Mayor Emanuel curbs plan for tolls on Lake Shore Drive

Loyola University Chicago  shuttle bus drivers: put away your coins.

A proposal to install city tolls along Lake Shore Drive has been shot down by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Here’s the story from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday ruled out installing toll booths on Lake Shore Drive or raising sales or income taxes — even as aldermen warmed to the concept of a 1 percent commuter tax on suburbanites who work in Chicago.

Those ideas — and dozens of others — are part of the $3 billion roadmap to financial stability outlined by Inspector General Joe Ferguson earlier in the week.

Emanuel has vowed to erase the city’s $635.7 million shortfall without raising taxes, cutting police officers or using one-time revenues. In spite of that promise and his strained relationship with Ferguson, the mayor did not dismiss the inspector general’s recommendations out of hand.

“There are a number of reforms and efficiencies … that are promising, some of which we have already implemented and some, we will give serious consideration,” the mayor said in a statement.

However, “as I have said from the beginning, raising property taxes, income taxes or the sales tax is off the table. Asking drivers on Lake Shore Drive to pay a toll is also a non-starter,” said the mayor, who campaigned on a promise to apply the sales tax to an array of services not now covered.

While the mayor is ruling out tax increases for the time being, Chicago aldermen are not. They’re particularly intrigued by the $300 million-a-year commuter tax, which would essentially be a 1 percent income tax on suburbanites who work in Chicago.

“I look at it as a user tax. … People who live outside the city and work in the city utilize our streets, our transportation systems. They’re in Chicago. They’re out of Chicago. Perhaps, there’s a price to be put on that,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) added, “Membership has its privileges. … A lot of people come in the city. A lot of people outside do business with the city and we don’t recoup those dollars.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, was even open to a 1 percent city income tax on Chicagoans, provided it was part of a tax swap that reduced other levies.

“In theory, it’s probably a more fair type of tax than a lot of taxes we have. It’s based on an ability to pay as opposed to just a flat rate. [But] there would have to be some indication for taxpayers that this was an exchange,” O’Connor said.

“Would you roll back property taxes? Would you try and cap them in some way? …You couldn’t say we’re gonna do an income tax on top of the structure we currently have. People are not at a point where they can accept huge new taxes or taxes that might go in small and kind of wedge the door open and become huge down the road.”

Earlier this week, Ferguson served up a tantalizing, menu of 63 cost-cutting and revenue-raising ideas.

Some of them play right into Emanuel’s hands — like saving $190 million by eliminating supervisory personnel, 707 of them in the Chicago Fire Department, where there are 3.58 supervisors for every rank-and-file employee and 309 in the Police Department, where the current ratio is 8 to 1.

“If those figures are correct and if those folks just supervise and don’t have other duties, he may be on to something,” O’Connor said.

“Historically over the last many years, we have not looked tremendously hard at the police and fire budget to realize savings. They’ve kind of been the sacred cow. The idea of trying to go in there and find savings is appealing to everybody. He’s going in the direction that the administration has already been going in.”

The same could be said for Ferguson’s proposal to either privatize both recycling and garbage collection to save $165 million or keep it in-house, but switch to a grid system (saving $46.7 million) and reduce to one the number of laborers on a truck (saving $19.4 million).

“Garbage has been in the crosshairs of this administration since they got here. We’ve been attacking absenteeism. We’ve been talking about doing a grid system. We’ve been talking about trying to privatize a portion of it,” O’Connor said.

Dowell is one of many aldermen who remain dead set against a grid system for fear it would deprive them of their ability to respond to special requests for housekeeping services. In other words, O’Connor has his work cut out trying to sell it.

“You’d have to show me how all of the vacant lots I have are gonna be taken care of — my commercial corridors, the constant dumping of construction debris — how that gets addressed,” she said.

“I definitely would need to have the Streets and San crew have some kind of flexibility in being able to respond to emergencies in the ward.”

-Ashton Mitchell

Chicago mulls adding tolls to Lake Shore Drive

Could L oyola University Chicago shuttle drivers be faced with paying a toll to get students to and from the Water Tower and Lake Shore Campuses?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is toying with the idea.

Here’s the story from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago’s inspector general is offering Mayor Rahm Emanuel a $3 billion roadmap to financial stability that includes everything from a city income tax, commuter tax and tolls on Lake Shore Drive to privatizing garbage collection and converting 20 percent of all fire suppression apparatus to ambulances.

Last year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson rocked the boat with a $247.3 million menu of cost-cutting options that called for the city to fire 595 firefighters, 161 laborers and 75 downtown traffic control aides, impose a recycling fee and snatch away subsidies for senior citizens, condominium owners and non-profits.

This year’s version makes the earlier blueprint look like child’s play.

Although Emanuel has emphatically ruled out higher taxes, Ferguson is serving up 19 revenue generating ideas with tantalizing earning potential of $2.3 billion-a-year.

Chicago could raise $500 million-a-year by imposing a one percent city income tax, following New York City’s lead, the inspector general said.

A one percent commuter tax would have an annual take of $300 million. Resurrecting Emanuel’s controversial campaign promise to broaden the sales tax to an array of services not now covered — branded the “Rahm tax” by rivals — could yield $450 million.

Imposing a $5, London-style congestion fee on vehicles entering the city’s Central Business District during the morning and evening rush periods could raise $375 million, even after a 20 percent reduction in traffic to 400,000 vehicles-a-day.

Installing toll booths on Lake Shore Drive—and charging the average vehicle $2.50 — could raise $87.5 million, even after hefty capital costs.

The inspector general’s revenue menu also includes: raising water and sewer rates to the national average ($380 million); imposing a “pay-as-you-throw” garbage collection fee ($125 million); broadening the amusement tax ($105 million); and imposing a transaction tax on the major exchanges ($37 million) and imposing a blue cart recycling fee ($18 million).

Although Emanuel wants to reform, but keep tax-increment-financing districts, Ferguson says the city could save $100 million by eliminating all 160-plus TIF’s.

The list also includes eliminating free sewer service for senior citizens ($17 million); turning off the free water spigot for hospitals and non-profits ($15.2 million) and doubling ambulance fees ($13.2 million).

The $660 million in spending cuts are also politically-explosive.

The inspector general is tossing out the idea of merging the city and Chicago Park District to save $5 million.

In the Chicago Fire Department, where Emanuel has demanded a 20 percent cut, Ferguson is playing with fire by proposing that 20 percent of fire suppression apparatus be converted to ambulances to cut annual costs by $41.5 million.

To save $57 million-a-year, the inspector general is resurrecting his proposal to reduce — from five employees to four — the minimum required to staff every piece of fire apparatus. That’s the issue that touched off the bitter 1980 firefighters strike.

Ferguson also wants to disband the police marine and helicopter units ($6.2 million), eliminate quarterly pay for supervisors ($9.6 million) and get rid of duty availability pay that essentially compensates police officers and firefighters for being on call at all times ($52 million).

The inspector general wants to save $190 million by eliminating redundant layers of supervisory personnel, 707 of them in the Fire Department, where there are 3.58 supervisors for every rank-and-file employee and 309 in the Police Department, where the current ratio if 8-to-1.

Next week, Emanuel is scheduled to launch a ground-breaking “managed competition” between city crews and private recycling contractors.

But, that didn’t stop Ferguson from resurrecting his proposal to have the city choose between privatizing both recycling and garbage collection to save $165 million and keeping it in-house, but switching to a grid system ($46.7 million) and reducing to one the number of laborers on a truck ($19.4 million). He also wants to switch all employees to a 40-hour work week ($40 million) and eliminate the jobs of 200 motor truck drivers who do little more than transport city crews to job sites and wait for them to finish the job. The driver cuts would save $19 million.

Last year, Ferguson’s budget ideas were shot down right out of the box.

Aldermen were so incensed by the suggestions, they summoned city department heads to denounce the proposals as irresponsible.

Then-Budget Director Eugene Munin went so far as to suggest that Ferguson’s ideas could “put public safety at risk” and force nearly $90 million in new fees.

This time, the political climate is dramatically different and so is the reception.

“Pretty radical stuff, but everything should be on the table. Nothing should be dismissed out of hand,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

“Some of it would prove to be politically challenging, however we’re running out of ideas. Everyone is saying next year’s budget is gonna be worse than this year’s. Thing that may have appeared politically impossible a few years ago may now be something we have no choice but to do.”

Emanuel has promised to erase the city’s $635.7 million shortfall without raising taxes, cutting police officers or using one-time or casino revenues. He has vowed to entertain any and all ideas that meet those criteria.

The question now is whether the mayor is open to suggestions from an inspector general with whom he has a strained relationship.

“There are serious fiscal challenges ahead, and we welcome any and all ideas that will protect Chicago’s taxpayers,” said Chris Mather, the mayor’s communications director.

This article puts in perspective how some aldermen “laughed off” the toll proposal.

- Eliot Somen

Marilyn Monroe statue vandalized for a second time

WGN-TV/Chicago Tribune photo

Vandals have struck again, damaging the giant Marilyn Monroe statue near Loyola University Chicago’s Water Tower Campus.

Here is the story and photo from WGN-TV

The Marilyn Monroe statue that stands in the heart of the Magnificent Mile has been hit by vandals for a second time in the last month.

The statue’s right leg was dripping in red paint when pedestrians noticed the damage.

“It’s blemish on the city of Chicago,” said John Pope as he noticed the vandalism while visiting his relatives here in Chicago.

Two men on bicycles threw the bucket of red paint on the statue at around 4 a.m. and fled the scene immediately , according to Chicago Police.

The statue was given a tattoo on the same right leg exactly one month ago and removed shortly after. Whether there is any connection between the two incidents remains unclear.