Is Emanuel Really Reforming TIFs?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s TIF Reform Panel is calling for more “transparency” in the controversial Tax Increment Financing Program. TIFs were designed to improve economically depressed neighborhoods, but Mayor Richard M. Daley was criticized for using the districts to fund downtown projects and raking off tax money for a mayoral slush fund. During the campaign, Emanuel promised to establish a standard “to make sure TIFs are meeting their economic development commitment.”

The report recommends:

  • An aldermanic hearing before a new TIF district is approved.
  • An Economic Development Plan to guide all TIF decisions.
  • A website with details of the Economic Development Plan, area Redevelopment Plans, and use of TIF money.
  • A “but for” test for private projects funded by TIF money. The test “must show that the developer returns are so dependent on the TIF funds, that the project would not proceed without it.”
  • A strategic review of each TIF district every five years.
  • A permanent TIF Task Force to oversee the projects.

The Sun-Times’ Mark Brown is skeptical about Emanuel’s desire to reform the TIF program, which is an irresistible source of cash to fund mayoral projects:

What it won’t be is gone, as some of its most ardent critics had hoped, nor will there be a rush to shut down any of the more questionable TIF districts and restore the normal flow of tax dollars to the Board of Education, Park District or the city’s corporate coffers (although they might eventually get around to trimming some of them.)

Instead, the large sums generated for the city from TIF districts — about $500 million this year — will continue to be available to the new mayor to drive his own economic development agenda, just as for Daley.

But Congressman Mike Quigley, who as a county board member criticized Daley’s use of TIFs, called Emanuel’s report a move away from abuses of the program.

“It’s a good day,” Quigley said. “I’m not after Rich at this point in time, but this report is in such sharp contrast with past TIF policy.”

Read the entire report here.

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