Go to ABC7Chicago.com

abc7chicago.com blogs
Read more ABC7 blogs


- Chicago news

« January 2010 | Main | March 2010 »

February 2010

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.




You Gotta See this...

  Forwarded to me by my colleague Ben Bradley:

  If you think the Illinois Democratic Party's lieutenant governor situation is screwed up, take a look at how the Republican Party's 27 year old candidate for the same office, Jason Plummer, performed on WTTW-TV Thursday night:


  You cannot make this stuff up!






Poll: Giannoulias Leads Kirk

    The latest independent DailyKos/Research 2000 poll on the Illinois U.S. Senate Race shows that despite his campaign's bravado, Mark Kirk has an uphill battle ahead in a decidedly democratic state.  The poll, which has a liberal-leaning reputation, suggests that Kirk's initial approach to voters is not showing much progress.   But with nine months until the November general election, there's still plenty of time for his campaign to shift its focus to more pressing issues facing Illinois.

   Among 600 likely voters surveyed between February 22-24, democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Treasurer leads the 10th District U.S. Congressman by a significant 43-36% margin.  The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

  Kirk's republican surrogates have spent virtually every day for the past three weeks trying to link the democratic candidate to financial problems at the Giannoulias family-owned Broadway Bank.    This reporter gets several e-mails a day suggesting new "angles" on the "scandal" and Giannoulias' alleged refusal to answer questions about his work as the bank's chief loan officer before his election as Treasurer in 2006.

  Its the same strategy that Giannoulias' opponent David Hoffman used during most of the democratic primary.  Hoffman kept grinding away at the supposed ethics issue but never connected with most voters, who judging by their support for Giannoulias and to a lesser extent Cheryle Jackson, were more concerned about economic issues.

  One more thing:

  The same poll had Governor Pat Quinn leading his republican opponent Senator Bill Brady by a whopping 47-32% margin. 

  Remember...it's still early in the game. 


Cullerton's "Moment of Clarity"

  How about that Illinois Senate vote Wednesday to move the state's primary election from the first Tuesday in February back to when it used to be scheduled on the third Tuesday in March.  

  Eleven months after receiving it, President John Cullerton's chamber heeded the advice of the Illinois Reform Commission which said a primary in the dead of winter so soon after the holidays is a disadvantage to challengers, discourages voter participation and sets up a too-expensive, nine months long general election campaign.  Expect Speaker Michael Madigan's House to pass a similar bill shortly.

  (For history's sake, the primary date was pushed up to the first week in February to jumpstart then-Senator Barack Obama's 2008 democratic primary campaign for President.  The assumption then was that the date would be moved back to March in anticipation of the 2010 primary when voters nominated all of the state's constitutional officers and most of its lawmakers)

  The fact remains that the General Assembly's powers-that-be could have done this last year and made fairer the election three weeks ago.  Former IRC chairman Patrick Collins told me the 2009 non-decision was like "passing an incumbents protection act" in Illinois because the short campaign season favored those already in office and gave Cullerton and Madigan the best chance to sustain their democratic majorities in the Senate and House. 

  Now, think about the candidates who lost close races who could have used another six weeks to get across their messages.  Democrat Dan Hynes and republican Kirk Dillard in their respective primary races for governor are two that come to mind immediately.  Democrats David Hoffman for the U.S. Senate and Raja Krishnamoorthi for Illinois Comptroller were coming on strong near the ends of their campaigns and could have used more time.  And Lord knows how many candidates in local races would have benefited from a more informed and involved electorate. 

  Those close losers February 2nd could be part of the "collateral damage" wrought by Cullerton and Madigan's selfishness on the election scheduling issue.

  And they want us to believe they act in our best interests?


Show Us The Money!

   Illinois Senator Bill Brady, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for governor, is being pressured on two fronts to provide details of how he would resolve Springfield's $12.8 billion budget deficit without including an increase in the state's individual and corporate income tax rates.

  Like all the candidates in his party's primary campaign, Brady opposed and continues to oppose a tax increase. 

  "The state cannot afford to raise taxes", said Brady.  "Everytime you do it, you lose businesses and jobs".

  Then, the Bloomington home builder took it one step farther, "We need to lower taxes".

  This week Chicago's Civic Federation, whose membership includes the CEO's of many of the city's largest corporations, recommended a tax increase from the current 3% to 5% for individuals and from 4.8% to 6.2% for businesses.  The watchdog group also recommended an additional $2.5 billion in spending cuts, a new tax on retirement income and pension reforms under which newly-hired state employees would receive fewer benefits payable at an older age.

  On Brady's claim that he could balance the budget without a tax hike, Civic Federation President Lawrence Msall said "We need to see the details.  We'd love to see what (his) plan is to balance the budget".

  Msall said any attempt to eliminate the deficit using spending cuts alone would mean drastic reductions to state aid to public education, causing dramatic increases in local property taxes to make up the difference.

  Illinois Senate President John Cullerton issued a more direct challenge to Brady: "He wants to be the governor during the fiscal year that we're voting on a budget, so put the budget in.  Put it in.  I'll even help him, then he can defend it".

  Cullerton also noted that his colleague Brady will be the first sitting Illinois lawmaker since 1904 to run for governor in a general election and has a seat "at the table" as budget negotiations continue. 

  "Maybe he's been a back bencher and hasn't really been looking at this as evidenced by his comments during the campaign."



What's Quinn Waiting For?

  How many times during the primary campaign did we hear Governor Pat Quinn say that after election day (February 2nd), he would re-start his effort to get a tax increase approved by the general assembly?  Quinn has insisted for nearly a year that new revenue is absolutely necessary as part of any plan to balance the state's reported $11-13 billion dollar deficit.

  So here we are, nearly three weeks after voters nominated Quinn to run for a full term, and the Governor has barely said a word about a tax increase bill.  At one point during the campaign he said he hoped such a measure would have been passed by the end of March.

  Instead, all that Quinn has asked lawmakers to do is delay the date of his budget address until March 10th.  The Governor says he wants the additional time so that Illinois taxpayers can "learn" about the "obstacles facing our state" beginning February 24th on a website www.budget.illinois.gov  Presumably, visitors also would be able to "weigh in" with their comments and concerns about the state's screwed up finances. 


  Clearly, part of the delay has something to do with the new "transparency" craze I wrote about last week.  But what advantage is there to having Illinoisans find out they are a billion or two more in in the tank than they were at this time last year?  Why are the governor and state lawmakers willing to spend five (5) weeks in Springfield after the election ignoring "the 800 pound gorilla" in the Capitol?

  Could it be the governor is having second thoughts?  Will he use the expected deluge of anti-tax e-mails, etc. as a reason to back away from his quest for new revenue? 

  Quinn's democratic party's "boss", House Speaker Michael Madigan has already publicly questioned the need for a tax increase.   The Speaker knows that "no-tax-increase" republicans are prepared to use the issue to not only recapture the governor's mansion but also to reduce or end Madigan's majority in the House of Representatives.

  Meanwhile, the pressure is building on the controlling democrats to do something now.  Chicago's business oriented, fiscally conservative Civic Federation has shockingly announced its support for a 3-5% increase in the Illinois personal income tax rate and a slightly smaller increase in the corporate levy (4.8-6.2%).

  But don't expect Madigan's dems to jump off the tax increase cliff because their adversaries at a republican-leaning business organization tell them its a matter of "do or die".

  The Speaker, the Governor and the rest of the Illinois Democratic Party fear the tax increase issue could be a matter of do and die.




  Yes, Mayor Daley's widely publicized internet solicitation for aldermanic candidates is part of hizzoner's effort to make the selection process transparent.

  As the second decade of the new millenium dawns, the new political buzzword is "transparency".  Mayors, governors, lawmakers and bureaucrats at all levels of government talk about how "open" they are and how they give their constituents unlimited access to the processes of government.

  It sounds sooooo good, doesn't it?

  Daley has to fill two vacancies in the city council.  The First Ward seat is open because former alderman Manny Flores accepted an appointment to become director of the Illinois Commerce Commission.  the 29th Ward council seat was resigned by Isaac Carothers who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.

   In the past, when the vacating alderman wasn't on his way to prison, the mayor would accept the outgoing council member's recommendation for a replacement.

   But no more of that insider stuff. The Mayor wants us to believe that he would consider appointing the replacements from any number of people who would apply on-line for the $110,000 a year jobs. 

  Applicants don't have to worry about being "nobody nobody sent".  No more back room deals.  No more Chicago politics as usual for Daley in 2010 as he prepares himself for a re-election campaign less than a year from now.


   You should see right through it.




Daley's Deal for Taxpayers

  Walking in the Loop this week I saw a bus shelter with a sign advertising Mayor Daley's Property Tax Relief Program.  It beckoned any homeowner who makes less than $200,000 a year, whose property tax bill increased by at least $50, to apply for a one-time cash grant that could range between $25 to $200.

  In the application, remarkably, you don't have to provide proof of income.  Just enclose a copy of your tax bill and a photocopy of an ID with your current address.   Within six to eight weeks, the city will mail recession-weary residents a VISA check card in the amount of their grant.  Its estimated that half the city's 400,000 homeowners will qualify.  They have until March 31st to file their application. 

  That Mayor Daley.  What a swell fellow he is.

  Now comes the cynical me.

  Hizzoner made it very clear during the first minute that he announced the program that it would be paid for with $35 million from the controversial sale of the city's parking meter system.  So if you're a homeowner who accepts Daley's cash, remember where it came from and stop complaining about the lousy deal some critics say the Mayor made to sell the meters.   You just bought into it.

   And any potential Daley challengers out there in the 2011 city elections, listen up:

   It won't be so easy to call the Mayor a "taxer" by saddling him with that $83.4 million dollar property tax increase (the largest in Chicago history) that Daley pushed through the city council to balance the 2008 budget.  

  Hizzoner will respond truthfully that by 2010, he was a "tax-cutter".   Expect "campaign-mode" Daley to remind those 200,000 homeowners (and voters) in Chicago neighborhoods about those VISA cards that showed up a year earlier during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

  Yes, it does appear the Mayor is busy covering his bases...

  ...if he does decide to run in 2011.


Duckworth's Daunting Decision

  If you're Tammy Duckworth and hearing reports that you're on Governor Pat Quinn's "short list" of favored candidates to be selected as Quinn's running mate for the fall election, what do you do?

  Retired U.S. Army Major Duckworth is a bonafide American heroine.  She lost the lower part of both legs and much of the use of her right arm when the helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down in Iraq in 2004.  Two years later, democrat Duckworth lost a close race for the Illinois 6th Congressional District seat to republican Peter Roskam.  Shortly thereafter, she was appointed the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans affairs.   In 2009, President Barack Obama named Duckworth the Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

  So would Duckworth leave one of the top VA jobs in Washington to run for Lieutenant Governor of her homestate? 

   Let's see...as Lieutenant Governor she would go to her office in the capitol building (or the smaller one at Chicago's Thompson Center) and basically wait for Quinn to choke on a chicken bone (as in die) or be indicted (as in Blagojevich).  That's if the ticket wins.

   If Quinn/Duckworth loses in the fall, she'll end up like hundreds of thousands of other vets these days: 


   And perhaps she read yesterday that House Speaker Michael Madigan is personally sponsoring a bill to amend the Illinois Constitution to get rid of the lieutenant governor's office by 2015. 

  This week, Duckworth has not answered our repeated phone calls to find out if she's interested in running for lieutenant governor.

  The smart money says she'll stay put in Washington.




Tax Increase? What Tax Increase?

  A most interesting but under-reported quote came yesterday from the mouth of "his excellency", Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in Springfield as he discussed the state's gigantic ($13 billion) budget deficit:

"That doesn't mean that there has to be a tax increase".

  That's how CapitolFax quoted Madigan in its 4:18am dispatch today.

   Remember that during the past seven months, including during his successful primary campaign, Governor Pat Quinn promised that he and the democratic leaders of the House and Senate would address the state's need for new revenue "after the primary election".  At the very top of Quinn's 2010 legislative wish list has been an increase in the Illinois income tax--with added exemptions, etc. to reduce the burden on the poor and/or homeowners--to generate the additional billions needed to bring the budget into balance.

  Without the Speaker's support, does it mean that the Governor will have to drop his drive for "new revenue"?  Does this mean the republicans have lost their central campaign issue for November?  How will Illinois get the money it needs to operate for the next year?

  Remember that Madigan, Speaker for 25 of the last 27 years, is also chairman of the ruling Illinois Democratic Party.  He, not the governor, is the unquestioned power in state government. 

  Then slowly lift your eyes back to the quote featured near the top of this post. 

   Don't worry that Madigan's words make the Governor's campaign promise look either out of touch or foolish.  

     Madigan is the Boss.



Up Next: 2011 City Elections

  No, its not too early to begin talking about the 2011 Chicago mayoral election.  Hard to believe, but its scheduled to happen on February 22, 2011, only one year and two weeks from today.

  Don't expect Mayor Richard M. Daley to announce whether he'll seek a seventh term until after the November general election.  But in recent days, there have been a few developments that will weigh on whatever decision his hizzoner makes:

Hoffman, Jackson Losses in U.S. Senate Race

  Former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and on-leave Urban League President Cheryle Jackson scored impressive totals in city wards in their losing efforts last week.  Both are poised, if they so desire, to challenge the mayor whose approval rating has fallen into the 35-40% range because of persistent corruption in his administration (Sorich, Sanchez), the 2016 Olympics flameout, budget/tax issues and a widely criticized deal to sell the city's parking meters.   If Daley decides not to run, expect Hoffman and Jackson to be on a long list of contenders.

Gannon Gone

  Despite their legendary fights over Walmart, privatization, McCormick Place, etc. etc., retiring Chicago Federation of Labor boss Dennis Gannon remained Mayor Daley's go-to guy in organized labor.  When Daley needed concessions (furloughs, etc.)from city unions to help balance the city budget, Gannon was an invaluable middle-man between city hall and the locals.  Its not coincidental that days after Gannon announced that he's quitting and "drained", Daley can't reach a deal with CTA unions to avoid 1100 layoffs and dramatic service cuts.  Without Gannon, recalcitrant unions could be a bigger problem for the mayor, especially if the budget situation worsens by next fall.

Fall of Stroger, Carothers

  In 2007, the Mayor swept the African-American wards while winning his 70% citywide majority.  County Board President Todd Stroger's 8th Ward on the South Side and Alderman Isaac Carothers' 29th Ward were pivotal in Daley's success among black voters.   As noted in this post last week, "lame duck" Stroger's 8th is virtually leaderless and in total disarray. Alderman Carothers, whose political army dominated the black west side well beyond the borders of the 29th, pleaded guilty last week to federal corruption charges.  The Mayor will have to rebuild this important part of his base among African-American voters, who can make up anywhere from 45 to 50% of turnout in city elections.

The Mayor Remains the Frontrunner

  If Daley is still Chicago's mayor one day beyond December 25th of this year, he will surpass his late father as the longest-serving mayor in the city's history.  By then, after 20 years and eight months in office, he would have appointed (to fill vacancies) at various times at least 35 aldermen to the city council.  Many of them will be running for re-election themselves during the 2011 campaign season.  The fact is, dozens of aldermen owe allegiance to the Mayor and that always translates to some degree of political advantage.

  Also, remember the 1995 change from a political party primary to a non-partisan election.  That means if a challenger is able to hold Daley below 50% in the first round, he or she would have a one-on-one runoff with the Mayor.  Expensive. 

  And until some candidate proves otherwise, Daley remains the politician with virtually exclusive access to the big donors to city election campaigns.  Not only does he corner money for his own campaign leaving very little for challengers, he has significant influence over which aldermanic campaigns are funded.

  Follow the money.  If Mayor Daley gets it in 2011, he'll be tough to beat.

  If he decides to run.