On the same day Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced reforms he says will improve the accountability and transparency of the city's controversial tax increment financing (TIF) program, three firms either returned or outright rejected previously approved city funding.
The rejected funds total $34 million, including $15 million in a TIF subsidy granted to CME Group in 2010, $13 million given to insurance company CNA Group in 2008 and nearly $5.4 million granted to Bank of America, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
CNA and Bank of America both refunded the subsidies to the city after they fell short of the approximately 2,700 jobs they were required to maintain at their separate bases, according to the Sun-Times.
And as for CME, the company stated it "will not be accepting" the city funding it had been granted toward construction work on its headquarters, Crain's Chicago Business reports.
CME's announcement came just days after protesters affiliated with the Stand Up! Chicago coalition delivered a "golden toilet" to the firm in an attempt to shed light on the $15 million TIF they said CME planned to use "to renovate their bathrooms, build a fancy employee cafeteria, a fitness center for employees and a high-end audiovisual digital conference room."
As the company told The Huffington Post, though the deal was approved by the City Council, CME never accepted the funds.
Meanwhile on Monday, Mayor Emanuel announced more reforms of the city's TIF program, including the creation of a comprehensive online database tracking all TIF projects in one place and allowing for public access to performance data. The TIFs will also be monitored by independent auditors hired by the Department of Revenue who will keep track of how the city's taxpayer dollars being put to use.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) applauded the reforms and stated that "it's encouraging to see the City's willingness to make transparent what has been a murky system for too long."
"I've been sounding the alarm on TIFs for a decade now," Quigley said in a statement. "There is no simple solution to the problems facing TIF programs, but the most important first step is to improve transparency and accountability, which allows for further analysis and action."
The mayor described the reforms as part of a "new day and a new regime" in terms of the way the city handles TIF funds, NBC Chicago reports.
While the primary goal of Chicago's TIF districts is to create jobs and stimulate the city's economy in blighted areas, former Mayor Richard M. Daley faced frequent criticism for approving TIF projects downtown, allegedly diverting the funds from parts of the city where aid was more urgently needed. With the formation of a TIF reform "task force," Emanuel has aimed to change that, but has still received some flak for green lighting projects such as a $7 million TIF for an upscale grocery store within a one-mile radius of four other grocers in the city's Greektown neighborhood.