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Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
Fri Sep 24, 2010

Rahm The TIF Reformer?

Buried yesterday in an otherwise blustery Politico story on Rahm Emanuel's potential mayoral run was this tiny and fascinating piece of news:

On Wednesday night, Emanuel broke bread with his replacement in Congress, Rep. Michael Quigley, who briefed him on an arcane but important local tax issue.

Rep. Quigley, for those with short memories, used to serve on Cook County's Board of Commissioners. While there, he lead the charge for county-wide tax increment financing (TIF) reform, penning an influential report on the topic in 2007. As a Progress Illinois guest columnist in 2008, he wrote about the importance of TIF transparency. One of his reform proposals -- indexing the local tax base to inflation -- served as one of the pillars for our first "Getting Creative with TIFs" post. When Quigley talks TIFs, he's worth listening to.

If that's the "local tax issue" they discussed, let's hope Rahm took solid notes ...

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
Thu Sep 23, 2010

Will The Bush Tax Cuts Live On?

Don't expect a vote on the Bush-era tax cuts before the November election. That's what U.S. Senate aides are telling multiple outlets in Washington. This is a blow for the Obama administration, which wanted to extend the tax cuts for everyone except those making over $250,000 annually before voters went to the polls.

The next tax vote will likely take place during the lame-duck session. That means either State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias or U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk -- who will appear on ballot for Illinois' special election -- will have a say in the debate. And their positions don't align. Kirk wants to see the tax relief extended to all Americans, even though it would blow a major hole in the national deficit. Giannoulias sides with Obama. This week, the Democrat even unveiled a new website --700billionreasons.com -- that lets users pick how they would spend the $700 billion that would land in the laps of the nation's wealthiest 2 percent over the next decade if Kirk gets his way.

Where do Illinois voters come down on this issue? SEIU (whose Illinois State Council sponsors this website) recently polled likely voters in seven battleground states, including Illinois. They found that 53 percent of respondents in the Land of Lincoln backed Giannoulias' option. Only 32 percent thought the tax cuts should remain in place for all income levels. (Another 9 percent, for what it's worth, thought they all should expire.) Read the full results here.

PI Original
by Adam Doster
Thu Sep 23, 2010

The Responsible Budget Coalition Turns One (AUDIO)

One year after its inception, the Responsible Budget Coalition is still fighting hard for a sustainable state budget solution. Will lawmakers ever listen?

Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
Wed Sep 22, 2010

The Park District's Budget Deficit And TIF

Another day, another local public sector budget deeply in the red. This time it's the Chicago Park District's turn. As the Sun-Times reported on Monday, the district is facing a $22 million budget gap in what's expected to be an estimated $400 million spending plan for next year. The district is considering fee hikes, employee furlough days, and delaying projects to close the shortfall. Layoffs are on the table, but park district superintendent Tim Mitchell has ruled out a property tax hike.

Of course, the City of Chicago's tax increment financing account is stuffed with anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion, and the park district is one of the taxing agencies within Cook County that would get a boost if the city's TIF dollars were declared surplus. The park district's share of the local property tax pie has slipped to 6.71 percent, according to the Sun-Times. Even so, that means declaring Chicago's TIF dollars as surplus could result in a windfall of $49 million to $61 million for the agency, more than covering the present deficit. 

Much of the debate about the future of the city's TIF reserves this summer and fall has focused on how a surplus would boost Chicago Public Schools and the city's own budget. Parks shouldn't be left out of the discussion. Parks still offer plenty of opportunities for free entertainment. That's especially important during hard economic times. 

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
Mon Sep 20, 2010

Honesty In The Budget Debate

Although the details are still being ironed out, Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady have agreed to hold at least three debates before the November election. When the two meet, how to close the state's budget deficit should be the central question addressed.

For months, we've been criticizing both campaigns for failing to provide a comprehensive plan to get the state back on track financially. Brady is the worst offender, telling supporters that he will "balance the state's budget in the first year" while refusing the identify how he will do so until after the elections. (Newsflash: If he keeps all of his campaign promises, he can't.) Gov. Quinn has been a bit better, at least advocating in favor of a small income tax increase. Still, that plan won't raise enough money to cover next year's operating gap, especially if he insists on incorporating a mandated property tax swap into the proposal. Today, both the AP and the State Journal-Register are calling on the candidates to speak honestly to voters over the next six weeks about the structural deficit. Let's hope the major party nominees get the message.

Quick Hit
by Michael Vanassche
Thu Sep 16, 2010

Jobs With Justice Calls Out Kirk

Some folks from Chicago Jobs with Justice showed up outside of the Illinois Republican headquarters in Chicago yesterday to protest the arrival of U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk and rally in favor of President Obama's job creation initiatives, increased unemployment insurance benefits, and ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the highest earning 2 percent of Americans. All three are opposed by Kirk. Here's some footage from the rally:

Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
Wed Sep 15, 2010

TIF Reform Bills Unlikely To Go Away

In late August, State Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) introduced a trifecta of bills (HB 6902, 6903, and 6904) that, if signed into law, would revolutionize how the City of Chicago's controversial tax increment financing (TIF) program operates. Fritchey, however, is running for Comm. Forrest Claypool's seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners and is slated to leave the General Assembly. Will his bills die?

Not necessarily. Earlier this week, State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) told Progress Illinois that she is "very interested" in carrying the torch on some version of Fritchey's package. The precise wording of the legislation could change, but Steans said she would look at pushing a Auditor General investigation; examining the definition of blight in the current state TIF law; increasing transparency in "porting" TIF dollars; and excluding certain taxing bodies from the program going forward. "With the mayoral election coming up, the timing is good," Steans said.

What's less clear is how, legislatively, this may play out. It's unlikely the bills will get a hearing during the fall veto session, according to Steans. And state representatives may want to sponsors the bills, as well. "What I don't know is if someone is going to pick this up on the House side," Steans said. State. Rep Greg Harris (D-Chicago) did tell PI he's talked with Fritchey about the bills and Fritchey himself said he's canvassing his colleagues for support. A call to State. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), a leader in the Democratic caucus, wasn't immediately returned.

In other TIF news, State Rep. David Miller (D-Lynwood), who is the Democratic nominee for State Comptroller, has proposed an online database to help the public understand how each of Illinois' 1,000 TIF districts are operating if he's elected in November. “There are millions of dollars at stake," he said in a press release, "and taxpayers deserve to know whether or not these TIFs are benefiting their community."

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
Wed Sep 15, 2010

Don't Cut Illinois' Corporate Income Tax

Anti-tax crusader Bill Brady hasn't gone so far as to advocate for a reduction in Illinois' corporate income tax rate, yet one could imagine the GOP gubernatorial candidate jumping at the idea. During the campaign, he's already vowed to veto any tax increase and has proposed a "jumpstart tax credit" that could provide giant employers with unnecessary subsidies. (He's the "Walmart" candidate, after all.)

Before Brady's campaign gets any funny ideas, they should read this post by Michael Mazerov at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The budget expert argues that corproate tax cuts won't fuel economic growth at the state level. Why? Illniois would have offset any lost revenue with service cuts or other tax increases and some of those corporate tax savings would funnel into the bank accounts of out-of-state shareholders in the form of higher dividends.