I’m just speculating here, but I don’t think Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ever been broke a day in his life. I don’t think he’s ever spent Wednesday afternoon in the tavern with guys who try to make a $2 beer last until suppertime. If he had, the millionaire doctor’s son from Wilmette wouldn’t be naïve enough to think he could balance his budget by raising fees on unmown lawns to $1,200, loud radios to $750, and drag racing to $1,000.
I hate to stereotype, but it’s been my experience that people who engage in such lower-class vices don’t have that kind of money. And all the threatening letters in the world can’t squeeze it out of them. Nor will higher fines suddenly deter bad behavior. The fine for possession of spray paint will be hiked from $750 the taggers didn’t have to $1,500 they doubly don’t have. Because these higher fines are presented as alternatives to raising sales or property taxes, they fit with Emanuel’s strategy of shifting the burden of funding Chicago from the wealthy to the poor.
Ald. John Arena recognizes the absurdity of doubling fines that were uncollectible in the first place. According to the Chicago Tribune:
Ald. John Arena questioned hitting people with increased fines and fees that may not be collectible. Debtors already owe the city more than $749 million; $329 million of which comes from people who haven’t paid parking and red-light camera tickets, according to the administration. The mayor’s office anticipates recouping $33 million of those unpaid bills next year.
“If you’re saying you’re going to bank on these fines and fee increases, that’s contradictory budgeting to me,” said Arena, 45th. “They are setting a high bar to meet, making sure that money comes in.”
I once knew an eccentric little man who lived rent-free in a house left to him by his landlord, and earned $90 a week as a night watchman for a tavern. This was down in The Bush, near the old U.S. Steel site. He decided to turn his backyard into a tiny patch of wilderness filled with his favorite plants: sunflowers, hollyhocks, scallions, morning glories. He impregnated the dirt with seeds he’d acquired from Habitat for Humanity, and weeded out ugly plants like burdock, lamb’s-quarter, and thistles. The Department of Streets and Sanitation mowed over his “nice little ecosystem” and fined him $100 for allowing weeds to reach an excessive height. I don’t think it ever collected.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!