette taxes higher, fewer kids are likely to take up smoking, he says."
Okay, so the Trib clearly decided to take the angle on this story that the mayor says a lot of things are for kids, and, well, they just might be!
I think there's a better angle. This episode certainly does sound familiar, but it's not the lottery that it recollects, but the mayor's previous falsehoods about his camera programs - as reported in part by the Tribune.
And just last May, the city's inspector general "found that Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install and maintain red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety."
That's the history that is repeating itself. And it's not just cameras.
Just for starters, see:
And, of course:
That's the story. The Children's Fund is just the cherry on top.
"Budget Director Alexandra Holt also noted during budget hearings that about $3 million in speed camera revenue is going to be spent on so-called traffic calming devices, like speed bumps, and other traffic safety infrastructure, like street signs."
So that $3 million won't be available for the non-existent Children's Fund.
"Selling a state lottery or new speed cameras by saying all the revenue is for the kids is a common political tactic that's hardly unique to Emanuel."
Thanks for explaining that, Tribune!
Rewrite: "Lying is a common political tactic that's hardly unique to Emanuel."
And: "Therefore, we're not too upset about it. We're just passing it on."
"'It's the sugar-coating on the pill,' said DePaul University Professor Emeritus H. Woods Bowman, a government finance expert, former state lawmaker and onetime Cook County chief financial officer."
First, it's not the sugar-coating on the pill. Sugar-coating on the pill would be something that makes the pill easier to swallow. Money going into a Children's Fund might do that. This story is about how there's no Children's Fund!
In other words, I swallowed that pill thinking it would go down easier because of its sugar-coating and it turned out to not be coated in sugar at all! Now I'm choking!
Second, you had to interview a government finance expert for that? Perhaps a government finance expert instead could examine budget documents to vet Rahm's claims about how much money he's spending on children - or better yet, explain the complex financial mechanisms that go into funding programs out of imaginary funds. (How do they do it? Volume.)
"As Emanuel heads into the home stretch of budget approval, the welfare of children has become a central theme of his administration. For example, he mentioned children, kids or youths 32 times in his budget address.
"'Our first and most important investment is in the children of Chicago,' he said early on, and later he noted that as a youngster he used to make hospital rounds once a month with his pediatrician father."
But why spoil such a Hallmark ending. Isn't Rahm great?
By the way, for the holidays this year Rahm encourages you to donate to The Human Fund.
Uncle Tupelo For Christmas
Former Chicago Trader Is Human Behind Humans of New York
McSeinfeld & The Menurkey
The Beachwood Tip Line: Human funded.
Posted on November 19, 2013
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