First the good news, captured in a headline on a recent article in Crain’s—Chicago’s not stupid anymore.
Well, that’s more or less the point of the headline.
The actual headline reads: “Developer pitches TIF-free plan for South Loop megaproject.”
The subhead tells the rest of the story: “Since city tax-increment financing has become politically radioactive . . . ”
OK, let’s break it down. Robert Dunn, a big-time developer from Madison, Wisconsin, has a vision.
His company—Landmark Development—wants to build One Central, a massive high-rise community of apartments, condos, office space, and hotel rooms above the train tracks just west of Soldier Field.
The total project will cost at least $20 billion and consume 34 acres. It’s got members of the Tribune editorial board—who never saw a taxpayer handout to developers they didn’t love—so excited they’re hyperventilating.
As a big believer in innovation, prosperity, and growth—what, you didn’t know I was a big believer in these things?—I say, right on, Robert Dunn!
But here’s the rub. Dunn needs a platform over those train tracks upon which to build his skyscrapers.
Clearly, he doesn’t want to build that platform with his own money because—what the hell, man, just because he comes from Wisconsin doesn’t mean he’s dumb enough to fully pay for his own projects.
Instead, he’s come up with a creative way to get the suckers—I mean, taxpayers—to pay for it.
Don’t think of it as a platform upon which he will build his skyscrapers. No, think of it as a transit center that will connect Amtrak, Metra, and the CTA.
What’s that you say? Didn’t know you needed a transit center? Well, now you do. So shut up and pay for it!
The estimated cost of the transit center is $3.8 billion—credit cards accepted.
In any event, from here on out the talking point will be transit center for the South Loop, not platform for Wisconsin developer.
Pretty clever—for a cheesehead.
Think of this as a post-Lincoln Yards development deal. In the old days—before Lincoln Yards, that is—developers seeking a handout would line up the mayor. (Daley, Emanuel, really what’s the difference?)
The mayor would then twist aldermanic arms and, presto, the developer got his TIF handout and taxpayers got higher property taxes.
But that was then.
In the post-Lincoln Yards era, TIFs have—to quote Crain’s—become politically radioactive.
Apparently, Chicagoans aren’t quite as gullible as they used to be about TIFs. Those three letters (T-I-F) might as well be B-A-D—at least among ordinary Chicagoans. They might not know exactly what TIF stands for, or how it works, but they know it’s a scam. Which makes them more enlightened than, say, the folks who write those we-love-handouts editorials in the Trib.
At this point, I’d like to say thanks to the mavericks, malcontents, and gadflies who opposed the Lincoln Yards deal.
They couldn’t stop a majority of aldermen from voting to approve that boondoggle.
But they raised such a ruckus that
mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot felt compelled to declare that the days of free-and-easy approval for TIF handouts are over. We shall see if Lightfoot stays true to her word.
But apparently Dunn got the message, and so he’s turning to the state to help pay the $3.8 billion for his platform—I mean, transit center.
If this were a traditional TIF deal, I’d probably be against it on the grounds that we have so many other pressing obligations—pensions, schools, police, etc.
Plus, my property tax bill just keeps going up, up, up.
But because Dunn is looking for state money, it lightens the load. Yes, I still pay state taxes. But, well—consider this.
So often when I write columns criticizing TIF-funded boondoggles, I’ll get comments from people who live outside of Chicago, asking me “Why you gotta be such a Debbie Downer, man? Don’t you want growth and development?”
Isn’t that funny how much someone in, say, Highland Park, loves development in Chicago, so long as he or she doesn’t have to pay for it?
But with Dunn turning to the state (and the feds, for that matter) to fund his platform, folks in Highland Park get to kick in a little too. Join the party, Highland Parkers.
And that brings me to Governor Pritzker’s Fair Tax initiative.
At the moment, Illinois has a flat income tax—no matter how much you make, you pay the same, 4.5 percent.
To his credit, Pritzker has signed on to a progressive tax—the wealthier you are, the higher your rate.
The business community’s waging holy war against this progressive tax. They’ve put together Ideas Illinois, a dark-money outfit that’s financing a campaign intended to turn the middle class against the Fair Tax.
I can’t say for certain who’s funding Ideas Illinois and all their TV commercials—as I said, it’s a dark-money group, meaning they don’t have to list their donors.
But I’ll bet you some of their backers are the same people jumping for joy over One Central.
Just because they don’t like paying taxes doesn’t mean they don’t like to feed from the trough.
The front man for Ideas Illinois is Greg Baise, a Republican political strategist who got his start in the 70s as an aide to then-
governor James Thompson.
Thompson was one of those old-school Republicans who loved cutting deals with Democrats.
So, c’mon, Greg Baise, let’s cut a deal. You drop your opposition to Pritzker’s Fair Tax. And I’ll sign on to Dunn’s platform, I mean, transit center.
Sounds like a win-win proposition to me. v