Aurora TIFs – A New Vision for Our City

by , posted on Monday, February 11th, 2013 at 8:00 am

I hope that readers take the time to attend the Aurora City Council meeting on Feb. 12th at 6:00 p.m. in the city council chambers, 2nd floor of city hall, 44 E. Downer Place, Aurora, IL. If you want to address the City Council should notify the City Clerk’s Office at (630) 256-3070

Being discussed and voted on at this meeting is the appropriations of $750,000 of taxpayer money to fund a development project in downtown Aurora.

The project was written about by Stephanie Lulay of the Aurora Beacon News. For reading with much more inflammatory political rhetoric you may wish to consult the Aurora Openline blog.

To read the details of the resolution, you can read the downloadable agreement that was already approved by the Aurora Finance Committee.

This latest TIF deal has me asking lots of questions about our city’s TIF policy. This one certainly has “politically connected insiders” written all over it, but other developers and “businessmen” have taken the city for a ride in the past.

It is my hope that this latest TIF fiasco will spark an important discussion about what direction our city should be going. The blue collar, low-income City of Lights that was built around a beautiful river has long lost its manufacturing epicenter. It didn’t happen by pure magic.

These jobs were shipped overseas because of NAFTA and other trade deals like the pending Trans Pacific Partnership. Bad things don’t happen by pure magic. Most bad things happen because elected officials don’t have the political courage to stand up for working people and good government.

What would this TIF deal look like if elected officials were looking out for working people and offering transparency? And, can we amend our TIF ordinances to achieve these goals?

Often a TIF deal is passed with the promise of creating jobs. But, is a restaurant job as a cook or waiter a job that a family can live on? Can a waitress live on $4.95 an hour plus tips? No. Can a cook live on $8.25 an hour? Not unless we want them depending on social safety net programs and government assistance like LIHEAP and food stamps.

How do we fix this? If I was a member of the Aurora city council, I would be arguing for an enforceable living wage ordinance connected to any TIF project. The ordinance would require employers to pay $15/hour to their employees and offer

some benefits. We should also prevent TIF beneficiaries from using temp agencies or create a real enforcement arm to regulate temp agencies.

Such an enforcement arm can start investigating the employment practices of the temp agencies that skirt the law, avoid paying overtime wages, pay no benefits, and offer no real economic opportunity or dignity. These agencies are the epitome of predatory capitalism that seeks to generate profits for the wealthy and destroy the lives of the working poor. Sadly, Aurora has become a host to these predators who rake in hefty profits by abusing the human rights of Aurora’s undocumented community.

To improve transparency of Aurora’s TIF program, I would require TIF recipients and beneficiaries to report profits to the city. As taxpayers we need to know if these are wise investments that made a difference or are we simply being exploited by wealthy corporations that are willing to dig into our pockets and make risk-free investments.

What does my vision for Aurora look like?

I hope that this latest TIF deal allows us as a city to embrace a new vision for Aurora.

If we want to improve both the image and the lives of those who live in Aurora, we need a much larger vision that looks beyond supporting the entertainment district surrounding the casino.

Essentially, the light manufacturing and construction companies (window companies or roofing companies as an example) that come to Aurora come here because they can find cheap labor.

The restaurants that come to downtown Aurora do so because the taxpayers are subsidizing owners’ investments with TIF funds. Weisner’s vision for Aurora has basically built on the last mayor’s plans to revitalize downtown. Taxpayers have dumped millions into this cause and we should ask if we are getting lasting, tangible results. I don’t think that we as a city should abandon this vision, but, I do think that we should make sure that we are working towards living wage jobs in the process. We should also ask if more public parking might improve the chances of success for the city’s current plan.

My vision, is built on the idea that if people earn a living wage and have some disposable income that they will spend that money in their city. Restaurants will come to downtown Aurora because nearby residents (your neighbors and mine) will have some extra money to spend. If you look east and west of downtown Aurora, average household incomes increase and both areas are populated with restaurants.

My vision embraces the philosophy that crime rates will drop as economic opportunities increase. I fundamentally believe that if given a choice between a good paying J-O-B and a life of crime that most people will choose the job. Ultimately, this means less public money spent on police and the criminal justice system.

My vision embraces the philosophy that higher wages means more time for parents to spend with their kids doing homework. We know that parental involvement is a core factor in determining the outcome of a child’s education. As a city we need to give Aurora families more time with their kids and stop asking parents to work two or three low-wage, Walmart-level, restaurant-style jobs.

My vision embraces the philosophy that homeownership will improve our neighborhoods when people are able to invest in their own home. If people are paid a living wage, they will eventually be able to take pride in that part of the American dream known as home ownership. Home owners will take care of their property better than slum lords and we can do away with Weisner’s neighborhood standards police force. Consider that the neighborhood standards police exist to regulate and fine individual residents while temp agencies are allowed to break employment laws with no repercussions.

My vision is not built on corporate welfare like the TIF program or welfare for the poor. It is built on the idea that there is enough wealth to create well-paying jobs for each and every citizen. I also believe that most people are, at our core, good people. We just need a level playing field, opportunity through a high-quality education, and an end to racial inequality that still exists in America, and, yes, here in Aurora.

Finally, I will submit a fair question. Is Weisner’s vision working to improve the lives of all Aurora citizens? Is it creating good jobs? Are taxpayers getting a fair return on their investment into restaurant row? I don’t disapprove of everything our mayor has done. I recognize that Aurora has done many great things like the downtown live events and supporting the historical society. I just think it is time to take our city in a new direction with a new vision and build on what we know.

If we are going to use TIF funds, why not use them to attract companies in the technology sector or a green tech manufacturing company that wants to produce cutting edge energy efficient products?


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