A few weeks ago I was talking with some of my fellow TIF geeks about our favorite municipal subject, and we decided to make a friendly wager.
How large was last year’s TIF tax? Or to put it in measurable terms, how much did the city take in property taxes to feed its 150-some tax increment financing districts?

You’d think this would be an easy question to answer. After all, the Daley administration posts the city budget on its Web page, and the mayor provides a figure during his budget address every year. But that doesn’t give the whole picture. Last year the mayor said he was levying about $720 million in property taxes. In fact, it was much more if you add in the TIFs.

How much more? Up to now Cook County clerk David Orr, whose office collects the data, has released them only in a form that’s less than easy to parse. This year, for the first time ever, Orr promised to publish totals. 

So while Orr’s bean counters went over the numbers, my friends and I guessed. The county budget analyst put the total at $425 million. The planning professor predicted $420 million. Ever the pessimist, I guessed $445 million.

Boy, were we off.

Today Orr released his figures. In 2006 TIFs gobbled up more than $500 million dollars in property taxes. $500,369,348.17, to be exact (click on “Chicago TIF revenue totals by year”). Instead of a $720 million tax levy, the city extracted more than $1.2 billion in property taxes. 

Orr’s report is filled with eye-opening numbers. After averaging $60 million in annual growth between 2001 and 2005, TIF revenues exploded by $114 million between 2005 and 2006, 57 times the roughly $2 million the entire program took in 20 years ago. The city’s total take since the first TIF was created in 1984? $2,534,701,105.72.

Orr even broke it down by district. So now we know that a program designed to eradicate blight in low-income neighborhoods has raised more than $1.356 billion for 11 districts in the Loop, the Gold Coast, and the near south and west sides.

After I called the geeks to gloat about winning the bet we got around to wondering what the 2007 TIF tax will be. I say we’ll easily top $600 million.

But don’t take my word for it. Go to the Orr’s Web site and see for yourself. Read it and weep.