Slush funds for everyone—why should DePaul and Marriott have all the fun? | Bleader

Friday, October 4, 2013

Slush funds for everyone—why should DePaul and Marriott have all the fun?

Posted By on 10.04.13 at 03:45 PM

Rahm is using your money for his own slush fund—for things like DePauls new basketball arena—so why not have a slush fund of your own?
  • Andrew A. Nelles/Sun-Times Media
  • Rahm is using your money for his own slush fund—for things like DePaul's new basketball arena—so why not have a slush fund of your own?

I'd like to take credit for inventing the modest proposal known as STIF, but alas, it wasn't my idea.

It comes from an engineer named Joshua Freedland, who volunteers his time as a member of the Local School Council at Jamieson—the public grammar school in West Rogers Park that his kids attend.

The STIF idea came to him one day while he was thinking about the latest round in Mayor Emanuel's school budget cuts, which slashed roughly $200,000 from Jamieson's budget. Thus forcing the principal to fire four teachers, even as enrollment is rising.

Remember—it's all about the kids, like the mayor says.

The STIF is based on the TIF, which, as everyone knows, is a property-tax-diversion scam invented by Mayor Daley and perfected by Mayor Emanuel.

Hold on! I feel a need to explain TIFs—an urge that overcomes me at least twice a day.

Every year you, the property tax payers, pay taxes to the schools, parks, city, and other taxing bodies. Those entities in turn direct a portion of what you pay them to the mayor, who's free to spend that money however he pleases.

So you give the mayor money for things you presumably want, like schools, and the mayor spends it on things you presumably don't want.

But don't worry—I will not bludgeon you with anymore gory details about Mayor Emanuel's $92 million (and counting) TIF boondoggle in the South Loop.

That would be the one where he's building a basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel for Marriott.

Which I'm not talking about.

Last year, the taxing bodies gave the mayor about $457 million in property taxes to play around with. Roughly 53 percent of that $457 million came from the Chicago Public Schools, 9 percent came from Cook County, and 22 percent came from the city itself.

So you're not getting that money for librarians, chess teams, art, drama, music, or toilet paper.

Or police.

Or health care for the indigent.

But you are getting a basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel for Marriott.

Sorry, I wasn't going to mention that.

Back to Freedland. He's decided if it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander. Hence, his Sales Tax Increment Financing scheme.

"I will redirect the sales tax I owe to an escrow fund whose proceeds will fund my daughters' school," he proposes.

By Freedland's calculation, his STIF district should raise $2 million per year—or enough to service the debt for Jamieson's addition.

Think of it as a variation on the participatory budget process Alderman Joe Moore likes to talk about.

Okay, so maybe Freedland's having a little fun—Jonathan Swift style. But, actually, self-directed tax diversions happen all the time in TIF deals that are structured so developers can essentially use their property tax dollars to finance whatever it is they want to build.

That's how Loyola University got to spend a portion of its property tax dollars renovating buildings on its north-side campus.

And the University of Chicago using some of its property taxes to build a complex on 53rd Street—with a Hyatt Hotel and everything.

I say if it's good for these big schools, it should be good for the little ones, like Jamieson—helping offset the millions they're losing on that South Loop boondoggle I'm not going to mention.

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