Mayor Rahm finds $92 million for his South Loop deal

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Where did Mayor Rahm find another $92 million? In the TIF slush fund, of course.
  • Jessica Koscielniak/Chicago Sun-Times
  • Where did Mayor Rahm find another $92 million? In the TIF slush fund, of course.

Hey, Chicago . . .

While your kids were sweltering in the heat of schools that can't afford air conditioners, or ducking bullets fired by gangbangers who operate more freely because we can't afford police, Mayor Emanuel was coming up with $92 million to spend on something you don't want.

In this case, the South Loop project at Cermak and Michigan that will feature a DePaul basketball arena and a Marriott Hotel. The $92 million will come out of the good old tax increment financing slush fund, which is like a magical drug for creating new money for the mayor to waste.

Good thing he supposedly reformed it.

The specific slush fund is the Michigan Cermak TIF district, created in 1989 by Mayor Daley.

Anytime you want to come back, Mr. Mayor, all is forgiven.

At the time of its creation, Mayor Daley said he had to divert money from schools and cops, among other things, for 24 years in order to battle blight in the South Loop.

He told us to think of it as investment. Instead of using those tax dollars for teachers or police, he vowed to shrewdly and strategically invest them in various projects that would transform the South Loop into a promised land of redevelopment yielding more property tax dollars for our schools and cops when the TIF expires in 2013.

Alas, here we are in 2013, and the war against South Loop blight has not been won—even after 24 years of shrewd and strategic mayoral investment of economic development dollars.

Imagine that.

And so Mayor Emanuel wants to extend the Michigan Cermak TIF district for another 12 years, enabling him to press ahead with the task of shrewdly investing even more property tax dollars in the war against South Loop blight.

If all goes well, blight will have been vanquished by 2025.

May the force be with you, Mr. Mayor.

Having proposed to extend the TIF, the mayor needs the city council to give him a new budget for spending the money he continues to divert into the Michigan Cermak TIF.

Hence, Amendment Number 4, which the mayor very quietly introduced on August 4.

As opposed to his recent series of press conferences—four in four days—that he called to loudly announce he was finally going to spend some of our tax dollars building new schools.

I think it's safe to assume that every time the mayor holds a press conference to tell you something you want to hear, you can rest assured it's intended to divert attention from something you don't want to hear.

Which brings us back to Amendment number 4—you can read right here. It will be considered by the Community Development Commission—a rubber-stamp board of mayoral appointees—at its October 8th meeting.

After which it will move to the Chicago City Council, the rubber-stamp champs. The only issue is whether the aldermen will pass it without realizing what they're passing, as they did when they gave the mayor eminent domain authority to seize land for this fiasco.

We don't know precisely how the mayor will spend the $92 million he claims he needs for the the ongoing war against blight in the South Loop.

At the moment, I doubt the mayor himself knows exactly how he'll spend that money.

But we do know that $92 million is more than the $55 million in TIF dollars the mayor originally said the project would cost. So we haven't even had the ground-breaking ceremony and it looks as though the mayor's already over cost. That's got to be some kind of record, Mr. Mayor—you ought to hold a celebration press conference.

The amendment features a list of "eligible expenses" that includes the following . . .

There's $25 million for "property assembly," which presumably means buying up the land needed to build the basketball arena.

Remember, Mayor Emanuel also has to come up with the money to buy land for the Marriott Hotel. Guess he'll have to take that from another TIF district. Don't worry, there's four others in the immediate vicinity. Apparently, the South Loop's got one of those supervirulent strains of blight that even five TIF districts can't eradicate.

The mayor's also proposing to spend $4 million on "analysis, administration, studies, surveys, legal, marketing, etc."

Translation: pinstripe patronage. Hey, the donors got to get theirs.

There's also $7 million for job training. That ought to silence the local ministers and not-for-profits.

There's also $28 million for "public works & improvements." That, my friends, is pure, unadulterated slush.

In other words, if his school cuts and closings cause his poll numbers to fall, the mayor has a ready source of cash to build a new school or install an air conditioner or two at some south- or west-side school.

After holding a press conference, of course.

It's important to remember that roughly 53 cents of every TIF dollar comes from taxes you pay in the name of schools. In the case of Amendment 4, that's about $49 million.

So parents, you might not want to wear yourselves out thanking the mayor for giving back a portion of the money he took from your kids' schools in the first place.

Thanking the mayor is the job of his appointees on the Board of Education, who, as always, can be counted on to pretend as though this scam didn't even exist.

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