This year, working with President Preckwinkle, I helped pass a County budget that the Civic Federation praised. They called us “accountable and efficient” stewards of public resources. Unfortunately, the City of Chicago continues to move in the opposite direction. Getting City finances back on track will take new leadership, and it is one of the principal reasons I am running for Mayor.
The City’s use of long-term bonds to fund operations and short-term expenses -- “scoop and toss” -- is not justified. The practice is unsustainable, and it is expensive. Instead of paying off $120.8 million in bonds as scheduled in 2015, the City refinanced them at an additional total interest cost of $229 million over 30 years. In other words, poor financial decisions cost the City $229 million that could have been used to create new jobs, educate our children or make our streets safer.
As a City, we have to find better ways to fund infrastructure and operations. We cannot keep borrowing money to pay debts, and leaving the looming financial problems to future generations. That kind of approach will bankrupt local government and destroy our City’s future. One possibility is finding better efficiencies in cooperation with the County. This has not been aggressively pursued by the current City administration, but it can lead to reduced costs and savings, while providing improved and expanded services, especially in transportation and health care. We cannot cut our way out of the structural deficit but we can and must operate more efficiently as part of the solution. In addition to better coordination of services among local governments, efficiency means cutting waste and looking for new revenue sources.
We should consider a financial transaction tax on LaSalle Street, a commuter tax as well as TIF reform. We must have a serious discussion on how we increase revenue without relying on fines and fees that are nothing more that middle class taxes. The wealthiest among us should be paying their fair share.