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Afternoon shorts

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2006

Those kinda weird little Tribune-only “debates” continue with the Democratic primary contenders for treasurer.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary candidates for state treasurer — Alexi Giannoulias and Paul Mangieri — answered questions Monday from the Tribune’s editorial board.

Asked about the state’s underfunded pension system, Giannoulias, a Chicago bank executive, said Illinois needs to look at possible reforms but said he did not know “which ways are most feasible.” Mangieri, Knox County state’s attorney, said the state should instead focus on new revenue sources. He cited as one possibility a proposal by a Downstate lawmaker to auction off a gambling license to help fund the pension system.

The RMMF Blog has a fine farewell to Ben Kinningham. The guy is a rock and he’ll be greatly missed at the Statehouse. Looking forward to the party tonight.

Rick Klau is disappointed with Christine Cegelis’ latest feeble attempts at fundraising.

Some of the numbers are in for the 6th Congressional Democrats. And while I’ve been a supporter of Christine’s in the past, I have to say these numbers don’t look good:

* Raised: $68k
* Spent: $77k
* Cash on hand: $39k
* Debts owed: $39k

Once you subtract debts from cash on hand, the Cegelis campaign has $184.54.

(Emphasis added.)

Here are the latest filed state campaign disclosure reports. Consider this a campaign finance open thread.

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2006

I apologize for the very long set-up, but it’s a wonky issue and we need to look at the arguments first.

These ten state revenue enhancement options come from Voices for Illinois Children.

1 State fees for new construction
New housing construction attracts families and adds students to local schools, creating a need for more classrooms. Over the past 12 months almost 50,000 single family housing construction permits were issued in Illinois. A state-assessed fee of $1,000 per new unit could provide over $50 million each year. The potentially harmful impact of this fee on the supply of affordable housing could be lessened by structuring the fee as a percentage of the home’s value. Assessing state impact fees for commercial development and housing rehabilitation could be an additional source of revenue. State construction fees would provide an ongoing, common-sense source of funding for state bonds and Capital Development Board grants.

2 State entertainment sales tax
If the state sales tax rate of 5% were applied to arts, entertainment and recreation, the state could raise an additional $100 million each year.

3 Means-test the education expense credit
There currently is no income limit on this credit, which is used to offset expenses for K-12 education. As a result, relatively affluent taxpayers receive most of the benefits from this tax break. Taxpayers with incomes of $60,000 or more account for 65 percent of the tax relief. Allowing the expense only for taxpayers with incomes below $60,000 would recoup an estimated $40 million for the state.

4 Means-test or cap the property tax credit
Currently, state taxpayers may claim a tax credit of 5% of their property taxes. This credit cost Illinois more than $380 million in FY2004. Creating a means-test would preserve the benefit for low- and middle-income families, while reducing the benefits to wealthy homeowners. Alternatively, capping the credit at $300 would accomplish the same goal.

5 Cap the retailer’s discount
This tax break was enacted in 1959 to off-set retailers’ expenses for computing and collecting the state sales tax. Today, the burden is largely eliminated by computerized collection and accounting systems. The retailer’s discount cost the state more than $113 million in FY2004. Capping the discount at the first $1 million of sales taxes collected could provide appropriate protection for small businesses.

6 Reduce the amount of the retailer’s discount
The retailer’s discount currently is set at 1.75% of their sales tax collections. Reducing the amount retailers receive for administrative costs to 1% of their collections would save the state an estimated $50 million.

7 Phase out the income tax exemption for retirement income over $75,000
Illinois is one of only three states that exempt all retirement income from taxation regardless of the wealth of the taxpayer. The exemption applies to income from a CEO’s 401(k) as well as a state retiree’s pension. Currently this exemption costs the state $763 million annually. Taxing some retirement income for high-income retirees could generate hundred of millions of dollars of revenue annually.

8 Collect sales and use taxes from remote vendors (long-term alternative)
Last year, Illinois lost an estimated $180 million in use taxes on internet purchases, and stands to lose more in the future as e-commerce increases. Illinois law requires that consumers report purchases from out-of-state vendors on their state tax returns and pay a use tax, but few taxpayers actually do so. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 Quill decision prevents the state from requiring remote merchants to collect use taxes, but also indicates that Congress is free to change that rule. The Streamlined Sales Tax Project is a national effort to encourage Congress to authorize states to require collection of taxes from out of state purchasers. It currently has 13 member states and six associate member states, but Illinois is not yet a member. We should join this important effort. In the meantime, voluntary use tax collection from retailers without a physical presence in Illinois can be encouraged through an amnesty program for accounting errors.

9 Expand the sales tax base to more services purchased by households
Services are the largest and fastest growing sector of the Illinois economy, yet the state exempts most services from sales tax. Illinois taxes fewer services than all but six other states. Taxing services purchased by households could generate an estimated $1.8 billion in new revenue.

10 Increase the personal income tax rate
Illinois’ maximum personal income tax rate is the lowest in the country, of the 41 states that impose an income tax. Moreover, state income taxes can be deducted from federal income tax obligations, lowering the effective rate of any increase. The increased burden on low- and moderate-income families resulting from an income tax increase can be offset by expanding the Illinois Earned Income Tax Credit to 20 percent of the federal credit. Increasing the personal income tax rate from the current 3% to 4% would generate $2.7 billion, and increasing it to 5% would generate $5.4 billion in new revenue. In addition, the corporate income tax rate could be increased, although Illinois’ existing corporate tax rates are already high when compared with those of other states.

What do you think?

- Posted by Rich Miller   39 Comments      


Tuesday, Jan 31, 2006

As promised in today’s Capitol Fax, here is that story about Steve Rauschenberger’s apparent flip-flop.

Primary voters vote separately for governor and lieutenant governor, but when Rauschenberger announced his decision, he indicated he would step aside if Topinka won.

On Monday he said that was “really still pretty much true.” But he seemed to leave himself some wiggle room, saying that if he were to win by a large margin and Topinka was the Republican candidate, “I’d do the best to work with her.”

“I’ll run with whoever the voters pair,” he said.

He didn’t “indicate” anything when he teamed up with Ron Gidwitz. He flat-out said he’d drop out if Topinka won.

If this gets picked up by other media and Rauschenberger doesn’t forcefully deny that he said it, Gidwitz is gonna look pretty silly. Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

JBT wants to keep exec order

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2006

Does this hurt her much in the Republican primary?

Parting ways with other Republican candidates for governor, Judy Baar Topinka today she would not overturn Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s rule requiring pharmacies to provide the “morning after” contraceptive pill. […]

In April, the Democratic governor ordered pharmacies that sell federally approved contraceptives to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control if they have the medication in stock. If an individual pharmacist refuses, the drugstore must have someone else available to provide it.

The contraceptive works by keeping fertilized eggs from implanting. Some opponents consider that an abortion, and they say pharmacists should not be required to provide the pill if they have moral objections.

Other Republican gubernatorial candidates have said they would reverse Blagojevich’s rule if they are elected.

But Topinka, the state treasurer and leader in polls in the GOP race, said she does not believe the emergency contraception causes abortions. She said it helps prevent abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Tuesday, Jan 31, 2006

I’m a big fan of citizen reporting, and everyone makes mistakes, but a serious problem occasionally arises when partisan bloggers are blinded to an obviously fake story - just the sort of thing they love to trash the “mainstream media” for doing.

Yesterday, a Daily Kos member reported on a Republican-sponsored State of the Union Address watching party in Bloomington. The party supposedly featured a Jesse Jackson piñata and was to be held at a gay themed bar. The party was advertised on a Republican site.

The writer eventually admitted that he had been duped, but not before 200 angry Kossacks weighed in on the latest outrage.

To his credit, the Archpundit (a partisan blogger himself) figured out the hoax right away.

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      

Lauzen live

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

I forgot to mention that Sen. Chris Lauzen is live-blogging today from 5:30 to 6pm. Sorry for linking this so late.

Thanks to Bill for the reminder.

Also, when that’s done, head over to Illinoize for lots of lively discussion.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

“Classic political puffery”

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

Most of you have probably seen this already, but I thought you might want to discuss it here.

Facing lawsuits from fired prison officials who say Gov. Rod Blagojevich broke his pledge to keep good employees, lawyers for the state offered a surprising defense: His promises were “classic political puffery.”

In a political year, the premise that Blagojevich made promises he didn’t intend to keep could be troublesome for the governor to explain. But the puffery defense proved to be a sound legal strategy. […]

The administration argued successfully to dismiss allegations in some of the cases, which maintained that some of Blagojevich’s public statements constituted an offer of extended employment to the prison officials. One of the Blagojevich statements was reported in the State Journal-Register, the Springfield paper.

“We’re not looking to purge state government of different men and women who are hired during Republican administrations,” Blagojevich said in August 2003. “I would say to the men and women working in state government that, if they’re doing a job necessary for the public and doing it well, they have nothing to fear from this administration.”

The state, in multiple cases, argued that “it is clear that the classic political puffery relied upon by plaintiff cannot give rise to liability for the state.”

The state argued that Blagojevich’s statements weren’t clear enough for any employee to believe they constituted an offer. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the governor on that issue in the case of Kibby-Brown, but she was allowed to proceed on the patronage count and other matters.

Three cases, including the one brought by Pierson, have been dismissed outright by the federal appeals court but the workers are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have at it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

The latest New York Times poll (scroll down for the pdf file) shows that just 20 percent of Americans believe that abortion “should not be permitted.”

38 percent said “Abortion should be generally available to those who want it,” and 39 percent said “Abortion should be available but under stricter limits than it is now.”

The numbers have been essentially unchanged for the past 15 years (page 28 of the poll).

The question is should candidates who advocate for a ban on abortion be considered “out of the mainstream”?

- Posted by Rich Miller   49 Comments      

Morning shorts

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

The governor regifts.

‘Twas the week before Christmas in 2003 when Gov. Rod Blagojevich showed up in the metro-east to pass out $187 million worth of gifts. Among the road projects on his list:

• $22.5 million for the Interstate 55-70 interchange at Illinois 162 in Troy.

• $15 million for Illinois 3 in Waterloo.

• $12 million for Illinois 159 in downtown Belleville.

• $13.5 million for the Governor’s Parkway in Edwardsville.

“I just love doling out this money,” Blagojevich said with a laugh.

He wasn’t kidding. He likes it so much that he has decided to regift many of the projects — to the same recipients.

In his recent State of the State address, he proposed a $3.2 billion capital program. The four projects mentioned above are all part of the new list. The Republicans say there are similar examples like this all around the state.

Jim Oberweis compares government healthcare to the old Soviet Union and says the free market is better.

Ron Gidwitz has already spent $33,000 on TV ads in Quincy alone.

Governor’s Keno explanation challenged.

Is one of Congressman Lipinski’s opponents a ringer? Sure looks that way.

It appears the governor overestimated the number of qualified familes for All Kids.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

Early voting debated

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

For those of us who work on election day, early voting is much welcomed. Others see it differently.

Illinois’ new early-voting law will be tested in many Illinois election systems prior to the March 21 statewide primaries, including those in Madison and St. Clair counties. Under the new system, voters will be able to vote as much as a month prior to the election, rather than having to wait until the appointed Tuesday.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the measure into law last year, with the goal of increasing voter turnout. It allows local election officials to institute voting more than three weeks before the election. Previously, the only option for voters unable to go to the polls on election day was to fill out absentee ballots, which is a more complicated process and requires an explanation. […]

Republicans have long expressed concern that measures making voting easier can also make vote fraud easier to commit. In addition, said state Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, there is a philosophical reason for conservatives’ reluctance to throw open the polling places.

“If voting is so important, you need to make that extra effort to do it,” said Luechtefeld, who voted last year against the early-voting measure. “It isn’t just the idea of getting more people out to the polls - it’s getting informed people out to the polls.”

Your thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      

Duckworth hit on residency, Emanuel

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

The Daily Herald fills us in.

Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth found herself Sunday defending against opponents’ charges she can’t win in November because Republicans will paint her as an out-of-district plant controlled by the Chicago Democratic machine.

“There’s nothing that riles people up more in DuPage County than to be told by Chicago, ‘This is what you should do,’” 6th Congressional District Democrat hopeful Lindy Scott of Wheaton said after raising the criticism at the start of a candidates’ forum in Villa Park. “I think the Republicans will probably state that over and over again.”

Duckworth, who lives just outside the district in Hoffman Estates, was recruited for the race by top Democratic U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. Democratic candidate Christine Cegelis of Rolling Meadows said both will be issues if Democratic primary voters pick Duckworth as their nominee March 21. The winner will face a Republican challenger in November.

“(Republican nominee) Peter Roskam is from this district. He’s got family in this district. He’s going to use that as an issue, absolutely (against Duckworth),” said Cegelis, a technology consultant.

Duckworth also disagreed with her two opponents after they both called for the announcement of a timetable to withdraw from Iraq.

“This is basic military tactics, people. You do not tell your enemy when you’re going to ambush a bridge because guess what, he’s not going to show up there,” said Duckworth, who called for returning home one U.S. battalion for every Iraqi battalion that’s trained.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      

As seen in today’s Capitol Fax…

Monday, Jan 30, 2006

This column lays out many of the pitfalls of Indiana’s attempt at leasing its tollway system.

This story outlines many of the objections to the way the pile of cash will be split. Here’s another one.

And here is a pay-to-play story.

Finally, the Joe Birkett saga is played out here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      

* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Early voting roundup
* Still more shenanigans!
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* *** UPDATED x2 *** Shenanigans!
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