Monday, February 28, 2005

We have too many people in jail. And we can't afford it.

First, congratulations to the anti-patronage reformers on the Cook County Board who muscled through a budget that didn't resort to higher taxes. There's plenty of patronage to weed out in Cook County, and the majority of commissioners are now (at least this week) on the side of efficient government.

But, our jails and prisons are ridiculously overcrowded, and all those bodies cost a lot of money. I heard the estimate is something like 20 grand annually for every inmate.

Meanwhile, the per-student cost at Chicago Public Schools is around $7,000.

We ought to stop locking people up so much.

Especially for possession of soft drugs like pot.

It's not a good sign that the Medical Marijuana bill didn't get out of committee a few weeks ago. I wonder how a Decriminalize Pot bill would fare. And I wonder what the fiscal note on that would be ("Not locking up non-violent pot smokers is estimated to save the state $400 million annually).

The Cook County budget next year might depend on a sane drug policy. . . .

David Orr's office working on a good election reform bill

In today's Tribune, David Orr's got a good column here on the problems of these local electoral boards. I've practiced before them. Some of them are fair-minded (maybe most of them), but when they want to railroad a candidate off the ballot, it's harder to think of an adjudicative structure that's designed more efficiently to do that than the local electoral boards.

Two bills would abolish these local electoral boards. Senator Martin Sandoval's (D-Chicago) SB 204 and Representative Robin Kelly's (D-Matteson) HB 2416 would get the job done and let the county officers electoral board handle disputes. HB 2416 was assigned to a substantive committee, not sent to the Executive Committee, so that's a good sign for its passage.

The Election Law Committee of the Chicago Bar Association (of which I am a member) has voted to support this bill, and I think the Association's lobbyist, Larry Suffredin (also a reform County Board member -- check out, will weigh in on the bill.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Another good bill -- HB 758 -- that ought to be passed

As a former third party organizer, I can tell you from experience, that Illinois election laws just aren't fair. Any citizen who wants to run for office should get on the ballot. But Illinois law treats appearing on the ballot as a prize to be earned, rather than a right to be claimed by any citizen.

Jeff Trigg with the Illinois Libertarian Party is leading the charge to get more public attention paid to how unfair the ballot access laws are. There's a reason why among the top 10 states, we're the only state to have only two established parties on the ballot. Most states have 3 or 4. Some states have 7 or 8. The major party candidates almost always win, but voters have the choice to pick whatever candidate they want -- and those small party candidates are great for the public dialogue, because they are exclusively about issues. Major party candidates have to be about a lot of things besides issues. They need to appear to be a responsible representative of their community. They need to culturally identify with the people who live in their district. And they need to convey an ability to serve as an ombudsman to citizens. Pushing an issue-oriented agenda is only part of that. That's one reason why I like lots of candidates and parties -- it teaches us all about potentially better ways to run the government.

I appreciate Jeff sending me a public thank-you for working with Representative Mike Boland in drafting HB 758. Boland deserves a lot of credit for consistently working for a more open government, as do his two co-sponsors, Paul Froehlich and Jack Franks (full disclosure -- I'm Paul's roommate in Springfield).

It's long past time that Illinois voters are routinely presented with an array of choices on election day, and HB 758 will hasten that day.

Good move by Dan Hynes, Lisa Madigan, Jesse White and Judy Baar Topinka

Dan Hynes' office has pulled together all the other constitutional officers (leaving out, for some reason, Pat Quinn) in backing a prohibition on state contractors making contributions to political camapigns. He held a stand-up press conference on Friday, with John Fritchey, Miguel Del Valle and Bill Black (and probably others not mentioned in press accounts.)

Hynes also issued an Executive Order implementing the policy in the Comptroller's Office.

And this is how government is supposed to run. One of the big complaints of Governor Blagojevich is that he has raised so much money from, primarily, state contractors who then profit from state business. And that's parasitic.

All the electeds emphasized that they aren't holding a press conference to target Blagojevich, since the governor does deserve credit for the 2003 ethics bill getting significantly strengthened over the summer and into veto session after President Jones in May of 2003 weakened the bill, but has in the last two years looked more like the same-old, same-old kind of pay-to-play governor from all the millions he has raised from contractors. Maybe it isn't fair that someone looks dirty without breaking any laws, since it isn't illegal to raise 50 grand from a lawyer and then hire that lawyer in a no-bid contract, but it sure looks bad. It's that type of stuff that makes people believe that government isn't an efficient or trustworthy institution, and as progressives, we really can't tolerate that perception or any actions that perpetuate that perception.

So this is a great move for the future of Illinois government. Unfortunately, the bills have not yet been filed. Senator Del Valle's bill from the early part of the session, SB 39, has not been released from the Rules Committee. Just about every other bill has, so that's not a good sign. President Jones has been more of an obstacle than a leader on campaign finance reform. Hopefully that will change this year.

Oh, one more thing. This means that more regular people should send in small checks to the electeds that we think are doing the right thing. If you haven't sent in a $25 or $50 check to a good elected this month, what are you waiting for? I'm sure every single one of them -- every single elected official -- would rather fund their campaigns with tens of thousands of small checks than a few big checks. But not enough of us send in small checks. So do it! Sometimes they appreciate the $35 check from someone who just likes what they are doing more than a $1000 check from a PAC or a group that will be looking for something in return. These guys are really under-appreciated. Send in some money.

Friday, February 25, 2005

And one more thing on Russia and the US

In the Tribune article (can't link to it since I'm blogging from the Amtrak on the way back to Chicago), Bush brags about our press freedom. Three paragraphs later we get a substantive quote from a 'senior administration official.' Yeah. How bout a name, buddy. Our papers shouldn't tolerate all these unnamed sources. They work for us. So put your name on the record.

Putin avoids criticism of Russian abolition of direct gubernatorial elections by referencing the Electoral College

That's great. When President Bush criticized Russia's move to abolish direct elections of their state governors, he simply pointed out that the man doing the criticizing was elected by 271 people and not 100 million people in a direct election. So what the hell are we supposed to say to that. We are, in the language of 5th graders, totally busted. It is long past time to abolish the Electoral College. This Russian bust of Bush is one more reason.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

And the vote is. . .

saviano is a no. bradley is a present as is burke. coulson is a no. fritchey is a no. delgado a present. miller is a no. mendoza and froehlich are yes. I don't get where all the no votes are coming from. department of public health was an opponent. there is a back story to this one because the bill looks great to me on the merits.

Jack Franks great bill on big pharma's bribes to docs

HB 656 is in committee now. OK maybe bribes is a bit strong, but when drug companies give money or give-aways to doctors, the financial interest of the pharma companies conflict with the health interests of the patient who might get pushed into more expensive drugs. 4 states now require pharma companies to disclose to the state how much they spend on direct marketing. Jack's bill would add Illinois to the list. Ed Sullivan voted no and went to another committee. The Chamber is arguing that the industry standards where they argue that they have cleaned up the excesses of their industry. Jack's point in debate is that the for-profit drug companies market their products to physicians, not the end users, so that this is a special circumstance that justifies regulation. Plus the fastest growing part of the state budget is the cost of prescription drugs. Paul Froehlich asks the Chamber that the accountability of self-regulation is basically internal without any outside check. The Chamber agrees but thinks that is OK. Paul argues that means you never find out how compliant the pharma companies are. Makes sense to me. So how will the reporting change their behavior? Maybe because people will know how they send their drug reps into doctors offices. That's it. Not too compelling. Rosemary Mulligan seems hostile or at least indifferent. Jack responds with a 'brilliant' article from the New England Journal of Medicine that writes about the kickbacks in the 22 billion direct marketing to doctors. That's more money than they spend on R and D. Kosel votes no and leaves. Back in a minute.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Chicago has way too many bus stops

These CTA routes take five or six times as long as driving, largely because we stop at every freaking block to let one guy off or a few people on. The Director of Pace testified in the Mass Transit Committee that slower busses equals more expensice busses. Well in this time of tight budgets for everything tha benefits regular Americans (but tax cuts for those earning more than 300 large and a bottomless pit of money for our armed adventures overseas), the CTA should start eliminating bus stops to no more than one per half-mile. And while we're at it we should figure out how to copy Berlin where people pay their fare at the bus stop while waiting for the bus and when it arrives, everyone just gets on quickly from both doors instead of forming a slow-moving single-file line where each person pays the fare while the bus idles.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mayor Laurel Prussing of Urbana. Village President Larry Dominick of Cicero.

Wow. In a big comeback, Laurel Prussing looks to have topped Mayor Tod Satterthwaite in the Democratic primary by 250 votes. Here is the Champaign County Clerk's latest returns.

Laurel Prussing was one of the first politicians I ever interviewed as a reporter for the Daily Illini. She was a newly-elected state representative in 1992, and in 1994 lost in the GOP landslide to Rick Winkel (now State Senator Rick Winkel).

She tried some comebacks for state, and then federal office, before finding the Urbana mayoral primary a better fit.

She represents the liberal wing of the Democratic Party while Mayor Sattherthwaite represents the moderate wing.

Apparently the entire Urbana City Council will be new.

I think an untapped resource for progressives to develop innovative policy are municipalities. Maybe Urbana will become more of a laboratory, which would be great.

In Cicero, challenger Larry Dominick has edged out the incumbent. Maybe some reform away from old-school patronage and skimming off the commonwealth is coming to Cicero. That town has always been the soft underbelly of the Cook County Republican Party's call for reform, as they have tolerated the graft and patronage for years, since that's one of the few machines that votes for Republicans. Maybe that's about to change. It depends how honest President Larry Dominick is. And since clean-government conservative Dan Proft was a Dominick consultant, I'm guessing the odds the Cicero is going to get a-scrubbing are better than 50-50. Which is great.

The Ukrainian Prime Minister. . . is a total fox

Thanks to Os-Blog for the tip. . . .the new Prime Minister of the Ukraine is smoking hot.

Here is her website.

Her name is Yuliya Tymoshenko.

I knew there was another reason we were supporting the democracy movement in the Ukraine.

We need a speech in the Ukrainian Village in Chicago. Someone get Yuliya to the corner of Chicago and Damen soon.

A new day in Cicero?

With 46 of 53 precincts reporting, challenger Larry Dominick is narrowly beating incumbent Ramiro Gonzalez by less than 100 votes, 4,777 to 4,688. That change in administration would be a good thing.

The County Clerk's website is here.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

What's the matter with Kansas or what's right with Illinois?

I just returned from the DuPage Democrats dinner where I met fellow blogger and Naperville Township Dem Committeeman Rick Klau. One piece of Illinois trivia that I didn't know: there is a Democratic state senator with part of DuPage in the district. Give up? Don Harmon has about 10 precincts in DuPage. The keynoter was David Wilhelm and he led with this interesting frame. In most of the country, the GOP playbook is cultural wedge issues: gays, guns and abortion. Identify with the electorate on those cultural issues, define the Dem as alien based on some or all of the wedge issues and coast to a majority. Probably throw race in there too. That worls for the Republicans in a lot of places where the federal GOP agenda of enriching the wealthy and choosing Corporate America over workers and consumers wouldn't be enough to earn support - but the cultural wedge issues do. Thomas Frank (a former Chicago guy) wrote a good book on the topic titled What's The Matter With Kansas. Wilhelm pointed out that the playbook doesn't work here. In the Chicago suburbs, gay-bashing just doesn't play. Look at state rep Joe Dunn's vote for extending civil rights in employment and housing to gays as an example. He represents Naperville - a GOP stronghold - but the anti-gay stuff doesn't resonate. So Illinois is an example of a healthier electorate. Maybe it's because we are better educated or farther north. Whatever the reason, the Dems in other states should be studying us to see what we are doing right.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Iraq's election should be a lesson on proportional representation

The election in Iraq where the Shia parties with just a hair under a majority of the vote earned less than a majority of the seats in the assembly and lots of other parties have representation - not just one other party - should teach us about the advantages of proportional representation. They did not slice up their nation into hundreds of small political districts where a single person gets elected from the district and the minority of voters in each district get left out without representation. Instead the whole country faced the same ballot with the same list of parties. And for every percent of the vote a party earned they receiced another percent of the seats in the assembly. That is a far more inclusive election than what we do in the United States where only two parties get any representation even though a third of the electorate identifies as independent or a third party supporter. We leave too many voices outside of the seat of government. And in every democracy that we have helped to set up - Germany, Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq - we set up proportional representation, not our one-person districts. Maybe we ought to reconsider whether one-person representation is the best way to go in the U.S.

Friday, February 18, 2005

A veto over a 4% income tax? Bring it on!

Cal Skinner is thinking something similar in his column in the Leader here -- although Governor Blagojevich is pledging to keep his campaign promise (which is a good thing) and not raise the 3% state income tax by stating that he will veto any bill like HB 750 that would fund our poor schools with a 4 or 5 percent income tax (depending on how much tax relief you throw into the mix), that only means the magic number of representatives rises to 72 and senators to 36 to pass good policy.

If a veto-proof super-majority of legislators decide that our schools need more money, our wealthiest taxpayers who get their state taxes subsidized by the feds aren't paying enough and we can figure out the accountability piece so we're not just throwing new money into bad teachers or old pensions, then the Governor's signature is not a requirement.

Lots of Republican districts are poor. They benefit from a bill like HB 750. I believe there are more than 72 House districts that would benefit -- economically objectively -- from a move like HB 750. I believe that if legislators voted exclusively based on the economic interests of their districts, HB 750 would become law over Governor Blagojevich's veto. And to me, that means the opportunity for better lives for children in poor schools remains tantalizingly close to Third Reading.

Pension problems -- how about a constitutional amendment?

I think there's a consensus (among the very few people interested enough to pay attention to public pension finances) that there were some serious mistakes made in the last decade in pension sweeteners that are not financed by recurring revenues -- that is, some school disticts gave their beloved principal a pay raise of $40 grand for a few years so that the retired principal can spend his days in Key West drawing a much larger pension from the state for the next two or three decades. Similarly, lots of other groups got sweet pensions (that are completely tax free from the 3% income tax, by the way), that are financed by general taxpayers in 2020 or so. Meaning, we don't have the money to buy teachers or social workers or university profs. We just have the money to send to retired people.

The problem is that the 1970 Illinois Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from fixing past mistakes (and certainly every one would concede that mistakes in making pensions too large were made -- and we are all paying for those unjustified moves now).

A solution would be a constitutional amendment to permit the General Assembly to adjust pension benefits. That would appear on the November 2006 ballot, and let the people decide whether we'd rather trust the current General Assembly to finance our pensions or whether we should be locked into the decisions of General Assemblies long gone.

Another solution would be to tax pension income and put all that money back into the pension system. If we think current pension benefits are too high for some classes of people, then we can recapture some of that money (at least 3% of it) and direct it into the pension system. Seems fair to me.

Anyway, I think Governor Blagojevich deserves credit for taking pension funding on directly. I don't see how it is financially prudent to capture the savings ($850 million or so) this fiscal year, but it seems rather unfair to call the Governor irresponsible for taking those pension savings if the one making the critique isn't willing to curtail the pensions and create any savings at all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

clean indoor act bill in committee now

The Environmental Health Committee chaired by Karen May is meeting now to debate HB 672 sponsored by Karen Yarbrough that would permit more than the current 21 municipalities that may protect their workers from breathing carcinogenic smoke in their workplaces. Last week the bill failed in committee but Rep. Sara Feigenholtz was ill and not in the committee so maybe the bill has better prospects today. The culture of agreement manifests itself - former rep Dunn said that he will continue to discuss with opponents an amendment 'we put a man on the moon so we will continue to talk about this language'. No real hearing today since last week they had a full hearing. And the vote is coming. Oh the drama. . .you never know what will happen in these tense moments before the vote. And Bob Churchill saved the bill by voting yes. McCarthy voted no. Otherwise the Ds voted yes and the Rs voted no. 5 to 3 the bill goes to the floor. Fun stuff.

Who is the most responsible state budget maker?

Live from the Capitol on Blagojevich budget address. The big problem is the public pension system. It is out of control. Who will tame the beast - and just as importantly, who will get public credit for financial responsibility to be entrusted with control of state government? So far the Governor is at least half right. Today he is calling for new retirees to have a scaled down pension with things like a 2 percent annual adjustment instead of a 3 percent bump and an end to the special sweeteners for this cop's widow and that group of prison guards. Those are long overdue steps already strenuously resisted by most of the unions. Imterestingly the GOP is apparently allying themselves with the teachers unions and rejecting the responsible pension position - but the GOP position is still murky. So far the person who deserves the most credit for pension responsibility is Speaker Madigan who single handedly blocked the teachers early retirement option that would cost the state just shy of a billion - essentially financing the past instead of the future because those pension dollars do not buy young teachers or schoolbooks for needy kids. But Speaker Madigan essentially gets no credit for his do the right thing move, certainly not from the Tribune editorial page which pays attention to things here. Can the Governor with his superior messaging skills and easy access to a statewide bully pulpit get the credit that eludes Speaker Madigan? Let's find out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Interesting voting age law question

From the bsement of the Capitol. . . .I am working on SB 227 to allow 16 year olds who get their drivers license the ability to register to vote at the Secretary of State's office. Young people have the lowest rate of voting and registration and one reason (however small is that they do not get registered when they get ther license as adults do. So here is the puzzle: how do you register someone to vote when they are not eligible because they are too young? We came up with 'pre-registration' but ideally they would just register. At comittee today I heard there might be a federal law requiring registrants to affirm they are 18 when they register. If anyone has any ideas on how to get more young people registered - especially when they are already giving their data to the government - please post.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Tax season, and Big Banks look to rip off the working poor

So filing taxes is neither easy nor intuitive. It's a challenge, especially for the majority of the American population that are not college graduates. (Isn't that an amazing figure -- less than half of the over-22 population has a college degree).

The working poor get a lot of tax breaks, as they should, to increase purchasing power among those who will spend their money in this country and boost our economy, creating jobs here.

But filing for those breaks is a challenge, and people often need that money fast.

There are two ways to deal with this.

One is to get governments and non-profits set up to help people file their taxes, teach them how to do it, and get more working people their money.

The other is to see this as a profit center. Get the biggest financial companies in the country to open up store fronts in poor neighborhoods, fill out the tax forms for them and charge, oh, 100% interest. A HUNDRED PERCENT!

And the latter is what's happening.

This article in Crain's Chicago Business lays it out.

And so the feds cut the funding for non-profits to do this for our residents, instead letting the banks make money off our residents.

It's basically exporting wealth from our working residents to the owners of the banks (few of whom live in Illinois, as these big banks are publicly traded. Maybe the Saudi Royal Family is getting rich of Illinois residents filing taxes, if they own a big chunk of stock in these banks. That's a feel good thought, isn't it?)

Maybe we should require every Illinois resident to open a bank account and quit getting ripped off by these banks.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

More tax stuff -- $95 million in DC for Illinois, state earned income tax credit

Nothing like taxes. That's the half of government that wealthy people care most about. They are the cut-my-taxes base of the GOP. We progressives don't really pay as much attention to the tax side and tend to spend more energy on the spending side.

But as Ralph Martire put it, tax policy is the civil rights agenda of the 21st century.

Anyway, two interesting things.

1) This press release from the IRS that details how some people haven't filed their 2001 tax returns, but are eligible for an average refund of $484. Just in Illinois, about 67,000 people haven't filed the 2001 returns, leaving more than $95 million in D.C. Could you imagine how hard we'd work for a $100 million federal project? But there is a $100 million federal project to be had -- track down all the Illinois residents who haven't filed their returns and get them filed. State and local governments can probably do something about this. Any ideas?

2) Looks like Barbara Flynn Currie, Illinois' House Majority Leader, is looking to upgrade the state's earned income tax credit, which really helps pull working people out of poverty. It's an open secret that low-paid jobs mean perpetual poverty, and a couple thousand dollars is a fortune to someone earned $14,000 a year. The earned income tax credit directs dollars to people with low paid jobs, especially with children. The federal earned income tax credit is already set up and fairly generous. It's been the only bi-partisan anti-poverty program that everyone embraces in the last two decades (apparently President Reagan was a big fan). States are looking to match a percentage of what the federal income tax credit gives back. We're now at 5%, which is below average. HB 470 (read it here) would up that over a few years to 20%. It's getting a lot of bi-partisan co-sponsors, but if your rep is not on the list, make that phone call.

Blagojevich, Roeser and our undertax of the wealthy

Thomas Roeser likes Rod Blagojevich. In his latest Sun-Times column here, he praises Blagojevich for raising fees instead of the income tax or the sales tax.

He unfavorably compares our governor with the Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniels, who seeks to raise the income tax from 3.4 percent to 4.4 percent on any income earned over 100 large.

The part that Roeser is missing is a concept called the federal offset.

That's the amount of state taxes paid that is effectively subsidized by the federal government.

I'll bet Mitch Daniels understands that very well, as President Bush's former budget chief.

Basically, if you tax high incomes, the federal government subsidizes those taxes paid by about a third. If you tax low incomes, the feds do not.

That's because of the following federal income tax rate table (read it from the IRS here).

$0 $7,300 10% of the amount over $0
$7,300 $29,700 $730 plus 15% of the amount over 7,300
$29,700 $71,950 $4,090.00 plus 25% of the amount over 29,700
$71,950 $150,150 $14,652.50 plus 28% of the amount over 71,950
$150,150 $326,450 $36,548.50 plus 33% of the amount over 150,150
$326,450 no limit $94,727.50 plus 35% of the amount over 326,450

Which basically means for income over $150,000, the feds tax a third of that.

Keep in mind the main reason why the federal government is running massive deficits is because the tax rate on income abover $326,450 went from 39.6% to 35%.

That's the change.

Those people are the Republican base.

And if you are paid less than $350,000 a year, it is in your economic interest to vote for Democrats who will raise the rate back to 39.6% -- you won't pay any of that. And then we won't have to pay the interest on the debt for the next 40 years from the wealthy refusing to pay their fair share of government during this decade.

But, back to the state government.

If your state government levies a tax on the people with a federal tax rate of 33% or more, then for every dollar those guys pay in state taxes, they pay 33 cents less in federal taxes (because state taxes are deductible off federal taxes paid).

That's a huge bargain for the state, and a way to keep wealth in the state instead of exporting it to D.C. (where it gets sent to Iraq).

Indiana is making a smart move by taking their high-income people at a very reasonable 4.4% -- because that state tax increase will be offset by Indiana residents sending less money to D.C.

Too bad Blagojevich -- or Thomas Roeser -- doesn't seem to grasp the power of the federal offset of state taxes.

Representative Will Davis
does. He's got a bill (disclosure: I'm working on it with him) to raise our income tax rate to 4%, but alleviate the burden on lower-incomes by raising the standard exemption and the earned income tax credit. The bill is HB 155 and it is here.

This bill needs co-sponsors. Call your state representative and ask him or her to co-sponsor HB 155. And let's keep our wealth in Illinois.

Need a criminal attorney for Illinois? Cook County lawyer can help petty offenses, tickets or drivers license issues


If you are looking for a lawyer to handle a criminal case in Illinois, you should call my law firm or one of my associates that I refer cases to. People with minor cases, such as driving on a suspended license or first-time offenders, often can get their cases resolved with an experienced attorney working with the state's attorney's office. Don't just assume that everything will be fine and don't ever miss a court appearance. Go in to court with an attorney to get your matter resolved and clean up your record.

Email me at or call my office at 312.867.5377 to see if we can help you.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Joe Moore is in the DNC. Very cool

49th Ward Chicago Alderman Joe Moore is apparently (according to this post at archpundit) now on the Democratic National Committee. Joe is a very smart progressive, so that's a good sign for the DNC.

Oh, and I think Dean is great for Party Chair. He's a great messenger for speaking truth to power.

Committees! Good times, good times

The General Assembly is in the swing of things. I still haven't figured out a good blogging set up in Springfield, so I'm a few days late on this stuff, but the House committees are full of interesting, progressive ideas (some of which die, some of which survive).

Did you know that only 21 municipalities in Illinios have the authority to ban smoking? Most places can not do so under state law. House Bill 672, introduced by Representative Karen Yarbrough (read it here) would modernize state law to let any home rule municipality ban smoking. It lost in the Environmental Health Committee (a new one chaired by Karen May) by a 4-3-1 vote. Unfortunately, the General Assembly's website doesn't record committee votes, so it doesn't say who the 4 yes votes, the 3 no votes and the 1 present vote are. It's a 5-3 D-R committee, and I happened to ask Kevin McCarthy about the bill before. He doesn't smoke, and in fact went on a smoke-free cruise with his wife, but he voted no, because he heard from his local restaraunts and bars that they would definitely be hurt if they were forced to go smoke free. Advocates of smoke-free workplaces argue that in Boston and New York State and California where they have gone smoke-free there has been no negative economic impact, and some data that bars and restaraunts do better because people who don't like to smell like a carcinogenic fog after going out can go to the bars. So we need more data and anecdotal evidence from bar/restaurant owners/workers in smoke-free places to see if they did better or worse from going smoke-free. If we can convince legislators like Representative McCarthy that the bars actually do better, then we have a better chance to pass the bill. A companion bill is in the Senate, introduced by Senator John Cullerton, SB 254, would do about the same thing.

This bill will be a big battle between public health / lung association / anti-cancer people and the Restaurant Association (led by the affable Donovan Pepper). No offense, Donovan, but I hope you lose. First round goes to Pepper.

Another bill came up that Lou Lang is pushing is HB 187 that would require school buses to have seat belts. It passed out of committee after a high-minded debate over whether the state should mandate school districts (most of which are broke because we won't tax our higher-income people at 5 or 6 percent of their income) to put seat belts in their new buses, or tell the bus companies that they lease from to include seat belts. I wish they would take video of some of the committees and put it on the Illinois Channel or at least on the website, because some of them really are interesting.

A few bills that I have worked on moved out of committee. Anazette Collins has a bill, HB 166 (here) that doesn't permit juveniles to waive the right to counsel in any court-related proceeding. That's what the bill will say. We had to create what are magic words in the Capitol: an Agreed Bill. When everyone who is at all interested in a bill, agrees, then things go well. Bills fly out. Legislators don't need to worry about the language, because the experts who are most informed agree that the bill is not harmful to anyone. So we reached an agreement with the state's attorneys, and now the bill should be one of those unanimous bills.

Another agreed bill that I worked on yesterday is Sara Feigenholtz's HB 112 (here) which requires about every part of state and local government to use 2 percent biodiesel for all their diesel engines. Every time we fill up a tank of gas, we're exporting wealth from Illinois to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Venezuela. When we fill up with biodisel, we're keeping our wealth in Illinois. We should lead on this policy.

Lots and lots of good bills out there. Not enough citizen lobbyists showing up at the Capitol, meeting their legislators face-to-face and asking them to support the good bills. If you have never made the trip, what are you waiting for? An invitation?

Monday, February 07, 2005

14-day grace period registration bill signed into law

Good news today. Governor Blagojevich signed SB 2133 into law. Here is his press release. That's the bill that extends voter registration an additional two weeks, creating a 14-day grace period where citizens may register to vote if they do so in-person at the office of the election authority from 28 days to 14 days before an election. The bill is here.

Representative Robin Kelly and Senator James Meeks deserve a lot of credit for this legislation. Unfortunately the Governor didn't have a bill signing ceremony so they could get some acclaim, but hey, at least he signed it and is now making some noice about the bill.

If you'd like more details on the bill, I have some here.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

End the cap for Social Security taxes to fully fund our pensions

I had blogged about this earlier -- the big driver of the Social Security funding gap is the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. Currently, only the first $90,000 earned is taxed. All the income earned above that is tax-free. Yippee! That's great if you're high-income! But, not so great for everybody else.

Nathan Newman runs a great blog which is on the blogrool and here he cites a poll here by Quinnipiac University where 69% of respondents agree we should eliminate the cap on taxable income.

I hope Rahm Emanuel and other Dem leaders who run in wealthy circles to raise funds will articulate this position, so the opposition party can get bolder and more defined.

I'll be on Beyond the Beltway tonight

Thanks to Bruce DuMont (who was covering the State of the State speech from the press gallery), I'll be on Beyond the Beltway tonight. I expect we'll talk a bit about the irony of nation-building in Iraq, a triumph for liberalism, came from the Administration that mocked the concept during the 2000 presidential campaign and lied to the Congress about the two alleged reasons for invading Iraq -- fictional weapons of mass destruction and ties between Saddam Hussein and Al-Queda.

If Indiana GOP Governor Mitch Daniels can propose a 4.4% income tax rate on $100,000 and above. . . .

Did you know that Indiana has a higher income tax rate than Illinois?

It's true. Our income tax rate is 3 percent. Indiana's rate is 3.4%. (It was raised from 3% to 3.4% in 1987).

In fact, every Midwestern state has a higher income tax rate than Illinois.

That's the main reason why most Illinois schools don't have good programs. We don't tax our income enough to fund education.

Mitch Daniels, the former budget chief for President Bush, is the new Republican Governor of Indiana. Indiana is facing a budget deficit just like Illinois (and about every other state).

Governor Daniels proposes an increase in the income tax to 4.4% for income earned above $100,000. Here's a story on it from the Indianapolis Star. It's a one-year proposal. Here is his State of the State address where he talks about the 4.4% income tax near the end of it.

So an Indiana resident would pay $3,400 for the first $100,000 earned, and then 4.4% on any income earned above that.

It's great policy.

One main advantage is the federal offset. Read this policy brief to understand the federal offset -- basically, high-income people deduct their state income taxes from their taxable income on their federal returns. They can pay a rate of 30% at higher levels of income. So for every extra dollar that a high-income Indiana resident pays in Indiana state income tax, that is one dollar less that is taxable from the federal government. Which means that is 30 cents that is not sent to Washington D.C.

So the dollar extra paid to Indiana state government is really only 70 cents of extra tax paid by the Indiana resident, since if the resident didn't pay the extra dollar to the state government, she would have sent 30 cents to Washington as that dollar would have been taxable income for her federal taxes.

That's why it makes sense for states to tax high-incomes, because we keep more of the income earned in our state in our state, and we do not send it to Washington.

We do not tax the income of high-income earners enough in Illinois.

So if Mitch Daniels can propose an income tax increase on income above $100,000, why can't Rod Blagojevich?

I hope more legislators and Governor Blagojevich support Will Davis' legislation, HB 155. It shifts the income tax burden onto the higher-income earners to take advantage of the federal offset and shifts away from low-income earners who do not get the advantage of the federal offset (because their federal tax rates are lower and often they do not deduct their state taxes from the federal returns).

Thursday, February 03, 2005

One neat idea -- bringing down health care costs

I thought Governor Blagojevich had a neat idea on bringing down health care costs by copying the Cleveland model where the local chamber of commerce brought together all the small businesses in order to buy cheaper health insurance for all members. Blagojevich suggested that the State of Illinois would partner with every local chamber and create a statewide program to buy health insurance for every small business.

Even better would be if the government could run all health care for businesses -- because that would make our exporting companies more competitive. We're at a competitive disadvantage in manufacturing now relative to other countries with government-run health care. Our manufacturing companies have to include the cost of health care (and that's the for-profit insurance company provided health care which includes the passed-through cost of covering the uninsured) in their products. European manufacturing companies do not, because health care is a government program. So our products are more expensive than products from countries with government-run health care.

So I wonder if Illinois went Canadian and just set up a state-run health care system, would that make Illinois manufacturers more competitive than those in other states? And would that be a huge inducement to businesses to move to Illinois so that they wouldn't have to include the cost of health care in their bottom line at all?

State ofthe state from the gallery

Watching the Governor from the House gallery. . . .He made an interesting but sort of B.S. move on renewable energy. Instead of calling for q 20 percent renewable standard he called on the Illinois Commerce Commission to approve some sort of standard. He didn't give a figure. And I guess that takes the wind out of the sails of any attempt to pass legislation. Let's see if the ICC moves on that proposal. He also dodged his failure to impose modern standards on coal power plants by calling for a regional standard on emissions. Whatever. If he wants a regional midwestern standard then he should define it publicly and work to pass it this year in Illinois. You can't say you are taking the lead on air pollution by talking to other states, which is what he did. Right now he does not deserve environmentalist's support.

UPDATE: This Treo blogging is not so good. I don't know what 3,000 megawatts by 2012 translates to in percentage terms of the state's electricity usage (which is what the Governor called for). Roughly speaking, the best states are implementing renewable portfolio standards that are equal to the year -- so 8% in 2008, 10% in 2010, 20% in 2020. If 3,000 megawatts in 2012 is about 12%, then that's better than I originally thought. Any help on this calculation would be appreciated. However, his big failure is the lack of modern emission standards for the old power plants. That's unacceptable.

UPDATE AGAIN: Well, I don't get it. The Environmental Law and Policy Center is saying in their latest email that Blagojevich "has recommended a 2% renewable energy standard (RES) by 2006, ramping up to 8% by 2012." I didn't hear that in the State of the State address (you can read it here). The media is reporting that Blagojevich has called for an 8% standard, but I can't find that anywhere. Help, as always, would be appreciated.

POTENTIALLY FINAL UPDATE: I guess the 8% comes from the 3,000 megawatts figure (after emailing ELPC). I'd like to see the actual submission to the Illinois Commerce Commission before I give the Governor any credit, especially since by punting this over to the ICC, it gives policymakers an excuse not to include a renewable energy standard in the legislation that will likely emerge from the scheduled rewrite of energy laws this year. I wonder why the Governor and his speechwriters used such a confusing way of taking about wind power. Maybe 3000 megawatts sounds more impressive than 8%. Anyway, 8% still puts us behind other leading states. I'll keep an eye on this.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Iraqi election is a triumph

I was inspired over the last week by the free election in Iraq. President Bush was right tonight when he said voting was an act of personal courage. Defying the criminals and bullies and thugs that attempt to intimidate the citizenry into submission and away from self-rule, the people braved violence to choose their new destiny. And while it is true that we were lied to in order to get us to agree to invade Iraq, topple a tyrant and build a nation, we can still feel great that such an historic advance of democracy over dictatorship came from our commonwealth.

Breast cancer lottery

Not the lottery that women do not want to lose if they get breast cancer but instead Senate Bill 1 which will set up a breast cancer lottery. About a third of the state senate are in the Blue Room promoting SB 1. The new tagline is Ticket for the Cure. They are hoping to raise at least 3 million for breast cancer prevention programs. There is something sad about depending on a scratch off lottery ticket to raise money for smart public investment but when the state is broke, a lottery ticket is a new revenue stream. The thinking is that new people who do not currently throw away their money on lottery tickets will start buying these tickets in order to fund breast cancer programs. To me this is one more reason for a 4 percent income tax but it is nice to see a creative idea.