Taxes

  • Study finds tax incentives bad for local governments

    21 May 2019

    A study has found that publicly funded incentives such as property tax abatements and investment tax credits are "linked with worse overall fiscal health" for the state and local jurisdictions that employ them.

    The study, from researchers at North Carolina State University, took a comprehensive look at all incentives offered in 32 states from 1990 to 2015.

    Report: "You Don't Always Get What You Want: The Effect of Financial Incentives on State Fiscal Health" (North Carolina State University)

  • Lincoln Yards and Cortland/Chicago River TIF still in flux

    1 May 2019

    Elements of the proposed Lincoln Yards complex, which shifted repeatedly prior to its City Council approval this year, continue to change.

  • City expects Cortland TIF valuation of $2.5 billion

    17 December 2018

    The city of Chicago expects that the equalized assessed valuation of properties in the proposed Cortland/Chicago River tax-increment financing district will total $2.5 billion.

  • How did city reckon $800M for Lincoln Yards TIF?

    4 December 2018

    (Updated on 12 December 2018)

    Recently, one of our Facebook followers responded to my article on the origin of Lincoln Yards and the associated tax-increment financing (TIF) district, writing:

    "What is missing from publicly disclosed documents are estimates for the amount tax revenue that this project can be expected to generate over the 23-year (more if it's extended) life of the TIF . . . How much in property taxes beyond the estimated $800M for proposed infrastructure improvements that would go into a discretionary (slush) fund under the control of the mayor?"

    City infrastructure spending
    Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development estimates,
    totaling $700M, of infrastructure spending in the
    Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.
    Source: city of Chicago's 11/14/18 public meeting.

    The one thing—and the only thing—we know about the estimated tax revenue from publicly disclosed documents is the amount: $800 million. This figure comes from a FAQ sheet distributed by the Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development at its Nov. 14, 2018 public meeting on the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.

    I think the writer's larger implication is correct: The city has not provided any material to show on what it based that estimate.

    Presumably, planning department analysts looked at the potential 23-year life of the proposed TIF district and did the following.

    1. Estimate the number, size, density, and uses of all the buildings that might get built.
    2. Assign an equalized assessed value (EAV) of all the properties identified in #1, for each year of the TIF district's life. Sum them over all the years.
    3. Identify the EAV of all the properties present at the TIF district's inception. Multiply that by the number of years of the TIF district's life.
    4. To get the total tax increment accumulated by the district, subtract #3 from #4 and multiply by the tax rate.


    LY land use
    Sterling Bay's 11/29/18 update of the proposed Lincoln
    Yards building layout. Source: Sterling Bay.

    The city hasn't disclosed any of that. Planning department officials did, however, show how they'd spend up to $700 million of the estimated total TIF take (see "Key Public Infrastructure Needs" above).

    Some clues about the calculations appear in the TIF district's redevelopment agreement—a document that planning officials said at the Nov. 14 meeting they'd release "in three weeks," but that the city's Web site revealed on Dec. 12.

    Another wrinkle: The Lincoln Yards development will comprise an estimated two-fifths of the TIF district. The developer of Lincoln Yards, Sterling Bay, has not made publicly available a detailed list of the projected number, size, density, and uses of all the buildings in Lincoln Yards. Though an enterprising researcher could extrapolate some (or much) of it from the aerial renderings that Sterling Bay's presented at a Nov. 29 public meeting, no one has tried . . . yet.

  • New TIF district would cover entire Lincoln Yards site

    14 November 2018

    The city of Chicago has proposed the Cortland/Chicago River tax-increment financing district, which will encircle all of the planned Lincoln Yards development along the Chicago River's North Branch.

  • Ballot salad: Too many Chicago elections?

    22 October 2018

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the many candidates, issues, and referenda facing Chicago voters in the 2018 statewide general election and 2019 Chicago municipal election.

  • Liberal and progressive: How do they differ?

    1 May 2018

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what distinguishes someone who calls themself a liberal from someone who calls themself a progressive.

  • Rauner's "reforms" riff on Obama?

    2 July 2017

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the motives of Governor Bruce Rauner in insisting on government "reforms" as part of a state budget deal.

  • Red Line TIF district could suck in $5B in property taxes

    8 December 2016

    A new transit taxing district surrounding the Red Line on the North Side could generate at least $5 billion in revenue—far more than the city had previously claimed.

  • Development commission approves Lathrop tax financing

    13 July 2016

    The city's Community Development Commission unanimously approved tax-increment financing for the redevelopment of the Lathrop Homes public housing complex.

  • Lucas Museum narrative is a mixed art

    17 May 2016

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on Mayor Emanuel's obsession with international visitors, and more.

  • 2016 primary election freaks out voters and pols

    2 April 2016

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on whether political parties (rather than taxpayers) should bear the cost of primary elections, and more.

  • TPP lets investors prey, taxpayers pay

    25 January 2016

    In his 2016 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass a 12-nation trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).1

    The text of the TPP, which member nations began crafting in 20092, became available in November, 2015. The contents should trouble taxpayers.

    A provision that's arguably one the worst for taxpayers is that which protects the profits of foreign investors.

    Under the TPP, a foreign corporation's investors can sue state and local governments in the U.S. for any circumstances—such as, say, pollution limits—that interfere with the corporation's profits.

    Moreover, the corporation can do this outside of our judicial system: Our courts have no jurisdiction, thanks to a TPP scheme called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

    Imagine, if you will, that a Japan-based company sets up manufacturing in Chicago. The company's manufacturing process produces toxic waste, which the company dumps into the city's sewer system—at a level exceeding limits set by Illinois and Chicago's environmental regulations.

    Then, say that local government moves to stop the company's illegal dumping. Under TPP, the company's investors may sue to block the government's enforcement—claiming that the enforcement adversely affects their profits.

    In such a suit, the TPP trumps our constitutionally guaranteed right of due process in a court of law. Instead, according to investor-state dispute settlement rules, the suit is adjudicated by an ISDS "tribunal" composed of several private "arbitrators" appointed under the TPP. The arbitrators, unlike U.S. judges, aren't bound by precedent or judicial ethics.3 The tribunal may award damages to the investors, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

    At the very least, awards in such cases would make citizens, not polluters, pay. At the worst, the threat of damage awards would choke off new or more stringent environmental safeguards.

    And even if investors sue a local government unsuccessfully, we taxpayers still must pay for our government's lawyers. So we always lose.

    Think this scenario is just hypothetical? It's already happened. The existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) contains an ISDS provision—and Canadian energy company TransCanada has used it.

    In January of this year, TransCanada announced that it would sue the U.S. government for halting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The company argued that it's been "unjustly deprived of the value of its multibillion-dollar investment by the U.S. administration's action" that blocked an important piece of its pipeline network. TransCanada seeks $15 billion in compensation—an amount that includes the profits that the company expects it would've gotten in future years.4

    And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Existing trade agreements that the U.S. has with other countries have resulted in governments paying investors almost $4 billion in ISDS awards, according to Lori Wallach, Global Trade Watch director for Public Citizen.5 The TPP will boost the number of foreign investors that can use ISDS to extract payments from U.S. taxpayers.

    Concerned citizens, though, have a vehicle for stopping the TPP: Congress.

    After President Obama formally signs off on the TPP for the United States (which he's expected to do in February), Congress must then approve the deal. In the meantime, members of the public can weigh in with representatives and senators—many of whom have already signaled their opposition to the TPP.



    1. The 12 proposed nation signatories (the TPP calls them "Parties") are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam.

    2. "Timeline of the Trans-Pacific Partnership," Public Knowledge, June 27, 2012.

    3. In fact, President Obama signaled his administration's contempt of courts years ago: In a March, 2012 speech at Northwestern University law school, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said "'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same . . . The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

    4. "TransCanada’s $15 Billion Lawsuit Against U.S. on Keystone XL Presents Strong Case," Eric Zuesse, Global Research, January 8, 2016.

    5. "Lame White House Response to Sen. Warren's Warning about TPP Investor Privileges," Lori Wallach, Huffington Post, May 2, 2015.

  • Property taxes: who to blame and why to care

    25 November 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how go-along taxpayers subsidize DIY taxpayers, and more.

  • Tax traders, or tax-increment financing?

    23 July 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the questionable benefits of having financial markets in Chicago, and more.

  • State rep blames budget crisis on tax windfall for wealthy

    20 July 2015

    Illinois' budget shortfall is due to a tax decrease that has largely benefited the wealthy, according to 39th district Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago).

  • Chicago's big, bad bonds: revenues or ruse?

    1 July 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on possible collusion between bond raters, investors, and city officials—and more.

  • Lesser-known arguments against the TPP

    15 June 2015

    There was a local angle in recent news about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

    It has to do with Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago. Quigley was the only House Democrat from Illinois to vote for authorization of Fast Track authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, regarding the TPP.

    Most of the reporting we've seen for and against the TPP—including Quigley's own newspaper op-ed piece—focuses on how many U.S. jobs the TPP will create or destroy. Not as widely reported are other, potentially more insidious aspects of the TPP—which we know about thanks to leaks of TPP documents from Wikileaks and others.

    According to the leaks, the TPP would:

    • Empower foreign firms to sue U.S. governments if regulations interfere with the firms' "expected future profits." Foreign corporations could bypass domestic courts and sue U.S. governments before a tribunal of private lawyers not answerable to the U.S. legal system. This so-called investor-state dispute settlement process could thwart our protections against environmental, food safety, banking, and manufacturing misdeeds, and award our tax dollars to corporations for violating laws that interfere with their profits.
    • Require the U.S. to let foreign countries import foods that violate U.S. food safety laws. Foreign entities could challenge U.S. safety rules on pesticides, labeling, or additives as "illegal trade barriers"—forcing the U.S. to allow the import of unsafe food.
    • Undermine efforts to re-regulate the financial sector. The TPP would (a) keep countries from outlawing particularly risky financial products; (b) prohibit policies that keep banks from growing "too big to fail;" (c) make it easier for banks to make hedge-fund-style bets with depositors' savings; and (d) prohibit financial transaction taxes, which provide significant revenues in dozens of countries world-wide.
    • Force the U.S. to waive "Buy American" procurement policies for all firms operating in TPP countries, offshoring our tax dollars to create jobs abroad.

    Interestingly, it seems that not even Congressional opponents to Fast Track press these arguments.

  • Trumbull closing shows lack of population planning

    16 September 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how CPS's desire to maintain segregation might've kept at least one school open, and more.

  • State governor campaign proves taxing

    9 July 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the absence of free-market advocates from debate over corporate subsidies, and more.

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