Emanuel touts monthly phone fee hike for pensions

Clout Street

Mayor Rahm Emanuel found himself in the unusual position Wednesday of talking up his idea to significantly increase the monthly telephone fees paid by Chicagoans.

The mayor usually goes to great lengths to point out how he has saved residents even small amounts of money, but his promotion of the phone fee hike is a testament to how badly he and aldermen want to avoid being associated with a property tax hike as they head into re-election campaigns.

Emanuel originally wanted to use a property tax increase to come up with the tens of millions of dollars he needs this year to pay for a partial City Hall worker pension fix. On Wednesday, Emanuel formally introduced his alternative, an ordinance to raise monthly 911 charges on wireless phones and land lines by $1.40, to $3.90 for each line. In addition, the charge on prepaid phones would rise by 9 percent.

The introduction of the phone fee hike was accompanied by a news release from the mayor’s office announcing that 38 of the 50 aldermen have joined Emanuel in sponsoring it and pointing out the move will allow the city to pay for the pension reform “without a property tax increase.”

Emanuel touted the phone tax despite the fact that it could hit many Chicago homeowners about as hard as the proposed property tax increase would have.

Under a plan Emanuel introduced in Springfield to use property taxes to pay for the deal with the municipal and laborers pension funds, taxpayers who owned homes with the city median value of about $250,000 would have been hit with $50 increases each year for five years.

The phone increase will raise the amount paid by $16.80 per line per year. So a family with four phone lines would see their fees go up by $67.20 annually.

Some argue the phone fee is a more regressive way to raise funds, since it will hit everyone with phones equally regardless of whether they’re renters or people who own homes with lower values.

On Wednesday, Emanuel did not directly respond to a question about the regressiveness of the phone increase, instead hewing to his position about avoiding the property tax hike this year.

And the mayor declined to rule out a city property tax next year to pay for pensions. “First of all, you can ask the question next summer. This gives us the opportunity to actually do this the first year without a property tax and the opportunity to search for other revenue sources so we don’t have to do that,” he said after the council meeting.

The City Council still will have to approve the 911 fee increase, but that could be a much easier vote before the 2015 municipal elections in which Emanuel and all 50 aldermen will be on the ballot than boosting property taxes — long considered by Illinois politicians as the politically riskiest of taxes.

In other action at Wednesday’s City Council meeting:

*Emanuel's plan to allow gun sales in Chicago sailed through the City Council, with aldermen voting 48-0 for a proposal the mayor was forced to bring forward after a federal judge shot down the city's ban on firearms stores.

Emanuel repeatedly has said the rules will be the toughest the city feels can stand up to further legal scrutiny. Among other restrictions, the ordinance prohibits gun retailers within 500 feet of a school or park, standards the Emanuel administration says would allow firearms sellers in spots that make up only about half of a percent of Chicago's geographic area.

It's unclear how the restrictions will help curb the city's gun violence, however, since most firearms used in crimes are purchased either in the suburbs, Downstate or out-of-state.

After the vote Emanuel, called it a “smart, tough and enforceable ordinance” that's a template for police and residents “to take back their streets.”

*Four separate sets of protesters opposed to the closing of Dyett High School were escorted from council chambers after chanting that they want a meeting on the situation and calling on Ald. Will Burns to “do your job.” The protest disrupted the meeting for several minutes.
Chicago Public Schools voted in 2012 to phase out the under-enrolled high school, meaning no new students would be added until the school closes, said Burns, whose 4th Ward includes Dyett.

Burns said the activists have a political agenda aimed at removing him, but insisted that he agreed with the group that the school should remain open.

*Aldermen approved Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney’s ordinance to prohibit the city from issuing or renewing a license to sell tobacco to anyone who sells tobacco accessories who has a felony conviction in the past five years for selling drug paraphernalia.

Tunney said there are about 10 stores near Belmont Avenue and Clark Street in his 44th Ward selling rolling papers, rolling machines and pipes — items that are sometimes used for smoking marijuana in addition to tobacco. He said other business owners in the increasingly gentrified business district don't want to operate near those shops, and he hopes to use the ordinance to thin some of them out.



Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad