Some ride for free | Bleader

Some ride for free

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I've never been a fan of Governor Rod Blagojevich. Back when he was first running for state rep, Blago pretended to be a reformer even as his father-in-law, alderman Richard Mell, ushered him to the head of the line of wannabe northwest-side politicians. Once elected governor, in 2002, Blago cut Mell out of patronage deals and tangled with him in a very public family feud. So on top of everything else  (Rezko, federal indictments, the Public Official A hoohaw), he isn't very loyal.

Still, I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for the governor's proposal to let senior citizens ride the CTA for free. Back when Harold Washington was mayor, I knew a city planner who had an idea for making the CTA's trains and buses free for everyone. Dreaming big, he planned to enlist the help of then-powerhouse congressmen Dan Rostenkowski and William Lipinski to pay for it with a hike in the federal income tax -- a progressive tax hike. He claimed Mayor Washington supported his idea, even if it didn't stand a chance. Man, those days are gone.

In contrast, the CTA bailout plan will be paid for with hikes in the sales tax -- the most regressive of taxes -- and the real estate transfer tax, one last slap in the face of beleaguered home owners.

Almost as soon as Blagojevich announced his plan, the powers that be ripped into it, probably because they can't stand the governor either. The Chicago Tribune even found a nice little old lady -- 87-year-old Marion Cheney  -- who said she didn't want the break if it meant service had to be cut. "I'm not going to turn down a free ride," Cheney told a Tribune reporter, who interviewed her while she was writing the Belmont bus. "But if it costs too much money for the CTA, they can have my dollar. I don't want them to have to cut routes because I'm getting a free ride."

Words to live by. I hope Sam Zell was reading as he pushes on with his plan to duck out of paying property taxes by selling Wrigley Field to the state.

Mayor Daley was among those who promptly blasted Blagojevich's plan. "Any politician can give things for free, but there's no such thing as a free lunch," Daley lectured reporters over the weekend. "Someone has to pay for it."

Amen, brother. Though I have to say the mayor's fiscal restraint caught me by surprise. By coincidence, I'd attended the party-down scene at the January 8 meeting of his Community Development Commission, where city officials were throwing around property tax dollars like confetti: $75 million to Rush University Medical Center, $8.5 million to Grossinger Auto, and a to-be-announced TIF handout to a consortium of developers led by former First Ward alderman Ted Mazola to build a bunch of town houses in a swamp down by Wolf Lake, on the city's southeast side. And that's just one CDC get-together -- they meet once a month.

So on the city pushes with its massive transformation, tearing down public housing, closing schools, selling off property on the south and west sides, moving out the poor people, and driving up the cost of living with higher fines, fees, and taxes. Then free rides for seniors get condemned as a waste.

It's a great day to be a zoning lawyer, or a lawyer working on commercial property tax appeals, or a developer, or an alderman-turned-developer, or a Daley-administration-aide-turned-lobbyist, all merrily riding the gravy train. But it's not such a great day for old ladies riding the bus.   

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