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March 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. 


  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.




If Looks Could Kill

I saw it about ten minutes into Thursday's exclusive interview with the kinder, gentler Rahm Emanuel.

  If only for a second or two, blood lust flashed in the eyes of Chicago's Mayor-elect, who also happens to be one of America's most practiced political serial killers.  

  All it took to momentarily revive Emanuel's predatory instincts were mentions of the names Luis Gutierrez, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis.

  The three congressmen from Chicago--who supported other candidates in the mayoral campaign--said some really awful things about Emanuel in the process.

  Gery Chico-supporter Gutierrez practically accused the former White House chief of staff of single-handedly de-railing immigration reform during the 21 months Emanuel served President Barack Obama

  What's more, Gutierrez spearheaded the spin that Rahm's alleged inaction caused hundreds of thousands of deportations and countless family breakups during that period.

  African-American lawmakers Rush and Davis--who supported Carol Moseley Braun--charged repeatedly that during Emanuel's congressional career(2002-2008), the northsider sided 128 times against the the Congressional Black Caucus.  How many times did we hear the tale of a heartless Rahm who voted against a "measley" five million dollar grant for drought-stricken sub-Saharan Africans?  

   None of the manufactured mud stuck as Emanuel won by huge margins among black voters and held his own in the predominantly Latino wards. 

   But the hibernating hitman within Emanuel must have been stirred by the attacks as he campaigned for mayor in a city which is at least 65% African-American and Hispanic.

  During the interview yesterday, the mayor-elect downplayed the situation calling the campaign rhetoric "politics", adding that at some point he would "reach out" to Gutierrez, Rush and Davis. 

  But the fact that none of the above has offerred even a private apology to Emanuel is perhaps an ominous sign of trouble on the way.

  As he proved during his 2006 chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Commitee (DCCC), Rahm knows a thing or two about how to take out a House member.  His victims may have been dozens of Republicans five years ago but his well-honed knives will cut through blue as well as red.

  And the seats of Guiterrez, Rush and Davis will be more vulnerable in 2012 after the state is redistricted according to the 2010 census.

  And remember, Mayor Emanuel will be Richard M. Daley "on steroids" when it comes to controlling political money in Chicago.  He's got the cash to field so-called reform candidates for any office in the region.  "Reform" in this usage is Rahm-speak for people who see things the Emanuel way. 

 So imagine Emanuel sitting alone in his office, pondering three photos of former colleagues while fighting that familiar urge.

 If I was a congressman and knew that mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was staring at my image...

 ...I'd make the phone call.


Daley's Disconnect

  Weisdaley The end of Jody Weis' contract as Police Superintendent is more evidence that the transition underway in Chicago city government is anything but seamless. 

 This is not the Mayor Richard M. Daley Chicagoans have known for most of the past 22 years.

  This is not the all-controlling, micro-manager who was aware of his administration's every twitch, unless of course, the F.B.I. and/or the U.S. Attorney's office was involved.

  (Those were the only occasions hizzoner lapsed into his "Gee, I dunno" mode)

  Surely, Daley did know that Weis' $310,000 a year contract ended on March 1st and would have to be extended until Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was inaugurated (May 16th) and could hire a replacement.

  But Daley and wife Maggie spent the last week of February on vacation in the Virgin Islands while the city's top public safety officer's job status remained in limbo. 

  When Weis bailed on Tuesday, it ignited the kind of city hall chaos we have rarely seen since 1989.

Hillard Thank heaven for good soldiers like Terry Hillard, the former Superintendent, who has agreed to come out of retirement to lead the department in the interim. 

  So when did Mayor Daley begin to lose his "mojo"?

  There are some who suggest he began to disengage as long ago as October, 2009 when the city lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

   Certainly, his job perspective changed in the Spring of 2010 when his wife's medical condition worsened.

   Remember, that was around the same time that the Chicago Public Schools' Chief Education Officer quit and the Mayor never named a replacement.  As reported in this space, the 430,000-student school district opened its 2010/2011 academic year without anyone in charge of instruction.

   Next, after Daley announced he would not run for re-election, his CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman suddenly jumped ship in the middle of the first semester.

  And what about the Mayor's "kick-the-can-down-the-road" city budget?

  All agree that Daley and the current city council (which included over a dozen lame-duck members) left the inevitable, really tough decisions on service reductions, tax and/or fee increases to their successors. 

  Richard M. Daley has given this city so much of himself during the past two decades, I guess he deserves the right to loosen his grip on its day-to-day dealings and to prepare for retirement.

  But for a couple of more months, it will take some getting used to not having Daley in complete control.