When I started working at my job 33 years ago, I put myself on a budget. I made $3.74 an hour and worked 35 hours a week at night. During the day, I went to college. I put myself on a $25 a week budget back then since I had to make sure I saved money to pay my tuition. Out of that budget, I would spend $10 a week in carfare to get to school and back home. Another $10 a week to get to work and home. The remaining $5 a week was for food.
With that budget, I wasn’t able to eat while at school. I could eat at home after school and then buy dinner at my job’s cafeteria when I got to work. That budget worked for a couple of semesters. Then my schedule changed and I had to reorganize that budget. I would now just take the bus to school and stay there until it was time to go to work. My new budget, using the same amount, was now $15 a week for transportation to school, work and home. I increased my food allowance to $10.
Over the years, I’ve had to adjust that budget a number of times. When I switched to working the day shift, I maintained the same $25-a-week budget. Carfare became $10 and food became $15. When I bought my first car, that budget stayed. Gas replaced carfare. Whatever amount I spent on gas had to last me for a week’s worth of driving. Whatever was left over from buying gas became my food budget.
That rule restricted me to only driving the number of miles that I could get out of that tank of gas. Well here it is 33 years later and that same budget it still with me. Now the entire amount goes into the tank and I take my lunch to work.
Why am I telling you all about how I restructured my budget? Because our aldermen and mayor have just passed a brand new city budget and all they seem to know how to do is spend more. A truer test of good government is the ability to make do with less. It also means making some hard decisions.
Those decisions might mean cutting out pet projects from the city’s budget. For example, many main thoroughfares in Chicago are getting those cement planters. But it costs money to maintain them. So the city could have put spending money on them on hold. There is also a propensity of many aldermen to have the crosswalks of the paved streets cut into a brick motif and then painted to resemble inlaid brick. Is it pretty? Yes. Could we have cut that out of the budget as a luxury and not a necessity? Yes, again!
Our city budget should be lean and mean. Is it truly the City of Chicago’s responsibility to put in new doors and windows for those who purposely bought houses around Midway and O’Hare airports? When those airports were built, it was farmland and open fields surrounding them.
Most taxpayers no longer have a pension. Many of us have been forced over the years to tuck money away from our salaries and put them into our own 401k. My tax bill shows me paying pension money for the park district, the county, the city, etc. Again as times get hard and city workers’ salaries are better than those of us in the private market, we look to our government to make hard and smart decisions about how money is taxed and spent.
Am I the only one who resents when I hear on the news that Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Presidents Day and Lincoln’s Birthday are all city holidays but the parking meters must be fed? Think about it. The majority of taxpayers all must work on those days and yet the city wants us to pay to park while city workers have the day off.
Lastly, the mayor has his own personal piggy bank in the TIF dollars that are coming into the city but are not part of the money used in the budget.
As we are asked to pay more in taxes, fees and fines, take a look around Austin to see what we are getting for the amounts we pay. All three aldermen (Ed Smith, 28th; Ike Carothers, 29th; Emma Mitts, 37th) who represent Austin voted for the budget and the increases this year just like last. So as you drive down any of the streets and hit the potholes (Chicago Avenue especially), remember that those aldermen voted to send our fat (tax dollars) down to city hall but have yet to bring home the bacon!