Monday, May 09, 2005

Some grumbling about using the Dem majority in Illinois

I've detected an uptick in the undercurrent of unhappiness by legislators about the lack of a bold Democratic agenda in 2005 for the Illinois General Assembly.

In 2003, there were some big bills. A rise in the minimum wage. A huge upswing in FamilyCare (making us one of the best states in the Union). Civil rights for homosexuals. Ethics reform. The state's first housing policy. Polluter pays for water dumpers. Covering birth control for all insurance.

What's the big bill in 2005? Medical malpractice? Mass transit. . . kind of. Finally giving kids from poor areas a decent education? Nope.

Republicans in D.C. don't act this way. They use their political capital.

Some legislators are grumbling that the agenda is getting more cautious and less visionary. And that's not why they took the job.

That's probably the role of the movement -- to push the party to get bigger, get bolder and help deliver a higher standard of living for people.

What should we do? More and better teachers, from K through college. Renewable energy everywhere to get energy jobs in Illinois, not Houston or Saudi Arabia. Force the coal power plants to install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment so they can burn Illinois coal and help bring back Southern Illinois from the brink. (Why Southern Illinois electeds oppose the most stringent clean air requirements in Illinois plants is beyond me. With the best equipment, the plants can burn high-sulfur Illinois coal. Am I missing something?) Change economic development from tax credits for corporations to buying health insurance for employees. Tax relief for people making less than 40 grand. Tax the wealthy more because they can afford it -- and because those taxes are subsidized by the feds. Build another college. Expand the number of students at our existing colleges by 10% -- at least. Get the extra students from overseas if we have to. Let the non-violent drug offenders out of prison and use the money for financial aid for colleges. Quit locking people up for drug possession in the first place. Move from an institution-based system of care for the disabled and the old to a community-based system which is cheaper and better.

Big ideas are exciting. We need more of them.


FightforJustice said...

The biggest proposal out there this session is SB/HB750, the giant state tax hike/property tax reduction, with most of the $5 billion in new revenue going for schools. Some Senate Republicans are proposing compromises and a version of the bill may be voted on there.

Cal Skinner said...

I'm amused by your belief that Republicans (at least in Illinois) used their influence when briefly in control in 1995-96. I couldn't even get them to split the Metropolitican Sanitary District (name probably changed to protect the guilty)into single-member districts.

payton said...

You wouldn't even need to import students from overseas--Illinois is leaking tens of thousands of college students each year. The sizeable investment that Illinoisans (particularly in the Chicago suburbs) in K-12 education just goes to enrich other states, whether through their public or private universities. Illinois also lacks the infrastructure to keep well educated young people here: we're the top exporter of young, well-educated people to California, for instance.

Overall, yes, we're missing a golden opportunity to make crucial investments that will bolster the state for decades to come.

Anonymous said...

We definitely need big ideas.

However, most of the items that you mention involve cost. Rightly or wrongly, the ordinary taxpayer currently feels overtaxed. I’m not totally convinced that we need more revenue, just a re-prioritization. Unfortunately, this takes more time than simply continuing with current wasted expenditures and adding more. Blago is trying, but each existing expenditure has so much special interest attached.

Definitely, we need more and better teachers, but we need to reduce all the other “non-academic” expenditures that are running through education.

Unfortunately, taxing non-renewable energy is regressive.

Coal (which, of course, is not renewable) may never be viable.

Moving toward a public health care system will be very gradual. The primary factor – will physicians and all other health care workers forego current extravagant incomes? In addition, what should be covered? Should the public pay for someone who opts to smoke?

Definitely, we need to rethink current tax policy (but, again, not necessarily more total revenue). 750 is not the answer. Possibly, a state-wide property tax.

I don’t think we need an additional university yet. The existing 12 campuses are not yet at capacity. We need to get the community colleges under control first and figure out exactly how best to utilize them.

Absolutely, we need to decriminalize many existing jailable offenses. Our criminal injustice system is overtly racist.

Although community-based systems may be cheaper in the long-run, there will be some pretty significant up-front costs.

Big ideas are great, but the pay off is in the nuts-and-bolts grunt work of voter education, working on campaigns, and working on incremental specific legislation.

Thanks for all your efforts, Dan.

I hope to see you this summer or fall around the capitol.

FightforJustice said...

Incrementalism rules in Springfield. Agreed bills are the preferred process. Big ideas invariably gore some interest group's ox and arouse their opposition. In other words, think small and you might actually get something done. The more sweeping the change, the less likely it is to be adopted.

Bill Baar said...

Sorry, but the Democrats aren't an idea party anymore. They gave up long ago.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, the biggest problem (or positive) in Illinois is that there really AREN'T majorities. Just a bunch of minorities. Suburban liberal Republicans and conservative downstate Democrats muck things up so bad that there's rarely a substantial bill that will attract a legitimate 60+ votes. So to get any big bill through, you have to make major concessions -- or tack on goodies to appease a few opponents -- to get over the hump.

Which is annoying, but probably good for government in the long term.