It’s been said that watching a law being crafted is like peering into a sausage factory. Once you know how it’s done you tend to lose your appetite for sausage. Senate Bill 572, which is ostensibly about funding public transportation, has some of those mystery ingredients that will turn your stomach.
It’s a bit involved, but the bill would generate $386 million to $482 million per year in local revenues, $116 million of it going to local governments and the remainder-$270 million to $366 million-to the Regional Transportation Authority. A .25 percent sales tax increase in Cook County alone would generate $154 million per year, according to legislators.
The bill was voted down last week. But House Speaker Michael Madigan refused to have the vote recorded. So the bill may come up again for a vote this week.
To be clear, I support mass transit. We need to find ways to pay for it. But could we be more upfront about our efforts to fund it? The current process in Springfield has about as much transparency as mud. With politics, there’s always a subtext, always some group looking for ways to shoehorn some language into the bill that benefits them, and all the better if it’s not too obvious to the folks paying the tab.
Actually, a better analogy for recent events would be card dealing. SB572-with its 217 pages of text-deals a couple of nice face cards to two guys who already have strong hands, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
SB572 would increase the number of directors on the RTA board from 13 to 16. Why that’s necessary or desirable is not addressed. The primary reason, I suspect, is it gives Stroger and Daley each one more favor to pass out.
The bill would give Stroger-a corrupt and inept political hack who has demonstrated his inability to handle the tasks he already has-the power to appoint one of three additional RTA directors.
The bill will also allow Chicago-that is, Daley-to boost the city’s real estate transfer tax up to $3 per $1,000 of sale price, with no referendum.
The Chicago real estate transfer tax is presently $3.75 per every $500 (they could just as easily have said $7.50 per $1,000). The new bill would allow the city to boost that tax by 40 percent with no say by the voters. If enacted, it would generate up to $96 million per year for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Daley can do what he wants to the citizens of Chicago, who are apparently satisfied with their mayor. But the bill, and the way it was planned sets the sort of precedent that should make anyone who already pays high taxes uncomfortable.
The transfer tax is a good mechanism for raising revenues (Oak Park takes in $2,400 on the sale of a $300,000 house) but should be open to referendum.
Forest Park doesn’t have one, as few in the village trust the current mayor enough to grant him Home Rule powers. Needed or not, we should be uncomfortable with any legal precedent that allows a municipality to impose a real estate tax increase without a public referendum. Nor should we be comfortable with any measure that dulls the transparency of our governmental processes.
Two years ago Anthony Calderone tried to get state senators Don Harmon and Kimberly Lightford to sponsor a state law–Senate Bill 1269-that would have relaxed the state’s Open Meeting Act standards. Specifically, Calderone wanted two commissioners-I suspect him and one of his allies-to be able to meet privately and without advance public notice to discuss emerging village issues.
Calderone didn’t get it.
Last month, though, Calderone finally got what he’d been seeking. House Bill 1670, originally written to clarify when the terms of elected municipal officers commenced after an the election, was amended to change the Open Meetings Act to allow two of five officials on smaller, five-person boards to discuss government business.
Now, if Calderone still wants to talk with more commissioners than that, he’ll just have to do it over drinks at the Golden Steer.