We all know that 2011 has been a huge year for Chicago’s new mayor. He won an election, created task forces, passed his first budget, and put tons of information online (among other things). But despite all of the check marks on his giant checklist, his work is far from over.
Here are some recommendations for what Rahm’s New Year’s Resolutions ought to be so City Hall gets the reform that it needs:
1. TIF Reform
Chicago’s TIF program has wandered far off track, becoming a $500 million-a-year slush fund instead of a targeted redevelopment program and is in desperate need of reform. And the improvements recommended by Mayor Emanuel’s TIF Task Force would take Chicago a long way towards solving the problems with its TIF program. They won’t fix the whole problem, but they are a good first step.
But it’s not enough to just have these ideas on paper, they need to be rigorously implemented if we are going to see real change.
Mayor Emanuel should resolve to implement these reforms in 2012 (and strive to do even more), before more of our tax dollars are wasted.
2. Pass the Asset Lease Ordinance
Chicago taxpayers got screwed when our leaders at City Hall sold our parking meters to a private company for hundreds of millions of dollars less than they are worth back in 2008. Now, three years later, despite a strong public outcry, we still don’t have a law on the books that would prevent a bad deal from happening again.
Mayor Emanuel should resolve to pass the Asset Lease Ordinance and protect the public from backroom deals that hurt the public interest and waste taxpayer money.
Also, quick side note—the parking meter rates are going up again on January 1st. UGH!
3. Pass an Honest Budget
Mayor Emanuel introduced his 2012 budget with a pledge to end the smoke and mirrors, and as it passed unanimously, aldermen celebrated a ‘new day’ for the City. But despite some improvement to end past gimmicks, the budget still includes misleading accounting tricks that hide a tax increase from public scrutiny.
The City budget that passed unanimously through the City Council includes a 70% water and sewer rate hike over the next 4 years. Despite claims the increase is needed to cover water and sewer infrastructure needs, a closer look at the budget finds as much as 26% or $220 million of water fees next year will be used to cover other city expenses. (Thanks for discovering this, Chicago Reader reporters!)
Mayor Emanuel should not celebrate a ‘new day’ in Chicago until he is truly honest with the public about how our tax dollars are spent.
Mayor Emanuel should resolve to fulfill his pledge to end the smoke and mirrors in the city budget.
4. Make sure the speed camera contract is in the public interest
Mayor Emanuel urged the passing of a bill in Springfield that would expand Chicago’s automated traffic enforcement by including speed cameras, in addition to the already existing red light cameras.
When developing the contract for the speed cameras (if Governor Quinn signs the bill), to make sure that the public interest is protected, Mayor Emanuel should ensure that the contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest; avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines; retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions; ensure that the process of contracting with vendors is completely open, with ample opportunity for public participation.
Mayor Emanuel should resolve to make sure the speed camera contract is in the best interest of the public—not the camera vendors.
5. Update transparency website
The ability to see how the government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence and promotes fiscal responsibility.
Mayor Emanuel should resolve to continue updating the City website with data that will not only make city government more transparent and accessible, but encourage involvement from everyday Chicagoans.
I heard once that only 12% of people actually accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. I am giving up “going easy on the Mayor” this year, so I think I can do it. Hopefully Mayor Emanuel will take these recommendations to heart and join me in the 12%.