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So much for that $10 million.
As expected, Daley administration officials told aldermen this morning that the city can’t recover any of the taxpayer-funded subsidies it gave Republic Windows and Doors to keep hundreds of jobs in Chicago—even though the company’s owners abruptly closed its Goose Island plant last month, laid off its entire workforce, and bought a nonunionized facility in Iowa.
The city’s original, 1996 agreement with Republic [PDF; starts on page 27849] was to last through 2019 and require the company to “use commercially reasonable best efforts” to keep hundreds of jobs at the north side plant in return for tax increment financing assistance. But Mara Georges, the city’s top lawyer, said the pact only gave the city enforcement power through June 2006. After that the city had no way to penalize Republic it if it didn’t adhere to the agreement.
“We have not found any sort of remedy under this redevelopment agreement,” Georges said.
The issue came up before the council’s Committee on Finance at the behest of aldermen Manny Flores and Scott Waguespack, who had argued that the city might be able to recover some of the money it paid to Republic. Even after Georges rejected their argument, the two maintained that Republic offered an example of why TIF agreements need closer scrutiny.
“We need to look at some type of TIF reform,” said Waguespack, alderman of the 32nd Ward. “What is a ‘commercially reasonable best effort’? If a company’s going to be able to walk away from the table with $10 million in public funding, maybe we need to look at changing the definition.”
Alderman Berny Stone of the 50th Ward wasn’t convinced. “If I understand what alderman Waguespack is saying, here we are more than 12 years after the TIF agreement was executed, and we should have made a better TIF agreement," he said. “Nobody has that kind of hindsight.”
Flores said the city needs to come up with a way to measure whether it’s getting a sufficient return on its TIF investments. He asked Georges whether city officials had checked along the way to see if Republic was employing as many people as it had agreed to. She said it had. Flores then wondered if the enforcement period should have been longer. “The reason we have these TIF projects are to help our city and grow our economy,” he said, “not to give money away.”
Georges said it would be hard to negotiate stricter terms because businesses want and need flexibility. “As their attorney balks against putting some of that into the agreement, it’s a question of getting the deal done.”
Twelfth Ward alderman George Cardenas, an administration loyalist who owns money transfer and consulting businesses, was just as skeptical of his colleagues’ demands, saying the city had benefited for years from Republic’s presence. “I’m sitting here trying to understand what’s going on,” he said.
The committee didn’t take any action on the issue, instead moving on to a freewheeling discussion about greedy Wall Street executives and “geniuses in Washington” who were really to blame for the country’s economic troubles.
But Flores later said that he and Waguespack are planning to draft legislation requiring the administration to analyze how it awards TIF subsidies, potentially so it can create standards for monitoring them.