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Tax Increment Financing
Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
Tue Oct 12, 2010

Rahm Nods At TIF Transparency

Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel actually discussed municipal policy today, telling the Sun-Times he'll support listing on property tax bills the proportion of tax dollars flowing into the city's tax increment financing (TIF) funds. While property taxpayers who live in a TIF district may currently click over to Cook County Clerk David Orr's website to see how much of their taxes flow into the TIF pot, the data is listed as $0.00 on the actual tax bills themselves. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley took issue with that misleading bit of accounting in a column for Progress Illinois published about two years ago, when he still sat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Take Mayor Richard Daley's tax bill. We found that Daley, who has tightly controlled the city's TIF program, paid more than 90 percent of his property tax bill in the Near South TIF District, a pool of money under his control.

Emanuel, who recently discussed his campaign with Quigley, also said more data about the TIF program needed to go online. For a detailed critique of the city's first attempt at TIF transparency, check out Max Brooks and Dan X. O'Neil's review of the TIF Sunshine Ordinance's implementation.

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
Fri Oct 8, 2010

What About The Other $500 Million, Mr. Mayor?

That the Daley administration is even considering plugging a portion of Chicago's budget hole using tax increment financing (TIF) money is a watershed moment in city politics. The mayor has safeguarded those taxpayer funds with his life, draining revenue from other local taxing bodies to keep aldermen in line and developers happy.

But Daley's reported short-term budget fix, declaring as "surplus" $200 million of the TIF pot, begs an obvious question: What about the rest of the TIF money? It's important to keep in mind that there is roughly $700 million in the TIF piggy bank that isn't already earmarked for projects. In practical terms, that means the city has siphoned off nearly three-quarters of a billion more tax revenue than it can spend on "public improvement" projects. If City Hall would return the other $500 million that's collecting dust, another $100 million would be accessible to cover operating costs this year (and potentially save those 280 jobs). The city could also pass along $400 million to CPS, the park district, and other cash-strapped agencies. It's really a no-brainer.

PI Original
by Adam Doster
Mon Oct 4, 2010

Charting A "New Chicago" In 2011 (VIDEO)

Over the next several months, a city-wide coalition of progressive activists are going to work hard to hold the feet of Chicago's mayoral candidates to the proverbial fire.

PI Original
by Micah Maidenberg
Fri Oct 1, 2010

Wait, What Are TIFs Again? (VIDEO)

The City of Chicago tax increment financing (TIF) program may be heading toward some big changes as longtime Mayor Richard Daley leaves office. We review the basics of TIF and its problems.

Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
Wed Sep 22, 2010

The Park District's Budget Deficit And TIF

Another day, another local public sector budget deeply in the red. This time it's the Chicago Park District's turn. As the Sun-Times reported on Monday, the district is facing a $22 million budget gap in what's expected to be an estimated $400 million spending plan for next year. The district is considering fee hikes, employee furlough days, and delaying projects to close the shortfall. Layoffs are on the table, but park district superintendent Tim Mitchell has ruled out a property tax hike.

Of course, the City of Chicago's tax increment financing account is stuffed with anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion, and the park district is one of the taxing agencies within Cook County that would get a boost if the city's TIF dollars were declared surplus. The park district's share of the local property tax pie has slipped to 6.71 percent, according to the Sun-Times. Even so, that means declaring Chicago's TIF dollars as surplus could result in a windfall of $49 million to $61 million for the agency, more than covering the present deficit. 

Much of the debate about the future of the city's TIF reserves this summer and fall has focused on how a surplus would boost Chicago Public Schools and the city's own budget. Parks shouldn't be left out of the discussion. Parks still offer plenty of opportunities for free entertainment. That's especially important during hard economic times. 

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
Fri Sep 17, 2010

The Substantive Comptroller's Race

Quietly, the race for Illinois Comptroller has been the most substantively interesting of all the statewide races this season. Republican candidate Judy Barr Topinka launched her campaign with an unusual message: Illinois should merge the positions of State Treasurer and Comptroller into one financial office. It's a move for which the Democratic nominee, David Miller, has also voiced support. Next, Miller unveiled a comprehensive tax increment financing transparency proposal, one that could prove extremely useful to Chicago-area lawmakers and voters as they try to repair the city's finances in the coming years. Now, the two candidates are debating how Illinois should divvy up its scare resources.

Earlier this week, Miller told Chicago Public Radio that he would like to expedite payments to vendors and non-profits that are owed state dollars and operate in undeserved communities. Topinka quickly dismissed that idea as "social engineering." In a press release last evening, Miller clapped back, calling the policy "social decency that goes to the heart of public service." Ideally, the state would raise enough money to pay down all of its bills. Since that's not going to happen anytime soon, this debate is relevant. And Miller, for what it's worth, has been a vocal supporter of comprehensive tax reform in Illinois, which would begin to close that $13 billion deficit. Here's a video we shot of him earlier this year in Springfield, reflecting on the importance of the Save Our State rally:

Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
Wed Sep 15, 2010

TIF Reform Bills Unlikely To Go Away

In late August, State Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) introduced a trifecta of bills (HB 6902, 6903, and 6904) that, if signed into law, would revolutionize how the City of Chicago's controversial tax increment financing (TIF) program operates. Fritchey, however, is running for Comm. Forrest Claypool's seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners and is slated to leave the General Assembly. Will his bills die?

Not necessarily. Earlier this week, State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) told Progress Illinois that she is "very interested" in carrying the torch on some version of Fritchey's package. The precise wording of the legislation could change, but Steans said she would look at pushing a Auditor General investigation; examining the definition of blight in the current state TIF law; increasing transparency in "porting" TIF dollars; and excluding certain taxing bodies from the program going forward. "With the mayoral election coming up, the timing is good," Steans said.

What's less clear is how, legislatively, this may play out. It's unlikely the bills will get a hearing during the fall veto session, according to Steans. And state representatives may want to sponsors the bills, as well. "What I don't know is if someone is going to pick this up on the House side," Steans said. State. Rep Greg Harris (D-Chicago) did tell PI he's talked with Fritchey about the bills and Fritchey himself said he's canvassing his colleagues for support. A call to State. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), a leader in the Democratic caucus, wasn't immediately returned.

In other TIF news, State Rep. David Miller (D-Lynwood), who is the Democratic nominee for State Comptroller, has proposed an online database to help the public understand how each of Illinois' 1,000 TIF districts are operating if he's elected in November. “There are millions of dollars at stake," he said in a press release, "and taxpayers deserve to know whether or not these TIFs are benefiting their community."