TIFs can’t be reformed, and it’s time to abolish them altogether
The Sun-Times Editorial Board is edging closer to the CivicLab’s position on tax increment financing (TIFs) in Chicago.
The August 24 editorial agreed with our 2019 TIF analysis that there was $1.8 billion in the TIF accounts at the start of 2020. The board also agreed that the use and reporting of TIF funds is mysterious and an “insider’s game,” and that TIFs hoard billions of public dollars in wealthy, mostly white communities while starving poorer communities of public resources.
The board comes right up to our position of abolishing TIFs altogether. They use the term “hopscotching” to suggest that funds from cash-flush TIFs in the Loop and South Loop be moved to neglected and divested Black communities.
So close! We’d like to correct the record and also urge the board to reconsider its position.
First, we reject the assertion that TIFs “encourage new investment in parts of Chicago in dire need of redevelopment.” The opposite has been the case. The CivicLab has documented over $840 million in TIF gifts to Loop-area properties. We have documented that the most TIF’d ward is one of Chicago’s poorest and most divested places.
We have documented the pitiful TIF crumbs doled out to Black and Brown neighborhoods, while wealthy and clouted developers pocket hundreds of millions in subsidies. We have documented numerous conflicts of interest where TIF recipients donate lavishly to aldermanic and mayoral candidates and incumbents.
We also firmly reject the tautology that justifies giving the Lincoln Yards and Project 78 mega-developments billions in public TIF subsidies. The total $2.4 billion to those two projects includes $800 million in finance fees.
We say, let those billionaire developers build their projects without public subsidy, and, instead, leverage an impact fee on them to cover the cost of any new infrastructure required. To do otherwise empowers private developers to drive city planning. The result is, once again, poorer communities will not get parks, libraries or a mass transit stop, even if they need them much more than the new mega-developments. This is only fair and is a stand supported by the World Bank and the American Planning Association.
Finally, the board asserts that “the most responsible strategy is to spend TIF revenue more fairly and equitably.” Commissions, inspector general reports, watchdog reporting (including our own) have called for this reasonable measure for years.
TIFs are a slush fund and are far too tempting a prize for any Chicago mayor to tamper with. The fact is, TIFs are racist and beyond reform. They are part and parcel of Chicago’s long march of shameful policies that have harmed communities of color and include segregation, red-lining, contract home purchase scams, block-busting, throughway routing, predatory lending, school closings, over-policing, red-light cameras, and discriminatory property tax charges.
We should be about engaging our neighbors in a heightened and sustained conversation about what they want to make their communities great and their lives secure, healthy, and prosperous. First, let’s abolish TIFs and liberate the $1.5 billion in TIF accounts for immediate public services use in our hardest-hit communities.
Tom Tresser, CivicLab Chicago
Send letters to email@example.com.