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June 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.




White Governor's CAN Jump! But Why?

  If there was a most memorable scene during the last week in the Illinois budget battle, it was Governor Pat Quinn locked arm-in-arm, jumping up and down with a couple of demonstrators in Chicago's Humboldt Park.  It was a frenzied, crazed-looking hop-along, the likes of which have never been seen (and certainly never videotaped) in modern Illinois history.  The sight immediately prompted our new intern Steve Saltarelli to wonder out loud "Is this Pat Quinn's Howard Dean moment?" (see below)


   The Governor told reporters he was "jumping for the common good", if that makes any sense.  We can say with some certainty he had no job-related reason to be jumping for joy.   Burdened with a $9 billion deficit, the Governor at this writing still hasn't convinced enough lawmakers to support his call for an income tax increase to help balance the state's budget.   As a result, a so-called “Doomsday Budget” (as the Governor calls the plan recommended by the legislature) will be all that's left for Quinn to sign by the June 30th deadline.   The Governor says among other effects, it would eliminate the home care of 40,000 seniors and programs for the developmentally disabled, cause thousands of foster children to be returned to lives of abuse and neglect, slash the college scholarships of 184,000 students, and leave thousands of victims of sexual assault without support services.


  As an unelected chief executive, Quinn does not have the political muscle a governor builds during a campaign for the office.  He doesn't have the organizational help or money to offer lawmakers who might have re-election trouble if they vote for a tax increase.   So this governor has reverted what he does best:  rally supporters at mass, 1960's style demonstrations.  He has appeared with thousands of social services agency workers and clients at various events in Chicago and Springfield, but made virtually no progress in convincing reluctant legislators, especially in the house, to hop aboard his Tax Increase Express.  And remember that during the special session, a three-fifths majority is needed to pass an increase meaning he'll at least some republican support.  


  And what's worse, by this reporter's count, only a handful of the 28 democrats who rebuffed the governor during the regular session tax vote in May have been "turned around".   The democrat leader, "his excellency" House Speaker Michael Madigan, said he was powerless to convince his majority caucus to support the Governor.   Madigan, whose Attorney General daughter Lisa is mentioned as a possible Quinn opponent in 2010, flatly denies he's intentionally holding back support as a political ploy to make the incumbent look like a failure.


  But a failure is exactly what Quinn is beginning to look like.  There's the distinct possibility that July 1st will dawn without a budget, leaving the governor at the helm of a rudder-less, chaotic state government shutdown...or meekly accepting a one to six-months-long "temporary" spending plan recommended by republicans (and some democrats) that will make him look so very ineffective.  And with the democratic primary looming less than eight months away, it will be that much more difficult for a damaged Quinn to raise money to fend off the ambitious Lisa Madigan, who "hasn't made up her mind" to run for Governor or U. S. Senator.  Right.


  And a couple of Quinn's fellow democrats this week rushed to the front of the line to publicly question the governor's competency.  Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes issued a statement questioning the governor's budget strategies, suggesting the temporary budget approach.   And Rep. Jack Franks (D-McHenry) wrote in a statement that Quinn "has failed to show the bold leadership required at this critical juncture in our history".  

  On the Howard Dean observation:  Dean was the former, six-term New Hampshire Governor who ran for the democratic party presidential nomination in 2004.  He was leading in the polls until during an excited moment at a campaign event, shouted a bizarre, out-of-nowhere shriek (eeeeeee-yaaahhhh!!!!) that marked the end of any notion that he was presidential timber.


  Was Quinn's "Humboldt Hop" the beginning of his end?   Stay tuned.

Quinn Jumping