Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The General Assembly will decide this week whether we hold a constitutional convention next year

This week is the deadline for the General Assembly to place constitutional amendments on the November ballot. (The Constitution has a six-months-before-the-election deadline).

The main reason to hold a constitutional convention is because voters have not had an opportunity to amend the constitution in a substantive way for over a decade. We have not had the chance to vote on the recall power. We have not had the chance to vote on the flat tax mandate. We have not had the chance to vote on making school funding a right, rather than a goal, of the state. We have not had the chance to vote on reining in the extremely broad amendatory veto power. We have not had the chance to vote on our absolutely broken redistricting regime that essentially works to pick the leaders of the chamber at random.

A constitutional convention would provide an avenue to put these amendments on the ballot for the voters to approve or reject.

If the General Assembly process of asking voters to approve or reject constitutional amendments works -- that is, if the General Assembly does in fact place amendments on the ballot for the voters to accept or reject -- then there isn't much reason for a constitutional convention.

If, however, the General Assembly does not place any amendments on the ballot this year, as they have not for at least a decade, then there is a very good reason for a constitutional convention, because it is the only way for voters to amend the constitution.

This week the General Assembly will decide whether we hold a constitutional convention.

If they find a way to put at least one substantive amendment on the November ballot, the call for a constitutional convention will surely fail.

If they do not find a way to put any amendment on the ballot, then the call for a constitutional convention might pass.

So for those of you who don't want to see a constitutional convention, I suggest you lobby the General Assembly to put an amendment on the ballot this week! (My favorite is SJRCA 92 that would ask voters to scrap the mandate for a flat rate income tax, but you might like recall or redistricting).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Obama tells the truth on gas tax; McCain and Clinton are pander bears

Have you heard of the pander bear?

It's an exotic cousin of the panda bear.

The pander bear is a political candidate who tells voters what they want to hear, even when they know it's a bad idea, in order to win some votes.

And John McCain and Hillary Clinton are both pander bears in Indiana over the gas tax.

We should have raised the gas tax years ago so that we have a reason to use less oil and develop alternative fuels and modern transit. That's essentially what Europe did and now their economy is in a better position to deal with $115 per barrel oil.

Remember, a few years ago, a gallon of gas in the US was cheaper than a gallon of water, so we haven't had to invest in transit and alternative fuels. We just burned the oil and now our economy is in a very bad position to deal with high oil prices.

According to this New York Times article filed an hour ago (we're super-fast on the Internet!), both McCain and Clinton are responding to the economic damage from not raising the gas tax years ago and thus growing economically dependent on cheap oil by .... calling for a cut in the gas tax.

So what will that do? It will essentially end any maintenance of the interstate system and mass transit systems. And it will allow the oil companies and the other side of the War on Terror to make more money, since prices won't really fall.

Senator Barack Obama tells the truth -- one of the core themes of his entire career. His candor is why he is going to be the next President of the United States. 

Obama spoke out against halting a tax on gasoline during the summer months, a move supported by Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, saying it may not bring down prices and would deplete a fund used for building highways.

"The only way we're going to lower gas prices over the long term is if we start using less oil," Obama said.

Don't feed the pander bears! It will just encourage them.

Instead, support the candidate of candor: Barack Obama.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Obama's magic number is 291. Help him clinch.

It's like baseball.

Near the end of the season, teams that are going to make the playoffs have a magic number of wins (or their rivals' losses) to clinch their spot. We also have a magic number: the number of delegates to pick up in order to clinch the nomination. And our goal is to get that magic number by July 1 when every superdelegate (according to the Chairman of the Party) should make their opinion known.

Our magic number is 291 (according to this Sun-Times report quoting the Obama campaign). Barack Obama needs 291 more delegates to earn the 2024 to win the nomination. And our job is to help secure 291 more delegates for the Obama campaign over the next eight weeks.

There's not all that much more to say besides our efforts ought be focused on winning these primaries and caucuses -- and ensuring that the superdelegates that we are in a position to influence make their pledge public.

The superdelegate closest to where I live is Rahm Emanuel. He's in a tough spot, since his primary voters supported Obama (he lives in Chicago) but his personal friendship with the Clintons is a big part of his life. However, this is a tough business, and in my view, it's time to publicly endorse Obama so that we can move that magic number down to zero.

Remember, the only reason that there is any discussion at all about chaos in Denver is that there are some superdelegates who have so far refused to publicly make a choice between Senators Clinton and Obama. That refusal to choose is damaging.

The magic number is 291. Let's bring it down to zero and clinch this thing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I'll be on WGN primary night on Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720

Just got word that I'll be discussing the results from the Pennsylvania primary election on Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720 where Senator Clinton will graciously acknowledge the obvious -- she has lost the primary race since she did not earn more than 65% of the vote in Pennsylvania and she can not catch up to Obama's insurmountable lead -- and concede to the next President of the United States, Senator Barack Obama.

Would be nice, wouldn't it?

It's on from 9 pm to 11 pm CST on WGN, 720 am Tuesday night.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

History of the English language driven by the French

I subscribe to Delancey Place, a fantastic free email-newsletter with insightful excerpts from books and magazines. I encourage you to subscribe or read the blog. The editor of Delancey Place is Richard Wade Vague.

This is a good one that I'll repost in its entirely.

In today's encore excerpt--many of the reasons that English spelling contains many silent letters and other complexities date from the 15th century, around the time of William Caxton's 1476 introduction the printing press in England:

"In spelling, the [English] language was assimilating the consequences of having a civil service of French scribes, who paid little attention to the traditions of English spelling that had developed in Anglo-Saxon times. Not only did French qu arrive, replacing Old English cw (as in queen), but ch replaced c (in words such as church--Old English cirice), sh and sch replaced sc (as in ship--Old English scip), and much more. Vowels were written in a great number of ways. Much of the irregularity of modern English spelling derives from the forcing together of Old English and French systems of spelling in the Middle Ages. People struggled to find the best way of writing English throughout the period. ... Even Caxton didn't help, at times. Some of his typesetters were Dutch, and they introduced some of their own spelling conventions into their work. That is where the gh in such words as ghost comes from.

"Any desire to standardize would also have been hindered by the ... Great English Vowel Shift, [which] took place in the early 1400s. Before the shift, a word like loud would have been pronounced 'lood'; name as 'nahm'; leaf as 'layf'; mice as 'mees'. ...

"The renewed interest in classical languages and cultures, which formed part of the ethos of the Renaissance, had introduced a new perspective into spelling: etymology. Etymology is the study of the history of words, and there was a widespread view that words should show their history in the way they were spelled. These weren't classicists showing off. There was a genuine belief that it would help people if they could 'see' the original Latin in a Latin-derived English word. So someone added a b to the word typically spelled det, dett, or dette in Middle English, because the source in Latin was debitum, and it became debt, and caught on. Similarly, an o was added to peple, because it came from populum: we find both poeple and people, before the latter became the norm. An s was added to ile and iland, because of Latin insula, so we now have island. There are many more such cases. Some people nowadays find it hard to understand why there are so many 'silent letters' of this kind in English. It is because other people thought they were helping."

David Crystal, The Fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left, Oxford, 2006, pp. 26-9.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cayman Islands-style economic development by tax haven

How are we going to generate more wealth in Illinois, create more jobs and otherwise strengthen our economy?

The best way is to develop a workforce that is the smartest in the world. It's also very powerful to invest in our infrastructure so our transportation network is strong.

That costs money. And the way to spend that money is with taxes.

There's an alternative strategy for economic development, and the substantive and rich (no pun intended) debate on the Mike Smith Amendment (HJRCA 42) illuminated this strategic difference on economic development policy. The alternative strategy is to attract the wealthiest people possible to live in your state by serving as a tax haven and not taxing them.

That's what the Cayman Islands does, which is why lots of corporations decide to legally move there and avoid American taxation.

And that's essentially what Illinois has been doing, because we soak the poor and middle class with our state and local government. We tax low income people much more than high income people.

Well, that's hasn't been working so well. Our job growth hasn't been as good as it should be. And in my view, that's because about half our schools are dramatically under-funded (or at least, the outcomes aren't very good) and our infrastructure is falling apart. It isn't because we've been taxing high income people too much, because we don't. We have the lowest tax rate of any state in the nation that has an income tax.

So, HJRCA42 would fund education and a capital bill by putting a moderate income tax rate (relative to other states) of 6% on anyone earning $250,000 a year. It would also cut taxes by an average of 12% on everyone who earns less than $250,000.

During debate on the floor today and in the State Government Administration Committee yesterday, several legislators who opposed the amendment felt that this would hurt economic development. Why?

Because by taxing people who have a good year and earn more than $250,000, that could induce them to move somewhere else. And the best way to generate jobs and wealth and economic development, in that view, is to induce wealthy people to live in Illinois by not taxing them much at all.

That's better than investing in a smarter workforce and better schools.

That's better than a modern transportation network.

It's better to keep taxes on the wealthiest low -- like a tax haven, really -- than it is to invest in all of our people through better schools and better public services.

That's the core of the economic development strategy advanced by opponents of this amendment.

And that sure seems like a lame economic development strategy to me.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Progressive constitutional amendments popping all over!

Good things are happening in Springfield as legislators are actively proposing improvements to the constitution -- particularly the ridiculous provision that imposes a flat-rate income tax.

The Illinois Constitution reads:
(a) A tax on or measured by income shall be at a
non-graduated rate. At any one time there may be no more than
one such tax imposed by the State for State purposes on
individuals and one such tax so imposed on corporations. In
any such tax imposed upon corporations the rate shall not
exceed the rate imposed on individuals by more than a ratio
of 8 to 5.
What a dumb thing to put in a Constitution: the income tax must be non-graduated. The right type of income tax we should impose on ourselves is a decision for the people to make through our elected representatives, not something that should be restricted by the Constitution.

Fortunately, lots of legislators are working to change this and a new proposal introduced by Elementary and Secondary Education Committee Chair Mike Smith (D-Pekin) looks like it has some legs. He has introduced HJRCA 42 which would do two excellent things.

1. It would cut taxes on most working families by making the first $4200 earned tax-free. Right now only the first $2100 earned is tax free, so we are perpetuating poverty by taking people who make minimum wage. That's dumb.

2. It would create a new tax bracket of $250,000. Any income earned above the quarter-million dollar level would be taxed at 6%, not 3%. So Michael Jordan's $31 million earned last year would face a tax bill of 3% for the first $250,000 and 6% of the net $30,750,000. And you know what? I think he can afford it.

The amendment also indexes those two figures so that they rise with inflation -- another smart move.

Full disclosure: I've been actively working pro bono to get some constitutional amendment on the ballot this November so we can get rid of this dumb flat rate mandate. I am pleasantly surprised by Representative Smith's amendment, which is another way of saying that I had no hand in it.

The best part about HJRCA 42 is that it has been assigned to a committee! Next week it will be heard in Representative Jack Frank's State Government Administration Committee. That is enormous progress as I'm not aware of any other constitutional amendment for a progressive income tax getting assigned to committee in either chamber in the last decade or so.

So this thing can happen. The May 4th deadline is fast approaching to pass a constitutional amendment with a three-fifths vote in each chamber, so if you have not called your state legislators and asked them to put a progressive income tax amendment on the November ballot yet, now is the time.

Of course, if you thought Steve Forbes was right in 1996, and that you think we should use a *higher* income tax rate the *lower* one's income becomes, then you probably won't like these amendments. If, on the other hand, you think that the government should tax us based on our ability to pay that year, then these amendments are very good.

Another very good sign: Downstaters are not scared of a progressive income tax, as Representatives Bradley, Holbrook and Vershoore (as this Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph article makes clear) all support the amendment. There's an incorrect school of thought that Downstaters will always vote against tax increases, no matter how reasonable the proposal or whether the relatively low-income voter will in fact be better off under a progressive tax system, so therefore pushing for a tax increase is folly. I think this amendment is helping to make clear that the consensus for fixing our regressive tax system is growing, particularly Downstate.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Great new Illinois public affairs blog by David Ormsby

Usually the people who really know state government and state politics keep their opinions to themselves or share them exclusively with their paying clients. (Did I just insult myself a little bit? A little bit. Little bit.)

David Ormsby is a nice recent exception to that rule.

He has a new blog called Your Two Cents Less and it is a great read. If you like public policy and Illinois politics, and really, who doesn't?, put it on your daily list.