Friday, November 22, 2013

Winners and losers in Mayor Rahm's TIF game

Posted By on 11.22.13 at 03:57 PM

Its sad to say, but many of Mayor Rahms most loyal aldermanic supporters come from wards that get the least in the great TIF scam.
  • Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
  • It's sad to say, but many of Mayor Rahm's most loyal aldermanic supporters come from wards that get the least in the great TIF scam.

Some reformers I know are a little down in the dumps after Mayor Emanuel trounced them in last week's TIF showdown.

That is, when they tried to get the City Council to force the mayor to spend some of the millions he's got stashed in his TIF slush funds on our dirt-broke public schools, most of the aldermen buckled under pressure from the boss.

It was like watching Roberto Duran saying, "No mas," and quitting in the middle of his epic championship fight against Sugar Ray Leonard.

Although at least Duran lasted seven grueling rounds before throwing in the towel, unlike the mayor's loyalists, who ran for the hills without a fight.

Still, I don't see last Wednesday's vote as a total loss. Think of it this way—Aldermen Scott Waguespack, Robert Fioretti, Rick Munoz, Toni Foulkes, and their progressive colleagues smoked out the mayor's loyalists, forcing them to concede that they'd rather let Emanuel squander millions than adequately fund the public schools.

So at least we know where everyone stands—the boss is first, the kids come last.

At this point, I'd like to give Mayor Emanuel credit for orchestrating a masterful counterattack against the independents.

He not only strong-armed the aldermen into abandoning whatever principles they might have, but also commanded them to read from the talking points his aides conveniently distributed.

Some of the aldermen—like Patrick O'Connor and Ameya Pawar—attacked the progressives who dared to challenge the mayor.

Other aldermen defended the TIF program.

Thus, Alderman Walter Burnett exclaimed: "I swear by TIF money. TIF money gives me and my community power."

I can understand why Alderman Burnett's so effusive about tax increment financing.

One of the program's central flaws is that it favors gentrifying wards, like his, over poor ones.

The more money an area generates in property taxes, the more money flows into its TIF accounts.

Conversely, the less money an area generates in property taxes, the less money flows into its TIF accounts.

Thus, the program that's intended to help the poorest of the poor neighborhoods largely benefits richer ones, like the near-west- and near-north-side communities Alderman Burnett represents.

Through 2010, the city spent about $197 million in TIF dollars on various projects in the 27th Ward.

In contrast, the city spent about $7.9 million in Alderman Anthony Beale's far poorer south-side 9th Ward.

Those who got, get more. And those who don't got, get the shaft.

All in the name of eradicating blight.

Beale was absent for Wednesday's showdown—so he didn't cast a vote one way or another. But Alderman Foulkes was the only representative of a relatively poor west- or south-side ward who voted against the mayor.

It's pretty sad that the mayor's most dependable TIF supporters represent the wards that fare the worst in this ongoing scam.

By the way, I know about the ward-by-ward TIF distribution thanks to Tom Tresser and his colleagues at the Civic Lab, a budget watchdog group.

Over the last year, they've been going through dozens and dozens of arcane TIF annual budget reports and feeding the info into computers to figure out which ward gets what.

The Civic Lab folks could only calculate through 2010—that was the latest info the city had made available when the Civic Lab started their task.

In other words, the Civic Lab's doing the TIF analysis the mayor doesn't do. I would submit to you that the mayor doesn't do this analysis because, among other things, he doesn't want to have to explain why the 27th gets far more than the 9th ward when it comes to doling out TIF goodies.

Obviously, they'd rather keep the electorate clueless, on the long-shot chance that if voters actually knew what their city was doing, they might be tempted to throw out the bums who were doing it.

Anything's possible, even in Chicago.

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