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Community and labor organizations propose $4.5 billion in new revenues to ‘re-imagine Chicago’

Their ideas include: a city income tax; a commercial lease tax; a financial transaction tax; a luxury services tax; and a revived employee head tax at four times the rate it was when it was abolished.

Rookie Ald. Matt Martin (47th) joins community and labor groups at a City Hall news conference Tuesday.
Rookie Ald. Matt Martin (47th) joins community and labor groups at a City Hall news conference Tuesday to outline their $4.5 billion plan to generate new revenues to level the playing field between the have’s and have-nots.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

A 3.5% city income tax on Chicagoans and suburbanites earning more than $100,000-a-year.

A financial transaction tax, a 66% increase in Chicago’s hotel tax and a revived employee head tax — but at four times the rate it was when it was abolished for being a thorn in the side of business.

A 3.5% tax on office leases. A 1% tax on industrial leases. And that’s on top of a real estate transfer tax on $1 million homes and a sales tax on luxury goods and services.

A coalition of community and labor organizations isn’t kidding when it talks about leveling the playing field between the haves and have-nots.

On Tuesday, the group organized by the Grassroots Collaborative joined forces with progressive aldermen to release what can only be described as a wish-list of revenue-generating ideas.

If Mayor Lori Lightfoot were to adopt every single item — some would need legislative approval — Chicago would generate an additional $4.5 billion in annual revenue.

That would be enough to wipe out an $838 million shortfall, cover ballooning pension payments, and still have plenty left over to bankroll $1.9 billion in new investments to build affordable housing, re-open shuttered mental health clinics, provide free childcare and education for kids under five and year-round jobs for young people at $15-an-hour.

At a City Hall news conference called to outline the ambitious plan, Ariel Atkin of Black Lives Matter Chicago demanded a freeze on the Chicago Police Department’s budget.

“More police in already isolated and struggling communities is throwing gasoline on a fire and punishing people for being poor. You’re not protecting us. You’re not saving us. You’re killing us,” Atkin said.

“We’re sick of promises that are made and forgotten while our people are dying. This is a call to action, Lightfoot. Actually give it to us or we’re taking what our people deserve. Soon, we won’t just be imagining a new Chicago. We’ll build one — by any means necessary.”

Rookie Ald. Matt Martin (47th) said Chicago “deserves a budget that reflects real equity, real fairness” after former Mayor Rahm Emanuel squeezed the middle class with massive property taxes and drove poor motorists into bankruptcy with oppressive fines and fees.

“We need to reject the status-quo by championing progressive revenue options so that all Chicagoans are contributing their fair share during ... this financial crisis,” Martin said, noting that more than 60 corporations have relocated to Chicago over the last decade while construction cranes fill the skyline to build new downtown skyscrapers.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, welcomed the revenue-generating ideas.

But, he ruled out a city income tax and a LaSalle Street tax long championed by the Chicago Teachers Union and currently prohibited by both state and federal law.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. We could be talking about the Gary Financial Exchange,” Villegas said, noting that the exchanges could leave Chicago.

Villegas did open the door to a revived employee head tax — but only at the old level of $4-a-month-per-employee and only if there’s an exemption or credit for hiring residents of South and West Side neighborhoods suffering from sky-high unemployment rates.

“Everything has to be on the table. I see a head tax as a win-win in generating some revenue, but also helping those communities that have a high unemployment rate by making those residents more attractive to businesses if they get some type of rebate,” Villegas said.

Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) belongs to the 18-member Progressive Caucus he once chaired. He has proposed plenty of revenue ideas over the years, only to be ignored by Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Waguespack said he’ll go through “any list” of revenue ideas, but “even some of the things we’ve proposed over the years have been difficult to pass and require more than just a wish-list.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the only veteran among six socialist aldermen, acknowledged the “Re-imagine Chicago” coalition has work to do.

“We need to count to 26. And right now, we can count to 18,” Ramirez-Rosa said. But, he added: “There is a mandate from the people of Chicago — both to the mayor’s office and to the City Council here — that we work on a progressive budget.”