The City Releases the "Shadow Budget" | Bleader

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The City Releases the "Shadow Budget"

Posted By on 12.06.09 at 04:00 AM

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  • Paul John Higgins
After months of FOIA wrangling with City Hall, we’ve finally acquired a copy of the city’s “shadow budget”—the list of allocated and proposed uses for the half a billion dollars a year in taxpayer money that the Daley administration has previously refused to release to the public. You can take a look (pdf) by clicking here.

The document demands further analysis, but a few early observations from myself and my colleague Ben Joravsky:

1. Mayor Daley and his top aides defend the TIF program as the city’s chief tool to fight economic decline in depressed neighborhoods. But the budget itself shows that the wealthier downtown TIF districts bring in far more extra tax funding—and thus have far more to spend—than impoverished neighborhoods on the south and west sides.

To cite one example: the Ogilvie Transportation French Market, a project Mayor Daley touted yesterday, got $12 million from the River West TIF district (whose projections are on page 132 of the budget document). That’s nearly twice as much TIF money as the total available next year to the Englewood Mall, Englewood Neighborhood, Roseland/Michigan, 95th/Stony Island, 69th/Ashland, and 63rd/Ashland TIF districts combined.

2. What qualifies as an “economic development” project varies so widely—among the various projects are school construction, ornamental street lighting, traffic studies, and subsidies for corporations, a bakery, and a theater troupe—as to make the term either all-encompassing or meaningless, depending on your perspective.

3. The premise of the program is that it generates funding for development in blighted communities. For instance, a TIF subsidy might be used to turn a vacant lot into a strip mall, which would produce more property tax revenue than the vacant lot. For the life of the TIF district (up to 24 years), that money goes back into the pot to fund more development.

But in one TIF district after another the anticipated yield for next year is lower than it was for this year. Take the LaSalle Central TIF district (whose projections are on page 99). County clerk David Orr has reported that this year it brought in about $26 million in property taxes. In 2010, the city predicts that number will drop to about $18 million, a 30 percent decline.

Which brings us back to the newly released document, which projects that many of the TIF districts will actually be running a deficit over the next few years.

4. It shouldn't have been so hard to get this document.

City officials shared portions of it with aldermen this fall, and several passed to us on what they’d received. On September 21 we submitted a request for the complete TIF budget under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. On October 14 we got a letter from the Department of Community Development informing us that our request had been denied on the grounds that "the information contained in it is comprised of staff-determined estimates. . . . They are not final or official projections."

In a letter to the city’s chief FOIA officer, Jenny Hoyle, we argued that the budget involved both projections and allocations and was no more preliminary than the city’s regular budget, which is similarly based on estimates of the next year’s revenues and spending. We also noted that the state FOIA specifies that “all information in any account, voucher, or contract dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of public bodies” is considered public and open to inspection.

In the meantime, our cover story on the shadow budget hit the street just as the city was debating how to deal with a huge hole in its regular budget. Calls for TIF reform came from the public, the daily papers, and even members of the City Council.

On November 24 Hoyle e-mailed us saying she would grant our appeal. She said she would send us the budget once Community Development had redacted the names of companies involved in development deals that had not been formally approved.

We finally received it today.

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