Editorial: City going wrong way with congestion tax
The city of Chicago finds itself in a deep financial predicament. According to The Associated Press, the city is billions of dollars in debt and the school system suffers from a low credit rating. To deal with that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to propose a property tax increase and an increase in fees on garbage collection, sugary drinks and other services. In other words, the city is facing the music and its resident may have to pay up.
City officials and residents will need to decide for themselves if they've cut enough fat out of their budget to justify those increases. That's what we expect suburban government officials to do, as well as state and federal officials.
But one tax the city is considering is aimed squarely at suburbanites and should be quickly thrown out.
According to a column in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke is proposing the city collect "a congestion fee from suburbanites who drive into the city" at certain hours.
Burke told the Sun-Times the congestion tax has been successful in some European cities, such as London. Indeed, London's plan has been in place for more than a decade and by many accounts -- not all -- it has been successful. Drivers pay for entering certain zones of the city between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. Cameras monitor the zones, and drivers who don't pay are fined.
But there's one big difference between London's plan and Burke's proposal. It doesn't differentiate between drivers -- all motorists are treated and taxed the same.
Burke's plan would be hard to enforce and counterproductive, suburban mayors told us. We agree. Chasing suburban drivers and suburban money out of the city makes no sense.
"The suburbs contribute to Chicago's economy in many ways," Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said. "I hope Chicago's leaders will be cautious as they seek to find financial solutions and that they consider the consequences of shifting the cost of their responsibilities onto the suburbs."
Indeed, is that what we want -- suburbanites taxed to go into the city and, conversely, city residents taxed to drive to the suburbs? Should tolls on area tollways (all in the suburbs) be only collected from city drivers? The region's elected officials should be working together to solve problems, not looking to create more divisions. The decades-long animus between the suburbs and the city over O'Hare International Airport noise should be a lesson learned, not repeated.
And state officials also should be concerned. As state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, told us, a less competitive Chicago (via fewer people visiting) hurts the state as a whole. It's possible Burke was just floating this idea to see what the reaction might be.
He's seen it and now it's time to move on.