Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Museum of Broadcast Communications, for radio and TV history fans, needs a funding surge

The Museum of Broadcast Communications is going to be another jewel for the region. Right now it's under construction, and when it's complete, this will be a top-10 destination for tourists, helping to stimulate our regional economy.

However, as Eric Zorn writes today, it needs a funding surge to make sure it gets completed.

The State of Illinois should pony up for this project (just as many museums and, for that matter, sports teams, get public funding), and if you haven't seen the Museum's online shop, check it out, particularly if you're a fan of TV and radio history. You can also donate to the Museum.

Full disclosure: I'm an unpaid guest on Bruce DuMont's Beyond the Beltway program every now and again; Bruce is the CEO of the Museum.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Trib joins the 5% (or so) income tax push for "smarter" education

Today the Tribune's editorial board starts calling for a 5% (or so) state income tax to invest a good chunk of the 2 or 3 billion in new revenue into K-12 education.

One particularly nice part of the editorial is the call for voters and legislators to consider the investment in the entire state, and not just how they would come out under any change.
There is a corrosive habit of citizens, and their politicians, to weight only what a different funding scheme would mean for their communities.

Illinois needs to outgrow this penchant for school financing that can't look beyond economic self-interest. There are plenty of reasons for Effingham taxpayers to care about Hinsdale school children, for Hinsdale taxpayers to care about Harvey school children, for Harvey taxpayers to care about Effingham students. We've just never acknowledged as a state that the future economic health, workforce and leadership of Illinois depend on better educating all of our children. And yes, all children can learn.
This echoes of Obama. I recall one of the themes of his Senate campaign: "When a grandmother on the South Side has to choose between her food and her medicine, I am poorer for it. When a child can't breathe at night because of asthma, I am sicker for it. It is the belief that I am my brother's keeper."

This is a welcome change, as the last time a shift towards statewide funding of education got some traction (SB 755 was voted out of committee in 2006), the Trib ran a front-page story detailing exactly how each school district would make out, comparing the income tax increases the taxpayers would pay (while not noting the federal offset) versus the likely increase in school district revenues. That was a particularly chilly day at the Statehouse and the Trib's hostility was one reason no other Senate Republicans jumped on board the bill. Hopefully the editorial board will sway the news editors a bit this time.

Leadership in 2007 on investing in education is going to be far more decentralized than in previous years. The Governor has boxed himself out of much discussion of the income tax hike that's necessary for statewide funding for education with his needless campaign pledge not to raise the income or sales tax. President Jones has shown every indication that he intends the Senate to take the lead on crafting a smart solution, even prominently quoting the state constitutional provision that reads "The State shall have the primary responsibility in funding education" in his inaugural program. House Democrats were the last chamber that voted for an income tax increase for education, not to mention the almost dozen House Republicans who voted for the income tax increase in the last 90s without one losing a re-election contest on the issue.

And ultimately, the will for an income tax increase for smarter education will come (or not) from us: citizens who tell our legislators that, if they can hire excellent teachers for Illinois kids, we're willing to pay a 5% (or so) income tax.

The End of Murder?

Los Angeles Weekly has a great cover story on murder, but unfortunately only compares LA to New York. I'd like to learn more about murder-reduction (or, dare we dream, murder-elimination) strategies.

The two things that seem to make the most sense to me in reducing crime are more police officers and more cameras in high-crime areas. Cheaper education programs, like Big Brothers, that help to raise children away from becoming criminals, also seem like smart investments.

The cost of violent crime is so high and so difficult to compute. The LA Weekly article cites at least $1,000,000 per homicide to the LA city government in police work, legal-system costs and lost business activity. As I recall from law school, juries in civil cases tend to value a life at between 3 and 6 million dollars when measuring compensation. And how do you measure the emotional impact of losing mother or son or friend to homicide?

If anyone knows how Illinois rates relative to the other 49 on crime-prevention strategies, I'd be very interested to learn from you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Ba-Rocket takes off for Obama 08

Heeding the call of hundreds of thousands, Senator Barack Obama changed his game and announced his run for the presidency.

I had thought he wouldn't run, and that bold prediction clearly didn't pan out. I know owe Eric Zorn a dinner, as he was the first pundit in the world to predict an Obama presidential campaign (in January 2005!) and I like to think I was the first blogger who disagreed with him.

On bold predictions, I'm shooting 50%. I was the only pundit or blogger to predict an Illinois Senate super-majority for the Democrats in October.....yes, let me hold on to something....

Anyway, this is going to be fantastic. A presidential campaign that kicks off in Springfield and ends in Chicago from a community organizer who pushes for progressive policy and makes Republican leaners feel good about it....it's great.

And one other thing: the man has had 8 years as a state legislator, crafting and passing scores of bills that improved our standard of living. If that's not experience, then what is? I've got a much longer post coming on the so-called lack of experience of Senator Barack Obama....

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Senator John Cullerton pushes for statewide smoking ban earlier than Chicago's schedule

Thank goodness! Senator John Cullerton has introduced SB 500 (not yet online) that would ban smoking throughout Illinois on January 1, 2008 -- a good six months before Chicago's scheduled ban in July of 2008.

There's a big coalition called Smoke Free Illinois that is supporting the ban. I'm sure they would like your help in lobbying for passage of SB 500, so check them out and call your legislator. I think they win the prize for generating the most attention for a specific legislative proposal in the first week of the 95th General Assembly, but the bars and restaurants have a lot of clout, so this will be a fight.

Our Chicago smoking ban is rather ridiculous -- a 30 month (!) time period until implementation and a bizarre provision that permits bar owners to install ventilation systems and still allow smoking if the system generates air quality equal to the air quality outside. Those provisions do not exist in SB 500, creating yet another reason to pass the bill. It was fantastic to be in Springfield during veto session and this week and enjoy smoke-free bars and restaurants. And it's disgusting to still smell like an ash tray after going out in Chicago.

Congratulations to Senator Cullerton and Smoke Free Illinois for taking the initiative on good legislation.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Making Illinois voters relevant to picking the president is a great Madigan move

Speaker Madigan's first substantive proposal in the 95th General Assembly was to move the 2008 presidential primary to its earliest possible date (according to DNC rules): February 5, 2008. The move is motivated by a desire to boost the prospects of the only presidential candidate from Illinois: Senator Barack Obama. (Potential pre-campaign website at www.Obama4America.com)

I think it's a great move. The rules that govern how to pick a president are stacked up to diminish the voice of Illinois citizens. First our primary (currently scheduled for mid-March) comes too late for us to influence the nominee; then the winner-take-all rule that most states use for the Electoral College means that all the extra votes in November for Obama (assuming he's the nominee) go to waste and do not help to elect him.

Moving our presidential primary to February will also help the moderate Illinois Republicans mitigate the more radical southern wing of their party by giving Illinoisians more clout in the Republican presidential nomination, which will likely help nominate a better Republican. That's also a good thing for the country.

Representative John Fritchey in his blog (now named Open House) notes that having two primaries (one presidential in February, another in March or perhaps later for everybody else) might serve to depress turnout for the non-presidential primary. Fair enough, but I still think a relevant presidential primary is a good move. And besides, we should just follow Australia's lead and require all citizens to vote. (No one would have to cast a vote for any particular race, but just like jury duty, it should be a price of citizenship to show up, take a ballot, and turn it back in, with or without any votes cast).

I'm glad that Speaker Madigan took the initiative with a bold move to improve our election system. I hope it inspires similar bold thinking among the rest of the General Assembly.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mayor Tim Davlin puts IRV on the Springfield ballot to enfranchise overseas voters

Great news: Mayor Tim Davlin earned City Council approval this week to place instant runoff voting on the April ballot for overseas voters!

That means Springfield citizens will be the first in the state to have the chance to implement a ranked ballot.

Right now, overseas voters are disenfranchised from the April election, because there simply isn't enough time after the February primary to print, mail and return the ballots before the April election. The solution to this administrative problem is instant runoff voting: the clerk sends the overseas voters two ballots in January, a regular February ballot and a special ranked ballot for the April election. Since the voter won't know when he casts his vote in January which candidates will survive to the April election, all candidates are listed and he ranks his choices. The ballots are sealed separately and mailed back before the February election, ensuring that the voter is no longer disenfranchised. When the April election comes, the vote goes to the candidate on the April ballot with the highest rank. In other words, if his first-choice didn't make it to the April election, then his vote goes to his second-choice candidate (and so on).

Instant runoff voting is used for overseas voters in Louisiana, Arkansas and South Carolina, but Springfield would be the first city to use it in Illinois. San Francisco, Minneapolis, Davis, Oakland and Burlington all use IRV as well.

Mayor Davlin deserves a ton of credit for aggressively working to enfranchise overseas and military voters. You can hear him make the pitch for IRV at the Public Affairs Committee meeting of the City Council on January 8 here. Mayor Davlin's press release is here. The Springfield Journal-Register blurb on the vote is here and a longer article is here. I hope Springfield voters will approve the measure in April, which would then go into effect for the 2011 municipal election.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Speaker Pelosi sounded great (and Representative Holt had a nice touch)

What a great feeling: Speaker Pelosi swearing in the new Democratic House of Representatives. She came across as warm and sincere (not unlike the grandfatherly warmth of Speaker Hastert), and her joy was touching.

I thought it was a great touch to bring up all the children to surround her on the podium.

Her insistence on passing substantive legislation in 100 hours resonated as well and reminded me that the '100 days' benchmark that FDR created with his New Deal is far too slow for 2007. 100 hours is more like it. I like the sense of urgency.

And I thought it was great Representative Holt stood up for democracy by raising a point of parliamentary procedure in support of the 90,000 votes that disappeared in a Florida congressional election and ensuring that the decision to seat the Republican candidate did not affect in any way the litigation over Christine Jennings' election.

It's an odd feeling to not be immediately defensive about Washington D.C. I like this change.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

President Barack Obama reinforces meritocracy and upward mobility, unlike President Bush

I believe one of the reasons why so many people are attracted to the concept of President Barack Obama is because of a sour taste from the quasi-hereditary feeling generated from President George Bush (the Second). It's obvious that there were tens of thousands of people more qualified, more intelligent and better leaders than President Bush available to serve as a Republican President, but because he was born the son of a President, George Bush beat out everyone else. That's disheartening.

Barack Obama, by contract, earned everything he's got. His father had government connections -- in Kenya. That didn't help Barack. He's wickedly intelligent and has performed well under pressure, as well as caught a ton of political lucky breaks, to become a viable pre-announcement presidential candidate. That's a heartwarming story as it cuts to the center of what's best about the United States: we believe in upward mobility and meritocracy, where anyone born poor can become wealthy and class doesn't exist. Now, that isn't objectively true (the best determinant of whether a particular American will earn above-average or below-average income is whether his or her parents earned above-average or below-average income) but because most of us want that to be true, we're willing to support taxes and spending that will help make that more true (like cheap or free higher education or cheap loans to small businesses or a progressive income tax where people who earn more money pay more money).

I think we're all generally more willing to support meritocracy taxes and spending when someone who struggled to make it to a position of power, like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, can speak on its behalf. When very wealthy people advocate for meritocracy taxes, like John Kerry, it sounds a little arrogant and infused with a spirit of noblesse oblige. People who have been broke, as Barack Obama spent most of his life, can connect with voters about why it's smart to raise taxes on what Paris Hilton will inherit from her family and use that money to buy health insurance for everyone or college scholarships or hiring more teachers or police officers. I think John Edwards can also speak with authenticity on the topic, especially because he's made the eradication of poverty - the grinding, Third World poverty persisting too long -- central to his campaign. I don't know if Hilary Clinton can speak as compellingly, not because she was born priviliged, but because she only has her opportunity to run because of her husband. Perhaps that's unfair, but I think that's the perception of a former First Lady.