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Lake Shore Drive Tolls? City IG Makes Ballsy Budget Suggestions

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Sep 27, 2011 3:00PM

Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson released a report today suggesting a number of measures to fix the city's budget problems. The Tribune calls many of Ferguson's suggestions "politically poisonous," and they definitely are -- but at least he's thinking outside the box.

Most notably, the report suggests charging tolls on Lake Shore Drive to raise $87.5 million, creating a commuter tax to raise $300 million and/or adding a congestion charge for the Central Business District to raise $235 million. The report states:

The City would charge a $5 fee both for entering or exiting the Central Area in a motor vehicle during weekday rush hours (6 am to 9:30 am and 3 pm to 7 pm). Motor vehicles going through the Central Area on the Interstate Highways and Lake Shore Drive would not be charged the fee unless they exited those roadways. In order to ensure that every vehicle was charged for entering and exiting the Central Area, sensors would be placed at each access point to the Area.

Ferguson also suggests adding a 1 percent income tax for city residents to raise about $500 million. In January Illinois increased the state income tax by 66 percent and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said before that he won't consider tax hikes to close the budget gap.

The first proposal on the IG's list is one we've heard before: Eliminate all tax-increment financing districts and return TIF revenue to the city. There are also a number of changes proposed for city employees, including increasing the work-week from 35 to 40 hours, eliminating police and fire availability duty pay, reducing the number of supervisory positions and reducing the number of paid holidays.

The report also suggests increasing revenue from the city's amusement tax by eliminating exemptions for small venues, non-profit organizations and health and sport club memberships.

Yesterday, we wrote about a Civic Federation report that showed Illinois will still be running a $5 billion deficit, despite a number of tax increases. But that doesn't mean it won't work for the city. It will be interesting to see if Mayor Emanuel takes any of Ferguson's suggestions, even the ones that aren't political cyanide, seriously.