Tuition tax credits discussed at JPNA meeting; Quigley says Russian scandal worse than Watergate
by BRIAN NADIG
A tax credit tuition program, the political impact of a controversial zoning proposal and the federal Russian investigation were discussed at the Aug. 30 meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.
State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19), state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) and U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-5) spoke at the 90-minute meeting. The association also took nominations for board positions, and president Robert Bank said he is retiring.
Martwick said that he voted against the revised school funding legislation because of a provision that authorizes the issuance of $75 million in state tax credits to fund $100 million in private school tuition scholarships.
“No one from our neighborhood will benefit from this,” Martwick said of the tax credits.
Corporations and the wealthy will quickly take up the tax credits, and it will be difficult for area families to receive a tuition scholarship as part of the program, Martwick said. Those households earning less than 300 percent of the poverty level, or up to about $72,900 for a family of four, are expected to be eligible in the first year.
Martwick said that as “a product of the Catholic schools,” he understands the importance of private schools but that the role of the state is to focus on properly funding public schools and that the state is not in a financial position to spend $75 million on the program. A public hearing on the tax credit provision, which is opposed by the Chicago Teachers Union, was never held, he said.
“To me, it crossed the line,” Martwick said, explaining his “no” vote. “It was kind of a poison pill for me.”
Mulroe, who voted in favor of the legislation, said that while he has concerns about the tax credits, he likes “90 percent” of the funding legislation and did not want school districts to experience further delays in receiving payments from the state. He said that compromise was needed on both sides of the aisle to help move the state forward.
“School districts already missed two of their payments,” Mulroe said.
While $8.2 billion had been allocated for education in the recently passed budget, none of those funds could have been distributed until a new funding formula was in place. The new formula is significantly more equitable in terms of helping the poorest school districts and provides much needed funding to address the teacher pension crisis in Chicago, Mulroe said.
Details of the tax credit program still need to be worked out, but some area families could receive tuition assistance, based on the initial plans, Mulroe said. While corporate donations would go to a general scholarship fund, individuals could choose the school where their tuition tax credit donation should be used, he said.
Several hundred thousand children in Illinois attend private schools, and the financial burden on the state would be much higher than the $75 million set aside for the tax credits if those students attended a public school, he said.
Also at the meeting, questions were directed toward the legislators about a planned 100-unit, mixed-income housing development at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy., which would include 30 Chicago Housing Authority apartments. Both Martwick and Mulroe have not taken a stance for or against the project.
Martwick said that he has not interfered with local zoning matters during his 5 years in office and leaves them up to an area’s alderman because he or she is elected to make those decisions. Mulroe recently said that he understands the density concerns of residents but also does not take public stances on local zoning issues.
The project resulted from a settlement agreement in a lawsuit which the site’s owner filed after the Alderman Arena (45th) had the property downzoned to stop initial plans to build only a self-storage facility there. Arena has said that low-income housing is needed in the ward to help desegregate the area and to fill a housing need.
Association board member Lotty Blumenthal said that area legislators should be concerned about the dense developments which Arena is bringing to Jefferson Park because Democratic incumbents will face stronger opposition than usual from Republican challengers in upcoming elections.
“The alderman has so polarized people he’s revived the Republican Party on the Northwest Side,” Blumenthal said at the meeting. The Northwest Side GOP Club formed last year, and its president, Matt Podgorski, has said that opposition to the Northwest Highway project sparked membership gains.
The meeting also included comments by Quigley about the investigations into the Trump administration and Russian interference in the presidential election.
“This is worse than (Watergate),” he said. “Russians hacked into our systems and dumped e-mails.”
Quigley, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said that support for a “full throttle” investigation would be universal “if you’ve seen what I’ve seen.” The country could be heading to a constitutional crisis, he said.
In other news, the following association members were nominated to serve on the board including Colleen Murphy for president, Ed Irsch for treasurer, and Eva Skowronski, Peter Insley, Steve Neidenbach, Tonia Guzman and Siu Tufele for directors. Not all of the board’s positions are up for election this year.
The election will be held at the association’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, in the basement of the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St.
The association is co-sponsoring a community garage sale and flea market from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, in the parking lot at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. The event will be held rain or shine.