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Emanuel Panel Urges New Era Of ‘TIF’ Transparency

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Credit: City of Chicago)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Credit: City of Chicago)

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UPDATED 08/30/11 5:25 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Emanuel on Monday pledged to adopt a series of reforms recommended by a task force investigating the sometimes mysterious subsidy program known as TIF, or tax-increment financing.

The mayor and his committee stopped well short of detailing past abuses of the program, such as questionable subsidies and who got them, CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports.

“No more secrets” seems to be the mantra of this new administration, with everything available online, from city contracts to the identities of those bidding for them.

Walking through a TIF-assisted, mixed-use project in Logan Square, Emanuel wanted to focus on what TIFs could do for neighborhoods, rather than the problems of the past.

“It was seen as political. It was clouded from the public (and) got  maligned,” the mayor said.

No more, he vowed, turning to committee chair Carole Brown.

“All of that, for transparency purposes, should be posted on the city website for anyone to review and comment,” Brown says.

They all simply danced around why a program with nearly $1 billion in assets needed to be reformed.

“I asked this panel to develop a road going forward. I didn’t say look backwards,” Emanuel said.

But he did add: “I said I wanted a system when we finally come back with the recommendations that economics should be the driver, not politics.”

In a TIF district, property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts are frozen for at least 23 years, so that all property tax increases afterward to go into a fund to improve struggling neighborhoods.

But on retired Mayor Richard M. Daley’s watch, a lot of TIF money went to private business and downtown developers.

Critics, most notably Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky, say TIFs amount to a slush fund for the mayor. Joravsky has been writing articles criticizing the TIF program for several years.

Also among past TIF’s toughest critics: the committee member who heads the Civic Federation. Laurence Msall welcomes incorporating the tax subsidies into a new long-term economic development plan.

“That is something the city has desperately needed for decades,” he said. “We have been operating without a road map as to how our investments are being prioritized. That is no small task, but it has to begin immediately.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

The ideas discussed Monday include setting standards for TIF project, such as job creation and creating a board to constantly evaluate them.