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July 2011

They Run for the Money

  Have you noticed how quickly Illinois politicians move when it comes to raising taxes or fees?

  Take the Illinois Tollway Authority, for example, and how speedily it "closed" this week's decision to nearly double the rates drivers pay to use the system's highways.

  Board Chairman Paula Wolfe reminded me that her members had considered a toll increase to fund a $12 billion capital program since early 2010. 

  But public hearings on the 87.5% proposed hike did not begin until August 18th and the series of 15 sessions were crammed into the next five days ending on August 23rd.

  Incredibly, the Board met  two days later on the morning of August 25th to "vote" its approval of the 15-year program as if the members had given any real study or consideration to the public testimony, most of which was orchestrated by self-interested labor unions and roadbuilders.

  While covering what critics called the "done deal" at the Tollway's palatial Downers Grove headquarters, I could not help but think of the Chicago Public School Board's decision a day earlier to approve a "maximum-allowed" increase in the city property tax.

  On August 5th, only one week after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicagoans were being "nickeled and dimed" by taxers, the CPS Board appointed by the Mayor proposed raising property taxes.  The new levy would cost the owner of an average home ($250,000) an additional $84 a year.  The increase would generate $150 million dollars of the district's projected $712 million deficit.

  Taxpayers barely had a chance to see the CPS budget on line, let alone on paper, before public hearings were scheduled five days later on August 10th, 11th and 12th. 

  Emanuel's Board voted and approved the tax increase unanimously August 24th. 

  Whew!

  The Tollway Authority and Chicago School Board may have learned from the "clinic" Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the democratic legislative leaders held earlier this year on "the need for speed".

  Remember last January when the General Assembly reconvened for its "lame duck" session? 

  In a scant 48 hours ending before dawn on Jan. 12th, the democratic-controlled House and Senate had raised the Illinois corporate and personal income tax rates only hours before new members could be seated.  The next day, January 13th, the Governor signed the bill, which was retroactive to January 1st.

  Cha-ching!!!

  Taxpayers never knew what hit 'em.

   Keep in mind that high-speed taxation is happening in Illinois as newly-elected state and city "reform" politicians use the word "transparent" to describe their new modus operandi.

  Its transparent, all right.

  Taxpayers should see right through it.

 

 

07/31/2011

Dismantling Chicago's "Duocracy"

  For over two decades, two guys ran the show at Chicago City Hall:

  A Mayor and a Chairman.

  A Boss and a slightly-less-powerful Underboss.

  The long-rumored power sharing agreement between Richard M.Daley and Edward Burke has been all but laid bare by developments during the early weeks of Rahm Emanuel's term as Daley's successor.

  While "Boss" Daley decided not to run for a seventh term, "Underboss" Burke-- the City Council Finance Committee Chairman and Chicago's longest-serving Alderman--is in a white-knuckle struggle to hang on to control of the city's legislative branch as well as the perks that have come with it.

  Court documents revealed that Daley always had the authority to remove Burke's police bodyguard detail, something the former mayor did not do for all of his 22 years in office. (The 4-6 bodyguards--initially assigned to protect Burke 24-7 during the 1980's "Council Wars"--have since cost Chicago taxpayers untold millions of dollars)

  But the most outrageous evidence of a Daley/Burke deal was uncovered last week with revelations that Alderman Burke's daughter has worked "under the radar" in the City Law Department for the past five years.

  We learned that 41 year old Jennifer Burke is a $99,948 supervisor in the Law Department only after she was nominated by Governor Pat Quinn for a $117,000 a year membership on the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

  Quinn, who was loaned $200,000 by Burke's campaign fund and accepted a $50,000 donation from the Alderman, insists the money had nothing to do with the appointment.

  Aldermen I interviewed, including chairmen of major council committees, were unwaware that the Finance Chairman's daughter worked in the Law Department. There, presumably, her computer password gave her access to the most sensitive information about city-related lawsuits, personnel matters, contracts, police internal affairs, etc. etc.

  Ever heard the saying "information is power"?

  Ms. Burke was hired in 2006 by Daley's ever-loyal Corporation Counsel Mara Georges and surely the Mayor was aware of Ms. Burke's familial connections.

  Inside job?

  I wonder what Mayor Emanuel's newly-appointed Corporation Counsel Steve Patton thought when he found out that Jennifer Burke's daddy had a big office downstairs...and that pops is the same Ed Burke who supported Gery Chico's campaign against Rahm Emanuel in the mayoral election.

  For the new administration, having Jennifer Burke leave the Law Department is a proverbial "no brainer".

  But as Rahm surveys City Hall he has to be thinking...where are the rest of Burke's people holed up?