Government For Nothing | Bleader

Government For Nothing

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I'm finally getting around to going through the piles of articles on my desk and came across this recent gem from New York Times financial writer David Leonhardt about the need for the federal government to raise taxes.

Leonhardt's central point is that taxpayers want federal services--they just don't want to pay for them.

It's much the same here in Chicago, with a little twist--here we get things but pretend we're not paying for them. We pay for things we really need, like schools, parks, police, fire, garbage collection, and snow removal. But on top of that, we also pay for the things Mayor Daley wants, like 7,500 condos or rental units on the south lakefront, a big underground hole at Block 37, and a Streeterville headquarters for the Park District. My god, how can we possibly exist without these essentials?

To pay for all of this, Mayor Daley sells off an airport, parking garages, and parking meters; tows cars; jacks up water and sewer fees; and collects property taxes. Sometimes he raises property taxes without telling us he's raising them. That would be our much-vaunted Tax Increment Financing program in which hundreds of millions of dollars are diverted from the parks, schools, and county, then kept off our tax bills and pretty much off the books.

One day the mainstream media will catch on and start adding the TIF take ($550 million in 2007) to the mayor's annual budget so we don't play the yearly game where Daley gets to pretend he's paying for basic services as well as his pet projects while holding the line on property taxes.

In the meantime, we'll just play dumb and pretend that the TIF property tax is not really a property tax and that Mayor Daley is the one all-powerful financial wizard in the universe who's figured out how to run government for free.

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