Rahm wants to squeeze Chicago eateries for higher permit fees, 2018 budget shows

Rahm wants to squeeze Chicago eateries for higher permit fees, 2018 budget shows

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget proposal includes jacked-up costs for business licenses and stricter noncompliance penalties.

Chicago was Bon Appétit Magazine’s 2017 “Restaurant City of the Year.” It’s a high distinction, but one still that has failed to quell Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s desire to whack the city’s prized food-and-beverage industry.

Included in the mayor’s proposed $8.6 billion budget, according to the Chicago Tribune, are increased fees for restaurant permits and two-year licenses. This uptick, it’s worth pointing out, comes on top of the already steep preliminary costs and risks that come with opening a restaurant in the Windy City.

To absorb this increased burden, restaurants will be forced to compensate in the form of price increases – prices already inflated by the maze of taxes imposed on Chicago eateries. Never mind Chicago’s exorbitant sales tax, the same city venturing to pry more earnings from its restaurateurs currently imposes a restaurant tax as well as a Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority tax in a large swath of the city.

In the budget’s current form, the burden of two-year licenses for the least physically imposing restaurants would remain static, while restaurants that inch closer toward 10,000 square feet risk incurring an increase to $1,650 – up from $1,100.

Typical of Chicago’s obtuse attitude toward business, the city almost seems to believe that the purpose of productive establishments is to feed the bureaucracy’s payroll that monitors them. The necessity of the fee surge, the Tribune says, quoting Emanuel spokeswoman Molly Poppe, is due to the city’s desired addition of 22 new food inspectors.

Chicago’s vibrantly diverse demography has birthed one of the most desirable service industry locales in the country. And the city would benefit tremendously by focusing its efforts on preserving – and expanding – such a rich industry, not strangulating it.

Sadly, lessons offered by the reaction to this year’s failed “soda tax” have not been learned. In addition to the proposed restaurant levies, an amusement tax increase is another one of many cash grabs stuffed into the pending budget.

The attempt to generate revenue by continually tacking on taxes and petty fees is bewildering considering that this course has persistently shown to have precisely the opposite effect. Chicago’s mountain of unpaid debt has exceeded $24 billion. For a city with so much debt, fiscal stability must be recovered by reforming its structural city pension and benefit shortfalls – not repelling the private entities that pay them.

The City Council would be wise to recall the overly burdensome regulations currently affecting the food truck industry. Onerous regulations, costly fines and regular crackdowns have lead to Chicago having around 70 active food trucks, with that number continuing to shrink.

Food trucks have flourished in other cities across the country that have welcomed these small business owners with open arms. Unfortunately, food trucks may prove to be the canary in the coal mine for the greater food industry in Chicago if the city chooses to add new regulations and fees to overly burdened businesses.

When City Council convenes to vote on Rahm’s budget on Nov. 21, they should bear that in mind.

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