Sunday, November 26, 2006

Taxes and Local Control

In my district, and most of the ones around me, you can pick any issue you would like, and I all but guarantee you that, these days, it takes a back seat to the issue of skyrocketing property taxes.

While we can debate ad nauseum the root cause or real fix for the problem, in the interim we are presently trying to lessen the dramatic negative impact that these taxes are having on residents in Cook County. (And by the way, to the extent that higher taxes result in less disposable consumer income, this is a problem for local businesses as well.)

We are hoping to call the "7% bill" for a vote this week, and everybody concerned can acknowledge that it will be a close vote. Yesterday, Crain's outlined a Civic Federation report on this issue, which stated in part:
Chicago homeowners would face a median increase of 36.4% in their 2006 property tax bills — up from 10.6% otherwise — if the General Assembly does not extend a 7% annual cap on most residential assessment hikes, according to a new report by the Civic Federation. Business groups say the cap shifts the tax burden to them, but the the Chicago tax-policy group says the value of residential property is growing so fast that, even with the cap, the median bill for industrial property will drop 10.8%, with a 4% median decline on office and retail buildings. The federation supports a three-year extension of the cap. (emphasis added)
As to the cries of doom from the opponents of the bill, I proffer this tidbit from the Tribune's article on the issue:
But the study found that commercial, industrial and apartment properties in Chicago are already expected to see their taxes go down in 2007, with or without the cap in place. Taxes on those properties would drop even further if the law were allowed to expire and more of the burden were shifted back to homeowners. (emphasis added)

"Although it is not a replacement for comprehensive reform of the property tax system, the `7% cap' has contributed residential stability to the Cook County property tax system by both limiting and smoothing annual increases in the taxable value of homestead properties," the report says. "The Civic Federation believes that the benefits of the [law] outweigh its costs in terms of tax burden shifted to non-homestead properties and homestead properties that are appreciating slowly."
Interestingly, what I find most telling about the issue has nothing to do with taxes. People, especially conservatives, are always talking about local control. Here we have a bill that is rooted in that very concept. There is nothing mandatory about the bill, it is opt-in legislation that allows a county to implement the provisions if it so chooses. Those county officials eventually have to stand before voters and answer for their actions.

It is hard to imagine a Representative from another county arguing that allowing Cook (or any other) County to implement this measure would negatively impact their constituents. During my ten years in the Legislature, I have supported countless local control measures for other regions. I hope that my colleagues will allow us to take those steps necessary to address our issues now.

Sometime soon, when I am not under the weather, we can take up the whole debate of how we assess properties, how we fund schools, etc. I just don't have the energy or time to really delve into it now.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Now It Gets Interesting

Everybody knew that it was coming, the only question was when. The answer is now. From Crain's:
Trial lawyers on Monday filed a much-anticipated lawsuit seeking to overturn the law that limits jury awards for medical malpractice victims.

The plaintiff in the suit alleges a doctor at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in west suburban Melrose Park botched the delivery of her daughter in October 2005. The 13-month-old suffered permanent brain damage from of lack of oxygen during delivery and must be fed through a tube, the lawsuit says.

As I have previously stated, while I believe that there is a shortage of doctors in parts of our state, and while I agree that malpractice rates are higher than they should be, I do not believe that either of these facts were caused by our previously-existing malpractice laws.

It has been a bedrock principle of our legal system to have faith in an empaneled jury to assess and award damages in tort cases. To artificially limit such awards in an arbitrary manner is an unwarranted deviation from this core principle that was driven by politics and economics rather than any sense of constitutionality or jurisprudential logic.

For those who support the caps, I hope that the legal briefs that are filed on your behalf proffer a better argument than this one:

“If this rollback succeeds, it will drive doctors from the state and medical care costs will skyrocket,” Peter Eupierre, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, said in a statement.

It's safe to say that all sides are eager to see this issue litigated and resolved by the courts. And while that resolution won't come quickly, it's a good bet that whatever the court decides, this issue is far from over.

Friday, November 17, 2006

(Go) Blue State - w/ a very sad update

In a beneficient effort to appease the hard travails of man, the Higher Power created sports. And it was good.

Realizing that it could be improved upon, He created college football. And it was better yet.

After a century of contests, He realized that it was time for the Ultimate Game to be played.

First, He set the stage by sending a team of valiant victors to South Bend, where they quickly dispatched the false prophets residing in the local gridiron.

All the while, He allowed the masses to worship the false idols who reside in the Sodom of college football - Columbus, Ohio. It was these same false idols who ignorantly coveted their number one status as if it actually belonged to them.

But this was merely a distraction intended to winnow the non-believers from those who are just and deserving.

And thus was begotten tomorrow's contest - the greatest college football game in the history of college football games.

And mankind both near and far will watch to see if a benevolent power still exists, and will be given proof of such existence only through a convincing victory by the team that represents all that is good and right in the world - the Michigan Wolverines.

Final Score: Michigan 59, OSU 3

Heck, I would take a one point victory. But I will tell you that should Michigan somehow get this game stolen from them, be on the lookout for locusts, drought, 40 days of rain, nuclear proliferation and a whole host of other maladies that may signal the end of goodness for mankind.

Update - As if this game could get any more dramatic, it is with a heavy heart that I pass on the following sad news:
Former Michigan head coach and athletic director Bo Schembechler has passed away. Schembechler collapsed again on the set of Detroit television station WXYZ Channel 7 during taping of his weekly television show and was rushed to Providence Hospital in Southfield, where he was initially listed in critical condition...

Schembechler remains the winningest coach in Michigan football history, having won or tied for the Big Ten title 13 times in his 21 years. He guided the Wolverines to a 96-10-3 regular season record in the 1970s, the nation's standard, and took 17 teams to bowl games, 10 to the Rose Bowl.
Few people were able to inspire Michigan fans to the extent that Bo could. And despite his legendary focus on the running game. it is his passing that will serve as his final motivation for the fans. The biggest game ever just got bigger. Bo Blue.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Blue's Anatomy

While still coming out of a post-election haze and getting prepared for veto session, I wanted to attempt to briefly distill a couple of thoughts on the election.

First the big picture - Illinois and the rest of the country have never looked more blue. And while there is no doubt that the war played a large factor in the equation, I think that the result smacks of a more fundamental happening as well.

For a number of years now, I have been on the State Legislative Advisory Board of the Democratic Leadership Council, which is essentially the nesting place for centrist Democrats. I have aligned myself with the DLC because I believe that they are spot on in recognizing that the majority of our population resides in the ideological center and not on the respective fringes. I think that this election has ratified that belief.

For a number of years now, the Republican Party had been very effective in appealing to the centrist nature of many Americans, and the results were evident. But lately, for myriad reasons, the R's have been drifting to the right, and in so doing, they have left a void in the center. This has been especially evident in Illinois where moderate Republicans find themselves vilified, and abandoned, by their more conservative brethren.

This year, the Democratic party, under the national direction of my Congressman, Rahm Emanuel, acted decisively to seize this middle ground, on issues ranging from social policy to immigration to national security, and in so doing, made unprecedented gains. Locally, Illinois is bluer (sp?) than it has been in seventy years.

(On an aside, Rahm's efforts resulted in one of the funnier opening sentences I have ever seen in a political story:
Democrats across the country owe a big chunk of their new electoral success to a nine-fingered, ballet-dancing inspiration for a “West Wing” character with a reputation as a jerk.
Although technically, it's nine and one-half.)

I think that voters are becoming less likely to blindly follow party labels, and will increasingly support those candidates who espouse a message that resonates with them. This independence can be readily witnessed in the ward where I live on the north side of Chicago where the results were all over the place. The results for some of the races are as follows:

L. Madigan 83%
Fritchey 80%
Blagojevich 59%
Stroger 46%

Now this ward had essentially no field operation in this election cycle, so I think that it provides a relatively objective view into the mindset of local voters. In the past, it would have been unheard of to see this much variance in party support, let alone a Republican carrying a major race like County Board President. These results show that at least for the near future, the rules of engagement have changed, with neither party being able to take any voting bloc for granted.

What remains to be seen is if the Democratic party will be mindful enough of the source of their fortunes to navigate a path that may not be as far left as some in the party may like. At the same time, it will be interesting to watch if the local Republican party recognizes the futility in trying to force an overly dogmatic approach onto a common-sense, mainstream electorate.

In both Washington and Springfield, the actions over the next six months could well chart the future for years to come.

UPDATE - I uncharacteristically didn't get to the Sunday papers until just now. Rick Pearson and John Chase have a very good article on the very subject of the Illinois Republican Party potential search for the center.

Monday, November 06, 2006

One Benefit of Having Your Own Blog

Every local paper has endorsed Democrat John Fritchey
for re-election as State Representative for the 11th District.

From the Chicago Sun-TImes - If all Democratic candidates were as competent as North Side Democrat Rep. John Fritchey, endorsements would be a slam dunk. Fritchey is an activist in his community, weighing in on a diverse range of issues…there is no question he wins our support.

From the Chicago Tribune - A sophisticated, centrist legislator who has an impressive understanding of his district. The Democrat stands his ground on issues and isn't afraid to buck leadership…John Fritchey gets the nod.

From the Booster For his dogged determination to hold the line on property taxes and the CTA’s feet to the fire during the Brown Line debacle, voters should re-elect State Rep. John Fritchey... one of our most substantive legislators…also one of our most accessible.

On Tuesday, November 7th, re-elect John Fritchey as our State Representative!

Pregame Show

1. While there have been a lot of strange election-related happenings going on in the last week, this one sticks out:
Peter Garza, the Republican candidate for Cook County sheriff, picked up an endorsement Sunday from a Democratic stalwart, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In a statement, Jackson pointed to Garza's accomplishments as an investigator in the state's attorney's office, including investigations that led to arrests of a child sex offender and three people for environmental crimes.

Garza, 47, will face Democrat Tom Dart, Sheriff Michael Sheahan's chief of staff, Tuesday. Sheahan, who is retiring, endorses Dart, 44.

In full disclosure, Tom Dart is a friend and former colleague. That aside, I also think that he will be a tremendous Sheriff. And while I'm sure that there is a back story here, I'm not sure what it is, or why the Reverend would want to do this just two days before the election. What a business.

2. As an informal observation, if you want to get a sense of what is happening in the County Board President race tomorrow, you might be well-served to keep an eye on some of the west side wards. There has often been tension between south side and west side African-American leaders, and it will be 'interesting' to see what Stroger's performance looks like on the west side tomorrow. If for, whatever reason, he does not rack up south side-esque numbers on the west side, he may be in for a long night.

3. We will handily pick up the one state Constitutional office that we do not presently occupy.

4. Bean, Duckworth, Seals - we get 2 out of 3.

5. You have to hand it to the Tribune, when they want to make a strong editorial statement, they don't mess around.

6. Judging from the weather predictions around the state, I don't see the weather being much of a factor tomorrow. It's going to be about as warm of a day as we get for General Elections, and other than some rain in Southern Illinois (which likely hurts Topinka), I'm seeing no Tom Skilling impact tomorrow.

7. To the extent that they have been paying any attention to it, this has been a mentally draining election cycle for the general public. Even as a public official, my mind is numb from the shear volume and vapid content of political ads. Most of these ads make the Geico lizard and Man Law commercials seem like PBS content by comparison. (You have to love those Man Law ads by the way)

8. In all sincerity, and even though he never responded to my letter, my baseball cap gets tipped to my opponent for running a credible campaign.