At least 40 of Chicago’s 50 aldermen are co-sponsoring an ordinance to automatically recover any “surplus” revenue from the city’s tax-increment financing districts, the idea being to get most of the money to Chicago Public Schools.

That might lead a person who didn’t know better to think such an ordinance would be a shoo-in for approval.

Not that very long ago, freshman Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) might have been such a person. But no more.

Most city workers take unpaid leave when they are elected or appointed to the City Council. A request for unpaid leave by Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), an educator in Chicago Public Schools, was denied. File photo by Brian Jackson for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) at a City Council meeting in July 2015. | Brian Jackson/For the Chicago Sun-Times

“What I’m learning is just because people sign an ordinance doesn’t mean they are going to vote for it,” Garza observed ruefully Monday as the Finance Committee avoided taking action on the proposal for the second time in two meetings.

The truth is that every alderman these days wants to talk a good game on TIF reform and recovering TIF surpluses for the benefit of schoolchildren, especially now that voters have been better educated to the issue.

But precious few of those aldermen are actually willing to give up the funds intended for projects in their own wards, one of their biggest sources of power.


In what appeared to be an intentional delaying tactic, Finance Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) held a scheduled 2:15 p.m. hearing on a last-minute ordinance on another matter brought forward by the Emanuel administration before the scheduled 2 p.m. meeting on the TIF surplus plan.

A group of protesters allied with the Chicago Teachers Union angrily disrupted the proceedings because of the perceived filibuster with chants of “Keep our schools afloat! We want a vote!”

They were escorted out of the City Council Chambers for their troubles. That was good for them actually, because they did not have to sit there while the meeting droned on another hour before getting to their issue and taking no action.

It was 4 p.m. before Burke’s committee took up the TIF ordinance. I’m sure this is going to shock you, but there isn’t a lot of substantive City Council business that gets conducted at that hour, and this was no different.

Burke tried to suggest another postponement, but some of the supporters insisted on at least going through with the discussion.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) at a Chicago City Council meeting in February 2016. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) at a Chicago City Council meeting in February 2016. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) gave a spirited defense for keeping his TIF money.

Burnett, whose ward includes both rapidly developing areas generating large amounts of tax-increment dollars and needy areas that could use it, said he uses nearly all his TIF money for “the needy not the greedy.”

Burnett said these projects “help public school families” in his ward, if not the actual public schools.

“I cannot support this. I cannot hurt my people to help someone else,” said Burnett, couching the argument in terms of “helping the people in the area where the tax dollars come from.”

Burnett means well, but that’s the whole problem with TIF districts. The money stays in the areas where the property tax revenue is being generated, starving the rest of the city of the benefit of economic growth that would have happened whether or not there was a TIF district.

Nobody seemed swayed when Garza complained in response to Burnett: “If we don’t educate our kids, we’ve got nothing.”

“We all want to see big surpluses, but no one wants to see it [come] out of their individual wards,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose downtown ward is the largest generator of TIF surpluses. Reilly said he doesn’t begrudge the 42nd Ward’s contribution to the TIF surplus.

I received a notice in the mail recently about the city’s new “Transit TIF” which will run the length of the Red Line and is supposed to be devoted to CTA improvements.

Notably, none of the money from that TIF can be diverted from Chicago Public Schools’ normal share.

That should have been the city’s TIF policy all along.