Hey Kids. I just got done reading an article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune and I just can't get that earworm, "Taxman," out of my head.
For those younger than me, the Beatles were a group of Four "mop-topped" young lads who came over from England and made a sensation in the music scene in the 1960's. One of their elder statesman, Paul McCartney, even made an appearance at this summer's Lollapollooza in Chicago ... but I digress.
Not as popular as most of their ditties, Taxman says a lot to us in this age of Emanuelian tax and fee increases and Tax Increment Financing giveaways in our Windy City.
"If you drive a car, I'll tax the street; if you try to sit, I'll tax your seat; if you get too cold, I'll tax the heat; if you take a walk, I'll tax your feet. Taxman.
Government services cost money. If we want garbage picked up, sidewalks and streets maintained, lines painted on our roads, and all the other plethora of services provided by government in Illinois, it costs a lot of money. (Oh yes, and those troublesome public pensions.)
Chicago politicians messed up. We could spend our time finger pointing as to what leaders or alderman spent too much here or there, or we could focus on a fair way to resolve this mess.
Let's take a quick look at the article. Garbage fee at $11 a month; raise costs to book a tax by 5 cents and increase cab fares by 15 percent; increase property taxes from $450 to $550 million; work with Springfield (bring Harry Houdini as your lobbyist) to help those who own homes worth less than $250,000 so they don't pay as much in the proposed property tax increase; etcetera.
(Not mentioned in the article is the uber-controversial commuter fee. Tax those who drive from the suburbs into the city. This isn't really an innovative proposal. It was discussed and used 30 years ago in some places.)
Back in my urban planning school days at University of Illinois at Chicago (1983), I took a course called "The Politics of the Property Tax." It was taught by gadfly Professor Art Lyons. We eager beaver urban planners to be learned that in Cook County, property was assessed according to use. Residential, commercial, and industrial property were all assessed at different rates. The Tribune article notes that Alderman Tom Tunney (who owns the sugary sweet Sather Restaurants) "opposes Emanuel's push for a property tax exemption to shield some homeowners because it would hurt owners of commercial property who would have to shoulder more of the tax burden."
Further, "commercial properties are taxed at 2 1/2 times the rate of residences."
It seems that the Aldermen and the Mayor need to weigh whose ox can be gored the least without a negative political result.
How about bringing experts in the field of urban taxation together to figure out some innovative way to distribute the financial burden in a fair and equitable manner rather than arbitrarily tax the feet, street, and heat of the citizens of Chicago?
How about some real discussion outside of the realm of the City Hall where scholars debate how to balance the need to tax and provide services and grow the economy of the region? For example: Is the "nickel-and-dime fee and taxation approach the best method to raise funds to pay for Chicago's desperately needed government services?; Is the current system of taxation in Cook County an appropriate way to raise revenues in the 21st Century?; What do countries around the world do in order to provide for their citizenry? Chicago is the home of numerous universities and innovative thinkers who could provide a platform for politicians to make decisions based on what is the best public policy rather than for political expediency. Let's bring them together and solve this problem.