September 21, 2009
One of the Civic Federation’s ongoing concerns has been transparency in the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) by the City of Chicago and State of Illinois. Although the Civic Federation supports the use of TIF as municipal economic development tool, we believe that there is insufficient transparency in the availability and quality of TIF information provided to the public. The Civic Federation has published two pieces on TIF, an issue brief and a companion position statement about the use of TIF in Illinois. The position statement lists recommendations for improving the transparency of TIF, particularly through making information about TIF districts and projects available in an electronic format online.
Recently, the City of Chicago has taken steps to address the issue of TIF transparency by enhancing the city’s Department of Community Development (DCD) website and the information it provides about TIF. The City’s recent efforts stem from an amendment passed by the Chicago City Council to the Municipal Code of Chicago, which delegated new responsibilities for online reporting of TIF information to DCD. The ordinance, which was introduced by Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Manny Flores, addressed a few goals which included consolidating information about TIFs already posted on several city departments’ web pages and providing the public with better information about TIF in a more accessible manner. The new TIF section of the DCD website consolidates information about the use of TIF and organizes the information into sub-sections containing district overviews, annual reports, Community Development Commission reports, district redevelopment plans, maps and narratives and frequently asked questions and success stories.
While the new website is an improvement, more could be done to shine light on TIF. In our 2007 position paper, the Civic Federation recommended that financial data on the City’s use of TIF be provided in the same electronic format that is required for local governments under the State of Illinois Fiscal Responsibility Report Card Act. This would ideally include a single report produced by DCD summarizing financial data and statistics for all TIF districts, rather than only providing the annual financial reports of individual TIF districts. Additionally, the City should compile financial data of all of the TIF districts into a user-friendly database, similar to the Illinois Comptroller’s Annual Financial Report database of local government finances. These changes would facilitate policy analysis and understanding of the City’s use of TIF and allow stakeholders to attain a better picture of the impact of TIF on the city as a whole. Finally, the Civic Federation recommends that municipalities include data about TIFs in their annual budgets and that each TIF district provide a status report ten years after its inception. These reforms would add a new degree of accountability for municipalities and their use of TIF.