Crain's writer Greg Hinz tackled the topic of TIF districts ahead of the runoff election in an article Saturday, challenging the idea that they are basically "a form of welfare for rich people in high-rises." The program, which freezes the amount of property tax in a designated Tax Increment Finance district for 24 years and sends any additional revenue raised by rising property value into a fund controlled by the city, has been called a "scam" and "the mayor's slush fund" by Reader writer Ben Joravsky. Based on the comment storm raised by Hinz's piece, it's clearly a contentious subject. But in the run-up to the run-off, with city development as a key issue, it's one that deserves a lot more coverage.
By breaking down TIF recipients, including the $1.3 billion that has been spent thus far under Mayor Emanuel, Hinz aruges that money has been flowing to neighborhood development projects, supporting street resurfacing, repairs and streetscaping ($303.8 million, or 23% of total TIF spending); building or repairing CTA stations ($155, or 12%); and schools, bridges and residential projects ($169 million, or 13%). Of the $234 million going to private developers (18% of the total), half of that has helped projects such as the renovation of Mount Sinai Hospital. Hinz says money from the program was misspent, especially under Daley, and that a debate about what's being funded is important, but thinks the criticism can be unfair and overblown.
Detractors, and there are plenty, include Chuy Garcia. In a campaign video featuring Garcia supporter Cook Country Clerk David Orr, he argues that Rahm and the entire TIF program has been less than transparent, and the process benefits mayoral allies, such as Ken Griffin, a big donor, whose company Citadel has a stake in the DePaul Marriott project that received $55 million in TIF money. As both sides cite different numbers to bolster their cases, Garcia, who supports TIFs used for specific funding projects, wants to be more specific about how this funding tool is utilized.