The TIF Illumination Project has been tracking Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing Program for the past three years. It was our volunteers who discovered the $1.7 billion in the TIF reserves at the beginning of 2014 and $1.44 billion sitting in TIF accounts at the beginning of 2015. No one disputes our findings.
Groups championing public education, public health, affordable housing, good government and social justice have been demanding these funds be immediately released to the units of government that SHOULD have received those property tax dollars in the first place.
If this were to happen the Board of Education would get about $806 million in a one-time cash infusion.
The mayor says this can’t happen because most of these funds are “committed.”
What, exactly, does that mean?
The TIF Illumination Project, with no budget, no staff and no office, has been issuing Freedom Of Information Act requests on the Department of Planning and Development and the Office of Budget and Management over the past three years. This year we struck gold. You can see the most recent round of requests and responses here.
At that meeting Ms. Holt opened up multiple pages of the “2015-2019 District Projection Report” – available here. This is a 191 page PDF file with projected expenses listed for every TIF from 2015 through 2019.
So we issued a FOIA request on October 23, 2015 requesting details and proof of “commitment” for 14 items listed the Projection Report.
The response was dated November 9, 2015 and claimed executive privilege for NOT disclosing details on EIGHT of the items. Download the city’s response here.
Other responses in the November 9th letter directed us to PDF documents of 556 pages, 172 pages and 70 pages. Good luck wading through hundreds of pages of documents to find proof of “commitments.”
We called your bluff, Mr. Mayor. You say the TIF funds are all “committed” but your Budget Director apparently can’t supply proof, claiming a number of so-called commitments are “being discussed.”
Which is it?
On April 14, 2016 TIF Illumination project organizer Tom Tresser asked Budget Director Alex Holt directly about this paradox. Here is the exchange:
Judge for yourself.
Until these questions are well and publicly answered there should be NO new fees or property tax hikes in the city of Chicago. The entire TIF program should FROZEN and no new property taxes collected or disbursed by it. We clearly need an independent forensic audit of this program. Sign our petition.
Crain’s Chicago Business Agrees!
In an October 15, 2016 editorial Crain’s Chicago Business reaches the same conclusion. They use the phrases “honeypot” and “rainy-day fund” to describe TIFs. That’s just a (slightly) more polite way to say SLUSH FUND.
“Emanuel is dipping into the same TIF honeypot that his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, liked to raid when he needed fast dough. The trouble is, TIF funds exist for a reason: to finance needed infrastructure and neighborhood improvements. And yet, time and again, TIF proceeds are treated like a convenient mayoral rainy-day fund, a place to look for extra money when tougher choices prove politically unpalatable.”