News & Politics » Letters

Letters & Comments, December 17, 2009

"Instead of paying my property taxes to the schools, parks, cops, garbage collectors, etc, I'll give it to myself - just like the big-shots downtown do."


Too Much Drama

A couple of odd quirks from your Movies section of December 10. Dave Kehr closes his capsule review of Harold Lloyd's classic comedy The Freshman with "passionately recommended." However, there is no recommended insignia anywhere to be found.

When discussing the top films of the decade J.R. Jones lists such mid-level dramas as Million Dollar Baby, Crash, A History of Violence, and Far From Heaven. Not even a whiff of a comedy. You dudes need to lighten up.

Dale Chapman

J.R. Jones replies:

Kehr's capsule for The Freshman predates our practice of tagging films as "recommended," and in this case we forgot to add the appropriate icon. Regarding the best films of the decade, great comedies are notoriously hard to come by, but my top 50 did include Borat, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Knocked Up, and You, the Living.

TIFs = Taxes: One More Time

Re: "Shedding Light on the Shadow Budget: The TIF budget we recently pried from the city's grip reveals drastic inequities in how the money's spent," by Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, December 10

You guys are missing the boat completely.

Yes, there are plenty of issues with transperancy of spending and in the approval process. The JRB and CDC are a joke.

But TIFs are valuable. Look, the reason that there is more money spent in certain TIF districts is that the land is more valuable in those areas. Therefore, there is more increment to tax. So, of course the average balance in the Central Area is higher than it is on the west side.

Now, TIFs actually make development more equitable. Yes, more equitable. Why? This is because the improvements that they pay for COME FROM THE AREA BEING taxed! So increased tax increment used to finance downtown improvements comes from . . . yes, you guessed it! DOWNTOWN! Improvements from the West Side come from TIFs . . . located in the WEST SIDE! If this weren't the case, I'm sure you would be reporting, as was an issue in this city for years, that tax dollars were going downtown to the detriment of the neighborhoods.

Now for the kicker, which is why I really have problems with your TIF articles. Without TIF dollars, money for improvements would come from . . . think hard now guys . . . Fund 100—the Corporate Fund, or the city's main checkbook for those not in the know. And this happens to be the the fund most in the red!

Whether or not Willis Co. needed subsidies for the Sears Tower or the CME for its reconsolidation with the CBOT is a fair debate. The process by which these are proposed and approved needs to be looked at and probably needs state legislation to fix the lack of vigorous analysis done by the taxing bodies before JRB gives its OK. But, your constant refrain of the inequity, etc. of TIFS is off the mark.

In the Know

Ben Joravsky replies:

Dear In the Know:

Great idea! Why didn't I think of it? I'm jumping right in. Instead of paying my property taxes to the schools, parks, cops, garbage collectors, etc, I'll give it to myself—just like the big-shots downtown do. First, I'll hire a lobbyist, preferably someone who used to work for Mayor Daley, to get the administration to sign on. That will get me through the Community Development Commission, since they do whatever the mayor tells them. Then I'll make a campaign contribution to Alderman Ed Burke, since you can't get the council to approve anything without going through his finance committee. Then I'll make a contribution to my local alderman just to make sure he signs on. Then after the council passes the deal, I'll use the money to fix my garage. What the hell, it could use a new roof. As for the kiddies in the public schools, we can raise everybody's taxes to make up for the money I'm spending on myself. If some do-gooder like Mick Dumke complains, I'll say it's all about "making development more equitable." Whatever that means. And if the kiddies in the public schools still lose money on the deal, tough luck. Let 'em hire their own lobbyists.

Mick Dumke replies:

I'll just add two points to Ben's.

(1) In the Know writes that TIFs make development more equitable because "the improvements that they pay for come from the area being taxed." That's akin to saying that individuals in a higher income-tax bracket deserve more and better government services because they've paid more. That doesn't meet the definition of "equitable" in my book. Moreover, as Ben has written here countless times over the years, the higher rates of taxation produced by the TIF program aren't limited to the districts themselves; the practical effect when TIFs siphon off funds is that tax rates have to rise citywide so that CPS, the Park District, the Water Rec District, and so on can continue to collect the money they need to operate. In essence, the TIF program results in city residents being taxed $500 million a year on top of what they already pay to these other government agencies—but only select neighborhoods get the money back in the form of job development, infrastructure investment, and so forth.

Whatever the value of these TIF-financed projects may be, they're concentrated in areas that are already thriving. Given the way the program is structured, is this a shocker? Of course not. Is it sound, let alone just, public policy? That's the discussion I'd like to hear the mayor, the City Council, and the taxpayers have—and till now that hasn't been possible because these budget numbers have been concealed.

(2) "Without TIF dollars, money for improvements would come from . . . Fund 100—the Corporate Fund, or the city's main checkbook for those not in the know. And this happens to be the the fund most in the red!"

Maybe, maybe not. Tax increment financing is simply one way for a local government to generate revenue. Some would argue it's a better tool than other forms of taxation, from sales or corporate income taxes to fees the city imposes on garbage bins, but let's not pretend it's free money. It's a tax, just like the property taxes, real estate transfer taxes, and other taxes that feed the city's corporate fund. In other words, regardless of whether the money for these "economic development" projects comes out of a TIF account or the corporate fund, it was originally collected from citizens.

If you want to articulate why this form of taxation is better or worse than others based on specifics like its reliability, the people it burdens, or some other reasons, please do so. But it's simply not accurate to insinuate that it produces money out of the ether.

WBEZ Watchers

Re: "WBEZ Staffers Want to Talk Turkey," by Michael Miner, November 19

Having witnessed the changes wrought by Malatia at WBEZ, I can't say that I care much for what he has done. But, to be charitable, his response to the staff letter contains some thought-provoking ideas—albeit ideas expressed at times with a particularly unappealing artlessness . . .

I'd suggest that when Malatia waxes eloquent on a subject, it might help if a staffer asked for a concrete example of how the airy concept would translate into actual programming. (Of course, if Malatia is as crafty as he is conceptual, he'll never allow himself to be cornered and confronted with such impertinent queries.)


We've been complaining about Torey Malatia for nearly 25 years. Arrogant, aloof, and intentionally obscure—or is he just a "big" thinker? Seems to me that his comments as reported in the Miner column bear this out. The move to the pier, the local bureaus, the new media experiments are not fatal errors taken individually—but as a career—as a 25-year track record—well, I'm not impressed. Heck—even Don Wade and Roma are still broadcasting—why shouldn't Torey? Let's hope the impressive WBEZ board is as committed to succession planning as they are to strategic planning. It's time, fellas.

Chicago continues to support the station—and likewise WTTW. It expects very little from these small scale "public" institutions—and gets back even less in return.


Add a comment