Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness...

The cigarette tax hike passed in Illinois, upping the state tax rate from $.98/pack to $1.98 per pack at the end of June 2012. The state is already getting about $300 million per year from the MSA lawsuit agreement from the Clinton days. The feds tax is $1.01. Cook County adds $2 and Chicago adds $.68. Sales taxes are then added to that. In Chicago, this tax hike will mean more than $75 from each carton is going to government.

Forget about whether a tax hike on cigarettes is good or bad, lets concentrate on this specific tax legislation in Illinois. The proponents of this tax hike, mostly Democrats with some Republicans also, and all the anti-tobacco special interest groups out there are claiming this tax hike will bring in $350 million addition tax dollars to Illinois. The feds will then match that $350 million for a total of $700 million that Quinn wants to spend on Medicaid.

Here is the problem with this legislation. They are lying about the revenue projections. It won't bring in $350 million. So what? Well, this legislation appropriates all of that $700 million to be spent ASAP regardless of whether or not the state sees all of the $700 million promised. This legislation spends all the money without any back-up plan if revenues come in lower than the projections.

Nobody seems to care that they are going to spend the money even though the revenue projections are most likely way too high. Its baffling, but it explains perfectly the financial mess this state and this country finds itself in. They may be using their hearts to support a cigarette tax increase, but they aren't using their brains one bit in managing those funds in a responsible manner.

I've been paying attention to tobacco tax hikes for a decade now, but here is one recent article on this Illinois tax hike that shows the folly of trusting the revenue promises.
Sadly, the governor does not seem as eager to meet with fiscal reality as he claims: That revenue estimate from the smoking tax is almost certainly inflated. The anti-smoking advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids recently estimated that a $1 increase in the state smoking tax would raise a little less than $300 million — leaving the governor’s office at least $37 million short. But even those numbers probably overstate the tax’s actual revenue potential since cigarette taxes consistently produce less money for state coffers than expected. Between 2003 and 2007, states raised cigarette taxes 57 times. But according to the National Taxpayers Union, only 16 of those hikes met revenue projections.
16 out of 57. So there is a 72% chance that these revenue promises are overblown. Then what? They spend $700 million, but only end up collecting $500 million and are $200 million short on this year's budget. They pass that $200 million deficit onto next year's and increase the $9 billion they are already behind on their bills. So which tax gets raised next year or what spending gets cut next year to cover that $200 million? They don't know, and apparently they don't care either. That is the recipe for bankruptcy.

Here's the message kids, you shouldn't smoke but insane fiscal policies that throw more of you kids into poverty and puts you further in debt before you are even an adult are just hunky-dory.

Rep. Monique Davis gets $444,500 bailout

Here we go again with State Rep. Monique Davis, I'm late to this one, but it needs the post anyway. I've blogged about Davis before, here, and here, and here.

Monique Davis needs to be run out of office, not have Madigan and his Democrats vote to bail her out of $445,000 in past due taxes and fees that should be going to children in the Chicago Public School system. More evidence Madigan needs to go right along with Davis. Cullerton is up next.

Peoria radio station GLO even ran a story on this obvious abuse of power by Madigan's House Democrats and Monique Davis. The Sun-Times article is instructive also.

House Bill 5761 for those following. From the GLO article.
This little addition, added by State Rep. Monique Davis’ Democratic friends, spared the long time Chicago area Representative from a tax bill of  almost a half a million dollars. $444,500 to be exact.  The bill passed the House with an almost party line vote of 60-54, with most Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans voting against the bill.
This pretty much wipes out a lawsuit that was filed by the Chicago Board of Education against Rep. Davis over years of outstanding back rent, leaseholder taxes, and penalties on her district office which is located in a building that is owned by a school. 
The Illinois Department of Revenue ruled back in 1998 that Representative Davis’ use of the school building for her district office did not give it tax-exempt status. 
This bill ultimately gives Rep. Monique Davis a half-a-million dollar tax bailout that in turn deprives the Chicago Public Schools of money that could be used to maintain and improve area schools.
More from the Sun-Times.
State Rep. Monique Davis’ Democratic friends in the Illinois House Tuesday spared her from a tax bill of at least $444,500.
By a 60-54 vote, with Davis voting present, the House entered into the legal dispute between the longtime South Side lawmaker and the Chicago Board of Education over her refusal to pay back rent and leaseholder taxes on her district office, which is in a school-owned building. ...
Davis, who occupies a rent-free Chicago Board of Education building as her district office, was sued in 2009 by the school system in a bid to collect seven years of back rent of $75,000 and uncollected leasehold taxes and penalties totaling $444,500.

CPS contended that as a leaseholder of publicly owned property, Davis is responsible for leaseholder taxes dating back at least 20 years and totaling $157,500, plus close to $287,000 in penalties for nonpayment.
You should pretty much get the idea that this was an unconscionable thing for Illinois Democrats to do. Par for their course, but still without shame. Speaking of shame, this is how Monique Davis reacted, from the Sun-Times.
Davis voted present on the legislation, which now moves to the Senate, and later disputed that it enriches her in any way.
“How could it benefit me? I mean seriously, how could it benefit me?” she asked the Chicago Sun-Times.
When pressed about the tax exemption created under the legislation, she shot back at a reporter, “Wait a minute. Monique Davis does not pay property tax for other peoples’ property. Do you? Do you pay the property tax for the Sun-Times building because you work in it?”
“Give me a break,” she said before walking away.
This is how the state of Illinois is being run, and these are the people who are running it. Sad. Disgusting even. And that is before you even begin to think about what has been going on in this office that Davis has basically been squatting in forever. She's been in the House for 25 years.

Brainerd Community Development Corp. has gotten $1.1 million in state grants since 2000. Davis has sponsored those grants. The grant applications Brainerd submitted included using the grant money to pay rent. Brainerd runs their organization rent free out of Davis' office, which is owned by CPS. But Davis hasn't been paying rent to CPS, which is why they had to sue her.

This bill (HB5761) that gives Davis a $445,000 bailout hasn't passed the Illinois Senate yet. Senate President John Cullerton has signed on as the sponsor, so it looks like the Senate Democrats will go along with it and Quinn will probably sign it. If history is a guide, they will pass it at the last minute with everything else to lessen any media attention it might get. I'll remember, and every other voter who cares about honesty and decency should remember too.

Bill Bradley: A third course in American politics.

Former Senator and Presidential hopeful Bill Bradley (D-NJ) has a new book he's pushing, so he's getting a lot of interviews talking about his thoughts on politics. WBEZ has a nice interview including the audio. NJ.com Star-Ledger has a written interview also.

I don't agree much with Bradley's political solutions, but there is one issue he's talking about that I appreciate. Perhaps the two party control of Congress is broken and we need a third course to help get us back on the right track. I'd say the same is even more true for Illinois.

From the NJ.com interview.
Q. You also write in your book about the emergence of a viable third party and seem more confident than others that that could happen.
A. The point here is that when we talk about third parties, it’s always somebody running for president who is a third-party candidate — Ross Perot, (Ralph) Nader, John Anderson, etc. But that’s not where the action is. Even at Obama’s lowest rating, 40 percent thought he was doing a good job. At Congress’ lowest rating, 6 percent thought they were doing a good job, so the opportunity is a congressional third party.
It would not have a presidential candidate, but would run in 50 districts across the country. If they won 25, they would suddenly be at the fulcrum of power in the Congress.
Good point. Taking it further they could be independents instead of a third party, or a combination of independents and third parties. Take out 20 Democrat and Republican House members and another half dozen of them in the Senate and we could see a considerable power shift in the US Congress.

Transfer this idea to Illinois and it applies just as well. We'd need to take out 6 of the Democrat State Senators to bring them under the majority and 6 of the Democrat State Representatives to bring them under the majority. Taking out a few Republicans wouldn't hurt either. The IL Senate is now 35 Democrats and 24 Republicans, 59 total. The IL House has 64 Democrats and 54 Republicans, 118 total. That includes Derrick Smith in the Democrat column.

Is it possible in Illinois? Sure it is. Extremely hard, but it could be done. Beating Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton doesn't have to be done from inside their districts. Take a majority vote away from their parties in the House and Senate and we can remove them from their leadership positions. Can it be done this year? Nope, but maybe if enough people are put off by all the unopposed races this November they will strive to make sure we have a chance of knocking out Madigan and Cullerton in 2014.

I believe backing a group of independents with a strong core of common ideas would be a winning combination to help break up the powers that be who are failing us all in Illinois. Because of bigoted election laws, there are advantages to running as a third party in Illinois instead of as an independent, so unless those are changed that might be the best route.

Right now, the only choice we have to get rid of Madigan and Cullerton, would be the Republicans. That isn't going to fly with Democrat leaning independents, because they don't want Republicans in charge. They'd rather keep Madigan and Cullerton even with all of their horrible failures instead of letting the Republicans take charge. In the IL House, you need 60 votes to become the Speaker. If the Democrats only have 58 and the Republicans have 54, then the 6 independent/third party would have enough power to replace Madigan as Speaker.

They'd have to make a deal with one of the parties, but you can bet the parties would be willing to negotiate. Tell the Democrats to put someone better forward for Speaker or they'll side with the Republicans on the vote for Speaker. A lot of possibilities in this scenario, all that would lead to much needed change in leadership and course Illinois in the new direction it needs to head.

I've given this a ton of thought the past decade, and if I can keep on blogging I'll expand much more on this line of thought soon. It can be done in Illinois. The Libertarian Party wasn't the answer, and I don't believe the Green or Constitution parties are either, but they could play a role. I've dreamed of a third party for independents in Illinois that welcomes a diverse range of political thought without much in the way of a rigid partisan platform. An open tent party for the most part.

If we can get enough people together who are fed up with the failure of both parties in Illinois, we could make a huge difference in 2014 and beyond. Another thing Bill Bradley said that I agreed with is the title of his book, "We Can All Do Better". Maybe I should write a book on what can be done in Illinois to fix our broken two party system.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

114 of 177 unopposed in IL General Assembly

Throw all the bums out, you say? Would you settle for 36% of the bums?

Apparently, I'm the only one in this state to go through the Illinois State Board of Elections website in order to figure these stats out. I've done this many times before. Maybe I'll reach a few more people and a few more people will listen this time. Illinois elections are unfair. That needs to change. NOW.

These figures can and will change some as the election season progresses, but not by much. Democrats and Republicans can still place candidates on the ballot after the primary, but its not as easy as it used to be. Also, independents and "new" party candidates are in their petition signature gathering time period right now with those due in late June. We should see a few of them as alternatives in November. But as of right now, according to the filings with the State Board of Elections on their website, assuming I didn't make any errors, this is what our November ballots will look like in Illinois.

78 of the 118 State Representatives are unopposed.
Democrats are fielding candidates in 83 representative districts and the Republicans in 75.
66% unopposed. Only 34% of them will face competition.

36 of the 59 State Senators are unopposed.
Democrats are fileding candidates in 45 senate districts and the Republicans in 37.
61% unopposed. Only 39% of them will face competition.

Overall for the General Assembly right now 114 of the 177 members are unopposed. 64.4% waltzing to their own coronation.

Meanwhile, Illinois still has among the highest requirements in America for independents and "new" parties to get on the ballot.

From the Daily Illini's recent article, "Third-party slots on ballot hard to come by".
“Generally speaking, Illinois election law creates what are in my opinion unreasonable hurdles for independent and third party candidates to run for office in Illinois,” said Gordy Hulten, Champaign County Clerk. “In some cases, the number of petition signatures to run for Congress as an independent or third party candidate will be up to 10 times more than is required for a Republican or Democratic party candidate.” ...
Dianna Visek, legislative director of the Illinois Libertarian Party, claims that Illinois has the “second worst” election laws in the country.
“They have been made by the D’s and the R’s in order to keep alternative voices out,” she said. “That helps them to maintain power, which helps to maintain corruption.”
I believe she is right, only Georgia has higher requirements than Illinois for independents and third parties. Although in Georgia they have 180 days to collect signatures versus just 90 days in Illinois, so to me that is a toss up. It is just about as bad as it can get in Illinois, any way you look at it.

These are the stats I had for the 2006 and 2004 elections.
78 of the 118 State Rep. races (66%) as of right now will have only one candidate to choose from in the general election. For State Senate, 23 of the 39 will be unopposed (59%).
101 of 157 General Assembly races unopposed for the general election.
A few of these candidates will probably get kicked off the ballot and a few more candidates might get slated to run later, but I doubt this number changes significantly.
In 2004, it was 61 of the 118 State Rep. races (52%) and 9 of the 22 State Senate seats (41%) that were unopposed. 70 out of 140 General Assembly races (50%).

Maybe I'll fill in 2008 and 2010 and 2002 to give us a figure on unopposed elections in the last decade. If I'm inspired.

To rub it in yet again, here's what the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had to say about Illinois election laws in the 2006 case, Lee v. Keith.
In combination, the ballot access requirements for independent legislative candidates in Illinois--the early filing deadline, the 10% signature requirement, and the additional statutory restriction that disqualifies anyone who signs an independent candidate's nominating petition from voting in the primary--operate to unconstitutionally burden the freedom of political association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Ballot access barriers this high--they are the most restrictive in the nation and have effectively eliminated independent legislative candidacies from the Illinois political scene for a quarter of a century--are not sustainable based on the state's asserted interest in deterring party splintering, factionalism, and frivolous candidacies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

$165,000/year Chicago alderman pensions

So says the Chicago Tribune.
But because they can retire at 55 and their pensions grow by 3 percent compounded annually for the rest of their lives, the average amount will eventually increase to $165,000 a year.
Examples of current former alderman.
Former Ald. Thomas Allen is a prime example. After retiring from the City Council in 2010 at age 58, Allen went on to become a Circuit Court judge while also collecting roughly $90,000 a year from his city pension. During his lifetime, he stands to receive more than $4.2 million in benefits, though contributions and assumed investment returns are expected to cover only $1 million. ...
The aldermanic pension plan gained attention early this year when federal authorities indicted former Ald. William Beavers, who is alleged to have failed to pay taxes on money taken from his campaign accounts to buy into the aldermanic plan. Beavers is now receiving a city pension of more than $91,000 a year and is also eligible to earn a county pension based on his $85,000 salary as a Cook County commissioner.
Millionaire pensions and double-dipping for politicians, oh boy. One pension pulling out $3.2 million more than all the inputs combined. How many teacher pensions that Quinn is trying to cut would that take care of?

We have pension insanity syndrome in Illinois. Recent activity suggests the politicians are going after the teachers and workers first and ignoring their own lucrative packages. We can't trust the Illinois politicians who have had control thus far to manage a responsible system, its that simple. If we don't vote them out, or can't vote them out because of discriminatory ballot access laws, we have no alternative but to shout at them as loud as we can, I guess.

Drugs Week at Chicago Reader

Its Drugs Week at The Chicago Reader. They call their blog, the Bleader, and you can follow the action there. Ben Joravsky starts things off by pointing out Barney Frank's criticism of Obama's policies and politics concerning medical cannabis.
"I think it's bad politics and bad policy," Frank said. "I'm very disappointed."
The retiring Congresscritter may be 4 years too late on this assessment, but at least he is recognizing the truth now. Joravsky goes on to comment about the current state of the drug war in Cook County.
Legal for whites, illegal for blacks, and a big waste of tax dollars to all—just thinking about our insane marijuana policies makes me want to get high.
I shared some of the Reader's past drug law reporting in this post.They did an awesome job of researching the stats that show the drug war in Cook County is having racist results. Racism in this day and age? In Chicago, Obama's town? And Obama and his political brothers and sisters are ignoring it and doing nothing about it? Yes, yes, yes.

Speaking of Obama, Reason has a post detailing how Obama lied to the Rolling Stone. Obama told the Rolling Stone,
"I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, 'Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books.' What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.' As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes."
The problem with that statement is that it is a lie. President Obama, through his Attorney General, does have the power take cannabis out of "Schedule 1" and allow states to do what their people want. President Obama does not need Congress to take cannabis out of "Schedule 1". Schedule 1 says that cannabis and the other drugs in that group have absolutely no medicinal benefits. That is also a lie. Liar in Chief. Sounds about right to me.