Mayor Daley's criticisms of lawmakers at the state and federal level are always widely reported. His inconsistency and hypocrisy should be part of the story as well.
As if channeling House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), Mayor Richard Daley criticized Democratic lawmakers yesterday for attempting to borrow to cover the state's upcoming annual pension contribution. "Just like the federal government, they borrow and print money," the mayor said. (In fact, the state doesn't print money -- they issue bonds.) "Find out how it’s going to affect every taxpayer here." he continued. "Is it gonna affect you next year, the following year, the following year? That is the big problem."
House Democrats did find out how much it's going to impact taxpayers next year, and of the awful choices currently on the table, borrowing is the best (and cheapest) of the bunch. But there's a bigger issue here. Daley's remarks yesterday are just the latest example of the Chicago press corps going out of its way to highlight his criticisms of other governments, despite the fact that the mayor's political advice often stands in contradiction to his own record or his previous statements.
Let's take his tax criticisms, for example. In February, Daley suggested that the state should cut deeper into the budget before approving any type of income tax increase. He eased his stance a bit in April, telling the press that he'd support a small income tax hike if it was paired with spending reductions and property tax relief. But when Gov. Pat Quinn introduced a spending proposal that cut too close to home -- limiting the amount of income tax revenue that would be shared with municipalities and scaling back the state police -- Daley threw a hissy fit. Then, yesterday, he again emphasized the need to continue "cutting back."
Moreover, Daley's criticism of the borrowing strategy contradicts his own record, as the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman noted:
Daley’s public rebuke flies in the face of his own plan to authorize a $160 million short-term borrowing to finance retroactive pay raises for Chicago Police officers awarded by an independent arbitrator.
Daley's push for property tax relief at the state level is also an eyebrow-raiser. In March, he warned that the General Assembly "cannot increase [the state] income tax without property tax relief" and, just this week, he promised that the 2011 city budget will hold the line on property tax rates. Yet he has long been seen as an obstacle to efforts to raise the Cook County homeowner's exemption. And he is rarely (if ever) challenged on how his expansion of tax increment financing (TIF) districts has contributed to the growing property tax burden Chicagoans face. From our piece earlier this year:
We've repeatedly explained how TIF districts drive up property taxes, but here's a brief reminder. Every time local governments create another TIF district to repair blight (or reward connected interests), revenue that would otherwise pay for schools, parks, and other public bodies is diverted into the city's TIF budget. In Mayor Daley's case, it's over 90 percent of his total tax bill. Those taxing bodies then have to raise their own tax levies to make up the difference. The Property Tax Reform & Relief Task Force has already recommended that the General Assembly review the state's TIF statutes. If action is taken to rein in the TIF network -- particularly in Chicago, where it has grown wildly under Mayor Daley's stewardship -- local officials won't need raise rates nearly as often.
If there is one area in which Daley has been wholly consistent, it's in his support for privatization. In January 2009, the mayor urged President Obama to consider leasing federal assets to pay down the federal debt. And several weeks ago, he appeared somewhat supportive of a controversial proposal in which ComEd would have put $500 million towards the state's budget gap in exchange for locking in above-market rates -- a plan that basically amounted to "privatizing taxes," in the words of the Reader's Whet Moser.
In her Sun-Times article on the Obama advice, Spielman correctly noted that Daley's own privatization bonanza -- which she described as the "great Chicago sell-off" -- has not worked out very well for the city financially. After mortgaging billions in public assets and instituting a hiring freeze, Daley still needed to raid those very new asset funds to plug the city's budgets. And that doesn't include a major projected 2011 deficit for the Chicago Public Schools. Deficits grew, meanwhile, as the city hoards more taxpayer money into the TIF shadow budget, plenty of which is funneled out to developers and other corporate interests.
As the mayor of the state's largest city, Daley's point of view is newsworthy. But his inconsistency and hypocrisy should be a larger part of the story.