Experts Sound Alarm: Wall Street Banks Set to Shakedown Illinois for $870 Million Unless Springfield Acts Fast

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Mayor Emanuel Paid Out Hundreds of Millions to Wall Street Banks on Swap Deals that Torpedoed Chicago and CPS budgets, Governor Rauner Urged to Not Repeat Mistake with State Swaps

CHICAGO, IL – On Monday, the Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee held a second subject matter hearing on interest rate swap deals that have cost the state of Illinois over $684 million thus far. During the hearing experts testified how these deals could trigger further financial crisis for the state if letters of credit are not renewed in November. Without these letters of credit, renegotiation, or legal action by the State of Illinois, taxpayers would be on the hook for $870 million in entirely avoidable payments to Wall Street banks.

Kurt Summers, Chicago City Treasurer, stated,  “On May 27th, I sent Governor Rauner a letter encouraging him to join the ongoing class action lawsuits as a chance for the State to recoup tens of millions of dollars in potential damages. This is real money that will benefit the State in a time of unprecedented fiscal challenges but there is more to it than that. This is a statement to financial institutions that the citizens of Illinois, Chicago and any municipality in the union demand to be treated fairly and openly.”

Experts speaking during the hearing made clear that Illinois has alternatives to paying out to the banks including litigation and regulatory action. When faced with a similar situation involving toxic swaps, San Francisco successfully leveraged a public campaign to save money and win substantially better terms from JPMorgan Chase.

Jono Shaffer, a leader with the Service Employees International Union who helped run the campaign in San Francisco explained, “We worked with the Mayor and Controller’s offices in San Francisco to force Chase to the table and avert the crisis. As a result the bank agreed to terminate the swap without charging us $18.5 million in penalties, return $13 million of collateral, refinance us into an affordable fixed-rate loan and to reduce to the outstanding principal on the loan by $21 million.”

The social service infrastructure in Illinois is already in crisis as a result of the ongoing budget impasse. Testimony during the hearing warned of the human toll on Illinois residents if the state paid out in full on the swap deals.

“The $870 million payoff to the banks we are talking about today is sufficient to pay off, in full, all human services providers who are under contract with the state and have not been paid for services rendered over the past 11 and ½ months, since the start of fiscal year 2016 on July 1, 2015. This includes service providers in the areas of infant mortality, homeless youth, mental health, addiction prevention and treatment, respite care, supportive housing, and centers for independent living,”, stated Dan Lesser, Director for Economic Justice at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, to the committee.

Erica Rangel, Lead Community Organizer with Enlace Chicago which runs one of the few Ceasefire programs still operating in the state commented, “These banks have contracts with the state – just like our programs have contracts with the state.  The only difference is, the contracts with the banks are being honored.  Ours are not.  When our government prioritizes big banks who have cheated our state through bad deals over life saving programs – then we have lost our way.”

“Although Springfield has been unable to pass a budget it is our hope that our elected officials can work together to prevent money that should be going to educate our young people and protect our most vulnerable residents from being eaten up by Wall Street bankers,” stated Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative, following the hearing. “Otherwise, the Governor and legislative leaders can take any remaining claim they have to fiscal responsibility and throw it right out the window.”

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