From left, Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) at a Chicago City Council meeting earlier this month. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Garbage collection fee to help fix pension mess proposed
When every other alderman was running for cover from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $250 million property tax increase for pensions, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) was the only one who dared to say she was prepared to cast that tough vote.
Apparently, even she is getting cold feet.
On Wednesday, Austin joined the desperate search for less painful alternatives — and found one by resurrecting the idea of a monthly fee for garbage collection.
“Suburbs charge for their garbage pick-up. Why don’t we charge for recycling?” Austin said.
The powerful chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee acknowledged that a monthly fee for refuse collection that’s now free to homeowners and the owners of two-, three- and four-flats would hit the same base of taxpayers that would be affected by the proposed property tax hike.
That’s why it’s been rejected by Chicago mayors for decades as a backdoor property tax increase.
But, Austin said, it’s a matter of perception. Getting a small bill in the mail each month not only seems like a softer blow. It’s easier to pay.
“It’s more spaced out. . . . It’s just in intervals. You could pay a bill every month,” Austin said.
“When you go to buy a house, maybe you can’t come up with that large sum of money for the downpayment, but you can pay the mortgage. That makes it a little bit more palatable for you to say, `OK, I can handle this.’ One lump sum is a lot.”
During the search for money to bring household recycling to Chicago neighborhoods without it, the Laborers Union Local 1001 suggested a garbage collection fee of anywhere from $10-$20 monthly. Emanuel categorically rejected the idea.
Reminded of that on Wednesday, Austin said, “He don’t like the idea of raising property taxes [either]. I mean — all of `em are a hard bite. But, you have to make it at least more easier for the person to pay. I think that may be an easier way to pay. You’ve got to always have suggestions.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Emanuel’s plan to raise property taxes by $250 million — as a $600 million payment to stabilize police and fire pension funds looms — has aldermen looking under every rock for alternative sources of revenue.
They include: a London-style congestion fee on motorists who drive downtown during weekday business hours; a new and lower sales tax on high-end professional services performed in Chicago and going along with Quinn’s plan to make permanent a temporary increase in the state income tax, only if municipal revenue sharing is restored to bring Chicago $150 million a year; and a commuter tax on suburbanites who work in the city.
Earlier this week, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) became the first to declare his opposition to Emanuel’s plan for a massive property tax increase to save two of Chicago’s four underfunded city employee pension funds and outlined three alternatives, two of them involving tax increment financing.
Emanuel has said he’s standing pat with his “balanced, measured and responsible” plan to raise property taxes because Moody’s, the Wall Street rating agency that has dropped Chicago’s bond rating four notches in eight months, is demanding a “reliable” source of revenue.
But, he’s still waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn to sign a bill that sets the stage for the $250 million increase — by increasing employee contributions by 29 percent and reducing employee benefits.