This past week, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike has been making national headlines. But what major media outlets have overlooked is the role of tax increment financing (TIF) in worsening the fiscal situation for the Chicago Public School (CPS) system. The strikers, however, are making an issue of it. As Good Jobs First has documented time and again, TIF and other subsidies frequently divert property taxes away from school districts.
In Chicago, as well as Illinois generally which has about 1,000 active TIF Districts diverting over $1 billion each year, the problem is particularly severe: 10 percent of Chicago property tax revenues are diverted into TIF coffers. The CTU estimates that at the end of 2011, Chicago had $831 million in unallocated TIF funds sitting in bank accounts. Nearly half that money would have otherwise gone to schools. That number is also far bigger than the $700 million budget shortfall CPS had for the 2011-2012 school year which remains relatively unchanged for 2013. Instead, TIF monies are frequently utilized as subsidies for corporations.
Yesterday, thousands of teachers picketed a Hyatt hotel which had received $5.2 million in TIF subsidies chanting “give it back.” Speakers gave impassioned arguments against the use of TIF. The choice was not a coincidence: Penny Pritzker, a billionaire whose family owns the Hyatt chain, is also an appointee to the Chicago Board of Education.
Protestors contend that the TIF money used on the hotel would have been better spent on improving the education system. As one protestor commented, “I think it’s really important to bring awareness to the fact that, according to what I found out, $5.2 million has been given to developers [to build the Hyatt hotel]… That’s money that could have gone to classrooms, and computers, so many other things.”
Ultimately, all Illinoisans should also care about TIF in Chicago and elsewhere. The burden of school funding lost because of TIF property tax diversions is likely being made up for by all Illinois taxpayers.
Pritzker’s role on the board of education and Hyatt’s TIF funding are not the only reasons that labor is unhappy with Hyatt. A Unite Here campaign called Hyatt Hurts has been calling attention to what it alleges are unfair labor practices at the company and calling for a boycott.
We hope investigative journalists everywhere take notice: TIF has caused serious budgetary harm in Chicago and deserves more serious scrutiny in every school district.