Valuing Tax Dollars

The City of Chicago faces a precarious financial situation.  While progress has been made, much more remains to be fixed. The City has already chosen to raise property taxes so much that homeowners can’t take more without many leaving our neighborhoods.  As Alderman, I will be a budget watchdog, making sure the city is spending its money wisely, holding the line on taxes, and working to keep businesses in Chicago. To make this happen, we have to tackle the biggest issues and not be afraid of the political ramifications of tough decisions.  We need an Alderman who will run directly at the hard problems instead of away from them. To get full value for taxpayers, we need to take five key actions:  

1) Confront Pension and Legacy Liability Issues Head-On:   During my time in the Mayor’s office, I was the lead policy negotiator on pensions in 2013-2014 that resulted in a pension reform bill that was backed by the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, and Crain’s Editorial Boards as well as 28 of 31 City Union Locals.  While many of those reforms were struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court, they helped confront the pension funding challenges for the first-time and reversed decades of kicking the can down the road. As we tackle the significant challenges that still remain we can only be successful if we do it together, and I don’t think we’re done yet.  The City is still facing increasing ramp payments and the long-term health of the funds is still dependent on assumptions that may or may not play out.  Going forward we’re going to have to deal with these issues together in a thoughtful and creative way that’s cognizant of both the real impact on retirees and their families and the burden borne by the taxpayers. I don’t think we can take anything off the table on pensions.  The problem is too large and too serious to rule out any reform efforts at this point.  Preventive change is massively preferable to a bankruptcy scenario that would result in significant pain all-around.   We don’t know how the market, inflation, or the political possibilities will pan out, and I think it’s critical to have any option available, including circumscribed constitutional change that frees the City and Labor to negotiate with each other. There’s no route to solving this issue long-term that doesn’t involve serious negotiations, and I think I have the experience and record to do that successfully.  

2) Real TIF Reform:   First, let’s reform TIF so it’s completely transparent.  Every year, let’s publish a TIF-budget like the City’s general budget, that details every project and where the money is going.  If sunlight is the best disinfectant, let’s put TIF in the desert at high noon. Second, let’s ban any TIF dollars being given as profit to developers and private companies.  The City is simply not well-positioned to judge when to hand over public dollars to a private entity (if ever) and the potential for abuse and corruption is simply too high. Third, let’s limit TIF spending to three essential items:  public infrastructure, parks, and public schools (specifically the physical building needs of our public schools).  These are public priorities that have limited funding streams and where TIF has a clear and necessary role. Infrastructure, parks, and public schools are a critical part of the new development and revitalization TIF is intended to produce. Finally, let’s look into potentially changing the State law and taking TIF from zoned and geographically-bound usages to a more geographically flexible City-infrastructure fund.  This could be a valuable revenue source for these critical needs throughout the City if we’re not forced to obey frequently nonsensical geographic limitations.  

3) Proposing $5-10 Million in Budget Efficiencies Every Year:   When the City’s budget is proposed every year, Alderman often look at it as an opportunity to add spending here and there for their pet causes.  City Council has not taken upon itself to propose budget savings for taxpayers and we need that missing voice. Every year I would propose budget amendments bringing net savings for taxpayers between $5-10 million dollars.  I’m confident with my experience with the City Budget that we can make real change without significant effects to the City as a whole. Taxpayers need that advocate and I know I can fill that role.  

4) Consolidate Duplicative Government Functions:   Illinois has more than 7,000 units of government, the most in the nation by far.  As a result, taxpayers often spend significant amounts of money on duplicative government entities and government functions.  We need to thoughtfully consolidate these functions to save taxpayer dollars and reduce waste across governments. I have critical experience in this area from leading the City’s consolidation of the City-County workforce systems (where often a City agency and County agency would offer the same services just blocks away from one another).  We need to merge similar government agencies to save money in redundant bureaucracies and management structures while preserving actual service delivery.

  5) Hold the Line on Property Taxes and Oppose Any “Lakefront” Tax:   Our neighborhood has seen significant property tax increases in the last several years due to both rate increases and higher assessments.  We need an Alderman who will hold the line on Property Taxes to protect the many residents who are on the verge of being forced from their homes by higher taxes.  I’ll also oppose any attempt to create a new “Lakefront” property tax that would dramatically increase property taxes on only a few communities including ours. We have to focus on reforming City Government and our legacy liabilities. We can’t tax our way out of the City’s financial straits at the expense of our neighborhood.