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Repubs won’t face up, and nobody has seen Lisa’s face

Monday, Jun 29, 2009

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column takes on the politics of the budget

Every Republican governor this state has had for the past 40 years has raised taxes.

Republican legislators and most of their leaders always have been involved with those tax hikes.

So, it’s probably not fair that nobody bats an eye when every Republican candidate for governor - announced and unannounced - is allowed by the media to get away with saying that taxes shouldn’t be raised to balance the state’s horribly deficit-ridden budget.

But, that’s life, I suppose. George Ryan said he wouldn’t raise taxes when he was running for governor, either. The Republican candidate didn’t get a lot of grief for that, even though his public works plan was so big that everybody at the Statehouse figured there was no way to avoid a tax hike.

They were right. Ryan flip-flopped right after he was elected. Taxes went up, and so did fees.

Once again, pretty much everybody at the Statehouse knows that taxes will have to rise in order to balance this massively out-of-whack budget.

Some Republican gubernatorial candidates have talked about various budget “reforms” even though many of those reforms are illusory at best.

Some talk about deep cuts then quickly skip over the intense hardships those cuts would produce.

At least one is talking about borrowing to balance the budget, but the state’s bond rating already has taken multiple hits, and it’s doubtful anybody would want to buy several billion dollars of bonds from a state that cannot show it can responsibly balance its own budget.

Luckily for the Republican candidates, taxes almost assuredly will have been raised by the time next year’s fall election rolls around.

And the Republican candidates who now are state legislators will not be forced to vote for a tax increase this year because they belong to the minority party, so a handful of others in their party likely will be obliged to take the plunge.

What likely will happen is that a tax hike will pass long before the campaign even starts to heat up.

And then watch all those candidates pontificate about how they would’ve done things differently. Most also probably will say they’ll roll back those tax hikes, even though that probably won’t be possible until the economy has had a chance to fully recover, whenever that may be.

Surveying all this political posturing, is it any wonder that Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has found it so difficult to convince the Democratic-controlled Illinois House to go along with an income tax hike? That rhetorical question is not, by the way, intended to defend the House Democrats and their leader, Speaker Michael Madigan. They knew what the right thing to do was, and they didn’t do it. I won’t defend that behavior.

And even though I think it’s unfair to let Republican gubernatorial candidates off the hook on the tax issue just because they’re Republicans, I do believe it’s high time Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan comes out of hiding and expresses her views on this crazy mess.

We don’t know for sure as I write this what office Madigan will seek. She could run for governor, she could run for U.S. Senate, she could run for re-election.

We do know, however, that every poll taken in the past year has shown Madigan to be, by far, the most popular politician in this state.

Other statewide Democrats, like Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, have said they were open to a tax hike. Hynes laid out a plan last week, although wholly inadequate, which included major cuts, expanded riverboat gaming and an expansion of the sales tax to some “luxury” services.

But Madigan has been mum. She said months ago that a tax hike would hurt people who already were hurting, yet she’s been silent ever since. A group of protesters opposed to massive budget cuts marched to her Springfield office last week to try and get an answer out of her. No luck.

If the Republican candidates are being irresponsible, well, that goes double for Madigan. As the most likely of all candidates to win whatever office she seeks, she owes us all an explanation of her views on this crisis.

Come out of hiding, attorney general. The sooner the better.

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


The Blagojevich=Quinn meme spreads, and a budget roundup

Monday, Jun 29, 2009

* Lots of stories comparing Pat Quinn to Rod Blagojevich over the past few days. Here are some…

* Hynes Hines: Echoes of Rod

* Crain’s: Mr. Quinn borrowed a page from predecessor Rod Blagojevich by spinning a doomsday scenario of social services cutbacks if lawmakers don’t approve his tax hike.

* Tribune: Seeds of mistrust between the legislature and the governor’s office flowered during the antagonistic reign of Rod Blagojevich. But they have resurfaced under new Gov. Pat Quinn, whose budget comments are ever-evolving.

* Erickson: Last year, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich publicly threatened to cut funding for 4-H programs and then reversed course just four days later. He did the same thing earlier in his audacious tenure when he threatened to close prisons in Vandalia, Pontiac and Stateville. For now, millions of Illinoisans who rely on state services must watch the annual debacle unfold again and worry.

* GateHouse: When former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached in January, there was hope at the Capitol that things would run more smoothly. But with the start of a new fiscal year quickly approaching, Illinois is still without a budget.

* Rep. Jack Franks: It was a “my way or the highway” approach that Blagojevich used in an attempt to bully the legislature to his will. And it failed miserably. Thankfully, he was removed from office. Unfortunately, Team Blagojevich was not, and so Illinois finds itself on the brink of a man-made disaster – its abysmal fiscal condition coupled with a lack of a plan for balancing our state budget. The same team that created programs that the legislature never approved is now pushing Gov. Quinn to continue funding these programs.

* The SJ-R has a slightly different take: Nobody can accuse you of being Blagojevich. You’ve been in Springfield working on the budget. You’re still the only elected official under the dome who has proposed a full, balanced budget. Blagojevich is gone. The result is still the same: Gridlock. Cowardice. Avoidance of tough decisions. What does that tell us about legislators? Hit the accelerator, governor. Drive right at them. All that’s at stake is our state.

* Meanwhile

Quinn has given conflicting details on what he ultimately will do if lawmakers don’t come up with more money by Wednesday. He’s adopted various income-tax increase plans in trying to find one that will sell with lawmakers, including switching from a permanent hike to a temporary one and reducing the rate on corporations. He’s pledged to make drastic cuts in services, then countered by saying he would never let that happen. He’s predicted massive layoffs in state government, then scaled back.

“As much as we know this guy, we don’t know him. He has changed every week,” said Sen. Donne Trotter of Chicago, who is the lead budget negotiator for Senate Democrats. “This is a dance, and everyone’s trying to get to know each other.”

* Two former governors offer advice

“The key is, I remember in ‘91 one of the things we thought helped us was finally, by about the third week in July, the members, the rank and file, wanted to go home. They’d seen all the movies and played all the golf they wanted to play and eaten enough at all the restaurants. They were really tired,” Edgar said.

“It was an interesting phenomenon. You could just tell the rank and file finally just started beefing so much I think the leaders - knew they needed to get something resolved.” […]

“I don’t know why the governor would sign the budget they gave him and then make all these horrendous cuts,” Thompson said.

But if Quinn does sign it, Thompson said he’d take it for what it is, a six-month plan, and not a real budget.

* Doug Whitley offers a word of caution

The risk for Republicans is that they’ll be tangled up in a budget crisis that, so far, has largely been the responsibility of the Democratic majority.

Even if they get many of the changes they want, Republicans could share in the blame if the stalemate drags on all summer and ultimately produces an unpopular tax increase and painful service cuts.

“By winning on the intellectual component of budgetary discussions, they risk the Democrats outflanking them on the political message,” said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

* More disagreement

The governor signed SB 1609, allowing the state to refinance debt. According to House Democrats, the plan would take advantage of a 4 percent interest rate and save $600 million next fiscal year. It would save $237 million over the life of the bonds.

The bill has been tied to the legislature’s version of a bare bones budget, which has been dubbed the “50 percent budget” because it would fund human services at half the level proposed by the governor.

But Quinn’s spokeswoman Libby White said this afternoon: “There’s no link between the two. This was our bill that was a part of the governor’s original budget proposal.”

* The Daily Herald editorial board is starting to see reality

The reality is, the state’s financial problems run so deep that they cannot be fixed with spending cuts alone. By one estimate, the entire state work force could be laid off and that still wouldn’t come close to erasing the $24 billion budget deficit.

By one estimate? OK, I won’t nitpick.

* Um, Fran, I did live in Cook County.

* Related…

* ADDED: $3.5 million cut could cost $2 billion

* ADDED: Cullerton Urges Colleagues To “Consider” The Senate Tax Plan

* Illinois Student Assistance Commission approves plan for student aid cuts

* Governor signs bill to refinance debt

* Could budget cuts spur crime in Peoria?

* Historic forts await word on state budget

* Politics as usual becomes nightmare

* Senate Dems have budget solution

* Ill. budget crisis should rule out business as usual

* Lawmakers look to pension system to help balance budget

* Quinn’s policies hurt those he says he wants to help

* PJStar: Illinois kicks disabled out of wheelchairs - again

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


Morning shorts

Monday, Jun 29, 2009

* Mourners gather to honor Chicago broadcaster John Callaway

* Burke helped pals with city deals

Ald. Edward M. Burke wrote a letter in his official capacity that helped a client of his law firm win City Council approval to develop a blighted stretch of land near Midway Airport.

It’s the second time Burke has written such a letter so someone he’s done business with could get a zoning change from City Hall. After writing those letters, Burke abstained from voting on both cases to avoid any conflicts of interest.

* Fire city Human Resources commissoner, inspector general says

Chicago’s inspector general wants Human Resources Commissioner Homero Tristan fired for allegedly violating court-ordered political hiring rules, according to a report filed in federal court Friday.

Tristan failed to report — and later lied about — receiving a Jan. 29 request by Southwest Side Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) for a more favorable job assignment for one of his constituents, acording Inspector General David Hoffman’s report.

That directly violated a Jan. 2008 court order that requires the city Human Resources Department to report to the federal hiring monitor any contact it has with elected officials regarding hiring, Hoffman said.

“The commissioner’s changing stories and questionable credibility in this situation mean that it will be difficult to have confidence” future decisions will be handled in an “honest and appropriate fashion,” the report states.

* City code problems found at Daley nephew’s warehouse

“If the city knew there were code violations, why was the city operating out of the building,'’ Basselen says. “The city was utilizing a building they themselves said wasn’t up to code.'’

They have yet to correct the landscaping code violations that City Hall wanted Basselen, their tenant, to take care of.

* Taxpayers last to pay if Olympics loses cash: Daley

Mayor Daley said Saturday he wants a deal in which private insurance money would be tapped before public money if an Olympic Games in Chicago suffered any losses.

Daley previously had said he wanted a provision ensuring that $2.5 billion in public and private insurance and guarantees would be exhausted before taxpayers would be on the hook.

But that $2.5 billion already includes a $500 million guarantee against operating losses, approved by the City Council.

Now Daley is saying that the city’s portion of the $2.5 billion should be the last to be tapped.

* Daley: Chicago Olympics won’t cost taxpayers

“I would never take members of this City Council for granted, the taxpayers or anyone. I don’t know why people are trying to get this impression. I hope you stop that,” Daley said.

* Taste of Chicago Plays Role in Selling Olympics

The crowds at Taste of Chicago can meet Olympic athletes and see what the Games would look like here. Valerie Waller is with Chicago 2016.

WALLER: We’re just looking to make sure we have the opportunity to touch as many of the citizens of Chicago as possible, and talk about the bid, answer questions they might have and let them show their support for Chicago bringing the games here.

* Contractors fined for women, minority hiring failures

Castle Construction Co. — a clout-heavy firm charged with cheating minority subcontractors on city projects — has also had problems meeting hiring goals set by Mayor Daley’s Public Building Commission.

Over the years, the commission has withheld more than $680,000 as “liquidated damages” from Castle for failing to hire enough women, minorities and Chicagoans as laborers, apprentices and journeymen to build five police stations, a library and a school.

Castle has been among the commission’s most heavily penalized contractors since the mayor took office 20 years ago. Over that time, the commission says it has withheld more than $3.5 million from 54 contractors who didn’t hire enough Chicagoans, women and minorities, and $169,166 from eight contractors who shortchanged minority and women subcontractors.

* CPS needs solutions to teacher turnover

* Half of city teachers quit each five years, says report

In a study released Monday morning, U of C researchers found that while turnover in schools with “the best working conditions” averages just 10% over five years, it hit a near-total 76% in 13 high schools where teachers have little relationship with parents, may not feel safe and “do not look forward to teaching every day.”

Of the 13 high schools with chronically low stability, 11 serve predominantly African-American students, and the other two a combination of blacks and Hispanics.
Results were similar among 84 elementary schools with similar demographics.

Overall, the study found, CPS loses teachers at a rate of 20% a year, compared with 16% nationally. While the difference sounds small, “Those losses add up over time and create obstacles for sustaining new initiatives and staff training,” the consortium report says. And, the loss is concentrated among just a fraction of Chicago’s 538 elementary and 118 high schools.

* MillerCoors chief, Daley toast firm’s HQ move to town

* Metropolis 2020 may disband

George Ranney Jr., president and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020, said that while the group has made no final decision, “we’re looking at all the choices we’ve got,” including going out of business now or in a few years, or merging with another organization.

“We have no plan to disband at this point, but we’ve always intended to operate for about 10 years,” said Mr. Ranney, who founded the group in 1999. “We’re always mindful of that, and we’re looking to the future.”

Mr. Ranney said the group has a budget of $3 million a year, and there is no sign it faces financial difficulty.

* The slaughter rule

The dairy markets at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are forecasting a more than 50 percent hike in wholesale milk prices by late 2010. Many analysts think prices will double over that time.

However, changes in the futures markets do not extend dollar-for-dollar to grocery shelves. Wholesale milk futures at the Merc are down about 50 percent over the last 12 months, but the Consumer Price Index has seen retail milk fall about 18 percent in that time, said Alan Levitt, an analyst who writes the Daily Dairy Report for the Merc. He said raw milk accounts for about a third of the costs to get the product to the store.

Current prices are below costs for many farmers, so expectations are that herds will be culled. The National Milk Producers Federation is paying dairies to slaughter 103,000 cows over the next few weeks.

* The Gummy Bear Index

While sales of almost everything else are tanking, candy sales are reported to be soaring. It’s not hard to guess why: People are taking refuge from the economic storm in the elemental pleasure of a Snickers bar, a 100 Grand bar or a bag of Skittles. If they can’t have a payday, they at least have a PayDay.

A quick glimpse at the Gummy Bear Index would tell you all you need to know about the country’s collective despair or joy.

* Frugal readers drive up library circulation 30%

Here’s a silver lining in the economic recession — Chicago Public Library circulation has spiked 30 percent in the past year.

“People are realizing, ‘Why should I buy my books, my CDs — I can get it free at the library,’ ” Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey said Saturday, speaking at the dedication of a new library in Beverly.

* Economic bust won’t deter July 4 booms

Central Illinoisans won’t be worried about the economic downturn — at least not while the stars and stripes burst overhead.

Even as city governments make crippling cutbacks, community groups are making sure Fourth of July festivals remain fully funded.

* For modest earners, relief repaying student loans

* 4 officers indicted in 2006 alleged inmate beating

- Posted by Mike Murray   4 Comments      


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« NEWER POSTS
* Good morning!
* Final thoughts before calling it a night
* *** UPDATED x3 - Script *** Quinn airs radio ad of Rauner joking about being "scared" of four African-Americans
* Karen Lewis endorses Chuy Garcia for mayor
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* Yesterday's blog posts

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