[Cross-posted at www.capitalfax.blogspot.com]
The first day of veto session feels like the first day of school -- a lot of excitement to see old friends and a feeling of anticipation of something big around the corner.
The big news is that the freshman class (to continue the analogy) will be a supermajority for Democrats in the Senate. That's exciting.
It's particularly exciting because it means the 37 men and women of the Senate Democratic Caucus are now just as important as the Blagojevich Administration when it comes to setting budgets and policies. When a consensus is reached by the Senate Democratic Caucus, it is the public will and can override a veto by the Governor. That's a very big deal and represents a tremedous shift in power over to the 37 Senate Democrats. Particularly because President Jones is said to be very open to representing the consensus of his caucus, that means the sparkling opportunity and heavy responsibility of implementing progressive policies lies on the shoulders of the 37.
The biggest opportunity for social and economic progress is raising the state's 3% income tax and with the extra three billion or so buying better educations for the hundreds of thousands of children in poor neighborhoods who suffer from poorer schools and worse teachers.
There has been no significant progress on this front in at least a decade in the state, and the predictable result of kids dropping out from poor school districts and robbing them of the American promise of equal opportunity has blighted another generation.
For the last four years, Governor Blagojevich's clear opposition to any increase in the state's income tax has stymied efforts to raise the 3% income tax and buy better educations with the money (as well as provide some property tax relief -- a secondary concern in the scope of problems in my opinion).
Unfortunately, Governor Blagojevich decided to reiterate his pledge not to raise the state's 3% income tax.
Fortunately, the 37 Senate Democrats need not consider the Governor's veto as relevant to their consensus.
And very fortunately, some of the bright freshmen Senators campaigned on raising the income tax (and providing property tax relief).
(As a quick digression, the freshman class of Democratic Senators will likely be considered a major 'impact' class. Michael Frerichs, Michael Bond, Dan Kotowski and Michael Noland will be policy-oriented legislators who will have an immediate impact on crafting progressive policy. I haven't met Linda Holmes, but I've heard very good things about her too. And on another digression, Michael Bond and his campaign staff should be giving lessons on how to run a field operation -- it was the most sophisticated campaign I've ever seen).
Of course, many Republican Senators have long understood the need to raise the state income tax and (more importantly to their constituents) cut the local property tax. The potential defection of a handful of Democratic Senators who might calculate their districts won't support a 5% state income tax can and should be made up by Republican Senators, particularly representing poorer rural districts, to withstand an expected veto.
And keep in mind: 10% of voters last week cast their votes for a candidate who explicitly called for a 5% income tax. That's extraordinary. That's about as close to a mandate as a tax increase can ever get. And that means that the potential blowback is likely rather low (at least in those districts, like Senator Syverson's and Senator Luechtefeld's where Rich Whitney earned around 25% of the vote. 25%!).
Put another way, 60% of voters supported a left or center-left candidate.
If there was ever a time for a 5% state income tax, 2007 is it.
And while the dynamics of the House may not have changed significantly, the Speaker and I'd venture a majority of the House Democratic caucus have expressed support for a tax swap. The House did pass a tax swap bill out in the late 90s only to suffocate from Pate Philip's Senate opposition.
There's still quite a bit of consensus-building to do: what accountability reforms need to be included with the billions in new spending, what tax cuts (either property or low-income) need to be included and what group of legislators can take the lead on crafting this consensus are all unanswered questions. But the future for poor Illinois children has not been brighter in a long time -- so long as our legislators decide that they have the opportunity and responsibility to craft a legislative consensus around a 5% income tax. The Governor's leadership on progressive policy (such as with the indexed minimum wage hike) will be in different arenas.