By Alderman Helen Shiller
I am grateful to all of the 46th Ward residents who took the time to contact my office regarding the increase in the city’s property transfer tax as part of the overall restructuring and bailout of the CTA. It was helpful to hear from people on both sides of the issue, and your calls, emails and letters were part of my careful consideration of this ordinance. I voted yes at the city council meeting of Wednesday, February 6, for the following reasons:
A functioning CTA is far more vital to maintaining and promoting property values (especially on the lakefront) than not increasing the transfer tax. The bailout of the CTA was not a menu to pick and choose from, but rather one package mandated by the Governor and the Illinois General Assembly. Without the City’s part of the package, the CTA would falter and most of the dreaded “doomsday” scenarios we all heard about would occur. In other words, voting no on this proposition would not just result in a $.25 or $.50 fare increase. Additionally, CTA workers have already agreed to steep concessions in their contract in preparation of this bailout – and further concessions to avoid steep fare increases and/or cuts is out of the question.
The transfer tax increase is a necessary part of the overall CTA restructuring. This increase allows for the CTA to sell 30-year bonds that will restructure the pension system and eliminate the burden of health care costs from the pension funds. Ultimately, this restructuring will save the CTA and its riders tens of millions of dollars.
This increase was also seen as being coupled with the ¼ percent sales tax increase passed in Springfield. To vote “no” would have been to undermine the entire effort to save the CTA. And, any other ideas would have to have been approved by Springfield – not an easy task in this political climate.
Although the increase comes at a time when property sales are experiencing a downturn, the increase is across the board in Chicago and will be absorbed by the market, just as the initial tax was. And, I might add, the first tax was also opposed by many who claimed it would destroy property sales and values in Chicago. This, of course, did not happen.
Moreover, the number of “vote no” correspondences I received paled in comparison to the concern regarding CTA fare increases and cuts. Without question, saving the CTA generated more concern in my office (as well as the offices of the local State Representatives) than any other issue in recent history.
I have to vote on tax issues from the point of view of what is best for both the 46th Ward and Chicago as a whole. I know the politically “safe” thing to do in our current climate would be to vote against all tax increases and then hope enough aldermen vote yes so it passes. Some of my colleagues have chosen this route. I cannot. A safe, affordable, well functioning mass transit system is essential and vital to all urban areas.