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Shining a light on TIFs in Chicago

I did a recent analysis of the City of Chicago’s website responsible for providing the public information on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and found that critical information is missing, leaving the public in the dark on how tax dollars are spent. The analysis, compiled in a report called, “Shining a Light on Tax Increment Financing in Chicago,” highlights the need for Mayor Emanuel to improve transparency of the City’s TIF program to comply with the TIF Sunshine Ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council two years ago.

While the City’s website has made a large step forward in increasing transparency, there is a long way to go before spending of the $500 million in annual TIF revenues is brought into the sunlight.

The City currently does a good job of posting information on the front end about the creation of a TIF district or project, but there is still too little sunshine where it’s needed most: on how the money actually gets spent. The public has a right to know whether developers who receive public dollars are delivering on their promises.

The good news is most of the documents that are required by the TIF Sunshine ordinance for Chicago’s 169 TIF districts are available online. The study found 80% of the TIF districts have their designation ordinances posted online, 99% have a redevelopment plan and 95% have annual reports. The City has even included projection reports and balance sheets for most TIF districts, 92% and 95%, respectively, which are not required by the ordinance.

Unfortunately, while there is information available online for 237 specific projects in these districts, a great many of the most important documents that the Sunshine Ordinance stipulates must be disclosed for each TIF project are missing.

Most concern about TIFs has been on where the money goes and whether individual projects deliver the promised benefits. In violation of the ordinance, that information is generally missing. While 95% of the projects have their redevelopment agreements posted, only 30% of them have economic disclosure agreements. The Community Development Commission staff reports are only available for 46% of the TIF projects, while only 16% of the TIF projects have a certificate of completion. None of the TIF projects have annual employment certifications posted online.

Having no employment certifications is a serious shortcoming. That’s how the public finds out whether the jobs promised were delivered by the TIF recipient. These and the other missing documents are key to holding developers and contractors accountable to the agreements that they make with the City of Chicago.

The City should improve the website by making it comprehensive, searchable, and by presenting detailed accounting of where the money is coming from and where the money is going.

Read the full report here.

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About Celeste Meiffren

Celeste Meiffren is Illinois PIRG's Field Director. You can contact her at celeste@illinoispirg.org

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