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City Council backs taking tax refunds from ticket deadbeats

A parking ticket is placed below car's windshield wiper 4400 block N. Broadway Tuesday Feb. 14 2012 Chicago. | John

A parking ticket is placed below a car's windshield wiper on the 4400 block of N. Broadway Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 17, 2012 10:19AM

The City Council on Wednesday approved a controversial plan to erase millions of dollars in city debt by siphoning the income tax refunds of chronic scofflaws after Mayor Rahm Emanuel warned there is no “permissible amount of cheating.”

The vote came amidst warnings that some of that debt is the result of judgments by administrative hearing officers presiding over a “kangaroo court.”

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said he’s all for the idea of making those who “do the crime pay the fine.” But, the problem is, not all of those with overdue Chicago parking tickets, red-light camera citations and final judgments rendered by hearing officers did the crime.

The vote was 41-to-8. Fioretti was joined by Aldermen “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st); Leslie Hairston (5th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); George Cardenas (12th); Willie Cochran (20th) Michael Chandler (24th) and Nick Sposato (36th).

“Probably 80 percent of these, we’ve got to go after. They’re good [debts]. But, what about the 20 percent?” Fioretti said.

“What about that guy in Orland who has 26 tickets and he never came here? Now, we’re booting on two [unpaid parking tickets]. We’ve got the car. How much more do we need? What about all the other” mistakes?

If the Department of Administrative Hearings would clean up its act and offer fairer hearings, Fioretti said he would be all for the crackdown. But, not until then.

“We’ve got a kangaroo court over there. We find everybody guilty, and we move on,” Fioretti said.

“We should tighten up the rules. Let’s eliminate that belief in these chambers that it’s a kangaroo court. ... This is a good tool in the box. I agree. But the problem is, it’s quicksand.”

Emanuel countered, “Administrative hearings have to be cleaned up? Let’s get on it. Give me a resolution. Give me an ordinance. I’m ready.”

But, after cracking down on debts owed by banks, utilities, ambulance transports and city employee deadbeats, he’s not about to let more than 100,000 Illinois residents and businesses with overdue Chicago parking tickets, red-light camera citations and judgments rendered by city hearing officers get off scot-free.

“We have protected the taxpayers of Chicago by not raising property taxes, not creating a [city] income tax, not raising sales taxes, not raising the gas tax. And we made sure that those who are who are deadbeats paid up because law-abiding citizens cannot carry the freight for everybody else. That is wrong to do and a system cannot be created around allowing a permissible amount of cheating. It becomes epidemic,” the mayor said.

“These are people who owed money to the city, and we were not doing our job, and we were putting a heavier burden on law-abiding citizens who are doing the responsible thing and the system tilted in favor of cheating. If you abide by the law, we don’t do anything [to your income tax refund, but] if you cheat the rest of the taxpayers and everybody else is abiding by the rules, we’re not gonna have the system favor you because of incompetence, inefficiency or because you can get away with it.”

Chicago could collect as much as $20 million of the $80 million owed by the 100,000 deadbeats, thanks to the new partnership with the state that will put a “brick” on the state income tax refunds of anyone who owes the city money.

Before money is siphoned off the refunds and forwarded to the city, individuals and businesses with outstanding city debts dating back to 2005 will have 60 days to appeal — even after ignoring repeated warning notices from the city.

If the debt is larger than the refund, the claim will remain on the books for five years, giving the city an opportunity to take another bite each year until the debt is paid.

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