Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chicago ain't ready for TIF reform

Posted By on 08.30.11 at 11:52 AM

Here's everything you need to know about Mayor Emanuel's self-heralded TIF reform: there is none!

Big surprise, huh?

Yes, yes—the mayor made good on his campaign promise to set up a task force to study the $500 million-a-year Tax Increment Financing slush fund.

And, yes, the task force prepared a report with pages and pages of information.

And, yes, the mayor released the report yesterday at a well-choreographed press conference that won him lots of coverage—you have to admit the guy's got a knack for public relations.

But the changes he's enacting are mostly limited to providing more information about the program—after the money's been spent. It won't rectify the central flaws in this boondoggle in any real way.

There are three basic problems with how city officials run the TIF program. One is that they take money intended to spur development in poor neighborhoods and spend most of it in rich neighborhoods.

Two, they jack up property taxes.

And three, they divert those taxes from the schools, parks, and other taxing bodies that really need it—especially the schools.

The mayor's TIF reforms would change none of these things.

And really, people—why would he want to change them? The program works perfectly well for him. The schools and parks take hundreds of millions of property tax dollars that Chicago's clueless taxpayers give to them and then turn it over to the mayor to spend pretty much as he wants.

For the mayor, what's not to like about that?

On the bright side, the mayor promises to make public lots more information about how he spends the TIF dollars so that TIF geeks—like me and my colleague Mick Dumke—can document the abuse.

At least it's a growth industry for journalists.

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