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Bring $500 Million in TIF Spending Into Budget Process, Group Demands

By Ted Cox | October 25, 2013 1:19pm
 For Halloween, Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative plans to try to resurrect TIF legislation "buried" in the Rules Committee.
For Halloween, Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative plans to try to resurrect TIF legislation "buried" in the Rules Committee.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — An alliance of neighborhood and union groups is urging that an estimated $500 million in annual tax development funds be included in the 2014 budget talks.

Calling it a "shadow budget," the Grassroots Collaborative says Tax Increment Finance district funds should be considered in the budget-approval process now underway in the City Council after Mayor Rahm Emanuel released his 2014 proposal Wednesday.

"We need to look at TIF reform in a real way, because there are a lot of our tax dollars there," said Amisha Patel, executive director of the group. "It's not gonna be a part of the mayor's budget address, but it's a huge sort of shadow budget."

According to the most recent data released by Cook County Clerk David Orr, Chicago collected $457 million in TIF funds in 2012 — money kept separate from the city budget and for the most part administered by the mayor for capital improvement projects. Several aldermen have cited city figures that there are $1.7 billion in TIF funds, $1.5 billion of which has been "allocated," but for projects not fully specified by the mayor.

"That's a real problem. When did the vote happen on that budget?" Patel said. "The whole city budget is $7 billion, so $1.5 billion is significant money.

"This is a massive budget in the City of Chicago, and there is no public process for it," she added.

The Grassroots Collaborative, Patel said, will spearhead its campaign by supporting an ordinance proposed by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) to audit TIF funds and redistribute any surplus to government agencies, primarily Chicago Public Schools. Proposed in July and signed by 32 of the 50 aldermen, the ordinance was immediately sidetracked to the Rules Committee, which has been called "where good legislation goes to die."

The Rules Committee meets irregularly, did not meet last month and has no meeting yet scheduled ahead of the November City Council session.

According to Patel, the Grassroots Collaborative intends to hold a Halloween protest at City Hall on Tuesday in an attempt to resurrect the ordinance "buried" in Rules.

"We're ready to put some heat on those aldermen," Patel said, both those who signed the TIF ordinance and Rules Chairman Michelle Harris (8th). The group is out to shine a light on "the people who sign on to these knowing full well, hey, I've got my political cover come election time ... 'cause they know that it's not going anywhere. There's no real tough vote that happens," she added.

"That's the thing about moving things to Rules, is that's the end of the conversation," Patel said. "So that's our focus, certainly through the budget cycle."

Fioretti cheered the effort to "mobilize around this critical issue," adding, "The TIF surplus funds should be put back where they belong, in our public schools." He said other progressive legislation such as the privatization transparency ordinance sponsored by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) should also be freed from being "buried" in Rules.

Harris did not return calls for comment.

The Grassroots Collaborative includes neighborhood groups like Action Now and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, as well as union groups including the Chicago Teachers Union. The current campaign has grown out of its Take Back Chicago rally earlier this month.

"We wanted to roll immediately into doing organizing work," Patel said, "to keep up pressure on the aldermen."