Chicago Teachers Union repeatedly pushes for tax hikes in Springfield

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
June 8, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union repeatedly pushes for tax hikes in Springfield

The Chicago Teachers Union registered its opinion on legislation more than 1,360 times in just six legislative sessions. Its legislative priorities would drive up taxes and make government more expensive, no matter where you live in Illinois.

The Chicago Teachers Union pours money into political campaigns, but also uses its clout to push lawmakers to support its legislative agenda. That agenda is not taxpayer friendly.

In the Illinois General Assembly’s six legislative sessions between 2011-2022, CTU logged support or opposition over 1,360 times on at least 480 pending bills, according to data obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute from the Illinois General Assembly.

While many of the bills were related to education or labor and employment issues, many were not. Many weren’t strictly related to Chicago.

That means no one in Illinois is immune to CTU’s ideology.

In addition to policies that could hurt kids and families, CTU advocated for many bills that could hurt taxpayers. Some policies would directly raise taxes, while others would make government more expensive and leave taxpayers to pay the bill.

CTU advocated a number of policies that would directly raise taxes for Illinoisans

CTU frequently calls for tax increases, from higher income and property taxes to taxing “rich people.”

And CTU wants access to it all.

“We have a governor who has committed to legalizing recreational marijuana and putting a tax on it, we can take that as well,” CTU President Stacy Davis Gates once said. “They are also talking about sports betting. We can take that. They’re talking about opening a new casino here in the city of Chicago. We can take that.”

New Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson was CTU’s lobbyist before the union handpicked and bankrolled him to capture the mayor’s office. Johnson ran his campaign on promises of raising revenue by $800 million, by making “the suburbs, airlines and ultra-rich pay their fair share.” His plan included reinstituting a head tax on employees, raising the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales and taxing financial transactions.

CTU’s propensity to support tax increases also came across in the bills the union supported or opposed in the past six legislative sessions.

For example, CTU filed a witness slip in favor of multiple bills creating a progressive income tax on Illinoisans. Billed as a “fair tax,” a progressive income tax would have placed new taxes on businesses and individuals and opened the door to taxing retirement income in Illinois. It could also allow creation of municipal income taxes.

One of the progressive income tax bills CTU pushed was passed and placed on the ballot in the 2020 general election. Voters defeated it 53%-47%.

CTU also slipped in favor of at least two bills imposing a “privilege tax” of 20%, in addition to other already existing taxes, on partnerships and S corporations engaged in investment management services.

That is the opposite of what Chicagoans want. A 2023 survey conducted by Echelon Insights on behalf of the Illinois Policy Institute showed most Chicagoans prefer lowering taxes on businesses.

Companies are leaving Illinois, frequently citing high taxes. Boeing, Caterpillar, Citadel, Highland Ventures and Tyson Foods moved offices or positions out of the state in 2022. One of Chicago’s largest financial services firms, Guggenheim Partners, is expected to join Citadel and move its headquarters to Miami.

The union also slipped in favor of at least two bills creating a  tax on financial transactions. A transaction tax, which is a tax on buying and selling financial assets such as stocks and bonds, could make it impossible for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to continue doing business in Illinois. CTU’s former lobbyist, Johnson, wants to impose that tax in Chicago.

CTU advocated policies that make government more expensive

CTU also pressured lawmakers on policies that would make government more expensive, with taxpayers forced to pay for those policies.

CTU slipped against a bill that would have made a public employer’s financial ability to fund the contract proposals the primary consideration when negotiations reach arbitration.

Government union contracts already cost money. For example, the current CTU contract is estimated to cost Chicagoans $1.5 billion, according to the Chicago Tribune. It makes sense when a government unit and government union reach a stalemate, that an arbitrator take into consideration whether the government has the money for union demands. When a government unit can’t afford to pay a contract with existing revenue, the extra cost is likely to hit residents as higher taxes.

CTU’s stance demonstrates it doesn’t care how much of a strain its demands place on already overburdened taxpayers.

The union also slipped against a bill that would make collective bargaining negotiations between a government employer and a government union open to the public under the Open Meetings Act. Currently, taxpayers have no idea what will be in a collective bargaining agreement between a government unit and a government union until it is finalized. The legislation would have given the public notice of what is being negotiated – and how it might impact their pocketbooks.

CTU slipped in favor of a bill, which passed, allowing principals, assistant principals and other administrative staff within Chicago Public Schools to unionize. Any newly formed unions will be able to negotiate virtually anything into their contracts, which will drive up the cost of running CPS. There’s even a possibility principals in Chicago could go on strike.

CPS already must negotiate with CTU and 10 other unions representing CPS employees. More unions, or special sub-units created within the current unions to include any newly organized employees, means more time negotiating. Then more money will be spent on the cost of negotiations, such as attorneys’ fees, and less time and money utilized for classroom-centric needs.

CTU’s track record shows its influence is bad for taxpayers

The cost of running CPS has skyrocketed since a radical wing of CTU took over leadership of the union in 2010.

Enrollment has declined since then by 20% yet demands on taxpayers have ballooned by 55%. CPS will collect more than $7 billion from state and local taxpayers in fiscal year 2023. That number was $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2010.

Proficiency has also decreased. Between 2010 and 2014, the share of students considered proficient in reading dropped by 29%; in math, that share dropped 30%. After a change in state testing – between 2015 and 2022 – student proficiency dropped 33% in reading and 31% in math.

At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, just 20% of third through eighth graders on average were proficient in reading and 15% in math.

In other words, Chicagoans are paying more as their children get less.

CTU’s advocacy doesn’t affect Chicago alone. Many of the bills it supported or opposed affect the pocketbooks of all Illinoisans.

That means no one is safe from CTU’s influence.

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