St. Clair, Madison counties home to multimillion-dollar property tax slush funds

St. Clair, Madison counties home to multimillion-dollar property tax slush funds

Property taxes are set to increase in Madison and St. Clair counties, and local taxpayers should know that through TIF districts, politicians divert tax dollars that could go toward schools, libraries and public services to separate accounts that foster a lack of transparency and accountability.

On the heels of recently approved property tax increases in both Madison County and St. Clair County, taxpayers can expect to receive their bills in the coming weeks.

Homeowners in these counties may notice the appearance of a “tax increment financing,” or TIF, district on their bills.

A TIF district is a special economic zone, usually controlled by the mayor. Property tax revenue above the frozen “Equalized Assessed Value” – meaning the total value of all property in the TIF just before the district was established – from any property located in a TIF goes directly to a special fund the mayor can use for things such as tax credits for corporations.

The local tax dollars that go into a TIF are diverted from other recipients such as schools and public works projects.

Illinois currently has over 1,000 TIF districts. Many municipalities in Madison County and St. Clair County maintain TIF districts, including Granite City, Alton, Edwardsville, Collinsville, Belleville and East St. Louis.

According to 2016 and 2015 annual audits of municipalities in Madison and St. Clair counties, Belleville diverted the most tax dollars to TIF districts, with approximately $18.5 million shifted in 2016. Granite City diverted $9.9 million. East St. Louis sent $5.8 million to its TIF funds, and Collinsville put $4.2 million toward its TIF funds, according to 2015 audits. And Alton taxpayers sent $2.4 million to TIF funds, and Edwardsville diverted $1.5 million in taxes to TIF accounts, according to 2016 audits.

Several officials who represent these counties, state Reps. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, Dan Beiser, D-Alton, and Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, haven’t signed on to TIF reforms proposed in the Statehouse. Additionally, Beiser and Hoffman voted for a bill that expanded the TIF statute to create “super TIFs,” specifically in Chicago.

TIFs lack transparency, allowing mayors to pick winners and losers among both private enterprises and public entities, often to the detriment of libraries, schools and other government endeavors. Illinois lawmakers should put a stop to this by eliminating TIFs at the state level.

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