Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rockford Amtrak Progressing

The Union Pacific freight train that was roaring through Marengo with horns blasting a little after noon Saturday was not a precursor of Amtrak service to McHenry County.

That was made abundantly clear at a Rockford College presentation Saturday morning.

The once-a-day round trip Amtrak engines and coaches are on the track from Chicago to Rockford and Dubuque though.

They’re picking up speed, but not through McHenry County.

There was a clue late last week when U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s press release announcing Saturday’s meeting did not even mention McHenry County.

McHenry County officials from Huntley and Marengo attended anyway.

Under the aegis of Durbin and Congressman Don Manzullo, Amtrak officials presented the results of a study stimulated by a meeting last July.

There were three alternative routes, but the old Blackhawk route to Dubuque is the one that is so, so most likely to be selected.

Its major problem is “some congestion issues around Chicago,” where there is a need for “additional capacity.” The cost would be about $23 million for what the Amtrak chart calls the “direct route” with estimated annual ridership of 113,300 passengers.

The “Belvidere” route, which would go through Huntley and Marengo, has “no connection between Metra and Union Pacific in Elgin” and would need “a connector in Rockford.” The cost would be $32 million and the number of passengers 62,200.

Part of the route through the Rockford Airport is so bad that it would require “a complete rebuilding” and the “East is quite poor,” Franke said. The cost would be $55-62 million with 51,200.

The old Blackhawk route is the cheapest and Durbin, Manzullo and Acting Illinois Department of Transportation Director Milt Sees want action now. A cursory glance shows construction cost of $200 per annual passenger, while the Belvidere route is in the neighborhood of $513 and the airport route $1,100-1,200.

On capital cost, then, there is no question that the “direct route” is cheapest.

It wins on annual operating cost, too. The Belvidere route is 1.2 times as expensive, while the airport route is 1.24 times higher.

In absolute dollars of annual subsidy, however, the difference between the three is only $600,000.

The congress folks and IDOT want action so “now” that the public hearing will be on Monday, April 16th!

That’s two weeks from now.

And, disagreement is likely to kill the possibilities.

As Sees put it,

I, too, have been in this racket for a long time. The only way for people to get their projects is to agree.

Anytime you get into a protracted debate, you lose time and time increases money.

The window of opportunity can close on you very rapidly.

You have to help them help you,
Sees said, indicating the two congressmen.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrisey, whose city wins regardless of which route is selected, said, “We don’t want to be fighting against ourselves. We look forward to rail coming to our communities.”

After Amtrak’s Mike Franke indicated service could be started as soon as two years from now, assuming negotiations with the railroad go well, Drubin said, “I’d sure hate to waste this construction season.”

Durbin called for “a spirit of cooperation,” for "not letting the best become the enemy of the good."

Other problems include the need for train stations.

“It’s going to be up to the locals to build the stations,” Franke said. “Five or six stations make sense.”

“Don’t come to us for earmarks for stations,” Manzullo warned.

There would be “no food service” and “the supply of Amtrak rolling stock is extremely tight.”

If Amtrak is to supply them, they will “have to be taken out of storage and rehabbed.”

Only one ordinary citizen was allowed to speak.

Janet Fisher, describing herself as “The Crazy Train Lady,” said, “I’m just thrilled with all of this. If we get something in place, it will blossom and grow.”

Manzullo wanted to know if the train could be used for commuting from Rockford to Chicago. He was told that the trip would take an hour and 45 minutes, leaving Rockford early enough for commuters and leaving Chicago at 6:15 in the evening for the return trip.

Manzullo made a point of stating,
There is not one passenger train that operates (without a subsidy).
Two of the people allowed to speak were state representatives.

Republican State Representative Dave Winters asked whether this effort could be part of the effort to extend Amtrak service to Minneapolis.

He got a “No” for an answer.

At one point, when Durbin was pointing out that it would take state legislation to change the "footprint" of Metra, Winters indicated that "very informal" talks were taking place that would apparently give the Rockford Airport Authority the power to deal with trains.

It is my impression that the Rockford Airport Authority has significant non-referendum bonding authority. Maybe local influentials intend to use that power to get money to pay for local Amtrak track repairs.

Rockford Democratic Party State Rep. Chuck Jefferson was the final speaker. He was effusive in his praise of Durbin.

Also introduced was Boone County’s Republican State Rep. Ron Wait.

Attending from McHenry County were Huntley Village President Chuck Sass and Village Manager Carl Tomaso, plus Marengo Mayor Don Lockhart and City Administrator Scott Hartman.

None got an opportunity to speak at the forum.

= = = = =
The Union Pacific train was on the track speeding through Marengo right after noon.

Next can be seen the three routes being considered and the table showing the cost figures for each route.

Acting IDOT Secretary Milt Sees is below on the right.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrisey is down to the left with Senator Dick Durbin's picture to his right.

Underneath is a photography of Congressman Don Manzullo.

Below her is "Crazy Train Lady" Janet Fisher.

The three state legislators attending come next. On top, at the left, is Dave Winters. Below him is Chuck Jefferson. To Jefferson's right is Ron Wait.

Beneath the photo credit line are pictures of Huntley Village President Chuck Sass and his Village Manager Carl Tomaso leaving the meeting.

Next is a "before meeting" shot of Belvidere Mayor Fred Brereton and Marengo Mayor Don Lockhart. Brereton got to speak, as did Boone County Board Vice Chairman David Taylor and Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen. Christiansen is seen to the left.

There is, of course, much more on McHenry County Blog this weekend.


Governor's Tax Relief, Education Spending Still Not Good Enough

Thanks to CapitolFax, we now know that the Governor's Gross Receipts Tax has been sugarcoated with $1 billion in property tax relief. I say sugarcoated because the Governor's proposal provides only a fraction of the tax relief included in House Bill 750. And while Blagojevich still hasn't made the details of how his property tax relief plan would work, my bet is that he will be following President Jones' edict that property tax relief only goes to low-income families.

A property tax relief plan that fails to recognize that skyrocketing property taxes have hurt middle class families and Illinois employers is a failure in my book.

The two plans compared:

Blagojevich Gross Receipts Tax:

$1 billion in property tax relief, targeted to low-income families

  • Only 9.2 percent of Illinois families are below the poverty level, and an estimated 50% or more of them rent and would not receive property tax relief;
  • No property tax relief for middle class families;
  • No property tax relief for employers.
House Bill 750:

$2.7 billion in property tax relief to every homeowner and employer in Illinois
  • Every homeowner and employer receives a 20% - 25% rebate on their property tax levy for local schools;
  • Property tax relief is spread across the state:
    • 15% of property tax relief goes to Chicago;
    • 27% of property tax relief goes to suburban Cook County;
    • 32% of property tax relief goes to Collar Counties;
    • 24% of property tax relief goes to Downstate Illinois;
  • Property tax relief offsets net increase in corporate income taxes, so that Illinois employers see a net decrease in direct taxes paid by $100 million.
$900 million in additional direct tax relief for bottom 60 percent of family taxpayers
  • Expansion of Family Tax Credit is fully refundable;
  • Ensures low-income renters enjoy tax relief;
  • Guarantees that bottom 60% of all taxpayers will see no net increase in tax burden.
At the end of the day, the Governor's plan calls for $8.6 billion in new taxes, with only $1 billion in tax relief, for a net increase in taxes of $7.6 billion. Funding for K-12 classrooms will increase $1.5 billion the first year, bringing foundation level funding to schools 6% below recommended levels. Higher education will see a meager $50 million increase.

House Bill 750 generates $9.05 billion in new taxes, but provides $3.6 billion in tax relief, for a net tax increase of only $5.45 billion, or 30% less than the Governor's plan. House Bill 750 provides $3.9 billion for K-12 classroom instruction in the first year -- 260% more than the Governor's plan, bringing the foundation level funding for schools up to 100% of recommended levels. In addition, HB 750 provides $300 million more for higher education, 600% more than the Governor's plan.

In the final analysis, only 20% of the net new spending in the Governor's plan goes to education, while 72% of House Bill 750's net new spending goes to education. Granted, this doesn't include new spending on school construction, and I'll post comparisons of both school construction plans as soon as they are available.



It's fairly light blog posting these days. I'm helping the Official MOSU Girlfriend to move from Uptown to Wrigleyville. I think I'm going to have to buy her some Sox swag as part of my 'agenda' to 'indoctrinate' her into the 'South Side' lifestyle. It shouldn't be too hard, as she's really only a fan of winning teams.

Anyway, that doesn't mean I can't do a link and run about possibly the most stupid and uninformed blog post in the history of internets. Go visit Robert Shirtliffe at Illinois Review.

While HB 1826 specifies civil unions as between "2 persons of the same sex OR the opposite sex," there's sure to be a growing dissatisfaction among the "Bs" of the anti-traditional marriage coalition of "GLBTs" (Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transsexuals). The "Bs" will sooner or later demand legal unions for those who can't make up their minds whether they want to be in homosexual or heterosexual relationships.

As bizarre as it sounds, the "AC/DC" movement is being popularized by videos like Janet Jett's above -- who, btw, is in a "relationship" with Carmen Electra these days. . . for me, bisexualism is nothing but promiscuity.

Wow. Just wow. There's just so many things wrong with this, I don't even know where to begin.


Must-read two-page brief on Governor's tax plan by progressive D.C. experts. They don't like it.

The best tax analysts in the nation work for the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy ( They have released a must-read two-page brief here:

The headlines:

Gross Receipts Taxes:
A Counterproductive Approach to Addressing Tax Regressivity

Illinois' Tax System: Truly "One of the Most Regressive"

Gross Receipts Taxes: Disadvantages Generally Outweigh Advantages

More Productive Approaches to Achieving Tax Fairness Are Available


The brief argues that dropping the corporate income tax, as Governor Blagojevich proposes, is a horrible idea, since it is the most progressive aspect of our tax system. It's the only tax that has the highest income earners paying more. Our sales and excise taxes hammer low-income people, which perpetuates poverty. In fact, here's how state and local taxes add up currently for taxpayers, based on their income.

13% of income paid by poorest 20%
11% of income paid by second 20%
10% of income paid by middle 20%
9% of income paid by 60-80% of income
6% of income paid by richest 1% income earners


See the graph on the policy brief. It's sobering.

We perpetuate poverty by taxing low income people far more than high income people -- as a percentage of income.

That's got to change.

Thank goodness Governor Blagojevich has made tax fairness the center of the debate. If we just used an actual flat tax, as Dick Armey and Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes and all the other Wall Street Journal Republicans have been pushing for, so that at the end of the year, everyone paid the same flat percentage of their income in state and local taxes, we'd have to dramatically cut taxes on lower-income people (income less than $45,000) and triple the state income tax to 9% or so on incomes above $100,000 or so. That would probably get us to the place where everyone pays about 10% of their income for state and local government.

Finally, the policy brief argues that we need to strengthen the corporate income tax by "repealing failed incentives like single-sales factor apportionment or by limiting overly generous net operating loss carry-forwards or carry-backs." And to lessen the burden on low- and moderate-income taxpayers, the brief suggests "instituting a graduated income tax structure or exempting groceries from the sales tax."


Hell on Wheels

"Monday, hell begins." With those three words, CTA Chairwoman Carole Brown probably uttered the most accurate statement to date about the ongoing Brown Line renovations.

Almost three years of unprecedented service reductions will start as scheduled Monday on the CTA's busiest rail corridor in order to install elevators and expand platforms at the Belmont and Fullerton stations.

The board voted 6-0 to accept the recommendation of transit agency president Frank Kruesi to implement a 25 percent reduction in track capacity on the North Side corridor served by the Red, Brown and Purple/Evanston Express Lines.

Here's a paragraph that I had to read twice because I was sure that I misread it the first time:

But Brown and board member Nicholas Zagotta said they based their yes votes solely on Kruesi's assurances that the CTA has done all it can to prepare and to minimize disruptions for the 185,000 people who use the three rail lines, as well as for thousands of transit users on other rail lines and bus routes who will feel the crunch due to increased ridership.

Brown and Zagotta may have wanted to chat with legislators who represent areas along the Brown Line about their experiences in relying on the assurances that we got in the months leading up to the Brown Line renovation project. (Self-edited in the interest of not wanting to start a major confrontation.) Without getting into it, the vote may have turned out a little differently. Although in reality, it probably wouldn't have.

Before panic sets in, you should know that the CTA has a contingency plan:

CTA officials insisted riders can help operations go more smoothly by staying off northbound trains leaving downtown between roughly 4:45 and 6 p.m., when the number of passengers is expected to exceed capacity. The second busiest period is expected to be from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. for southbound travel, officials said.
So if you're following along here, the contingency plan to help riders get between work and home is...don't take the trains during rush hour. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.

Riders may have then thought that they were getting some sort of reprieve upon learning that service will be increased on seven CTA bus routes during the morning and evening rush hours... that is until they find out that forty-two bus routes serve the area affected by the Brown Line project.

So if you're going to rely on one of the other thirty-five bus routes to deal with the disruption, you better stock up on deodorant because you're going to be in some close quarters.

Past experience tells me that the CTA has long-known what their plans were going to entail; the same way that they knew that there were going to be station closures while telling everybody else the exact opposite.

Part of the audit recently released by Auditor General William Holland in response to a House Resolution that I passed last session states that the CTA needs to improve communication and coordination with the public and elected officials. Looks like they didn't get the memo.

To read or post comments, visit Open House


Friday, March 30, 2007

Does a "Good Business Tax Climate" Make the Economy Grow?

We have been told so often over the past several decades that a state has to have a good business tax climate in order for its economy to grow, that we have begun to accept it as the truth.

Economists have generally agreed on the characteristics of a “good” tax -- simple, productive, neutral, fair, transparent – but a “good business tax climate” has come to mean something additional in the political jargon of today – low, or no, taxes on business.

The promise is held before us: the lower your taxes, the healthier your business climate, the more your economy will grow. States are lured into competing against each other to see which can have the “best” business tax climate. Fear is generated that any tax increase will scare business away. Business funded entities construct “Indexes” so each state can see whether it is winning or losing in the competition for economic growth.

There is one small problem, however. The Indexes are never linked to actual economic growth. They measure the level of taxes and then leave us with only the promise of growth.

The Tax Foundation’s “2007 State Business Tax Climate Index” is typical. The report claims that the states with the “best tax systems” will be the “most competitive” in attracting new businesses and “most effective” at generating economic and employment growth. The only way to get a perfect score from the Tax Foundation is to have no tax at all. “Clearly a zero rate is the lowest possible rate and the most neutral base, since it creates the most favorable tax climate for economic growth.”

Is the Tax Foundation’s promise real? Do the states with the “best” business tax climates actually lead in the race for the Golden Fleece of business growth and prosperity?

Economists have argued the point using sophisticated models and arcane statistical manipulations. But let us do something more simple: compare the Tax Foundation state business tax climate ratings with the latest average annual (1997-2004) growth rates in state gross product reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Here is what one finds.

New Hampshire, one of the 10 best tax climate states, and its next door neighbor, Vermont, one of the 10 worst tax climate states, have identical average annual growth rates.

California, one of the 10 worst tax states, has a higher annual average growth rate than its neighbor Oregon, which is one of the 10 best states.

New York, one of the 10 worst tax states, has a higher annual average growth rate than Delaware, one of the 10 best states, which in turn has a higher annual average growth rate than New Jersey, that is, along with New York, one of the 10 worst states.

Wyoming and Montana, both among the 10 best tax states, rank last and next to last in growth rate among the Rocky Mountain states.

The two states with the highest average annual growth rates, Arizona and Idaho, both rank in the bottom half of all states when it comes to their “business tax climates”.

Texas, which ranks in the top 10 tax climate states, has a 40% slower average annual growth rate than its neighbor, Arizona, which ranks 28th in tax climate.

And lastly, Illinois, which ranks 25th in “business tax climate” according to the Tax Foundation, has a slower average annual growth rate than Wisconsin, which ranks 38th in tax climate, which in turn is growing slower than Minnesota which is 41st in tax climate and one of the 10 “worst” when it comes to business tax climate.

One can only conclude that business has not being paying a lot of practical attention to the Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Index. There is something besides tax levels that attracts business and fosters growth and development. Competing in a race to the bottom in taxes is not necessarily a winning strategy.

Robert Tannenwald, vice-president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, may have a point when he suggests that states might make their economies better by enhancing public services valued by business.

Perhaps the overall business climate improves when states compete not to have the lowest taxes, but the best schools, the best community colleges, the best universities, the most rational health care, the lowest crime rate, the cleanest environment, the best transportation network.

Low taxes are not the only ingredient to a healthy, vibrant economy.


Purple Hearts and Partisanship

I have a question to those of you here who spent a lot of time and energy in 2006 blogging in support of 6th District Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth (and against Republican nominee Peter Roskam).

If the 2008 presidential contest comes down to Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain (the two candidates who have garnered the most endoresements within the ranks of their respective Illinois parties), how would you deal with the difference in the Senators’ veteran status?

Personally, I think the fact that Barack Obama, like Roskam, was too young to serve in Vietnam and too "old" (in the sense that he had well passed the point in life when people traditionally make a deicision to either join the military or do something else) by the time the Gulf War came around means that while McCain's service record is certainly salient evidence of his strong character, it would be unfair to explicitly use his record as a negative contrast against Obama's.

Your thoughts?


Bollywood Friday-"Blago as (Indian) Elvis"

This guy looks suspiciously like our Governor, don't you think? At any rate, he's got the moves!



Last US horse slaughterhouse shut down in DeKalb, unwanted horse problem will worsen

Here's a story that serves as a reminder that good intentions can have some awful consequences.

From AP last week:

Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, famous for its sleek thoroughbreds, is being overrun with thousands of horses no one wants. Some of them are perfectly healthy, but many of them starving, broken-down nags. Other parts of the country are overwhelmed, too.

The reason: growing opposition in the U.S. to the slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas.

And that was the situation before the nation's last horse slaughterhouse, a facility in DeKalb, Illinois, shut down yesterday. About 1,000 horses per week were processed to produce meat for human consumption--all of it was shipped overseas. Although Congress has been considering a ban on horse-slaughtering, a court ruling on agricultural inspections closed up the Illinois plant.

There is a belief that former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert kept the plant open and kept the anti-slaughter bill bottled up in the House.

More from AP:

It is legal in all states for owners to shoot their unwanted horses, and some Web sites offer instructions on doing it with little pain. But some horse owners do not have the stomach for that.

At the same time, it can cost as much as $150 for a veterinarian to put a horse down. And disposing of the carcass can be costly, too. Some counties in Kentucky, relying on a mix of private and public funding, will pick up and dispose of a dead horse for a nominal fee.

But some jurisdictions, because of fears of pollution, ban it. Glue factory? Dead horses aren't used for glue anymore. Shelters? They're overwhelmed with unwanted horses.

Old strip mine areas of Kentucky are seeing growing heards of now-wild horses.

However, in other parts of the country, say where I live, it's not practical to release a horse to live off the land.

What's going to happen to all of these unwanted horses? Some pollyannas think the market will sort itself out. Possibly. However, the way I see it, criminals, whether they are a part of organized crime, or perhaps a group of goofy meth-heads, will offer up there services to "take care" of the problem of unwanted equines. Those horses will be buried (maybe), burned, or dumped in ponds.

Nature abhors a vacuum. So does a free market.

As for the workers at the horse-meat processing plant in Illinois, unless an appeals court steps in quickly to reverse the lower court's decision, they'll lose their jobs.

But the people behind the horse slaughter ban mean well, and to them, that's all that matters.

To comment on this post, or to vote in the Pajamas Media presidential straw poll, click here.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Where is the Evidence?

There has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth since Governor Blagojevich proposed a gross receipts tax to pay for education and health care. To hear the business community tell it, the tax will turn Illinois into an economic wasteland as business flees the state.

Is there any evidence to support these predictions? Is this just Chicken Little scurrying around trying to persuade all who will listen that the sky is falling? Or is it, as Kristen McQueary suggests in her Daily Southtown column, the noise of those who see their lucrative tax breaks and loopholes disappearing?,291MCQ1.article

There is no evidence that supports the predictions of economic doom.

Three states, Washington, Hawaii and Delaware, have had gross receipts taxes for some years. Over the past 20 years, the economies of two of those states, Washington and Delaware, have out performed the national economy.

The Tax Foundation, that friend of business, ranks the business tax climate of all three states in the top half of all the states, with Delaware 9th, Washington 11th, and Hawaii 24th.

Ohio, Texas and Kentucky all adopted gross receipts taxes in the last two years. Nevada fell one legislative vote short in 2003. This year Governor Blagojevich and Governor Granholm in Michigan have both proposed gross receipts taxes for their states.

What’s going on here? Why does a gross receipts tax make sense to so many different people in so many different states? Is it just that all the politicians have completely lost their senses as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and other groups would have us believe? Or is there some basic economic reason why a gross receipts tax at the state level is something reasonable to consider in today’s economy?

The answer to the last question is, “Yes”.

Over the last 40 years the economy has changed fundamentally. Our taxes have not; they are still tied to the old economy. The corporate income tax, full of loopholes, can no longer be enforced by states. Businesses representing the old economy are increasingly paying more than their share.

As the Texas Comptroller said 20 years ago, “There are whole industries today – enormously important and profitable industries – that weren’t even dreamed of twenty-five years ago. The new economy has been described by many names: service, information, space age, diversified. But our tax structure remains tied to the past, to hard products and assets attached to the ground.”

Robert Tannenwald, Assistant Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, notes that since 1980 the ratio of state corporate income tax collections to corporate income has declined almost 50 percent and state tax departments are “increasingly outgunned” in collecting the corporate income tax. Globalization, as well as tax breaks, plays a part. Richard Pomp, a corporate tax law professor at the University of Connecticut, predicts the tax at the state level has little future.

The issues of avoidance and fairness have been the motives in every state for adopting the gross receipts tax.

The Texas Tax Reform Commission, appointed by a Republican governor and made up mostly of business executives, perhaps said it best in recommending a gross receipts tax for that state, “The tax system must provide a level playing field that is essential for healthy, free market competition. … Those who benefit from Texas’ resources and services must pay their share. … The tax system must reflect the realities of a rapidly evolving economy. Texas must be the most competitive state in the nation when it comes to building or moving a business here, risking capital, and winning in a global economy. … Designing a broad and stable tax base that encourages job creation and investment was the Commission’s goal.”

Adoption of the gross receipts tax has not been accompanied by economic disaster.

A study by Ernst and Young done for the Ohio Business Roundtable projected that the 2005 tax changes will create 78,500 new jobs and inject an additional $6.3 billion in new capital investment into Ohio’s economy.

The Ohio Business Roundtable commenting on the gross receipts tax a year after its adoption, said, “Unlike the old business taxes, this new tax does not penalize job creation and investment, and also encourages participation in the global marketplace.”

The Texas Association of Manufacturers endorsed the gross receipts tax, saying it “goes far in maintaining the kind of business climate that made Texas a national stand-out.” The Texas Economic Development Council called it a “fair business tax that closes loopholes and provides improvements to the funding for education.”

There is no evidence the sky will fall.


4,000 bills and counting....Uh oh...

"That government is best which governs least." - Thomas Paine

Most people give the famous Paine quip a thumbs up. Seems straightforward, right?

It fits with the Big 3 our democracy…life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. The government only gets involved when it has to. No more, no less.

It took a total of 15 minutes in Springfield to learn that that ideal is dead. Six feet down, heaped with dirt, and long forgotten. I'm mourning.

Case in point, take a look at SB1463 amending the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) makes it mandatory for teachers to have a moment of silence at the beginning of each day in every public school. The moment of silence is already allowed if the teacher choses; this bill just requires it.

Eric Zorn's Tribune column on Wednesday lambasted the legislation. I am not so concerned with the merits of the actual moment of silence. What gets me is the idea that the General Assembly should be the one making the blanket decision for thousands of teachers. Zorn hits it on the head:

It might help. But of course maybe, depending on the kids, they'd get a better start to the day if they spent that moment singing a happy song, stretching, listening to a good poem, or hey, here's an idea, getting right to work learning the material. Constitutional issues aside, that's a decision for their classroom teachers, not a crew of idle moralists in Springfield with their one-size-fits-all fantasies and their ill-concealed pro-prayer agenda.

Sen. Rutherford was the only dissenting vote. He logic was Paine-esque:

"State law already allows schools or teachers to start the day with a moment of silence if they want to," Rutherford said Monday. "That's important. If they feel the need to do it or believe it's a good idea, the law says they may."

Amending the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act to change "may" to "shall," the legislative brainchild of Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), "isn't necessary," Rutherford said. "That's not what government should be doing."

Bingo. Illinois is a big state. Each school district is a little different. Each classroom type is a little different. Each specific crop of students is a little different. More "mandates" don't fit well with the diversity. The decision should come from those closest and most invested in the decision, not the folks sitting in the capitol.

Sen. Lightford defends her position:

"It will allow for more uniformity," she said. "Here in the General Assembly we open every day with a prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. I don't get a choice about that. I don't see why students should have a choice."

Consider me unconvinced. Uniformity is not automatically a good thing. Saying the legislation creates uniformity says nothing about the actual merits of the bill. That is not an argument; it's a description.

And she doesn't see why students should have a choice? Again, that is not an argument for the blanket mandate; it is simply a description of it. Besides, it isn't the students who are having their choice taken away; it is the teachers who manage the classrooms each day.

I just don't get it. And this is only one of many others that seem amazingly unnecessary, intrusive, and wasteful. What's the total bill count now? 4,000+.... Yowza. Talk about "governing least."

How did we get to this point?

Is it because only a few key players make the 'big' decisions, so other legislators have to come up with this nonsense to stay busy? Is it because these "feel good" things are easy to feed to the public and hard to argue against? Is it because legislators are eager to please anyone who comes with an idea for a bill?


National primary election in February -- national popular vote in November

Yesterday the Illinois House overwhelmingly voted to create a national primary election for presidential candidates by moving the Illinois primary to February 5th.

In committee last month, Republican and Democratic members both expressed support for making Illinois voters relevant to presidential elections and unhappiness with a meaningless election in Illinois where the winner of the race was selected by voters in other states.

On the very same day the House moved the Illinois primary election, the Maryland Senate voted to join with other states and elect the president by a national popular vote in November. Legislators expressed support for making Maryland voters relevant in presidential elections and unhappiness with a meaningless election in Maryland where the winner of the race was selected by voters in other states.

There are two presidential elections: the February primary and the November general election. Illinois voters -- and in fact, all American voters -- should be central to both of them. We Illinois voters have been irrelevant to both the February primary and the November general election for quite some time. Yesterday brought a significant legislative step to end our irrelevancy for both elections.

There is identical legislation in Illinois to join with other states to create a national popular vote. The bills are HB 858 (sponsored by Robert Molaro with 46 total co-sponsors) and SB 78 (sponsored by Jacqueline Collins with 14 total co-sponsors).

Here is a Washington Post article on the Maryland legislation. Here is the website of National Popular Vote, the organization promoting the campaign (I lobby for them).

[cross-posted at djwinfo]


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

IDOT Stiffs McHenry County Blog, But Thursday Durbin Promises Study on Amtrak Round-Tripper Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque Study Will Be Posted Online

March 22nd, McHenry County Blog was denied a copy of Amtrak’s study of the pros, cons and costs of various routes for daily round-trip service between Chicago and Dubuque via Rockford.

Here’s the reason given by the Illinois Department of Transportation, taken from the Freedom of Information Act [5ILCS 140/7 (1) (f).]:

(f) Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated, except that a specific record or relevant portion of a record shall not be exempt when the record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body. The exemption provided in this paragraph (f) extends to all those records of officers and agencies of the General Assembly that pertain to the preparation of legislative documents.
Didn’t Democratic Party candidate Rod Blagojevich express support for railroad commuter service for Rockford at that first 2002 debate?

The report, by the way, is promised by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin to be at this IDOT Amtrak web page on Thursday.

He and Congressman Don Manzullo will hold a public hearing at 10 AM this Saturday at Fisher Memorial Chapel at Rockford College, 5050 E. State Street in Rockford.

Here’s the top part of Durbin’s press release:
ROCKFORD – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo will host an informational meeting to discuss the findings of the recently-completed “Feasibility Report on Proposed Amtrak Service” from Chicago to Dubuque via Rockford and Galena.

Amtrak officials will present the report’s findings and discuss several service options. Durbin and Manzullo will be joined by Amtrak Senior Director of Corridor Planning Mike Franke and Senior Director of Government Affairs Ray Lang, Illinois Department of Transportation Acting Secretary Milt Sees, officials from Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Boone, DeKalb, Ogle and Winnebago counties as well as Dubuque, Iowa and passenger rail supporters. Following the presentation, there will be a Q & A session with members of the audience.

Durbin, who has long been committed to bringing passenger rail service to the northwest Illinois region, hosted a public forum in July where local officials were able to make the case for restoration of service directly to Amtrak’s top leadership.
Anyone notice that McHenry County is not mentioned?

I hope that does not discourage Huntley, Union, Marengo and McHenry County officials from attending.


Story Refuses to Die

In a story first reported 10 days ago, the Knox County State's Attorney debacle continues to grow by the hour. Today's developments include the fired assistants filing a motion to retrieve their personal belongings from the office and rumors of two additional complaints of unlawful labor practices being served. Edit: the charges are actually for retaliation as reported in the Peoria Journal Star today.

I have been keeping up to date on the local political blog and have set up a live chat page for further discussion.


How Over the Top is the ICJL?

Backed by the insurance industry and out-of-state big business interests, the Illinois Civil Justice League continues it's hard campaign to try to justify its continued existence. As I listen to their "the sky is falling" rhetoric, I'm reminded of a recent interview with Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who said interest groups do a disservice to themselves by adopting extreme positions and over-the-top rhetoric, mainly in an attempt to try to justify their existence and keep the cash flowing in from their extreme backers. Luntz was talking about groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but he could have just as easily been talking about the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL).

Enter Senate Bill 1296. According to the ICJL, SB 1296:

would establish that if multiple parties are responsible for causing an injury or loss, it makes no difference which of the multiple parties is most responsible. It will be the party with the "deepest pockets" or most money who pays. It doesn't matter who is mostly at fault, it matters who has the most money.

The insurance companies backing the ICJL are the same guys who claimed that requiring insurance companies to cover preventative services like mammograms would drive up the cost of health care, so I don't take anything they say at face value. So, I read the bill. Here's what SB 1296 actually says. All that it says:

The apportionment of fault under this Section only applies to the parties still remaining in the case at the time of the final determination by the trier of fact. It does not apply to the defendants or third party defendants that have been dismissed for any reason, including settlement.

In other words, a jury can't find someone guilty -- apportion blame and demand payment for damages from them -- if they are no longer on trial because they've been dismissed from the case or have already settled.

Now, I'm no lawyer, but I took several classes on democracy in college and consider myself fairly well versed on the democratic ideals of justice. And, for the life of me, I can't understand how the ICJL can argue that a jury should be able to find someone guilty and sentence them if that person is not on trial because they've been dismissed from the case. Somewhere tucked away inside all of our Constitutional Rights regarding due process, I think we're entitled to know that we're on trial and be represented by counsel before a jury finds us guilty.

I also can't understand how the ICJL can argue that a jury can find someone guilty for something and demand restitution, when that individual has essentially already pleaded guilty and accepted punishment. Don't we call that "double jeopardy"?

Speaking of PETA

The ICJL finds itself making some very strange bedfellows in it's opposition to House Bill 1798 as well, which amends the Wrongful Death Act to hold murderers, drunk drivers, and others who unlawfully take a life accountable for the grief and sorrow they've caused under Illinois' civil laws. The ICJL believes that if you take a life, you should only be liable for the victim's lost wages and medical expenses (if they lived that long), so that killing a minor, a senior citizen, or a poor person will cost you nothing.

Here, I do have some expertise. My best friend was murdered when we were only 17 years old. The State's Attorney struck a plea deal with the two guys who broke into his house and stabbed him to death for Second Degree Murder, 14 years. The Ringleader was out in seven, and later had his record expunged by Gov. Ryan. Because of Illinois' arcane Wrongful Death Act, his family received no restitution for the lifetime of pain they got, including returning home day after day to the scene of their own son's murder. I got to be a pallbearer my senior year of high school.

I mentioned PETA earlier, and ironically under Illinois law, you are entitled to restitution for grief and suffering if someone kills your pet. I humbly submit that people deserve at least the same consideration as animals.

(before the PETA folks freak out on me, the bassethound with the knife in his head is a Halloween costume, and I love dogs. In fact, I put PETA a step above the ICJL.)


Watch the other rings, too

While the circus is believed to have had its origin in ancient Rome, the three-ring circus is an American creation, dating back to the 1800s. The traveling Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus made the term "three ring circus" well known and millions of Americans of all ages enjoyed the spectacle.

Usually, the center ring was the primary act and lesser performances would take place in the two outer rings. Most of the attention - sometimes all - would be on the star performers in the center ring.

That seems to be happening in Illinois today, in Springfield.

While the center ring has featured the governor and his proposed gross receipts tax, opposed by virtually everyone with any sense of fiscal responsibility (including his lieutenant governor, comptroller and treasurer) other acts are attracting less attention.

In the second ring we see the debate over electricity rates, interspersed with an occasional news item about indictments in Chicago or the qualifications of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

It must all be good theater because that’s all that seems to be attracting any attention.

But way over there, in the third ring, is a show that nobody seems to be paying attention to. It’s the performance being produced by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and their willing props, members of the Illinois General Assembly.

Almost completely ignored has been the assault by personal injury lawyers in Illinois on the business community, on the medical community, on local governments and, ultimately, on the taxpaying citizens of Illinois.

Three troubling trial lawyer proposals are currently moving toward passage, with the agreement (and complicity) of more than half the members of the Illinois General Assembly:

The first proposal - SB 1296, which passed the Senate last week - would invalidate the time-tested and logical procedure that says the person or entity most responsible for causing injury or damage should be most responsible for providing compensation or relief. Instead, the trial lawyer proposal would change it to put the burden on the person or entity with the most money, regardless of percentage of fault. Even if you were 1% at fault, you could be liable for 100% of the compensation awarded. If you happen to be a municipality ... or a corporation ... or a hospital ... or an individual with any resources ... and you're named in a suit, whether frivolous or not, chances are you're going to be stuck with the tab.

The second proposal would allow trial lawyers to collect even more for medical costs than has actually been paid and would prohibits admission of evidence that payments by insurers have been made in compliance with agreements or contracts between hospitals, doctors and insurers. This bill, SB 747, was blocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee but the language of the bill has now been amended to SB 1027, which had already been advanced from the Senate Executive Committee to the floor of the Senate. The bill awaits final passage in the Senate, which is likely this week. This is an indication of the greed and tactics of the personal injury trial lawyers and their allies.

A third proposal would provide yet another source of revenue for personal injury trial lawyers. HB 1798, sponsored by Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, would allow compensation to be paid to beneficiaries of decedents in wrongful death cases for "grief and sorrow." Not just for actual loss, which can be calculated, but for "grief and sorrow," which cannot be calculated.

Of course, regardless of whether it can be calculated or cannot be calculated, the personal injury trial lawyers will get their cut of the "grief and sorrow."

While this assault on fairness has been largely ignored in the public square, so also has been the effort by civil justice reform advocates to restore -- or create -- some balance in the system. Unfortunately, the trial lawyer allies in the legislature have been successful in shooting down many of these reform proposals.

For instance, a bill (SB 1549 and HB 1896) to set standards for testimony by "experts" in court rooms in the aftermath of wide-spread exposure of "junk science" was shot down in both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.

Another bill (HB 1892) to establish some sensible guidelines for litigation venue (i.e. where a suit can or should be filed) was given a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee but no action was taken and none is likely.

Ironically, even the judges in Madison County, which has long been considered the poster boy for improper venue, have agreed that some changes need to be made.

Illinois legislators, however, do not agree.

Other bills would have tightened standards on evidence in asbestos lawsuits (HB 1897), clarified rules for class action lawsuits (HB 1893) and restore product liability laws that had been in effect in 1995-1997 (HB 1898).

But alas, the trial lawyer-controlled General Assembly will have nothing to do with any of the overdue reforms and the news media, alas again, is reveling in the action in the center ring.

To view or post comments, please visit Illinois Justice Blog.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Black business and the gross receipts tax

Last week we saw the Governor rally support amongst black religious leadership. It seems obvious that at said press conference the ministers are for this tax-fairness plan and the Governor's programs for affordable health care and education. We see one segment of this population what about those blacks who owns businesses.

Well for the most part I saw opposition. Unfortunately no group is totally monolithic since I see that the governor has the support of another group of black business owners...

“The Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce and its membership embraces the ideas of the Governor's plan to invest in Illinois families by providing access to affordable healthcare for small businesses and all Illinois residents, increasing funding for our schools, and creating a tax system that is fair for businesses and families alike. The State Black Chamber of Commerce agrees with the Governor that ‘the need is clear and the time is now,’ and that is why we are committed to working with the Governor's office to get the General Assembly's support so that we may create a fair and equitable system that levels the playing field, reduces the burden on middle class families, helps small and mid-size businesses become more competitive and lessens the tax burden on all Illinois residents,” Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Larry Ivory said.
OK but what are those opposed to the tax fairness plan are saying anyway? From Crain's...

While ABLE formally decided to further review the matter and to examine a possible “alternative solution” to the state’s financial needs, President Hermene Hartman says the organization in fact opposes the proposal.

“We appreciate the governor’s desire to close corporate loopholes” in the existing tax structure, said Ms. Hartman, CEO and publisher of the Hartman Publishing Group, which produces N’Digo and Savoy magazines. “But making all business pay for the loopholes when we didn’t benefit from them is a mistake.”

Ms. Hartman is even more direct in a column posted on N’Digo’s Web site, which says passage of Gov. Blagojevich’s proposal as written will mean “the end of the entrepreneur” in Illinois.
Hmmm, what about this column by Hermene Hartman? Well here's a little taste of what she said in the aformentioned column...

The thought is that there are corporate tax loopholes favoring big business, so much to the point that some of the largest companies in that state are tax-exempt. The gross receipts bill is an attempt to correct that, and indeed it should. The tax excludes small business with revenues of $1 million or less. This sector represents the cottage industry, personality businesses, and ma and pa shops. These types of businesses usually do not employ more than three people. Everybody else pays.

The state has redefined “small business.” What happens to federal regulations that define small business? For the most part, small business is under $50 million or has “size standards.” Most businesses under a million in revenues do not hire, and are very small operations. The governor’s bill hurts small business enterprises that hire most employees and represent the fastest growing business sector.

For every million dollar for a professional service business, the proposal asks for 1.8 percent of gross receipts. That represents $18,000 per million. This is unfair. Essentially some companies will pay taxes on monies that might be passed through.
The entrepreneur is a special case, and I should hope along the way there is a separation between the entrepreneur business and the corporate business. There is a drastic dynamic distinction to be made. The entrepreneur is a small business working on his own steam, and is usually a niche type business with limited resources, bootstrap strategies, and in the case of the minority, limited access to working capital.

The comparisons are limiting. Why should the local neighborhood grocery store pay the same taxes as Jewel and Dominick’s? The small grocery will probably never grow to the heights of the Jewel. Why should the small boutique business be charged the same tax as the Michigan Avenue super store?

The point is, they shouldn’t. It is an unfair business comparison and an unfair business tax.

If this tax is passed in its present state, it is the end of the entrepreneur. The concept of small business needs to be reconsidered. A consideration should be given to grading business — small business, entrepreneur, corporate, and mega businesses. The margins of these businesses are drastically different. It is one thing for the Wal-Marts of the world to have a 5 percent margin, and another for the small grocer to have a 5 percent margin.

Entrepreneurs, as they exist in the State of Illinois, are on the way to extinction if this tax is enforced as it is currently stated. By the time you pay income tax, state tax, federal tax and payroll taxes, it just isn’t worth it. The entrepreneur’s operation is stifled, and literally the various governments become hidden business partners that most do not want.

Entrepreneurs are literally going to be penalized for being in business. It is unfair for the government to place the schools and health industry on one sector of society — the business community.
So she is going to bat for the entrepreneur here. And these are good points, but take a look at her recommendation and that includes raising the income tax. An income tax that she says hasn't been raised in 40 years...

  • Bite the bullet. Increase income taxes 1 percent for all citizens. This is the fairest tax of them all.
  • People who have children in school should be taxed differently than those who
    have no children.
  • Tax businesses based on size.
  • Graduate the taxes by considering size of standards. Tax big businesses differently than entrepreneurs, different than small businesses, different than professional services.
  • Eliminate taxes. If you are paying gross receipts taxes, eliminate other taxes.
  • Equalize state business. Minority businesses receive a fraction of state business and should be taxed accordingly.
  • Minority businesses should be taxed based on opportunity in the market place, and with a formula access to capital.
  • Small businesses should be exempt from taxes for the first five years of existence.
  • Have business people assess government waste to improve efficiency, and perhaps there would be a need to increase taxes.
  • Have the gross tax receipt deductible from federal taxes.
  • I think these points right here are some good points for discussion. I hear a lot of bellyaching perhaps we can look at some alternatives.

    Addendum: More information from that Crain's article...
    But business groups generally have charged that the governor’s proposal instead will hurt them by raising costs too high, and many comments at the March 15 ABLE meeting were in that vein.

    For instance, according to a copy of meeting minutes, Leon Finney of the Woodlawn Organization said his and many other black-owned companies would be directly affected by the new levy and that the state perhaps should look for another way to raise money.

    “The tax provokes a certain amount of concern,” Mr. Finney confirmed in a subsequent interview. “It’s small companies that provide most of the jobs that drive our economy. . . .We agree with the goals that the governor set (for schools and health insurance). The question is, how do you get there.”

    Becky Carroll, Gov. Blagojevich’s deputy chief of staff and spokeswoman on budget matters, conceded that ABLE gave the governor’s plan a “mixed reaction,” but said that it indicates “a willingness to learn more about the plan before making any rash decisions.”


    Monday, March 26, 2007

    “Public-Be-Dammed” Attitude on Sports Stadiums?

    Chicago Tribune columnist Dennis Bryne’s piece on Monday was about secrecy and the hidden, unadmitted costs of the 2016 Olympics’ package put together by Mayor Richard Daley.

    Are there are parallels in McHenry County?

    Want to know the public involvement in McHenry County College’s minor league baseball stadium?

    Here’s what I said in the public comment period at the beginning of March 19th‘s college board meeting:

    It appears from the language in the contract dated September 27, 2006, signed by EquityOne Development’s Mark Houser and MCC President Walter Packard that the feasibility study’s findings and recommendations will be tainted.

    I refer specificially to page 4, the 3rd paragraph:
    At the completion of the feasibility study and independent review, if the College elects to proceed with the project, the College will contract with EquityOne or it’s (sic) assigns to develop the project on the college’s behalf.
    By signing this contract you seem to have precluded competitive bidding on the Sports Center Complex and baseball stadium.

    Is that correct?
    No one answered, so I asked if I were going to get an answer.

    Sandy Kerrick, the lawyer sitting at the table in front of the board, then told me that I could make any comments I wanted.

    I replied that usually when I speak to a public body, I got an answer.

    I got no answer from the McHenry County College Board.

    They sat silent.

    I wonder if what I said will be included in the minutes.

    Time will tell.

    As far as I know, this is the only comment made about the project in a public MCC Board meeting, although I admit to missing last Thursday’s meeting.

    Someone has obviously kept Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley informed.

    Someone has obviously talked in secret to Crystal Lake Park Board Commissioners.

    Has there been public involvement beyond my statement that EquityOne Development’s recommendations were, by the nature of the contract MCC signed, flawed by self-interest?

    Oh, I forgot.

    MCC Committee of the Whole chairman George Lowe did read the names of those who participated in the March 19th secret meeting and he was kind enough to let me see how to spell their names and what their affiliations were.

    Tribune columnist Byrne concluded his commentary on the way the Olympics’ package has been put together like this:
    But there's also some of the public-be-damned way the public's business is conducted here, based on the belief that the public, even if it could understand what's going on, would screw things up.
    How far from that attitude is the McHenry County College Board’s on its proposed baseball stadium?


    And Many Mooooooore!

    "Hopefully, few will notice." -- Rich Miller

    Today is the natal anniversary of Mr. Rich Miller, founder of the Capitol Fax empire.

    If you blog about -- or even care about -- Illinois politics, you oughtta go wish him a happy one.


    Sunday, March 25, 2007

    The Great Chicago Exodus Is Actually The Cook County Exodus

    From the times:

    Census population estimates released today show Cook County posted the third biggest decline in the nation, losing 88,000 residents since 2000.

    Only counties surrounding New Orleans, ravaged by a hurricane, and Detroit, clobbered by a declining auto industry, lost more.

    In the same period, however, Kendall County, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, added nearly 34,000 residents and had the second-fastest growth rate in the nation -- 61.7 percent. Will County, south of Chicago, also made the top 100 fastest-growing counties. It came in 36th and grew 33 percent.

    I guess I hadn't really considered the city's well known problem with large quantities of people heading for 'the burbs'. Black folks have been heading south to the far south burbs for quite some time, folks from the SW side of the city have long been white flighting for perceived whiter pastures of Orland Park and Lamont. Who doesn't have a friend or two who made their post college transition from Lakeview to Schaumburg or Naperville?

    Population loss in Chicago? Unsurprising. But real meaningful loss to the entire county? It comes as sort of a shocker to me. I had always assumed that at least half of those relocating to the Will County house farms were coming north from middle Illinois, and that for every family who leaves Chicago to seek less busy streets and more retail is replaced by a family seeking to live in the city.

    Apparently, not the case. 88,000 people leaving Cook County to head further away from Chicago is bad. Officials will always be at least decent in dealing with budding populaces. Dealing with declining ones is where things always get ugly.

    Things to consider:
    1. With such a pool of potential employees and the fact that it's infinitely cheaper to set up shop, will more upstart businesses steer for Will County?

    2. If not, and businesses continue to set up in Cook, does this trend reflect even worse situations in terms of traffic on the commute?

    3. What will Pace and Metra have to do to keep up with the transfer of the population from one place to another?


    Naperville Student Sues For Right To Homobigotry

    I like to contextualize things and draw comparisons when it comes to the various forms of bigotry. It helps to sort things out and make them digestible. When I call Porno Pete's outfit(s) 'hate organizations' people ask how it is a 'pro-family, Christian organization' can be a hate organization. Simple answer - I've explained it before. Take any bit of Labarbera spew, replace "homosexual" with "black" or "Mexican" and you'd have a certified hate monger. Example:

    Illinois’ only openly homosexual representative, Democrat Greg Harris, has introduced HB 1615, which would repeal Illinois’ ban on same-sex “marriages.” Pete LaBarbera of the Chicago-based group Americans for Truth says Harris and other homosexual activists are hoping to wear down Illinois voters, and over time pass what he describes as “radical” legislation.

    Illinois’ black representative, Democrat Greg Harris, has introduced HB 1615, which would repeal Illinois’ ban on interracial “marriages.” Pete LaBarbera of the Chicago-based group Americans for Truth (about the black lifestyle) says Harris and other black activists are hoping to wear down Illinois voters, and over time pass what he describes as “radical pro-black” legislation.

    Or every time Labarbera says "AIDS is a tragic result of the homosexual lifestyle" just think to yourself that "Cirrhosis is a result of the Irish lifestyle". Both have the same merit when you get down to the facts of it all. Get it? Good. You can push that in a couple of different directions and I assure you, it doesn't always come out the way you think it will, thus it's a very good rule of thumb when playing Know Your Bigot. Christo Con fruitloops will regularly decry this sort of stuff as being part of "the oppression of political correctness", or do something typically Limbaughesque and blame the ACLU for the fact that they're not longer allowed to use derogatory slurs. It's a psuedo intellectual approach to fight for their right to be non-intellectual, primitive, NASCAR watchers.

    Riddle me this: Is this shirt appropriate in school?

    You can read the relevant story at World Nut Daily, but the nut of it:

    An Illinois high school student is in federal court seeking the right to wear T-shirts that declare sentiments such as "Be happy, not gay."

    Heidi Zamecnik, of the Chicago suburb Naperville, wants to wear the shirt at school the day after the "Day of Silence," a nationwide observance April 19 to protest harassment of homosexuals in schools, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. This just continues the cycle of anti-Christian oppression and pro-homosexual indoctrination of our children in the evil public school system which is part of the Homosexual Agenda (TM). The next step will be for public high school administrators to sprinkle magic dust to make your kids gay. According to J. Matt Barber of Concerned Women For Americans For Truth, the dust, dubbed 'fairy dust', has already been distributed to public high schools by the ACLU and former members of the Clinton administration.

    Fine. You caught me. I added the last part in there. Sue me.

    The racial comparison works out pretty well because it reduces this sort of discussion to the "Black people can use the N word, so why can't I", "Well, Notre Dame's mascot is the Fighting Irish, isn't that racist?", and other assorted arguments you hear from privileged white folks who are pissed about ideas of equality. After all, who wants to bet that the same people who don't like the idea of a Day of Silence are the same folks who probably object to Black History Month in school? You need not look far for that argument to be made by Random Winger:

    Now, everyone KNOWS the homosexuals in school get to wear their ‘Gay Pride” shirts.. so what about her rights? I remember (way back, ahem) when I was a teen in highschool, we were told we couldn’t wear any shirt with the Confederate flag on it, but black kids could still wear their MalcomX (talk about racist!).. NOT fair.. NOT right!

    That particular post comes complete with threats of violence in the comments:

    This *** stuff is wearing on me, they’re going to create REAL hate. They think bigotry and intolerance is bad now? Give it some time and more of this kind of stuff…

    It's fair to put homobigotry and racism next to each other. They're both irrational, mostly dependent upon a fear of something different, and almost always veiled in self-defense against some vast agenda. It's not a coincidence that the same evangelical southern minded folks who were 'protecting the Christian identity' 75 years ago when opposing civil rights for black folks have no moved on to 'protecting the Christian identity' today by opposing civil rights for queer folks.

    To be expected, the usual suspects in wingnutitude are up in arms over the matter, claiming it's a violation of the First Amendment. Of course, it isn't.

    The narrow minded bigots will argue that "Well, the gay kids are allowed to wear their pride gear, all this girl is showing her straight pride", which lacks any intellectual honesty. If we have an Irish Pride Day and every girl from Mt. Greenwood wears a "Kiss me, I'm Irish shirt" it's showing pride. If an Italian kid wears a shirt on the same day saying "Proud Italian" it's showing pride. If our Italian kid wears a shirt that says "The Irish are a bunch of thick skulled, flat assed drunkards" it's bigotry and has no business in modern society let alone public schools. The same goes for if on our Irish Pride Day, Mt. Greenwood girl wears a shirt that says "Italians are wine drinking, mobster, murdering WOPs".

    Likewise, if a gay person decides to wear a shirt emblazoned with this, it's ok:

    It doesn't prevent a student from wearing this on the same day, and in fact - it's reasonable to do so and nobody would ever object contrary to the knee jerkers:

    But it does make wearing something like this completely unreasonable:

    It's equally as acceptable to wear something like this:

    Simple enough concept to understand, you would think. But no. A sample of actual bigot quotes. For fun, replace references to LGBT with references to 'Mexican':
    Return of the Conservatives:

    It's no wonder with these leftist teachers so engaged in spreading the deviant lifestyle that that they object to having to provide a PE class. After all, what is more important to them: children's physical health or them being indoctrinated by the Rosie O'Donnell Idiot Brigade?

    From the Ground Up:

    The Gay Left's allies in academia are out to censor free speech in public schools all under the guise of "tolerance." The Dean has no balls to do the right thing.

    The Wake Up Call (this one is good)

    Once again, we see the pro-gay bias in our mis-education system. Maybe we need a straight rights coalition in this country.

    Chicago Ray:

    It's apparently OK to force a "Day of Awareness/Silence" upon all non-gay public school students annually on April 19th nationwide to stop the supposed "widespread harassment" of that whopping 2 or 3 percent of the students who think they're gay, meanwhile a non-gay student representing the other 97 or so percent of students who are not gay cannot wear a t-shirt to school like this protesting this mandated day of atonement:


    Abolish the Death Penalty

    The Trib writes an Editorial today telling Illinois to abolish it.

    Given the pattern of police brutality and subsequent cover up, it's awfully hard to defend execution as punishment.

    The legislature should abolish it.

    xp Prairie State Blue


    Pattern of Abuse

    More for those still missing the pattern. From today's Trib,

    Prosecutors are investigating allegations that six off-duty Chicago cops were caught on a downtown bar's video camera beating four businessmen, the second such incident in recent months, law enforcement sources said.

    In the Dec. 15 beating at the Jefferson Tap and Grille, one alleged victim required reconstructive surgery on his face and another suffered four broken ribs, said Sally Saltzberg, a lawyer for the men.

    Other bar patrons called 911. But when patrol officers responded, the off-duty officers involved allegedly spoke to them and the patrol officers left without intervening, sources said.

    Security cameras inside and outside the bar recorded most of the beating, said Saltzberg, who said she has not seen the tape herself.
    Zorn blogs on CPD abuse today too,
    Police Supt. Philip Cline has said the right things about the attack: "It was disgusting. It was despicable conduct. ... The fact that he is a police officer is even more damning."

    But to understand why this story is so big and feels so ominous to so many, he needs to look beyond the attack. Cynical, street-smart Chicagoans are weary of adjectives. They want answers.
    You don't need to be a PhD in Math to see the pattern. Cynical Chicago street-smarts will do.

    xp Prairie State Blue


    Saturday, March 24, 2007

    Cool Cities Act Passes State Senate

    On Tuesday the Illinois State Senate passed "The Illinois Cool Cities Act of 2007", which would help Illinois local governments who want to do their part to combat global warming get the job done. The bill, SB 1242, is sponsored by newly elected State Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) (and pictured here), and is her first to pass the Senate.

    "Cool Cities" are local governments that have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, committing to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012, the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Eleven Illinois cities are among 425 nationwide that have committed to these reductions, and more and more are showing interest each week.

    The "Cool Cities Act" will help these communities meet these goals by offering them technical assistance from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in calculating their baseline (what their emissions were in 1990), and in quantifying how much pollution will be cut by different strategies. Cities that adopt plans to hit these targets are recognized as "Illinois Cool Cities". This will help ensure that goals and commitments translate into real reductions in pollution, and result in model strategies for ways to save energy that other communities can learn from.

    Holmes is proving to be a real breath of fresh air in Springfield. This is an innovative approach to one of the most important challenges of our time. It now moves on to the Illinois House, where State Rep. Sid Mathias (R-Buffalo Grove) is the lead sponsor.


    Tax proposals -- the more progressive, the better

    [Cross-posted at djwinfo]

    Half of public policy is spending. The other half is taxing.

    Progressives tend to spend most of our time on the spending side defining what we want to buy -- doctors, teachers and bus drivers with operating dollars and hospitals, schools and buses with capital dollars.

    Right-wingers tend to spend most of their time on the taxing side defining that they don't want their sponsors (high income people or corporations) to be taxed at all.

    So, right-wingers tend to get their way. Government taxes on wealth and high incomes continue to fall. (Taxes on work and low-incomes, unfortunately, aren't attacked by right-wingers, so they tend to rise). And we progressives often don't get to buy the things that would be good for the nation because....there isn't any money.

    The best group in the country working on arming progressives with analysis to advocate for taxes on high incomes is the Center for Tax Justice. They helped start a blog called Talking Taxes here and their website is here. If you're not a member, join up.

    Anyway, in Illinois, we're lucky. We're in the midst of a glorious debate over tax fairness and Governor Blagojevich deserves a ton of credit for launching it. He's got a bold proposal to fund health insurance and education boosts through a gross receipts tax and a business payroll tax. The rhetorical center of his campaign is that business isn't paying enough. And they're almost certainly not -- especially the biggest ones with the most money. We have the lowest state income tax in the nation (3% for individuals, 4.8% for corporations), and people or companies with high profits or income can figure out how to shelter a lot of their income so they don't pay even that small levy. The rest of us, meanwhile, pony up with very high sales taxes and relatively high property taxes. That means taxes our regressive -- we hit low and moderate income hard and go light on high incomes. Not smart, especially since our middle class is getting flattened by other government policies: corporate trade agreements that export jobs, anti-union labor laws, tolerance of millions of undocumented workers without an amnesty and underinvestment in education so that education gets both more expensive and of lower quality.

    So the great progressive debate happening this month is, in shorthand, 750 versus GRT. HB 750, championed by Senator James Meeks and cooked up primarily by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, is a straight-forward progressive reform that taxes high incomes more and low incomes less. (By the way, props go out to blogging Representative John Fritchey for representing a higher-income district but publicly recognizing that it's good for the entire state to get away from our poverty-perpetuating regressive tax system and championing HB 750. 750 got out of a Senate committee last year (after adding in some higher education money), and got a House committee hearing last week.

    The Gross Receipts Tax is part of the Governor's submitted budget and has raised the ire of just about every business group in the state. (Opposition from the business community often, but not always, signals that the bill is good for most people of the state). However, most legislators aren't biting. As one legislator told me this week: "they're pushing the Kool-Aid hard. But I'm not sipping." The GRT is essentially a sales tax, and that hits lower incomes harder than higher incomes. That's regressive.

    The Governor would like to buy some progressive things with the money -- just-about universal health insurance. That's good. But is that enough for Democrats to overcome the regressive aspects of the GRT? Based on the reaction so far, it doesn't look like it.

    But again, the Governor has moved the debate in a great direction launching a campaign for tax fairness and an agressive call for change against the champions of the status quo. That alone earns him credit in my book. Now the General Assembly might find a better way of matching his soaring rhetoric.


    Trial Lawyers Running Wild

    At the precise moment that the Illinois State Bar Association is launching a new campaign to improve the image of lawyers in Illinois, one of ISBA's main components and closest allies, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, is running its own campaign of greed, deceit and plunder.

    Two weeks ago, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reported on ISBA's new campaign, in which the organization is using the image of Abraham Lincoln to improve its own image:

    ''Part of this effort is that we want to reclaim Abraham Lincoln for the legal profession,'' said David N. Anderson, assistant executive director of the ISBA.

    President-elect Joseph G. Bisceglia said the campaign could benefit the profession as a whole.

    ''In our government, there's probably not a better symbol for lawyers and putting lawyers in a positive light than our own Abraham Lincoln,'' Bisceglia said. Both Bisceglia and ISBA President Irene F. Bahr said one of the main concerns of the association's members has been improving the image of lawyers.

    President Bahr should meet President Cates -- Judy Cates, current president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. They should have a long conversation.

    For ITLA's current campaign is likely to be more effective than ISBA's and ironically, it has been the activities of ITLA and its members that have caused the lousy reputation and image that lawyers have. ITLA actually should reimburse ISBA for the campaign, but that's for them to work out.

    ITLA hasn't officially announced a "campaign," -- at least not publicly -- but ITLA members certainly are aware of it. The ITLA campaign is not patterned after Abraham Lincoln -- but seems more in line with the careers of two other historical Illinois figures, John Dillinger and "Baby Face" Nelson.

    This is what is happening:

    Last week in Springfield an ITLA-backed bill that would change the way compensation is determined in damage suits was passed in the Senate. The bill changes the rules of fairness in the Illinois tort system, such as they are. This bill (SB 1296) would establish that if multiple parties are responsible for causing an injury or loss, it makes no difference which of the multiple parties is most responsible. It will be the party with the "deepest pockets" or most money who pays. It doesn't matter who is mostly at fault, it matters who has the most money.

    Steve Puiszis, president of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, described it this way:

    Consider this hypothetical:

    You were recently involved in an automobile accident with a drunk driver. While neither you nor the drunk driver were hurt, a passenger in the drunk driver's car was seriously injured.

    Although you were not at fault, the injured passenger sued both you and the other driver, claiming you failed to keep a proper lookout for the driver of the other car, who rammed the side of your vehicle after you entered the intersection.

    The injured party then settles with the drunk driver because, as often happens, the drunk driver had minimal insurance coverage.

    Should you be worried? Because of legislation currently under consideration in Springfield, you should be.


    An ICJL survey conducted recently in twelve Illinois Senate Districts shows that more than 80% of voters do not think it's "fair to be judged on your ability to pay, as opposed to your degree of fault in lawsuits."

    The same survey showed that more than 60% of voters think it's a "bad idea" for the General Assembly to pass laws that result in larger awards in personal injury lawsuits.

    (Survey conducted in Senate Districts: 22, 31, 33, 36, 42, 46, 47, 49, 52, 56, 57, 59.)

    SB 1296 is sponsored by Sen. John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Civil Law Committee. Cullerton is generally fair and always willing to seek compromise. He spent many hours in discussions with opponents of this bill, including the Illinois Civil Justice League, and he went out of his way to meet and try to accommodate the opponents.

    He received many suggestions for compromise and he took them and/or discussed them with ITLA representatives.

    But ITLA would have nothing to do with any compromise and the personal injury trial lawyers told Sen. John Cullerton last week that the bill must be voted upon as is.

    That means the personal injury trial lawyers have dictated to the leadership of the Illinois Senate (at least the controlling Democratic leadership) that they want SB 1296 passed as is.

    This bill can be blocked when it goes to the House (it will first be considered by the House Judiciary Committee) and a lot of effort and energy has been spent and will be spent by many opposing interests, including business interests, medical interests, insurers, many Illinois lawyers, and many others. The Illinois Civil Justice League is playing an active and leading role.

    The numerical balance in the Illinois House is not favorable to defeating the bill. Several Democrats will have to go against the party leadership -- and the personal injury trial lawyers -- and it's not promising.

    But you can -- and should -- ask your representative to vote against this bill. You can get a direct connections through this link.

    You can learn even more from ICJL's DEEP POCKETS ILLINOIS Website.


    The current ITLA assault doesn't end with SB 1296, however. Also coming up in Springfield -- in the House this time -- is likely passage of another ITLA-backed money grab bill that was passed in the Illinois House last week. HB 1798, sponsored by Rep. John Fritchey, like Cullerton a Chicago Democrat (their districts overlap) creates a new target for the Dillinger-Nelson crowd. It would allow compensation to be paid to beneficiaries of decedents in wrongful death cases for "grief and sorrow." Not just for actual loss, which can be calculated, but for "grief and sorrow," which cannot be calculated. Of course, regardless of whether it can be calculated or cannot be calculated, the personal injury trial lawyers will get their cut of the "grief and sorrow."

    A prominent Madison County attorney, Jeff Hebrank, said this in testimony before the House Judiciary Civil Law Committee last week:

    "For nearly 150 years we have never permitted the beneficiaries of a decedent killed in an accident to get (compensation for) grief and sorrow. The reason is simple. They are not the tort victim. The decedent was. ... Now plaintiff lawyers want grief and sorrow"

    Click here to read the Madison-St. Clair Record news report of the Hebrank testimony.

    In a letter to all House members last week, the Illinois State Medical Society reminded legislators:

    Two years ago, the General Assembly thoughtfully reviewed, investigated and debated damages in professional liability actions against physicians, hospitals and others. In the end, the General Assembly decided to maintain access to heath care and protect this vital service for the citizens of Illinois by capping non-economic damages. This bill would expand the damages allowed in wrongful death lawsuits and medical liability litigation.

    But by a straight party-line vote last Wednesday, creation of this new source of money for trial lawyers moved a step closer to enactment. If it passes, the personal injury trial lawyers will get compensation for "grief and sorrow."

    Can you feel their "grief and sorrow?"

    HB 1798 is not on as fast a track as SB 1296 since the House deadline for passage of bills is not as early as the Senate's March 30 deadline but HB 1798 poses the same challenges to Illinoisans who think our state needs fairness and common sense, in addition to "grief and sorrow."


    In other action last week, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on four ICJL-backed bills. While they allowed two bills to remain alive in committee, they voted down the other two. This is the same committee that approved HB 1798 earlier in the month. The Committee is dominated by trial lawyer-interests, led by Reps. Jay Hoffman of Madison County and Lou Lang of Cook County. Rep. Careen Gordon was especially vocal - and even appeared hostile - to the expert witnesses testifying in support of our legislation.

    Committee Chairman John Fritchey of Chicago is not as locked into trial lawyer-domination (he sponsored the "cheeseburger" bill to prohibit lawsuits against fast-food restaurants) but he generally leans in their direction.

    We'll have more on the ICJL-backed bills later ... but for now it is urgent that action be taken to block SB 1296 and HB 1798. Follow this link to contact your legislators.

    If you need more information about the bills, follow these links:

    SB 1296

    HB 1798

    To view or post comments, please visit Illinois Justice Blog.


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