Archive for the ‘Tax Increment Financing’ Category

Abatements and TIF: Worse Than Ever for Schools

June 22, 2012

A study just released by the Census Bureau helps explain why property tax abatements and TIF are growing issues for people who care about public education.

For the first time in 16 years, it reports, local funding (65 percent of which comes from property taxes) provided the greatest share of school funding. That reverses a long-term trend in which state funding has become a larger share of the pie (with federal support accounting for only a small share).

But with states balancing their budgets in part by slashing aid to school boards and other local government bodies, local revenue matters more than ever.

That’s why costly long-term property tax abatements, routinely granted to large companies in the name of economic development, hurt schools more than ever. The same can be said for tax increment financing (TIF) districts, which can divert huge sums of property taxes (and sometimes others) for decades.

And that is bad news for real economic development that benefits all employers currently in a community. Schools also matter a lot for expansion and attraction. Because when an employer considers relocating to an area (and moving key personnel), the first thing those key employees want to know is: how good are the schools?  And the HR director wants to know: we will be able to hire well-educated new-hires? And they will also ask: has school quality been supporting strong home values?

Now more than ever, protecting the local property tax base from costly and unfair abatements and TIF matters for long-term economic development and a sound business climate.

See also Stateline’s coverage here.

Colorado Governor Doesn’t Buy Sales Tax Giveaway

May 10, 2012

Westernaires and Color Guard in Downtown Denver opening the National Western Stock Show

Advocates of accountability and fiscal responsibility in Colorado recently achieved a major victory when Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed a controversial economic development bill.  SB 124 was designed to amend the state’s existing Regional Tourism Act, which allows Colorado’s Economic Development Commission to award portions of sales tax revenue as a subsidy to projects deemed important enough to attract out-of-state tourism dollars.  If signed by the Governor, it would have increased the number of allowable projects this year from two to six.

The bill was made all the more contentious by the fact that the Economic Development Commission is currently in possession of an application for the existing Regional Tourism subsidy from Gaylord Entertainment Co., which is constructing a massive hotel-convention center complex in Aurora, Colorado.  The complex, located close to Denver International Airport, has been criticized for its potential to leech convention center business from Denver.  Confirming these fears, the announcement by the Western Stock Show–a Denver institution for over a century–of its intent to relocate to Aurora gave the issue a public symbol in the media.  The Gaylord complex is already approved for a tax increment financing (TIF) subsidy by the city of Aurora and has applied for an additional $170 million in sales tax TIF subsidies through the state’s Regional Tourism Act.

Concerns over intra-regional competition for jobs and tax revenues was not lost on Gov. Hickenlooper, who in his veto letter stated: “the [Regional Tourism Act] does not contemplate…projects that are likely to serve only the interests of a particular community.”  The Governor’s decision also reflected his concern that politicizing subsidy-awarding process would reduce the program’s effectiveness and accountability.  “This [veto] will help ensure the state sales tax increment revenue is used appropriately, and that the EDC is awarding projects that will in fact drive tourism and economic development…we want to ensure that the RTA process remains competitive, resulting in the most ‘unique’ and ‘extraordinary’ projects being approved,” he wrote.

TIF subsidies derived from property tax are used liberally in Colorado by local governments, but the use of sales tax revenues as a subsidy has been restricted thus far.  Recent years have brought multiple ill-informed efforts to deregulate and loosen rules on the TIF-ing of sales tax.  Many of these proposed tax giveaways have been beaten back by a coalition of groups led by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, which successfully defeated a number of wasteful business tax credit and subsidy bills this session.

Congratulations to our allies on their hard-earned victory!

PIRG Releases Report on TIF in Chicago as 3 Major Companies Return $34 million to Taxpayers

January 31, 2012

Chicago has long endured damage to its budget from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) chicanery. But with Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledging to take on TIF reform, change may be afoot. A new report released today by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) demands better transparency and accountability for TIF in Chicago. This includes incorporating TIF into the city’s budget process, linking spending to economic development plans instead of political patronage, requiring better outcomes, measuring outcomes, utilizing clawbacks for failure to meet benchmarks, and ending TIF districts once the economic development goal has been achieved. Much of what PIRG is asking echoes suggestions made by a panel appointed by Mayor Emanuel that studied the city’s TIF problems. Many of these recommendations have not yet been implemented.

In response to PIRG and other criticisms, Mayor Emanuel has pledged an improved transparency portal, better than the one we discussed last May, which was already a vast improvement.

And yesterday, to our surprise, recipients of major TIF subsidies have decided to return $34 million to the city. These recipients include the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), CNA Group and Bank of America. CME’s subsidies were enabled by a controversial new state law. It’s not clear exactly why these recipients are choosing this particular moment in time to return subsidies, but reports indicate that shortfalls on job creation pledges and negative publicity may have played a role.

With 10 percent of Chicago’s revenues tripped up in TIF spending, it is clear that Chicago needs more transparency and accountability on TIF.

U.S. PIRG Takes on TIF

October 14, 2011

Tax-increment financing is the most insidious type of economic development subsidy. Whereas it’s clear in programs such as property tax abatements that public revenues are being given away, proponents of TIF have often persuaded public officials that it provides something for nothing. That’s wishful thinking, of course—TIF-subsidized projects increase the demand for public services but don’t contribute to the revenues needed to pay for them—but too many officials have succumbed to the illusion. TIF is now used (often overused)  in every state but Arizona.

The good news is that concern about TIFs is spreading from specialized policy organizations to activist groups. The latest sign of this is the report on TIF just published by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

In addition to explaining to the uninitiated how TIFs work, the report provides a detailed critique of their pitfalls. These include a tendency to encourage development in areas that are not blighted; enrichment of well-connected developers; and a dangerous diversion of revenues away from vital public services.

The U.S. PIRG report also does a good job in cataloguing the accountability shortcomings of TIFs, including the failure by many jurisdictions to disclose which parties are benefiting from TIF deals or even summary data about the costs of the program. Also included is an appendix providing details on each state’s TIF practices, including whether there are requirements for the creation of a TIF district or the approval of a TIF deal.

Colorado Stock Show Wants Bucks to Sprawl

September 1, 2011

The location of the future Gaylord convention center complex.

The already controversial proposal to construct a massively subsidized convention center complex outside Denver has become even more divisive following an announcement by the city’s long-running National Western Stock Show that it was considering relocating to the site.

The new hotel-convention center complex in Aurora County, currently under development by Gaylord Hotels, is located near the Denver International Airport.   It is receiving up to $300 million in development subsidies via tax increment revenues from Aurora, whose City Council just approved a blight designation for the 125-acre site, now completely vacant land.  The company has also applied for a raft of state subsidies that include $170 million in sales tax rebates over a 30-year period.

Concerns that the 1,500-room complex will leach convention center and hotel business and tax revenues away from Denver are turning out to be well-founded in light of the National Western Stock Show’s announcement that it is considering a site adjacent to the new development for its annual events.  The show, which is celebrating its 106th anniversary this January, is considered a Denver institution.  (Its Centennial celebration drew 727,000 people.)   Denver voters will need to approve $150 million in general obligation bonds to finance the show’s move to Aurora.  Complicating matters further is the fact that the show benefited from $30 million worth of voter approved bonds in 1989 to upgrade its current facilities at the Denver Union Stockyards.  Under the terms of that contract, the organization is required to stay at its current address in Denver until 2040.

The stock show’s announcement has roused a series of accusations from Denver electeds that the organization is in breach of its existing bond contract.  The contract stipulated that the stock show must maintain the upkeep of its facilities, which have fallen into disrepair according to city council members.   The stock show was additionally required to submit annual reports to the city.  Stock show officials state that these were submitted annually to the city’s Theatres and Arenas Department, but this has not stopped City Auditor Dennis Gallagher from accusing the organization of failing to provide his office with financial reports.

Gallagher recently released a statement lambasting the organization:  “I refuse to see our city, our downtown business, our convention center, our historical heritage and the welfare of Denver taxpayers sold down the river because of over-arching greed.”  Other officials have reacted in kind.  City Council President Chris Nevitt accused the show of “fail[ing] to live up to [its] end of the bargain.”  The heart of the issue was best expressed by Aurora resident Shirley Ney:  “As I look at this land out there, I do not consider this land as blighted,” she said. “I think it’s very valuable land … valuable agricultural land is being eaten up by urban sprawl across this country. This proposal adds to that sprawl.”

Sadly, the wisdom of this sentiment may be lost on the National Western Stock Show, which represents an entire industry dependent on agricultural land.  The problem of subsidizing the development of greenfields is twofold.  It exacerbates the problem of sprawling growth and its associated regional costs, while simultaneously providing an unnecessary financial incentive for businesses to withdraw from the urban core.  A stampede of Denver’s urban businesses to Aurora may become unavoidable when such extravagant development subsidies are involved.

Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel Promises a Shake-Up of the City’s $1.2 Billion TIF Program

May 20, 2011

Yesterday, Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, took an important first step in improving city government by announcing reforms for Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Many have dubbed TIF Chicago’s “Shadow Budget” not just because its spending is out of control, but also because it’s been used as a political patronage piggybank. TIF has cost taxpayers $1.2 billion dollars across 159 TIF districts. Emanuel deserves high accolades for addressing this issue so quickly after taking office.

After taking the reins, the new mayor says he was shocked to learn that such a large program, about one-sixth of the official city budget, lacked basic standards like job creation and quality benchmarks. Emanuel was clear about what’s wrong with TIF and what needs to be done: “Over the years, it’s mutated,” he said, into subsidies for “downtown and high-rent areas.” Fixing TIF will require the program to “return to its roots” by targeting spending “for blighted economic communities” and ending the use of TIF “as a political instrument.”

Mayor Emanuel is taking various steps that Chicagoans should be enthusiastic about.

  • First, he vowed that TIF will no longer be used as a political bargaining chip.
  • Second, he promised that subsidies will not reward wealthy developers in Chicago’s Loop or other wealthy neighborhoods. (It’s unclear whether that proclamation also means that TIF subsidies will no longer be used to shift jobs from other parts of Illinois, as was the case in the controversial $35 million United Airlines deal.)
  • Third, he promised to focus use of TIF subsidies on creating high-quality jobs in blighted neighborhoods, which was the original intention of program.
  • Fourth, he appointed a task force to come up with ideas for improving the transparency and accountability of the program.

His announcement also came with an improved transparency website: The effort is a good start. The website allows users to view and download subsidy information in a variety of ways. Users can search for and download digital spreadsheets of the data for their own analysis. It even allows users to peruse development documents signed with companies and disclosures about conflicts of interest and lobbying.

Unfortunately, the website isn’t perfect yet. For example, TIF districts and projects could be projected onto a single interactive map that allows users to delve deeper. The website lacks a section devoted to annual follow-up reporting on outcomes relating to jobs, wages, and clawbacks.

Again, congratulations Mr. Mayor. Reforming TIF will be no easy task, but Chicagoans deserve a transparent and accountable TIF program.

New Jersey’s $1 Billion Subsidy Spree

May 4, 2011

Xanadu, an "offense to the eyes."

According to a new report released last week by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan policy research center based in Trenton, Gov. Christie’s administration has awarded $822 million in economic development subsidies in its first 15 months in office.  A Surge in Subsidies documents the recent torrent of tax credit and grants awarded by the Economic Development Authority at a time when the state is slashing budget items for education, health, and social services.

NJPP examined just four of the state’s many economic development subsidy programs.  The controversial Business Employment Incentive Program redirects the personal income tax withholding of employees to participating businesses.  The recently enacted Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant (ERG) program has been used to approve awards totaling an astounding $351 million in diverted tax increments to New Jersey companies since February of 2010.  Once laudable for its geographic targeting, the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit is now used so extensively that it is poised to become a major revenue drain for the state.

Despite abundant criticism of recent deals such as the state’s decision to bail out a casino owned by Morgan Stanley ($261 million through ERG) and $101 million to relocate Panasonic’s North American headquarters just eight miles, New Jersey continues to dole out major subsidies.  Gov. Christie once called the stalled Xanadu mall project “an offense to the eyes as you drive up the turnpike.”  Now, he favors a $200 million tax break to rescue the project.

NJPP president Deborah Howlett notes that the Xanadu subsidy brings the 16-month subsidy spending total to over $1 billion, yet “all of that spending to spur job creation has had almost no effect on the unemployment rate.”

Colorado Proposal Would “STIF” Taxpayers

March 4, 2011

Buckingham Square Mall, Aurora, Colorado

The Colorado Senate is evaluating a risky new development subsidy proposal that passed in the House last week.  House Bill 1220 would, for the first time, allow the diversion of incremental state sales tax revenues to back bonds used to finance road construction for new retail projects.  Specifically, the bill would permit sales tax increment financing (STIF) to be used for projects that have been approved by the state department of transportation but lack dedicated state funding to secure federal highway matching funds.

The policy problems inherent in this bill are many.  STIF is designed to subsidize retail projects, ignoring the fact that they are not a very effective form of economic development.  Building new stores doesn’t grow the economy – it only shifts consumer spending from one place to another.  Providing subsidies to move low-wage retail jobs around a metro area is a waste of taxpayer funds.  The East-West Gateway Council of Governments (St. Louis metro region) found in its January 2011 study that the region had spent $4.6 billion subsidizing retail development between 1990 and 2007.  During that period, 5,700 new retail jobs were created in the metro area, at an apparent cost of $370,000 per job.

STIF makes a poor economic development tool for other reasons as well.  Sales tax receipts are unpredictable, especially during leaner economic periods.  Determining the value of the incremental increase in sales tax revenues is nearly impossible if assessors attempt to estimate how much retail spending is “new” and how much was merely cannibalized from nearby retail establishments.  STIF also promotes the fiscalization of land use—the unwise practice of letting tax revenue considerations control planning decisions.  California repealed STIF in 1993 to avoid this problem.  Colorado’s proposal is worse because it would only subsidize new retail developments that rely on highway access, making it biased against existing retailers in urban centers.

Another important consideration is that Colorado can’t afford to sacrifice the existing sales tax revenues that it would lose to STIF-subsidized development.  As a TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) state, Colorado cannot raise new revenues without statewide voter approval.  This is likely the reason that the development lobby is seeking this subsidy in the first place.  As a result of the economic recession and TABOR, Colorado’s fiscal crisis is so dire that the state cannot afford to fund highway transportation projects despite the fact that federal matching funds are on the table.

HB 1220 would sidestep the appropriations process for funding highway construction, shortchange the state’s sales tax revenue collection, subsidize the relocation of low-wage jobs in suburban fringe areas, and contribute to the growing list of dead malls in Colorado.

Shining A Light On $1.2 Billion In Chicago TIFs

March 3, 2011

A new analysis of the $1.2 billion Chicago has awarded in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) over the past 10 years has found that much of the money has been gone to large corporations and other institutions operating in thriving neighborhoods, not struggling businesses in blighted areas. These findings are not shocking: we’ve noticed the abuse of TIF around Chicago and other metro areas for years. So too have local observers like the now defunct Neighborhood Capital Budget Group and Ben Joravsky at The Chicago Reader.

The new study, conducted by journalism students at Columbia College in Chicago, analyzed hundreds of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The students have also mapped the TIF deals—something the city has long declined to do—and posted the TIF agreements. See the map and the documents: here.

Of the 171 TIF deals provided to companies over the decade, the study found that more than half were clustered in or around Chicago’s vibrant central business district, the Loop. Chicago has 77 community areas, but few as prosperous as the Loop, whose residents (62 percent white) have a median income of $75,000. More depressed neighborhoods like Englewood (median income of $19,000, 98 percent Black), West Garfield Park ($23,000, 96 percent Black), and North Lawndale ($18,000, 94 percent Black) got only a handful of projects.

About $600 million went to private sector entities, accounting for the largest share of the $1.2 billion. These included subsidies to companies like United Airlines [Struggling Chicago finds $25 million for United Airlines] ($31 million), USG Corp. ($7 million), and NAVTEQ ($5 million). Some $100 million was used to lure companies to the city or to discourage them from leaving. In many cases, subsidies went to big box retail stores that supplanted small businesses. Target received at least $18.5 million at five locations throughout the city.

Housing developments received $340 million in subsidies, while $200 million went to non-profits, hospitals, and cultural institutions like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Many of these non-profits have enormous philanthropic bases. Numerous hospitals in Illinois are under scrutiny as to whether they ought to remain tax-exempt. Some housing developers used TIF money to create luxury condos. Other TIF deals have actually been documented to create blight.

Chicago has yet to implement its 2009 sunshine law and shed light on how taxpayer money is spent. The 2009 law required the city to put online searchable copies of every redevelopment agreement since 2004. Many were not posted and journalists at Columbia College had to undergo arduous Freedom of Information Act Requests to collect the information. The efforts of the students have both provided a useful analysis of the troubled TIF program as well as a valuable public data resource.

Tough Love for California TIF

February 25, 2011

California Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing extraordinary revenue- raising plans to tackle the state’s $28 billion budget deficit.  The Brown Administration has proposed that the state dissolve the state’s community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), regional quasi-public bodies charged with administering redevelopment dollars.  Tax increment financing (TIF – the mechanism through which redevelopment is funded) is an enormous expense in California, representing $5.8 billion in diverted tax revenues a year.  The current proposal would retire current redevelopment debts with agencies’ existing funds, allowing the $1.7 billion to be applied towards the state budget.  Remaining funds would be returned to local governments and school districts.

Unlike the Enterprise Zone program, also slated for elimination by the Brown Administration, redevelopment in California actually does provide some clear benefits to the state.  TIF plays a significant role in providing affordable housing in California:  twenty percent of all TIF revenues must be set aside for affordable housing projects.  When properly harnessed, redevelopment can spur equitable revitalization.  Some of the most successful community benefits agreements in the country come from Los Angeles, where LAANE and other organizations have leveraged redevelopment funds to provide good jobs and affordable housing to underserved communities.   Madeline Janis, executive director of LAANE, Vice Chair of the Los Angeles CRA Board, and board member of Good Jobs First has argued that reform – not elimination – of CRAs is the best way to advance economic recovery in the state.

Reform would help to address the overuse of redevelopment dollars in California.  A February report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that CRAs in some counties have created so many projects that more than 25 percent of all property tax revenue is allocated to the agency.  One needs to look no further for examples of irresponsible use of TIF funds than San Jose and Oakland.  Both cities are scrambling to assemble and approve new subsidized professional sports stadium plans before the state can move to recapture redevelopment funds.  Cities throughout California are moving decisively to spend or otherwise encumber their accumulated redevelopment funds.

California’s $28 billion budget gap is unparalleled, but budget pressures are bringing tough love to the economic development-industrial complex around the country.  Getting back to basics is critical. Programs that pay companies to do what they would have done anyway – that fail to meet the definition of the word incentive, that don’t correct market failures – are deservedly vulnerable.  It’s only fair, given deep cuts being proposed for aid to children, seniors, students and the unemployed.