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The governor should stop using state resources to support a ballot issue

Monday, Oct 28, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has won plaudits lately from even conservative opinion-makers for making the right moves on corruption. But I am going to register an objection in a bit.

When Senate President John Cullerton dithered about what to do with Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) after the powerful Transportation Committee’s Statehouse and district offices and home were raided by federal agents, Pritzker called on Sandoval to quit the chairmanship or be removed.

“Let me be clear,” Pritzker said, “While Sen. Sandoval is under investigation, it’s in the best interest of the state that he no longer serve as chairman of the Transportation Committee. If he doesn’t step aside, he should be removed.”

When the Senate Democrats finally released an unredacted version of the Sandoval Statehouse search warrant and Cesar Santoy’s name was on it, Pritzker quickly pulled Santoy’s nomination to the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, saying he wanted to “make sure no cloud is carried over to any work done by the tollway.”

After word got out that the City Club of Chicago’s office was raided and that its longtime president Jay Doherty was reported to be under federal investigation, Pritzker ordered people in his administration to cancel their speeches to the group.

Just about everybody who is anybody has spoken at City Club events, including presidential candidate Donald Trump (and even me, once a year for several years around Christmastime).

“While questions remain about the City Club’s involvement in the ongoing federal investigation, the administration is recommending state agencies pursue alternative forums to communicate with the public,” Pritzker’s communications director Emily Bittner said, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Pritzker decreed early on that no bill would move during the fall veto session that benefits Exelon and ComEd, which have received two federal subpoenas, one relating to Sandoval and the other relating to their lobbying activities.

Doherty, by the way, is a ComEd lobbyist. That stance has caused Pritzker to take some heat from environmental activists, who have been pushing a clean energy bill that would benefit Exelon’s nuclear power plants, but the governor would not budge.

Pritzker, the Champaign News-Gazette recently editorialized, has “made it clear that anyone who is compromised for whatever reason will be shunted aside at least until clouds of impropriety have dissipated.”

You won’t see much positive stuff published about liberal Democratic governors in that paper’s editorial page, but the editorial board appears to be impressed, even claiming on another occasion that the “comity” Pritzker brought to his dealings with the Illinois General Assembly “is a far cry from the relentless struggle in which former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner engaged with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan from 2015 to 2019.”

So, I was a little surprised to read this headline from the governor’s press office last week about the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget: “GOMB Releases Five-Year Forecast Showing Significant Long-Term Challenges Without Fair Tax.”

As you know, the governor was able to convince the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to enact a graduated income tax, which he markets as the “Fair Tax.”

When asked, the governor’s office insisted the press release was within the law, even though it can be read as a taxpayer-funded entity openly favoring a question that is in front of voters, which could be seen as a no-no.

State law defines a campaign contribution as “a gift, subscription, donation, dues, loan, advance, deposit of money, or anything of value, knowingly received in connection with the nomination for election, election, or retention of any candidate or person to or in public office or in connection with any question of public policy.”

A “question of public policy” is later explained as a question “to be submitted to the voters” or “electors.” And “anything of value” is defined as “any item, thing, service, or good, regardless of whether it may be valued in monetary terms according to ascertainable market value.”

The governor obviously cannot issue a state government press release saying: “GOMB Releases Five-Year Forecast Showing Significant Long-Term Challenges Without Sen. Harriet Jones” before her reelection.

And school boards get in trouble for using taxpayer resources to promote property tax referendums. The governor’s office indicates that since they’re not coming right out and saying “Vote for the Fair Tax” they’re within the law.

Meh.

Pritzker shouldn’t be openly campaigning on behalf of a ballot issue on state time, even if it has been blessed by his highly capable lawyers. It can be both legal and unseemly, after all.

Also from that press release

“Without structural changes like the Fair Tax, Illinois will continue to struggle to make ends meet, pay our bills on time and deliver vital services, like public education and public safety,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “While years of mismanagement has created these issues, we have a strong path forward and solution with the Fair Tax, which will ask the wealthiest 3 percent to pay more while 97 percent of Illinoisans will pay the same or less.

* As I told subscribers this morning, House Speaker Madigan’s chief eithics officer Justin Cox sent this memo to House Democrats late Friday afternoon…

With session starting back up and the Fair Tax constitutional amendment now set to be on the ballot, I want to remind you that the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act prohibits you (as well as State staff) from using State resources and State time to advocate for or against the constitutional amendment. Treat it as you would any other political activity. I have attached ethics guidance explaining the what you can and can’t do in relation to the amendment.

An excerpt from that attached guidance

What you CAN do:

* Explain how you or your member voted on SJCRA 1 and the reasons for that vote.

* Provide a purely objective, factual statement regarding what the amendment does (i.e., “The proposed amendment eliminates the requirement that the income tax be at a non-graduated rate.”), rather than a statement meant to persuade (i.e., “The amendment allows Illinois to make the rich pay their fair share.”)

Hmm.

       

17 Comments
  1. - PublicServant - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:36 am:

    You’re correct, but Meh.


  2. - Perrid - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:36 am:

    Getting darn close to the line, if he hasn’t crossed it. “Without structural changes like the Fair Tax” seems like it was worded VERY carefully. If you have to dance this much you might want to consider taking a step back from the ledge.


  3. - Montrose - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:37 am:

    Maybe its the fact that a ballot measure is such a rare thing here that folks just need to get acquainted with the rules, but, yeah, he needs to treat it the same way he treats a political campaign. He has plenty of money to do just that, so just make a couple adjustments and move forward.


  4. - RNUG - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:41 am:

    The report should have simply referenced ‘additional revenue’ everywhere it said ‘Fair Tax’.


  5. - City Zen - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:42 am:

    How did the Quinn administration handle the GOMB prior to the 5% rate passing?


  6. - Dcp - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:43 am:

    After 40 years in LaGrange, we moved to FL right after the election last year, maybe partly bc of the election results in IL.
    So I sort of grudgingly will give Pritzker, and his brain trust, credit for what appear to be prudent decisions.


  7. - Birdseed - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    Can it even be referred to as the “Fair Tax Amendment”?


  8. - Quibbler - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    Counterpoint: taxing the rich is extremely good and should be advocated by any means necessary.


  9. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 11:08 am:

    After Bruce Rauner’s repeated and consistent denigration of certain legislators at official events, along with his staff’s penchant for doing the same (all while collecting state paychecks), I have a very hard time taking this kind of complaint seriously. That genie was let out of the bottle a long time ago


  10. - Anon - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 11:17 am:

    Can it even be referred to as the “Fair Tax Amendment”?

    Likely not, since that’s an opinion/political argument. It’s Constitutional Amendment No. 1, I think.


  11. - JS Mill - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    =After 40 years in LaGrange, we moved to FL right after the election last year, maybe partly bc of the election results in IL.=

    So, you left one of the nicest communities in the country with some of the best schools in the country for FL?


  12. - Say no to big government - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 11:59 am:

    I agree with you 100%, Rich. And RNUG is right with his comment. The fact that the Governor’s Office chose the language it did says a lot. A whole lot.


  13. - M - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 12:05 pm:

    “Pritzker shouldn’t be openly campaigning on behalf of a ballot issue on state time, even if it has been blessed by his highly capable lawyers. It can be both legal and unseemly, after all.”

    Is it “unseemly” for the other party officers to campaign against it?


  14. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    JB. This corruption stuff is going to make your quest to get to 60% real difficult.
    Just wait til those $118 trailer plate renewals hit the mail.

    Better start developing plan B.


  15. - City Zen - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 12:38 pm:

    You’d think a guy who pays his staff twice would know better.


  16. - JuMP - Monday, Oct 28, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    So Rep from the 71 should walk back her subjective op ed on the Amendment”…the majority will continue to pursue increasing taxes… if passed will give Springfield politicians the ability to set rates and brackets at will without review..
    .


  17. - Seats - Tuesday, Oct 29, 19 @ 12:07 am:

    Perhaps I can’t think objective because I want it to pass. But this doesn’t bother me. How is it different than Bruce spending 4 years with pressers about needing pension due to being too broke to pay them?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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