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Editorial: Finding money to hire more cops

Ald. George Cardenas(12th) City Council chambers 2009.  |  Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Ald. George Cardenas(12th) in the City Council chambers in 2009. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 25, 2012 6:07AM

First, let’s consider what’s wrong with a proposal by Ald. George Cardenas (12th) to pay for more police protection by tacking a $5 fee onto ComEd bills.

† It’s regressive. The same fee would apply to everyone, no matter how wealthy or poor. A lot of families in the city already struggle to pay utility bills, and even an extra $5 could be tough.

† It invites budgetary games. Yes, all the money from the fee would go straight to the police, but that doesn’t mean the city couldn’t cut police funding elsewhere, in effect siphoning off some of the new money. Remember how the state lottery revenues were supposed to go only to education?

† Unlike property taxes, most people can’t deduct utility bills from state or federal taxes. Raising the same amount of money through a property tax increase would in effect keep more money in Chicagoans’ pockets.

† ComEd says, “We . . . believe that adding the cost of police service to an electric bill is not something contemplated in public utilities law.”

But there’s also something to like about Cardenas’ proposal: Somebody is trying to come up with a way to hire more cops.

Cardenas would place the “safety and security fee” on homes and businesses, generating $70 million a year — enough to hire roughly 700 new officers.

He says he would make the fee temporary, while any increase in property taxes probably would turn out to be permanent. He admits the fee might be felt unevenly but says everyone has a stake in a safer city.

Safety is on everyone’s minds. As of Thursday, Chicago has seen 386 homicides and 1,829 shootings, up 24.5 and 10 percent respectively over last year.

We don’t know if tacking a fee on power bills is the best way to go, but let’s keep pushing for an answer.

“I think everybody would buy into the notion that we need to make this city safer,” Cardenas said.

He’s right.

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