CHICAGO (CBS) — Several state lawmakers accused a conservative think tank with close ties to the governor of setting up “a very bad tone for our politics” with a cartoon the lawmakers called “very stereotypical and racist.”

The political cartoon published earlier this week by the Illinois Policy Institute depicts a black child begging on the street for money for Chicago schools, as a white man wearing a suit shows him one empty pocket, while the other is stuffed with cash marked “TIF $.”

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Eight state lawmakers staged a protest on Friday outside IPI’s offices in the LaSalle Street Financial District, and demanded an apology.

“It is more than a distraction. This is offensive,” said Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago). “I’m offended by this portrait here, this cartoon. African-American kids should not be on their knees begging anyone for anything.”

Flowers said she agrees there needs to be a debate about the impact of tax increment financing (TIF) districts on education funding, “but not in this manner.”

“This has nothing to do with TIF. This is racist, and this is further perpetuating the ignorance that’s going across this country,” she said.

Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) said she finds the cartoon “very stereotypical and racist.”

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“It just sets up a very bad tone for our politics in the state today, and I think that it’s more important for us to figure out how to work together; Chicago and downstate,” she said.

Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) called the cartoon “a racist dog whistle.”

“This is a cartoon that depicts Chicago schools as less deserving and I don’t think that’s right,” she said.

The cartoon was pulled from the Institute’s web site after Democratic and Republican legislators in Springfield railed against it, but vice president for policy Ted Dabrowski said there will be no apology.

“We reject the charges of racism in that cartoon. It distracts from the real issue in that cartoon,” he said.
Dabrowski said the cartoon was designed to show how tax increment financing (TIF) districts take hundreds of millions of dollars away from schools.

“We want the debate to be about TIFs, and how they’re hurting minority kids in CPS,” he said. “TIFs are really unfair, really damaging to Chicago Public Schools, which is majority students of color.”

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The Illinois Policy Institute has strong ties to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has donated to the organization, and recently hired several former IPI staffers as his top aides.