Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"What Elephant?" says Civic Federation report

The Civic Federation released its report on TIF's (tax increment financing) today, and the local media are reading into it what they want to see.

The Chicago Tribune, big corporate's best friend who's been largely silent on the Chicago TIF scandal, ran its story under this headline:
Special tax districts hit wallets but spur growth, study finds. Study says spurring growth is trade-off
Crain's Chicago Business, which along its political reporter Greg Hinz has been uncovering the stink of the city's TIF slush funds, ran its own story with:
TIF programs need reform: Civic Federation
The most hallucinatory conclusion of the Civic Federation study, as reported in Crain's, is that while TIF's raise taxes on the parts of the city not in a TIF, that's not a really a problem, because "when the district expires, all property-tax revenues, including that from the new growth, return to the regular pool shared by the city, county, public schools and other local governments."

Well, I guess that makes it all OK then. According to the Civic Federation, all that criticism of Chicago's TIF's is just a big misunderstanding. Except, wait - exactly how does money start flowing back to schools and public services when, as of today, NOT A SINGLE Chicago TIF district has EVER been terminated. Most of Chicago's TIF districts have a life of 23 years, but, like copyright, they throw off too many goodies for addicted politicians not to convert them into permanent fixtures.

The poster child for this is the Central Loop TIF, created in 1984. Even after a full generation and three quarters of a billion dollars in spending, its still appears to have failed to have raised the Loop above the level of an officially "blighted" area - the Daley administration keeps dropping hints it will push to renew the TIF when it expires next year.

When the Civic Federation talks about TIF districts being abolished, it's like Marx talking about the State withering away - pretty soon a Commissar has taken up residence in your house and is guzzling down all the good vodka. I've heard some people claim to have quit heroin "cold turkey", but for most drunkards - with wine, with poetry, with virtue, or with TIF's, à votre guise - salvation comes only with intervention.

Whitewash though it is, the Civic Federation still makes some interesting recommendations on increasing transparency and accountability, and includes a great deal of analysis and data not found on the city's new TIF pages, including a complete list of all the projects funded by the Central Loop TIF. I'm still working my way through its 97 pages (and hoping Ben Joravsky will provide his usual cogent analysis in the Reader), but you can grab a cup of hot chocolate, stretch out before the fireplace, laptop in hand, and download it for yourself here.

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