Chicago Alderman Proposes 'Super Ticket Writers' to Fill Budget Gap

Residents already face a stream of tax increases, largely to shore up pension funds.


Jovan Jimenez

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked Chicago's aldermen for suggestions on how to close a nearly $260 million budget gap, Raymond Lopez responded with a proposal for each of the city's 50 wards to receive a "super ticket writer"—an officer dedicated to ticketing people for quality-of-life violations.

Since the Ferguson protests pushed police misconduct onto the national political stage, some policy makers have become more sensitive to the problems of treating policing as a form of revenue raising. But evidently not Lopez.

The Justice Department's investigation into Ferguson's policing practices found a criminal justice system largely designed to raise revenue, leading to systematic constitutional violations. Black Lives Matter's Campaign Zero has called for reducing police violence by ending such revenue-based policing. "Police should be working to keep people safe, not contributing to a system that profits from stopping, searching, ticketing, arresting and incarcerating people," the Campaign Zero website explains.

As the Chicago Sun-Times points out, Chicago has laws "that cover everything from home-sharing, illegal parking and panhandling to noise violations, street peddling, failing to shovel snow from the sidewalk in front of your home and operating a business without the proper license." Many of these laws are rarely enforced, but Lopez wants to change that.

His proposal calls for spending $4.5 million to train the 50 super ticket writers. He insists the program would pay for itself and then some, but he doesn't actually show his work. Along with all the other problems with the plan, it seems counterproductive to solve a budget gap caused in large part by the high cost of city employees by hiring yet more city employees.

The Sun-Times reports that in recent years Chicago residents have faced more than a $1 billion in tax hikes to fund public employees' pensions. Last year Emanuel levied a nearly 30 percent tax on water and sewer bills to raise revenue for the Municipal Employees Pension Fund; he now plans to ask City Council for a 28 percent increase in a monthly tax on phone bills, to fund the Laborers Pension fund.

"Acting on the laws we've created is a better way to generate revenue," Lopez told the Sun-Times. "The last thing any of us want to do is enact more fees, more tax increases." But if Lopez's proposal is adopted it will more than likely be an addition to the tax hikes in the pipeline, not a replacement. In any event, residents who feel nickel-and-dimed by tax increases aren't likely to appreciate a ticket from a cop any more.