The TIF Take | Letters | Chicago Reader

The TIF Take 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Michael Miner [Hot Type, August 25] quotes a source who says that the success of TIFs "for the general population--maybe, maybe not." She is being much too kind to the idea. As [Ben] Joravsky has reported, TIFs have caused all sorts of problems for the general taxpayer [see for a free archive of TIF stories]. The argument for TIFs depends on two fallacies.

The first, which Miner touched on, is the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. The TIFs take all the increase in property valuation for the 23 years after they are passed. But property values are increasing all over the city, not just in the TIFs.

The second is illustrated by a simple question. If Smith opens a clothing store which fits your preferences in your neighborhood, will you spend more on clothing than you would have? For most of us, the answer is "No!" The money we spend in Smith's store is money we would have spent in Jones's store. So the value of Smith's store increases, and with it the property-tax receipts; the value of Jones's store goes down--or increases more slowly than it would--and with it the tax receipts. Total tax receipts aren't changed. The subsidy merely shifts the recipient of the profits to the better-connected merchant.

This is obvious in Chicago; the city has no legitimate interest in subsidizing shopping in Edgewater rather than Uptown or Kenwood rather than Oakland. It's less obvious in the suburbs. Doesn't it pay for Skokie to have shopping done there rather than in Evanston, or Evanston to have shopping done there rather than in Skokie? Or yes, but what if the subsidies are given by Evanston and Skokie? The tax receipts are unchanged. The expenditures rise.

Frank Palmer


Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

More by Frank Palmer

Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
Monet and Chicago Art Institute of Chicago
February 11
June 12

Popular Stories

  • Surfing Sandy

    Lake Michigan's turbulent waters offer die-hard surfers a prime opportunity to shred some waves
  • Queer to the Left came to raise hell

    The group rejected the mainstream gay rights movement and kept alive the spirit of radical LGBTQ+ activism.
  • Skinheads

    There's a credo among skins: they take care of their own. So when Scott Gravatt came up from Atlanta with his swastika earring and his white power tattoos, a few of the local guys took care of him.
  • Listen to The Ben Joravsky Show

    Livestream and podcast
  • The 15th floor

    On losing a loved one at the Thompson Center