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Brett Ashley McKenzie Headshot

If Paying Taxes is Patriotic, Chicagoans are the Best Patriots on Earth

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On ABC News two weeks ago, Joe Biden discussed the merits of Barack Obama's tax plan, which will provide a tax cut to all Americans making under $250,000 a year and require those in Bush's favorite tax bracket (hint, hint: The top one) to pay their fair share once again.

"It is time to be patriotic, time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to get America out of a rut," Biden said.

The McCain campaign and, of course, the people on the receiving end of McCain's beloved Bush tax cuts, were up in arms over this statement. On September 18, John McCain responded, "Raising taxes in a tough economy isn't patriotic ... It's not a badge of honor, it's just plain dumb."

Correction: Raising taxes on those who are actually suffering through a tough economy is dumb. But as Barack Obama has stated repeatedly, he won't be doing that. He'll be raising taxes on those who have practically had a free ride for eight years, and I feel if the wealthy intend to enjoy the services and institutions our tax dollars pay for, they should pay their share.

Here in Chicago, we are dealing with a tax nightmare. Last year, they raised the real estate transfer tax, making it more expensive to buy AND sell property in an already tough market cycle. Last week, property tax bills were mailed out, and in the poorest neighborhoods of the city like Englewood and West Garfield Park, homeowners will face tax increases of up to 71 percent. Meanwhile, in the city's wealthiest neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview, tax increases will average between two and four percent.

In March 2008, Chicago earned the dubious honor of issuing the highest sales tax of any city in the country--a Pepto-Bismol-inducing 10.25% on all non-perishable goods. We pay a higher tax on rental cars (20%), on hotel rooms (15.4%), and get this... a 13.25% tax on soft drinks. Individual or bulk, bottle or can. Truly sinful purchases, like cigarettes, alcohol, and--gasp!--bottled water are also facing steady increases. And remember, this is in addition to income tax, my friends. If paying taxes makes you patriotic, Chicagoans should get a memorial built in their honor (or just add Harry Caray's face to Mount Rushmore).

We pay these astronomical taxes and stomach the frequent increases because for its faults, our city is beautiful. In fact, thanks to the investment in "green" and LEED building and living that Mayor Daley has made, Chicago is consistently ranked among the greenest cities in the country, if not the world. Our City Hall even has a "green roof," or a "a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane" (per Wikipedia). Our parks are clean, our CTA is being overhauled and modernized to improve the quality of the daily commute, and there are so many trees on parts of the North Side that you wonder if you're in a city or an arboretum.

Now, if you asked many Chicago and collar county taxpayers if they prefer flora and fauna to hanging on to their hard-earned money, I'm pretty sure I know what the answer would be. And when the City of Chicago charges me $200 for stopping in front of a fire hydrant and flipping on my hazards while I run to the ATM ($100 for the ticket, an extra $100 for not paying the ticket within 60 days of receiving the ticket), I seriously consider whether or not this is where I want to live. Then I consider my alternatives. No matter how much lower taxes in are in Manhattan than in Chicago, I challenge anyone to find an apartment there for the same price that you can here (of comparable size; I'm sure you can find a coat closet in Chelsea for the price of a Chicago three bedroom condominium). Good luck with the whole "yard" thing, too. And as far as the West Coast is concerned, I'll take 20 minutes a day on Lake Shore Drive in rush hour over the 93 hours a year L.A. commuters spend in gridlock traffic (Oakland/San Fran are second worst, with 72 hours a year, followed by Maryland-D.C.-Virginia with 69 hours a year).

The thing is, I agree with Joe Biden. Paying taxes is patriotic. Why else would we hand over our hard-earned money toward improving the cities and nation we live in? And through paying taxes, we're not only making our hometowns a better place for us to enjoy; we're making it a better place for everyone to enjoy. That is true love of country. You wear a flag pin? Well my tax dollars helped build a new school. Let's talk about which of those two patriotic acts actually made a difference for this country.

Which is why I'm so insulted when the wealthy preach about why they are entitled to tax breaks. So let me get this straight. Because you make more money than I do, you should pay less taxes than I do, but still get to enjoy all of the services and institutions that my tax dollars pay for? Not so fast. Let's take a look at that line of thinking in reverse.

I believe we should implement an "adult swim" policy with regards to taxpayers. For instance, the people who get tax breaks should only be allowed to use public libraries for an hour a day, like senior swim at the local pool. Or better yet, just forbid them from accessing the Harry Potter section. Take your fancy money over to the Barnes & Noble and buy the damn book.

Maybe people who get tax breaks should only be allowed to send their children to private schools and universities. And since tax dollars pay for public transportation as well as roads, you will now need to take a helicopter to and from the office. Bonus: A few less Hummers and SUVs on the highways would totally resolve that gridlock issue for the rest of us. Don't play in our parks, don't borrow our books, don't sit on our trains. You don't want your money to help anyone but yourselves; why should our money help you?

At the grocery checkout or liquor store, Chicagoans wince and whine, and then we suck it up and pay because we are a part of this democratic society in which the hard work of many permits a better life for all. That is a "badge of honor," John McCain, because we know we're making a sacrifice for the greater good. That's the price we pay for living in the "hog butcher for the world," the Windy City, highest taxed in the nation. My Chicago. I hope I never leave.