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July 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.




Floppin' into Favor

It's a Pat Quinn "flip-flop" that even Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan loved:  the governor's office says he has decided to sign the $29 billion capital bill approved by the General Assembly last spring.


Quinn had vowed for months never to sign the capital bill without an operating budget that included an income tax increase to help resolve the state's $9 billion deficit.   The deadline for the 2009/10 spending plan passed on July 1st with the Governor and GA locked in the mother of all stalemates.


(FYI:  The capital budget pays for construction projects, i.e. roads, bridges, schools, etc.; the operating budget pays for the day-to-day conduct of government and grants to social service providers.)


The Governor's change of heart on the capital bill, which promises hundreds of thousands of public works jobs, was announced fewer than 48 hours after Attorney General Lisa Madigan (the Speaker's daughter) told reporters she would not challenge Quinn in February’s 2010 democratic primary.  Union bosses in the construction trade, longtime allies of Lisa's daddy, had been waiting in the wings with money and troops to support her candidacy.  Naturally, as soon as Lisa said she was staying put as AG, the incumbent made his move on the recession-weary, job-hungry unions. 


It’s a flip-flop that could pay huge dividends for Quinn in next year's primary if he is anointed organized labor's candidate of choice. Additionally, the turnabout may have won Quinn a few more votes in the GA if a tax increase measure comes up in the near future—after pleasing both republican and democratic members of the House and Senate who had demanded for weeks that the governor not tie his signature on the capital bill to the passage of a tax increase.


Oh, and one more thing to remember about the capital bill:  its construction projects would be financed in large part by fees and taxes on 45,000 video poker machines to be licensed in thousands of Illinois bars and restaurants. One anti-gambling group estimated it would take 60 full-sized riverboat casinos to accommodate that many slot machines.

Good luck.



Father Knows Best

Attorney General  Lisa Madigan made only one choice this week:  She decided not to run for a United States Senate seat from Illinois.  It's a job she never really wanted because the travel demands would wreak havoc on her young family, and the former state senator has previously indicated she doesn't like the working life of a legislator.

Her other "decision", not to launch a campaign for governor—the office for which she's been groomed—was actually made FOR Madigan by political and family circumstances beyond her control.

  Lisa's father is longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the state’s Democratic party.   By consensus, Mike Madigan is the single-most powerful player in Springfield.   After 39 years in the House and nearly three decades as Speaker, he is renowned for his low profile and rarely "speaks" to reporters.  But when Madigan does, he likes to remind us that he was one of the first and most outspoken critics of Rod Blagojevich and that it was his chamber that passed the article of impeachment that led to the former governor's ouster.

But with Pat Quinn now residing in the Governor's mansion, not much appears to have changed in Springfield.  Blagojevich era dysfunction is as rampant as ever, with Madigan unable or unwilling to get his party's majority on the same page regarding the state's $9 bilion deficit.  And the Speaker, in another throwback to the Blago years, has resorted to name-calling.

Earlier this month he criticized the governor's negotiation style, describing Quinn as a "flip-flopper".  (The Governor says he changes positions during budget talks with legislative leaders like Madigan as an act of compromise—one that never seems to work)

On July 3rd, State Senator James Meeks, proclaiming he is not afraid of the all-powerful state party boss, said Madigan puts politics over the common good and has been "part of the problem" in Illinois government.  In off-the-record conversations, I have spoken to well over a dozen other state lawmakers who share that view.

That brings us back to the Attorney General's "decision" not to enter the Governor's race.   If, as one poll indicates, she could beat the unelected Quinn in the democrat primary next February, it would not be the "free ride" her party boss father would prefer.  A Quinn/Madigan tilt for the nomination would be a bitter, expensive (for Madigan), and divisive intra-party battle.

But the bigger question is, could Lisa Madigan beat a credible republican candidate in November, 2010?  With her father still in control of the House and his profile raised by the Blagojevich impeachment and the persistent budget mess, the "daddy factor" could become a major issue in the race.  Voters would be asked if they want two-thirds of their state government controlled by Madigans.    I can see the GOP "Royal Family" attack ads already.

Bottom line:  Lisa Madigan didn't run for governor because there's a chance she can't win.    At least not now...with the REAL power in the House of Madigan making so much news.