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For the last few weeks, a fellow named Bill Bergman and I have been in heated competition to see which one of us could get better terrible service from the Emanuel administration, to which we so generously pay our taxes.
Think of it as like a summer contest for budget geeks—anything to keep us out of trouble.
Bergman was waiting for the city's finance department to release the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, an official audit for the fiscal year that ended December 31.
By state law, it's due June 30.
I was waiting for—what else?—the annual audit of the city's 150-something tax increment financing districts. Which also covers the fiscal year that ended last December. And is also due at the end of June.
By mid-July, the Emanuel administration still hadn't released either report, even though the information is essential for an accurate assessment of the city's economic condition.
Take your time, Mayor Rahm. It's not like we're in a fiscal crisis. Other than everything going broke, of course.
Well, it looks like Bergman won our contest.
The city released the financial report on July 14—though the transmittal letter's dated June 30. So you'd think they were on time. Slick move, Mr. Mayor.
Dig in, if you want.
In contrast, they still haven't released the TIF audits.
To his credit, Bergman was very persistent. Not only did he call the city day after day to see if the report was ready, he made three videos and posted them on YouTube.
My favorite is the one where Bergman and his colleague—Andrew Goecke—head over to City Hall to warn officials that they're about to be late with the report.
Like anyone there gives a damn.
Here's the link to that video.
OK, it's not exactly Pulp Fiction. But still, he has a point.
Waiting for the city's financial report has become something of an annual ritual for Bergman, who's director of research for Truth in Accounting, a budget watchdog group.
Truth in Accounting is a nonpartisan operation. But as a curious sidenote, Bergman is something of a libertarian.
On the other hand I am, as I've said before, the last New Deal Democrat left in Chicago.
As such, his economic hero would be Milton Friedman and mine is Joseph Stiglitz—the pride and joy of Gary, Indiana.
So I guess this means by winning, Bergman's going to make me read Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.
It could be worse. He could make me read Ayn Rand.
Financial documents—like the comprehensive report—are the bread and butter of watchdogs whatever their ideological persuasion. How else do we know what our elected officials are up to?
We certainly can't believe the things they tell us.
For instance, Mayor Emanuel has bragged that he's balanced every budget without a property tax hike. Even though the schools and city are hundreds of millions in debt and he's in effect raised property taxes every year by virtue of the TIF program.
Speaking of debt, the comprehensive report reveals the city spent $580 million on interest payments for long-term borrowing last year.
That's up from the $478 million it spent the year before that.
No wonder Wall Street loves the mayor so much.
The annual TIF reports will tell us, among other things, how much the mayor has stashed away in the bank accounts for each TIF district.
It's information teachers, parents, and activists want to get at it to refute his claim that there's no money for Chicago schools.
You can see why the mayor's in no hurry to release it.