City Donations To Private Charities Is Bad Public Policy


We here at PublicWatchdog are fans of charity, including all those “charitable” private community organizations which provide a variety of services that (we are told) contribute to the “character” of our community.  Which is why, back in the summer of 2008, we encouraged our readers to make voluntary contributions to the Center of Concern (“A Great Time To Support Our Center Of Concern,” 06/16/08). 

But as much as we support and encourage voluntary private contributions to those private organizations, we oppose with equal vigor the contribution of tax dollars forcibly collected by governmental bodies (like the City of Park Ridge) to those very same organizations.

Why?  Because it is, plainly and simply, bad public policy. 

“Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government,” stated James Madison, as a member of Congress in a speech in the House of Representatives in January 1794.  In 1887, President Grover Cleveland expressed a similar sentiment: “I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan to indulge in benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds…[as] I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”

Both Madison and Cleveland were not opposed to charitable contributions, just to those contributions being made by government from public funds.

But if the City’s 2010-11 budget is passed “as is” following last Wednesday night’s budget workshop, $185,680 will be taken from the pockets of Park Ridge taxpayers during the coming fiscal year and put in the pockets of the Center of Concern, Meals on Wheels, the Brickton Art Gallery, the Kalo Foundation, and a number of other private organizations; and in the pocket of the quasi-private Senior Center.

For those of you who care about things like police and fire protection, and who understand that responsible budgeting often requires hard choices that sometimes call for robbing Peter to pay Paul, that $185,680 represents almost the full cost of two police officers or firefighters.  And it also represents a good chunk of the extra $5 the Council voted to tack onto the annual cost of your vehicle sticker.

Not surprisingly, two of the principal sponsors of this year’s version of that long-standing bad policy are Alds. Don Bach (3rd) and Robert Ryan (5th), both of whom act and sound like they hold the moral high-ground whenever they talk about these kinds of contributions.  Just last Wednesday night Ryan endorsed these kinds of contributions by claiming that “Park Ridge is a caring community” that wants the Council to make these contributions.

But if the residents of Park Ridge really wanted to make these contributions, they could and would have already made them directly out of their own pockets.  The fact that they haven’t raises an important question that underlies the policy positions expressed by Madison and Cleveland:  What’s “moral” about giving somebody else’s money to the charity of your choice, especially when that money is effectively confiscated from those other somebodies by taxation?

Throwing money at these organizations in this way is also dishonest, because it is unrelated to the nature, kind and amount of services each of these organizations provides to Park Ridge residents.

If funding these organizations is truly something a majority of Park Ridge residents wants the City to do with our tax dollars, the honest way to do it would be for the City to contract to pay a specific amount for each unit of service provided to Park Ridge residents; e.g., X dollars for each meal on wheels delivered to a qualified Park Ridge resident, X dollars for each night of housing provided to a Park Ridge resident by the Center of Concern, X dollars for each concert in the park, etc.

Neither those private organizations nor our aldermen, however, are even suggesting that kind of quid pro quo.  That’s because it ultimately requires accountability – both from the organizations to show what they are providing, to whom, and at what cost; and from the aldermen, to show why they are giving our money away, and why they are giving it to some private organizations but not to others.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for that kind of accountability from either group…unless you look good in blue.

Throwing Money To The Wind


On Wednesday we noted how a proposed budget that started Monday night’s City Council Committee of the Whole meeting being $227,000 in the red seemed to get redder as the night wore on and more spending was added.  Wednesday night’s budget workshop, however, made Monday night’s spending spree look tame by comparison, even though the Council claims to now have a “balanced” budget – thanks to a proposed $5 increase in the price of the City vehicle sticker.

We’re not sure how that modest bump in vehicle sticker pricing did that trick, especially since the Council added a variety of new expenses, including the tentative approval of Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach’s proposal to add $165,000 in expenses to address O’Hare expansion issues, including an allowance of $10,000 for “community awareness” and another $105,000 for our very own lobbyist to persuade the FAA, members of Congress, the airlines, etc. to stop running air traffic down the Belle Plaine Corridor.  

The Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And the Council’s conduct proves him right yet again.

For the amnesiacs on the Council and throughout Park Ridge, between 1994 and 2003, the City spent in excess of $1 million of our tax dollars fighting O’Hare and “investing” in an airport down in Peotone, all while a member of the Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”).  That failed to stop O’Hare expansion, and the Peotone “investment” was a total bust.  From 2003 to last year, the two remaining members of SOC (Bensenville and Elk Grove Village) continued to pour money into more legal battles, also without success. 

$50,000 of the budgeted $165,000 is earmarked for “environmental” studies, even though we understand that none of the previous studies of noise and air pollution conclusively attributed dangerous levels of either exclusively to the airplanes flying thousands of feet overhead – as distinguished from, for example, all the ground-level pollutants generated by the vehicle traffic on the Kennedy Expressway to the South, and on the Tri-State Tollway to the West. 

So what makes these guys sitting around The Horseshoe now think that another $165,000 will do what the previous $1 million-plus couldn’t? 

Did anybody stop and think that the $105,000 these guys are budgeting for a lobbyist is probably less than what the City of Chicago’s team of lobbyists spends each year just on U.S.D.A. prime beef at Morton’s and Sam & Harry’s for FAA and Congressional honchos?  Or that the same $105,000 would more than pay for one Park Ridge cop or firefighter?

Taxpayers should at least be grateful that nobody seconded Ald. Robert Ryan’s (5th) proposal to spend $200,000 on fighting O’Hare, with the added money going for legal fees.  Ryan apparently just can’t grasp the fact that all of the court challenges to O’Hare expansion and operations over the years have been spectacularly expensive and equally unsuccessful.

In making their cases for budgeting money to fight O’Hare, Bach ranted about how Park Ridge has “backed down and backed down and backed down” from Chicago and the FAA until it now faces “a crisis of epic proportions,” while Ryan railed about the “environmental degradation” impacting Park Ridge.  Given that kind of demagoguery, we’re surprised they stopped short of issuing dire warnings of higher rates of cancer, tuberculosis and birth defects among our residents because of O’Hare.  That sure would boost our property values, wouldn’t it?

Frankly, earmarking $165,000 to fight O’Hare won’t make or break a $50 million+ budget.  But the flabby/flaccid thinking and the pandering decision-making it reveals calls into question the validity of every other decision these City Council members have made – and will continue to make – in formulating the 2010-11 budget.

If they’re willing to throw $165,000 of our tax dollars to the wind on O’Hare, how much more are they throwing away on other equally misguided frolics?