by Ben Joravsky
In this scene, taped at Monday's budget hearing, we learn a lesson in how to interpret the code words of City Hall.
The speakers are Third Ward alderman Pat Dowell and budget director Bennett Johnson III; the topic is tax increment financing districts.
Dowell used to work in the city's planning department, so she's one of the few aldermen who understands how the TIF program really works.
In this exchange, taped by AlderTrack (props on the new site, guys), she presses Johnson to see whether schools, parks, and taxpayers stand to get anything back for the $700 million (that's Johnson's own figure) they're losing to the city's 156 TIF districts.
Johnson, who's quite smooth, promises to run her questions by the city's lawyers, as though the issue she raises was an intriguing but radical concept in need of investigation. In fact, in the suburbs people have already challenged the legitimacy of pouring money into TIFs while schools and other public necessities go underfunded.
What Johnson's really saying is that he'll have the boys and girls in legal cook up some cockamamie justification for why they can't do what the mayor was never going to let them do in the first place. It's his way of letting Dowell know that her idea isn't going anywhere. As everyone should know by now, the mayor is never going to loosen the reins on his favorite slush fund.
Still, give Dowell credit. She's one of the few aldermen brave enough to link the massive tax hike the mayor's proposed to one of its leading cause: runaway TIFs.
May more follow her lead.