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Open Letter

Kill two birds with one stone. Invite an exorcist to say the prayer opening your next meeting and then put him to work on Ald. George Cardenas (12th).

Cardenas lacked only a spinning head at the City Council budget showdown Tuesday, so clearly was he possessed by the spirit of the first Mayor Daley. And the first Mayor Daley was ready to hurl green vomit at aldermen who dared vote against the current Mayor Daley's 2008 budget with its $83 million property tax increase.

"It's easy to talk about! It's easy to criticize!" Cardenas/Richard J. Daley sputtered, nearly levitating above his microphone.

Then again, maybe Cardenas has just gone to see Hizzoner too many times.

Cardenas had two main arguments to defend raising taxes at a time when multi-million dollar City Hall scandals are revealed so often, the scandals themselves could become a reliable object of taxation. (Say, $500 per indictment? Talk about renewable sources of income. We'd be getting rebates if Mayor Daley stays in office much longer.)

First, Cardenas noted that he drove through his ward on Veterans Day and saw many citizens relaxing. "But the city was working!" he crowed. "The city was working indeed!" Cardenas witnessed an alley being constructed, a park being improved, some streetsweepers and graffiti blasters. For this, we should all pay $276 million in more taxes and fees and fines.

Cardenas's second insight involved the cost of scandals, something many of us now call a "corruption tax." But Cardenas didn't mention the scandals we usually associate with City Hall, such as the $12 million fund set aside for past job applicants screwed by the Daley administration's rigged hiring.

"And I know my colleagues talk about scandal!" Cardenas huffed. "I'll give you scandal. The assessor's office - that's a scandal!"

While assessments can be wildly inaccurate, it has apparently not occurred to Cardenas that if Cook County Assessor James Houlihan suddenly slashed the valuation of everyone's property, the city would have to increase the tax rate that much more to raise the same amount of property taxes . . . taxes which Mayor Daley claims are necessary, because apparently there is no fat to be found anywhere in city government.

Ald. Isaac "Ike" Carothers (29th), one of Mayor Daley's most reliable allies, talked gleefully about how his support for the budget would do the "heavy lifting" for aldermen who opposed it, because their wards would still get city services. Besides all that weight, Carothers appears to labor under the misapprehension that the citizens of those wards will be excused from paying taxes just because their aldermen voted against the budget.

I wish that were true, since I live in Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's ward (4th). Preckwinkle, who had the guts to oppose Daley's 2006 budget all by herself, gave the first anti-budget speech of the meeting. She pointed out that the city should have been able to anticipate the current fiscal crisis.

"I think it reflects badly on our planning, frankly," said Preckwinkle, accepting her share of the responsibility. Over the past four years, she said, the city probably should have slowly raised property taxes "so we'd continue to have an appropriate (emergency reserve fund) instead of spending it all down." (For those aldermen who didn't bother reading the Civic Federation's analysis of the budget, the emergency reserve fund should be "5-15% of operating expenditures or revenues," but in Mayor Daley's 2008 budget, it will only be 0.5%.)

Preckwinkle also mentioned that Mayor Daley's budget ignores the city's severely underfunded pensions and the high level of money spent on debt service. "When our most reliable source of income goes entirely to debt service and pensions I think we're in trouble over the long haul, and we're not dealing with it," she said.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) tried buttering up Mayor Daley by first blaming the city's lousy financial situation on President Bush, the federal government's many cuts in programs assisting cities, and the cost of the Iraq war. But I don't think that was enough grease to help Daley swallow Moore's main point: "Unfortunately, the proposed taxes today are neither fairly raised, nor can we be assured that they will always be honestly and efficiently spent," Moore declared.

The budget's taxes and fees, said Moore, are disproportionately paid by poor and middle-class citizens. "And nothing has made the public more cynical than the endless stream of broken promises to end business as usual in city government," he added.

None of you pro-budget aldermen directly answered Preckwinkle and Moore's points. You mostly stuck to that tired old line about how the city has to "move forward." Ah, but not you, Ald. Tom Tunney! Thank you for letting us know that you are, in your own words, a "wealthy man" due to investing in a business in Lakeview thirty years ago. I suppose you bought Google at $85 a share, too.

Thank you for also telling us how proud Lakeview citizens are of their gentrified neighborhood with its wonderful schools. I'm not sure how that helps someone like Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), who mentioned that she visited a school in her South Side ward recently and found there wasn't a roll of toilet paper in the entire building. But the disparity in your experiences does help explain why you voted yes, and she voted no.

Sincerely,

Cate Plys

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See Cate's first letter to the council this week.

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Open Letter is open to letters. Please include a real name if you wish to be considered for publication.

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From Paul McCartney On The Occasion Of Your Latest Release to The Person Who Let Their Dog Defecate Near The Southeast Corner Of 58th And Kimbark, Cate Plys writes the Open Letters that need writing. Check out her entire collection.



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Posted on November 14, 2007


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