Editorial: Chicago Teachers Union leaders flip-flop on taxpayer-funded stadiums

Editorial: Chicago Teachers Union leaders flip-flop on taxpayer-funded stadiums

Chicago Teachers Union leadership opposed publicly funded stadiums in 2013. That’s changed: Chicago’s mayor is pushing a Bears football stadium deal needing billions in tax subsidies. And his pals in CTU leadership have yet to speak out about it.

Plans to create a completely modern megacampus for the Chicago Bears look fantastic. There’s one hiccup, and it’s a big one: The deal likely requires billions of dollars from taxpayers.

When it comes to taxpayer-subsidized sports stadiums, we agree with the Chicago Teachers Union, circa 2013. That’s when the union opposed $82.5 million in taxpayer funding for a new DePaul arena.

Back in 2013, and still today, the city has a lot of financial demands – namely, $35.5 billion in pension debt that threatens to tank its finances. Today, the city is staring down another budget deficit, a migrant crisis and a persistent crime problem. It’s not a great time for an increasingly unpopular administration, which is also negotiating a new Chicago Teachers Union contract that’s likely to break the bank, to ask taxpayers to fork over more cash. Reports indicate the team is asking for more than $2 billion in public funding from various sources.

What happened to Johnson circa 2023, when he was running for office and held the opposite view?

“Let me be clear: I want the Bears to stay,” Johnson said in a candidate questionnaire from the Chicago Sun-Times. “But Chicago could also use $2 billion to remove lead pipes, house thousands of unhoused Chicagoans, fully fund public schools, generate neighborhood and business development in communities across the city, pay down our pension and general obligations, or meet dozens of other urgent needs – all of which would also generate much-needed economic and quality-of-life returns.”

We’d argue that avoiding new debt is the real reason to oppose taxpayer subsidies. Still, Johnson’s previous sentiment is mostly correct, in that the city shouldn’t neglect its core responsibilities in favor of doling out taxpayer funds for private development.

Nowadays, though, Johnson has changed his tune. And CTU leadership has yet to speak out about the Bears deal in the same way it opposed the Wintrust Arena deal.

Some progressive groups are angry, too. Progress Illinois called out the union’s hypocrisy on X, including longtime progressive talk show host Ben Joravsky who said, “Ultimately [Johnson is] going to have to turn to liberal or lefty legislators to carry the water for him, and I don’t know how they could do this.” Joravsky added, “‘Oh yeah please give us money for the Bears’ desecration of the lakefront and by the way give us money for schools.’ It’s gotta be one or the other. So I don’t even know how a legitimate lefty could support this.”

The governor and Chicago’s mayor are also publicly at odds over the latest Bears proposal. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the deal “isn’t one that I think the taxpayers are interested in getting engaged in.”

Pritzker continued: “Maybe one lesson that can be learned just from the last few years is stadium deals, and taxpayers putting money forward for stadium deals, [are] not particularly popular around the country. Take note that the winner of the Super Bowl this year, the team went out to try to get the stadium financed by the public and it was rejected by the public in a place where the Super Bowl champions reside.”

On that score, we agree with the governor, too.

Chicagoans have followed the Bears stadium story back and forth, as plans for a new Arlington Heights stadium took off and then seemingly fell apart, only for talks to resume on a revitalized city stadium campus. This is just one more chapter in that story, made all the more interesting because of the blatant hypocrisy of the mayor and CTU leadership.

We just hope the conclusion doesn’t put all of us on the hook for a Bears bailout.

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