Governor Rauner vetoes a tax break for Englewood while offering billions to Amazon | Bleader

Monday, August 27, 2018

Governor Rauner vetoes a tax break for Englewood while offering billions to Amazon

Posted By on 08.27.18 at 06:00 AM

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click to enlarge The Gary Comer Youth Center helps to develop a former industrial property at 7270 S. Chicago Ave. into an urban farm. - JASMIN SHAH
  • Jasmin Shah
  • The Gary Comer Youth Center helps to develop a former industrial property at 7270 S. Chicago Ave. into an urban farm.

Back in July, Governor Rauner's pals from the National Black Chamber of Commerce gave him a lifetime achievement award for helping foster minority businesses.

I didn't think he deserved the award in the first place. But given Rauner's recent veto of state rep Sonya Harper's urban agricultural zone bill, I say the chamber should snatch it right back.

Because that veto shows the governor has a twisted double standard toward economic development when it comes to helping poor black communities as opposed to rich white ones.



Rauner's veto of the Urban Agricultural Zones bill is one of several vetoes from the governor in the last few weeks with an obvious eye toward his November reelection contest against Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

Some of Rauner's vetoes sort of make ideological sense. For instance, I guess I can see why he'd offer an amendatory veto of HB 4469, which allows pretrial detainees to vote.

Obviously, Rauner's trying to look tough on crime for Trump voters, who probably will never forgive him for signing the abortion rights bill.

But the urban ag bill? Well, let's take a deeper dive.

Proposed last year by Harper, who represents Englewood and other south-side neighborhoods, it would encourage municipalities to set aside undeveloped land in low-income communities to be farmed.

Among other things, the bill would allow municipalities to offer discounts in water and sewer fees and property tax exemptions to such farms.

"You can teach students farming skills, you can put vacant land to use," says Harper. "The bill gives local control so each municipality can write its own regulations. I can't understand why anyone would be against it."

On April 25, it passed the house. And on May 23 it unanimously passed the senate. But on August 20, Rauner vetoed it on the grounds—well, let's let the governor's veto message speak for itself.

"This legislation also utilizes property tax abatements as a tool to incentivize growing activity, which would continue a problematic pattern of shifting property taxes to other taxpayers who may or may not directly benefit from the creation of these Urban Agricultural Zones. Abatements like this simply redistribute property taxes, when homeowners are already struggling under the immense weight of their own tax burdens."

And so Rauner issued an amendatory veto, meaning he edited Harper's bill—in particular, deleting the language that allows municipalities to exempt urban gardens from property taxes.

Well, I most concede there's a small (very small) kernel of truth to the governor's veto.

The point he's trying to make—without coming out and saying it—is that it costs money to operate government.

And if the powers that be give one lucky property owner a break, they'll have to raise everyone else's taxes to compensate for the money they're not getting from the lucky one.

I'm very familiar with this practice, having railed against it in column after column over the years regarding corporate giveaways enabled by Chicago's tax increment financing program.

In a TIF district, municipalities divert property tax dollars from the schools, parks, etc, and send it to bank accounts controlled by the mayor.

To compensate for the taxes these agencies are not getting from TIFs, everyone else must pay more. Hence, TIFs lead to tax hikes.

Noticeably missing in action in any form of protest against the ongoing TIF tax hike has been one Bruce Rauner.

No, no—we never got a peep of protest from Rauner as Mayors Daley and Emanuel created TIF districts in high-income, don't-really-need-a-handout places like the Loop, West Loop, South Loop, and other rapidly gentrifying communities.

Even worse, last year Rauner tag-teamed with Mayor Rahm to offer an undisclosed amount of TIF money—probably tens of millions of dollars—to Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man.

They're hoping the handout will convince Bezos to build a second Amazon headquarters in Chicago—probably on the banks of the Chicago River near North Avenue.

That would be close to where Cubs owner Tom Ricketts—speaking of rich men—wants to build a soccer stadium. Also presumably with a TIF handout from taxpayers.

I say undisclosed handout to Bezos because Rauner and Rahm have signed on to nondisclosure agreements that Amazon is forcing on the cities and states begging for their headquarters. We won't know how many billions the governor and mayor have promised to give Amazon until the time comes to give it to them.

To sum up Rauner's curious view of the world, it's OK for poor people in Englewood to pay more in taxes to compensate for the money we're giving Bezos to build on the north side. But it's not OK for Bezos to help pay for the urban garden in Englewood.

In short, Rauner wants to protect taxpayers from a relatively measly tax break for urban gardeners on a patch of land in a poor community that no developer wants to develop. But he wants everyone to pay more in taxes to give a big handout to Ricketts and Bezos.

This is an old story in Chicago. Apparently, Rauner sees handouts to Bezos and Ricketts as economic development. But tax breaks for farmers in Englewood? Well, that's a burden "for homeowners" who "are already struggling under the immense weight of their own tax burdens."

I wouldn’t be surprised if Rauner brags about this veto in some forthcoming commercial about how he's looking out for ordinary taxpayers—without, of course, mentioning the burden of this Amazon deal.

Rauner's veto of the urban ag bill came a few months after he went on Maze Jackson’s WVON talk show to call himself a great friend to the black community.

Or as Rauner put it, "we’ve done historic things for the black community—I would argue more than any other governor."

With friends like Rauner, perhaps the black community could use a few more enemies.

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