Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Victory in Springfield for instant runoff voting (91% of the vote)

Good news from Springfield: we won!

The referendum to implement instant runoff voting for
overseas absentee voters in municipal elections passed
overwhelmingly today. Out of about 25,000 votes cast
on a beautiful Election Day, almost 23,000 people
voted YES on our referendum.

This is the first implementation of a ranked ballot in
Illinois and a huge victory.

Thanks to all the donors who sent in a small check to
FairVote for this campaign and thanks to FairVote,
particularly Ryan Griffin, who designed a great
website at www.IncludeEveryVoter.org.

I've been very impressed with the dedication of
Springfield elected officials, particularly Mayor Tim
Davlin (who was re-elected today) and Sangamon County
Clerk Joe Aiello who embraced this proposal

Today's a good day for democracy.

Next steps in Illinois are the following (a) try to
pass SB 439, introduced by Senator Michael Frerichs,
that would allow any city to implement instant runoff
voting for overseas absentee voters by ordinance
instead of by referendum as Springfield just did and
(b) pitching other municipalities to follow
Springfield's lead.

It's really hard to get 90% of the vote for anything.
So we should feel good about the enormous political
viability of a ranked ballot for overseas absentee


Monday, April 09, 2007

John McCarron on what policy changes led to businesses paying fewer taxes

The meat of McCarron's column today in the Trib is a run-down of policy changes over the last decade that have resulted in businesses paying less of the tax burden in Illinois. He puts Pat Quinn as the potential consensus-builder in the Capitol, but his analysis probably suffers from the "great leader" approach that conventional wisdom still applies to Illinois policy-making, as if legislators can't find a consensus through public debate. Here's the best part:

Quinn knows the history and could remind the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturers' Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association of their recent fiscal sleights of hand. He could remind them of the "single sales factor" tax break they won from the legislature in 1999, which greatly lowered the state income tax liability of our largest corporations. Or that many of our privately held corporations avoid state income taxes altogether by zeroing out taxable profits with business "expenses," such as ultragenerous executive compensation packages.

He also could remind them that northern Illinois businesses have been paying a reduced share of the local property tax burden now that residential assessments here have been skyrocketing. He could remind them that many businesses have escaped state and local utility taxes by buying electricity and natural gas "wholesale" under deregulation schemes that find homeowners and small landlords paying ever-higher retail prices and taxes. He could remind them that services still go untaxed in Illinois, and that, while working stiffs do get haircuts and have their cars repaired, most of those untaxed services are sold by accountancies, law firms, landscapers and others who cater to the well-to-do.

Fact is, Illinois is a relatively low-tax state for corporations and for wealthy individuals, but with our stiff sales tax and non-graduated income tax, we're one of the highest-tax states for the working poor.

Seems compelling to me. It would have been nice if he could have suggested a tax package instead of simply calling for Pat Quinn or someone else to do it, but he added value to the debate by laying out how business are, in fact, paying less than they had been, largely because of policy choices over the last decade.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Help elect a progressive, Sheila Simon, as Mayor of Carbondale

Sheila Simon is running for Mayor of Carbondale. She is the daughter of Paul Simon and has inherited the family trait of public integrity -- so much so that she's limiting any donations to her campaign to fifty dollars.

Fifty bucks!

That means no developer or other interested party will be able to sway her decision-making ability by reminding her that her re-election depends on them remaining invested in her campaign.

It's kind of the opposite approach of Mitt Romney, as this post on DailyKos explains. He basically got a lot of money people to write huge checks, and thus Mitt Romney will advocate for making the rich even richer at the expense of all the rest of us. (Read: make the Bush tax cuts permanent, particularly the marginal income tax rate on income above $250,000 and continue to tax wealth much less than work).

So, since Shelia Simon caps her contributions at $50, she needs 1000 people to kick in $50 to raise $50,000, instead of 10 organizations with an agenda to each kick in $5,000 (as is the general practice).

I've maxed out (first time I've ever been able to say that for a candidate!) and I hope you will too.

Check out her campaign site here and donate here:

(Thanks to Larry at Archpundit for the idea).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Minnesota Senate pases a 9.7 percent income tax above $250K per couple

Minnesota is in a tax policy debate as well. The Minnesota Senate just passed a bill increasing the highest income tax rate about 2 percentage points, from 7.85 percent to 9.7 percent on income above $250,000 per couple (or $141 from an individual).

That's the only way to make sure that everyone ends up paying about the same percentage of their income, since sales, excise and property taxes hit working and middle-class taxpayers much harder than wealthier taxpayers.

Illinois ought to follow suit and raise our state's 3% income tax to something like 5 or 6 percent on high-income earners to buy better teachers and invest in our public infrastructure.

From the Star-Tribune

How the tax would work

Minnesota now has three tax rates. Taxpayers pay the lowest rate -- 5.35 percent --

on the first strata of their income. They pay a slightly higher rate on the next strata. At the higher levels of income, the top rate now is 7.85 percent. Under the Senate plan, taxpayers with federally adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 per couple and $141,250 for singles would pay the new rate of 9.7 percent on the income earned above that threshold. For heads of household the threshold would be $212,500.

That would bring the tax burden for the state's wealthiest 93,000 tax filers more into line with middle class earners, Senate DFLers said. A recent state Revenue Department report showed that top earners now pay about 9 percent of their income in taxes while middle-range filers tend to pay closer to 12 percent.

"This is about investment, but it's also about fairness," Pogemiller said. "There is a basic unfairness to the system right now and we're going to correct that."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

350 mph. On a train. In France. Yesterday. Wow.

Can you imagine? Yesterday a train in France flew at 350 miles per hour.

Here's a story on the record-breaking run.

There's a huge market for high-speed trains, particularly since China is smart enough to invest in high-speed rail instead of just airports and highways (as a huge hedge against rising oil prices). California officials were in France along with Chinese officials to check out the product.

Can you imagine shooting in a 300 mph train in the United States? Maybe between Chicago and New York City -- take that 800 mile trip in, what? Three hours by train? From the Loop to Manhattan in three hours. Make it four with intermediate stops. Even five. It's a five hour trip from the Loop to Manhattan right now. And given how much oil airplanes burn, and how much coal and nuclear power we have in the United States, it makes a lot of sense to start using home-grown energy to power intercity travel instead of foreign oil.

The barrier to high-speed rail isn't economic or technical. It's political. We haven't figured out how to price or fund travel correctly yet. We don't include the cost of oil to the nation in the price of oil to users. When we figure that out, much more investment in passenger rail will follow.

[cross-posted at Improving Amtrak Incrementally]