Tax increment financing (TIF) in Chicago

Authors: Keavy McFadden*, , Robin Wright, University of Minnesota
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: TIF, municipal finance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 34
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Tax increment financing (TIF) is a mechanism used by municipal governments throughout the U.S. to fund public and private urban development and infrastructure projects. This paper argues that TIF is a form of entrepreneurial urban governance must be understood as a multi-scalar policy in place that prioritizes growth at the expense of public goods traditionally provided by municipalities and the state, such as education. We examine TIF development in Chicago, where the expansion of TIF as a mechanism for publicly financed development is inextricable from the transformation of public funding for K-12 education. In light of our empirical engagements with TIF, we advance a multi-jurisdictional and multi-scalar approach to understanding the contested implementation of public finance mechanisms. We further contend that the cases of TIF in Chicago force us to locate TIF policies within the broader erosion of public goods like public education. We therefore argue that the imbrication of education and urban development occurs in part through multi-scalar struggles over public revenue and public finance. Bridging the literature on urban policy and education geographies, we emphasize how a multi-jurisdictional and multi-scalar approach to understanding the contested implementation of public finance mechanisms reveals the imbrication of public school funding and development financing. This fiscal connection has serious consequences for the place-specific evolution of public finance mechanisms like TIF, with divergent trajectories of TIF demonstrating the importance of studying the multi-scalar constitution of TIF as a territorial ‘policy in place.’

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