The Bright One joins the team | Bleader

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Bright One joins the team

Posted By on 03.13.08 at 05:06 PM

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It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Sam Zell. All the guy's doing is asking for a handout, the sort of thing Mayor Daley dishes out to developers all the time.

"The Trib's Selling and We're Not Buying," read the front page of today's Sun-Times. "Only Sam Zell and his Tribune Co., owners of the ballpark, stand to gain. And in an economic downturn, only the taxpayers stand to lose."

The headline and accompanying editorial -- which had me cheering over my morning coffee -- are referring to the state's proposal to use sales taxes to buy and rebuild Wrigley Field so whoever owns the Cubs can sell more tickets and concessions and make more money.

The paper's zeal is goosed by wanting to make things uncomfortable for its rival, of course, but it's an encouraging turn of events nevertheless. When it comes to corporate welfare, the Wrigley Field proposal is only the tip of the iceberg. In the last year or so, the city's agreed to fork over $8.5 million to Grossinger Auto Corp. to build a car dealership at North and Clybourn, $51 million to a consortium of developers to convert the old downtown post office into a luxury hotel and condos, $58 million to developers to build an 18-story tower on top of Union Station for another hotel and even more upscale condos, $5 million to Navteq, the hugely successful navigations technology company to move from the Merchandise Mart to 100 N. Riverside, and $880,000 to Barry Callebaut to move its corporate office into the old Montgomery Ward building at 600 W. Chicago. Callebaut, by the way, was the company that closed the Brach's candy factory, throwing roughly 3,500 west-siders out of work.

These are all, of course, just some of the more egregious handouts from various tax increment financing districts, the mayor's favorite slush fund. Whenever I talk to community groups about TIFs they want to know why the Tribune and the Sun-Times aren't writing about this scam. In private writers from both papers have told me that their editors basically think the issue's too complicated for their readers to understand.  

I think they're underestimating the public's intelligence. In fact, today's Sun-Times editorial did a great job of spelling it out in language that pretty much anyone can follow. In this case, they're writing about a diversion of sales taxes, but the same principle applies when the city diverts property taxes for TIF deals. 

"Sales taxes are intended as a source of general revenue to help cover the myriad costs of local government -- teaching children, paying police officers and fixing pot holes," the Sun-Times wrote. "When significant sales tax revenues are diverted to a single special purpose, such as paying for a ballpark, the tax burden grows that much heavier on everyone else."

I couldn't have said it better myself . . .

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