Finally, Mayor Daley is changing his thinking about how to use the money he skims off Tax Increment Financing Districts. Signs indicated he and his team at city hall may begin using the shadow fund the way his critics think he should have used it all along: to benefit the entire city.
In Chicago’s 159 TIF districts, tax revenues from new developments are set aside for neighborhood projects. As of last year, the TIF fund contained $1.2 billion.
But opponents of TIFs -- especially the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky, who has written a book’s worth of articles slamming the program -- contend that they siphon off money that should be used for schools, roads, parks and other public services.
As Joravsky pointed out in a recent article, Daley used money from the Central Loop TIF district as a slush fund, diverting millions of dollars to the construction of Millennium Park, which isn’t even in the Central Loop.
“In the late 1990s Daley started spending Central Loop TIF money to complement private-sector donations paying for construction of the park,” Joravsky wrote. “As the construction costs soared he used the Central Loop TIF as a honeypot he could dip into when he needed some more money to help make his park dream come true.”
If you look closely in Millennium Park, you’ll see a plaque declaring it a gift from Mayor Daley to the people of Chicago.
Now that Daley has blown the billions of dollars he raked in from leasing the Skyway and the parking meters, he’s looking at using TIF money to pay for schools, roads, parks and other public services.
That doesn’t mean TIFs are a bad thing. If used properly, they can revitalize blighted neighborhoods (although Daley never seemed to use them in blighted neighborhoods, only in areas where there was a guaranteed return for his TIF fund.) It just means that, when the city’s broke, we can’t afford to divert tax money from our most valuable neighborhoods to pay for Mayor Daley’s personal projects. Millennium Park was a nice gift, Mr. Mayor, but right now, paying our bills would be even nicer.