Monday, January 03, 2011

We Need New Ideas

The preceding post shares the Bloomberg story about Chicago's financial instability, which will be amplified by the requirement to fund police and fire pension funds.  The problems with Chicago's finances ought to be a wake-up call to Club 50 and the incoming mayor.  My suggestion; everything goes on the table.  This includes all sources of revenue for the city and its departments, and everything that is being funded whether salaries or porta-a-potties for events. 

Chicago has to keep its existing jobs base and, preferably, add to it.  There are basic city services that need to be funded, primarily in health and safety.  Physical infrastructure needs to be maintained, and funding for capital improvements has to be found.  Basic support for the most vulnerable among us has to be provided.  The city has a stake in housing issues, to name just one item needing attention.

Clearly, our current system cannot continue much longer.  The revenue sources are failing to meet the expenditures.  The TIF districts are draining off revenue that would otherwise find its way into the city's coffers, among others.  Proposals for new TIFs, such as that proposed for Ward 49, no matter how well intended will have to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that they will not become another drain on taxpayers.  Right now, I don't think that can be done.

We need to rethink, revisit, and re-engineer the city's finances.  That includes identifying what the baseline services are that cannot be cut, along with those that may incur new or higher fees to maintain.  The current tax and fee structures must be redone with an eye to the priority of keeping jobs and growing new ones, while still paying for the essentials.  The city leased the Skyway and parking meters, receiving cash infusions that are effectively gone.  The TIFs were raided for funds to close this year's gap.  Chicago is out of effective short term options.  We may not go bankrupt in 2011, but what happens in 2012 and later if nothing changes?

We get a new mayor in 2011, and by 2015 we will know if that mayor and Club 50 are capable of solving the city's financial mess, or if we will flounder into bankruptcy.

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