Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The joke's on us

Posted By on 04.17.07 at 12:51 PM

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If Mayor Daley ever wants to get out of politics, I think he could have a great career in comedy. Certainly his latest proposal is classic stuff, even if the joke's on us. 

Last week the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, an organization of 272 area mayors put together by Daley, proposed creating a new wing of the state education bureaucracy intended to guarantee "transparency" in educational fundiing. As Fran Spielman has reported in the Sun-Times, under the proposal, "school districts would develop long-term financial plans that include multiyear forecasts of revenue, spending and debt. Long-term capital improvement plans would also be required." The state would be authorized to withhold funding from school districts that "thumb their noses at the reforms and remove recalcitrant administrators."

Well, what about recalcitrant, thumb-nosing mayors? Make no mistake, the man most responsible for deception in education funding here in Chicago is the very fellow who's proposing to reform it.

I'm talking, of course, about tax increment financing districts, of which Chicago has at least 150 (one more was recommended by the city's Community Development Commission on April 10, the day Daley and the caucus unveiled their proposal).

The really funny part about Daley's so-called reform is that it doesn't even mention TIFs, the single greatest source of duplicity in an already confusing property tax morass. Transparency? What a joke: in Chicago roughly $400 million a year in property taxes is diverted into off-the-books accounts controlled by Daley and his favorite aldermen. The TIF money doesn't appear on any budget, and it's not itemized on your property tax bills, which lie about how your tax dollars get spent. Tax bills lead Chicagoans to believe half of their tax dollars go to the public schools, when in fact the schools forfeit at least $200 million a year to the mayor's worthy causes: e.g., subsidies for luxury condos in Logan Square and commercial leases in the Loop.

Daley had a chance to promote "transparency" last summer, when Cook County Board commissioner Mike Quigley proposed that the county itemize TIF expenditures on tax bills. Mayor Daley dispatched a few aides and aldermen to the county board meeting to make sure the commissioners killed Quigley's bill. In a particularly memorable moment during the debate, "independent" board member Larry Suffredin, echoing comments from one of Daley's chief TIF advisers, said that  putting the information on the tax bill would only confuse taxpayers. 

I suppose it's better just to keep them in the dark.  Or make 'em laugh.

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