Springfield Rules

by

Maze Jackson

If you know anything about Springfield, you know The Rule: The Speaker always wins. Everyone knows not to get on The Speaker’s bad side or you risk the possibility of being neutered in state government and politics. It appears however, that Governor Bruce Rauner does not know The Rule, nor does he care.

Feared as the most powerful man in Illinois politics, rarely if ever is The Speaker’s authority questioned. While the media likes to portray The Speaker as some nefarious character in the murky world of an Illinois political drama, he has actually proven to be the leader strong enough to build “consensus” among his members. From what I have observed, The Speaker spends a significant amount of time accommodating his members, converting even the candidates most vocal against him on the campaign trail into supporters once in the legislature.   The Speaker also has a formidable, military-like political organization that relies on discipline, legislation, and fundraising to maintain control of state government. The Speaker’s status is rarely challenged and his members remain loyal because of The Rule.

Enter Governor Bruce Rauner trying to break The Rule with Black people possibly paying the price. Rauner campaigned heavily on the promise to beat The Speaker in Springfield, but he has found the task to be a bit more difficult than he anticipated.   Unlike The Speaker, he is a business titan but a political novice, with even less knowledge of Springfield. Governor Rauner also has a talented, yet relatively green to Springfield staff, even if for no other reason than Democratic dominance for the last decade. What he lacks in experience he makes up with money: money to insulate himself and his staff from the effects of a government shutdown; money to finance media campaigns; money to finance campaigns; and money allows him to ignore The Rule.

The Speaker has already shown his early dominance, soundly defeating every significant piece of legislation that Governor Rauner proposed. The Speaker has also gotten the Governor to remove two of the four pillars of his turnaround agenda. By all accounts, it is only a matter of time before The Speaker teaches the Governor, The Rule; except this time I am not so sure it will be as easy.

On numerous occasions, I have heard Governor Rauner speak, and somewhere in that speech, he always says something to the gist of, “I am willing to take the arrows…be the bad guy.” Translation: “I’ve made the necessary but painful necessary for the long-term sustainability of the company, regardless of the human impact.” And that’s why I think The Speaker may have a much more difficult time teaching the Governor The Rule.

Bruce Rauner the businessman has prepared Governor Rauner for the protests that will ensue if the government shuts down. Bruce Rauner the philanthropist has prepared Governor Rauner for stories of the families that will suffer. And the long-term outcome for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has prepared Governor Bruce Rauner for a protracted union battle (Walker is now considered a potential Presidential candidate.)

In Illinois, we have grown accustomed to Democratic governors who, regardless of their issues, put “people” first regardless of “fiscal” challenges. Gov. Rauner came into office prepared to deal with the “fiscal” challenges, regardless of the “people.” In the past The Speaker was able to give the governor a budget and let him “take the arrows…be the bad guy,” for the any cuts. Those governors were always concerned with voters, so they generally did not make deeps cuts to services important to Black people, so Black people usually benefitted from The Rule.

If The Speaker gives Governor Rauner a budget with a $3 billion hole, he WILL make the cuts. We already know those cuts will not be good for Black people. So, I am not suggesting that The Rule has changed, but maybe the game has.

 

Chicago Budget Fix Relies on Dysfunctional Springfield

(as published in the October 7-13 Chicago Defender)

by

Maze Jackson

Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)
Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be proposing over a $588 million property tax increase in the city of Chicago, a collective groan was heard across the neighborhoods. While many knew that the day of pension reckoning was finally upon us, the shock of actually hearing Emanuel deliver the message was palpable. While he discussed a wide range of services savings and cuts, most Chicagoans fixated on the $500 million property tax increase.

 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A $588 million increase that equates to an approximate 58.1% increase over what Chicagoans had been paying. That increased property tax assessment could potentially have a dire effect on the Black community whose property values are rapidly increasing, while their incomes are not. Combine that with the fact that the Black community has not fully recovered as quickly as others from the recession, while struggling to hold on to their homes. At the same time, White developers are buying every bit of property they can get their hands in anticipation of the Obama library on the South Side, and Silicon Valley 2.0 which is being built on the near West Side.

In an effort to provide some relief from the enormous tax increase, and prevent some of those things from happening, Mayor Emmanuel proposed an exemption for homes that are valued under $250,000. The move was hailed as an attempt to ensure that the cities most vulnerable homeowners would be spared the massive increase that would eventually drive them from their homes and communities, a fact that members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus applaud.

“I believe it will encourage investment, while lessening the impact on people with less income,” said 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. who represents a portion of the West Side and West Loop, where high-income development is booming.

(photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)
27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. (photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)

But to get the necessary relief, the mayor’s budget relies on approval from a dysfunctional Springfield that has not been able to pass its own budget. As a matter of fact the state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for the past five months with no solution in the foreseeable future. In spite of that, Burnett remains optimistic that “Governor Rauner will do the right thing, help the city of Chicago, and low income residents.”

While all parties would agree that the city of Chicago is on the brink of financial peril all parties do not agree on the solution, the most important of which is Governor Rauner, who has called for a statewide property tax freeze. Combine that with the fact that when Governor Rauner addressed the Chicago City Council back in July, he made it perfectly clear that if Chicago expected to get any relief from the state he expected that they would make concessions in Springfield. Regardless of Rauner’s ominous statements, Springfield insiders remain optimistic that they will be able to pass the property tax exemption and get Governor Rauner to sign it.

(photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)

Assistant Majority Leader Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago) is one of those insiders. “Most of the constituents I represent would benefit from the exemption and I am for it. It’s progressive which is something that we should look at on the state level as well. Those who can pay more should,” Turner states.

 

(photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)
Assistant Majority Leader Arthur Turner, Jr. (photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)

“The City of Chicago is the largest economic engine in the state, and while I think it will be tougher to get through Springfield, I am confident that the Governor understands how important Chicago is to the rest of the state. Mayor Emanuel has taken the first step in fixing the situation, but because he and the Governor have a working relationship and talk regularly, I think we will get a bill passed and signed,” Turner explained.

Turner’s optimism is based on Emanuel and Rauner’s relationship, because Rauner’s relationship with Democratic leaders in Springfield is tense to say the least. Governor Rauner and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan are currently locked in a budget fight to the death over who will control Springfield, and neither seems willing to compromise. But if the city of Chicago hopes to plug its budget holes and pension problems, it must rely upon cooperation with legislators, leaders and the Governor to get it done. But so far no party has shown any willingness to give, which is what makes Emanuel’s role in the situation so crucial.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)

Mayor Emanuel has stated, we must fix the “structural deficit” and we cannot “kick the can down the road any longer” as he has so often accused the previous administration of. And, while he is careful not to blame the Daley administration by name, one only need listen to Emanuel talk about the city’s financial situation to know that he will not wear the jacket for the massive property tax increase alone.

One thing is clear, if the City of Chicago wants to keep growing, it must tackle the financial woes created by years of underfunding police and fire pensions. The intentional underfunding of police and fire pensions have reduced Chicago’s bond ratings to junk status, driving the cost of borrowing money to unmanageable levels. But with the property tax increase, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council still have to convince voters why they should accept such a large property tax with very few to no new services.

To combat the perception, Emanuel has also proposed using a rare state law that allows the city to levy a $45 million school improvement tax to ease the tensions associated with such a large increase. Emanuel has also tried to make the increase more palatable by phasing it in over 3 years, with increases being $318 million in 2015, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017, and $63 million in 2018.

But none of that will make a difference if he can’t get Springfield to work together, something they have been unable to do for the last five months. Emanuel needs them to if he hopes to save Chicago from being devoured by its pension obligation.

Cook County Goes Back to the Future

by

Maze Jackson

 

As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle prepares to raise the Cook County sales tax by one penny, she should consider that it was that same penny that got her predecessor “lynched in the media.”

On December 4, 2006, Todd Stroger was sworn in as Cook County Board President. He replaced the interim Board President Bobbie Steele, who had only been in office since August 4th of that same year, completing the term of Stroger’s father. John Stroger had been County Board President until he was incapacitated with a stroke.

New County Board County Board President Stroger only had three months to craft an $3.1 billion budget that had a $500 million deficit . “The apparatus was in place to put a budget together, but no one took responsibility during the interim presidency,” Stroger said during an interview.

Stroger consulted his advisers, who all agreed that county government needed to be reformed. Stroger mandated across-the-board cuts of 21% for all 28 departments under his control. He requested the same from the other county officers, who all generally complied, with the exception of the Sheriff’s and State’s Attorney’s Offices.

Was former Cook Count Board President Todd Stroger right all along? Will it lead to a political comeback? (photo courtesy of ABC7 Chicago)

When Stroger directed the hospital system to make “$90 million” in cuts, they recommended closing Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals.   “Oak Forest was in the South Suburbs, and our flagship hospital, the County Hospital is 45 minutes away from Robbins. Our (Black) people needed that hospital, especially with so many Blacks moving to the South Suburbs,” Stroger stated.

“And when you look at Provident, that hospital was the biggest economic engine in that community, plus Michael Reese (hospital) was going to close. It was just too important to close, so we went back to every department and scraped together every bit of money we could, and we kept those hospitals open and balanced the budget in our first year.”

In Stroger’s 2nd year, Cook County found itself $238 million in the hole again because “the union agreement increased every year. We had to solve the problem.” So Stroger along with Ralph Martire and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability came up with a plan that “paid the bills without taking it out on the employees or over burdening the taxpayers, but we knew we needed revenue.”

In 2007, after trimming as much waste as possible, making almost every reform suggested by advisers and critics alike, and even voluntarily signing on to the Shakman decree, President Todd Stroger passed a balanced budget that included a one penny sales tax increase.

“Not only was the budget balanced, it addressed the structural deficit created by the labor agreements that continue to increase every year, “ Stroger said. “When President Preckwinkle came in she basically replicated my plan, but when she cut the sales tax, she found herself back at square one.”

As Preckwinkle seeks to pass the same one-penny sales tax that many say was the deathblow to the Stroger Presidency, she is finding unlikely opposition.

“The sales tax may be the easiest for the County Board to pass, but it will be hardest on the working families when everyday purchases  – diapers, toothpaste, kid’s clothes – get more expensive. And it will be hardest on businesses who risk losing customers to Indiana or Will County. Cook County needs revenue to provide quality health services and a just criminal justice system, but a tax that hits the hardest on the hardest hit is not the way to go,” County Commissioner Bridgette Gainer (D-10) emphasized.

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer opposes the “Toni Tax”

The “Toni Tax” as it is being called will likely pass, but no politician ever wants their name directly associated with a tax. Just ask Stroger.

“The newspaper and media made my name and tax synonymous. Say tax and people said Stroger. Water, property…any tax was The Stroger Tax, and I only asked for one penny,” Stroger finished. “At least I kept the hospitals open for that penny.”