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City strikes a blow for clarity in TIF budgets

Tax-increment financing districts in Chicago are slowly becoming more transparent. In an unheralded move, city officials a few days ago posted new TIF data that puts vital information about the districts in a single place.

The city posted reports of projected spending through 2017 for all 154 TIF districts. The information is accessible on the city’s main TIF page, linked here. A user can click on either the “open data” page, which leads to a searchable database, or on the PDF version.

The reports are valuable because they start with the balances and spending from 2012, and go on to estimate revenue and obligations for various redevelopment plans. An estimated yearend balance for each year through 2017 is provided.

The result is a snapshot for how well each TIF is working and whether the money that’s due is largely committed to public or private projects. It helps address the question of whether substantial TIF money is a surplus that could be redirected to the schools and other taxing agencies.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has not reported in the aggregate expected revenue and potential surplus for all districts. However, the mayor’s staff provided a cover sheet on its PDF file that said the districts will fund $1.5 billion in projects “over the next few years.”

The city broke down that spending as follows: $626 million for infrastructure, $376 million for neighborhood economic development, $354 million for schools, $91 million on public transit, $73 million for parks and $14 million for downtown economic development.

People will quarrel over categories and definitions and whether the city is fudging numbers. But for now, more facts are at hand.