Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Perhaps another great progressive movement is starting in Springfield this week: universal health care for children

I'm fond of identifying Cook County as the Capital of Blue America -- the beating heart of the Democratic Party in the United States.

This week, Governor Blagojevich and the Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly (led by people from Cook County) are showing why that's true.

I'll start with Governor Blagojevich's speech to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday. The House was packed with people -- most senators squeezed in next to one of their two representatives. Even Pate Philip, former Republican Senate President, sat in the gallery, wearing a bright yellow parka that seemed to reinforce his status as a retiree, a symbol of days gone by in the Capitol when Republicans used to run things. Most of the recognizable faces are here, and when Governor Blagojevich enters, along with the pageantry of a reception committee of 5 senators and 5 representatives, everyone stands and applauds. The feeling is a little medieval (the Speaker called on "His Excellency, The Governor" to enter, as per the ritual), but also warm. Judy Baar Topinka shakes his hand, and the chamber seems civil and friendly.

Representative John Fritchey's take on the speech is here, by the way. Video of the address is here.

Governor Blagojevich's political theme was that every child in Illinois should have the same health care that the children of politicians enjoy. It's difficult to defend the proposition that *my* children deserve state financed health insurance, but I won't vote to provide state financed health insurance to *your* children.

The most uplifting part of the speech was his reference to the central role states play in implementing progressive policies that then spread to the rest of the Union. In the 19th century, Horace Mann in Massachusetts initiated the bold idea that education should be for all children, not just the children of the elite and the wealthy. The common school, financed by the government and open to all children, is now the foundation of our economy and democracy. In the early 20th century, Pennsylvania led the way in abolishing child labor (laws later struck down by the conservative judicial activists of the Supreme Court), and later, the federal government followed dozens of states in abolishing the practice. And (in a triangular move), he praised the State of Wisconsin for pioneering welfare reform in the early 1990s which culminated in President Clinton signing federal welfare reform in 1996.

"Great advancements of social progress begins in states."

And then he segued into a stirring line

"We can lead the nation doing for kids what our country did for seniors in 1965" -- and that is providing universal health care. Today, just about every person older than 65 has health care insurance through Medicare. But, that's it. Now we can start from the other end and cover all kids.

Then to the heart of the matter. Blagojevich pointed out that our current health care system is perverse. If you're wealthy, you can afford to buy good health coverage, or your employer buys it for you (with a very generous public subsidy in the form of deducting the cost of the insurance from the employer's tax return and not taxing as income the value of the health insurance received by the employee). If you're poor, the Medicaid program will cover you and your family.

But if you're working with a modest income, you fall through the cracks.

People literally work themselves out of health care coverage in this country.

With a minimum wage job (of $6.50 in Illinois -- another sign of the wisdom of a Democratic state), the working mom qualifies for Medicaid and gets health care for her child. Work hard, get promoted and get paid less than the median income of $36,000, and you lose Medicaid.

The people who work are punished.

"Something is upside down. They are being punished for working." Blagojevich said.

And of course, he's right.

Our current health care system is simply indefensible.

And Illinois is fixing it.

The Senate today passed HB 806 (here), on a party line vote, to authorize the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to administer the AllKids program.

During debate, the Democrats were on both the moral high ground and seemed to connect with the practical, common sense concerns that most people face everyday. Senator Schoenberg (D-Evanston), a wonky legislator from a wealthy district, talked about the people who work 40 hours a week and are paid hourly -- and sounded authentic. Talking about providing health care for all children and not leaving behind the people who work for a living but are too poor for private insurance but make too much money for Medicaid sounded solid and compelling. I could imagine heads nodding in living rooms across the state.

To be fair, the Republicans' main objection that the actual legislation delegates far too much responsibility to an administrative agency is a reasonable one. The bill is rather skimpy. That can be fixed later as rules and regulations can be codified or trumped by new legislation, but it would have been better if the bill had more meat on it.

Tomorrow (or Wednesday of next week) the House of Representatives will likely vote on the bill, and the vote will likely be a party-line vote.

And perhaps this week, Illinois is taking the first real step towards a long-held goal of the Democratic Party to extend health insurance to all people.

It's an exciting initiative and a proud moment for everyone in Illinois who voted for these Democratic candidates.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

How do we know Republicans are for the rich? Ask them.

The base of the Republican Party -- their raison d'etre -- is to make rich people richer.

That's what they are about.

It doesn't matter what the consequences are.

It doesn't matter if as a consequence of making rich people richer, everyone else is poorer.

That doesn't matter.

Check the numbers. According to this article in the Christian Science Monitor,

Income disparities in the United States grew substantially from 2002 to 2003, new Internal Revenue Service statistics indicate. After adjusting for inflation, the after-tax income of the richest 1 percent of households rose by 8.5 percent, or nearly $49,000 apiece - helped by the Bush tax cuts. The bottom 75 percent of filers saw real after-tax incomes fall. The middle fifth of taxpayers, for instance, lost $300.


So just to be clear, Republican policies make the top 1 percent richer by fifty grand each while those of us making less than fifty grand all year had less income.

If you make less than 50 grand, you are poorer now because of Republican policies.

If you are the richest one percent, you are 50 grand richer.

That's what politics is all about. And when you are trying to convince someone to vote for a Democratic candidate, talk about money.

Republicans *hate* it when you do that! They want to talk about abortion or guns or what a horrible person John Kerry's wife is or oral sex.

But when you talk about money, people start nodding their heads.

Here's the latest proof that Republicans are about making the rich richer.

The President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform (pretty good website here). It's set up to give some recommendations to President Bush on how to reform the tax code.

And of course one they will conclude that we need to make rich people richer.

The way to do that is easy: cut taxes on high incomes and on wealth.

So the panel suggested that we should lower the rates that rich people pay on the income earned above $200,000 (because you know those guys are hurting) and that taxes on investments be lowered even more.

The panel wants to cut the highest marginal income tax from 35% to 33%.

That rate was 39.6% during the Clinton years. Remember, peace and prosperity?

Bush and the Republicans made sure to cut that down to 35%.

And now they want to cut it even more.

When we are broke. And college tuition is skyrocketing and financial aid is flatlining. And our infrastructure is not up to snuff (remember New Orleans?). And mass transit fares are going up because the feds don't pay for any operating costs. And they want to cut money for health insurance.

Here's a pretty good article on the panel from the New York Sun. It's all press leaks now as the panel hasn't made an official decision.

This what the Republican Party is all about.

And it is so incredibly frustrating that anyone making less than fifty grand would vote for them for any reason.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I must admit this White Sox move is awesome

Journey. 1981. Don't Stop Believing. Steve Perry.

That is about as awesome as a song gets.

And Terry Armour has the scoop here that the White Sox have adopted it as their anthem for the World Series -- and they are trying to get Steve Perry to sing in for Game 1 of the World Series.

What a great move.

I'm in New York this week for a conference, and walked past Yankee Stadium yesterday (first time in The Bronx). It was nice to think that despite all those World Champion signs on Yankee Stadium, a Chicago team made it to the Series this year.

So while I won't be jumping on the bandwagon, it's hard to be a hater.

I hope the White Sox take it all.

And then we sweep them at Wrigley next year.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

CTA rail trips to cost more than bus trips

Interesting...the CTA's proposed 2006 budget has a higher price for rail than for bus.

Check out page 48 of the CTA's budget here.

The fare for rail will be $2.00 and the fare for bus will be $1.75.

And yet....electricity which powers the rail is generated in Illinois while oil which powers the buses is generated in Saudi Arabia.

I'm sure it's more expensive to run the El than a bus, since the City pays to maintain the streets while the CTA pays for to maintain the rail and the stations and the station attendants. But it would be smart if public policy can reward power that generates wealth in the U.S. instead of power that generates wealth (and power) in other countries -- especially those that have been tight with our enemies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Welfare Sox of Illinois just take your breath away

Cubs fans, unite.

Unite in disgust and horror.

Unite in rooting for Angels.

And stop the Welfare Sox of Illinois from sucking away our spirit.

Eric Zorn had it right in his column (here), when he ruthlessly manipulated our nationalistic sentiments as effectively as Milosevic. He picked out the worst monsters on the South Side -- those that gave out free beers for every Marlins home run during the NLCS -- and made us believe that they personify the White Sox franchise.

Well, Crain's did a better job than Zorn at personifying the Welfare Sox. It is owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who will (along with the rest of the owners) make between $5 and $20 million more for the playoff run.

And how much with the State of Illinois make for each sold-out game at Comiskey Park -- I mean, U.S. Cellular Field (naming rights sold for the pittance of $15,000 per month which is about the cost of an expensive billboard on the Dan Ryan)?


Yes, the people of Illinois not only built a new stadium for the Welfare Sox of Illinois, not only continue to subsidize the White Sox with a $5,000,000 direct appropriation (page 16, as I read the budget of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority here), we've also been a terribly generous landlord.

We've decided not to charge them any rent for the playoffs!

It's free!

Go on, Jerry Reinsdorf! Use our stadium! Have fun! Make millions!

Meanwhile, we'll tear down public housing across the street because 'the state doesn't have any money.' And the Red Line on the El? Well, fares are going up, because 'the state doesn't have any money' for public transit this year. But for you guys? Go on: no charge. We'll just keep the hotel tax high -- among the highest in the country -- and wonder why we lose some convention business. Anything to keep the Welfare Sox happy.

Suck away on the public teat, Jerry Reinsdorf and the Welfare Sox owners. Suck away.

And Cubs fans? Be full of disdain and disgust for culture of dependency that infects the Welfare Sox.

But don't blame the fans. They were born with their attachment to a club with parasitic owners. Don't blame them. Just pity them.

Especially when their team loses.

But actually, I hope the Welfare Sox win. So that we -- their landlord -- can raise their rent.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rove's potential indictment good news for 2006 for a few reasons

First, when it becomes clear the President's right hand man compromised national security for political payback in outing a spy, voters will tend not to trust that party. Second, it is difficult for Karl Rove to plot and plan against the Democratic Party when he is worried about criminal charges. Rove is, by all accounts, a very sharp strategist and I'd rather he be distracted.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Transit is still in the red .. cash fares to rise in 2006?

The CTA proposed raising cash fares, but not fares used on the Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus, by 25 cents to induce more people to buy the cards.

One major problem: you can't buy the cards at the El stations. Why not? We've got people working there. Why can't they sell the cards? It's not like they're really doing anything else.

You can buy the card here.

We should sell Chicago Cards at public libraries and through the city clerk's office. It should not be this difficult to buy a Chicago Card.

But generally speaking, we should tax gasoline and parking more than we do and put that money into transit, because otherwise, we don't have an accurate pricing system. Without taxing parking and gasoline, driving is cheaper than the cost to society, and with rising fares to taking transit, that is more expensive than it's cost to society. These are externalities -- there is a cost to increased congestion and increased air pollution and increase dependence on Saudi oil that we all pay when people drive. And there is a benefit in less congestion and less pollution and less dependence on Saudi oil when people take the bus or the El (especially the El, since that runs on nuclear power, not oil).

The current pricing system is inaccurate, as it does not include those costs in the price to users.

So we should be taxing parking spaces more (perhaps through a higher property tax) and taxing gasoline more and taxing automobile registration, and put that revenue into public transit to get an accurate pricing system for transportation.

That was a great aspect of Illinois FIRST -- we taxed the right thing (license plate registration fees) and used it, in part, for the right things (mass transit). George Ryan may have run a dirty operation (see this post in John Fritchey's blog for a vivid example), but he was a hell of a governor. Death penalty moratorium, visit to Cuba, Illinois FIRST -- that's a trifecta.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Illinois to insure all children -- that's Blue America

Governor Blagojevich, with the support of Speaker Michael Madigan and President Emil Jones, is unveiling a proposal today in Chicago to insure *all* children in the State from medical bankruptcy.

Here's an article in the Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph, and here's one in the Sun-Times. There are lots more. CapFax has an early post.

Essentially, the new program called AllKids (which is cute) will subsume the KidCare program, which is our brand name for Medicaid. The beautiful thing about Medicaid, from Illinois' perspective, is that the federal government matches between 1/3 and 1/2 of the costs of providing medical care, so Medicaid expansion is a way to get more federal dollars spent here.

The problem with Medicaid (and lots of government investment in general) is that middle class people get priced out of eligibility once their income rises about a certain level. That makes the program seem more like a food pantry that only people in real financial trouble use instead of Social Security or the interstate highways that everyone uses at a cheap administrative cost. Medicaid should be open to everyone, and now, Illinois looks to be the leading state at making affordable health insurance accessible to everyone.

Which is amazing.

The state estimates that about 250,000 children do not have health insurance -- and you've got to imagine that hundreds of thousands of parents are paying more than they should to insure their children. The bill is only $45 million to ensure another 50,000 children (which is less than $1,000 per child per year, which is also less than most insurance premiums).

Keep in mind, by the way, that the state is already paying part of the cost of private health insurance -- that is, we're already subsidizing the people who are insured now. That's because health insurance is a pre-tax benefit that employers can provide to employees, so the state essentially grants a full corporate tax credit of 4.8% (the state corporate income tax rate) on the value of the health insurance. If the private health insurance for a child costs $2000 a year, the state kicks in a credit of $96. (And the feds kick in much more, since the federal corporate income tax is so much higher than the state's income tax rate).

All that's to say that this isn't 'government subsidy' where none existed before -- it's just a smarter way of rearranging government subsidies for health insurance to get every child insured.

This is a great example of why Blue America is a better place to live than Red America -- and why electing and re-electing Democrats to run state governments is one of the best uses of our hours and dollars.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Crain's explains power play between ComEd and Illinois

Steve Daniels does the best job I've seen in laying out the conflict between shareholders of ComEd and Illinoisians. The dozen or so nuclear power plants in Illinois produce the cheapest electricity in the country - 1.2 cents per kilowatt. Dirty coal is 1.6 cents. But natural gas, which was supposed to be cheaper, ten times as expensive at 13.3 cents. So the national market price for power is around 5 cents. Who should get the benefit of this cheap nuclear power? ComEd shareholders? (ignoring the subsidiary question, since the nukes are owned by a sister company to ComEd) Or Illinoisians? Illinois is clearly better off if we get the benefit, and that is basically what the public policy dispute is about. The full article is worth a read in the 9.26.05 issue.

Chicago smoking ban looks like it's coming....

This is great news. According to this article in the Sun-Times, the big time lobbying push to get a smoking ban in Chicago might have the votes to pass the City Council.

As is consistent with parliamentary procedure in Chicago, most of the negotiation happened outside of public view. There were few hearings or amendments offered to an ordinance in a committee -- instead, the negotiations occur behind closed doors among competing interest groups. That's not ideal.

But that's a minor quibble. Banning smoking in Chicago bars and restaraunts is about four years overdue, and will make me, for one, go out more, not less.

If you want to kill yourself slowly, do it outside!

I would imagine that calls from Chicagoans to Mayor Daley might help over the next week or so. You can reach the Mayor's Office by calling 311. Just ask to leave a comment with Mayor Daley. And by the way, any time you see anything wrong with the City -- street light out, garbage not picked up, a rat in the alley, a broken sidewalk, call 311. Lots of city services are complaint-driven, and if you call, they will come. No clout needed.

One more thing: there is a smoking ban rally Monday, October 3rd from noon to 1:30 pm at the Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams. If you work in the Loop, check it out.