Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans and the South is looking biblically bad

This is like a plague. Very Old Testament.

A drowned city.

The McCormick Tribune Foundation is offering a 50 cent match on every dollar contributed and they are picking up administrative costs. You can donate here.

(Thanks, posters, for an enlightening conversation on global warming and climate change. I do wonder why we seem to have more extreme weather and spewing millions of tons of pollution in the atmosphere, in my book, probably has something to do with it.)

Monday, August 29, 2005

New Orleans is in a bad place right now

This is scary stuff.

The hurricane that is set to hit New Orleans in a few hours is the strongest hurricane in history.

This could be total devastation.

Let's hope the hurricane turns away somehow.

Friday, August 26, 2005

One Edgar lesson: we should move the primary to June.

It strikes me that Jim Edgar has at least one good point: there isn't a compelling reason for a presumptive nominee to decide whether to run for office in August, a full 14 months before the general election. That's a fairly dumb way to choose our leaders, forcing all of us to lock in our choices well before the actual election -- and before the fourth year of session even begins! Why are we spending so much time and energy on the 2006 election in the summer of 2005? These campaigns are far too long.

If we moved our March primary up to June (or even got radical and followed Minnesota's lead and moved the primary to September), then the filing deadline for the primary would be moved up to March or July (respectively) of 2006. And then Edgar's decision (and everyone's decision) would wait until a few months before that date. That would shorten campaigns and allow more attention to be paid to governing. I think that would be a good thing.

I do think that the aura of invincibility around Jim Edgar is more memory than actual current strength. It's not like Dawn Clark Netsch ran an aggressive campaign against Edgar in 1994. I remember her appearance at the University of Illinois, and her detached, bemused intelligence did not really resonate with the college crowd. Rod Blagojevich's campaign will be sharp, disciplined and effective, and the unity expressed at Democrat Day is real. I predict a full and successful effort to re-elect a Democratic governor. He might be a little frustrating to legislators at times, but he signs just about every good bill that the General Assembly passes -- and there are a ton of those great bills. That's the main thing.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Senator Winkel is out for '06 -- Frerichs for Senate looking better

Senator Rick Winkel, a Republican from Champaign County, announced today that he is not running for re-election. This article in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette spells it out.

This is a shocker.

Senator Winkel is one of the best GOP legislators, pushing for an end to locally-funded schools where wealthy areas get good teachers and low tax rates while poor areas get bad teachers and high tax rates. He also pushed for good process reforms and was one of the more accessible legislators. He'll be missed.

His race for re-election was shaping up to be the most hotly-contested battle in the state. Champaign County Auditor Mike Frerichs is the presumptive Democratic nominee. Now that the race is an open seat, things are looking much better for Frerichs.

The two state reps from the district are Naomi Jakobbson (a D) and Bill Black (an R). It's unlikely that Bill Black will run for the Senate as he is the unofficial floor leader of the House Republicans and seems to enjoy the House more than the average legislator.

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden (also a blogger -- check it out here) might run for the race as a thoughtful guy and a fierce Republican partisan.

This is going to be a huge race and it makes a veto-proof Senate majority in 2006 more likely.

Nathan Newman sets up a new Agenda for Justice website

Check out this site:

Could be a neat thing.

Steven Hill on federal judges, lifetime appointment and a better Supreme Court

My friend Steve Hill of the New America Foundation has a well-researched op-ed on lifetime appointment of federal judges here in the Denver Post.

He calls for term limits, mandatory retirement ages, higher confirmation thresholds to require bipartisan appointments and multiple appointment institutions to create a more representative and somewhat counter-intuitively, less partisan judiciary.

Here are some nuggets:

High-court justices in Germany are limited to 12-year terms, and in France, Italy and Spain 9-year terms. There's American precedent, with judges on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims limited to 15-year terms. Also, members of the Federal Reserve Board, shielded from politics because they oversee the nation's economy, serve 14-year terms, with Chairman Alan Greenspan appointed for a four-year term.


In France, Germany and Italy, no single person or institution has a monopoly on appointments to the constitutional court. In Spain, four judges are appointed by the upper house, four by the lower house, two by the government, and two by a judges' council.
Bipartisan appointments also hold promise. The Senate might review only nominees proposed through a bipartisan selection procedure. As a step in that direction, one option is to require a confirmation vote of 60 senators instead of a simple majority. Since no one party

In 2004, Democratic senatorial candidates won more than 51 percent of the votes cast, yet Republicans won 19 of 34 (56 percent) contested seats. So the minority party holds a majority of Senate seats.


This GOP overrepresentation [in the Senate] is due to Republican success in low-population, conservative states in the West and South that have the same representation - two senators per state - as high-population states like California. The 52 senators confirming Clarence Thomas in 1991 represented only 48.6 percent of the nation's population, showing that senators representing a minority of voters can confirm a justice for life. A body as unrepresentative as the Senate should not be confirming lifetime appointments, especially by simple majority vote.


I know a lot of people have this instinct not to 'mess with' the Constitution, but that's a pathetic attitude for any citizen to take. It's suggesting that the citizenry of the late 18th century were somehow so much smarter and wise than the current citizenry that we would be foolish to amend their product.

I hope that pathetic attitude doesn't cause people to vote no on the 2008 ballot for an Illinois Constitutional Convention. We should review our constitution every twenty years -- state *and* federal. Because there are always better ways of running our government.

GOP gubernatorial endorsements (and predictions)

I'm tracking the endorsements of elected and party officials for the Republican nomination for governor at this site:

If you have any endorsements that are public (on a campaign website), please send them to me.

I'll probably do one for the other GOP statewides as well, and for the Dem Treasurer race (no real candidates so far....maybe that's a sign of how much cross-over appeal Judy Baar Topinka enjoys).

I did this for the '04 Senate primary (both D and R), and if you'd like to remember who endorsed whom (and who didn't endorse), that site's address is

I notcied that Fritchey has predicted that Jim Edgar will get the GOP nomination. Any other predictions?

I predict that Edgar will not run. But I'm not ready to make a prediction who will get the nomination. Feel free to predict in comments.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Health care is welfare? That's what Bill Brady said. Kristen McQueary takes him to task

Kristen McQueary of the Daily Southtown takes Senator Bill Brady to town for calling KidCare and FamilyCare (Illinois' health care programs administered through Medicaid) 'welfare.'

And then she takes the Catholic Church to task for not expressing outrage that a Catholic Senator would heap disdain on providing health care to families.

The column is here. Read it.

Well, here are some of the best parts:

Brady hammered Gov. Rod Blagojevich for allowing more families and children to enroll in KidCare and FamilyCare, Illinois' two Medicaid programs. Blagojevich believes health care is a right and has expanded the eligibility requirements for FamilyCare and KidCare to allow more families to sign up.

To be eligible for the programs, enrollees have to be working. While there are exceptions, about 94 percent of participants are earning a paycheck, according to the program's administrator, and some are charged affordable premiums based on their salaries. A family of four earning less than $40,000 a year, for example, is eligible.

So who are these families?

They are the women who launder Brady's dirty hotel towels. They are the men who spray fertilizer at Brady's favorite golf course and change his oil and take his fast-food order at 9 p.m., halfway through their second shift.

Many aren't in minimum-wage jobs. They work at insurance agencies, real-estate firms and home-based businesses that can't afford group health insurance. Surely those employees would cringe at being labeled "welfare recipients." These are not people collecting checks from the state while loafing around their broken-down homes.

Yet, Brady and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) both have characterized FamilyCare and KidCare as welfare.

"It's the definition of welfare. It's government assistance," Brady said. "I want everyone to have access to quality health care, and I think they can get it by providing for themselves and by the state helping to bring in well-paying jobs."

Good luck on that one.

-------------------(end of column clip)

And who subsidizes private sector health insurance? We all do. When a company buys health insurance for their employees, that's a business expense which is deducted from corporate income -- so the business doesn't pay income tax on that money. And the employee who gets the health insurance doesn't pay income on the value of the insurance -- another public subsidy. But if the government administers the health insurance directly, then it transforms into 'welfare.'

Such B.S.

One other nugget from the column:

We don't even know if Illinois' major employers are paying their income taxes. It's private information that Blagojevich has pushed to make public, to no avail.

---------------(end of column clip)

What's that about? Every coporate income tax return should be public record. Why not?

Did a Christian preacher really just call for an assassination?

The Associated Press is reporting that alleged Christian preacher Pat Robertson called on the U.S. government to kill democratically-elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

This man should be stripped of his ability to speak on behalf of 'thou shalt not kill' Christianity from whatever religious order gave this televangelist his authority.

And no network television news program should ever invite him as a guest on any of their programs.

Check out some of the stories on google here.

I think I'm going to buy some gas at CITGO, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan government.

I like the thrust of Chavez's political platform that the oil resources of Venezuela should be reinvested in the needs of the people (especially the poverty-stricked peasants), and not rich insiders (like in Saudi Arabia). And frankly, when conservative corporate types in the U.S. argue that Chavez is a bad guy, I don't trust their analysis.

I hope the Iraqis can come through

Maybe we should cut the Iraqis some slack.

After all, when we held our constitutional convention in 1787 in Philadelphia, we blew just about every deadline in the book.

The most important rule we broke was the requirement under the Articles of Confederation (the constitution that governed the 13 colonies at the time) that every state agree to any changes in the document.

The delegates ignored that one, since Rhode Island didn't send any delegates to the convention, and just came up with a new rule (after meeting in secret for four months) that required 9 of 13 states to agree to ratify the brand new document.

So if it takes a while to come up an agreement in Iraq, that's OK. I hope they do.

And by the way, there's no way they'll create an Electoral College or a horribly unrepresentative Senate with two legislators per area. If we were to create a new constitution in the U.S. (and we should), we wouldn't tolerate these distortions in our government.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Report from Democrat Day at the Illinois State Fair

I know, I'm late. Sorry it took me awhile to post.

I found the day rather uplifting. There were two events that I attended. The first was the annual fundraiser brunch ($25 ticket) of the Downstate Democratic County Chairman's Association, led by the Rock Island Democratic County Chair. There were probably 800 people there. And what other fundraiser for 25 bucks gives you a chance to hear from Barack Obama, Rod Blagojevich, Emil Jones, Michael Madigan, Dan Hynes, Pat Quinn, Jesse White and Lisa Madigan? And then go and meet them all. It's the type of fundraiser that makes one feel good about politics -- lots of people with a low dollar amount. The second was the free rally at the state fair.

The theme, of course, was unity, and that means unity behind Governor Rod Blagojevich. I thought Comptroller Dan Hynes had the best breakfast speech. He began his talk with a question: how did a state that faced a 1994 Republican sweep (remember, Governor Jim Edgar beat Dawn Clark Netsch by an almost 2-1 margin, they won every single constitutional officer and won control of both the State House and the State Senate) work back to a near Democratic sweep in 2004? In other words, how did Illinois go from red to blue in 10 years?

Dan Hynes had three points that are worth repeating:

1) Stand for Democratic principles that people respond to.

2) Run strong candidates with integrity.

3) The main reason: Illinois is lucky to have hundreds of leaders who work very hard in the precincts to get the Democratic vote out for no pay and very little gratitude.

The first two reasons tend to get a lot of attention, but it reinforces that the Illinois success story is due largely to strong Democratic messages, not GOP-lite messages. The last point is very important -- we only enjoy Democratic control because hundreds of people (and that means you!) decide to spend a lot of time and effort getting people to vote. So one of the best things you can do to implement policies of justice is convince 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 people to vote in every election.

Speaker Madigan made the point clearly. He began by thanking the people who came out and noted that any opportunities that Democratic officeholders enjoy to improve our standard of living is due to volunteers working to get out the vote. And then he captured the core Democratic message succinctly: The welfare of the people is served by a Democratic Administration more than the alternative. People who realize that and work for that Democratic Administration (whether legislative or executive) are the reason why we enjoy one.

President Emil Jones seemed buoyant and shouted out that we have a million pieces of legislation that make lives better, and we are going to take that message to the people and win. Bloggers in particular can help with the narrative about all these small but significant laws that the Democratic General Assembly has implemented in the last three years.

Governor Blagojevich's speech was also pretty good. He is focused on setting up the problem of Republican rule for 26 years marked by huge deficits, a bloated state payroll and lots of tax and fee hikes, before talking about the last three years. It's probably a good idea to continue to contrast the 2003-2006 period with the 1976(!)-2002 period as much as possible. He had a funny line. He was talking about how Republicans see health care as welfare, and mentioned that "Republicans aren't bad or evil people. They love their families. They want to make money. (pause) They're good at it."

And Governor Blagojevich's main message was the "we Democrats believe that government can be a vehicle to help people."

Barack Obama had an interesting insight. He mentioned that he has noticed other Democratic Senators in D.C. often acting insecure or nervous about how trumpeting a core Democratic position might play back home. He doesn't need to worry about that, and he doesn't need to equivocate or cut corners in D.C. on what he believes, and he credits the hard work everyday people do for the Democratic Party every year for his freedom to advocate forcefully in Washington.

So even though Jim Oberweis apparently mucked up Republican Day, the only real way to neutralize the threat of a Republican resurgence in Illinois (and Dan Hynes mentioned that Karl Rove is focused on rebuilding the Illinois GOP) is to personally take responsibility for recruiting more Democratic voters, convincing one citizen at a time to support the Democratic Party and ensuring that these new supports do, in fact, vote.

It's a heady feeling to think that convincing a few dozen friends and neighbors to spend five minutes once a year voting for Democrats can change the world. But it can. And in Illinois, it has.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Wednesday is Democrat Day at the State Fair

In the words of Rod Roddy:


Springfield hosts Democrat Day (the official name is Governor's Day) when Democrats from around the state converge for an official rally from 1 - 3 pm and lots of other events.

It's a fun time to see a ton of electeds out and revel in the opportunity to live in Blue America.

More information about the Fair is here.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Gaza Strip withdrawal best news out of Israel in a long time

I used to think Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, was an absolute right-wing fanatic. I'm learning to like him more and more.

One of the worst foreign policy moves in Israel is the tolerance of settlers -- essentially religious fundamentalists who believe that Jews are entitled to live on certain parcels of land, and will move (or settle) into land where Palestinians live, no matter what the consequences.

That's one of the huge sticking points of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are others, but this is a big one. George Bush (or George the First) conditioned some big foreign aid loan to Israel in 1990 on a promise not to finance any additional settlements, as I recall.

And this week, Israel, led by Ariel Sharon, supported by a majority of the Israeli people and bitterly condemned by the fundamentalists, is pulling out the 6000-some settlers on the Gaza strip.

Thank goodness.

You've got to believe that the Palestinians are grateful for the withdrawal and that support for the terror campaign against Israel has got to dry up with moves like this. Congratulations to Sharon.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Beyond the Beltway this Sunday to mix it up

I'll be on Bruce DuMont's show Beyond the Beltway this Sunday as the liberal guest.

You can tune in on WLS radio from 6-8 pm or catch it on television later that night.

My guess is we'll talk about the transportation bill signed in Illinois, but move into other federal topics.

What do you think the big national political story of the week has been?

Why Tuesday? Illinois should move municipal and primary elections to weekends

There's a new group with a snazzy website and a good PR campaign called Why Tuesday that is promoting weekend voting.

Illinois should take the lead on moving our municipal elections and our primary elections to weekends instead of Tuesday.

I think Representative Mike Boland (D-Moline) had a bill to do it last session.

Friday, August 12, 2005

City fights back against abusive restrictive covenants

Chicago alderman Manny Flores (1st ward) and Alderman Marge Laurino (39th ward) moved an ordinance that will restrict the ability of the owners of closed grocery stores to leave a neighborhood with a shuttered building and block another grocery store from leasing the property.

(I can't imagine former First Ward Alderman Jesse Granato passing this ordinance, so congratulations to Flores and Laurino. I'm glad I worked on Flores' campaign as a former First Warder in the Ukrainian Village)

This is a real problem in Chicago, and probably around the state.

Why are these retail stores remaining closed in neighborhoods where lots of people need to buy food?

One reason is because the owner of the land agreed to a restrictive convenant that prohibits another grocery store from leasing or buying the property after the first store closes.

That's an abuse. And in the bundle of legal rights of property, that's a right that landowners shouldn't have.

This article in the Sun-Times by Fran "Don't Put Words In My Mouth" Spielman lays it out quite well.

One interesting part: Jerry Roper, a great civic business leader, had this to say about Chicago's business climate:

"Chicago has the highest commercial and industrial property taxes in the nation. We have amongst the highest workers compensation costs. We have the highest sales tax.

Seems to me that the first and the third complaints are a direct consequence of our very low 3% state income tax, our very low 5.4% state corporate income tax and our 0% local income tax. If we raised more revenue from a higher income tax, we could lower our commercial/industrial property taxes in Cook County and we could lower the sales tax as well.

And on the workers comp, the Democratic Party negotiated a reform package to lower workers comp costs, which ought to be trumpeted more than it is.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bonding time....and the veto of the Senate GOP

The feds have put down a lot of money. And now the State needs to come up with a 20% match? How do we do it?


So if we need to come up with $200 million a year, starting next year, we either have to raise taxes or cut spending by $200 million for the next five years (the federal transportation bill is a five year bill, as I recall), or we can get that billion by raising taxes by only $40 million over the next 25 years, and then borrow the billion dollars (which $40 million over 25 years would generate) by selling a bond to the general public and paying it back with the $40 million.

Illinois likes bonds.

The problem with bonds is that you have to pay more than $40 million over 25 years. You have to pay interest. And you have to pay the bond company to set up the paperwork to sell a billion dollars worth of loans to the public (fees are a percentage of the take and worth millions), which is where some of the shadiness comes into play. That's why clean government conservatives like Steve Rauschenberger are agahst that Bob Kjellander, probably the biggest GOP bigwig in Illinois and a close friend of Karl Rove, is in the bond-selling business as well. It smells like clout as a business model to them, and that's really behind much of the internal strife of the GOP -- much more than abortion rights, say.

I'm not so sure about bonds as a policy. It seems more honest to pay-as-you-go, meaning you raise the money you need in five years instead of raising the money over 40 years but spending it all this year. On the other hand, if the thing that you are buying lasts for 40 years (like a highway), then maybe it makes sense to pay for it over 40 years. But the temptation to move costs that are consumed this year only (like personnel) into the bond money (which is going to be paid in small increments over the next two generations) is very strong, and that's irresponsible. That's a fair critique of some moves of the Blagojevich Administration so far, and hopefully we can figure out a way that won't happen going forward.

Anyway, this issue is at the heart of why Dems would like to elect three more state senators. Right now, a unified state GOP caucus under the relatively ornery Frank Watson can block a bond, because you need 36 senate votes and the Dems only have 33 (with Independent James Meeks). Now that the northwest crescent of Republican senators have announced their retirements, there is a real opportunity for the Dems to flip these rapidly Latino-izing districts and build up 36 votes in the senate, giving us a chance to bond without the consent of Frank Watson.

Governor Blagojevich started to put pressure on the senate Republicans to get behind a bond in the veto session yesterday, as the Tribune puts it here:

As Blagojevich discussed the idea of diverting money from the Prairie Parkway, he also tried to use the project's most significant backer, Hastert, as leverage in urging Republicans to support road-construction bond legislation in Springfield.

"I think it's going to be awfully hard for some of the Republican leaders who have been holding up this legislation to stand in the way of building roads and putting people to work and fixing an infrastructure, including a Prairie Parkway that Speaker Hastert has fought so hard to try to see happen," Blagojevich said.

Because a supermajority vote of lawmakers is required for the state to issue bonds, Republican votes are needed despite Democratic control of the legislature.

But Republicans have balked at Democratic construction bond initiatives. They are distrustful that the Democratic governor would fund initiatives in GOP districts, and they contend he has used road-fund dollars for non-road construction purposes and argue that Blagojevich has resorted to borrowing in lieu of dealing with the state's fiscal woes.

Senate Republican leader Frank Watson of Greenville noted Democrats as well as GOP members have previously rejected Blagojevich's proposed funding sources for new bonds. And Watson said lawmakers in both parties don't trust Blagojevich when it comes to actually releasing money for projects.

"He's got a terrible track record of living up to commitments," said Watson.


So that's the deal.

There is a really unfair critique that Watson and the GOP have of Blagojevich: first the GOP soundly rejects any tax increase like closing a software loophole or raising a cigarette tax (both of which I personally support as good policy) and then they say that Blagojevich won't deal with the state's deficit and instead relies on borrowing. Well, if the GOP won't raise any taxes at all, and they certainly aren't interested in cutting spending, and if the GOP has a veto over any bonding measures, then what else can the Administration do but borrow? The part that I think is unfair is that the GOP hasn't worked to support a revenue source for a bond, but then can complain that there isn't a bond to match the dollars. Maybe this is a premature critique of the senate GOP's action for veto session, since it isn't clear what they are going to do yet, but I do think since they do have a seat at the table on any bonding measures, they have some responsibility to support a revenue source. And if they don't and they veto a bond, then the editorial boards (especially the Trib) shouldn't wrap the GOPers up in a glow of fiscal respectability.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Speaker Hastert delivers the President today

President Bush comes to town to sign the transportation bill -- about $30 billion larger than what his feed-the-rich-and-starve-infrastrcture advisers wanted him to sign.

Speaker Hastert delivered for the pragmatic wing of the DC Republican Party and the nation. And as a sign of that clout, Bush comes to town.

Let's just assume that the Republicans will continue to run the show in DC through 2009 (just for the sake of argument). If Speaker Hastert's brand of Republicanism beats back the Texas-style 'tax-cut-and-borrow' irresponsible wing of the GOP, that would be a very good thing for the nation. So I hope Hastert becomes a Kingmaker in the 2008 Republican presidential primary and ensures that someone like him, and not someone like W, gets the nomination in 2008. Because that way, even if the Dems lose the presidential race, we'll have a far superior president than they one we have now.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sun-Times excellent series on sex slaves in Chicago suggests licensing or liability for strip clubs

The Sun-Times is running a series on sex slaves -- many of them in Chicago plucked from a foreign land, forced to dance in strip clubs, under total control by a pimp.

This is appalling.

The series is here.

There are a few remedies that come to mind.

One is to target the deep-pocketed strip clubs that host the dancers. It should be their responsibility to ensure that all of their employees/independent contractors that are stripping are totally independent, there of their own free will and able to leave whenever they wish. They are in a position (better than the police of the U.S. Attorney's office) to enforce the status of the dancers. And if they are liable (criminally or civilly), they will take responsibility for the dancers. The clubs are not now at all responsible, and since they are making all this money from the women, they should be.

Perhaps all women in strip clubs should be licensed. That might help stamp out some of the sex slave traffic as well.

The state and municipalities should take the lead on solving this problem.

Non-oil-powered transportation (like the El) should get financial credit

I visited the Illinois Railway Museum in McHenry County this weekend where they operate electric-powered streetcars from the early 20th century and maintain almost 100 different passenger trains. These were heavily used for decades as Chicago had the largest streetcar network in the world. General Motors was indicted in the 1940s for its role in buying up these private companies in order to rip out the track and overhead wires and push the oil-powered automobile on the nation.

Now that oil is around $60 a barrel and we are dependent on other nations for our power -- which is another way that we export our wealth and create large trade deficits -- the economic disadvantages of our lack of electric-powered transportation is evident. We generate electricity in Illinois. We have hundreds of years worth of coal here. We should be using that for our transportation, not oil that is in Canada or Mexico or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. If, that is, we want to keep the money we spend on transportation in Illinois and the United States to enrich ourselves, and not enrich other people with it.

So it strikes me that the electric-powered transportation that we do have in the region -- the CTA's El, Metra's Electric Line and the South Shore Line to South Bend -- ought to be rewarded somehow for using Illinois-made electricity and not foreign-made oil. As the Illinois General Assembly debates the region's funding formula, we should figure out how to encourage more use of electric-powered transportation, because that stimulates our economy, weans off of foreign oil and keep our air cleaner.

The same ought to go for using 100% biodiesel in any of the trains or busses (or, for that matter, any fuel that is made in Illinois). And I think the State with the RTA would be the right government to set up those incentives.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

John Fritchey starts a blog. Who will be the next?

Representative John Fritchey has set up a blog: Dome-icile. Its' here. Dome meaning underneath the Capitol Dome, presumably.

This is a chance for people to regular people to really engage in governing because anyone can get the ear of a legislator now. So progressives, quit reading the New York Times and complaining about the federal Republicans running the show, and start figuring out how we can make life better here in Blue America -- then tell Fritchey what you think.

Who will be the next legislator to set up his or her own blog? I know of a few regular readers who ought to have their own . . . .

John Fritchey and Speaker Madigan put the CTA back in its place

Check out this discussion at Capitol Fax (with a new, very cool look -- nice job Rich) on the CTA deciding that they didn't want to comply with a state audit (!!!) after the state ponied up $54 million or so. Rep. John Fritchey, one of the state's 'most substantive legislators, filed a resolution (read it here) directing the Auditor General to audit the CTA after the CTA basically lied to all the North Side electeds about keeping all Brown Line stations open during reconstruction (they won't stay open). And when the CTA bureaucrats pushed back, Speaker Madigan announced that he'll be sponsoring legislation to divert the CTA money to pay for the audit. And that would be enough to get the CTA to back down.

What is up with Frank Kruesi? I guess when you've got the moxie to kill an airport -- an airport! -- under cover of darkness just because you think it's the right thing to do, you resist the idea of an audit checking up on your decisions. But guess what? Too freakin bad.

The reality is that we're going to have to convince a skeptical public to accept a higher tax or fee in the next 6-18 months (the sooner the better) to pay for the state's matching funds in order to get at all those billions of projects that Congress just passed. If we don't raise a tax or fee, we don't get the federal dollars. And if the CTA acts like an arrogant, out-of-touch agency, then Joe Naperville likely doesn't want to pay an extra penny per gallon gasoline tax in order to finance all these projects because some small fraction of it is going to 'those wasteful Chicago hacks.' And that poisons the whole region.

We can't tolerate this kind of B.S. It's hard to raise revenues, and resistance to state audits from Chicago governments makes it much, much harder.

I think this is the time for Chicago legislators to come down hard on the CTA and push for structural improvements in transparency and efficiency. Because if the Chicago legislators can't convince their colleagues in the General Assembly that *they* are ensuring there will not be waste in the CTA, who will?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

NAFTA isn't helpful....a plan for a better North America

The day after President Bush signed CAFTA, which is essentially a trade agreement for capital but not for labor, I found this neat report on Building a North American Community.

We ought to follow the European model of integration among Canada, Mexico and the United States instead of just the corporate model of a trinational trade agreement.

Our eonomies are intertwined now. Just look at all the Mexicans in the U.S. now, many of whom are here because of NAFTA-induced economic policies that pushed the peasants out of their own nation and into the U.S.

It is in the United States' interest to invest in a prosperous Mexico. We should figure out a way to raise the living standard in Mexico -- which will help alleviate the downward pressure on wages in the U.S. and stem the flow of illegal immigration. Plus, it will create more customers for our products.

We spend a fortune on border control. It would be smart if we could find a way not to pat that cost with an open border -- or a secure North American border. No Mexican terrorists came across the Rio Grande to hurt us -- they come from the South to work.

Read the report, or this summary called the Chairmens' Statement, especially the parts on dramatically increasing the educational exchanges among our three nations (for something the State of Illinois can do).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tom Balanoff and SEIU tries to intervene in Vallas residency case

Kristen McQueary has the scoop (at least for me) on a development in Paul Vallas' case for declaratory judgment on his residency status in Illinois.

As you'll recall, Paul Vallas' brother and other campaign advisers have asked a Cook County judge to decide whether Vallas is a legal resident of Illinois or not. Yesterday, Tom Balanoff of SEIU (the biggest labor supporter of Governor Blagojevich and the driver of the Change To Win Coalition) asked to get involved to convince the judge not to consider Paul Vallas a resident of Illinois.

Presumably, Balanoff would try to introduce evidence that Vallas should be considered a Pennsylvania resident instead of an Illinois resident. He would almost certainly be a more aggressive litigant than Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office.

According to McQueary's article, the case was scheduled to be heard this Friday.

Anyone have a case number?

Phil Kadner rightly blames the Tribune for damning poor kids with broke schools

Phil Kadner's latest column in the Daily Southtown slashes the Chicago Tribune for its role in keeping poor children with poor schools.

In May, as Senator James Meeks (I-Calumet City) was working to craft an Invest In Illinois package to implement a 5% income tax and hire teachers for poor children, the Tribune came out with a massive, front-page study that .... well, I'll let Kadner explain it:

The spending gap between the richest and poorest school districts in the state has reached a 10-year high, with more than $19,000 per student separating the folks at the top from those at the bottom.

Those results were published in the Chicago Tribune, which has opposed just about every major school funding reform effort in the state over the past decade.

Earlier this year it discovered, after massive research, that a plan to increase taxes to raise more money for the public schools would increase taxes.


That Tribune report -- which did not mention how much more revenue would go to the in-the-red school districts, and only mentioned how much taxes would go up (and how relatively paltry the property tax relief component of SB 750 turned out to be) by each area of the state -- killed a lot of momentum for any Invest In Illinois initiative.

Kadner's full column is here (for now).

Here are some of the highlights:

You see, the governor and state legislators have long taken the position that school funding is the state's worst problem.

They claim they're going to do something about it when running for election or re-election.

And they say they're going to do something about it without raising taxes.

How can you get more money for the schools without raising taxes?

By trimming the fat, making the schools more accountable, forcing students to take more tests and waving a magic wand over a top hat.

Voters love that kind of talk.

The constitution also states that "education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free."

How many of you folks spent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars last year on school fees to support those "free public schools?"

Most schools these days also have fundraising drives to support the band, sports teams and clubs that used to be part of the "free public school system."

"The state cannot allow us to keep having wider and wider gaps between wealthy and poor districts," Sharon Voliva, chairman of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, told the Tribune.

Voliva, who has spent the past 15 years fighting for school children, is wrong.

With the help of the Tribune, politicians in Illinois can do nothing forever.