The following is an op-ed by Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative.
The report released by Inspector General Joe Ferguson on Monday that documents developers being forced to donate taxpayer dollars to the politically-connected After School Matters underscores the point that the TIF system must be reformed.
It is troubling that Chicago taxpayer money was abused so egregiously by city officials. Even more worrisome, the city continues to lack transparency in TIF deals, allowing the continued possibility of corruption in taxpayer dollars.
We call on Mayor Emanuel to push through real TIF reform. A key first step is to address the TIF slush fund – hundreds of millions of tax dollars require real accountability, and real purpose. The Responsible Budget Ordinance is a good first step.
The Grassroots Collaborative is working together with Alderman Waguespack in order to help address the enormous budget crisis facing Chicago. The Responsible Budget Ordinance requires that all TIF districts that have over $5 million in unallocated dollars gets aggregated, and 50% of that total money gets declared a surplus and returned to the original taxing bodies – City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, parks, libraries, Cook County, etc.
We urge the Administration to put taxpayers first. TIF money cannot continue to be accumulated in slush funds that benefit not only the corporate elite, but politically connected private charities as well.
United Airlines has received over $30 million dollars in TIF funds, despite making a $538 million net profit in April through June of 2011 alone. In August, it was discovered that they cheated Chicago out of $12-$14 million dollars yearly by operating a shell office in Sycamore, IL.
Last year the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was awarded $15 million in TIF funds in order to renovate the Board of Trade’s bathrooms, create a private gym, and cafe. Critics of the TIF program believe it systemically prioritizes downtown over neighborhood interests. The TIF program was originally designated as a program to address blighted neighborhoods. A disproportionate amount of TIF dollars are spent in areas that, by traditional economic metrics, are thriving.
Today, Alderman Scott Waguespack introduced the Responsible Budget Ordinance into City Council. A coalition of over 20 community and labor organizations supports this work, and will continue to fight for real TIF reform.
Amisha Patel is executive director of the Grassrooots Collaborative.