Taking a look at the options for easing fiscal crisis

By. ALD. WILL BURNS (4TH)

Our city faces a crisis — how to generate the revenue to pay down $34 billion in pension liabilities. Reductions in pension benefits are not enough to close the gap. New and sustainable revenue is necessary to meet these responsibilities.

In the midst of this fiscal crisis, many Chicagoans continue to struggle, and depend on city government as the last line of defense.

Stagnant wages, underemployment, poverty or hunger are the issues confronting the most vulnerable Chicagoans, and are problems that we, as a city, must address.

Given our responsibilities and our challenges, we must generate revenue as equitably as possible, and we cannot depend on Congress or Springfield to come to our aid.

Raising property taxes shouldn’t be the only solution.

Make no mistake: everyone will feel the property tax increase, and not everyone can afford it.

The ideas I’ve been exploring with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and with members of City Council like Ald. Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward will generate revenue in a fair way, from those who won’t have to skip a meal just to pay their taxes.

Here are some of those ideas:

• Congestion pricing would set costs for driving a vehicle through the Central Business District during peak business hours, morning through evening, Monday through Friday, never on the weekends and never on holidays. Congestion pricing would encourage more folks to utilize public transit, would reduce traffic downtown and cut CO2 emissions. Other major cities like London have benefited greatly from congestion pricing programs, and it’s an option that should be on the table here in Chicago.

• If Gov. Pat Quinn insists on continuing the 2011 tax increase, then he should release some of the extra revenue that has been withheld from all Illinois cities since. From 2011 through 2013, Chicago alone has missed out on $413 million. Those funds would have been covered and then some in only three years if local governments received their share of the income tax. Gov. Quinn has an obligation to share those funds with all struggling municipalities, not least of which is Chicago.

• A service sales tax could generate hundreds of millions more annually for Chicago. If I buy a lawnmower, I pay a sales tax. If I have enough money to pay someone to mow my lawn for me, I pay no taxes at all. Not only is that not fair, our economy is shifting towards one that is service-based and the way we tax the flow of money should reflect that.

My hope is that the Council will continue to review all the options by engaging in a thorough process, which includes hearings to explore and investigate new revenue sources.

It’s our duty to do so, not only to meet department and pension liabilities, but more importantly to meet our obligations to our fellow Chicagoans.