The city of Chicago is looking at bag fees to help support its budget.
On Oct. 10, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a proposed $3.72 billion city budget that would avert a teachers' strike and add officers to the police force without increasing taxes.
The key to the first and possibly the second: a huge $175 million drawdown in cash from the city's tax-increment financing revenue pot, a far bigger diversion than Emanuel has allowed in previous years.
In addition, it would create $37 million in “new revenue,” mostly from a proposed 7-cent tax on each plastic bag stores hand out to customers who don't bring their own bags as well as a “special event congestion pricing” plan for people driving to big events such as the Chicago Cubs' playoff games.
Chicago already has a plastic bag ban on the books, which has resulted in merchants either issuing thicker bags or paper bags to get around it. The 7-cent tax would be apply to those bags.
"Five years ago, Chicago was on the financial brink," Emanuel declared in prepared remarks for a City Council speech. "Today, Chicago is back on solid ground."
Some details of Emanuel's proposal are just coming out. But in his speech, he included plans to begin hiring 1,000 new police officers, boost neighborhood mentoring programs of young adults and move to the third year of a plan to stabilize the city's cash-short pension plans.
But also in the budget is the third year of a five-year plan to raise property taxes $543 million annually for police and fire pensions. That should mean $53 million more in property taxes in 2017 on top of the $427 million already mandated in tax years 2015 and 2016. And that doesn't count another $250 million property tax hike for teacher pensions that the Board of Education already has voted to levy.
City officials also said that the budget generally will gain from years of cost cutting — and a rebounding economy that has pushed revenues up a projected $82 million.
The Grassroots Collaborative, a left-of-center activist group, took issue with the budget plan.
“Mayor Emanuel continues his streak of asking working families to pay more while the most wealthy continue to not pay their fair share,” the group said in a statement. “This is not sustainable. Plastic bags are not going to generate the resources needed to address the economic and racial inequality driving so much of the violence in our communities.”