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May 2009

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. 


  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.


  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.




The Audacity of Civility

  Perhaps you noticed in our ABC-7 coverage of President Obama's speech at Notre Dame Sunday, our videographer intentionally avoided shooting the large placards held by many of the anti-abortion demonstrators who ringed the South Bend campus.   During the past 15-20 years, the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League has used enlarged photos of dead fetuses to make its point.   The photos are some of the most graphic images of death you'll ever see outside of a medical examiner's file.  A few years ago, it was reported that many of the images were actually hospital photos of stillborn as opposed to aborted fetuses.

  As he leaned on one such grotesque prop, League founder Joe Scheidler told me the movement decided many years ago the placards had proven their effectiveness in convincing the public that "abortion is murder".   He cited the most recent Gallup Poll that indicated for the first time since such surveys have been taken a majority of Americans (52%) identified themselves as "pro-life" on the issue.

  Enter the nation's 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama, into the fray.  Obama is, and always has been resolutely "pro-choice" on abortion.   He agrees with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, that upholds a woman's right to choose.  So why would he accept the invitation to adress the commencement excercise at this most Catholic University and aggravate a nearly four decades old American wound?  Notre Dame's president, the Reverend Father John Jenkins, announced from the podium Sunday that the institution has not wavered in its support for church doctrine on the issues of abortion and stem cell research.

  Obama says he came here not to announce a personal change of heart or to ask anyone here to change their position on abortion.  His simple plea was for a return to civility in the abortion debate.  "How do we remain firm in our principles and fight for what we consider right without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?" the President questioned.

  Still, there were a few hecklers in the audience who crudely interrupted the holder of the nation's highest elective office during his speech.  And those with the bloody placards just outside the campus boundaries, who did not immediately hear Obama's plea, spoke wildly about the President being the biblical "Anti-Christ".  Scheidler told me "Abortion is the one non-negotiable situation.  We can't compromise on it". 

  Scheidler left South Bend Sunday convinced that the anti-abortion movement in the United States was re-energized by the controversy at Notre Dame.  The President left with hope that a more reasoned, less graphic and civil approach to the debate might lead both sides to common ground. 


"Politricks" 101

    Its the newest addition to the Chicago political lexicon:  "Politricks".

    Its the word used by the Reverend Steve Jones of the Baptist Pastors Conference who spoke at a news conference held to defend County Board President Todd Stroger's veto of an ordinance to repeal the one penny increase in the Cook sales tax.  Jones spoke as he stood alongside Stroger at Provident Hospital, one of the county public healthcare facilities the president has threatened to close if commissioners override his veto and re-affirm last week's repeal vote.

   In a post earlier this week, I reported that in the wake of a recent hiring scandal, several "had-it-up-to-here" Stroger allies on the county board suddenly flip-flopped on the tax issue without giving the president any notice.  The turncoats included Finance Committee Chairman/Mayoral Brother John Daley and president pro-tem Joseph Mario Moreno.  Hmmm.  Nice trick.  They made it a nicer trick for themselves by calling for a vote (12-3 to repeal) fully knowing that two traditionally pro-Stroger commissioners (Sims and Collins) were absent that day. 

  But Daley, Moreno and the others, who supported the sales tax increase two years ago, are not the only ones playing "politricks" these days.  Where are the ministers who regularly defend Stroger and the public health system from threatened cuts?  The only ones to show up at Provident were Davis and another guy I'd never heard of.  What?  No Brazier, Phleger, Hatch, Acree, Trotter, Sampson, Turner, etc. etc?  Have they abandoned Todd, too?  Sure looks like it.

  And what about the "leaker" in Eugene Moore's Recorder of Deeds office, who during the height of the controversy, revealed the embarassing news that the president and his wife Jeanine had a nearly 12 thousand dollar lien on their southside bungalow for unpaid federal income taxes?  Coincidence or more "politricks"?

  Several sources who are ranking members of the Cook County Regular Democratic Party told me this week that there is an active effort put in motion by some party big-wigs this month to discourage Todd Stroger from running for re-election in the 2010 party primary.   They don't believe he could beat an average republican nominee and that his very presence on the primary ballot could affect other democrat races.  And with Stroger still talking about running in the election barely nine months away, some of the most powerful dems are down to playing hardball.  Or, as some folks call it...




  Poor Todd Stroger.  He never saw it comin'.

  Four of his staunchest allies on the Cook County Board:  Commissioners John Daley, Joseph Mario Moreno, Joan Murphy and Roberto Maldonado have hung the beleaguered president "out to dry".  The democrat "regulars", who in 2007 supported Stroger's controversial one cent per dollar sales tax increase, suddenly "flipped" last week without giving the president the slightest advance notice.  They joined democrat "reformers" and republicans in a vote to repeal the tax effective January 1, 2010.  (that's about five weeks before the primary election)

  Stroger says the repeal would leave a $300 million dollar hole in the budget that would cause the shutdown of virtually all of the county's public health clinics as well as Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals.  He also predicted the Sheriff and State's Attorney's offices would be cut, threatening public safety.  After initially announcing that he intended to veto the repeal, a day later Stroger said he might let the vote stand to force the anti-tax commissioners to explain the eminent closures and service reductions to their constituents.

  Meanwhile, Daley and Moreno insisted that despite their votes they still support Stroger.  In what were convoluted, confusing explanations that sounded to this reporter like familiar political bull-bleep, they said the tax repeal and resulting cuts would compel the board to "re-visit" the budget and force the republicans and reformers to accept the reality that revenues still would have to be increased to maintain county services.

  But guess whose photo was on the front pages of both major Chicago newspapers last week looking like the ONLY county politician who wanted to keep the sales tax?  Todd Stroger was definitely set adrift by his democrat buddies and when reporters speculate on the timing, one name comes to mind:

Tony Cole.

  After spending much of his first two years in office trying to explain why county government is not a wasteful, bloated patronage trough for feeding his cronies and family, Stroger admitted he personally hired Cole last November.  The one-time college basketball player with a criminal past was working as a steakhouse busboy when he met the dining president who a few days later put the young man on the payroll as a $48,000 a year "administrative assistant".  Then, after Cole was arrested on a domestic dispute related charge and jailed, the county's chief financial officer (who also happens to be Stroger's cousin) was accompanied to the jail by the president's top aide (a lifelong pal) to bail out Cole.  A few weeks later, Cole is promoted and gets a 27% raise.  Then, incredibly, the county's rising patronage star is arrested AGAIN and the CFO cousin attempts yet another bailout!  President Stroger still hasn't come up with a plausible explanation for the relationships behind the hiring/promotion/bailout of Mr. Cole, who at this writing still lives in a cell at 26th and California.

  But let's set that aside for a moment to ask a more basic question:  Howizzit that during a stifling recession when tens of thousands of law-abiding, Cook County college graduates cannot find work, president Stroger's financially-challenged government made such a questionable hire.  Or let's just say it the way they might be saying it in some of the neighborhoods:

"Wasn't dere a hirin' freeze at da cow-nee?  Wuzzo special 'bout dis guy Cole, anyways?  Hey, who 'sent' Cole?  Nobody?  Is dere sumpin' else goin' on dat we don' know about?"

  Believe it.  Old school pols like Daley, Moreno, Murphy and Maldonado keep their ears to the ground.  They hear the chatter and whispers of the folks who count the most on election day.  That's why they're putting distance between themselves and whatever might be going on inside Todd Stroger's inner circle.