Former Chicago Bears Red Grange (top) and Joe Zeller (photographed during a 1935 practice by Alan Fisher of the World Telegram & Sun) probably wouldn’t care if they played in Arlington Heights, but, then again, they didn’t have to deal with TIFs. Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress Archives

We’ve reached an “I told you so” moment, dear readers, where I get to say . . .

I told you so!

It was roughly one year ago that I predicted the Bears would probably call upon the good citizens of Arlington Heights to fork over a TIF handout to build their new football stadium on the site of the old racetrack.

And so it was that last week George Halas McCaskey, chairman of the Bears, held a dog and pony show at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights to say, “Yeah, that hippie guy from the Reader had it right. We’re about to sock it to you.”

OK, McCaskey’s far too smart to put it so bluntly. Instead, he said: “The Bears will seek no public funding for direct stadium structure construction. However . . .”

Get ready, Arlington Heights, cause what comes after “however” is never a joke.

“We will need help,” McCaskey continued. Just like I told you.

Now McCaskey has not mentioned exactly what kind or how much help they will need. But I think we can all agree that before this is over the Bears will have stuck their big ol’ paw into that Tax Increment Financing honeypot. Courtesy of the Arlington Heights taxpayers.

As a taxpaying resident of Chicago all I can say is . . . thank goodness it’s them and not me. For once.

By the way, I made that initial prediction a year ago after an unintentionally funny headline in Crain’s Chicago Business that said:  “A new Bears stadium: Who’d pay for it?”

Like there was any doubt as to the answer to that question.  

This year’s funny headline ran in the Sun-Times. It said:  “The Bears have had preliminary talks with [Governor] Pritzker, lawmakers about subsidies—and no one has slammed the door.”

You know, like the Bears are waiting with bated breath to see if they get what they want.

Call me jaded, people, but I do not believe the Bears would have gone this far—placing an option to buy the old racetrack and hiring consultants to do traffic surveys—if they weren’t reasonably assured that it was only a matter of time before the handout was theirs.

That means we’ve reached what I call the get-that-official-an-Oscar phase of TIF deals.

I call it that because public officials will conjure their inner Brando as they play the role of unbiased public servants, objectively sifting through the evidence to determine if, in fact, a handout is warranted.

As opposed to having already made up their minds to give the Bears what they want.

If Arlington Heights is anything like Chicago, its leaders will eventually find themselves reassuring taxpayers that, after carefully studying the matter, they’ve concluded that handing over public money to the Bears is in the public’s best interest. So it will be like the Bears are doing the taxpayers a favor, as opposed to the other way around. Along those lines . . .

At last week’s dog and pony presentation, the Bears promised that no public dollars will go to construct the football stadium.

Which is a distinction without much meaning to taxpayers. Since taxpayers will be shelling out money for other parts of the stadium project.

And, really, what difference does it make if public money goes for seats in the stadium, as opposed to the parking lot around the stadium, or the foundation on which the stadium rests, or the roads leading to the stadium and so forth?

It’s still public money helping the Bears pay for their stadium.

Curiously, McCaskey’s pledge undercuts the Bears’ argument that they need money at all. Because if they can afford to build a stadium without a subsidy, why take the subsidy at all?

I’ll say this for the Arlington Heights deal—at least it’s generated some resistance. This one from the right, which has been notoriously silent in regards to Chicago’s TIF scam.

Specifically, opposition comes from the Americans for Prosperity-Illinois, a local affiliate of an outfit created by the Koch brothers, those far-right libertarians whose policies I generally abhor.

But I agree with them here. They say they’re sick and tired of “corporate welfare.” And I say, right on to that.

For all these years, I’ve been watching Mayors Daley, Emanuel, and Lightfoot doling out TIF money to wealthy developers on the grounds that it’s an “investment” in Chicago.

And then I watch them turn around and say we can’t afford mental health clinics in poor neighborhoods or librarians and nurses in public schools.

When they give money to rich people, it’s always an “investment.” But when they spend the money on people who really need it, it’s treated like a waste.

So, yes, I find myself in the unlikely position of cheering on the Koch brothers bunch. In fact, Brian Costin, one of their leaders, will be a guest on my podcast.

Costin and his allies submitted to the Arlington Heights Village Board over 600 signatures from voters, asking the board to pass an “Anti-Corporate Welfare Ordinance” that would prohibit “offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village.”

If board members vote down that ordinance—as I suspect they will—Costin and his allies will move to Plan B.

They will attempt to gather over 7,000 signatures to a petition that would put the issue on the ballot, probably in next April’s municipal election. In other words, let the voters decide if they want to give public dollars to the Bears.

It’s pretty exciting to watch democracy in action. 

On the other hand, there’s a chance—admittedly, very remote—that they might get their measure on the ballot. And that the voters of Arlington Heights might reject a Bears handout.

In which case, guess what?  The Bears will turn around and look to Chicago for a sweetheart deal, which knowing our mayors, they will probably get.

Just goes to show you, when it comes to TIFs, one way or another taxpayers in Chicago always stand a chance of losing. 

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