Tax-increment financing (TIF), long considered a "mayoral slush fund" by Chicagoans, is seeing a new level of abuse under mayor Rahmn Emmanuel, according to Aaron Renn. Under the program, increased tax revenue in a given district (i.e. the "increment" in TIF) is fed back into said district in an effort to redevelop blighted areas through strategies like bond financing, infrastructure investment, or new development projects. However, Renn writes, Mayor Emmanuel is directing the funds towards amenities like bike lanes, riverfront trails and High-Line imitators even as budgets for libraries and mental health services are slashed.
"None of the taxes from new developments in these districts flows automatically to police, libraries, parks, or schools...Some TIF funds have been used for construction of new schools, but more than half have been handed out as subsidies to private businesses. The true purpose of Chicago’s TIF districts—which now take in about $500 million per year—appears to be tending to high-end residents, businesses, and tourists, while insulating them from the poorer segments of the city."
Instead of catering to the "1 percent," Renn concludes, Chicago should focus on expanding opportunity for all residents.