The Emanuel administration’s proposed 2016 budget again fails to square up to the needs and reality of the financial situation we are in.
Yes, the city’s fiscal crisis is real. Unfortunately, the solutions the mayor proposes — including a new garbage collection fee and a huge projected property tax increase — rely on taxes that will most heavily burden the working poor and middle class as well as small businesses.
The mayor has taken some steps for which the City Council Progressive Caucus has long advocated, such as ending the risky and costly practice of “scoop and toss” bonding. But the mayor’s plan offers little to correct the imbalance which allows the ultra-wealthy and the giant corporate interests to reap huge rewards from doing business in our city, without paying their fair share. The onus for generating new revenue remains on the backs of the people who can least afford it.
The Emanuel plan omits proposing an alternative minimum property tax on downtown buildings. Many of the most valuable properties downtown win reduced assessments that create an unfair playing field for all property owners, letting other Chicagoans take it on the chin. It’s not fair by any standard and it is a practice that once ended would help balance our tax levy and budgets.
Add to this kettle of fish the administration’s proposal to open the airports and McCormick Place to ride-hailing companies such as Uber. Thousands of Chicagoans, many of whom are small, independent companies with a couple of taxis, will be forced out of business if this policy is enacted.
That would have a tremendous negative economic impact on the neighborhoods, including a reduction — not a net gain — in revenue collected from cabs. The proposed privatization of the city’s 311 call center would throw a number of city workers — our neighbors — off the payroll.
Experience in privatizing road repairs or school janitorial services has already demonstrated that we do not demand and receive top-quality service from contractors. Let’s learn from that experience and preserve our city workforce — folks who live, pay rents and spend money in our communities.
Let’s consider other tabled options that alleviate the burden on families and small business owners who cannot continue to bear the burden. The Progressive Caucus, the city inspector general and many citizens provided revenue options that are fair and rational ways to generate the revenue to which our city is entitled. Let’s adopt these reforms and work together to change Chicago’s pathway to a strong fiscal future.
Scott Waguespack is alderman of the 32nd Ward and a member of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.