It was a quiet summer in Chicago -- residents didn't hear much about budget shortfalls or doomsday scenarios; service cutbacks and job slashing were (relatively) held at bay. But a month after the city was rebuffed in its attempt to claim the 2016 Olympic bid, the financial hand wringing has returned in full force. The smokescreen Daley spread over the city's economic disasters while wooing the IOC has dissipated, and a grim reality has set back in. As the dust clears over the Olympic snub and the city stares down $520 million economic deficit, this administration's sustainability, its practices, and its legitimacy should all be in question.
Last week the CTA announced that, should they not be able to compensate for a $300 million shortfall, fares will be raised -- dramatically -- and the program giving free rides to seniors may be reduced, or cut altogether. This is the third straight year that the CTA has threatened the city with this kind of doomsday scenario; it's the third year that the administration has turned out its pockets, shrugged its shoulders, and resorted to "Hail Mary" politicking.
One direct question to ponder is how, exactly, Daley was planning on giving Chicago the functioning transit system it deserves, had Chicago won the 2016 bid. To imagine this city hosting the Olympics with the CTA in its current state is inconceivable. With the South and West Sides severely underserved and the North Side barely able to handle its current rush hour loads, there would need to be major overhauls to both service and efficiency. Who would've paid for that?
That burden would either shift to taxpayers, or the CTA would be privatized -- sold off, like so many other city assets (such as parking meters, parking lots, traffic cameras, and quite possibly, Midway Airport) for short-term fixes that the city will ultimately lose money on.
Yet when Daley isn't playing the role of auctioneer, he's making dubious investments -- he sunk $86 million in purchasing the decrepit Michael Reese hospital, in the hopes of converting into an Olympic Village. Well, now what? This week it was announced that some buildings on the hospital's campus would be demolished; the city, meanwhile, continues to scramble to find a developer to purchase the land before the loan payments kick in.
There is a solution, one the Daley, his alderman, or anywhere near his administration will not talk about: TIFs, tax increment financing. As reported by Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader, Daley is in control of a "shadow budget," one that exceeds a billion dollars (a sixth of the city's budget).
TIFs are designed as money to inject capital into communities and support development (Joravsky has gotten into much deeper and thorough detail over the years). But as noted by Andy Shaw on Fox News, what the TIFs are really used for is "corporate welfare" -- subsidies for wealthy developers. The money is diverted away from schools, libraries, parks, and other city programs, and put into the pockets of wealthy investors. But no matter how much this slush fund grows, Daley continues to threaten job cuts and service rollbacks (while keeping all matters of taxes exuberantly high).
The Olympics are gone -- a dream that never should have been. What remains is a city in need change, and a mayoral election that can't come soon enough.
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