Chicago and the Cold Winds of Liberalism

Chicago has some of the highest taxes in the nation. The Windy City’s sales tax, for example, is a staggering 10.2 percent. For Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, however, taxes are not high enough. And this week, the Chicago city council approved Emanuel’s new tax and fee increases totaling more than $755 million.

The Chicago Tribune lists the new taxes, and they’re truly something to behold:

  • Property Tax Increases: $543 million
  • Chicago Public Schools Construction Property Tax Increases: $45 million
  • Monthly $9.50 trash collection fee: $62.7 million
  • Ride-sharing and taxi fare and fee increases: $48.6 million
  • Amusement tax on streaming services, lease tax on cloud-based businesses: $40 million
  • Building permit fee increases: $13 million
  • Vehicle boot removal tax increase: $2.2 million
  • E-cigarette taxes: $1 million

Oh, and get this — the maximum fine on businesses that don’t shovel sidewalks will also rise from $50 to $500!

Although the new tax targets under Emanuel’s sickle are extraordinary, these new taxes are only the tip of the iceberg! One look at the Chicago government website shows the range of taxes, from tire fees to boat mooring taxes, that Chicagoans must now shoulder. But the scale of these taxes is their ultimate feature. The Associated Press reports, “for the owner of a home worth $250,000, the annual property tax bill will be roughly $550 more.”

This tells us something: Rahm’s tax attack won’t just hit the rich; it will also smash the middle class. According to housing website, Trulia, the average property sale in Chicago is now $257,500. So, why are such punitive taxes being introduced? The answer is simple. Liberalism’s affinity for false accounting. With the city’s pension system in a black hole of unfunded liabilities and its government bloated, Chicago is out of money. This isn’t just a Chicago-specific problem. As Michael Lucci notes at the Illinois Policy Institute, the Land of Lincoln has no more jobs today than it did in 1998. Still, with its school system bankrupted by an out-of-control teachers union, and its violent crime rate off the charts, Chicago is in desperate straits.

Why are such punitive taxes being introduced? The answer is simple. Liberalism’s affinity for false accounting.

Unfortunately, with union-owned liberal Democrats ruling Chicago, common sense spending cuts are off the table. That’s a tragedy: there are real alternatives to the mayor’s new taxes.

Consider what reforms to Chicago’s overtime-pay system might save. As the Chicago Sun Times reported, “Chicago taxpayers spent $240.4 million on employee overtime in 2014 — up 21 percent over the year before and more than three times the overtime paid in 2012.”

The inefficient bloat is also felt in other areas. Consider how Emanuel’s new budget imposes new fees on ride-sharing services like Uber. Why such fees? Again, it’s simple: the taxi companies hate ride-sharing competition and wanted their political servant, Emanuel, to crack down on the competition. Even then, it goes beyond fees. Take the ludicrous harassment that ride-sharing drivers have faced at Chicago airports. (Surely city police officers have higher priorities than impounding cars?) This is a city government increasingly devoid of civic interest.

Yet there is hope. The ride-sharing industry, energy-job opportunities and health care premiums offer three areas where conservatives can challenge unleashed liberalism in cities like Chicago. Voters deserve an alternative to Chicago’s descent into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, this budget will do great harm to a great city. Facing ever-increasing taxes in return for persistently poor services, don’t be surprised to see more Chicagoans relocate in the years ahead. Remember, capital is moveable more than ever in the 21st century.

Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.