Moreno, Fioretti: 2 of 8 Aldermen in Opposition of Ordinance Granting City Authority to Garnish State Tax Returns
Two days after its passage, several concerns remain over the details of an ordinance granting the city authority to collect both tax and non-tax debts from Illinois state tax returns.
The ordinance, which is intended to collect past-due fines, tickets and city judgments from scofflaws, swept through the City Council on Wednesday with a 31-8 vote. However, due to the broad wording of the plan, anyone owing the city a debt since 2005 may notice a smaller state tax return this year.
“It goes into effect immediately,” said Kathleen Strand, economic council for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “There is no future start date.”
First Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno voted no on the measure, owing in-part to its vagueness. Leading up to the vote, Moreno unsuccessfully lobbied Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin to craft the ordinance so the city couldn’t collect unpaid water bills, according to Matthew Bailey, Moreno’s director of legislative affairs and communications.
“Parking tickets are one thing – these people broke a rule,” Bailey said. “However, seniors – and others – who literally cannot pay their bills come to his Ward Night, nearly every single week. He wanted this piece of the legislation taken out, or at least, further discussed and amended. It wasn’t, so he voted no.”
For now, the mayor’s office does not plan to collect unpaid utility bills from tax returns, although the ordinance technically enables it to do so.
“It won’t affect seniors, or others, who are behind on their water bills,” Strand said.
But this assurance isn’t enough to resolve Moreno’s concerns.
“We’re glad to hear that, but we still object to anything that will allow the city to recoup unpaid bills,” Bailey said.
Some constituents backed Moreno’s vote against the ordinance, citing concerns it will place an unfair burden on those who are already marginalized the most and rely upon their tax returns from essentials.
“Once again, it’s something that preys on the have-nots,” said David Ginople, owner of the Wicker Park business, Store B Vintage. “In many instances, these people need [their tax returns] for food, money, medicine and personal care. What I’d like to see is everyone being more lenient, and that’s not the tone of this ordinance.”
After the bill easily cleared the Council on Wednesday, Mayor Emanuel addressed the chamber, striking a familiar reformist tone and positioning the issue as both a moral and economic one.
“The system cannot be created around allowing a permissible amount of cheating,” he said. “It becomes epidemic.”
Emanuel noted that his budget did not include raises to property, sales or gas taxes.
“What we agreed to, what was in fact called for by a number of the city council, was cracking down on the deadbeats and delinquents,” he said.
The mayor said he has held true to this promise, collecting more than $7 million owed to Chicago taxpayers from banks, utilities and city employees. Emanuel expects to bring an additional $8 to 20 million over the next two years by targeting citizens who owe the city money.
Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti led the Council opposition on Wednesday, also owing to the ordinance’s broad scope. His concern was primarily with the city’s intention to go after debt owed as the result of administrative hearings, claiming that the city’s process is so flawed that it resulted in a class action lawsuit two years ago.
“Guess what? We have a kangaroo court over here,” Fioretti said on the council floor. “We find everyone guilty, and we move on.”
This strikes a particular nerve for many when it comes to such things as parking tickets.
“I kind of feel like this city is on a ‘let’s raise money any way we can kick,’” Ginople said. “They’re like vigilantes. They’re out here every day to collect $50-$70 for every minor parking infraction.”
Residents who owe the city money may contest their individual case to the state. As of now, it is unclear who people should contact.
“There is a process for appeal or challenges that runs through the state,” Strand said.
However, she was unsure of what agency will handle those appeals, or who should be contacted.
For now, Strand recommends residents with delinquent debts contact the city through its website and arrange a payment plan, as individuals on those plans will not have their tax returns garnished.
-By Nick Przybyciel
Nick Przybyciel, second from left in photo, is a Master of Science in Journalism candidate at Northwestern University’s Medill School. Prior to moving to Chicago for grad school, Nick lived in Seattle, where he managed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas blog and represented the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a public relations specialist.