I’m Happy to Pay Chicago’s Surcharge on Stupidity

I’m a Chicagoan, and I’m about to face an increase in property taxes, while the city prepares to make $200 million in cuts to the very public schools my kids are enrolled in. Also, on January 1, 2016 it seems pretty likely that my sales tax will be increased by 1% to 10.25%, which means I will start the new year with the satisfaction of paying the highest sales tax in the nation.  As of July 1, I’m already paying a tax on Netflix. The city raised hundreds of millions of dollars from me and my neighbors by shortening yellow lights and entrapping us with otherwise useless red light cameras.  Illinois has the highest state and local tax obligations, the second-highest real estate taxes in the nation, and among the least fair tax systems. Fun fact: Illinois is called the Land of Lincoln not for the president, but for Lincoln Smith, who made a killing running three card monte at Rush and Division back in the day.

You’d think I’d be outraged about all of this., but I’m not. Like everyone else in my city and state, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and given the choice between paying attention to all of this and paying higher costs for worse public services, I chose the latter. It’s like an ignorance surcharge. I’m a stupid person, and it’s not worth it to make myself smarter. Thinking and learning make my brain hurt!

You. Fork it over.

You. Fork it over.

One of the things I would rather not think about is the property tax increase. It’s coming because the city, abetted by the state, completely mismanaged the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. The cock-up didn’t start recently. If I were paying attention, I would’ve noticed that they’ve been mismanaging it for 20 years. Here’s an article from three years ago, describing what was then already a celebrated mess. I didn’t read it, though. It has numbers and graphs. I also don’t want to ponder the broader fuster cluck of public pensions in Chicago or Mayor Rahm’s plan to save the city with a giant casino, so I’m not going to. All of this math and finance is interminably boring and depressing. I’m a Chicagoan. It’s July. I’ve got the Sox and Cubs for interminably boring and depressing – and they have the upside of the opportunity for public drunkenness.

I’m a big dummy, and I’m sort of a racist. You know what numbers I pay attention to? The numbers of shootings that take place over the Fourth of July weekend. Shootings of minorities, that is. They’re overwhelmingly the people who get shot in Chicago, and I join my neighbors in comparing how many of them are shot this year vs. previous years. You know, like they were batting averages. We’re not following shootings because we’re scared. We’re following it so we can advance our armchair sociological theories about poor minorities! Don’t believe me? Read the comments section on this article.  Or my neighborhood discussion board. We’re stupid, and worried when the depravity we associate with the (Black) South Side seems to be happening on the (White) North Side. This raises the biggest fear we morons have: declining property values. What will happen if our neighbors flee to the unlimited breadsticks of the suburbs and minorities move in next door?

I've got a theory about this.

I’ve got a theory about this.

I’m too stupid to trouble myself about big picture social problems in Chicago – things like gross inequality, segregation, or failing public education. I’m also too dumb to be worried about aggravating factors like the lack of funding for infrastructure, public transportation, mental health facilities, etc. Smart people might look at these things and think that they’re precisely the sort of thing that our public officials should deal with. But we’re not smart people. When we consider someone for public office in Chicago, the most important question to ask is “are they related to another elected official?”  There’s only one other enterprise in Chicago so tied up with family connections: the mob. If I were smarter, I’d probably make something of that.

I get the stupid politicians that stupid people deserve. Our recent mayoral election was between a dissembling bully and Santa Claus’ slightly less munificent little brother. I’ve got the low expectations of a moron, and my public officials sometimes even fail to meet those. Chicago has the most corrupt politicians in the country. The federal judicial district for northern Illinois has more public corruption convictions than any other in the country – and this is a nation that still includes New Orleans and Albany. In 2013 alone, there were 45 corruption convictions. From 1976 to 2013 there were 1,642!

As a nitwit, I’d rather pay higher taxes than demand more from my public officials. It’s a convenient arrangement, because all of this corruption is expensive as hell. A couple of political scientists figure that it costs Illinois about $500 million a year. The hired truck scandal cost Chicagoans $15 million a year over 10 years. Illinois could potentially knock 5.2% off its budget if it weren’t for all the patronage hiring and bogus contracts. The number I don’t want to think about most is this: in the decade to 2014, the city of Chicago paid half a billion dollars to settle misconduct lawsuits against our police. That’s apparently enough to build “five state-of-the-art high schools and more than 30 libraries, (and) repave 500 miles of arterial streets.” Schools? Libraries? That sounds like stuff for smart people.

I don’t want to know about this, and luckily, our news doesn’t tell us. Like most Americans, I get my news from TV. Less reading. And our local news does a terrible job of covering local politics and government. In a typical 30 minute broadcast, one study found that exactly one minute was dedicated to politics. And thank God, too. Covering stuff that’s going to cost me money and impact my quality of life might cut into the seven minutes of sports and weather coverage. Here’s what I want in my news: information I could get by guessing that tomorrow will be like today. The weather will probably be within a few degrees and the Cubs probably choked in the 6th. Once that’s covered fill in the rest with ads for storm windows and coverage of people who got shot. Done and done.

Given the choice between paying more attention and paying a few extra dollars a year, I’m taking the latter. People say that you get what you pay for. I pay for not having to pay attention to any of this. Seems like a good deal to me.

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3 thoughts on “I’m Happy to Pay Chicago’s Surcharge on Stupidity

  1. RMaher says:

    Once again, you’ve nailed us. Though I take exception to the 7 minutes of sports. I watch the Sunday night 30 minutes on NBC…after all that boring stuff.

  2. mjkraus says:

    The Illinois brand of stupidity may be preferable to the Oklahoma brand. How? In Oklahoma, the state constitution was amended to require a supermajority to raise taxes, but incremental tax cuts continue to take place in spite of budget deficits, thus decreasing the amount and quality of public services. Last year, the Oklahoma legislature codified laws requiring the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System to enroll new hires in a “defined contribution system,” George W. Bush-style “personal accounts” instead of the previous pension system. Retirement ages were raised to 67 (because teachers are at their best when they’re at least 60, duh) and the law stipulates that COLAs not be paid unless sufficient additional state funds exist to cover those expenses. But, like you, I just prefer not to pay attention to all this, which explains why I still live here.

  3. Kathryn george says:

    Even if we were smart enough to be aware of it all, few of us are powerful enough to do a damn thing about it.

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