How to slash a deficit without raising taxes
Promises to keep
AT ABOUT 8.30am on Saturday October 15th, close to the city’s former meatpacking district, one of Chicago’s ancient water mains burst. As the road buckled and water gushed down alleyways, it was a timely reminder that the modern city is built on crumbling, century-old infrastructure. Fixing the problem is not easy, as the city is awash in debt as well as water.
Only three days earlier the city’s energetic new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, had presented his first budget. The city had looked set to produce a $640m deficit on its operating budget of $3 billion. Worse still, for a decade Chicago has had significant and growing shortfalls which have only been plugged using creative, but one-off, fixes dreamed up by the previous mayor. These include, for example, leasing all its metered street parking for 75 years—something that still annoys the locals.
Mr Emanuel had promised a lot. He said he would balance the budget and invest in the city’s infrastructure, all without raising property taxes or using one-off revenues. On paper he has, indeed, balanced the budget. About $420m has come through a mixture of cuts, reorganisation and efficiency gains. The rest has been found by raising new revenue, whether through new or increased fees, fines, charges or (whisper it) taxes. For example, the budget proposes a new $2-a-day “congestion premium” for drivers who park in downtown garages. And visitors to next year’s NATO and G8 summits will each be adding $1.78 a night to city coffers, thanks to a new hotel tax.
Some of Mr Emanuel’s plans are politically bold. Chicago is to become the first large city in America to merge police and fire services in a co-ordinated “public safety” headquarters, and some unneeded facilities are to be trimmed. Savings of $82m are sought, and the plans may rationalise how the city tackles terrorism, bomb threats and arson.
The budget still has to be approved by the city council, but the scale of Chicago’s debt gives little room for manoeuvre. Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, an independent watchdog, explains that the city can no longer kick the can down the road as the can is now a “55-gallon drum”. He says the new budget is a positive development, though the mayor has not yet tackled a looming pensions crisis. The three main ratings agencies have also reacted favourably.
Although the agony has been spread thin, the most painful new proposal is a large hike in water rates. The need, however, could not be plainer. Despite the city’s towering skyscrapers and ultra-modern Millennium Park, underground the story is grimmer. Chicago has 900 miles of ancient water pipes that need replacing and 750 miles of sewers that need improving. And four of its water-pumping stations still run on steam power.
预算缩减总量虽高 ，但分摊下来并不会令人太过苦恼，不过棘手的是关于大幅提高水费的新提案。然而，其必要性已再清楚不过/ 箭在弦上，不得不发。尽管芝加哥摩天大楼鳞次栉比，又有着超现代的千禧公园，可地下设施却惨不忍睹。该城需要更新的老化水管长达900英里，还有750英里的下水管道需要升级，另外还有4个泵水站仍在使用蒸汽动力。