Is the sun finally shining on TIF spending?

The city has pledged millions in taxpayer money to spark economic development and job growth in Chicago's Loop. [Photo by qisur/Flickr]

The city has pledged millions in taxpayer money to spark economic development and job growth in Chicago's Loop. [Photo by qisur/Flickr]

It looks like the clouds are beginning to part, allowing some light to shine on Chicago’s tax increment financing program.

We were poking around on the city’s website this week and discovered a series of reports have surfaced, detailing the number of jobs created in exchange for public subsidies.

Last month, we called out city officials for failing to post employment certification reports, despite a legal requirement to do so under the TIF Sunshine Ordinance. That law was adopted unanimously by the City Council back in 2009. But four years after the City Council voted to expose the city’s $1 billion “shadow budget,” taxpayers were still in the dark about how many jobs the city was getting in return for their money.

Well, not anymore.

Kind of.

The reports are available for only a small fraction of the companies that have received subsidies across Chicago’s nearly 170 TIF districts (yes, we clicked through all of them). Among them is the LaSalle/Central district, which didn’t have a single report when we checked last month. City officials have pledged $106 million in TIF funding to help businesses to, in part, create or retain nearly 6,000 jobs in that small corner of the Loop. The newly posted reports show two of those companies — DeVry Inc. and United Airlines— have delivered. Nearly two dozen similar reports from TIF districts across the city are posted online as well.

Despite the progress, the city is far from compliance.  Scores more reports still have not been posted. Among the missing is an employment certification report from Accretive Health, a healthcare collections agency, which is preparing to lay off workers.  It’s still unknown how many people will be laid off from the heavily-subsidized downtown office.

Peter Strazzabosco, a deputy commissioner in the city’s Planning and Development Department, says his agency is still trying to get to the bottom of whether Accretive is in compliance with its contract. “If the [redevelopment agreement] is determined to be in default,” he told us last month, “the city may terminate the agreement at its discretion.” The company hasn’t been paid a dime yet, he adds.

Until they make it online, Ald. Scott Waguespack, the Northwest Side alderman who spearheaded the TIF transparency says the million-, err billion-, dollar question is, “Who holds [companies] accountable for meeting those goals?”  If the city keeps pace, the answer could finally be taxpayers themselves. 

 

[Photo by qisur/Flickr] 

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