Eau Claire is using TIF districts to hand millions of dollars to a private developer in order to build a new performing arts center and other buildings in its historic downtown district. TIF districts have become the favorite tool of crony capitalists to pay off well-connected business owners while making it “look” like taxes aren’t being spent. TIF districts were created by the legislature to permit cities to deal with truly run-down dumps by permitting those cities to borrow against the growth in tax revenue that development of such blighted areas would bring. But cities are first supposed to make sure that (1) the area is truly blighted, and (2) development wouldn’t happen in the area without the TIF district.
In Eau Claire, neither of those two things happened – the government
officials merely reached those conclusions without actually seeing any
evidence that they were true. On behalf of Voters With Facts, a group
opposed to the project, and dozens of local property taxpayers, we sued
to challenge two TIF districts.
The circuit court dismissed our case, concluding that the plaintiffs
lacked standing (despite case law stretching back a hundred years
permitting taxpayers to challenge the unlawful expenditure of tax
dollars) and that it would be improper for a court to “second guess” a
city’s decision to create a TIF district.
We appealed, and the appellate court partially reversed. The court
agreed that the plaintiffs lacked standing, under a different theory
than that used by the circuit court – that the plaintiffs were wrong on
the merits and therefore lacked standing. However, the court also
concluded that our alternative claim for certiorari review could
The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted a petition to hear the case,
which will be scheduled for oral argument in the first half of 2018.
St. Joseph reversal follows familiar script
43 minutes ago