Here in Middle America, there are small towns where going a couple of miles per hour over the speed limit will get you stopped by the town’s lone police officer. These “speed traps” are dotted throughout the region as, many times, a significant portion of a town’s revenue comes from issuing these tickets.
Now, the entire city of Chicago will become one, gigantic speed trap. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is going to rig traffic cameras to automatically issue tickets for residents going just 6 MPH over the posted speed limit.
Under the mayor’s proposal, as part of her 2021 budget package, anyone caught by a camera driving from 6 to 9 mph above would get a warning. Getting caught on camera a second time would prompt a $35 ticket in the mail.
Currently, only those caught driving 10 mph above the limit get the $35 tickets. Tickets of $100 are issued to drivers caught speeding by 11 mph or more above the posted limit. The city has the authority to issue the tickets at lower speeds, but has never used it.
It’s important to note that the Chicago city council has been nickel-and-diming residents for years, constantly raising fees and fines in a futile effort to bring the budget in balance. Lightfoot made reducing those fines and fees a centerpiece of her campaign.
“Mayor Lightfoot has repeatedly cited the urgent need for our city to break what she has called its ‘addiction’ to relying on revenue from regressive fines and fees, and stop balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it. This proposal does the opposite,” she said. “This proposal is likely to send economically struggling Chicagoans further into debt while offering questionable benefits to public safety.”
I don’t think it has anything to do with “public safety.” It has everything to do with a mayor unable to bring herself to cut spending and raising every tax and fee it’s possible to raise. She plans on raising the gas tax — already doubled by Governor Pritzker — and will tie increases in property taxes to inflation.
The city estimates a homeowner with $250,000 in property value will pay an average of $56 more, slightly less than the percentage increase in the total levy. But both new construction and changes in assessment methodology could shift more of the property tax burden to businesses next year. The $93.9 million hike includes $42.5 million to fully fund pension contributions, as required by state law, $35.4 million to keep the city property tax levy even with inflation and $16 million from new property construction.
Lightfoot also proposed tying future property tax increases to inflation, meaning the amount of property taxes the city demands from property owners will increase each year. While the city council would still have to approve the increases as part of the annual budget process, tying property taxes to increases in the consumer price index could institutionalize automatic increases and reduce discussion of alternatives. Future mayors and alderman will have less incentive to find ways to control spending and find efficiencies if the budget process always assumes property tax hikes.
Lightfoot is not cutting the budget. She’s cutting personnel and not filling vacancies — 350 job cuts and 1900 positions left unfilled. It’s supposed to save $106 million but few trust that number.
By contrast, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is cutting 22,000 jobs from New York’s bloated bureaucracy. So rather than bite the bullet and cut the fat from city services, she will raise taxes.
Chicago under Lightfoot has become an ultra-violent, ultra taxed, incompetently run disaster area. No doubt, it will get her re-elected.