It is much more complicated than that, but its the gist. Hizzonner the mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, the Obama Chief of Staff who would never let a crisis go to waste, has proposed new ‘fees’ on drivers in the windy city in an attempt to close a half billion dollar budget shortfall.
My inbox exploded yesterday when the new ‘fee’ proposal was announced. Chicago parking facility owners aren’t happy. As one put it “Holy S#%t!”
According to reports from the ‘loop’, the current tax on parking will be raised incrementally, with the increase bringing the charges to 50% ( from $4 to $6) more on lower amounts (up to $12) and an about 25% to 30% (from $3 to $6) from hike if the daily fee is $24. I’m told that virtually no one pays $12 to park in downtown Chicago so the basic increase will be on third. The city is attempting to mask the hike as a “congestion fee” by lowering the numbers on weekends. Note that the charges include a hike in the county fee, too.
Monthly charges get hit, also, with the proposed tax being raised from $15 to $25 on rates under $240 and from $60 to $100 on fees over $240. I’m told that this would have the effect of setting a ‘cap’ on parking rates at $239 a month. The parker who was charged $239 would pay $264 but the one paying $240 would pay $340. Garage owners told me that’s a non starter.
I know it is confusing, but that’s part of the problem. For instance — When does a weekend start? Does a person who parks on Friday at 4 PM and picks up their car at 11 AM Saturday pay the weekday fee, or the weekend fee. What about the person who parks at 5 PM Sunday and leavs at 8 AM Monday.
Mayor Rahm tells the world that business is suffering due to the traffic congestion in downtown Chicago (My experience is that a lot of the congestion is due to the seemingly endless street construction and repair, but what do I know) and this will push people out of cars and on to rapid transit.
My sources tell me that it moves the problem from downtown to the ‘burbs where there isn’t enough parking currently for folks who take the trains into the city, and its not economically practical to build garages. (By the way, regulations on surface lots are so onerous in Chicago that many owners let the space lie fallow rather than have to install wrought iron fencing, landscaping, and the like, thus keeping the parking inventory down.)
The parking community in Chicago will be fiercely fighting the increases, and will find help from unlikely sources. The Mayor’s main benefactors, labor unions, will most likely oppose the fee hikes, as their members who work in garages will be the first ones hurt if garage traffic is decreased.
One concern for all of us non Chicagoians is that if this goes through, other large cities will see dollar signs and then hike their tax rates, too. San Francisco fought off a ‘fee’ hike a few years ago, but you have to believe that the concept is still lurking in the minds of the denizens of city hall across the country. If Chicago succeeds, other cities will likely use it as an example of how to raise money.
Of course the Mayor in Chicago is threatening to cut police and fire protection and libraries, but I wonder if any though is being given to cutting the pay and benefits of the bloated public payrolls. A pay cut to bring the pay and benefits in line with the private sector would probably balance the budget in a heartbeat. But what do I know. Its not popular with unions. When the governor of nearby Wisconsin literally saved the state’s public education system and many teacher’s jobs by charging a small amount for health benefits back to the teachers, he is now up for recall. Sigh