October City Council: aldermen pump brakes on contracting and TIF

In an interview by Ben Joravsky with Dave Glowacz on the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky Show, Dave and Ben listened to audio from October 2020's meetings of the Chicago City Council finance committee, and the full council.

First up: Dave played audio from the council's Oct. 5 finance committee meeting, in which aldermen considered an ordinance creating an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to provide tax-increment financing (TIF) funds for improvements to an approach to the Lake Street bridge.

In the audio clip, aldermen grilled city and CTA staff about how the project got approved for TIF funding. Dave explained that the clip introduced a little-known cog in the city's TIF machine, called the TIF Investment Committee.

Aldermen disagreed with a city staffer who said that the TIF Investment Committee doesn't consider a project until local aldermen receive notification. Aldermen were heard wanting more say in the approval process, calling it less than transparent.

Ben questioned how serious aldermen are about any reform of TIF approval. Aldermen know that the TIF program, Ben said, "is sleazy and corrupt, but they're dependent on it."

In the premium version of this episode, Dave played another clip from the Oct. 5 finance committee meeting, in which aldermen debated more CTA TIF funding—for improvements to the Blue Line subway.

The audio showed aldermen learning that the CTA project might use a smaller pool of minority- and women-owned contractors than a city project would—causing a pause in the finance committee's approval, to have the CTA agreement reworked.

Dave explained that aldermen wanted to ensure that more non-white workers ended up doing government-funded construction—but even that didn't guarantee that the people hired are Chicagoans.

"I would like to see a program that would require workers on big projects," Ben said, "to live in Chicago. That would be a game changer."

Further, Ben objected to aldermen calling TIF dollars "city money," because it masks the source of TIF: a skimming of property taxes from unwitting Chicagoans. "The only reason that they're free to spend the slush," Ben said, "is that the dummies of Chicago don't realize they're giving 'em the slush."

Also in the premium version, Dave played audio from the Oct. 7 meeting of the full City Council—which featured the sidelining of an affordable housing ordinance proposal by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25).

"When the mayor does not want legislation to be discussed," Ben observed, "she has her hand-picked alderman" ensure that it's sent to "where legislation is dumped that they don't wanna deal with."

In a final clip heard in the premium version, rules committee chair Ald. Michelle Harris (8) resurrected a proposed ordinance calling on Chicago's police superintendent to end funding of police officers posted to public schools.

That ordinance "should have been in the education committee in the first place," Ben said, rather than having been buried in the rules committee. "The whole point of this stuff is to keep it un-transparent."

Finally, also in the premium version, Ben commented on some of the audio featuring Ald. Ray Lopez (15).

During the tenure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ben said, Lopez went along with mayoral proposals. But "now that he's a critic" of the mayor, "his former allies are now making fun of him."

Length 7.8 minutes standard, 39.8 minutes premium.

Music: "De Tout Le Corps Je Ris" by Portron Portron Lopez

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