A commuter tax -- a 1 percent income tax on people who work in Chicago, but don’t live here -- was the best idea in Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s report on raising more revenue for the city. And I don’t just say that because I live in Chicago. I say that because I live right across the street from the North Shore.
My friend Brian, a consultant for a large company with offices in downtown Chicago, used to tease me about my Rogers Park address.
“You live in the suburbs,” said Brian, who lived in Lincoln Park at the time.
“No,” I told him. “You live in the suburbs. Everyone in your neighborhood is rich and white. Lincoln Park is suburbia’s waiting room.”
Sure enough, when Brian got married and got a promotion, he bought a house in Wilmette. As he was unpacking, one of his neighbors asked, “Did you move here from Lincoln Park?”
“Yeah,” Brian said. “How did you know?”
“We all did,” the neighbor said.
That’s North Shore humor. But it contains an important point: if people who get rich working at Chicago-based businesses use that newfound wealth to flee the city, it’s only fair that the city keeps a small share of the bounty it enabled them to earn.
Also, Chicago provides free services to suburbanites that suburbanites do not provide to Chicagoans. For instance, it costs nothing to swim at Juneway Park Beach but cross the border into Evanston, and it costs $5 to swim at South Bouvelard Beach.
A commuter tax might also help solve the problem of excessive governments in Illinois. Chicago has not expanded since 1928. But commuters in Evergreen Park or Franklin Park or Harwood Heights, suburbs whose only reason for existence is to not be part of Chicago, might be motivated to annex themselves to the city if doing so would exempt them from the 1 percent tax.
“We pay tolls to get into other suburbs,” Ald. Leslie Hairston told the Tribune. “I guess membership has its privileges. A lot of people come into the city of Chicago.”
For an alderman, the commuter tax is the best kind of tax there is: a tax on people who can’t vote against you.
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!