Just how bias is the Chicago Tribune when it comes to TIF funds?

TIF coverage: Chicago Tribune bias vs. Chicago Reader

For THE perfect example of “bias in the Chicago Tribune” take a look at their coverage of Rahm Emanuel’s controversial TIF plan.

There’s hardly any.

However, in the Chicago Reader, there’s a solid rant on the issue nearly every month thanks to Ben Joravsky. The journalist has been singlehandedly calling attention to the $500 million dollar Chicago TIF funds for almost 25 years, because well, nobody else will. Mainstream media doesn’t really like to talk about the Mayor’s TIF plan. Maybe its because they’re getting a chunk of it? Maybe. But we’ll never know, since much of the TIF plan is done behind closed doors of the Mayor’s discretion. Either the Trib’s investigative journalists have been on vacation for the past 20 years on this one, or they’re just avoiding the subject for their own reasons.

What is a TIF? From the Chicago Reader:

First, for those who are understandably out-of-the-loop on this-

TIF funds “siphon off property tax dollars that would otherwise go to the schools, parks, county, and other taxing bodies. The money is collected in slush funds controlled by the mayor.
The funds are supposed to be used to eradicate blight in the poorest communities—places where there would be no development but for the TIF. But because of loopholes in the state TIF law, the mayor’s pretty much free to spend the money on anything he wants, such as subsidies to corporations in return for unenforced agreements to keep jobs in Chicago. That’s how TIF money ended up subsidizing wealthy corporations setting up shop in the “blighted” communities in and around the Loop.”
-Ben Joravsky, Mayor Emanuel does the TIF reform dance

Bej Joravsky image

Ben Joravsky picture via mrradio.org

You can easily find dozens of Joravsky’s investigative articles from the Chicago Reader by a google search:

Mayor Rahm’s TIF tax: $510 million
“On Thursday, Cook County clerk David Orr released his annual TIF report, which shows that city property taxpayers paid an extra $510 million thanks to the TIFs…Clearly, Emanuel’s learned from the master. Like Daley, he simply pretends TIFs don’t raise property taxes, even as they give him more property tax dollars to spend.”

Where TIF Dollars Go and Where They Don’t
“TIF money isn’t reaching many of the neediest parts of the city. In fact, Chicago’s economic disparities may even be widened by the program.”

Need money? Just take it out of TIF petty cash!
“I’ve been writing about TIFs for so long, you’d think there’d be nothing new for me to learn about the mayor’s favorite $500 million-a-year property tax scam… Mayors Daley and Emanuel claimed the right to dip into the TIF petty cash without anyone’s approval.”

Mayor Emanuel gives Sara Lee a big, wet, and sloppy $6.5 million TIF kiss
“You’re apparently so wealthy you can afford to give between $5 million and $6.5 million to Sara Lee, a multibillion dollar food conglomeration. Actually, most taxpayers in Chicago probably don’t even know they’re giving Sara Lee all that money. That’s because Mayor Rahm Emanuel is snatching the cash from the shadows of the Tax Increment Financing treasure chest, which is one of those slush funds folks in Chicago still can’t figure out.”

You get the idea? Ben Joravsky is on his game about all this stuff. It’s good to still have a watchdog and whistleblower out there. All those articles were found by googling “Chicago Reader TIF.” If you want to know anything and everything about Mayor Emanuel’s TIF projects, he’s the guy.

The Chicago Tribune bias

Not much comes up when you google “Chicago Tribune TIF.” Just a bunch of generic and shallow articles. You know, standard Tribune articles. Maybe their journalists lost their whistles? Or maybe they haven’t been keeping up with Joravsky’s columns? Or maybe they just like the massive amounts of cash Emanuel is “investing” in the Loop by the Tribune Tower rather than putting it back into blighted neighborhoods or the Chicago Public School system.

Tribune Tower Chicago

Chicago Tribune Tower image via archiseek.com

Either way, this is about all I could find. It looks like the Trib tries to stay away from the topic altogether. But when they do write on it, everything is watered down like a cheap bar drink:

TIF revinue is on the wane, raising questions about some projects
“”These dramatic declines raise critical questions” about financing economic development, Orr said. But city officials downplayed those concerns, saying they have been careful in estimating revenue and making spending plans.”

Evanston TIF questioned by experts
“Tax increment financing, known as TIF, districts divert property tax revenue above the level generated at their creation into a separate fund for a 23-year-period. The money is used for projects designated under state law and related to redevelopment efforts inside the zone with the intention of making economic improvements.”

Emanuel says TIFs to stay but need reform
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel made it clear Monday that the city will continue to rely on special taxing districts as an economic development tool, even as he tries to wash away the stain of public criticism that marred them in recent years.”

Nice and dry right? Just like I like my investigative journalism news.
I’m not sure of all the politics behind the Chicago Tribune or why they’ve cozied up to Rahm Emanuel so much, but their stance on the TIF funds is pretty clear. Perhaps the day I see a TIF guest column by Ben Joravsky in the Chicago Tribune (a.k.a. When hell freezes over), I’ll take another look at the Chicago Tribune’s bias towards Emanuel.

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