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

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