In honor of the demonstrations that have been sweeping this and other cities, I’m going to take a moment to protest my property tax bill.
I’ve got property taxes on my mind because I just paid $4,601. That’s the first of two annual installments, for all you renters out there who have never experienced the thrill of directly paying a property tax bill.
I say directly because you renters indirectly pay property taxes every year after your landlord includes the cost in the form of higher rents. There’s no dodging the tax man, my friends.
Back to my bill . . .
As I said, it’s the first of two installments. So when all is said and done I’ll be paying more than $9,200 for the joy of owning a house in Chicago. Oh, lucky me.
This installment’s up $285 from the one I paid last year.
What’s that? You’re wondering how my bill can go up when Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to hold the line on property taxes?
For that matter, how could last year’s first installment have gone up $712 over the one before, when Mayor Richard M. Daley—remember him?—made the same promise?
Well, let me be the one to break the bad news: when it comes to property taxes, mayors never keep their promises. As a general practice, I wouldn’t believe any promise that any mayor makes about anything—and especially property taxes.
No disrespect to Mayor Emanuel. Or Mayor Daley.
But it is true that I’m from the left side of the Democratic Party. As opposed to Mayor Emanuel, who appears to be from the left side of the Republican Party. He’d probably be running a close third behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum if he just came right out and officially joined the GOP.
But my property tax bill brings out the inner Tea Partier in me as I realize how much of the money I pay gets wasted on stupid stuff that no ordinary Chicagoan really needs.
Like the G8 and NATO summits, to cite just one example.
So this year, I’m going to highlight just a little of the waste and demand a refund.
I’ll start with the TIF program, as in tax increment financing. That’s the shadow program that raises the amount we pay in property taxes by about $500 million a year, even as the mayor tells you it doesn’t. And the $500 million gets deposited into bank accounts largely controlled by the mayor.
I warned you not to believe anything the mayor says about property taxes.
When the Tribune editorial board is forced to write about TIFs—and they usually only do so at gunpoint—they usually say something like: “Critics call this a slush fund.” As if they haven’t made up their minds on the matter. Hey, take your time, people—the program’s only about 30 years old.
A few years ago, Congressman Mike Quigley, then a crusading Cook County Commissioner, estimated that TIFs add about four percent a year to the average property tax bill.
Four percent may not sound like much, but you know how it goes—four percent here, four percent there, and soon you’re talking real money.
Next I’ll move over to the Chicago Public Schools, which consumes roughly 52 percent of everyone’s property taxes.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t complain. I’m a big fan of public education. I think we should spend more on on it. But I’ve decided that in good conscience I can no longer justify spending another dime on the Chicago Board of Education.
That’s the seven-person body appointed by Mayor Emanuel to do whatever Mayor Emanuel wants.
As I’ve explained before, the mayor carefully vets potential appointees to make sure he never picks anyone with even a scintilla of an independent thought.
Actually, that vetting system applies to most mayoral appointees. And it’s obviously working, as evidenced by the February 22 board meeting, when hundreds of people showed up to beg and plead with the board not to close their neighborhood schools. The board then unanimously voted to close them anyway.
I’m not saying that some of those schools shouldn’t have been closed. But it’s fairly remarkable that all seven board members could sit through that tumultuous hearing and reach the same conclusion.
In fact, aside from the board members, just about the only people in Chicago who’ve publicly spoken in favor of the closings were a few busloads of protesters who were paid to show up at hearings. And several of them confessed they were actually in favor of keeping the schools open, once they realized what they were being paid to protest.
Look, if the board’s just going to rubber stamp any half-baked idea the mayor comes up with, it would be more efficient to get rid of them and let the mayor rubber stamp his own half-baked ideas.
That would save us at least $2.5 million, which, according to the CPS budget, includes $120,000 for “seminars, fees, subscriptions and professional memberships.”
Subscriptions? I thought I was the only one in America still paying for home delivery.
Admittedly, $2.5 million is only a drop in a CPS budget of more than $5.5 billion. So don’t send the money back to me—use it to hire more art, music, and drama teachers, because most public schools in Chicago have exactly none.
That’s right: somehow my property taxes keep going up, yet we never have enough money to hire art teachers.
Hold it—time out for an explanation. An art teacher is a teacher who teaches art. Like the ones Mayor Emanuel had when he was growing up in Wilmette. As I always say, if it’s good enough for kids in Wilmette, it’s good enough for kids in Chicago.
Let’s move to the City Council. According to the budget, they get to spend about $20 million on their salaries, committees, and staff.
I don’t know why we need the council any more than we need the board of education, since the aldermen just do what the mayor wants too.
So let’s just get rid of the aldermen, except for Leslie Hairston, Sandi Jackson, Will Burns, Nick Sposato, and Robert Fioretti—the only ones who voted against giving Mayor Emanuel a blank check to spend as much as he wants on the G8/NATO summits.
I can only cringe at what that’s going to do to next year’s property tax bill.
Oh, I’ll let Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Rey Colon stay on, even though they voted for G8/NATO. It’s part of my special dispensation to them for having voted against Mayor Daley’s sell-the-parking meter scam.
Speaking of really half-baked ideas from our mayor.
Any other cuts? Well, none for moment.
Hold it. My friend and colleague Mick Dumke’s on the phone.
What’s that, Mick? The $78 million the county wastes in marijuana prosecutions every year? You’re right! How could I forget that?
Well, if the county has so much money that it can afford to spend at least $78 million to jail and prosecute black people for doing what white people do every day, they don’t need any money from me.
So give me back the $400 or so I paid the county.
Don’t even bother wasting the cost of a stamp, Mr. Mayor. Just leave the check on the first floor visitor’s counter in City Hall—I’ll take the CTA down to pick it up.
Ben Joravsky discusses his reporting weekly with journalist Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/benj. Subscribe to their podcast at the iTunes Store.