Letter: Elmhurst Residents Should be Outraged at the City's Handling of TIF 4
Citizen Advocacy Center executive director says TIF 4 should be voted down until all the facts can be brought to light.
City Hall is considering a fourth tax increment financing district (TIF), estimated at $89 million. The proposed TIF is massive in economic terms, and City Hall calls them a "shot in the arm" to stimulate growth in areas where property values are stagnant. That “shot” is government subsidies to lure developers to an area that is otherwise undesirable to certain of these developers. Where does the cash strapped city generate the subsidy? They claim from properties only within the TIF district.
If it were only that simple! Subsidies are generated by the city freezing the tax base of a specific area for every governmental entity at the 2012 level for 23-36 years. As property values increase over time the difference between the 2012 level and every year after goes into the city’s TIF fund rather than to the school district, park district, etc. Sometime between the years 2035 and 2048, the city benevolently unfreezes the tax base, allowing the frozen out taxing bodies to access the property tax growth.
What City Hall does not advertise is that TIFs ensure that everyone pays more to keep the affected taxing bodies afloat during the TIF period. This is because TIFs change the math equation for how property tax rates are calculated, resulting in increased tax rates for the other taxing bodies.
If the city thought TIF 4 was a great idea, why did they wait until the 11th hour to engage the school and park district in public discussions, only to tell them that it was too late to make substantive changes? TIF 4 may have started as a good idea but the effort has been corrupted by a map with unnecessary properties and an unacceptable bully in the sandbox process. Furthermore, the city’s actions will result in closed door discussions regarding TIF intergovernmental agreements, which will be cash payouts to the school and park district to lessen the economic blow.
Elmhurst residents should be outraged and the City Council should vote TIF 4 down until a truly public and transparent process is followed for all involved.
—Ms. Terry Pastika, Executive Director/Community Lawyer, Citizen Advocacy Center, Elmhurst
Related Topics: Citizen Advocacy Center, City of Elmhurst, TIF 4, and Transparency
Lack of transparency
The City Council approval of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust ordinance was a vote to value political interests over the public interest and passed with inadequate public protections despite unanswered questions from aldermen, the public and the city's inspector general. The lack of transparency surrounding the decision-making process was patently unacceptable. Transparency and accountability, particularly in government contracting and spending, are critical tools to prevent corruption, boost public confidence in government and ensure fiscal responsibility.
While generally the city has provided greater accessibility to some government information, how deep the transparency commitment is becomes evident when crucial issues such as the CIT are in play. Reasonable accountability standards such as bringing the CIT under the purview of the inspector general's office, requiring council votes on all taxpayer dollar commitments, detailing enforcement provisions, ensuring compliance with ethics and procurement ordinances, and even declaring the CIT to be a subsidiary city public body to ensure compliance with state transparency laws were ignored. This lack of accountability is also inconsistent with Illinois Nonprofit Principles and Best Practices.
Moving forward, public bodies interested in creating similar entities should embrace that the goals of democracy are broader than those of economic development and implement meaningful public interest safeguards such as those suggested. Our organizations, along with the Donors Forum, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, League of Women Voters of Illinois and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund believe that the people of Chicago deserve better.
— Brian Imus, director, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, and Terry Pastika, executive director, Citizen Advocacy Center, Chicago
By Maryam Judar
Redistricting and the Illinois experience are illustrative of why the people clamor for transparency, and how public officials cynically use transparency to gain advantage. The clamor is easy to explain: Fair redistricting practices drive competition at the ballot. Competition is central to our nation’s democracy: robust debate is a foundational value of our political system. A lack of competitive views reflected on the ballot reduces voters’ choices. The lack of meaningful choice on ballots is a common complaint by voters. Revised redistricting procedures that benefit the public rather than elected officials may ameliorate the public’s frustration with lack of candidate choice, and it may spur more people to vote.
These days the term “transparency” is bandied about at all levels of our government. Some of the clamor comes from the citizenry who are anxious about the activities of their governments and need a means of holding them accountable; and while some public officials jump on the transparency bandwagon and trumpet its virtues in hopes of using it as a political vehicle to gain advantage, others sincerely believe in transparency’s importance and join the discussion. Transparency, while having little-examined benefits for government officials and employees, ultimately protects the people from government mismanagement and unethical behavior. In the national and state-wide debates, the importance of transparency is best told by stories that exemplify what is at stake for all members of the public, and from the public’s perspective.
Read the entire blog here: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2011/09/01/illinois-and-the-case-for-open-redistricting/