Sunday, February 26, 2006

Conventional Thinking

In the wake of the Governor's unexpected (in my mind) statement not to increase taxes last week, I have had a number of discussions as to the impact of his statement on the issue of education funding reform. Simply put, if you adhere to the belief that any reduction in our overreliance on property taxes in the funding of our schools will most likely come via a tax swap, then the Governor's statement pretty well amounts to a kiss of death for any flavor of that plan.

In just the last week, impromptu floor debate has broken out by members of both parties declaring that the time to fix education funding is well past due.

Similarly, the Governor's position will lead to some fascinating, and potentially untenable, budget discussions in the upcoming years. Ralph Martire weighed in on the subject in Saturday's Sun-Times. In his column arguing against a no new tax pledge by any candidate, he states:

In this proposed budget, at least $2.9 billion -- more than 10 percent -- of all projected spending for public services is scheduled to be financed with debt. Meanwhile, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability projects that revenue growth for fiscal 2007 will be $860 million. That falls short of what's needed just to cover the inflationary cost of maintaining the current level of public services. This continues a longstanding trend of revenue underperformance by the state's fiscal system, first identified by Professor Fred Giertz in the late 1980s...

A no-tax pledge means policymakers won't even consider raising the revenue needed to fund our priorities responsibly. Effectively, the pledge leaves room for only two solutions: continue borrowing against the future or cut spending on services. But borrowing is irresponsible, and cutting spending isn't defensible. Illinois, the eighth richest and fifth most populous state, nonetheless ranks just 41st in spending. It also devotes well more than 90 percent of its budget to education, health care, human services and public safety. Do most voters really want a low-spending state like Illinois to disinvest in these essential services?

Working off of Martire's analysis, I think that it will be exceedingly difficult to find the support for any new borrowing plans, and it will be just as hard for a Democratic administration to cut into spending for programs that benefit many of the party's key constituencies.

Now the Governor may have intentionally (or unintentionally) left himself a little wiggle room when he said words to the effect of "I will not raise taxes on the hard-working people of Illinois". But I can't really imagine putting us at a further disadvantage when it comes to interstate competition for retaining and attracting business.

What may also be looming is a groundswell for the calling of the next Constitutional Convention in 2008. Given a decades-old reluctance of elected officials to take sigificant action toward addressing our school funding situation, a Con Con may wind up being the only practical way to make any significant reforms in our tax structure, school funding mechanisms, as well as a host of other items. I believe that it would also have the additional benefit of focusing public attention onto what is going on in Springfield and get the public engaged into the issues that affect them on a daily basis.

So feel free to weigh in on your thoughts on the no tax pledge or on the prospect of a Constitutional Convention.

UPDATE: The Lee Newspaper Group has a related article on the education funding 'debate' among gubernatorial candidates. Check it out to get a quick sense of where the candidates stand on this issue.


At February 25, 2006 at 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tuned in to Operation Push this morning, they broadcast on cable on channel 36 and also on the radio. Rev. Jackson blasted Governor Blagojevich for his pledge not to raise taxes, He basicly said the Governor was playing politics with the future of our children and on this issue I agree with Rev. Jackson.

At February 25, 2006 at 8:11 PM, Anonymous southernilrepub said...

A Con Con can not come soon enough. We need to overhaul the IL Const. Would like to see the old representation system of electing reps. Also want provisions that would clearly seperate Chicago from Illinois in terms of state laws.

At February 26, 2006 at 5:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He has found a way to pay for the things he needs to get re-elected.Borrow Borrow Borrow and when it is time to repay he will be out of office.

At February 26, 2006 at 8:18 AM, Anonymous Illinois Democrat said...

We all know to get out of the mess the state is in, you need to raise taxes..I am not a politician.. so can you explain to me why everyone votes to pass the budget just so they can get their pork money for their Districts.

At February 26, 2006 at 9:29 AM, Anonymous Navin Johnson said...

The no new tax pledge is dumb. A tax hike should be an option. Perhaps the last, most painful option, but on the table nevertheless.

The Governor can't continue to pile on new programs like he has for four more years and pay for them. All the low hanging fruit has been picked in terms of revenue and I don't think the General Assembly will go along with any more significant borrowing.

Intellectually, I like the idea of a Con-Con. Practically, I have concerns because if you get all the usual faces as delegates I don't think the final product will reflect the will of the people, it will reflect the will of the political class, unions and big business. The process could well turn out to be a lobbyist's dream and a citizen's nightmare.

Finally, we just rewrote the Constitution in 1970. I am not sure it is a good idea to rewrite the whole thing every 30 to 40 years.

I'd rather see changes to the Constitution via amendment versus opening the whole thing up. It is within the power of the G.A. to put amendments on the ballot.

At February 26, 2006 at 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Fritchey, do we need to raise taxes? If so, why don't you introduce a bill to do so?

It's your job as an elected official to come up with solutions. If you don't like the Gov's plan, what's yours?

People like you are quick to say, No, not a good idea, send us something else. How would you do it?

Just my thoughts.

At February 26, 2006 at 12:25 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...


Thanks for the set-up. You said "It's your job as an elected official to come up with solutions. If you don't like the Gov's plan, what's yours?"

I am one of the principal sponsors of HB750 and HB755, two similar bills, which regardless of whether or not you agree with the tax swap idea contained in the bills, both provide the most substantive framework yet for how to fix our education funding situation.

They have further intensified discussion and awareness of the funding issue, which is significant in and of itself.

As I have repeatedly said, if people don't believe that a tax swap is the way to go, fine - but come up with something else better. Simply criticizing from the sidelines is not an acceptable alternative, unless you believe that everything is just fine, which I haven't heard anybody say.

So now tell me about the Governor's plan to reduce funding inequality in our schools and over-reliance on property taxes.

At February 26, 2006 at 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s not a set-up; I’m simply asking a question. I don’t know what the Honorable John Fritchey sponsors and co-sponsors. I just know that there are a lot of politicians out there that are quick to criticize, but slow to offer solutions, simple as that.

At February 26, 2006 at 1:03 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

I didn't mean set-up negatively, just meant thanks for helping frame my response.

You said "People like you are quick to say, No, not a good idea, send us something else." I'm simply trying to say to you that I don't think that the generalization, while applicable to a lot of folks, applies here.

On this issue or reform or others, I have consistently tried to put action where my words are. Some may say too much so. Simple as that:)

At February 26, 2006 at 6:02 PM, Anonymous Cap'n Crud said...

Any no-new-tax pledge is shortsighted and self-defeating (for candidates and the state, alike).

Echoing a previous poster -- intellectually, I like the idea of a Con-Con. Practically, I fear it'd wind up producing more mischief than solutions.

We need elected leaders to do their &#@!! jobs, and lead us to better support of our schools. I'm convinced this simply cannot happen without a more commonsense revenue mix, and more revenues in general. One more necessary ingredient: the Testicular Virility required for a leader to speak the plain truth (that higher taxes are not evil and are, in fact, necessary) and to make it happen.

I appreciate the fact that John Fritchey is one of the few elected leaders who will say -- not only privately but publicly -- that we must be open to higher taxes in order to fix the public-policy problems that plague our state.

At February 26, 2006 at 7:21 PM, Anonymous Disenchanted Dem said...

You need legislators who are willing to take a (perceived) risk in order to do something bold and right. Fritchey's been willing to do that, so have a handful of others.

The irony is that voters would likely support those officials that were honest with them and made the hard choices. Especially after years of being sold a bill of goods that is leading our state into financial ruin.

At February 26, 2006 at 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rep Fritchey:

It takes only 2 people to pass a bill in Illinois. In the House, Speaker Madigan and in the Senate, President Jones. All this drivel that has going on for years and years is sickening. If Madigan and Jones want reform, we'll have reform, if they don't, we won't. I know that is a simple concept but if they say yes it flys and if they say no we study it and study it some more and then we bury it in committee. Give me one example of when Maidgan was for a bill and it did not pass, same goes for Jones. Some of the people can be fooled some of the time...........


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