PI Original Angela Caputo Thursday February 12th, 2009, 3:01pm

Letting The Sunshine In On TIF

At a committee hearing last month, Ald. Manny Flores (1st Ward) called out
top Daley administration officials for instituting the “bad public
policy” that allowed the Republic Windows owners to move out of Chicago
after reaping $9.5 million in taxpayer money, despite scant ...

At a committee hearing last month, Ald. Manny Flores (1st Ward) called out top Daley administration officials for instituting the “bad public policy” that allowed the Republic Windows owners to move out of Chicago after reaping $9.5 million in taxpayer money, despite scant evidence that the company had lived up to its end of a tax increment financing (TIF) deal.

Equally infuriating for Flores and fellow Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) was the amount of time it took to dig out city documents pertaining to the Goose Island TIF district in question. Fortunately, that frustration has now manifested itself in a new ordinance before the City Council.

As Mick Dumke reported yesterday, the duo has introduced the Chicago’s most wide-reaching “TIF reform measure” to date -- the “TIF Sunshine Amendment” -- which would force the Daley administration to put the following documents online:

All TIF redevelopment agreements, including but not limited to; sub-agreements, amendments, exhibits, sub-exhibits, attachments, executive orders, orders, and related documents, are required to be publicly available in print and on the internet on a website page entitled, “City of Chicago Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Redevelopment Agreements,” or something substantively similar thereto.

Here’s more on what information Flores and Waguespak want disclosed:

- Project budgets and actual spending on TIF projects including financing terms, dates, amounts, recipients and purpose;
- Developer report summaries including weekly payroll, quarterly and annual progress reports -- including job creation stats.

Anyone who’s hunted around for the underlying documents on any given TIF knows how cumbersome the process is. And that lack of transparency and oversight has allowed the mayor to enjoy what’s become a $555 million annual slush fund. Meanwhile, taxpayers are stuck with the tab as new property tax revenue in the city’s 160 TIF districts is diverted to Daley. 

Flores and Waguespack are applying just the sort of public pressure it’ll take to expose the mayor’s creative accounting.  By putting key financial information online, the media -- and ultimately the public -- would finally get to see how their tax dollars are being spent.

The historical data would also lead to greater knowledge about which types of TIF projects are working and which aren’t. Eventually, that could usher in more substantial reforms to the TIF policy itself. Meanwhile, specifics on future deals, including the Olympic Village TIF district, would have to be released publicly before the Council is asked to voted on them.

As Flores pointed out to Dumke, there’s no excuse for failing to make the information more accessible right away. “The technology clearly exists,” he said. “This shouldn’t be an issue.”

The measure now heads to committee, where aldermen will hold hearings on the proposal. You can read the full ordinance below (click the link in the upper right-hand corner to expand):

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