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Jeff Ward: Why I Won't Set Foot in Chicago

A commuter tax? What will they think of next?

I refuse to set foot in the city of Chicago. Even if it means having to endure a decade long yearning to gaze upon that Wrigley Field ivy, I won’t do it. That’s how serious I am. I may miss the Lyric and long to see Mr. Muti and his crew, but they, the Planetarium and the Field Museum will just have to get along without me.

My aversion to the “City that Works” started with the installation of 200 , most of which have seen their yellow light times reduced to the legal three-second minimum—or less! It continued with privatized street parking rates that make the most hardened loan shark blush, and it ended with a 10.25 percent sales tax, the highest in the nation.

The only force on the planet that can make me break this solemn vow is my lovely wife, who scares me even more than red-light cameras. She likes visiting the Shedd once a year. But beyond that, as long as Chicago sees suburbanites as , they won’t see one thin dime of my hard earned money.

But the truth is, these Second City suburban shakedown attempts are nothing new. Since the days of the first Mayor Daley, unsatisfied with the financial havoc they’ve wreaked upon their own city, Chicago aldermen have been coming up with crazy schemes to try us for years.

Even the normally staid Harold Washington oversaw a 50 percent harbor boat mooring surtax just to put the squeeze what he saw as sleazy suburbanites.

But of all the cockamamie schemes they’ve managed to come up with, the one that just came out of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office has to take the Frango mint. His particular stroke of genius was to propose a 1 percent income tax on folks who work in the city, but don’t live there.

Ferguson claims this “commuter tax” would bring in about $300 million a year.

To no one's surprise, not only did Alderman Leslie Hairston like the idea, but she actually had the nerve to say this: “We pay tolls to get into other suburbs. I guess membership has its privileges.”

Forget the fact the second sentence makes absolutely no sense, but I can’t remember the last time an I-88 toll taker told me, “If you’re heading into Chicago, it’s on us!”

Not to be outdone, Alderman Pat Dowell added: “I think a commuter tax is sensible … People that live outside the city and work in the city utilize our streets, our transportation systems … Perhaps there’s a price to be put on that,” according to the Chicago Tribune and other sources.

Apparently, in his world, those miserly commuters brown bag it, they all manage to find free parking, they never shop at nearby stores and only enjoy that fine Lake Michigan water at downtown bars. And don’t those businesses already pay city taxes?

Now I know why the late great Mike Royko referred to them as “aldercreatures” and “alderboobs.”

In his report, Ferguson admitted a similar Philadelphia tax had “caused businesses to leave.” Ya think? Though they wouldn’t have to worry about it in the short run, this tax would make it that much more difficult for Chicago employers to compete for top candidates. The smart people live in the suburbs for a reason.

In the end, this commuter tax idea is a perfect example of what I call “.” Though this deadly fiscal syndrome affects all levels of government, it exacts its greatest toll on city councils and school boards.

The municipal mindset starts with an entitlement mentality that goads council creatures into frequent and furious declarations like, “we’re losing sales tax to the Internet,” as if their mere existence is enough to justify any tithe they concoct.

And when the serfs have the nerve to complain, then they act like immature teenagers by stomping their feet and saying things like “Everybody else is doing it!”—as if that ever justifies the tax-revenue lust in their larcenous hearts.

And finally, with their backs up against the wall, they’ll try to weasel of out of any backlash by claiming, “We’re not nearly as bad as (fill-in-the-most-expedient-blank.)” Throw in a healthy dash of shortsightedness and you have yourself a commuter-tax proposal.

You see, in those warped aldermanic minds, it’s the perfect solution to all their $636 million budgetary shortfall problems: Tax the folks who can’t vote you out of office!

Ah! But the hitch in their taxation-without-representation giddyap is that they’d have to get the Illinois General Assembly to go along with them. Because commuters can send those folks packing, this absurdity will never fly.

I wouldn’t be foolish enough to hold my breath waiting for any Chicago alderman to finally understand that, by actually making an effort to attract suburbanites, they might spend more money in Chicago, which means more revenue. Uh uh! In their deluded minds, it’s far better to aggravate the crap out of ‘em.

If by some bizarre twist of fate this commuter tax does come to pass, it might behoove our Second City bosses to remember that, while 600,000 suburbanites commute into Chicago every day, 300,000 Chicagoans make the reverse trip.

So if they ever do charge us that 1 percent, I say we hit them right back with a 10 percent commuter tax of our own! Not only would that solve some of our budget problems, but it just might keep those aldermen in Chicago where they belong.

Harlon Katz October 21, 2011 at 09:54 PM
@Proud - ahhh...an attorney reading HuffPo - that explains a lot...
Harlon Katz October 21, 2011 at 09:56 PM
Maybe if Chicago residents paid their own "fair share" of property taxes, they wouldn't be out trying to rob people from the suburbs.
Jason October 21, 2011 at 10:12 PM
"MWBrown" Good grief—how obnoxious can you get? Realistbynight was spot-on. MWBrown—you are the "joke," "mental-midget" and "sad." You don't seem particularly "misinformed"—but you do seem like an arrogant loser. Your haughty rants at "conservatives" and your pretentious show of concern for "bums" and "black folks" reveals you to be the "caricature." Book-smarts and intelligence are not the same thing. You may have made some valid points, but you render your opinions meaningless to many by being such a jerk. Incidentally—Evanston (the suburb in which I grew up) is way more racially integrated than any part of Chicago. Bet you didn't think about that, huh? 10-1 says you don't even know any "black folks" beyond those you met in class at your esteemed university anyway. Your blanket generalizations and insults to large demographic groups reveal all. That's the great thing about simple-minded liberalism (which is the type you embody). It's so quickly revealed as fraudulent, when the values you purport to believe are instantly betrayed by your failure to embody them in your rants and raves. On the upside, if you keep up that "open-minded" and "tolerant" world-view and continue to hone your class-warfare skills, you'll be ready to start projecting your internal weaknesses on other people in a much larger forum by running for office yourself! (Jim Pokin: "euthanize" means to end life humanely. Good lookin' out though…) To all: Have a great weekend!
burbmom October 22, 2011 at 10:53 AM
MWBrown - No offense, but you sound like an angry, raving left-wing lunatic. You took stereotypical swipes at Republicans/Conservatives, i.e., oil, racism, pollution, etc. And what's your hangup with my suburban "public" roads, "free" parking, and sewers? Sheesh - get a grip. Proud Chicagoan - "Life credentials" at the ripe old age of 28? Really? Well, I also lived in Chicago while in my 20s (near Fullerton/Clark). But once I had my first child I wanted good schools, a safe neighborhood, fresh air, and a nice home with a back yard. Priorities change. Do suburbs have Chili's? You bet. Chicago also has all the chain restaurants What's your point? Walmart? I think Chicago has two Walmarts, now that Chicago Democratic Aldermen grew a few pair and bucked the unions to allow Walmart in. Duh. The burbs are hardly Hicksville. Two Dow 30 companies (McDonald's and Kraft) are headquartered in the burbs. Oh, right. Chicago has one - Boeing (if Chicago can bribe them enough to stay). Sears and Motorola also have their headquarters in the burbs. Plenty of good jobs are available. You posted "The market has spoken and whether you like it or not, the market prefers Chicago to the burbs even if you don't." Yeah, well, take a look at the 2010 census numbers and you'll see that from year 2000 to 2010 Illinois and all five collar counties gained population, BUT Chicago LOST 6.9% of population. I guess the market DID speak, and prefers the suburbs.
MaryfromIL January 06, 2013 at 11:58 PM
Jason, It is a myth that CPS test scores aren’t improving. According to the state in 2012, C.P.S. has steadily improved in all areas of the ISAT test. In fact, in 2002 the overall picture was 41.1%, which is failing. In 2012 C.P.S. leaped to 74%. That is an 80% increase in 10 years! http://www.examiner.com/article/chicago-public-school-test-scores Here is the State Report Card link for those test scores. View the upper left graph, the yellow bars. http://iirc.niu.edu/District.aspx?source=Profile&districtID=15016299025&level=D They accomplished this with poor facilities and ancient textbooks, and large class sizes. Think what would have been accomplished if the school board had poured the money that went to the Charters, to the neighborhood schools! I went to CPS back in the day, they weren't very good. But as bad as NCLB is, it really upped the CPS game. Not every school is going to be perfect. And CPS struggles with 1/6 of students with English as second language (not just Spanish, I've met students from Iraq, etc) and 1/6 using Special Education services. That is 1/3 of the students with challenges!

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