The Mayor’s TIF Switcheroo Infuriates Southside Alderman

on Jul28

28 July 2017 | 2:55 pm

The tax increment financing scam that takes the city’s tax dollars with the promise to fix up blighted areas of the city and instead funds wealthy developers and corporate offices took another step forward in its crookedness.

The $55 million in TIF monies that were promised to acquire land for a hotel near the McCormick Place instead went to renovate Navy Pier. This has infuriated Alderman Pat Dowell who vouched for the project despite vehement protests about subsidizing a private hotel and university which ultimately led to the switcheroo.

“This shell game of TIF money laundering is further evidence of the TIF program operating as a giant slush fund totally controlled by the mayor,” said Tom Tresser of the TIF Illumination Project.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he has to borrow money for the schools that pays the big banks roughly $70,000 per day in interest because the city is ‘broke.’

However, Cook County Clerk David Orr just announced that the city’s TIFs will collect a record $561 million this tax year, an increase of $100 million from last year, according to The Reader.

And rather than spending that extra tax money to fix up rough areas of the city plagued by violence and unemployment like it was supposed to, it took roughly $55 million from a TIF to build a basketball stadium for DePaul University and subsidize a profitable hotel.

The city claims that this move made it possible to invest in the Centennial Plan at Navy Pier to help ensure it remains a top national tourist attraction and thus earn money for Chicago.

But that is not what TIFs are supposed to do.

Tresser’s TIF Illumination Project at the CivicLab has been analyzing and tracking the TIF tax scam for quite some time.

Here are the facts in this case according to Tresser:

The site for this latest TIF switcheroo is located in the Michigan/Cermak TIF. The three touching TIFs are Near South, Calumet & Cermak, and 24th and Michigan (that’s your tax dollars going into a mayor slush fund and not the public schools that instead have to borrow at exorbitant rates to stay open).

Tresser’s research showed funds being transferred between TIFs to fund what was originally the basketball arena and is now the Marriot’s Hotel project.

In 2015 the Calumet/Cermak TIF spent $20,688,670 going directly to the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA).

“The city was going to subsidize the stadium but it was met with prolonged protests from DePaul students, staff and alumni and only after that protest was the $55 million shifted to the Marriott Marquis Hotel project,” Tresser told Chicago News.

I remember a few years ago one of the top activists was Chicago Public School teacher Erika Wozniak, a fellow DePaul alum, who said no way can the city subsidize a private university sports stadium and close 50 public schools.

“But the MPEA is still financing the stadium and has taken out super expensive debt to fund the construction,” Tresser wrote in an email.

“The TIF Illumination Project has been tracking money moving between TIFs for four years but since no major paper (including Crain’s) covers us – who would know that we routinely report the total TIF dollars transferred BETWEEN TIFs in 2015 was $47,296,630 and $39,578,905 was distributed out of the TIF system into other units of government,” Tresser wrote.

And if taking our tax dollars to fund the mayor’s pet corporate projects at the expense of our schools amid broken promises isn’t enough, there is a scam on top of a scam in this one.

“The Department of Planning “SKIMS the SKIM” and extracted $8,253,905 from the entire TIF stream for their administrative costs – further evidence of the ungovernable and unaccountable nature of TIFs in Chicago,” Tresser wrote in the email.

Tresser said three big questions remain unanswered:

Why are we subsidizing ANY of this? Marriott’s enjoyed $17 billion in revenues in 2016

Why should the tax payers be burdened with MORE expensive debt – what law firms and financial firms are making what profits from the construction of the stadium?

Is this whole project not a prelude to the city’s long-standing desire to build a casino (to be owned by the city) on property next to the hotel/stadium?

Tresser is the city’s leading expert on TIFs and yet his analysis is excluded from the city’s mainstream media. The reporter from the Better Government Association who released this latest investigation into the South Loop TIF districts spoke to Tresser for three hours for deep background on this investigation as well as his assessment of the TIF shell game, yet Tresser’s comments as well as any reference to the CivicLab were cut from the article, he said.

“I’ve emailed back and forth with the BGA reporter and he thanked me for my help but said editors wanted just critical or external voices of academics and aldermen,” Tresser emailed me. “The BGA and Crain’s have never covered the TIF Illumination Project or written about the book (Chicago Is Not Broke) or attended any of the 105 public meetings I’ve been at since 2013.”

The TIF Illumination Project at the CivicLab has educated hundreds of people across the city about this tax scam where we the taxpayers subsidize the rich, based on a false promise of helping the poor.

Tresser is now heading the POWER Institute training sessions to teach people how to become more civic minded and take on the power structure so we stop getting screwed.

“Say, if you want to meet a bunch of great change champions, come to the POWER Institute training session “Grassroots Campaigning 101” on 8/16, 7-9pm at Loyola Law School It will be serious civic fun!

By Jim Vail


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