CHICAGO, 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 fuel an exodus from Chicago.
Specifically, Vallas proposed taking immediate aim at several policies that appear to have a disproportionate impact on Chicago’s poorest communities. These policies include:
- 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 follows a Woodstock Institute study and ProPublica report that both revealed the devastating impact Chicago’s policies have on low-income families. These families are driven into bankruptcy and lost their ability to secure 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, former City Hall 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 tripled since 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. The debts to the city from these cases averaged $3,900. Since 2007, this was a ten-fold increase in the number of bankruptcy cases.
“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 5% of all parking tickets issued by the city resulted from failure to display a city vehicle sticker. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many drivers are 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 the city’s Red Light Camera program. He also called for the immediate removal of cameras that do not demonstrably improve safety at intersections. Extensive reporting by the Chicago Tribune shows that instead of improving safety, many cameras 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 Americans do not have $400 available for emergency expenditures, Vallas called the city’s current policies “the most regressive form of funding city government imaginable.”
Vallas pledged to appoint a standing committee of public policy experts and citizen groups to review all city fee and fine policies and make recommendations. This committee will be 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 that he would also consider a fees and fines amnesty program. This program will 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, or securing licenses or grants. Vallas said better options could allow people 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.