Public’s tax money fills Chicago politicians’ TIF pot o’ gold
October 2, 2009

October 2009

City officials more and more look at tax increment financing (TIFs) as a pot o’ gold. Tax revenues to local service arms of government (such as school districts, water districts, park districts) are frozen at a certain level for a specified period of time in TIF districts, and the increased taxes paid by residents and businesses do not go to those service arms.

Instead, those taxes go into the pot at the end of the City’s rainbow, from which City officials spend that gold as they see fit, with little oversight or public discourse.

Stopping the politicians from spending TIF money how they want and getting them to spend it on what the community wants is no small feat, so we commend the Randolph-Fulton Market Association (RFMA) for its recent lobbying effort.

The new Chicago Transit Authority el station at Morgan and Lake Streets is needed and is therefore a much more worthy effort than most projects on which TIF money is spent, but there are other ways to raise money for such basic needs as transportation, too.

The RFMA worked with City, State, and Federal officials to get stimulus money for the project, and were successful. This money will not pay for the whole project, or even most of it.

Still, because TIF money originally was going to pay for all of it, any reduction is a boon to the community, which needs the TIF gold to pay for other infrastructure needs — TIFs’ original purpose, actually.

In the meantime, City officials are looking to spend TIF money on a rainbow of projects — the Olympics, the Central Area Action Plan, and a host of other ideas that they find a lot more interesting than fixing potholes and cracked sidewalks. With the TIFs’ notorious lack of accountability, they will likely do so.

So where do those service arms of governments, those school, water, and park districts, get the increased revenues they need to keep operating while prices go up? Why, from the public of course.

You may have noticed that the City is squeezing every dollar it can out of you these days: from raising property taxes, to letting the company to which it leased City parking meters increase parking fees, to towing vehicles from streets slated for street cleaning on a given day — even after cleaning has concluded and the “no parking” signs have come down.

TIFs are a pot o’ gold all right. Never forget, however, when some politician is talking about how magical that pot is at the end of the rainbow, that it is the residents and businesses of the City of Chicago who face the rainy days as we are forced to fill that pot.

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