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TIF reform: one year later, no action

A year after Mayor Emanuel unveiled his TIF Reform Task Force’s report with great fanfare, none of its recommendations have been carried out – and the city has a long way to go on transparency and accountability around job requirements for TIF projects, according to a new report.

Along with greater transparency, Emanuel’s task force recommended subjecting all TIF projects to a thorough justification process; establishing strict performance metrics and taking swift action including revoking TIF funding when requirements aren’t met; and creating an internal TIF oversight board.

“None of the task force’s recommendations have gone into effect,” according to a new report from Illinois PIRG.

“The proposed reforms would move us in the right direction,” said Hailey Witt of Illinois PIRG in a release.  “But it’s not enough to have these ideas on paper.”

Short on Sunshine

In addition, the city has yet to fully comply with the TIF Sunshine Ordinance passed in 2009, according to the report.  Of five documents required by the ordinance, none of the projects studied by Illinois PIRG had more than three available online, and most had only one or two.

Of 32,396 jobs promised in $320 million worth of TIF projects, only 16,948 — just 52 percent — could be accounted for, according to Illinois PIRG.

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On TIF reform, a long way to go

TIF subsidies returned by three corporations should be declared surplus and used to restore cuts in public services; and Mayor Emanuel should hold off on new TIF spending until he can implement his TIF reform panel’s recommendations, groups working on the issue said Tuesday.

News broke Monday that CME, CNA and Bank of America were returning a combined $33 million, CME saying it didn’t need the money now that the state has cut its taxes, CNA and Bank of America admitting they hadn’t met job creation goals.

CME had been the target of a series of protests by Grassroots Collaborative, which on different occasions set up a classroom outside the corporate headquarters to dramatize lost school funding, declared the site a “corporate crime scene,” and held a bake sale for the corporation.  Last week Stand Up Chicago delivered a golden toilet to CME, which was to get $15 million for a luxury bathroom, cafe, and fitness center.

Restore public services

“With communities reeling from proposed school closings, cuts to libraries, and the shutdown of six mental health clinics, the $33 million dollars should be immediately returned to critical public services that working families of Chicago depend on, and not redirected back to downtown TIF slush funds,” said Amisha Patel.

She said the news reflects the impact of groups working to highlight the issue of corporate subsidies and tax breaks.

Also Monday, Emanuel announced he would create an online TIF database and order random independent audits of TIFs.  It was his first action on the recomendations of his TIF reform panel since its report last August.

Illinois PIRG released a report calling on Emanuel to fully implement the panel’s recommendations as a first step toward TIF reform, and to declare a moratorium on new TIF spending until the reforms are in place.

“If the Mayor and the City Council admit that TIF is broken, why would they continue to use the program before it gets fixed?” said Celeste Meiffren, author of the report.

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TIF reform? Not yet.

With the release of his TIF Reform Panel report, Mayor Emanuel may want to check “TIF reform” off his to-do list, but community activists who work on the issue say that would be highly premature.

“They’re talking about transparency as if that’s all we have to do,” said Sonia Kwon of the Raise Your Hand Coalition.  “Transparency and accountability are just tools to reform TIF.  I don’t see this as TIF reform.”

In any case, Emanuel’s panel skips “the first step in transparency” – listing TIF information on property tax bills, said Kwon.  “To know you are in a TIF district and how much of your tax money is going to TIF – that’s the first step.”

That was a major proposal of the Community TIF Task Force of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which brought together dozens of community groups, said Jacqueline Leavy, former executive director of NCBG.  (It was also a major proposal of then-Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, apparently forgotten when he reacted enthusiastically to the report this week.)

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