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Sunsets: A Set of Proposals for Future City Government

Dennis Byrne 9 September 2010 No Comment

Now that we’ve cleansed ourselves of all the why questions about Mayor Richard M. Daley’s retirement, we can get on to the serious stuff.

No, not the question who will follow Daley, but what will be follow.

The “who” question will certainly have something to do with the “what” question; just as surely as it mattered that Daley occupied City Hall’s fifth floor office instead of say, Cook County Clerk David Orr.
But it’s been so long that a municipal election in Chicago has meant anything that it’s necessary to state the obvious: Issues matter. Chicagoans should start with what they want to see happen to the city, then they should decide which candidate would do it. All the punditry about who has the strongest ward organization or who can raise the most campaign money amounts to some much sports reporting. Talking about issues is boring, but someone’s got to do it.

So, in all modesty, here’s my post-Daley agenda for the next mayor:

  • Fight corruption. No explanation needed.
  • Sunset city government. No kidding. The existence of every last function, every last department, every last employee has to be justified. As if Chicago was starting all over. Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) has a good idea: a forensic audit of where the money goes. But it doesn’t go far enough. If we can’t find a reason for this or that creature lurking in a dark corner of City Hall, then shut it down. By a date certain.
  • Privatize most of the rest. All the talk about streamlining city government is useless because it will never happen under the current patronage form of government. (Yes, I know that political patronage is technically illegal, but….) The parking meter fiasco doesn’t argue against privatizing, in only argues for doing it right. Start by contracting out garbage collection to one-man trucks, like it’s done in the suburbs.
  • Beef up the cops. What you save from privatization, pour into the police department, which is hundreds of officers short of what it should be.
  • Neutralize public employee unions. Once upon a time, it was illegal for public employees to strike. Go to Springfield for state legislation that would loosen the grip that the unions have on public policy by scaring the wits out of people with images of mountains of garbage piling up in allies or by threats of interrupted bus service, school or snow plowing.
  • Truly reform the schools. Take a clue from Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) and give every child and his family a real choice in education. Vouchers for anyone who wants them. Make it easier for competent schools to enter the competitive market.
  • Tax reform. Start with a complete compilation of every single tax that Chicago imposes and then examine its impact on individuals, families and businesses. For example, get rid of the loathsome head tax that drives business out of Chicago. Take a comprehensive look at how badly Chicago gouges its visitors, a factor that weighs against Chicago’s strength as a convention center.
  • End the TIF boondoggle. No tax reform would be complete without returning TIF districts to their true purpose. It’s robbing schools and other local governments of hundreds of millions of dollars and proving to be an enticement for useless projects, such as the “postponed” transit center under Block 37.
  • Get transportation priorities right. First step: Halt the wasteful and useless attempt to expand O’Hare International Airport. Other cost-effective and safer alternatives are available for improving O’Hare, without gouging airline passengers, taxpayers and the airlines for Daley’s overwrought expansion. Keep it up and United and American will find better locations for their hubs. Fight to spend transportation money on mass transit that otherwise is planned for that high-speed rail fantasia. Get on board the more cost-effective south suburban airport, which was the consensus solution until Daley stepped in to block it. Rebuild the lakefront Meigs Field.
  • Restore regionalism. Daley dealt it a deathblow with his blind insistence on O’Hare expansion at the expense of its neighbors. It will take years to restore the trust that had been growing in the interlude between the all-consuming provincialism of the two Mayor Daleys.
  • Commit to democracy and a balance of power. Yes, it might be messier, as we discovered during the debate over building WalMarts in Chicago. A democracy is our chosen form of government. That presumes that the City Council will want to act like a democracy.

That’s enough for now.

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