Report: Transparent & Accountable Budgets

Shining a Light on Tax Increment Financing in Chicago

Released by: Illinois PIRG

This report gives an initial snapshot of how well the Mayor’s office is doing in introducing transparency to tax increment financing (TIF) by examining how well critical information has been made available on the TIF transparency website. Specifically, we looked at whether or not the City of Chicago is complying with the “TIF Sunshine Ordinance,” which was passed in April of 2009.

We found that while great progress has been made, in other ways little transparency has been achieved.

Overall, the City does a good job of posting information on the front end about the creation of a TIF district or project. But the City fails at showing the public that they are adequately holding developers accountable to the goals set forth in the agreements, because many of the documents that serve this purpose are missing from the website. For example 0% of the TIF projects have annual employment certifications posted online- the document that is used to certify the number of jobs that were created and/or retained by a specific project.

The biggest shortfall of the TIF website is that there is no easy way for the public to “follow the money.” There is no document or tool online that connects individual expenditures with specific projects, which makes it impossible for the public to know who is receiving money, what they are spending money on, or how much money is being used for which specific projects within the TIF district.

In the next year, the City of Chicago should strive to improve the TIF website to improve transparency and accountability online. They should continue to develop innovative functions that not only elevate transparency, but also encourage citizen involvement. The City can do this through three easy steps: make it comprehensive, make it searchable, and present detailed accounting.

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