Over the last two decades Chicago’s tax increment financing program has reaped billions of dollars in public money that ended up in special-use accounts controlled almost exclusively by Mayor Richard M. Daley, with almost no public oversight. For years the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky was the only reporter to complain. Now the Reader's dogged coverage of this issue is being dropped at Daley's door.
Two frustrated aldermen are now calling for some major reforms of the TIF program, and they’re starting by taking on the oversight issue.
First Ward alderman Manny Flores and 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack introduced a proposal at the City Council meeting Wednesday requiring that full documentation of TIF deals be posted online in a “comprehensive and usable fashion.” If passed the ordinance would mandate that by the end of this year the city post every specific agreement, amendment, attachment, order, audit, and record for every use of money from Chicago’s roughly 160 TIF districts.
Flores and Waguespack were outraged by the lack of information available to the public—and even to them as elected officials—during the Republic Windows and Doors fiasco, when the company abruptly closed up shop despite agreeing to keep jobs in Chicago in return for $10 million in TIF subsidies. “We are committed to incremental movement on this issue, and it starts with transparency,” Flores said Wednesday. “President Obama has promised transparency with the use of federal money. We should also offer some in the city of Chicago.”
To access TIF records currently, Waguespack said, aldermen, affected businesses, and other members of the public have to dig through hundreds of pages of council journals or send in Freedom of Information requests. He argued that there's no excuse for making the information more accessible. “The technology clearly exists,” he said. “This shouldn’t be an issue.”
Waguespack said the Republic Windows and Doors deal was just the latest issue that showed the need to reform the system, and he credited Joravsky’s coverage in the Reader for helping demonstrate the lack of accountability in the TIF program.
UPDATE: Click here to see the actual proposals [PDF].