Hey Mayor Daley, let's have lunch

Posted by Ben Joravsky on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 12:03 PM

It was clear from his recent interview with WBEZ that Mayor Daley doesn't understand how his TIF program works.

And it's clear from its document "ABC's of TIF" that the Department of Community Development doesn't understand how the TIF program works.

And based on his letter in yesterday's Tribune, it's clear that Gene Saffold, the city's Chief Financial officer, doesn't know how the program works either.

Wow, we hit the trifecta. Nobody knows nothing about nothing. No wonder the city's going broke.

As a service to Mr. Saffold, I'll offer him a brief tutorial on Mayor Daley's favorite program by correcting a few of the erroneous assertions his letter makes.

He writes: "Chicago taxpayers and their aldermen are involved in every step of the way" thanks to "community meetings, public hearings and City Council meetings with active public participation." But the only mandated public hearing where citizens get to vent their views about TIFs occurs before the Community Development Commission (the City Council does not allow for public comment), a rubber-stamp board of Daley appointees that meets at one o'clock in the afternoon in the middle of the work week. And even there the public isn't permitted to directly question developers or city planners about proposed TIF deals or districts. In fact, in many cases—if not most—TIF deals go from start to finish without one substantive question being asked.

Saffold writes: "Aldermen have a great deal of spending oversight, as they endorse and approve every disbursement of TIF funds." It's true that the City Council approves TIF deals that involve private companies, but for the most part it's a routine sign off, sort of like a zoning change, where aldermen blindly follow the local alderman's lead. Otherwise Mayor Daley exercises the right to spend TIF funds as he wants, as when he takes TIF money intended for commercial deals in one ward and uses it to build schools in other wards. In many instances, the local aldermen are among the last in City Hall to know about the switch.

He says the program's greatest attribute is "its ability to capture growth in a neighborhood and use it for targeted reinvestment in the same community." But in fact there's something called porting where the mayor gets to take TIF money collected in one district and spend it in another. It happens regularly.

He says that each TIF district has "a plan and proposed budget that directly addresses the specific needs, goals and redevelopment objectives of that community." Actually, though, the budgets for most TIF districts are far greater than the costs of the development projects in them, so there's generally a pool of money left over for the mayor to spend how he wants. That's why they've come to be known as slush funds. People in Edgewater can tell you all about it.

In addition, the plans for each project are so loosely written and the oversight so negligible that money ostensibly earmarked for one thing often winds up getting spent on something else, as 35th Ward alderman Rey Colon learned the hard way.

He asserts that the city's TIF website—created only after the TIF geeks of the world raised holy hell—is "user friendly" and that by going there "taxpayers can see exactly how their TIF dollars are spent."

Obviously, he's never been to that site. If he had, he'd know that it's filled with clunky PDFs that take forever to download and contain page after page of bewildering documents [PDF] written in actuarial jargon that's virtually incomprehensible to the average human being.

Furthermore, these documents don't tell folks exactly how TIF money is spent. It's the shadow budget that does that. As in the shadow budget the city won't release.

But, look, I can understand why he's confused. This TIF stuff can be hard to follow. So I tell you what I'm going to do, Mr. Safford. How about you, Mayor Daley, and I meeting up for lunch? As an bonus, I'll explain how the TIF tax is shielded from taxpayers by keeping it off property tax bills. And how a lot of the money goes to the wealthy even though it's supposed to help the poor. And how it takes money from the schools. And ...

On second thought, you might need to schedule two lunches to learn exactly how the darn thing works.

Comments (3)

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Mr. Saffold talks about community involvement. The Lawndale Alliance had been working with the City Dept. of Planning since August 2008 to do a TIF town hall meeting in North Lawndale. They agreed to assist us pull together data on the 7 TIFs that impact North Lawndale, including jobs created in the area, minority contracts on construction projects, the number of local businesses helped, goals and objectives, progress towards the goals and objectives and the expenditures to date on each TIF. They also agreed to help us coordinate a meeting on the Neighborhood Stabilization program. After considerable planning, our group decided to expand the meeting series to 3 meetings in May (Pros and Cons of the Olympics, Neighborhood Stabilization Program and TIF Town Hall )

The 24th Ward Alderman insisted on being on the agenda for all 3 meetings. We accommodated her, and the City. At the last minute, the City cancelled, citing a conflict with the Alderman's schedule. Immediately thereafter, program panelists dropped off the program quicker than dead flies. (13 cancellations in all) A number of panelists who cancelled indicated that they got calls from the City encouraging them not to participate. It should be noted that many of the panalists who cancelled were elected officials or delegate agencies who received money from the City.

We called to complain to the Department of Community Development (f.k.a. Department of Planning), and the Mayor. The City basically indicated they would not come to a community meeting without the Alderman's approval, and indicated that they were scheduled to appear on the agenda for the alderman's meeting on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program the following week. As it turned out, the City gave a 3 MINUTE presentation on the program that raised more questions than they answered.

We ended up doing our own presentations and taping them for CAN TV. The reruns come on from time to time, and we have managed to reach thousands of people who never would have received the information otherwise.

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Posted by Valerie F. Leonard on 12/04/2009 at 1:02 PM

Chicago CFO Saffold: "... far beyond the state's reporting requirements. By going to the city's Web site ... Chicago's taxpayers can see exactly how their TIF dollars have been spent. "

This is a lie.

Illinois state law mandates annual reporting of ALL TIF expenditures, but our home town does not comply. Chicago discloses only expenditures of $5K or more. Almost every Chicago TIF annual report has total expenditures exceeding itemized expenditures.

Let's look at an example, the Wilson Yard TIF annual report for 2006.

"ANALYSIS OF SPECIAL TAX ALLOCATION FUND

Below is listed all vendors, including other municipal funds, that were paid in excess of $5,000 during the current reporting year."

Expenditures for all disclosed vendors $3,855,287

Note the "in excess of $5,000" caveat.

We know there were some "vendors" who walked away with checks under the radar, because TWO earlier pages in the TIF annual report include a TOTAL of expenditures for the year.

SCHEDULE OF EXPENDITURES BY STATUTORY CODE

Total expenditures $3,864,168

And

COMBINED STATEMENT OF REVENUES, EXPENDITURES AND CHANGES IN FUND BALANCE

Total expenditures $3,864,168

Now the 2 total expenditures numbers earlier in the report agree with each other, but they DON'T agree with the vendor list - there are usually more total expenditures than are reported in the vendor list in Chicago TIF reports . In other words, our home town routinely gives property tax money to folks without identifying them, in flagrant violation of state law.

2006 Expenditures for undisclosed vendors $8,881

At least 2 vendors, perhaps many more, are not disclosed.

Now $9K may not seem like a lot of money in the grand scheme things, but, again, recall the City has 160+ TIFs these days, and are declaring more almost every month. A few thou here, a few thou there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

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Posted by Hugh on 12/07/2009 at 10:58 AM

As a possible candidate for both Mayor of Chicago and Governor of Illinois, Henry George's Ghost Who Walks will do away with TIF'S, parking meters, and Real-Estate recording taxes, sales and business taxes, including taxes on production. Only the Single Land Value Tax! You know professional politicans are inherently dumb and stupid! They only know what they want and need to know. Anything else? it's all trash.

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Posted by Henry Georges Ghost Who Walks on 12/23/2009 at 7:15 AM
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