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Street Taxes: The Excessive Cost of Municipal Corruption and Mismanagement

Daniel J. Kelley 28 October 2009 3 Comments

The mayor was presented with a new revenue raising proposal: the water department would install additional meters sufficient to cover all existing accounts and all newly constructed buildings would be required to be metered. All city businesses and residents would be billed for their water usage. Flat rate water bills would be a thing of the past.

The mayor, however, promptly rejected the proposal. It offended him to think that all Chicagoans, including children, could no longer take a drink of cool tap water on a hot summer’s day without being liable for a resulting bill. In effect, he told his advisors to go soak their heads.

I wish that I could report to you that the following summary occurred at a recent meeting between Mayor Richard M. Daley and his cabinet, but it was former Mayor William Hale Thompson, Jr., the last Republican to occupy the fifth floor of City Hall, who opposed the original plan to increase revenues by metering the entire city. Thompson was, of course, a corrupt political spoilsman who shamelessly exploited the city’s taxpayers and treasury at every possible opportunity, or so his reform minded Democratic successors would like you to believe. Nevertheless, his decision delayed the implementation of citywide water bill increases for decades to follow.

Thompson was an avid sportsman and championship yachtsman, who won the Chicago to Mackinac Island race on three occasions. He stupidly believed that Lake Michigan provided Chicago with an abundance of fresh water. How foolish of him! The current Mayor Daley behaves as if Chicago was located in Death Valley where every drop of water must be conserved and accounted for. I am not sure if  Coleridge‘s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the incumbent mayor’s favorite poem, but sometimes I think that it ought to be.  “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink…”

Under the present, enlightened regime, public buildings are being refitted, at great material expense and union labor costs, with automatic plumbing fixtures that will scrupulously dole out water each time a visitor goes to rinse his or her hands. Toilets will flush automatically, provided that the sensors are working. Elsewhere, environmentally friendly toilet handles are being installed. The new “green” handles have two flushing positions based upon the purpose of your bathroom visit. In California, the environmentalists have a water conservation slogan: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” One wonders if this will not become the new civic motto for Chicago.

Gone are the days when the water from drinking fountains flowed continuously all summer. At the mayor’s suggestion, the Chicago Park District had push button faucets installed upon all of its fountains. No one has yet explained the apparent contradiction as to why so many city and county offices continue to contract for the delivery of bottled water when the city is urging the public to drink more tap water.

The only thing which has stayed the hand of the current administration in terms of metering the entire city immediately is the prohibitive cost. All newly constructed buildings are metered accounts and the Water Department has promoted a program for city residents to voluntarily have meters installed at their homes in return for a period of discounted water bills. Once the discount ends, of course, the meters will remain and regular bills will be sent.  I am not certain as to how well this classic “bait and switch” tactic has been received.

As the administration struggles to identify city assets to lease or sell to the highest bidders, including the stalled sale of Midway airport, there have even been discussions of privatizing the Water Department. In future, your water bills could be handled with the same grace, professional courtesy and extortionate charges as has been the norm since the city rushed to sell off public parking management to LAZ Parking.

In days of old, the term “street taxes” used to refer to the money extorted from the public and small businessmen by gangsters for “insurance” or “protection” purposes. For example, if you paid on time, a stray brick might not shatter the store window. Now, the term might literally relate to the cost of parking on the streets. In some instances, the cost of hourly parking has quadrupled under the agreement between the city and LAZ. The cost of parking tickets has similarly sky rocketed.

In addition to the increased costs, paid parking requirements have rapidly expanded to include many outlying neighborhood shopping districts that never had parking meters previously. Truthfully, I have begun to wonder if certain retail merchants have not lost business as consumers choose to patronize restaurants and stores that provided their customers with free parking. Suburban retailers may be the beneficiaries of Chicago’s hastily approved parking plan. A class action lawsuit seeking to void the plan is pending in court.
It will be interesting to learn if retail sales tax collections will decline in Chicago as a direct consequence of its ill advised parking policies. Conducting an appropriate study on sales tax receipts will take some time.

Public outrage over the parking plan that was railroaded through the supine City Council has been cited for Mayor Daley’s loss of popularity in public opinion polls. It was also a factor in the lack of public support for the recently rejected 2016 Olympic bid. Too many Chicagoans opposed hosting the Olympic Games because they rightfully feared being saddled with massive debts after the politicians and their contractor friends had lined their pockets.
Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer.” He prefers his with a drop of water.


  • Steven said:

    You bet retailers without parking are suffering losses. Thanks to both the sales tax and limited parking hours (I am NOT going to interrupt my afternoon to return to my car every two hours to pay for more parking), I leave not only Chicago, but also Illinois to do all my grocery and other shopping that I do not do online with Amazon (free shipping, no sales tax). Just a few miles over the state line east there’s a 24-hour Meijer in Highland, IN and north there’s a 24-hour Woodmans in Pleasant Prairie, WI. No sales tax on food and 7% sales tax on general merchandise in IN and 5.5% in WI.

    I spend roughly $150 every two weeks at one or the other store. That’s a little less than $4,000 a year by one person that is leaving the city of Chicago. If there are just 250 others like me, that’s $1 million in retail sales a year leaving the city. The parking lot is always filled with cars with IL plates, so I would guess there are more than 250 others like me.

    Gas costs at least 50 cents per gallon less too over the state line and with the mileage my car gets, the savings in the gas price alone pays for the trip.

    I don’t bother either with restaurants that do not have their own parking lot, like former faves Nookies and Resi’s Bierstube. Instead I choose competitors like Ann Sather’s and Mirabel. But mostly, I leave the city altogether for the suburbs where people are not hassled and nickled and dimed to death for every little thing.

    If I could sell my condo, I would move out of Chicago and Illinois. Life here is no longer enjoyable. I’d rather be in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Darryl said:

    Well take all the money you are saving and move to that god-foresaken place

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