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Rahm Allies Block TIF Reform Vote That Could Stall Lincoln Yards Development

Emanuel has said he is determined to push through the Lincoln Yards TIF district before he leaves office this spring.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22) confers with Ald. Scott Waguespack about a measure designed to reforms tax-increment financing districts.
Heather Cherone / The Daily Line
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CITY HALL — Aldermen allied with Mayor Rahm Emanuel turned back an effort by members of the Progressive Caucus to reform the city’s use of tax increment financing on Monday that appeared to be on the brink of advancing after two years in limbo.

Attendance: Chairman Ed Burke (14), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), George Cardenas (12), Derrick Curtis (18), Ricardo Muñoz (22), Scott Waguespack (32), Nicholas Sposato (38), Margaret Laurino (39), John Arena (45) and Debra Silverstein (50)

Dubbed by supporters as an effort to take the use of TIF funds “back to basics,” the measure (O2016-8118) would only permit private development projects to get TIF funding only if they “would not reasonably be anticipated” to develop without a subsidy, which is known as the “but for” test. Areas that get TIF funding must also be blighted, with mostly vacant land or obsolete buildings, under the measure.

RELATED: Lincoln Yards Neighbors Plead With City To Slow Down New Proposed TIF District

That could scuttle plans for the Lincoln Yards development along the North Branch of the Chicago River, which relies on $800 million in TIF funding for new roads, bridges and other infrastructure according to plans unveiled by Ald. Brian Hopkins.

Much of the debate at Monday’s meeting centered on a change to the measure put forward by Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22) designed to make it clear the ordinance would not apply to ongoing projects by adding one sentence to the measure: “This ordinance shall not apply to those projects currently in existence or the development stages.”

At first, Muñoz said he and the other supporters of the measure — opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — had agreed not to seek a vote at Monday’s meeting. However, both Ald. George Cardenas (12) and Ald. John Arena (45) said they saw no reason to delay. Muñoz then pushed for a vote.

“This is a particular moment of time when we need to take action,” Arena said, noting that the ordinance is more than two years old.

Arena proposed an amendment to Munoz’ suggested another change: “This ordinance shall not apply to those projects currently in existence.”

Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Ed Burke (14) — known for his ability to weaponize City Council’s rules of procedure — first demanded the proposed change in writing, then asked representatives of the Department of Planning and Development and the Law Department to weigh in.

“This has far-reaching implications that should not be ignored,” Burke said. His comments were echoed by Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11.)

Deputy Corporation Counsel James McDonald told aldermen he was not prepared to weigh in on the legality of the modified measure.

Department of Planning and Development Managing Deputy Commissioner Chip Hastings said he was concerned it would have unintended consequences.

That brought an angry response from 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, who said members of the mayor’s staff had been warning aldermen that the measure could grind TIF-funded projects in their wards to a halt.

Muñoz accused the Emanuel administration of trying to scare aldermen. The measure would only impact those projects that have not yet been approved by city officials, Muñoz said.

The proposal could scuttle Emanuel’s effort to push through three new TIF districts designed to speed the development of land along the North Branch of the Chicago River, land between the Loop and Chinatown, and the former Michael Reese hospital site in Bronzeville with $1.5 billion in public funds.

“We need to tighten up the test before we move forward on any new TIFs,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) said, noting that the tougher test is already required by state law.

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

When it became clear that supporters of the TIF reform measure would insist on a vote, Burke mused aloud that a quorum vote would reveal that there were not enough members of the committee present to conduct business.

“If someone were to call for a quorum, I suspect it would fail,” Burke said.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39) — who serves as the mayor pro tem — then called for a quorum vote, revealing there were only 12 members of the committee present — short of the 15 needed to carry out committee business.

Even though he was present just before the roll call vote, Daley Thompson was not present for the vote.

The fact that Burke was forced to use a quorum vote to prevent a measure from advancing out of his committee — which he typically rules with an iron fist — surprised City Hall observers. It could indicate Burke’s waning influence as he faces a tough re-election campaign — and is under investigation by the FBI.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene Tuesday morning.

Emanuel has said he is determined to push through the new TIF district before he leaves office this spring.

The city’s Community Development Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday to review the eligibility study and redevelopment plan for the Roosevelt/Clark TIF, which includes The 78, and the Cortland/Chicago River TIF, which would include the Lincoln Yards development.

The commission will not hear public testimony, but will instead schedule a public hearing.

Before the committee’s abrupt adjournment, aldermen approved a measure (O2018-9203) giving the Chicago Park District’s headquarters a green light to move from Streeterville to Brighton Park.

The plan for a 17-acre headquarters at 4800 S. Western Ave. would bring office space along with a field house, playground, spray pool and three artificial turf fields, according to Block Club Chicago.

The purchase of the land for the new headquarters will cost $8.65 million, and come from the Stevenson/Brighton Tax Increment Financing District, according to the measure.

The committee also adopted two resolutions before adjourning, including a measure from Burke calling on President Donald Trump to stop holding undocumented immigrant children in a tent city in Tornillo, Texas.

However, that measure was introduced Monday morning, and not included on the meeting’s agenda. Burke ignored warnings from his staff that he should not allow a vote to proceed.

The other measure (R2018-998)  — authored by Ald. Tom Tunney (44) — calls on state officials to offer longtime homeowners and seniors a break on their property taxes. In the 44th Ward, the median increase in assessments was 31.2 percent, according to documents from the Cook County Assessor’s Office.

Related: Lakeview Neighborhood Group Targets Tunney On Property Tax Assessment Hikes

Burke, whose City Hall and ward/campaign offices were raided by the FBI Nov. 29, is facing four Latino opponents in his bid to win a 14th term on the City Council. Burke has often introduced ripped-from-the-headlines resolutions condemning Trump.

Among the measures that were not tackled are the items covered in our preview, including:

  • O2018-9080 — a proposal to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and menthol-flavored liquid nicotine from Ald. Raymond Lopez (15)
  • A recommendation from city attorneys to pay $11.7 million to settle three lawsuits alleging police misconduct