Fines: Chicago’s Hot New Revenue Stream

The city looks to crack down on speeders, disabled-parking-abusers, debtors, and unlicensed dog owners as fines outpace its other revenue streams. Which is why I propose an Ed Hardy tax.

* “Camera speeding tickets measure advances”

* “City wants crackdown on disabled-parking abuse”

* “City Hall wants Chicagoans to buy dog licenses or face fines”

* “Emanuel goes after city debtors”

In that first piece, it’s mentioned that “critics contended the legislation is less about public safety and more about generating revenue.”

Well, sure. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s dramatic how increasingly important fines are to the city’s finances. From its Annual Financial Analysis:

Fines, forfeitures and penalties include parking tickets, redlight camera tickets and fines for items such as building code violations. Revenues in this area have nearly doubled since 2001, from $133.8 million to $258.8 million in 2010, accounting for 8 percent of total 2010 corporate fund revenue. This steady trend upward is the result of the increased use of technology to improve efficiency and maximize collections, including the installation of red-light cameras, the implementation of on-line bill payment systems, and additional parking enforcement field technology, as well as increased fine and penalty rates. Revenue from fines, forfeitures and penalties in 2011 is expected to remain flat due in part to the fact that no new cameras were added this year and motorists have adjusted their behavior in light of existing cameras.

The percentage of city revenues consisting of local taxes has actually declined over the past decade as “non-tax revenue” has taken up an increasing percentage. Fines are the second-largest percentage, just behind “internal service earnings,” i.e. “transfers to the corporate fund for services provided to other City funds and agencies.”

Chicago corporate fund revenues

Next up, maybe a “saggy pants tax.” But the “American Civil Liberties Union has decried the disproportionate racial impact,” and they’ve got a point. So I propose an Ed Hardy tax as part of my platform.

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