We questioned the mayoral candiates on a variety of issues from jobs to spending public money. Here’s what they had to say:
How would you create local jobs using Tax Increment Financing or other local economic development money?
GERY CHICO: TIFs are one of the few economic development and job creation tools available to the city. That being said, the city should focus much more on job creation with TIFs than we have in the past. We must have mechanisms in place to ensure that jobs promised are jobs delivered. I am committed to expanding upon the TIF sunshine proposal adopted in 2009 to make sure all TIFs are put online in real time, including TIF agreements with private companies. We also must regularly monitor TIF agreements to ensure that private companies are hiring locally, paying fair wages and providing adequate health care benefits.
DANNY DAVIS: Chicago has a broad economic base with a significant work force in many sectors. The plan to expand O’Hare airport must proceed in a timely and efficient manner. We must make Chicago the Midwest hub for a high-speed rail and redouble our efforts to develop affordable, accessible and efficient public transportation. Chicago remains a major diversified manufacturing center: from auto to confection. Many of our factories have been recognized as some of the best places to work in America. We must continue to create the infrastructure necessary for manufacturing and promote the use of locally built goods.
WILFREDO DE JESUS: I would ensure that any TIF or public funds utilized would require the hiring of local residents as well as W/MBE [Women and Minority Business Enterprise] participation; too often waivers are granted which allow companies and/or organizations utilizing TIF or other local development funds to bypass the minimum local hiring requirements. In addition, we need to look at green, renewable and sustainable energies as a source of job growth and sustainable development. This is a field where we have a real opportunity to generate jobs as well as create immediate savings for the city budget and Chicagoans; it’s just good policy.
MIGUEL DEL VALLE: Chicago’s use of TIFs needs to be refocused on their original intent–”to encourage development in blighted communities where there would be no development “but for” the TIF. We should phase out TIFs in areas where the private market is creating development on its own. Chicago also needs to enforce recapture provisions (“clawbacks”) in subsidy agreements that require a company to return all or part of the value of a subsidy if the company doesn’t meet the goals they agreed to.
RAHM EMANUEL: My TIF reform proposal is about bringing greater transparency, accountability and flexibility to the program. The plan starts by shining a light on the TIF decision-making process by putting all financial and spending information online in an easy-to-use format and integrating the TIF budget into the formal city budgeting process. It then creates a time-limited panel of economic development and financial experts to establish best practices and return-on-investment goals for each TIF to accelerate job creation, and will shutter TIFs that have met their goals or are ineffective. The goal is simple: ensure that any taxpayer money diverted to the TIF program is spent equitably and efficiently.
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: As mayor, I will focus economic development activities on innovation, entrepreneurship and global engagement. We can and will connect our extraordinary resources, linking academic researchers with businesses, manufacturers with new technology, financial resources with new ventures, and our region with the international community. The TIF program needs to be reformed, in that it is too often misdirected as a development tool and too often fails to create local jobs. In addition to redirecting our economic development efforts to the neighborhoods, we should direct those efforts toward promoting technological innovation, including financial technologies, green technologies and high-growth businesses.
PATRICIA WATKINS: As the former CEO of Target Area DevCorp, that led successful efforts to develop the 79th Street Corridor between Halsted and Ashland, my experience has led me to believe that we must apply the following components to the TIF investment process: 1) Secure a stable and safe environment that is conducive to attracting both businesses and consumers; 2) Target investments to existing infrastructure or building the necessary infrastructure to facilitate business development, while also leveraging existing community assets; 3) Create innovative incentives for businesses to establish in high-need areas; and 4) Set standards to invest those limited public dollars in businesses that are good corporate citizens, pay strong wages and give back to their communities.
Should public officials set expectations on the private sector when it comes to wages and hiring in instances where public money is committed?
CHICO: When public money is involved, I believe the private sector should use good employment practices such as fair wages and benefits, and that those practices should be taken into account when awarding contracts. As a chief of staff to the Mayor, president of the Board of Education, chairman of the City Colleges and as a practicing attorney I have had extensive experience with the use and interpretation of the phrase “responsible bidder.” When weighing the decision to award business to various vendors, I have always taken into consideration the importance of fair wages and benefits.
DAVIS: Taxpayers have the right to expect that their tax dollars are working in the public interest. Economic development is critical to the life of cities. When the economy stagnates or contracts cities wither and die. In our economic system consumers, working Americans, play the major role accounting for some two-thirds to three-quarters of demand in the economy. It is not only just, but essential that where public dollars are committed working America benefits and cities and communities thrive.
DE JESUS: Absolutely. One of the lessons we learned with the federal stimulus packages is that you can’t always depend on the private sector to hold up their end of the bargain. I would make sure that there was a structural mechanism in place so that companies that received tax credits or subsidies would be required to offer competitive wages and hire fellow Chicagoans. In order to do this right I would bring a coalition of stakeholders in the private and public sectors so that we approach this thoughtfully and methodically. Finally we would have to create a mechanism to ensure that the implementation of this policy is adhered to.
DEL VALLE: Yes. These expectations should focus not just on the number of jobs created, but also the quality of those jobs. The priority should be to create full-time positions paying livable wages with health insurance and other benefits. To hold the private sector and city government accountable to these expectations, Chicago needs better disclosure requirements and public access to economic development agreements. As mayor, I would require annual deal-specific disclosure of the following information on the City’s website for any significant subsidy: the names the company that got the subsidy and the agency and/or program that was the source of the subsidy; the dollar amount the company received; the number of jobs created and/or retained; and the quality of those jobs.
EMANUEL: As mayor, I will continue to push for public-private partnerships that promote economic development, ensure a living wage, and build a strong middle class in Chicago.
MOSELEY BRAUN: The private sector creates jobs, and when a public/private collaboration affords private companies the capacity to create employment they would be unable to create without public support, the public has not only the right but a responsibility to see to it that public goods, such as livable wages and non-discriminatory hiring are achieved in exchange for its participation. It is not an untenable interference in private business for government to expect public capital to be used to advance public goals.
WATKINS: Yes. I strongly believe that our city needs to create incentives to attract business, grow our economy and get as many of our citizens to work as possible. However, I believe that we must also establish a thoughtful, reasonable process aimed at long-term growth, rather than short-term gain, to ensure that we invest our limited public resources in those businesses willing to become true community partners as well. Strong, livable and business-friendly communities are built upon strong, working families. The best business partners we could have in Chicago are those that share that vision of growth for the long-term.
Note: Candidates’ responses on opposite page have been edited for space. Not all candidates responded to the survey.
Source: Chicago Reporter questionnaire