CN May 14, 2015


The Illinois house today voted 72-0 (with 37 Republicans voting “present”) against a proposal Governor Rauner’s been promoting to create so-called opportunity zones in Illinois – zones where union membership would be optional, along with the payment of union dues.

The proposal didn’t impress Sun-Times columnist and Channel 7 commentator Laura Washington. It would’t do much, even if it passed, to fill up the State’s empty cash drawer, but it’s been occupying a lot of the Governor’s time, she says.

“There’s been a lot of consternation in Springfield by lawmakers who say – wait a minute, he was supposed to be this fiscal genius,” she tells us. “He was a CEO who’s so successful, he’s gonna come in and solve all our problems. And where is he? He’s going on tour, and talking about stuff that’s not gonna do anything to balance the ledger.”

For a few weeks, it appeared that Mike Madigan, the enigmatic Democratic House Speaker and legendary power broker, might be able to get along with his new Republican Governor.

“It seemed like it was going pretty well,” says Sun-Times political reporter Natasha Korecki.  “They came up with this $1.4 billion agreement to fill last year’s budget. Everyone said, wow, let’s see more of this. They got together, and then a couple of weeks later, Governor Rauner’s team on Good Friday cut $26 million in social services – after Mike Madigan on the House floor said, autism won’t be cut. Social services won’t be cut.  We saved this, this and this. So it just crumbled…and ever since that point, you’ve seen this complete downward trajectory between the two of them.”

“I think what it shows is Rauner’s lack of political experience, which is something we should have expected,” adds Washington. “Yes, he’s a very successful businessman, yes, he’s created companies, but he had no, zero, zilch political experience coming in here. And if you want to come in and run a state like Illinois, that puts you in a world of hurt if you don’t have that kind of experience.”

Mayor Emanuel hasn’t been able to come up with much in the way of big solutions either. His attempt to negotiate some concessions from City labor unions has been shot down by the Illinois Supreme Court, so he’s essentially back at the starting line four years after assuming office.

“He’s trying to put the onus of solving the problem on the folks who are not responsible for it – the unions in particular,” Washington explains. “He says over and over, the unions need to come to the table. I’m willing to work with them, we have a dire situation here, so it’s up to you to solve the problem. In an interview this weekend he wouldn’t even rule out bankruptcy for the City. I don’t believe for a minute that this man wants to see the City go bankrupt on his watch. But this is this sort of doomsday rhetoric to try to pressure the folks on the other side of the table.”

“Even if they come to the table and they do negotiate and give some concessions, it’s still not enough,” Korecki adds. “He has to raise taxes, and I think everyone knew that during the election.”

And both panelists agree that with increased competition and the development time-line, a casino wouldn’t bring in nearly as much money as it’s supporters claim. “That was his answer during the campaign, says Korecki. “Well, I’m gonna have a casino. But even if it happens, it’s not gonna solve the problem.”

In any case, the bond-rating agencies have all down-graded Chicago, in Moody’s case, to junk status (But, ironically, not Illinois.) Yet, with full knowledge that a finanical armageddon was approaching, the Legislature and incoming governor allowed the temporary income tax increase to expire.

“So now we’re in a much bigger hole,” Korecki asserts. “We’re seeing all kinds of studies showing that residential property taxes in the City are among the lowest. We have a flat state income tax. We’re among the few states with a flat tax. There’s all kinds of structural issues with how we tax in the state, and it’s caught up to us. Besides the big pension issues we’ve talked about forever – politicians borrowing from the funds, not making payments, getting pension holidays, and that’s been going on for decades. Now you have the Supreme Court saying – you have to pay up. You can’t keep doing this, you can’t find a way around it. Pay.”

Spike Lee made news today, appearing with Father Pfleger to assure Chicago that he would, indeed, be here this summer to film “Chiraq”. It’s a controversial project, because Aldermen such as Will Burns a a number of prominent political leaders and commentators have said it will harm Chicago’s image and possibly suppress tourism. Washington’s not having any of it.

“What I like is Spike Lee’s angle on black-on-black crime,” she claims. “Because I think that’s something that’s been under-reported and hasn’t been discussed enough. This is not about outsiders coming in and destroying our communities. We, in many ways, African Americans are hurting our own communities with the violence, and I think that’s what Spike Lee wants to focus on.”

And we close with  some talk about the Obama Library. It’s a good thing, all agree. But we ask if maybe it’s time to acknowledge that, no matter what, the Obamas won’t be coming back to Chicago. Nobody’s going to catch them eating omelets at Velois.

“We don’t see them even showing up at their house,” Washington explains. “They come to Chicago frequently now and they don’t even go to their house. I think they’re gone, and I understand that. They’ve got children who have to finish their education and who they want to be stable for the next several years. And then, you know, New York is the place to be if you want to be an international, or even a national player. And the Foundation has to have some roots in New York, because that’s grand central for  the philanthropic world.”

Oh, and Laura Washington does not think that Michelle will ever get into politics.



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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