Inside Story Of TIF Abuse Plus A Call To Get involved

This post was contributed by a person who has attended several of our TIF town meetings.

I work for a Chicago company that was the recipient of a $5 million dollar TIF grant. We got a building makeover, including a new roof, an upgrade to the electrical service, remodeled bathrooms, and advanced window coatings. Everything was done according to LEED guidelines, which promote environmental sustainability. The parking lot got planters with trees.

 I like sustainability. I think LEED can be a worthwhile tool to nudge our scandalously wasteful society toward sustainability. I think this country should be investing in upgrades to its infrastructure to make it more energy-efficient. You would think, then, that I would be a big fan of the TIF program, and happy that our company received a TIF grant.
I am not. The more I learn about the TIFs, the more leery I am of this untransparent, unplanned, undebated, scattershot, bloated goodie bag of untracked city expenditures. Some TIF projects are worthy expenditures of taxpayer monies. But the program is prone to dubious giveaways to private interests. Listen: When my company’s grant was announced, the alderman of the ward proudly declared that she had helped save 450 jobs. That would be nice if it were true. The fact is, no strings were attached to the money in terms of retaining jobs, and my company is hemorrhaging workers. We offshore jobs as fast as we can. Most of our domestic workers are from the suburbs. The owner of our company is a multinational corporation based in Europe. Their annual profits are in the hundreds of millions. If you want to buy their stock, you’ll need to go to a foreign stock exchange—it’s not sold on the NYSE or NASDAQ.
It is difficult to see how the $5 million given to my company is helping Chicago’s economy or workers. Think of it—this is money that is removed from circulation in the local economy. Money which would normally go to schools and city services is being presented as a gift to a foreign-based corporation.
Here are a few more things that bother me. The workers at my company were never informed of just how much the grant was. I know the grant amount, because I looked it up on the city’s website. No one I have talked to among my coworkers had the slightest idea how big the gift to my employer was. Shouldn’t that be common knowledge? It’s not, and that’s not an accident.
Obfuscation and murkiness: that’s pretty much how the TIF program rolls. Ask your friends about TIFs. Most residents of the city don’t know what a TIF is, much less how it works. I don’t blame them—I didn’t know diddly until a couple years ago, and I’m still learning. TIFs operate for the most part out of the public view. A travesty.
I’ve attended several of the TIF illumination presentations and have become hooked on going to them. Not only do I learn things from the presentation, but I also have become aware of the great efforts of neighborhood groups in Chicago, virtually all of which I did not know existed. The Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G..E.), the Grassroots Collaborative, Resident Matters, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)…there are great people in the city working to try to wrest control of things back from the neoliberal power elite that is plunging the country, and the world, into corporatization, privatization, militarization (Chicago’s schools are the most militarized in the country), and denial of basic public services. I’ve decided that they’re worth supporting.
These are historic times.Watching events unfold in our corner of the world is, in many ways, like watching a crime drama of huge proportions. We need to get involved if we expect our descendants to have a city, state, and world worth living in. Besides, it feels good. Activating yourself can be fun.

I hope that many of my fellow citizens can find their way to a TIF illumination presentation of CivicLab, and peruse the information on www.tifreports.com, and begin to educate themselves, learn how power works in this city, and begin to form their own conclusions.

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