01/25/2011 10:03 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Going To A Candidate's Forum? Ask Them About TIFs

Dear Huffington Post Chicago Reader:

I hope you plan on going to a local candidate forum for the upcoming Aldermanic and Mayoral elections. There is no one place to look for upcoming forums but I'm hoping that The Chicago Radicalander will start a listing. In the meantime you can sign up for the email newsletters of candidates for alderman in your ward and they will likely let you know of any forum they will be appearing at.

Now, here's what I'd like you to do. Go to as many as you can. Ask the candidates about TIFs -- Tax Increment Finance Districts.

Did you know:

County-wide, in 2009 TIF districts diverted $838 million in property taxes away from the units of government that rely on property taxes for operation -- local government, libraries, park district, public schools, city colleges.

$519 million of that total was from Chicago property taxes.

The TIF Program is a city-wide problem and it raises your property taxes regardless of whether you live in a TIF district or not.

The TIF Program is notoriously corrupt and opaque to citizen review. Ben Joravsky at The Chicago Reader has been documenting TIF abuse for years.

Grossinger Auto sold its old property on Wells Street and still got $8.5 million in TIF money to move into the hottest retail zone in the city. Even the solidly pro-business weekly Crain's called that deal a "boondoggle" and concluded it's January 14, 2008 editorial with "If the City Council approves the Grossinger TIF, it will confirm once and for all that TIF financing has become nothing but a taxpayer-funded giveaway."

Willis Insurance (with 2009 revenues of $3.3 billion) got $3.8 million in TIF funds to help pay for its move to the Sears Tower.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange got $15 million for rehabbing its HQ (last year it had revenues of over $2.9 billion).

For people who live in Lincoln Park, Children's Hospital is considering TIFing its old site to help subsidize the transfer to a private developer.

The Sweet Home Chicago Coalition, which wants to use TIF money for affordable housing, issued an eight-page report in December 2009, "Who's Getting Your Tax Dollars? A Financial Profile of Chicago Corporations Receiving TIF Funding." Companies such as Quaker Oats, United Airlines, Career Builder, CNA Insurance, MillerCoors and UPS received tens of millions of dollars in your property taxes.

May I suggest that when you are at the candidate's forum you demand an end to TIF abuse; and that you ask all the candidates: 

  • Will they support a move to end TIFs, all together?
  • Will they support measures to have all tax bills of residents inside TIF districts reveal the amount of property tax being diverted from that district?
  • Will they support full and regular web-based updates for all TIFs showing who is getting benefits and payments from them?
  • Will they pledge NOT to place a TIF inside the ward unless it is approved by a ward-wide referendum?

Just so you are clear -- TIFs raise your taxes, regardless if you live inside a TIF district or not.
The chief researchers at the Assessor's Office (under Houlihan) published a study in The Journal of Property Tax Assessment & Administration, Volume 6, #4, that said if we eliminated all TIFs in Cook County (there are 420 in total -159 in the city, the rest in suburban Cook) - that our property tax bills would decrease by 11 percent!

If you would like to do more than just ask a question, if you would like to incite others to ask this question, you can download a nifty flier, print it out and copy a bunch and hand them to people as they walk into the forum. I did this Monday at the Wrightwood Neighbors event and people were very happy to get this information. Try this line as you approach people and hand them the flier, "Good evening, be sure to ask the candidates about TIFs -- they're the biggest scam going."

If you want to do more, you can sign an online petition to abolish TIFs in cook county.

If you do this and actually get candidates to go on the record, please come back to The Huffington Post and let us know what they said.