$5 toll on LSD? One idea to balance city's budget

September 27, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Chicago has a $635 million anchor around its neck in the form of a deficit. Inspector General Joe Ferguson's report and its more than 60 suggestions are meant to force the mayor, aldermen and residents to face the tough choices required to right Chicago's sinking budget ship.

In the report, Ferguson suggests adding a toll for rush hour traffic on Lake Shore Drive and taxing the income of suburban residents who work in the city, among other things.

An estimated 620,000 people work in the city but sleep in the suburbs. Taxing their income at 1 percent could produce an extra $300 million a year for Chicago.

"Seems incredibly unfair. The city got themselves into this mess themselves," said Chris Hildreth, Hinsdale resident.

"Aren't I bringing revenue into the city? The city benefits by my working here, so I'll go work from home," said Glenn Kapetansky, Skokie resident.

The rationale behind a so-called commuter tax on suburbanites is they use city services like police protection and roads but don't pay for them.

Philadelphia taxes the wages of non-residents. At one point it accounted for 15 percent of the city's total budget.

"What happens is when you have taxes and fees like this on people it changes their behavior. They stop coming into the city, they get jobs outside the city, and that's what's going to happen," said John O'Hara, Illinois Policy Institute.

The inspector general's report includes other ideas like:

  • charging $5 to drive the full length of Lake Shore Drive. That would raise $87 million
  • expanding the sales tax to includes goods and services like legal work and consulting. That's another $450 million
  • and for the first time, charging a $100 per bin annual garbage collection fee to raise $125 million
  • Inspector Ferguson says his report is simply a starting point.

    "It may not be feasible to speak of them in the first instance, but once they're out there, and once they're out there with information they can be engaged. It's now out there and people are talking about them," said Ferguson.

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel says tolls on Lake Shore Drive will not happen, and he says raising property taxes, income taxes or the sales tax are also off the table. But it's easy for politicians to substitute the word "tax" with "fee" and then claim no promises were broken. Bottom line: it's still money out of people's pockets.

    The public will find out the mayor's own ideas when he presents his budget to the City Council next month.

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