We must decide on public spending
Updated: February 6, 2012 8:30AM
Depending on your governmental philosophy, the news of courthouse closures and the reduction of county sales taxes carried grains of both good and bad news.
Cook County officials announced last week they would shut down suburban courthouses on the weekends for bond court, meaning police departments throughout Cook County will have to shuttle everyone they arrest on the weekends to the courthouse at 26th and California in Chicago for bond hearings.
It also means that weekend marriages at the suburban courthouses will be out of the question.
The announced closures came shortly before the Jan. 1 reduction of the county sales tax, half of another planned reduction that will, eventually, wipe out the entire 1 percent sales-tax increase the county imposed a few years ago.
That sales tax increase cost at least a County Board chairman his job and came at a time when the economy was sinking to depths few remembered experiencing. The taxpayer rage was inevitable.
But then, the taxpayer rage is always inevitable when taxes rise. As is the rage when service cuts are implemented because the cost of government is on the rise.
Where lies the answer? People are going to have to decide soon. The cost of public services rarely decrease, unless they’re cut outright, but there’s not a lot of extra money for people to throw around right now. Not with unemployment continuing to hover just around 9 percent nationally.
In that vein, the courthouse closures seem like a good idea. But then, local law enforcement points out, there are hidden costs on the municipal level. Police are going to have to spend more time transporting people they’ve arrested into the city for bond court, potentially running into overtime costs for their officers. The further you are from the city, the more it could cost.
Good for the county, then. Maybe not so good for the towns.
It’s a mirror of the discussion going on nationally. There is much hand-ringing over the rising cost of Medicare and Social Security, programs valuable to our society as a whole, and yet proving to be perhaps more costly than it can bear.
Many seniors depend on the programs for their survival. Pending retirees were told they could count on them. And yet, increasingly, many people ask whether we should continue to pay for them.
We will have to decide what is more important to us, a lowering of our taxes, so that we may better afford to live today, or the provision of social services we often deem necessary to our everyday living and to our own futures.
Can we have every service that we want? How do we determine what we can do without? And can we ever all agree on any one of them? We haven’t been able to so far, and so we try to have it all, at a tremendous cost and debt.
If we can have a serious discussion about this without getting angry at one another and throwing around a lot of childish names, we might find a solution.
But we better decide what we’re going to do quickly. Or we may find ourselves in a hole deeper than we imagine even today.