Statehouse Insider: Feeling of optimism is going, going ...
Do you ever get the feeling sometimes that you’re reliving the Blagojevich experience only this time with an honest governor? That, once again, we’re seeing high hopes turned into zip?
It’s been a while now, but remember when ROD BLAGOJEVICH won the governorship and was taking office, before we knew what he was really about?
Admit it now. There was a sense of hope that things would change from the GEORGE RYAN years and Blagojevich would actually lead the state on a different, more ethical path. And then there was the colossal letdown as it became obvious that Blagojevich wasn’t going to do that and, in fact, was going to be one of the worst governors this state ever had.
No one will suggest Gov. PAT QUINN has the same ethical deficiencies as his predecessor. But when he took over from Blagojevich, wasn’t there a similar feeling of optimism that things were going to turn around? Instead, Quinn’s engaged in a series of flip-flops on issues and committed a series of missteps (like the early-release program) that’s dissipated most of that optimism. Just last week, Quinn had to explain how he managed to fire his inspector general on the same day he was briefed on a report from the inspector general that his now ex-chief of staff had violated state ethics laws.
There just seems to be a growing sense that this could be another case of a governor with a lost opportunity.
* The Quinn administration said it was merely revising rules on nonunion furlough days when it decreed that workers could schedule furlough days to coincide with vacations and personal days. Another way of viewing it is another flip-flop.
The change means workers can fulfill some or all of their 24-day furlough requirement without losing pay, depending on how many days off they have coming. That’s good news for the workers, who now won’t lose as much money. But Quinn’s whole argument for furloughs in the first place was that the state needed to save money. To save money, those furlough days have to be unpaid days off, not paid vacation days.
It makes you wonder how well thought-out some of this stuff is before it’s put out there.
* On that note, Quinn last week revised his ideas for an income tax increase. He’s long pushed for a 33 percent increase, the proceeds of which he said would be dedicated to education. He’s often put it in terms that an income tax increase will result in property tax relief.
In theory, a school district that got more money from the state would need to rely less on local property taxes in order to balance the budget. Quinn, though, suddenly went a step further when pushed by reporters to explain the link between higher income taxes and lower property taxes. He said he will push for legislation requiring school property taxes to be cut if the income tax is increased. That was the first anyone heard of that idea from Quinn.
Depending on how it’s done, cutting property taxes to offset an income tax hike could mean no additional money for schools. True, cutting property taxes will be politically popular, but voting to raise the income tax when it won’t mean more money for schools may not fly.
And considering the way the General Assembly operates, lawmakers could end up trying to have the best of both: voting to cut property taxes and then chickening out on an income tax hike.
* Quinn’s Republican opponent, Sen. BILL BRADY of Bloomington, broke his own new campaign ground last week.
He said he wants to create a special state fund that will be used to provide tax relief. That apparently would be on top of his plan to cut taxes in general.
That’s a real fine idea. The state doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills now … so we’re going to set aside some of that nonexistent money to provide tax relief.
Maybe it will come from all of those budget cuts Brady says he’ll make, but has yet to identify.
* No Blagojevich retrial until January? Say it ain’t so. Can we at least get a gag order on him between now and then?
Doug Finke can be reached at 217-788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.