The stopgap state budget bill that passed the Illinois legislature today contains a provision that could create a funding source for improvements to the CTA Purple Line in Evanston.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says the proposal — to permit creation of special tax increment financing districts to fund improvement to Chicago Transit Authority rail lines — had been proposed last year by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) — but after passing the Senate had gotten stalled in the House Rules Committee.
The bill was suddenly revived today as part of the overall budget package, Bobkiewicz says.
The new TIF districts would have an extra long life — 35 instead of the typical 23 years — which drew criticism from some opponents.
But supporters said it was critical to let the CTA tap into more than $800 million in federal funds for transit projects.
While the primary focus of the bill is Chicago, Bobkiewicz said that its language permits any municipality a CTA rail line — including Evanston and Wilmette — to set up such a tax district.
He said the new bill could play a role in the process now underway in Evanston to develop new zoning rules for the area around the Foster Street Purple Line station.
Regarding the overall budget compromise, Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), said, “This is not a full budget, but it’s a step in the right direction as we try to halt the disintegration of important Illinois instiutions.
The six-month budget plan, Biss said, would provide state funding for human services, K-12 schools, universitys and community colleges, early childhood programs and road construction projects.
The plan now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has indicated he will sign it.
There is nothing preventing the city council today from determining that funding a transit project is the best use of city funds. TIF districts don't create new tax money. They are simply a way of ensuring that all increases in taxes from that district will go to a specific purpose. A TIF district that underperformed would either lead to an unfinished project or the need to appropriate normal city revenue to complete it. A TIF that overperformed would lead to tax dollars either sitting in an account pending the TIF expiration, or to the funding of less needed projects just because the money is sitting around doing nothing. So a transit TIF can really only be counterproductive. If the council finds that a transit project is worth the expense, allocate normal tax dollars for it, don't tie our hands with a TIF.
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