Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How cash-desperate is government?

Government entities can always use more money to fund their operations – enabling them to provide more services that would actually benefit the public.

If I were a corporation serious interested in buying naming rights from  Cook County, all I'd want is the little plot of land upon which the iconic Picasso statue rests. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

And when certain government officials talk about wanting to reduce government spending, in many cases what they really want to do is cut programs to which they have ideological hang-ups. Budget balancing is not their primary concern.

BUT WE’RE IN a time period where economic struggles are impacting government as well. The existing tax rates just aren’t producing as much money as desired (what’s that old cliché, “you can’t draw blood from a turnip”) and some people need to rely on government services all the more in order to survive.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that government entities are considering some pretty strange-sounding ideas these days – justifying them with rhetoric about how desperately they need more money.

I can’t help but think that Cook County government talking about selling off naming rights and sponsorships is among them.

We may now be with a generation that thinks it is totally normal for sports arenas to have names like the United Center, U.S. Cellular Field or Toyota Park (just to name a few). But now, it seems, we’re going to at least contemplate the idea that the forest preserves or government buildings (at least parts of them) will have corporate names.

NO LONGER WILL such facilities be named for political hacks like Richard J. Daley or Dan Ryan (the woods, along with the expressway). That is, not unless their families are willing to let the government have what was left of their campaign war chests at the moments of their deaths.

It was just earlier this year that county officials put the name of George Leighton (one of the first African-American judges in Cook County) on the Criminal Courts building in the Little Village neighborhood.

But now, it seems that corporate entities could have their names put on the lobby, or other portions of the building.

Or if you have some real money to spend, you could get your name put on an entire forest preserve.

PERSONALLY, IF I had large amounts of money I could waste, I would want to buy a piece of Daley Plaza. I’m not greedy. I don’t want the whole plaza.

I just want the little square portion upon which sits the famed Picasso statue. Just think – the Picasso at Chicago Argus court, in Daley Plaza! It’s definitely a mouthful, and totally ridiculous-sounding.

Yet that’s the direction our county government is considering – all in the name of feeling desperate for cash to keep the county up-and-running.

Although it should be pointed out that it’s not just Cook County taking actions in the name of finance. It was just last week that the Illinois House of Representatives passed a measure meant to bolster the amount of money in state coffers.

NO, I’M NOT referring to the sequel of casino expansion (although that was done solely for the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars coming to the state). I’m talking about the proposed tax increase on packages of cigarettes.

If this measure actually gets past the Illinois Senate this week and Gov. Pat Quinn sometime this summer, the price of a pack would go up by $1.

I realize this increase is being justified to raise money desperately needed to maintain healthcare for low-income people. Anything that improves healthcare quality and access is a good thing.

It’s just that I wonder how far can political people go in terms of boosting tobacco-product taxes before they become too expensive to purchase. Not that it would bother me – I always thought of smoking as a tacky, smelly habit.

BUT AT WHAT point does this kind of increase become self-defeating by reducing the numbers of people who actually purchase cigarettes?

Or is nicotine truly so addictive that people will feel compelled to pay whatever price gets put on two-pack-a-day habit? I can’t help but think that we’d be encouraging people to cheat themselves out of something else in order to afford their tobacco fix – which just sounds like it creates so many problems.

Somehow, I suspect that the only people who will benefit from this change (if it becomes law) are the manufacturers of those generic brands of cigarettes – who will be able to offer a lower-base price.

That, and maybe those tacky little storefronts on the Indiana side of State Line Road – the ones that have their huge signs advertising “cheap smokes” along with firecrackers and all the generic flavors of pop you could want to guzzle down your throat while attending a picnic held at Little Caesar’s Pizza forest preserve!


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