Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rauner Rally: The Speaker Speaks 


Although some reports described the crowd at today’s Anti-Rauner Rally in Springfield as “lesser” than last year, one radio station on our way home called the numbers as exceeding 10,000.  Another SJR twitter feed guesstimated 8,000. 

I can easily accept 9,000.

The throngs of laborers kept arriving until well after 11 a.m., marching together down the blocks after walking past the Governor’s mansion, all in various colors – familiar AFSCME green, electrical workers neon yellow, darker green, reds, - a panorama of groups and unions representing the working people and middle classes of Illinois.

Rauner – the same man who ducked and dodged unions and working class people when he traveled the state early in his administration to “sell” his Turnaround Agenda – was missing from the scene.  Away.  Off site.

On the dais of the stage, speakers warmed up and began just as the Senate was being called to session; however, present behind the voices decrying the Governor, many legislators (mostly Democratic and a few Republicans) sat to support the rally and workers they represented.

From the walkways and balustrades of the Capitol, other legislators watched what was an energetic, boisterous, and unified crowd calling for an immediate resolution to the Governor’s unwillingness to compromise.

In the Capitol, service providers for healthcare were meeting under the statue of Lady Illinois and discussing their options for possible employment and projections of future failures for service providers as the budget impasse waxes on.  Senator Dan Biss and other legislators looked on and listened as these health care workers searched for answers to the terrible predicament in which they and their charges now find themselves. 

Outside, speakers came and went – talking to a loudly responding crowd of safety nets stripped away by Rauner, of being dropped from a healthcare position due to cuts and unable to find opportunities due to MAP Grant cuts, of a Governor who promised as he sought office to shut “it” down if that was what it took to get his way.

But the greatest unexpected moment (for me and my companion) came when Speaker Madigan decided to address the crowd after Senate Leader Cullerton’s brief promise to be always on labor’s side. 

If anything, Madigan has always been taciturn and circumspect in his comments regarding the Governor, their political relationship, and the future of budget negotiations.

Not today.

Madigan asked the assembled crowd to provide a strong response for each of the areas that he described as being threatened by our current Governor, which he offered rhetorically by proposing “Would you like…?”

1.     Rauner to change collective bargaining?
2.     Rauner to change workmen’s compensation?
3.     Rauner to change prevailing wage?
4.     Rauner to lower the prevailing wage?
5.     Rauner to lower the standard of living?
6.     Rauner to bring in right to work?

The fa├žade was removed.  The answers of 9,000 workers were clearly heard.


Not today.

Good dog, good dog...
Not tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Trump as Father of Our Country?

Donald Trump: Father of Our Country?
Who’s Your Daddy, America?


Shakespeare pointed out it was “a wise father who knows his own children.”  And, as Father Day quickly approaches, it is an astute Father – Founding, patriarchal or otherwise –we need in the White House after this next election cycle. 

That presented; here are some interesting quotes about fatherhood and the responsibility of raising children (especially daughters) that serve as an interesting compilation and serviceable contrasts.

"You have to love your children unselfishly. That is hard. But it is the only way."
  Barbara Bush, Former First Lady of the United States

"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."
  Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

“When I was first elected to this office Malia was 10 and Sasha was just seven. They grow up too fast," he said. "This fall Malia heads off to college... I’m starting to choke up. So I’m going to wind this — it was in my remarks — and I didn’t — I can’t do it. It’s hard.” He continued: “But there is a point to this, though, and that is that we’re not here for power. We’re not here for fame or fortune. We’re here for our kids. We’re here for everybody’s kids — to give our sons and our daughters a better world.”   Obama at State Dinner, 2016
To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter.”  Euripides
No one is able to make the female a queen except her father… — Arab Proverb
“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” —Harry S. Truman
“During the sole argument we had when [Chelsea] was in high school, the subject of which I don’t even remember, I looked at her and said, ‘As long as you’re in this house, being president is my second most important job'” —Bill Clinton
"Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” —Umberto Eco

“Fathers never have exactly the daughters they want because they invent a notion a them that the daughters have to conform to.”
Simone De Beauvoir

 “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married, and ya know, her father. …”
— Donald Trump on his daughter, Ivanka Trump, in a September 2015 story in Rolling Stone magazine

More of Trump’s astute insights and witticisms can be yours to cringe at below.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

HB 689: A Graduated Tax Plan for Illinois?

Reprise:  My very wealthy Republican friend Ernesto stops by on occasion to say hello and to school me on the indolence of the underserving masses.  This conversation posted in 2014 might well have been posted yesterday. Rep. Lou Lang’s IL HB 689 has provided Illinois a possibility to move beyond an antiquated and injurious flat tax.  Part of the fallacious and emotional arguments presented by opposing forces like the Governor is found in my talk with Ernesto.     

Nothing better than this?
Graduated or Gradient? – Looking for Accuracy in a Fair Tax for Illinois

This season affects me most – psychologically,” my wealthy friend Ernesto uttered between sips of cognac the other evening. 

“It has been a brutal winter, Ernesto,” I offered hopefully, “but the end is coming with each day’s increasing sunlight.”

“I am talking taxes, my friend,” Ernesto responded, glowering.  “I am imprisoned by your government’s exasperating 33% income tax.    And, I suppose, you are now part of that progressive rabble that wishes the same - a graduated income tax in Illinois?”

“Goodness, Ernesto.  Thirty-three percent indicates a significant income.  I am happy for your success.  May I ask what portion of your income is subject to this rate?”

“Why, all of it…just as you and your union bosses would wish in Illinois.”

“Actually, Ernesto, if Illinois were ever to move to a “Fair” tax system, one you would call progressive or graduated, the increases in taxation would occur as they do on the federal level – at thresholds or gradients.  In other words, Ernesto, if you achieve $3000 above the threshold for 33% taxation (which is $226,850), you pay 33% on that $3000, not your entire earnings.

“In fact, Ernesto, you pay your federal tax like everyone else for all of our services for each of the thresholds as you move through them, my friend.  That means you pay only 10% on your first $18,000, 15% on your next $56,000, 25% on your next $75,000, and so on.  You don’t fall into a category where you pay 33% for all of your earnings.  That’s why I use the term gradient tax system (or fair tax) rather than graduated when I talk about it. “

“You don’t know my pain…”

“In truth, Ernesto, you pay the same percentage tax as me until you move well beyond me…and then you pay extra for only those amounts above our joint threshold.” 

“I see.  Don’t you have anything better than Hennessey?  Paul Ferrand or Skye?”

“Sorry, no.  And that is how a fair tax would work in Illinois, Ernesto.  We, both of us, would be taxed at higher levels for the amounts we earned above thresholds of income, not for all of it.”

“Ahhh, my friend.  But you’re still stealing from me for being successful, are you not?”

“Well, not actually, Ernesto.  In truth, you and I might actually be stealing from the greater population in Illinois who pay more dearly for their services – education, protection, healthcare, roads and transportation – than we ever will.  And, if we’re not stealing, we’re certainly getting a better deal for it all.”


“Not so, Ernesto.  The average earner in Illinois pulls in $47,485 annually.  At 33%, I know that you pull in much more, and I’d venture nearly ten times that amount.  Nevertheless and without denial, let’s review our numbers.  Suppose Mr. Average needs a new car for his family and purchases a solid sedan at $25,000.  I see by your scowl that such a concept is impossible.  Will you accept $40,000? “

“Only if I have to…”

The taxes on this family’s precious purchase will be several – New Vehicle Tax, Cook County Home Rule Tax, Cook County Sales Tax, possible Chicago Home Rule Tax…and others.  Those taxes, Ernesto will run to nearly $3,000 – or almost 7% of the earner’s annual salary. “

"Stay poor, my friend"

“For an income earner like you?  A mere .6% of your salary.   Ernesto, you would need to purchase at least ten of these vehicles to begin to feel that same impact on your income.  That is something, I might add, you would not and never need do.  But it does illustrate a significant difference in our relationship with tax requirements, doesn’t it?  We gest away with a lot, my friend.

“Add to your and my advantages the costs of milk, gasoline, clothing.  Costs of living and taxes for these average workers, Ernesto, drain huge portions of their ability to live, and we are not talking disposable income. 

“Indeed, what you and I pay for the protection of police and fire, for our schools, for transportation, health services, and other benefits is a steal, Ernesto.  Don’t we owe it to make it more even?”


Note to self: Purchase Paul Ferrand for next get-together.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Simple Answers: and Some Serious Questions

Simple Answers: and some Serious Questions

My blogger friend and I went to Benedictine College the other night to listen to three members of the General Assembly and the currently appointed State Comptroller explain their perspectives on Illinois’ current budget morass.

We had to fill out questions beforehand on small cards and submit them for approval before the program really began. 

Governor Rauner appointed Leslie Munger to her current position as State Comptroller after the death of Judy Baar Topinka.  Munger will be running against Democratic Representative Susanna Mendoza (1st District) in November to retain the office. 

Senator Michael Connelly and Representatives Ronald Sandack and Grant Wehrli were also present; Sandack sitting in for Jeanne Ives who was unable to attend.

The opening and ending of the program was telling for anyone who happened to be a retired state worker there. 

It began with a question of how to reform pensions and ended with a general question of “If you ruled the State?” – a variation on Toney Bennett’s song but without the “Every man would say the world was his friend/ There’d be happiness that no man could end”.

Nope.  Not in their world.

Pension reform is a must – especially for those who might be coming aboard to work in the public sector.  “We’ll need opt outs, buy outs, 401k’s, choices between, options moving forward, reductions in costs, curtailments according to actuarial adjustments…”, they all affirmed.

Good answer.  But, serious question:

 If the income of new workers is gone from the necessary investments in TRS and the state continues to make insufficient payments into the public pensions, might the pension system become broken?  And if, according to the Illinois Supreme Court, the state still owes that money, won’t the people of Illinois be obliged to pay for it by sale of state owned property or higher taxes? 

Yet, they all confessed one way or another the Illinois Supreme Court had made lucidly clear that current Tier One and Tier Two public sector workers and teachers are guaranteed what they were promised once the began their employment.

Representative Sandack described how the conversations in the Capitol Building had undergone a unreserved shift from an ever present concern for pension-reform-now to a subdued notion no longer discussed. 

In the end of the evening’s program as petty “philosophical” dictators, not one of them thought to attack the strength of the current Pension Protection Clause.  Lots of other bullet points, but not the Pensions. 

During the evening, Comptroller Munger warned the audience that the current payment for pensions and pension debt would balloon next year to eat up even more of the state revenue – if there actually was a budget and any state revenue.

Serious question: My friend had sent a note asking about re-amortizing the debt like a sensible household in order to eventually reduce annual debt payments rather than pay out more and more.  It must have been lost on the way to the podium. 

Representative Grant Wehrli declared that the lack of local control sought by Governor Rauner in his Turnaround Agenda had forced many local districts to labor under the pension pick-ups which were so injurious to local taxpayers. 

Serious question: Aren’t pension pick-ups really a negotiating strategy and not mandated by anyone; in short, an agreement between the local teacher or workers union to accept another form of raise rather than direct monetary remuneration?  

Comptroller Munger cited her handout, which demonstrated for those of us unaware just what our state finances might look like if we were all facing the same tsunami of bills that she faces daily.

Illinois bill backlog
Bills on kitchen table
Unpaid bills due to impasse
Bills in the mail
Unfunded pension liabilities
Credit card debt
State’s Daily Revenue
In your bank account

And she reminded all of us, those unpaid bills come with an additional cost.  All the postponed bills to health services, hospitals, or other businesses (that survive the impasse) must be paid extra interest for the state’s late payments.  She suggested the amount is generally one percent, but in some cases more dependent on time and arrangement.  And who pays this?  It’s an extra we taxpayers pay for the impasse.

Serious question:  When the Comptroller received a rousing applause for the postponement of salary payments to the members of the General Assembly as a notice that “they have not done their duty and passed a budget,” no one wondered if she had penalized those same applauding taxpayers with an additional payment for her symbolic actions?  State payroll, in fact, does not meet the threshold for an interest charge, so while there is no timetable for when a legislator might be paid they can count on nothing extra in the waiting.  None of the three legislators in the room were dependent on the income from their elected positions. 

Serious question:  And when Comptroller Munger says this action – stopping salary payment to legislators – will help with nearly $1.3 million per month to be used for possibly human services, hasn’t the recent report by the Illinois Fiscal Policy Center indicated that $billions are being jeopardized each month by this impasse which will result in the permanent closure of programs for the poor?

Shortly after that, and ignoring hypocrisy, someone’s redacted question touched upon the attempt by Representative Lang of Skokie to pass a law (HB689) for a progressive tax in the state of Illinois. 

Representative Sandack, an exhaustedly animated speaker, flailed throughout his moments on the microphone decrying the bill as a blatant attempt at class warfare.  He warned us all that the bill would force those if us in the room (white middle/upper-middle class) we would pay more in the end.  Why?  “Because all the millionaires will leave the state of Illinois and we will become the ones left to pay for the programs.” 

Serious question: Where will they go?  The nirvana of Indiana, which has a higher flat tax than we do?  This seems to suggest “we” would have to pay for “them.” Isn’t that class warfare?  And which states would they run to?  There are only six left?  Michigan (much higher tax)?  Colorado (much, much higher tax)?  Utah?  Pennsylvania?  Massachusetts (way over 5%)? 

When questioned about whether or not Governor Rauner might be causal to the pain inflicted on our current situation, Senator Connelly had a moment of extreme emotion.   Exclaiming that Rauner was not the problem, and instead it was Madigan, Connelly reminded all of us that the man did not have to take this position.  He did it for the love of his state.  He reminded us that he had negotiated by taking Right to Work off the table in his Turnaround Agenda, although the specific campaign for Right to Work was never an integral part of the original proposal. 

“He’s only been here 14 months!!”  Connelly shouted. “You can’t blame him for this.”

Serious question:  What will Rauner additionally be able to “make better” for all of us in another 34 months?  One shudders to think of it.

Finally, Connelly and the others responded to a question regarding the inability of the state of Illinois to declare bankruptcy but wondering what might happen on the local levels.

They all agreed that locals should be able to declare bankruptcy.  Senator Connelly had it on good opinion that there were villages and cities on the south side of the city where this would only be a matter of very short time, where their revenues were so paltry that there were no longer services for the people.  

"Think of a city without policing, without any safety or basic services?" Connelly suggested.

The other Representatives agreed as the Comptroller nodded sadly.  And these impoverished places, like Dixmoor, Harvey, Posen, Midlothian, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, etc., are the same places where the greatest amounts of human social services are being denied as part of the budget impasse. 

Serious question:  Is there something morally unacceptable about a battle between two entrenched parties that results in the obliteration of the least empowered and the most marginalized of our citizens? 

"Do unto others" was not a suggestion; it was a command.