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Today’s lessons

Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The House Elections & Campaign Reform Committee held a hearing today to discuss the blowup this past fall over some county clerks mailing military absentee ballots late.

So, now seems to be a good time to publish an e-mail which was sent by Warren County Clerk Tina Conard in reply to a State Board of Elections e-mail in October notifying county clerks throughout the state that the Department of Justice and the attorney general’s office were investigating the matter and urging them to provide all information that they could.

Unfortunately for Clerk Conard, she hit “reply all,” so it’s been preserved for posterity…

We complied so I’m not too worried. But I would sure like to think that the DOJ has more important things to worry about than whether a soldier gets a ballot or not. But there’s one thing I think needs more attention if they are so hell bent on military getting ballots. GET US THE ADDRESS to send the ballot to!!! We had FVAOs from 2008 that we were told to use. Well in 4 years they could have moved on. Why is it my job to track these soldiers down?

I am sick and tired of catering to voters. Be a responsible adult to know: get us the information we will comply, know when to vote, how to vote and where to vote. Election officials shouldn’t have to have the DOJ or the AG breathing down our necks. If they’ve go that much time on their hands, then get out there and educate the voters.

Um, wow.

“I was probably just angry and venting,” Clerk Conard said when I called her today. “I apologize. I truly believe everybody has the right to vote. I wish every citizen would get out and vote.”

Soldiers, she said, “move so often that we don’t know where to send their ballots to. So I just think that there needs to be a better way to get a correct and current address to us.”

She also added: “I’ve not done one election since 2002 the same way because they keep changing the laws… Every election, it changes.”

The lesson: Take a deep breath and maybe a few moments before hitting the “send” button.

* The Champaign News Gazette’s latest editorial criticizes House Speaker Madigan’s proposed constitutional amendment to cap annual state spending increases to the average level of per capita income increases over the past five years

Then, there is the matter of how the amendment is drafted. Does it really do what it purports to do?

Not according to the Illinois Policy Institute, a market-oriented political think tank.

Has she been allowed to testify at a Monday hearing, the IPI’s Karen Rasmussen would have pointed out that the amendment, even if passed in fall 2012, would not take effect until 2014, creating a four-year window in which spending could rise significantly.

Further, she said, the amendment would exempt $4 billion in mandated spending on public employee pension programs, creating another hole for more spending. Then, there is a provision allowing the governor, the comptroller, treasurer and state legislators to declare an emergency that would allow them to ignore the amendment’s requirements.

“(The amendment) is more akin to a blank check,” said Rasmussen.

Oh, please. Look, there are some loopholes in this thing. Special funds, for instance, don’t appear to be capped. And Ms. Rasmussen definitely should’ve been allowed to testify. But the editorial is just hokum on many levels.

The reason the effective date is the beginning of Fiscal Year 2014 is because FY14 is the first full fiscal year after the 2012 election, when the proposal would be voted on by the electorate. So, no great conspiracy there. Sheesh.

Pensions aren’t included because, I’m assuming, there’s another constitutional provision requiring the state to fulfill its contractual pension obligations. If you included pensions in the cap, their annual increases could force huge cuts to other programs. This is definitely a debatable point, but I wonder if the paper would agree to cuts in the U of I’s funding in order to make pension payments.

And that work-around provision derided by the IPI and the News-Gazette isn’t really a loophole. The governor declares an emergency. Then, both the comptroller and the treasurer have to agree there is an emergency. Then both chambers of the General Assembly can increase spending above the cap, but only with a three-fifths super-majority in each chamber. That ain’t really a loophole. And it’s certainly no “blank check.”

Also, this is from the IPI itself

Had this limit been in place from fiscal years 1997 to 2009, Illinois would have saved a cumulative $29.4 billion over actual general spending.

It would save billions, we’d be almost $2 billion in the black right now if it had been in place, yet this proposal is, according to the IPI, a sham. Yeah. OK. What a crock.

The lesson: The IPI has essentially become an arm of the Illinois House Republican caucus, which has an interest in undermining anything the majority party proposes. Be wary of quoting them.

* A bill seemingly being fast-tracked by the Illinois General Assembly would add a new tax

Beginning July 1, 2011, a retailer having a contract with a person located in this State under which the person, for a commission or other consideration based upon the sale of tangible personal property by the retailer, directly or indirectly refers potential customers to the retailer by a link on the person’s Internet website.

This is widely known as the Amazon Tax. Supporters include the state’s retail merchants. They claim it will raise $150 million a year in revenues. But the Tax Foundation begs to differ

Word is that Illinois legislators are considering click-through nexus, also known as an “Amazon tax,” pushed by revenue officials who claim that it would raise $150 million a year in revenue. Such laws, nicknamed after their most visible target, require retailers that have contracts with “affiliates”-independent persons within the state who post a link to an out-of-state business on their website and get a share of revenues from the out-of-state business-to collect the state’s sales tax. They exist in New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Colorado. […]

Illinois’s version is a traditional first-generation “Amazon” tax that targets affiliates. Contrary to the claims of supporters, Amazon taxes do not provide easy revenue. In fact, the nation’s first few Amazon taxes have not produced any revenue at all, and there is some evidence of lost revenue. For instance, Rhode Island has seen no additional sales tax revenue from its Amazon tax, and because Amazon reacted by discontinuing its affiliate program, Rhode Islanders are earning less income and paying less income tax. There’s no reason why Illinois wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

The lesson: Don’t count your chickens, etc.

…Adding… The Better Government Association is throwing an “election watch” party next month. The shindig is being held at the Chicago offices of the Jenner & Block law firm. The firm lobbies the Statehouse for Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, LLC, which owns the Des Plaines casino.

The lesson: There’s nothing wrong with this at all. The firm has a solid reputation. But reformers are often quick to point out these one degree of separation appearances of conflicts of interest, so a quick background check is usually in order.


  1. - Publius - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 2:18 pm:

    Funny thing happened to me in relation to the Amazon tax. I was recently sent a collections noticed by California for not paying sales tax. The problem is that I’ve never been in California. They won’t get my tax money from stuff I bought on Amazon

  2. - Responsa - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 2:46 pm:

    ==The lesson: Take a deep breath and maybe a few moments before hitting the “send” button.==

    Another lesson, Tina: Don’t run for an office where you have such little interest and regard for your duties and constituents, and apparently find the rules and the election process, itself so tedious.

    The quotes for your opponent’s ad in the next election are ready and waiting.

    –”tired of catering to voters”

    –”more important things to worry about than whether a soldier gets a ballot”

  3. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 2:47 pm:

    Conard obviously didn’t get the memo that shallow, self-serving emotionalism is the order of the day when it comes to supporting the troops.

    Not actually Cowboying Up and paying for our incoherent adventures in Asia. Or following the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine and getting them in and out as quickly as possible.

    Better to use them as fodder for TV and radio spots flogging beer, airlines and other consumer products.

  4. - David Ormsby - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 2:52 pm:

    The Illinois Policy Institute has been a crock since Day 1.

  5. - Mark - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 2:56 pm:

    Mr. Miller,

    Regarding House Speaker Madigan’s proposed constitutional amendment to cap annual state spending increases to the average level of per capita income increases over the past five years.

    IPI goes on to say, the amendment should not exempt $4 billion in mandated spending on public employee pension programs.

    $4 billion is a large number. How about if we reform public pensions before the titanic sinks.

    That should be priority #1. Once again Meredith Whitney is correct. We would be better off with Governor Chris Christie than Quinn. Quinn doesn’t have the courage to reform public pensions for existing employees. Meaning any future benefits should be reformed for existing employees. Instead Quinn wants the TAXPAYER to pay for the juicy public pensions, which is money the TAXPAYER can’t use for THEIR (TAXPAYER’S) retirement.

    TAXPAYERS are going to get angrier and angrier every year when they realize they have been fleeced by public pensions and the politicians beholden to Unions as they (politicians) receive political contributions from the PAC of the public employee’s union.

    The politician stays in office, the public union employee retires early with juicy benefit, the taxpayer has less money to fund their own retirement.

    The taxpayer is being left out in the cold Mr Quinn, Mr. Madigan, and the rest of you! To rub salt in the wound, the juicy pension increases guaranteed 3% per year but 401k & social security does not.

    The system is rigged and broken!

  6. - MrJM - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:01 pm:

    Rhode Island has seen no additional sales tax revenue from its Amazon tax, and because Amazon reacted by discontinuing its affiliate program, Rhode Islanders are earning less income and paying less income tax. There’s no reason why Illinois wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

    Illinois is the nation’s fifth largest state by population. If the Tax Foundation believes their argument applies to Illinois, they should supply figures for New York (3rd largest state), North Carolina (10th) or even the Colorado (22nd).

    Not Rhode Island, which is the seventh smallest state in the union and has only 8.2% of our population.

    – MrJM

  7. - dave - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:14 pm:

    **Quinn doesn’t have the courage to reform public pensions for existing employees. **

    That would be because it is illegal. Read the IL constitution.

  8. - Bluefish - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:21 pm:

    Dave - This could be addressed. Madigan is on a roll with sponsoring constitutional amendments.

  9. - Reality Check - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:26 pm:

    Who funds the Illinois Policy Institute? Oh wait, it’s secret, and they won’t tell. But they are great proponents of “transparency and accountability”. Right.

    Just like they hate government spending. Except when it’s the government subsidizing their propaganda machine by granting them tax-exempt nonprofit status.

    More like the Illinois Hypocrisy Institute.

    (If the major source of their funding isn’t the Koch brothers - that is, the same puppetmasters behind Americans for Prosperity and Illinois Statehouse News - then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.)

  10. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:37 pm:

    I believe that Rich has informed capfaxblog readers that existing state employees pensions can be “reformed” in one way. The amount of a pension that has already been accrued by a current state employee cannot be reduced. However, any future benefits that have yet to be earned can be.

    Did I get that right, Rich?

  11. - archpundit - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:38 pm:

    ===The taxpayer is being left out in the cold Mr Quinn, Mr. Madigan, and the rest of you! To rub salt in the wound, the juicy pension increases guaranteed 3% per year but 401k & social security does not.

    Since 1975 3% average increase is lower than the average increase of Social Security which is 4.2%

    I haven’t looked at the enabling legislation, but I would be surprised if 3% wasn’t chosen as a conservative way to get cost surety and still provide for fair increases.

  12. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:42 pm:

    The fundamental problem with Madigan’s amendment is that state spending is driven by population growth, which Madigan’s legislation doesn’t take into account.

    Illinois’ population has grown by 500,000 over the last decade, but under Madigan’s measure the state couldn’t spend any more money on those residents.

    Legislation that restricted state spending per capita based on increases in per capita spending would atleast be rational.

    That said, the News Gazette makes a great point: lawmakers have been ignoring the Constitution’s balanced budget requirement for 40 years…they’ll find a way around Madigan’s proposal too.

  13. - OneMan - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:45 pm:


    That should be priority #1. Once again Meredith Whitney is correct. We would be better off with Governor Chris Christie than Quinn. Quinn doesn’t have the courage to reform public pensions for existing employees. Meaning any future benefits should be reformed for existing employees. Instead Quinn wants the TAXPAYER to pay for the juicy public pensions, which is money the TAXPAYER can’t use for THEIR (TAXPAYER’S) retirement.

    How do you propose to reform the current pensions system within the bounds of the state constitution? You can’t significantly cut benefits of folks within the system without being in violation of the state constitution.

    The are very logical reasons the framers put that in the 1970 constitution (for example to prevent the state from cutting the pension of a judge who made a decision the legislature and the governor did not like).

    It’s nice to say lets solve our problems by taking things away from others and taxing others (I still think a lite beer tax would be a great idea, since I don’t drink lite beer) but that isn’t going to solve our problem.

    The state has been collecting money from these folks (yes, state pensions do require an employee contribution, which if I am not mistaken has seen it’s % go up over time). So is it morally acceptable for the state to take the money from these folks for a defined pension plan and then say “Oops we messed up, so your plan is changing”.

    Would folks be comfortable if Social Security did this? I doubt it.

    It’s the legislature (and other municipal entities) who have decided to grossly underfund the system. This whole problem is not something created by the economy slowing down, it’s a problem created by a lack of leadership by both parties.

    Should logical pension limits and other changes be made to reduce some of the stupid pension increase tricks that go on this state be made, yes. Should local government contributions be increased for their folks in the system, heck yeah, significantly in some cases.

    Should a wholesale change be made that cuts everyone’s pension who is in the system or getting one now be made, no. We made a commitment to these people, we have an obligation to live up to it.

    Because as hard as it is to tell from the newspapers and bloggers and pundits your average state pensioner is not getting a huge pension. It’s nice to share the numbers of the highly paid school administrators and the like, but at the end of the day they are not the rule. It’s your 80 year old former 3rd grade teacher.

    I am a fairly conservative guy, but I am sorry this problem is not going to be solved on the backs of public employees. We got in this mess because we wouldn’t and couldn’t make the decisions that people would not like, so we did budget tricks and gave out state wide tax rebates.

    The time for tricks is over, the time to man up (and that includes controlling spending and improving the pension system) has come.

  14. - archpundit - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:49 pm:

    ===The fundamental problem with Madigan’s amendment is that state spending is driven by population growth, which Madigan’s legislation doesn’t take into account.

    It also doesn’t limit the state’s ability to mandate state and local spending–which is what the incentive is once this would be in place. The state hits the cap and then it pushes costs to local governments.

  15. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 3:55 pm:

    @DuPage Dan:

    That’s a crock of GOP horse manure.

    Here’s what the Constitution says:

    “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

    The courts have consistently ruled that once you hire someone, you’ve entered into a contract with that person and you’re required to provide them with, at minimum, the benefits that you promised them when you hired them.

    Think of it this way: I hire a guy to QB my football team and promise him $4 million a year for ten years. Eight years into the contract I say “Jim, your numbers last season weren’t so hot: you can keep the $32 million you’ve earned over the last eight years, but the next two years we’re only going to pay you $200K.”

  16. - bored now - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:10 pm:

    yeah, hitting “reply all” was not the smartest thing in the world, but:

    elections management continues to be an afterthought, in my experience. most board of elections, whether under a clerk (like here in illinois) or as a separate entity are significantly underfunded for the job we expect them to do (which is to run clean and fair elections). combining the elections office with unrelated tasks can’t help.

    as a result, just about every elections office i’ve been in has been overworked right before an election (which was when this email was written). so i’d cut her a little slack, even though i think her wording was poor and she should have known better. the people that run our elections in this country are unsung heroes in a democracy. be interesting to see if this gets used against her in her next election…

  17. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:13 pm:


    I am only commenting on what Rich told me some time back. As he explained it to me, you are guaranteed pension benefits for the time you have put in. Any benefits yet to be accrued can be changed. I am not an expert in this area. Once again, I am only reporting what Rich said at the time. I would be glad to be wrong since I am a state employee, with time left before I retire.


  18. - lakeview - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:14 pm:

    In fairness to Tina Conard, I worked as an election judge two thankless times, and the changing laws make it really hard on the judges, especially when not all of them are, um, ordinary needs people. Then you have the voters waving their passports who can’t possibly understand why they aren’t on the list. Maybe because you moved? Um, could that be it? So then you have to go through the whole provisional ballot rigamarole because they are too lazy to go to their public library and re-register. Then, of course, you have the people who walk in and say things like, “I got divorced and changed my name and moved, you can still let me vote, right?” No, no I can’t let you vote, and please, don’t yell at me, didn’t you ever walk past a public library during all of this turmoil in your life?

    People really do take their franchise for granted. It’s sad. And then they get upset at people who have been up since 4:00 am, who are hungry because the precinct captain was too busy schmoozing to get them lunch, who are trying to keep track of the new laws, even if they are fully functioning adults.

  19. - western illinois - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:18 pm:

    There was only one contested race in Warren County last year so this is not suprising

  20. - OneMan - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:19 pm:

    I have always thought that we should make working an election as an election judge every couple of years a membership requirement of the state bar.

    That would make it easier to find election judges.

  21. - Bill - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:24 pm:

    As much as I admire Miller as a constitutional expert and would love to see him elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, in this instance, as I recall, he was merely reporting the opinion of millionaire R. Eden Martin, of the infamous Sidley and Austin (ret.), who would say or do anything to save himself a few thousand dollars in taxes.

  22. - One of the 35 - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:43 pm:

    DuPage Dan: Ultimately the courts will probably decide the question of future pension credit for current employees, but several high powered Chicago law firms have already suggested that would meet current constitutional requirements.

  23. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 4:46 pm:

    I am pained to say I would rather Bill be right than Rich. Just sayin ;)

  24. - Bill - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 5:10 pm:

    == but several high powered Chicago law firms ==
    Yeah, and they got to be high powered by selling their opinions to big business and assorted millionaires. Unfortunately for the fat cats, the issue has been decided by th US Suprme Court in at least 7 precedent setting cases. Remember that the lawyers make out no matter how the case comes out.

  25. - Bill - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 5:12 pm:

    Don’t be pained, Dan. There’s nothing wrong with a little self interest once in a while. Just look at the legislators.

  26. - Cheryl44 - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 5:14 pm:

    Oh man, Lakeview, I’ve been a judge too. Last time I got a lot of questions about why our alderman wasn’t on the ballot (wrong election), how come we’re electing a senator to a 6 year term, what’s this recall stuff mean and how should the voter cast his ballot… it’s a long day and it’s made longer by the people who come to vote without know who/what they’re voting for.

  27. - MikeMacD - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 6:37 pm:

    “I worked as an election judge two thankless times”

    That’s unfortunate. I hope your experience didn’t occur in Warren County.

    Here in suburban Cook County, David Orr has thanked me for working each and every election in a letter that he sends along with a check.

  28. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 8:10 pm:

    The Warren County clerk is unprofessional. To think, let alone put to print those words is really inexcusable. It isn’t patronizing for someone in her position to say what someone in her position should be expected to say.

    Someone who is a journalist should readily be capable of telling us why his career is important. Someone responsible for registering voters should readily be able of telling anyone why their duties are important and know how to present themselves professionally.

    The problem wasn’t the email. It wasn’t hitting the “reply to all” button. The problem was her disregard for her work and the citizens she serves.

    She should step down, but consider what we discovered with this incident, she probably wouldn’t be professional enough to do that either.

  29. - JustMe - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 8:20 pm:

    For anyone who has any doubts how the courts would decide a case involving the state’s authority to cut back pension rights already earned by current employees, remember 2 things: first, it is very easy to read the constitution to say it cannot be done and second, if they can do it to state employees, they can do it to sitting judges. Any bets on the outcome?

  30. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 8:59 pm:

    Take a breath VanillaMan,

    She’s a clerk speaking to other clerks and insiders. This wasn’t a public statement for crying out loud, not a speech to the Rotary.

    You can’t take one eavesdropped line someone in public office utters privately and nail her to the cross for it. Isn’t she entitled to express herself as frankly as she wishes?

    I didn’t see anything offensive in her words at all. I would like to see the list of e-mails it went to though, because knowing who was the intended recipient(s) would probably add a lot to this unfortunate e-mail.

    But it’s good to have your righteous indignation back VM.

  31. - Emily Booth - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 9:00 pm:

    Yes, the upper class would love to get rid of pensions. They would love to get rid of Medicare, Social Security and public education, too. Ain’t happenin’.

  32. - state mope - Wednesday, Jan 5, 11 @ 9:07 pm:

    Maybe I’m being cynical, but the real reason Quinn and the general assembly won’t touch current public pension benefits is because the governor and the general assembly themselves are state employees covered by the state (SERS) or general assembly retirement systems (GARS). Judges (JRS)and university (SURS) employees are are also state employees covered so current employees’ pensions won’t be touched.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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