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TODAY

Saturday, July 20

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Airbags

The Chicago Reader beat me to it this week and ran a great story about Mayor Daley's lack of real support for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Apparently, Mayor Daley was a Deaniac -- he said he liked Dean's outsider status, and the fact that he wasn't the "big-money" candidate. I'm going to go make a sandwich really quick while you guys finish up laughing.

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All done? OK. Anyway. Since the Reader beat me to it, I thought I'd talk a little bit about what the press calls the Mayor's "budget woes." I don't know how fair that is -- is there a big city left in the United States that doesn't have "budget woes"? Isn't it a little redundant? Are there any big city papers running stories like, "Mayor Cuts Taxes To Alleviate Budget Happies"? Probably not. You see, the Mayor and his ever-vigilant revenue-sniffing dog City Clerk James Laski are desperate to crack down on "scofflaws" and maximize the output from the city's current myriad licensing, stickering, whatevering programs. They want to pinch every last penny out of every single person who has the luxury of writing a 606- zip code on their return address. A major reason for these "budget woes" is, of course, that the current administration has made starving big cities at the expense of rural expanses priority number one. Which is only right: who's doing the president-pickin' around here, anyway?

Of course, we should pay a little more for the luxury of living in the greatest city on the planet. But we should all pay a little more, not just the rank-and-file Chicagoans, for whom these crazy stickers and licenses are becoming more and more onerous. The same goes for many of our city's homegrown small businesses, who still pay a vassal-serf style "head tax" for each employee each month, in essence charging them for being an employer in Chicago. Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), business' best friend and the minimum wages' worst enemy, has made this latter fee his cause celebre, conveniently overlooking the myriad ways all Chicagoans pay through the nose for the little they get back.

Don't get me wrong. Business should pay silly taxes if people are paying them too. But what would be better is if, just like we shoulder the burden for living in Chicago, the rest of the state chips in a little bit for all the largesse we bring to them.

Like all the folks in the suburbs and exurbs; the very term for where they live indicates how much they rely on Chicago's success for their own. And those who travel into the city do end up paying in the form of some sales tax here or there, but hardly what is truly owed. Even the downstaters, whose economy in one way or another is routed through the great metropolis we carry on our shoulders.

Of course, none of the real solutions to the problems of underfunding our schools, fixing our infrastructure to make it more efficient, or maybe even improve access to healthcare for the million plus Chicagons living at or near the poverty line would be popular ones -- they would require a politician who, oh I don't know, was an outsider and not obedient to a party line. Somebody who wasn't a "big money" candidate whose strength came from aggressive marketing, but from the grassroots.

Yet our state legislature is awash in gutlessness, on both sides of the aisle. Although each party has their stars and the governor has shown at least a spark of wanting to tackle big non-Canadian-drug-importing problems, Big Ideas have died an ignoble death in Illinois politics -- and indeed American politics.

The fairest way to fix some of these problems is to rewrite Illinois' tax code, which is currently one of the two or three most regressive (e.g., those with the least pay the most, proportionately) in the nation. Rather than gutting programs and ideas like Head Start or Preschool-for-All, we should be en-gutting our politicians.

If His Elective Majesty is truly serious about healing what hurts Chicago, he'll quit sending patsies down to Springfield. He'll start looking for non-big-money outsiders, like his new best friend Howard Dean, to be Chicagoans' voice in the state capitol. He would not be tapping the surprised daughters of former Bridgeport precinct captains just because they have the appropriate last name.

We have a great opportunity now, with a progressive mandate, to fix Illinois finally and forever, and to make it a shining example to the rest of the nation: a state of stark contrasts, where Urban and Rural work together to fix what hurts.

But it will take guts and politicians who come from outside and who are backed by the people. Maybe the Mayor finally realized this, and that's why he was so enamored with Dean and not John Kerry.

But probably not.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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