Learning from Experience: A Primer on Tax Increment Financing
Fiscal Brief, New York City Independent Budget Office, September
To fund the estimated $1.5 billion extension of the No. 7 subway and perhaps other redevelopment proposals on Manhattan’s Far West Side, there has been increasing discussion of using a borrowing method known as tax increment financing, or TIF. The basic idea underlying TIF is that a city or town finances an improvement in a specific district with the property tax revenue generated by that improvement. While TIF has been used extensively throughout the country in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., it has never been used here. This report provides a primer on TIF––what it is, key features of the laws that authorize it, the types of projects undertaken, some of the reasons for its popularity, and a review of how it has worked in some other localities. Among the lessons from our review: • While TIF has proven to be an effective and flexible financing method in a variety of settings, some municipalities have encountered problems with their projects, including insufficient revenue to pay debt service. • TIF has been used to finance a variety of public works projects, but most have been small-scale. Larger projects usually have been joint ventures, mostly with private partners. No TIF project has been as costly as the proposed No. 7 extension. The report concludes with a discussion of issues that will have to be considered before relying on TIF for financing the proposed subway extension. These considerations will be more closely examined in a subsequent IBO report that will look at the viability of tax increment financing for extending the No. 7.