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Chicago Aldermen Try For TIF Reform Vote, With Sadly Predictable Results

By Jon Graef in News on Nov 24, 2013 8:30PM

Give Chicago's Progressive Reform Caucus credit--they tried to get a vote in to reform the city's notorious Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. Unfortunately, that effort went about as well as you'd expect it to.

According to Progress Illinois, the Progressive Reform Caucus brought "up for a full vote two pieces of legislation that have been stuck in the Rules Committee for months...".

They did so using a neat bit of parliamentary procedure.

The caucus and its chief sponsors of the two measures — a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Surplus Ordinance and a resolution calling for a citywide referendum on an elected Chicago school board — invoked "Rule 41" of the council's orders and procedures to try to discharge the legislation from the Rules Committee, which some people call the place "where good legislation goes to die." Both measures were sent to the Rules Committee immediately after being introduced.

The City's Rules Committee is often referred to as a place where "good legislation goes to die."

That's exactly what happened here:

Following more than an hour of heated debate on the topic of TIFs, Chicago City Council members voted 11-36 against bringing the surplus ordinance out from committee for a vote. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) introduced the ordinance back in July.

If this is all Greek to you, don't fret. As always, the Reader's Ben Joravsky provides a simple-to-read, easy-to-understand explanation of what TIFs are:

As you may know by now, the TIFs are a tax—a surcharge that the mayor and the City Council effectively add to your property tax bill without telling you.

That means you, the taxpayer, end up handing over at least $450 million a year on top of your regular taxes.

Ostensibly the money pays for things you want, like schools, but then it's diverted to the mayor to spend on things [Mayor Rahm Emanuel] wants, like the DePaul basketball arena and Marriott hotel he's building in the South Loop. That project will devour at least $92 million in TIF funds.

TIF funds are also unfairly distributed, so the wealthiest communities get more money than the poorest ones, even though the program is supposed to seed development in the poorest neighborhoods.

Yet for all these flaws, the TIF program has one essential quality that makes it too powerful to resist. It gives Mayor Emanuel hundreds of millions of dollars that he's free to spend pretty much as he likes.

The reverse Robin Hood scheme -- take from the poor to provide for the rich -- has been going on for a while now. But with the rampant school closings that are Mayor Emanuel's true legacy, the contrast between what TIFs are supposed to do and what they actually do has never been more painful.

Meanwhile, more schools are set to get the ax as needless arenas are constructed. Why? Simple: "the boss is first, the kids come last." Just like last time.