Welles Park Bulldog –
I noticed that the 2011 Chicago budget plan calls for porting $3,205,798 of TIF funds out of the Western Ave North district. This is the third consecutive years that funds would be transferred out of the district, a total of more than $7.8 million in three years.
So there are two issues with the money that has been ported from the Western Ave-North TIF district. Money has been ported to service debt for the Modern Schools Across Chicago (MSAC) program and most recently, to finance the Clark Street Streetscape project.
Let me start by addressing the MSAC port. In 2009, a little over $1.2 million dollars was ported to the contiguous Lincoln Ave TIF district. The money was used to service debt issued for construction and improvement of schools. Improving or constructing new schools is something I strongly believe in. Schools are the foundation of our City. But we’re not being told the whole story. First, the MSAC is a $1 billion program created by the mayor to construct or improve 27 city schools. Sixty percent of the total funding would come from TIF districts. Between 2007 and 2013 about $1.5 billion in CPS money will be diverted into TIF districts. As a result of the TIF districts, your CPS bill has increased to make up for lost revenue. You are being taxed twice within the City to fund schools. So when Alderman Schulter talks about giving money back to schools, he is stretching the truth. He is simply diverting money to schools that was theirs to begin with. Now because CPS is short $1 billion to fund capital improvements, the city is going to use TIF dollars that was supposed to fuel economic development.
Pawar: The money being ported is being used to improve or build schools outside the ward
The next part of the story relates to local control. Information on TIF districts is available but the community must have the ability to make decisions about how that money is spent. Local control is paramount – after all, it is the residents and business owners in our TIF districts that are having their dollars diverted away from schools, police and other services to incentivize development. They should have a say in how their money is spent. So to circle back, the money that has been ported is being used to improve or build schools outside the ward. I strongly believe in tackling city-wide issues like education but we have to engage the community and ensure they have a say. My ward council will do just that.
Let me now address the Clark Street Streetscape Project. The estimated cost for this project is $7 million dollars. In 2009 about $2 million dollars was ported from the Western-Ave North TIF district to fund this project. I am 100 percent committed to beautifying our community. I also believe that we are required to look at the bigger picture. The City has a $660 million dollar budget deficit that will top $1 billion if we don’t take action soon. This streetscape project is a critical element to growing business, increasing property value and improving our community. But you don’t renovate your kitchen when your home is about to be foreclosed. For too long we’ve looked at TIF money and the general operating budget as two separate pots of money. But there is only one pot of money and we have to be responsible with it. This project can spur many things on Clark Street but what is our plan to maintain the streetscape in 2, 5 or 10 years when there is a looming financial disaster. Alderman Schulter is betting that the short-term gains from the streetscape will increase property values, spur business growth and result in higher City revenues. This is just like the parking meter debacle that Alderman Schulter supported. He believes that plugging budgets with asset sales will buy enough time for markets to recover. That is what I call gambling and he has gambled our future away. I believe my strategy is better — we have to make responsible short-term decisions to solidify our long-term prospects. To do this we have to pass a responsible budget that does not rely on budget gimmicks or pawning off assets. Imagine the improvements that could have been made with the $9 billion dollars in parking money Alderman Schulter voted away. We have to be more responsible and as your alderman I will find the money to make improvements but I will do so while cutting costs.
Pawar: Ald. Schulter accepted $20,650 from firms doing business or financing projects in the Western Ave TIF
Welles Park Bulldog –
What is your position about this? Does you support this or oppose it? Isn’t this porting a sign that either these TIFs are significantly overfunded, that the TIF has achieved its aims or that the supposed benefit of local taxes used locally does not in fact exist?
It means that the TIF program is designed to be very flexible. This flexibility allows our legislators to be creative. Unfortunately, our legislators have not been creative or innovative. They use TIF money like a slush fund and the public has very little input or say in how the money is spent. This unregulated pot of money is a boon for private interests. Developers and connected firms benefit from your tax dollars while our schools and other services have to do more with less. Look at Alderman Schulter’s campaign disclosures if you want to see clout in action. He takes money from firms getting our TIF dollars. In total, Alderman Schulter accepted $20,650 from firms either doing business or financing projects in the Western Ave – North TIF district. When I am alderman, I will not accept a single penny from firms doing business in the ward or firms receiving TIF dollars. Let me be clear – TIF dollars are taxpayer dollars and I think there is an ethical conflict when an elected official accepts donations from firms that benefit directly from TIF dollars. It looks like your tax dollars are lining Alderman Schulter’s campaign fund.
Welles Park Bulldog –
If these districts and in particular the Western Ave North district, are no longer serving a purpose in funding local development projects in their boundaries, would the you support a move to terminate the districts? Why or why not?
The whole TIF program needs to be reformed. We need real local control. Let the community work together with the alderman on economic development, menu dollar allocation, zoning, parking and other issues. I want to work with the 47th Ward to create a long-term plan that plugs into a larger city-wide plan. The TIF program is a broken system that Balkanizes development and growth. We need a clear and succinct strategy. We can only get that strategy if we address our budget and pension crisis now. And we can only develop a long-term economic development strategy once our house is in order.
Welles Park Bulldog –
Do you oppose or support the Fritchey proposal that TIF funds be declared in surplus and returned to the taxing authorities?
I would support the Fritchey proposal, but as alderman, I will work to make sure the whole program is reformed. That starts by reworking the current State statute. I want to go to the residents and business owners of the 47th Ward to talk about the TIF program. I want input from them on how the program should be structured or whether we want TIF’s at all.