Sunday, May 19, 2013

How Income Re-distribution Happens: the Local Version

That personal income has been steadily moving up for the 1%, and down for the 99%, for the past 20 years or so is not in doubt, by anybody. Most people think this is a bad thing, although you can always find a few social Darwin types around if you look for them. The real questions come about with how it happened and how to fix it.  These past few weeks in Chicago have been a demonstration of sorts of how this happens, specifically how public money that we all put in—and in fact the upper classes put proportionately less in—winds it way to the top.

First, there has been the revised parking deal.  The Mayor has said time and time again it was a bad deal, he wasn’t go to pay for it and so forth.  Well as the revised parking deal shows, he is going to pay for it, and it would seem we are all going to pay for it, plus some more. The fact is, if the Mayor was serious about revising the parking deal he would have not undercut the lawsuit against the deal. He would have had an entire legal team on it trying to get out of it, that’s how serious people negotiate. It’s amazing that in a city that can pay so much to defend police officers who have either acted egregiously or committed crimes there is apparently no will in the city to revise a crappy financial deal that would ultimately help every person who drives a car.
As the final decisions are made regarding the CPS school closings WBEZ released an amazing piece, essentially showing that just about every CPS talking point on this issue is false or patently misleading. The most important lie is that that it will “save money’—it certainly will not in the short run and it’s highly questionable it will even in the long run. This is a vital point. The idea that we have to destroy part of CPS to “save” it is not any different than the idea that the only way to “save” Social Security or Medicare is to cut them.  I’m sure this is the biggest reason something so draconian is seemly supported by voters, and it’s not true.
Also this last week the Mayor rolled out what passes for economic development around here—big spending on large projects that few people who live here will hardly benefit from and in fact might not be utilized by anybody else. The idea that the city and state should pay for a private school's stadium, one that the school itself will only use 18 times a year, is completely insane.  (I’d also like to think students at DePaul, who I am sure pay hefty tuition, have to wonder if that is the best use of DePaul’s resources). The idea that an entire shopping-entertainment-district can be supported so close to the United stadium, does not make sense.  The city also announced plans for a $115 million “upgrade” to Navy Pier—toned down mind you from the initial plans of a swimming pool with a beach.   As pointed out here this is for an attraction that (in terms of the outdoors) gets used maybe six months.  And just to cap it off the end game is coming for gambling bill in Springfield. Short version is that a casino will be built in Chicago in a closed-door process, the city of Chicago will completely control it with no oversight. But it's all good because the public schools will get the revenue-hey when have we heard that before? Even the guys in Vegas can’t follow that one.
A general theme that runs through these issues is that although it's advertise to be for our benefit, really it involves diverting money from the public purse to a chosen few. The connected, the wealthy, the ones who always come out ahead. This administration has yet to give anything to somebody that didn't already have something. By taking money out of the public sphere into the private means less for most of us.

In addition there is a lot to be said here about the best way to spur economic development, it probably isn't through big shiny things. Nevertheless it should be easy to agree that before over 300 million of our money goes out the door to any project there needs to be some analysis and review. Can anybody remember the last time a good deal was signed by the city? No, ok then let's instead of 48-50 aldermen saying yes can we get 26 to say no?

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