Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When Rods Collide

I've said it openly in the past and I'll repeat it now. I actually respect the Governor for his strong desire to hold fast to his no income/sales tax hike pledge. I don't necessarily agree with it. I don't think that he needed to make it. But make it he did, and he has been steadfast in adhering to it.

And since I have criticized him for vacillating on other positions, fairness dictates that I give him credit for sticking to this one.

But the Governor now finds himself in a position where his philosophical mandates may have to yield to practical realities.

Case in point - mass transit funding, a critical issue for riders and non-riders alike. Rep. Hamos and others have been laboring to craft a funding bill that can provide a cash infusion to the RTA while providing for improved accountability and governance. And it appears that a piece of legislation that could stave off route cutbacks and fare increases is but days away.

Good news you say? It looks that way, but there's a catch. A critical part of the funding mechanism rests in a modest hike in the sales tax in those counties in which RTA operates. People benefiting from the RTA (and don't forget that even non-riders benefit) helping fund it. Sounds like a fair idea.

BUT, the Governor has repeatedly said that he will veto any budget sent to him that contains an income or sales tax increase.

AND, in something that I hadn't previously heard, the Governor has now said that if lawmakers override such a veto, he will call them into special session until they rescind the vote. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.

So here's where we find ourselves - it's essentially a Clash of the Two Rods. (Sounds worse than it is, I think). On one hand, you have the Governor that has drawn such a deep line in the sand on the tax hike issue that he might strike oil. On the other hand, you have the Governor who has done more flips during the special session than Nadia Comaneci did in winning 5 gold medals.

Flipping on his no tax hike pledge would be big news but is, in my opinion, legitimately defensible in this case. If there was any issue to justify a local, targeted sales tax increase, mass transit would be it. He would be sacrificing his core beliefs for the greater good. Would he take hits for it? Almost assuredly, but I think that the majority of people, myself included, would support his decision.

But I'm just not sure that he could bring himself to do it. His no-tax stance has become more than just a pledge, it's something that he can point to with a legitimate sense of righteousness. Breaking it would just add fuel to the political climate at a time when what he needs is an extinguisher.

Conversely, holding his ground in this instance would guarantee the ire of a huge proportion of Chicago, Cook and collar county residents. He would likely be seen as grandstanding at the expense of the masses who rely on mass transit. People would be openly cursing the Governor every time they shelled out $3.00 for a ride.

I have no idea how this situation will play out. For all of the challenges that the Governor has faced, it's interesting that this one could be his biggest test to date.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Split Personality

I have to hand it to the Governor, almost effortlessly, he continues to defy any semblance of predictability or consistency.

After months of shunning Springfield during the regular session, the Governor declares his intention to encamp in the capitol city,
"seven days a week until the job is done"
or as it turns out, at least until the next Sunday Cubs game, which was about a week or so later.

Then comes his next condemnation of the General Assembly for trying to work around his inaction and refusal to negotiate by passing a temporary budget.
A continuing string of one-month budgets is nothing more than a Republican budget in disguise,” he said last month.
In a way, one had to respect his firm convictions. But now he follows up his passionate stand for Democratic values with this, his latest shot at the General Assembly:

Failure to pass another interim budget will mean that state government shuts down and only emergency public-safety services will continue to operate...If the General Assembly does not finish its work soon, the people of Illinois will pay the price of their inaction.” (emphasis added)

Our inaction? OUR inaction? He spends eight nights of regular session in Springfield, refuses to negotiate with any of the leaders, provides no passable plan for a budget, and decries our inaction. And after slamming his Democratic colleagues for passing a one month budget last month, he now wants one for this month? Is it any wonder we're still in session?

On a brighter note, now that meetings have been taking place with just the four legislative leaders, it appears that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel - and it sure isn't the GRT train. The leaders seem poised to lay the groundwork for a plan that, if approved, could get more accomplished in about a week than we have in the last seven months. Imagine that.

Won't be Missed

Looks like there's another opening in the What Were They Thinking Department.

Bernie Schoenberg shares the news that:
SETH WEBB, 32, who as special assistant to the governor has arranged events for Gov. Blagojevich and often accompanied the governor at public appearances, is on his way to a private-sector job in New York. Webb says he will help run a small marketing agency in New York City called Civic Entertainment Group...Webb has extensive marketing and promotions experience. He will specialize in anonymous cheap shot media campaigns. (Okay, I made that last part up.)

For those readers that may not be up to speed with the back story, go here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Broken Record

There are records you want to break, and those you don't. Tomorrow will bring the longest overtime session in the modern-day history of the state. The previous record was set a whopping 3 years ago. Read into that what you will.

Truth be told, it is essentially anybody's guess as to whether or not we will even have a budget deal by the end of this month. I had a discussion last night about the irony of what has to transpire to make a budget deal a reality.

Essentially our state government, which has understandably been accused of an inability to get things done, would have to reach consensus on most, if not all, of the following major issues in the next week:
Electric rate relief - essentially done

Property tax relief - who the heck knows after yesterday's aldermanic press conference. It will be interesting to see their reaction if the end result is no extension of the 7% bill.

Mass transit funding - likely through a .25 regional sales tax, with enabling legislation to allow Chicago to levy a transfer tax.

Education funding - is a 1% income tax hike in the works to do this? I'm not sure that the votes are there for it.

Gaming expansion - there are probably Republican votes for this if it's to fund capital projects, but these bills tend to die under their own weight, so it's still 50/50

Health care expansion - this is the make-or-break issue for the Governor, but his 'scaled back' plan is still a billion dollar plus program with a lot of skeptics. An interesting question is if the House and Senate can reach agreement on all of the issues but the last one, does that get the job done?

Ethics - Incredibly, the administration is still ducking this one. Passing HB1, which would end 'pay-to-play' politics, passed the House unanimously, and has 45 Senate sponsors, should be a no-brainer. Instead, the Governor, who promised to 'rock the system' years ago, and then didn't lift a finger to pass anything, still says that he doesn't want to pass this bill because 'it doesn't do enough'. And he said it with a straight face.
An interesting question if a deal can't be reached, then what? A one-month budget seems highly unlikely, leaving wide open the 's' word.

A shutdown.

I think that it would be a travesty if there was to be a shutdown. It's wrong to have state employees, their families, and the people of our state, suffer because of political gamesmanship and posturing over issues that should have been dealt with in the Spring.

At a time when the public deserves to have their confidence in state government restored, a shutdown would do just the opposite. It would tarnish the process, hurt the Democratic party, and set the stage for nothing but more problems in the years ahead.

Buckle up, there's a lot of work to do ahead.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

PC Strikes Again

Alright, somebody told me that while the previously posted video was really funny, that the language, etc. just might be seen as inappropriate. I'm not sure that I agree, but I'll go with caution I guess.

If you missed the video, go to YouTube and search for AFSCME, then decide for yourselves.

Damn censors. Um, darn censors.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Word From the Feds

Not those feds, our U.S. Senators. In case you forgot what it sounds like to hear an intelligent comment about reaching a budget resolution, check out the today's comments from Sen. Obama:
"My advice would be to come together and recognize not everybody's gonna get everything they want but it's still possible to craft a budget that takes care of the basics - that transportation is adequately funded, that we are making some expansion of the health care system particularly when it comes to covering kids, that there ... is an infusion of education dollars so that schools at least aren't falling behind but are moving forward," Obama said.

A former state senator from Chicago, Obama also questioned the wisdom of a major gambling expansion to fill budget gaps and pay for things that "we should be willing to pay for out of our tax dollars.
In an equally poignant, yet lighter comment, Sen. Durbin weighed with this gem:

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said he had been asked to mediate the dispute between Blagojevich and state lawmakers, but declined.

"I'd rather deal with the Sunnis and Shias than an open civil war. It's easier to figure out who your enemy is," Durbin said.

Deadlocked lawmakers also shouldn't count on Obama to help them sort things out.

"We've got enough dysfunction in Washington to deal with," he said.

Be funnier if it wasn't so true.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cuban Invasion?

I love this idea:

Controversial Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Thursday that he has submitted his application to purchase the Cubs. He said he believed he sent it in last week, though he wasn't sure. Dates don't matter anyway. What matters is that he's officially serious about buying the valuable, championship-starved franchise on the North Side.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


So I just read the Governor's response to the Speaker's request that he be at the Committee of the Whole in which the Governor appears to say that he won't attend the committee hearing, but will have staff and others there to testify and answer questions.

I'm not even going to attempt to dissect the statement (an amusing but exhausting exercise), but I will put a few thoughts out there:
1. While it's great that he is going to have 'members of (his) administration and financial experts available to testify at the Committee of the Whole on the nature of the pension problem and potential solutions', why does that mean that he shouldn't be there himself? Aren't they proferring ideas that he has okayed? And are they going to be there to defend the specifics (to whatever extent they exist) of his lottery proposal as requested by the Speaker?
I'm really not trying to be sarcastic in my questions, but the Governor's parsing of the English language makes President Clinton's wordsmithing look downright amateurish. You truly have to break his sentences down word by word to figure out what he is, or isn't, saying.
2. The Governor goes on to state, 'But if the purpose is simply to vote down my proposed solution, then it is just more games. It is this type of gamesmanship that has brought us into overtime and has left me no choice but to call the members into Special Session. I must confess that I believe you are more interested in playing games and taking solutions off the table than trying to find solutions to solve real problems. So I will not be attending your Committee.'
First off, isn't voting on proposals why he wants the legislators to be in Special Session? And again, what does this have to do with his attending the committee hearing? HE called the Special Session. HE wanted more interaction with the legislators. Is he only going to attend hearings if we promise to support his proposals?

I am NOT trying to be funny, I just don't understand the rationale of the letter. It contains so much misdirection, it's like watching The Usual Suspects while playing a back-of-the-bus game of three card monte. You just can't keep up with it.
Lastly, he states, 'As I’ve said before, I have put forth my solution, but I am remain flexible as to the means to get there.'
Is this the same Governor that spent the entire regular session saying that anything other than GRT was off the table?

Redundancy alert - I do NOT enjoy being at odds with the Governor, whether he is from my party or another party. The fact that he is my constituent and predecessor makes this less, not more, enjoyable. But I just cannot fathom his thought process at this juncture.

I'm sure that Springfield is enjoyable in August. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Reaping What You Sow

The Chicago Free Press did both a front page article (see cover photo on left) and an editorial on the Governor's anonymous attack on Reps. Feigenholtz, Harris and me.

I wrote about the whole incident last week, so there's no real point in rehashing it here. But both the Free Press article and editorial are worth reading in their entireties.

Here are a few tidbits from the editorial.

The Chicago Pride Parade June 24 brought out record crowds to watch the familiar assortment of fabulous floats, dancers, twirlers, community organizations, businesses and politicians.

Unfortunately, it also attracted a mean-spirited attack directed against some of the GLBT community’s members and allies.

We’re not talking about the handful of anti-gay protesters who always show up. We’re talking about the ham-handed, cowardly actions of members of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s staff...

But wait, there's more:

Whatever—Blagojevich is free to posture all he wants. But having his aides use our Pride Parade to falsely attack three of our community’s strongest allies was a petty stunt that demeaned his office and incorrectly assumed that GLBTs in Chicago aren’t smart enough to know better.

Further, for the governor’s office to threaten HIV/AIDS organizations that get state funding made the action even more despicable.

Let’s make it plain—Feigenholtz, Fritchey and Harris are deservedly held in the highest regard by Chicago’s GLBT community. They’ve been there for years for us—on HIV/AIDS, GLBT rights and any other issue of importance to us.

And as always, they were also proudly there to march in our Pride Parade June 24, while the governor was nowhere to be found.

But then again, that’s one of the oldest tricks in the book—a ringleader having his henchmen commit the crime while he stays far away from the scene. Feigenholtz, Fritchey and Harris deserve better. So does Illinois.

Now mind you, the GLBT community have been staunch supporters of the Governor in the past, which is what makes the Governor's move that much more ill-conceived.

It just goes to make the title of my previous post, Burning Bridges, all the more poignant.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Stiff Upper Lips

I happened to have been on the particular block of Haymarket Street several hours before the first of the three (so far) attempted car bombings were discovered, which while wholly unremarkable in and of itself, puts the events in an almost surreal perspective.

For a number of reasons, it was fascinating to be in London in the aftermath of the discoveries and watch as the investigations unfolded. From what I can tell, while the U.S. press gave a lot of coverage to the plots, there are a couple of things which they did not, or could not, convey.

The first is just how close London and Glasgow found themselves to massive carnage. Both of the London car bombs were in place at their intended targets, packed with gasoline, gas canisters and nails. Both were set to be detonated via cell phones. The bombers called the phone in the car outside the nightclub (filled with about 500 revelers) twice, and the one in the other car four times. But for supposedly avoidable technical mistakes made by the bombers, both bombs would have gone off, killing hundreds. The attempted Glasgow Airport bombing failed to do its intended damage for similar technical reasons.

In fact, the only reason the first bomb was even detected was that an ambulance crew that just happened to be driving by the car noticed some smoke and fumes coming from the vehicle and alerted the police. It was that close of a call for the city.

It was reported as we left London that the men who drove the car into the airport terminal were the same two men who placed the other two car bombs. Even more striking was that they were both doctors, one a highly respected neurologist with the National Health Service.

The fact that these men, and the other six (so far) accomplices, were able to plan and all but execute this plan wholly undetected is chilling. It has come out that there were reported links to Ansar al-Islam, a group with ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by the U.S. last year. If these men could blend in so seamlessly in the towns in which they lived around London, to do so in America’s cities and suburbs would seem to be a no-brainer.

The second thing that the American press couldn’t capture is the steely resolve of the British population. Perhaps having been hardened by the Blitzkrieg and IRA Troubles, as well as the 7/7 bus bombing, the ease with which everyday life in and about London goes on is really quite remarkable.

Of course there is the argument that if you let the terrorists affect your daily lives, then they’ve won. But try telling yourself that when you are riding the Tube or walking along streets crowded with tourists and people going out about their business in high profile areas.

Security was obviously stepped up, with very visible contingents of police walking about with laser-scoped Heckler and Koch G36 semi-automatic assault rifles. It is a very different picture then when I lived here twenty years ago, when even seeing a policeman with a sidearm was a rare sight.

But through it all is a sense in the local population of a refusal to be deterred or paralyzed by these types of events. I‘m just not sure that the same sense would exist at home in a similar set of circumstances. I certainly hope that it would. More so, I hope that we never have to find out.

London Calling

Having spent the last six days in London, I figure that it’s time to share my thoughts on a few random different topics, the first of which being to preemptively answer why I didn’t postpone my trip in order to remain in Springfield, as well as my thoughts on the upcoming special sessions (which experience has shown me are never that special).

Had I thought that anything substantive was going to occur requiring me to postpone my trip, I would have done so. But the last couple of months of (in)activity in Springfield left me relatively confident that nothing of consequence was on the verge of happening. For better or worse, it appears I was right.

I was able to monitor the happenings in the capitol via reading the newspapers online, and by reading Rich’s blog, which I learned is even more useful when you’re out of town. Somebody had e-mailed me to get my thoughts on the Governor’s calling of a special session, and the only response I could manage was that it seemed to be par for the course.

If true negotiations were going to take place that involved the full Legislature, I am confident that members would be extremely eager to be involved with a goal of doing the people’s work and adjourning to our districts.

But it strikes me as a waste of time and money to hold special sessions when the only progress that has been occurring has been in alienating rank and file lawmakers. (See my previous post about the property tax ‘meeting’ that a number of us were invited to attend.)

In my opinion, to sequester legislators as nothing more than aimless captives serves no purpose other than to fuel discord and frustration with the whole process.

Last time we went through this exercise, there were meetings with our caucus and the administration to go over various topics and options. I don’t think that anybody can point to any correlation between those meetings and the final budget that was ultimately passed.

Through sheer happenstance, while at the Tower of London, I ran into somebody from home who also happens to be relatively familiar with the goings on in Springfield. The mutual opinion that we shared is that we simply cannot figure out the exit strategy in play here.

If I understood the Governor’s plan, but disagreed with it, I would at least respect that he had a direction in mind. I simply don’t understand where he is going.

If the Governor wants to implement his programs, it is axiomatic that he must demonstrate the following: their generic value (easy enough when it comes to healthcare); the merit of his specific plans (still very much at issue); and how they are going to be funded (with GRT still deader than Jimmy Hoffa, I just don’t see where he is going or how he plans to get there).

If any leg of this programmatic tripod is missing, the whole thing topples.

Alternatively, if the point of the special sessions is to splinter the House and/or Senate Dems, I just don’t see it happening. Not because of some blind allegiance to leadership, but because right now, the strongest bond that I sense among my colleagues is around the belief that this overtime was avoidable and that the blame does not rest with the chambers or their respective leaders.

But if the point was to empower the Republican caucuses so that any ultimate budget would be less likely to meet traditional Democratic goals, then success has been achieved.

I think that it is safe to say that neither chamber was willing or able to pass the Governor’s budget, and that the Governor declared everything else off the table for so long that impasse was unavoidable.

And when budget negotiations involve more posturing than negotiation, we find ourselves right where we are now. No closer to a budget than we were in January, and arguably further from one.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how the remainder of ‘session’ plays out. If it results in a budget and plans that legislators and the public can embrace, then it will have been worthwhile. If not, then the next few years will be very interesting indeed.

On second thought, I think that they are going to be very interesting in any event.


(I just read the Speaker's letter to the Governor regarding this week's special session, as well as the Tribune's editorial excoriating the Governor - wow)