June 22, 2018 — Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas today called for a major overhaul of City fee and fine policies that have pushed thousands of city residents into bankruptcy and appear to be fueling an exodus from Chicago.
Specifically, Vallas proposed taking immediate aim at several policies that appear to be having a disproportionate impact on Chicago’s poorest communities:
- out-of-control ticketing on City sticker violations;
- Red Light Camera tickets not directly tied to public safety; and
- driver’s license suspensions for unpaid tickets.
Vallas’ call comes on the heels of a Woodstock Institute study and ProPublica report that both revealed the devastating impact Chicago’s policies are having on low-income families who are being driven into bankruptcy and losing their ability to get to jobs and earn a living.
“Chicago is increasingly balancing its budgets on fees and fines which are disproportionately falling on the backs of those least able to pay,” said Vallas, a former Chicago budget and revenue director. “Increasingly, Rahm Emanuel is trying to get blood out of a turnip. As a public policy, this is insane.”
In 2016 Chicago requested that the Illinois Secretary of State suspend over 21,000 driver’s licenses because of vehicle-related debts owed to the city. That number was triple the amount it was in 2010, the last full year before Emanuel took office.
Earlier this year, ProPublica reported that in 2017 more than 10,000 Chapter 13 cases were filed in Cook County in which debts to the City of Chicago averaged $3,900. This was a ten-fold increase in the number of bankruptcy cases since 2007.
“We need to conduct a top-to-bottom study of this entire situation to get to the bottom of the social costs and benefits of these programs. I strongly suspect these policies are costing Chicago more in the long-term than they are benefiting the City in the short term.”
Research by the Woodstock Institute also found that more than five percent of all parking tickets issued by the City was for failure to display a City vehicle sticker. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many drivers are being levied with fines and penalties adding up to thousands of dollars for failing to pay an underlying vehicle tax of $85.
“There is a general principle in tax collection that penalties for failure to pay a tax should not be disproportionate to the underlying tax,” Vallas said. “This concept seems to have been thrown out the window when it comes to City vehicle tax violations.”
Vallas also called for a thorough review of City’s Red Light Camera program and the immediate removal of cameras that are not demonstrably improving safety at intersections. Extensive reporting by the Chicago Tribune has shown that instead of improving safety, many cameras have had the perverse impact of increasing the number of rear-end collisions at many intersections.
Citing a recent study by the Federal Reserve Board that showed that more than half of all American do not have even $400 available for emergency expenditures, Vallas called the City’s current policies “the most regressive form of funding City government imaginable.”
He pledged to appoint a standing committee of public policy experts and citizen’s groups to review all City fee and fine policies and make recommendations similar to a panel that has been appointed in San Francisco.
“Fines, fees and penalties that exceed people’s ability to pay can create barriers to employment and mobility. When people cannot pay fines, fees, or tickets, their credit can be taken away or downgraded, their driver’s license suspended, making it impossible for many to get a job or find a place to live. Ultimately, this creates less productive citizens and taxpayers. This is a classic ‘lose-lose’ for the City and its citizens.”
Vallas said he would also consider a fees and fines amnesty program that would wave all penalties on late ticket payments.
He also called for a review of the current prohibitions on those with debts to the city from being hired, receiving contracts, securing licenses or grants. Vallas said better options could be to allow persons with debts to the City to conduct business but then have their debts paid off over time with deductions from city wages or other payments.
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For additional information on the Paul Vallas campaign for mayor, please visit: www.vallasforallchicago.com