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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

State rep Mayfield vs. Mayor Rahm: Round one to Rita!

Posted By on 03.13.13 at 02:37 PM

Rita Mayfield, pictured second from left
  • Ryan Pagelow/Sun-Times Media
  • Rita Mayfield, second from left
Having spent the better part of the last few weeks closing schools and socking homeless shelters with heavy-duty water bills, Mayor Emanuel finally got around to taking care of his favorite slush fund.

That is, he sent a couple of his aides—including one from the Chicago Public Schools—to meet with state rep Rita Mayfield and head off her attempt to reform the city's TIF program.

Just to remind you . . .

The tax increment financing program is the one where the mayor jacks up the money you pay in property taxes—in the name of education, among other things—and then spends that money on whatever he wants.

Including eradicating blight in neighborhoods that are not blighted—like River North.

As I may have written a few billion times.

As you may recall, Representative Mayfield—who hails from Waukegan—recently introduced a bill that would cut out the schools from future TIF districts, effectively slicing the mayor's TIF take in half.

Soon after she introduced her bill, the mayor dispatched legislative aides to talk her into dropping it. She wouldn't budge.

Apparently, politicians up in Waukegan come from sterner stock than their counterparts in Chicago—most of whom have either been looking the other way or defending TIFs for years.

I'll say this about our mayor—he's not giving up that TIF money without a fight.

Yesterday, Representative Mayfield had a follow-up meeting in Chicago with two of the mayor's aides, including one from CPS, who were hoping to get her to at least water down her legislation.

Really, there's nothing sadder than CPS officials defending a program that diverts about $225 million a year in property taxes from the schools.

I was not at the meeting—funny, the mayor didn't think of inviting me.

But according to my sources, the mayor's two aides didn't try very hard to defend the program other than to say it's not illegal.

And that is correct. As hard as it is to believe, it's not illegal for the city to spend money intended for poor neighborhoods in rich ones. Or to divert hundreds of millions from schools while they're closing up to 129 of them. Or to sock homeless shelters with water bills while spending $29.5 million on upscale developments in River North. Immoral, perhaps, but not illegal.

That's because a loophole in the state TIF law makes virtually any neighborhood—even River North—eligible for a program intended to help the poorest of the poor.

As a result, TIFs benefit Chicago's wealthiest neighborhoods more than its poor ones. Speaking of things that are immoral.

The good news is that Mayfield says she's not backing off on her legislation. Indeed, she plans to hold hearings on her proposal in the upcoming weeks.

It might be a good idea for everyone protesting the schools closings and the water bill hikes to show up, just so they can see where their tax dollars are going.

It's never too late to learn how your government is scamming you, people.

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