Illinoisans: Vote “No” on the Unfair Tax Amendment

By John Ruberry

I’ve mentioned this profound sentenced from a 2016 Chicago Tribune editorial several times here before at Da Tech Guy. “As a result, Illinois government,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote, “is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.”

It’s actually worse than than that. Illinois is a racket where elected politicians, many of them legislators in gerrymandered districts created by longtime party boss Michael Madigan, rewards pals with unionized jobs. Those unions are public-sector unions such as AFSCME and SEIU, which plow campaign contributions from dues money into the coffers of Democratic politicians who protect unaffordable pension plans from any cuts. Okay, I know, in accordance with the state constitution pension benefits cannot be lowered. An amendment to that document to allow pension reform is vehemently opposed by Illinois Democrats. 

Instead the Dems are pushing what they call the Fair Tax Amendment which will allow for a state income tax with graduated rates, currently only a flat rate is prohibited. Eight states, including Florida, Nevada, Texas, and Tennessee, which coincidentally are popular destinations for escapees for Illinoisans, have no state income tax. Most Illinoisans, we are promised by the pols hawking the Fair Tax Amendment, will see a tax cut, albeit one that is a pittance. If what I call the Unfair Tax Amendment passes, the “rich” will pay more but mark my words. Springfield politicians are liars and the tax rates will reach down in a few years to the middle class and the working poor. That’s because the rich will leave and those left behind will get stuck with the bill. Oh, the others will leave too. Don’t forget, Illinois has lost population every year since 2014.

The Fair Tax Amendment is on the ballot for Illinois voters to decide in November.

As I’ve also mentioned here before, Michael Madigan, the state House speaker for 35 of the last 37 years, has had his fingers on every state budget, and every failed pension fix, for decades. Those “fixes” for the most part kinda-sorta solved the pension crisis for five years or so. Which means they solved nothing.

If you trust Madigan to fix Illinois’ pensions and finances then you are a fool. The Prairie State’s second-most powerful politician, another Chicago Democrat, Governor J.B. Pritzker, was arguably put into office by the Madigan machine. Illinois’ lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton, first run for public office, a state House seat, was a victorious one. In a very expensive race Stratton defeated another Democrat who dared to cross Boss Madigan. The Boss of Illinois even convinced Barack Obama to go after Stratton’s opponent.

In a conference call on Thursday Stratton threatened Illinois residents with a twenty-percent across the board income tax hike if the Unfair Tax Amendment fails. In 2017 the General Assembly overrode Republican governor Bruce Rauner’s veto to raise income taxes by 32 percent. Still at the end of 2019, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability went up by $3.8 billion to nearly $140 billion. Well, that tax hike didn’t work. Keep in mind Pritzker’s heavy-handed COVID-19 lockdown, which has severely impaired state revenues, promises to provide more financial shocks. 

And I want to be clear, some Republicans, namely governors James Thompson, Jim Edgar, and George Ryan, deserve some of the blame for Illinois’ predicament. Democrat Rod Blagojevich, the recently freed convict who supports Donald Trump for president, was equally irresponsible in fiscal matters during his time as governor. Edgar supports Joe Biden over Trump. Man, oh man, is Illinois a crazy place.

Illinois cannot tax itself out of this human-made disaster. A Fair Pension Amendment, one that protects modest pensioners and Illinois taxpayers, is the best way out. Followed by a Fair Map Amendment. Madigan’s Picasso-like gerrymandering skills in drawing maps puts his lackeys in office in the General Assembly. For the most part the Illinois legislature functions like a private country club, one that allows a few Republican members inside to make it look genuine. Twice in the 2010s hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters signed petitions to put a Fair Map Amendment on the ballot. Twice an attorney with ties to Madigan successfully sued to block it

How adept at gerrymandering is Madigan? In 2014, GOPer Rauner won 101 of Illinois 102 counties and defeated the incumbent Democratic governor. But Madigan didn’t lose a single seat in the state House that year and he kept his supermajority in the lower chamber. Yes, I’m aware that the GOP gerrymandered districts in 1991. That’s wrong too.

Illinois government is a failure.

And one party does not have all the right answers. Yes, that includes Republicans. Which is why we need two parties.

The Fair Tax Amendment is really a public-sector worker pension plan bailout where millions of Illinoisans, who don’t have a fixed-benefit pension plan, will pay for ones who do.

As I wrote in my own blog last week, “If Illinois politicians are ever given an unlimited budget–they will exceed it.”

The cure for a heroin addict isn’t a larger dose of heroin.

Illinoisans: Vote “No” on the so-called Fair Tax Amendment. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Update on the continuing Illinois Exodus

By John Ruberry

I’ve been writing here about the Illinois Exodus for several years. The COVID-19 outbreak, as it has many other societal trends, is accelerating the people drain. But two rounds of riots and looting, one after the homicide of George Floyd, and the second last month, after false rumors that Chicago Police had killed a man now charged with murder, are gut punches that the city will not quickly recover from. 

In my DTG post-second riot post about the decline and fall of the city, Welcome to Detroit, Chicago, I wrote, “But when Chicago’s downtown area is dominated by boarded up store-fronts with signs declaring ‘Move in now–lease rates reduced again–first month free!’ you’ll know the downtown descent is well under way.” The vacancy rate for luxury units in downtown Chicago are at their highest level ever recorded according to Mike Flannery (more on him in a bit).

I haven’t been downtown since that “Detroit” entry, but on my own blog, Marathon Pundit, an automated Google Ads banner from a downtown Chicago apartment building offered this promo, “First two months rent free.”

Decline and fall.

And keep in mind that over seventy percent of Chicago’s economic activity comes from the downtown area. And Chicago is of course Illinois’ largest and most important city.

Downstate things aren’t much better. AP is reporting on three towns in St. Clair County, which is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, that are considering merging because of “severe population decline.” St. Clair County, like Chicago and Cook County, are Democratic strongholds where corruption is widespread.

Large swaths of downstate Illinois have been facing population losses for decades, for instance Iroquois County, an agricultural powerhouse that is just 55 miles from Chicago’s city limits, saw its population peak in 1900. Universities have allowed other downstate counties to buck that trend, but enrollment was struggling at many of these colleges before COVID-19 hit. Business Insider last week compiled a list of the “30 college towns that could face economic ruin if schools don’t reopen or have to close again this fall.” Two of them are in Illinois.

The Prairie State has lost population for six straight years. It’s a safe bet that when the counting is over for 2020 it will be seven.

On the usually-worth watching–Fox Chicago’s Flannery Fired Up, three cheerleaders for the city and one moderate skeptic talked about its descent and for the most part, it’s quick bounce back. But this weekend’s episode was an aberration. The show sucked. It was up to the host, Mike Flannery, to bring up the two 800-pound gorillas in Chicago’s otherwise looted basement: rampant corruption and the worst-funded municipal pensions in the nation. 

Since 1973 over thirty members of Chicago City Council have been sentenced to prison. At one time he was the city’s most powerful alderman, but now Ed Burke is under indictment for allegedly shaking down a fast food franchisee. Do you want to bring your business to Chicago? You may have to endure having your pockets picked by a pol. Or by several of them.

Where do I sign up?

Burke has been an alderman since 1969. Chicago needs term limits. And so does Illinois. Boss Michael Madigan, who is from the same part of the city as Burke, has been speaker of the state House since 1983 except for two years in the 1990s when the Republicans had a majority in the lower chamber. Madigan is also a Chicago ward committeeman. He’s been chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997. Illinois’ most powerful Dem is also currently under investigation as part of an evolving federal corruption probe that has already ended the careers of several Chicago and suburban politicians

There is no way out of Chicago’s pension bomb other than a municipal bankruptcy, one that may also force many city vendors to go under, or a federal bailout. Even if the the Democrats capture the Senate and the White House in November, such a rescue for irresponsible spending, a backhanded reward really, faces tall odds in Washington. But under current Illinois law, government bodies are prevented from declaring bankruptcy.

The “moderate skeptic” on Flannery Fired Up mentioned transportation as a city selling point. While O’Hare is one of the world’s busiest airports–it used to be ranked first in traffic–and Chicago is a rail hub and it has many miles of interstate highways, that “expert” needs to drive on Chicago’s streets. They are falling apart. 

And if you don’t own a car and you use your feet to get around? Watch out, walking on crumbling sidewalks often requires strong ankles and a steady balance. 

Violence in Chicago was declining over the last few years but shootings are way up since the pandemic was declared.

As I’ve mentioned before, like an alcoholic, Chicago’s cure won’t begin until it admits complete and utter defeat. 

That point has not been reached. But it’s probably coming soon.

As it is for the rest of Illinois. The state’s pension programs are almost as poorly funded as Chicago’s.

Decline and fall. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Lori Lightfoot believes she deserves security on her block, but not Chicago’s peasants

North Michigan Avenue in June after Chicago’s first round of looting this summer

By John Ruberry

If you need more proof that America’s elite class feels that there are rules for them but not you, then take a look at Chicago’s floundering mayor, Lori Lightfoot.

America’s third-largest–for now–city isn’t at the abyss, it’s in it. Riots, looting shootings, unsustainable pension debt, and a declining population are what defines her Chicago. To be fair, the public worker pension bomb is largely the creation of Richard M. Daley, mayor of Chicago for all of the 1990s and 2000s.

Streets are regularly blocked off–not by police–but by protesters who don’t even bother apply for a rally permit. One march eight days ago, which was hampered by a poor turnout, had as its goal to close off off Interstate 90-94, known as the Dan Ryan Expressway, on the South Side. The right to peaceful assemble does not include blocking off an expressway, which, according to a police friend of mine, breaks a state law: unauthorized entry on to an interstate highway. I find it hard to believe that Chicago cops can’t find a law to allow them to arrest people who block traffic elsewhere in the city. 

That march was a Trojan horse for agitators. The protest migrated to downtown, where it ended violently–even Lightfoot has ascertained that fact, telling Face the Nation, “What we’ve seen is people who have embedded themselves in these seemingly peaceful protests [emphasis mine],” she admitted, “and have come for a fight.” Downtown Chicago and the Near North Side earlier that week was struck by widespread looting, and that round of mayhem delivered a blow that the city may never recover from because 70 percent of Chicago’s economic activity comes from the downtown area.

As I wrote in this space last Sunday, Welcome to Detroit, Chicago.

One popular rally site has been the block in Logan Square on the Northwest Side where Lightfoot lives. But backed by a heavy police presence, protests are now banned there.

“I think that residents of this city, understanding the nature of the threats that we are receiving on a daily basis, on a daily basis, understand I have a right to make sure that my home is secure,” Lightfoot said last week.

Public figures receive threats regularly. If you don’t like that then don’t run for political office. But Mayor Lightweight is clueless on this fact. She’s clueless on many other things, but that’s another matter.

“That’s not what my wife and my child signed up for,” she declared while defending her action. “It’s not what my neighbors signed up for. We have a right in our home to live in peace.”

Meanwhile, murders in Chicago are up 50 percent this year over 2019 and they were 139 percent higher in July alone. Many business owners and their employees are coping with two rounds of looting in a little over two months. They are dreading increases in their insurance coverage–some are considering closing their boarded-up doors for good. 

So much for the peasants’ right to “live in peace.”

Chicago police officers are working twelve-hour shifts to address the protests that often turn violent and the dramatic spike in shootings. There aren’t cops in Chicago sitting around looking for things to do. Duh! But Mayor Beetlejuice has her praetorian guard in front of here home, who last night arrested six protesters. All of them by the way, are from out of state, which belies the meme of the left that the protests are spontaneous outbursts by locals. 

What else is going on in Lightfoot’s home base in Logan Square? Earlier this month a 14-year-old was told, “You’re a racist and you ain’t gonna do sh*t,” by a man as he allegedly stole the kid’s bike. It’s too bad there wasn’t an army of cops there when that happened, although the suspect was arrested a half-hour later after he allegedly committed two more crimes

And of course there is no army of police officers on each block of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods on the West and South Sides. As for violent crimes in the city it’s not just about guns. Last week a serial stabber of sleeping homeless men was arrested. Will Lightfoot blame knives-from-Indiana for those attacks, one of which was fatal?

On Saturday Black Lives Matter is planning a march on North Michigan Avenue just north of downtown. The area is, for now, known as the Magnificent Mile. It is, for now, packed with many retail stores. Don’t forget, a Chicago Black Lives Matter organizer said of looting, “That is reparations.”  My guess is that the protest will be allowed tp proceed. Many people live on the Mag Mile too. My suggestion to them is to pool their funds and buy a condo for Lightfoot and pay her moving expenses. 

And then there will be no more protests on North Michigan Avenue.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit

Welcome to Detroit, Chicago

By John Ruberry

About twelve hours after I finished my DTG post last week about Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s get-tough policy on sunbathers in Chicago at Lake Michigan, Chicago became Detroit. That’s not to say that you can now drive for miles in America’s third-largest city–for now–and see nothing but a few lived-in homes among the vacant lots and abandoned houses. Just as you didn’t encounter that in Detroit after the destructive riots there a few days after the 1967 riots faded away.

The Motor City hit rock bottom in 2013 when it declared bankruptcy.

These things take time. Detroit is turning things around now. But its vacant lots will be there for many years.

“Seventy percent of Chicago’s economic activity takes place in and around downtown,” Mike Flannery said last night on his Flannery Fired Up program on Fox Chicago, “and it’s in more peril now than ever before.”

And that’s where the looting, likely directed by Antifa, was centered late last Sunday night and early Monday morning–in and around downtown. Flannery called it “Sad, organized-crime looting.”

So the simple story is that economically speaking, the heart of Chicago is the Loop and North Michigan Avenue, the latter has been known as the Magnificent Mile for decades. You kill that and Chicago dies. Welcome to Detroit.

Last Sunday afternoon a 20-year-old Englewood man was shot by Chicago police officers; he has since been charged with first-degree attempted murder. The accused allegedly shot at the police. A rumor spread online–or was it a manufactured lie?–that the cops shot instead shot an unarmed 15-year-old boy in the same impoverished Englewood neighborhood.

Then came the looting later that night.

The coordinated manner of the looting consisted of mobile criminals, a few of them armed, that quickly descended on the Mag Mile. Some of them came with specialized tools such as drills to hasten the break-ins. There were reports of U-Hauls being packed with stolen goods. The thieves were more organized, Flannery remarked, than the 400 police officers dispatched downtown to confront them.

Much like the people of Englewood, the residents of the downtown area–and the business owners–don’t feel safe there. That’s not to say the folks of the South Side–or the even-worse off West Side–don’t deserve to feel safe. They certainly do. Some of that 70-percent-of-Chicago’s-economic-activity makes its way to the city’s poverty-stricken areas. Should they receive more of it? Probably, but that discussion will belong to shoulda-happened-looking-back rants that you’ll find on Reddit soon.

A few days after the most recent round of looting it was reported that Macy’s is considering leaving the glitzy Water Tower Place mall on North Michigan Avenue, or just perhaps they’ll just downsize there. Under the Marshall Field’s name Macy’s was an original tenant of the mall. What of the smaller operations, the family-run retail outlets who have been devastated with two rounds of looting in just over two months? When they leave, because they don’t have the big names, it won’t make big news. But when Chicago’s downtown area is dominated by boarded up store-fronts with signs declaring “Move in now–lease rates reduced again–first month free!” you’ll know the downtown descent is well under way.

As for the residents of the Loop, the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview, unlike those people in Englewood, they can afford to move and swallow selling their homes at a loss. A lot of them will. “Why should I stay here?” many will wonder, “there is so much crime, there are no good restaurants here, and there are no decent places to shop.”

You don’t believe me? Here’s what Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd), a Lightfoot opponent, said on that same Flannery Fired Up show. He decried “the economic devastation and the blow to our collective psyche,” as well as “the sense that people have that they can’t live here anymore, their safety is at risk if they try to live here.” Hopkins believes with the right actions Chicago can be saved. Lightfoot certainly knows that she is facing a severe crisis. But I suspect because she is an ideologue she is incapable of instituting meaningful policy changes.

Right now I believe that for Chicago it’s a matter of mitigating its decline and fall. The looting and riots are of course just a symptom. Chicago hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1931 but it’s best-known mayor–and possibly its best-ever–was machine boss Richard J. Daley, who ruled America’s then-second-largest city with an iron fist from 1955 until 1976. He was a New Deal Democrat–with a strong law-and-order bent. But Lori Lightfoot is Chicago’s first leftist mayor. After the spring round of looting and riots she seemed more interested in protecting the rights of protesters than protecting citizens and businesses. Sadly the line between rioters and protesters in 2020 is blurry and that sentiment was expressed by a Black Lives Matter organizer who said last week in front of a Chicago Police station about looting, “That is reparations.”

Yesterday a march on the South Side evolved in a violent confrontation downtown between protesters and the police. Cops were attacked with mace, one police officer was repeatedly struck with a skateboard.

Who brings mace to a “peaceful” protest?

The elected prosecutor of Cook County is another leftist, Kim Foxx, Jussie Smollett’s protector, who in one of her first acts in office announced that she would not prosecute shoplifters charged with stealing merchandise worth less than $1,000, even though state law gives a $300 threshold. For the last three years–Foxx was elected in 2016–retail strips have been hit by flash mobs of shoplifters, including some on the Magnificent Mile.

Many accounts of this latest round of looting mentioned that the criminals seemed emboldened. Of course they are.

Chicago has other serious problems. Its municipal pension programs are the worst-funded of any major city. Detroit’s fall was hastened by enacting a commuter and municipal income tax in 1963. Chicago doesn’t have either of those but it has its pension bomb. So does Cook County and the rest of Illinois. Lightfoot, to be fair, didn’t create the Chicago pension crisis. It was Boss Daley’s son, Richard M., another long-serving mayor, who bears most of the responsibility for that disaster.

Welcome to Detroit.

If there is a way out for Chicago, here it is. State law needs to be changed so municipalities and government agencies can declare bankruptcy. This move will in the short-term be painful as pensioners will receive a “haircut” and vendors will end up with ten-cents on the dollar or so for money owed to them. And the federal government needs to allow states to do the same.

Yep, just like Detroit.

I’m not gleeful about such a move. I have friends and relatives who are collecting those pensions. And as a man of the private-sector I don’t like seeing businesses getting short-changed. As a property owner living just five miles from the city limits I might get caught up in the financial tsunami too.

But the money wasn’t there for pensions in Chicago before COVID-19 and the riots. There’s less of it now.

I was born in Chicago and I’ve lived one-third of my life there. This story is tragic.

Agitators in Chicago complain of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy.” Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. Lightfoot, Foxx, as well as the Cook County president, Toni Preckwinkle, are African-American women. Chicago’s new police chief is a black man, he succeeded another African-American male. The chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court is a black man too.

Another way to cushion Chicago’s fall is its citizens to vote, regardless of party-affiliation, for leaders who are results-oriented and not ideologues.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

After the statues are gone the leftists will come for the parks

George Washington statue in Chicago’s Washington Park

By John Ruberry

Early Friday morning before sunrise Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s sneaky order to remove Chicago’s two Christopher Columbus statues, one just south of downtown at Grant Park and the other in Arrigo Park in the Little Italy neighborhood, was carried out.

A week earlier a riot, where 49 police officers were injured with 18 of them being hospitalized, broke out at the Grant Park Columbus statue, fireworks and frozen bottles of water were thrown at the cops by the rioters. Amazingly, the media, as far as I can tell, didn’t call this melee a “mostly peaceful protest.” So there is a bit of good news in this story.

Although removal of the statues was called “temporary” by Lightfoot mark my words: If these bronze monuments ever escape from the Raiders of the Lost Ark-type warehouse where they are hidden, they’ll end up indoors in a museum behind bullet-proof glass and proximity alarms.

At my own blog, Marathon Pundit, I called it a victory of the rioters’ veto. The anarchists won–law, order, and tradition were defeated.

Even before the riots and the overreaching COVID-19 lockdown, Chicago and Illinois were losing population. The trickle will become a flood.

Mayor Lightweight believes she has satiated the leftist beast–her base is the far-left by the way. But the regular protests outside her home by that base of hers should serve as a warning. Now that the Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other leftists have learned that riots bring results, they’ll push for more. Power gained, or I should stay seized, is not casually abandoned by usurpers.

City parks may be next.

This is not just a Chicago story. I’m only singling out America’s third-largest city because of my familiarity with it. They same battles will be coming to your woke city and town too.

There are over 600 parks within the Chicago Park District. One of them is named for Columbus. I’d be surprised if a year from now the great explorer’s name will be on it. There’s a Jackson Park on the South Side, where the Obama Presidential Library will be built. That park is named for Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder who forced Native Americans out of the southeast on the Trail of Tears. Chicago doesn’t have an Obama Park. It’s pretty easy to predict what Jackson Park’s new name will be.

About a mile away from Jackson Park is Washington Park, of course our first president. Up until a few months ago I would have told you that changing the name of this park was an absurd notion. In this era of wokeness, it’s not. On the edge of the park is a statue of General Washington on horseback, which was recently vandalized. Washington Park offers the leftists a two-for-one bargain. A park to be renamed and a statue to topple.

Last week Douglas Park, named for Abraham Lincoln’s Democratic rival Stephen A. Douglas, was renamed Douglass Park, in honor of civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass. The legacy of “the Little Giant” is complicated, through his wife he was a slaveowner and his Kansas-Nebraska Act initiated the carnage of Bleeding Kansas, but as a US Senator he laid the foundation that transformed his adopted hometown of Chicago into the major city it is now. Douglas was a fervent supporter of the Union and Lincoln after the Civil War broke out, which is forgotten because he died in the summer of 1861. Last month I wrote that the Lincoln and Douglas statues on the sites of their famous 1858 debates could be endangered. So far they are safe. But Michael Madigan, the longtime state House speaker and state Democratic chairman, though a statement (Boss Madigan rarely communicates directly with the media), has called for the removal of the Douglas statue on the state capitol grounds.

Douglas is buried in a tomb on the grounds of his former Chicago estate on the South Side. No one, so far, is calling for him to be exhumed but three state legislators want to take down the statue of him, which rests on a 30-foot high obelisk.

Today, I join with my colleagues @RepTarver@LamontJRobinson to implore @GovPritzker to remove the Stephen Douglas statue from the Neighborhood that I live in & rep. Douglas looked down on black people during his life. We shouldn’t allow it in his death. pic.twitter.com/qDu7n1b5le

— Kam Buckner (@RepKamBuckner) July 14, 2020

Back to the parks. Chicago has two parks honoring Thomas Jefferson, and a Battle of Fort Dearborn Park. That last one refers to what was called the Fort Dearborn Massacre when I was a kid. The battle was between soldiers and Chicago settlers with the Potawatomi.

Will those park names vanish?

When the leftists win the park wars they’ll move on to street names. A tougher fight, yes, as businesses and even run-of-the-mill residents balk at such name changes. But those conflicts are coming to Chicago and many other cities and towns.

Unless ordinary folks stand up, that is. A few have already did so in Chicago Saturday’s Back the Blue march.

That’s a start.

John Ruberry regularly blogs just north of Chicago at Marathon Pundit.

Feds strike at Democratic corruption in Illinois on two fronts

By John Ruberry

As WIND-AM radio host Dan Proft says, “Illinois isn’t broken, it’s fixed.”

And the biggest fixer of all in Illinois is Boss Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997, speaker of the Illinois House, except for two years, since 1983, and Democratic committeman of the 13th Ward since 1969.

As I’ve mentioned many times before in this space, Madigan, among many other things, is a walking advertisement for term limits. I didn’t call him a walking-and-talking advertisement for term limits, because Illinois’ most powerful politician infrequently speaks to the media.

On Friday Boss Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme involving Illinois’ largest utility, Commonwealth Edison, part of the Exelon Corporation. ComEd, in a deferred prosecution agreement, is charged with one count of bribery. ComEd, according to the filing, admitted that it gained $150 million in rate structuring over the last eight years. Which means that Illinoisans like me have to pay more for electricity.

ComEd has to pay a $200 million fine. If the utility behaves over the next three years the bribery charge will be dropped.

The bribe scheme involves the utility rewarding contracts and jobs–some of them allegedly little-or-no-work—to Madigan cronies. Madigan is not named by the feds but he is widely believed to be the person labeled Public Official A in their paperwork.

Illinois’ weaselly Democratic governor, JB Pritzker, the state’s second-most powerful pol, had this to say later on Friday about the man whose political machine arguably gained him the Democratic nomination in 2018, and hence the governor’s office in the general election, “If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore.”

But Pritzker has his own legal problem. The aggressive U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, John Lausch, in an investigation involving the former Cook County assessor, Joseph Berrios, is believed to be looking at Pritzker. Berrios is the former chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine. Berrios has long ties to Madigan and it’s generally believed that Madigan was the impetus for Berrios’ unanimous election as chairman of the Cook County Dems in 2007.

A billionaire, Pritzker and his wife, MK, had the toilets removed from a Chicago Gold Coast mansion that he owns and that is adjacent to the one he lives in. Allegedly the commodes were removed so JB’s residence could receive a $330,000 property tax break because the mansion next door was “uninhabitable.” Also on Friday, news broke about the investigation of the Cook County assessor’s office involving other 100 properties. Many of the tax appeals filed were handled by a small law firm where Boss Madigan is a name partner. A law firm where Chicago alderman Ed Burke is a partner–he is under indictment for racketeering–handled some of the other appeals.

The Pritzkers later paid the county back the $330,000 he saved. JB and MK deny any wrongdoing. However, the Cook County inspector general called the toilet removal appeal a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers such as myself.

Back to Madigan.

The jobs Madigan allegedly pressured ComEd to hand out allegedly include a real plum, a board of directors seat at ComEd. That person, not named by the feds, got the seat but he is no longer on the board. Some students who live in Madigan’s Chicago ward received internships from ComEd. While internships may not involve a paycheck, job offers can follow. Madigan’s office even directed the utility to hire meter readers for ComEd.

According to someone prosecutors named Individual A, “We hire these guys because [Madigan] came to us. It’s just that simple.”

Boss Madigan is widely considered to the man behind the fiscal crisis that has destroyed Illinois. The Prairie State is burdened unsustainable public-worker pension debt. Public-sector unions have been a loyal cog for Democrats in Illinois for decades. Madigan’s fingerprints are on every Illinois budget since the early 1980s. Yet Madigan somehow finds the time to tell which meter readers ComEd should hire.

Illinois has $4.8 billion in unpaid bills, the lowest amount since 2015. But a $1.2 billion federal loan designed for COVID-19 relief deserved the credit. Loans, by the way, are supposed to be paid back.

Illinois has been annually losing population since 2014.

As for alleged Madigan strong-arming, the feds aren’t just looking at Commonwealth Edison. Madigan’s state office was subpoenaed on Friday, allegedly authorities were seeking records involving AT&T (disclosure, I worked for them for 11 years), Walgreens, Rush University–and a whole lot more.

Through a spokesperson Madigan denies any wrongdoing.

While Donald Trump’s chances of winning Illinois this fall are miniscule–part of that reason is the Illinois conservatives are demoralized because of Madigan’s obscene gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts–reelecting Trump may be the best way to ensure a thorough prosecution of Democratic corruption in Illinois. Americans, we’re all in the same boat. A Joe Biden pick for the Chicago area’s chief federal prosecutor might be less enthusiastic about going after Madigan and the Illinois culture of corruption.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

My suggestions for Illinois’ bankruptcy auction

Blogger at the Damen Silos

By John Ruberry

Last week I suggested that Illinois, arguably the most broke state in America, put itself under receivership to fix its dire financial problems, which include nearly $8 billion in unpaid bills and an astounding $138 billion in unfunded pension obligations.

I chose receivership as bankruptcy is not a legal option for the fifty states. Then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered bankruptcy as a possibility, so it appears he’s open to changing the law so financially reckless blue states, Illinois, as well as New York and California, can call into one of those 800 lines that advertise on television late at night offering Chapter 11 as a salvation. (Okay, I’m kidding on the 800 line.)

Oh, Mitch, your home state of Kentucky also has a financially anemic public worker pension fund.

So state bankruptcy is no longer a pipe dream, although Illinois and New York’s Democratic governors, J.B. Pritzker and Andrew Cuomo respectively, immediately dismissed McConnell’s sound idea. But right now these blue states are acting like old-money aristocrats who believe bankruptcy is beneath them even though their income stream has dried up and their trust funds are depleted.

When there is a bankruptcy there is often a liquidation sale. Illinois has many valuable assets. Not enough to cover the $7 billion in unpaid bills–let alone the $138 billion in unfunded pension obligations–but the Land of Lincoln has to begin somewhere to dig itself out of the hole created by irresponsible politicians from both parties. So here are my suggested on what needs to go.

The Damen Silos: Illinois has owned the abandoned grain silos at Damen on the Sanitary and Ship Canal on Chicago’s South Side since the 1970s. It’s a popular spot for urban explorers–I’ve been there–and for graffiti-taggers. An explosion scene for Transformers: Age of Extinction was filmed at the silos. But the state has owned it four over four decades. Get rid of it. The location is also near Interstate 55. While demolishing the site will be pricey for the new owner which will drive down the selling price, every dollar counts during Illinois’ financial emergency. As it stands now, the Damen Silos are a towering monument to Illinois incompetence.

Illinois’ governor mansion: The last Illinois governor to live full-time in America’s third-oldest governor’s mansion was Republican Jim Edgar, he of the failed “Edgar ramp” pension rescue. He left office in 1999. Another Republican gov, one-termer Bruce Rauner, led the recent private efforts to restore the residence, which was in poor shape. The renovation cost $15 million. The project was completed last July. Four months later Pritzker trounced Rauner in his reelection effort.

Sell the mansion. It can be central Illinois premier luxury B&B. In fact it can be America’s premier luxury B&B.

When Illinois’ governor needs to be in Springfield there are plenty of hotel rooms to choose from there. Or the state can buy a humble bungalow for the governor.

A whole bunch of state parks: Illinois has 142 state parks. Many are tiny and little-visited. Illini, William G. Stratton (named for a governor who was indicted for tax evasion), Jubilee College, and Gebhard Woods state parks immediately come to mind as expendable. At least of half of Illinois’ state parks need to go on the auction block. Illinois has a very popular state park that I’m thinking of that I’ll talk about later.

The former Tinley Park mental health facility: Governor Pat Quinn shuttered the sprawling 250-acre site in 2012. There are toxic wastes that need to be cleaned up. But in real estate, of course, the most important concern is location, location, location. And the old asylum has a great one, at Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street in southern Cook County a few blocks away from an Interstate 80 exit.

Illinois Department of Transportation snow plows: Snow removal and the spreading of salt on roads where IDOT bears maintenance responsibility should be privatized.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield: The Disney-esque ALPLM was the brain-child of Julie Cellini, the wife of longtime state contractor and power-broker William Cellini. A Republican, William got caught up in the Rod Blagojevich scandals which earned him a short stay in federal prison. Julie envisioned the state-owned library and museum as a way to upgrade Springfield as a tourist destination as opposed to merely being a two-hour detour and bathroom stop for travelers on I-55 who visited the Damen Silos in Chicago earlier in the day. It hasn’t worked. And it appears that the ALPLM was conned when it purchased $25 million worth of Honest Abe artifacts, the centerpiece of that swag was a stovepipe hat that was said to be worn by our 16th president. Except that there is no evidence that Lincoln ever wore that hat. At onetime the ALPLM owned a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. Who knows what other unrelated treasures that are gathering dust in closets there? Well here is one: There are five copies in Lincoln’s handwriting of his Gettysburg Address. All of them are considered priceless but a since-fired ALPLM director lent the one the library owns to a tiny museum owned by Glenn Beck for a paltry $50,000.

Illinois is incapable of running the ALPLM.

Lincoln’s New Salem: A twenty-minute drive north of Springfield near Petersburg is Lincoln’s New Salem. This was Lincoln’s first home away from his parents. The town lasted only ten years but it is central to Lincoln lore. This spot, consisting mostly of rebuilt log cabins, has many visitors, primarily kids on school field trips, but its value to buyers grows if it is packaged with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Young Americans for Freedom owns the former Ronald Reagan Ranch in California. Perhaps they might be interested in the above sites tied to our first Republican president too. Hey, Disney might want to grab them for a Lincoln Land attraction. Is that a dumb idea? Well it is not as dopey as buying a Marilyn Monroe dress for a Lincoln museum.

The James R. Thompson Center in Chicago: Colloquially known as by its original name, the State of Illinois Center, it was designed by renowned German-American architect Helmut Jahn. Great artists are capable of colossal flops, after all Prince released several unlistenable albums, and Jahn’s Thompson Center is the turd in his career punch bowl. The heating and cooling systems have never worked well and they are expensive to operate. Its marble floors are slippery when visitors bring in snow from their shoes and it snows a lot in Chicago Ironically its atrium is supposed to be a monument to openness in government. But under the decades-long tenure of Boss Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the speaker of the Illinois House, government in Illinois has not been transparent at all. The building is named for James R. Thompson, the Republican governor who signed the three-percent annual compounded pension raise into law. Governors back to Blago have suggested selling the white elephant, which sits on prime real estate in downtown Chicago.

Starved Rock State Park: Illinois’ crown jewel in its state park system is Starved Rock in LaSalle County. Desperate times call for drastic action and that is why the Prairie State needs to sell its most-visited state park, which includes an NPS-style lodge with cabins. Private industry can do a much better job running the park, which has crumbling roads, and perhaps new owners build a couple of more lodges. What did I say about location earlier? As with the former Tinley Park mental home, Starved Rock is a short drive from I-80.

What are your suggestions for things and places for divestment by Illinois?

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois should put itself under receivership over pensions

Blogger two years ago

By John Ruberry

“As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.” Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in 2016.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Rahm Emanuel in 2009.

Last week the president of the Illinois state Senate, Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), sent a letter the state congressional caucus, a gerrymandered lot–more on that latter–asking for $41 billion in aid in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The devil is in the details–Illinois is a hellish place—and in that letter from Harmon is a request of $10 billion to fund its woefully-underfinanced public pension plans.

Illinois’ pension crisis goes back decades. In 1989 Governor Jim Thompson, a Republican, signed into law an annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living-adjustment for the state’s public pensioners. But the funding wasn’t there. His successor, Jim Edgar, another Republican, seemingly placed a fix into the system in 1994, “the Edgar ramp,” which started with low payments for the 15 years of his plan. But by that time, when the “ramp” was to kick in, Great Recession arrived. And there were “pension contribution holidays” before then. When the 2008 economic collapse hit Rod Blagojevich, who was as bad as math as Edgar and Thompson, was governor.

In the early 1990s pension payments consumed four percent of the Illinois budget–now it’s 25 percent. The state-controlled public pension plans are only about 30 percent funded.

All that time–except for two years–powerful Chicago Democrat, Michael Madigan, has been speaker of the state House.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 19,000 state pensioners collect more than $100,000 annually. On average these pensioners paid a paltry $160,000 into their retirement plans. What a great deal!

New Jersey and Kentucky have public pension funding issues that are as bad, or perhaps slightly worse, than that of Illinois. Will they be asking for pension bailouts next?

Cutting the three-percent COLA has been tried–it was ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous decision by the Illinois Supreme Court because of the pension guarantee clause in the state constitution. Repealing that clause is the smart thing to do but it’s a politically tall hurdle. Such an amendment would likely have to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Thanks to Madigan, a skilled gerrymanderer who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, there are Dem supermajorities in both chambers. Two attempts by petition to effectively ban gerrymandering by way of a constitutional amendment was struck down in court. Allies of Madigan were behind the anti-Fair Map suits. The petition process to amend the Illinois constitution is deeply flawed. 

The organized labor wing of the Democratic Party, the public sector unions, won’t remain quiet if pensions are challenged. Hey there unions, you contributed to this problem too. In 2005 most public service unions signed on to that year’s pension holiday.

Last week Fitch lowered its bond rating for Illinois to BBB- with a negative outlook. That’s one level above junk.

I’m against an Illinois pension bailout by the federal government. For the most part. But if such aid comes in the form of an International Monetary Fund-style rescue package with conditions that Illinois cleans its fiscal house, such as dropping the 3-percent COLA and taking aim at the top pension earners, those six-figure retirees, I’m willing to listen. 

But receivership is best. Okay, let me dream a bit. As Chicago architect Daniel Burnham said a century ago, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I know, states are viewed as sovereign entities and cannot, as Detroit did in 2013, declare bankruptcy. But what if Illinois agrees to a strings-attached receivership deal? An emergency manager can be appointed. Pritzker, or whoever is governor if receivership comes about, can still handle the ceremonial stuff, such as ribbon cutting for a new bridge and placing bets with other governors when Chicago sports teams are playing for a league championship.

Oh, I’m thinking loans from the feds, not handouts.

As badly funded as Illinois’ pension plans are, many local government pension systems are in worse shape. Illinois municipalities and government agencies, unlike those in Michigan, cannot do so under current state law. That needs to change too.

On a personal note, several friends and relatives of mine are collecting state pensions. Money that was taken from their checks every two weeks for their retirement was instead spent on lord-knows-what. They deserve to be angry and that fury needs to be directed at every Illinois governor from Thompson through Blagojevich. And of course at the Where’s Waldo of Illinois failure, Boss Michael Madigan. He deserves the most rage.

Let me be clear: I don’t take my pension reform views lightly.

Prior to Harmon’s bailout request, the latest pension fix idea was a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Illinois flat income tax guarantee and replace it with a graduated one. That amendment will be presented to Prairie State voters in November. My guess is that it will fail. And even if the graduated income tax amendment passes, the additional revenue won’t be enough. Illinois, which has had negative population growth for six straight years, can’t tax its way of the mess.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit

Illinois corruption investigation breaks wide open with guilty plea of state senator for bribery over red-light cameras and more

By John Ruberry

Last Sunday in this space I wrote about the need to ban red-light cameras in Illinois–and nationwide. One of the reasons I gave was that the easy cash collected from these “safety devices” fosters corruption. Oh, as far as safety, I mentioned in that post that the record on safety involving red-light cameras is at best mixed. They may even cause automobile accidents.

On Tuesday former Illinois state senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), who has close ties to longtime state House speaker Michael Madigan–who also is the chairman of the state Democratic Party–pleaded guilty to bribery, tax evasion, and extortion charges in federal court. Sandoval is now cooperating with the feds.

Sandoval is the former chairman of the senate Transportation Committee. Using the clout from that post, he promised to “go balls to the walls for anything you ask me” to a representative of the red-light camera firm referred to as “Company A” in the plea agreement.

So far that company has not been officially named but perhaps in a verbal misstep, told a judge, “I accepted money in exchange for the use of my office as a state senator to help SafeSpeed, or Company A.”

SafeSpeed denies wrongdoing and in a statement says it is cooperating with federal authorities. 

Politicians are nervous. This weekend on his Fox Chicago show Flannery Fired Up, host Mike Flannery said, “This red light camera company–suddenly candidates, Republicans and Democrats in Springfield and elsewhere are racing to get rid of this money as if it was infected with the coronavirus. ”

Prosecutors say that Sandoval accepted $250,000 in bribes, including $70,000 in bribes to benefit the red-light camera industry. 

It hardly seems that the industry needs the help. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois drivers have handed over $1.1 billion to municipalities in fines involving red-light camera infractions. Illinois’ largest city of course is Chicago so it won’t shock you that it has more red-light cameras than any American municipality. Chicago, as I also mentioned in last week’s DTG entry, has already endured its own red-light camera scandal. The central figure in that scandal worked his way up the ranks in Boss Madigan’s Chicago ward organization.

Part of the federal investigation involves lobbying done on the behalf of Commonwealth Edison, the local electrical utility.

As far as public interest, the jaded residents of Illinois will have reasons to keep their attention focused on these scandals. Why?

  • Because people hate utilities.
  • They hate red-light cameras.
  • They hate politicians.

Yes, people keep re-electing the latter, but Boss Michael Madigan, the Michelangelo of gerrymanderers, mocks the electoral system by creating legislative districts that all but ensures Democratic super-majorities in the Illinois General Assembly. 

And increasingly, people hate Illinois. The Prairie State has lost population for six straight years. And no, cold winters aren’t the reason. The states that border Illinois, as well as nearby Michigan, are gaining residents. 

As nauseum pols and media figures are calling–again–for “meaningful reform” in Illinois. Here are my suggestions: Amend the state constitution to ban gerrymandering, and bring term limits to the General Assembly–four terms in the House and two in the Senate. Majority leaders, minority leaders, House speakers and Senate president should be limited to four-year terms. And while we are amending the constitution, the pension guarantee clause needs to dropped, but while protecting those recipients on the lower and of the pension scale. 

Did you know that state legislators can be paid lobbyists? Ban that too.

Also, the state needs a strong inspector general with the power investigate General Assembly members. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois red-light camera probe provides convincing evidence why they should be banned

Chicago’s Northwest Side

By John Ruberry

There is a lot of red-light camera news in Illinois. As part of an overall corruption investigation in the state, federal authorities are into looking into the activities of Chicago firm, SafeSpeed, LLC, which installs red-light cameras in some Chicago suburbs.

Last week the mayor of west suburban Oakbrook Terrace, Tony Ragucci, resigned. He is part of that SafeSpeed probe. Federal agents have also have raided the municipal offices of the villages of McCook, Summit, and Lyons in conjunction with this investigation. A state senator who is part of the red-light camera probe, Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) has since resigned.

Last year federal authorities seized $60,000 from Ragucci’s home, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and $51,000 from a safe from Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski’s residence. Tobolski is also the mayor of McCook.

SafeSpeed’s CEO denies any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed regarding the firm.

In 2017, the Forest Park Review called SafeSpeed a “clouted company.”

Something stinks in Illinois. Actually, something new stinks in the state.

Red-light cameras are a cruel cash cow. At best their record in preventing accidents, the prima facie for them, is mixed as evidence shows out of fear of a $100 ticket–the charge in Illinois–motorists often abruptly slam on the brakes but then end up getting rear-ended.

As the nation’s most corrupt city, it shouldn’t be surprising that Chicago has more red-light cameras than any other municipality. Nor should it be surprising that it has endured a bribery scandal involving red-light cameras. John Bills, a former precinct captain in Michael Madigan’s political organization, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for accepting $2 million in bribes and gifts from a different red-light camera company, Redflex.

Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for thirty-five of the last thirty-seven years and he’s been the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1998.

Three paragraphs ago I called red light cameras a cruel cash cow. How much cash? From 2008 through 2018, drivers forked over $1 billion to municipalities. Not a major reason, but I suspect the proliferation of red-light cameras, most of which are concentrated in the Chicago area, as among the causes of Illinois’ six-years-and-counting population decline.

Here’s a personal take on red-light cameras. Thursday night Mrs. Marathon Pundit, who is a limousine driver, called me. “You have to pick me up at O’Hare Airport.” I replied, “Why?” She answered, “There is a boot on my limo.” Yes, one of those wheel boots. When I picked her up at O’Hare she supplied more details. “The city says there are four unpaid red-light tickets, two of them are from 2018, but the office says they were never told about them.”

Okay, you may answer that one of her co-workers could be covering up inaction at the office. But in order for her employer to receive a city vehicle sticker for the limo she drives, all red-light camera tickets must be paid off. But the limo she drives has the latest Chicago vehicle sticker.

Those four tickets cost her employer $988, which included late charges and sending someone out to the car to remove the boot. Not knowing what was coming next, Mrs. Marathon Pundit parked her limo in a short-term lot, so her fee–which we have to pay–was a staggering $77. As it took all day Friday to sort out this debacle, my wife missed a day of work. She’s not on salary.

I’m certain hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have similar stories.

There is some good news regarding red-light cameras. Last year Texas became the eighth state to abolish them. And in a rare bipartisan push, there is a movement in Illinois to ban them. And Illinois drivers now have a new friend, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. The Chicago Democrat says she’ll no longer assist municipalities in collecting red-light camera tickets. “As a matter of public policy, this system is clearly broken,” Mendoza said in a statement, “I am exercising the moral authority to prevent state resources from being used to assist a shady process that victimizes taxpayers.”

Good for her. 

Red-light cameras should be banned. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.