by Nicole Johnson
On July 24th, Representative Bill Crawford from the 98th district came to speak at KI EcoCenter. This is Mr. Crawford’s last of 40 years in office, and because of his political expertise, he was asked to sit on the TIF Study Commission (please see my previous blogs to learn more about TIF). The Study Commission was created to examine TIF polices and processes and to make recommendations to amend some of the issues that have arisen in the past which better processes could address.
As a government representative with extensive experience, Crawford is well informed on TIF policies, and has been able to see both the positive and negative outcomes of Tax Increment Financing. He believes TIF is a useful tool in economic development, but can easily be misused because of loopholes in current guidelines pertaining to accountability and transparency. Crawford mentioned that, in the past, TIF has been used as a way for wealthy individuals to finance personal projects without personal risk. Instead of investing their own money, these individuals or groups have been able to use public funds to subsidize their ventures. In light of this, he calls for more resident engagement and strict policies that will hold both “investors” and the Community Development Corporations that manage the money accountable.
Crawford says that in a TIF district, all new developments will contribute the entirety of their property taxes to the TIF fund. There are TIF districts in existence now that have been around for decades, meaning that, instead of contributing to the general tax base, all businesses or housing that have developed in the area since the inception of the TIF district have contributed their property taxes to repaying TIF debt or funding future development. The TIF Commission recommended that no TIF district be able to extend past 25 years, meaning that these allocation zones can no longer have indefinite sunset dates.
According to the Commission’s recommendations, all TIF proposals have to be pasted through the City-County Council. However, while at one of the Commission meetings, I listened to Crawford and another member go back and forth about whether or not that should be the case, Crawford arguing that the council should approve all TIF districts and the other gentlemen citing that it was not required in the past and should not necessarily be required now. Although the Commission has made several recommendations to increase accountability and transparency, there is obviously still contention about whether or not these processes should be required. The recommendations have been made, but they are just that, recommendations. There is no guarantee that these recommendations will be implemented, and if they are, does that mean that the new policy will be followed?
During the June 28th Commission meeting, Crawford voiced concern about the procedure for informing residents about TIF implementation, saying that many residents in his district were unaware of TIF allocation zones and were even confused about what TIF meant. However, his view is not one sided. While at KI, he mentioned that as residents, we should work to keep ourselves informed as well. He encourages us to get to know our Representatives and Counselors so that we can stay updated on new developments in our respective areas. With this in mind, regardless of whether the recommendations are considered or followed, we can do our part to stay involved in the process.
Crawford supports Tax Increment Financing, and believes it can be used to better Indianapolis and foster economic development. His participation on the TIF Study Commission has helped give voice to the concerns of residents across Indianapolis and has hopefully impacted the way TIF is used in the future. Despite the uncertainty that has grown concerning economic development, and TIF, Crawford encourages us to not only build a relationship with our area representatives, but to also hold our CDC’s accountable. He affirmed that it is up to us to get involved and demand transparency so that these public funds are used for the public good.