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Anti-TIF marchers demand $4M from N. Side auto dealer

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

About 150 teachers, parents and activists marched into the Grossinger City Autoplex and demanded a check for $4 million Saturday.

That would be the “TIF” money — protestors called it “The Mayor’s Slush Fund” — diverted from the public schools and given to developers such as those who built the autoplex.

The incensed auto-dealers had two protest organizers arrested for trespassing.

“They came in and disrupted my business,” said Grossinger General Manager Brian Wenberg. “I understand they have the right to protest but not in the middle of my showroom. They can do it outside. They’re talking about the TIF money — none of my employees know anything about it.”

The Tax Increment Financing or TIF districts have operated below the radar screens for decades until the current financial crisis forced cutbacks in government spending that would not have to be as severe if the TIF funds did not divert money away from schools, libraries and other taxing bodies, critics say.

In a TIF district, the property taxes sent to the city and other taxing bodies are frozen for 20 years. Any revenue collected above that first-year level is put into a special fund to be used to encourage economic development in that district. That can include road repairs, street lights and other infrastructure improvements.

The largest single taxing district in Chicago is the public schools, which would be in line for 50 percent of the $500 million in property tax dollars diverted into TIFs every year.

“There’s a giant myth being spread all across this land ... that local governments have no money, they need to take it out of the backs of teachers, take away their pensions,” Cook County Clerk David Orr told the cheering protestors. “Chicago ain’t broke. Chicago has put $2 billion tax dollars that the public doesn’t know about into these TIFs and there’s another $500 million being added every year. There needs to be a moratorium on these TIFs because there has been enormous abuse. They are supposed to go to blighted areas. It’s gone to Willis Towers. It’s gone to Grossinger. It’s gone to other major corporations. As we uncover the mayor’s slush fund, which this is, we’re going to discover that money can go to help the schools.”

The Daley administration argues that the public schools’ tax levy remains the same so money is not really diverted from education — the schools just reach deeper into homeowners’ pockets than they would without the TIFs. But if the city adopted the Chicago Teachers Union’s proposal to exempt schools from TIFs, it would immediately boost funding for schools by $250 million a year.

“We need to bring those TIF dollars back to the Chicago Public Schools,” said Cuahutemoc “Temoc” Morfin, a candidate in the 25th Ward aldermanic run-off. “We need to have aldermen who are going to advocate for those TIF dollars to come back to the public school system.”

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has said he agrees with the TIF critics. Emanuel said he will appoint a committee to recommend reforms and designate which of the 160 TIF districts that cover nearly a third of the city should be ended.

“We need projectors in our classrooms,” Gage Park High School History teacher Debbie Pope said to cheers. “We need classrooms where the shades go up and down so you can use the projectors and where the windows aren’t nailed shut and where the bathrooms don’t stink to high hell.”

The protestors rallied outside Jenner School on the Near North Side, then marched to a Bank of America Office that got TIF money, then to Grossinger, which got $8.5 million in TIF money.

The protestors said they were “peaceful.” Weinberg said some protestors used abusive language toward his staff.

“We were asked to leave and we were in the process of doing that when police arrived,” said CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown.

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