Tag: local government

Bruce Rauner launches war on local government in Illinois

As reported by WTTW-TV, the PBS-affiliated public television station in Chicago, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) has officially proposed prohibiting the creation of new local governments (cities, villages, etc.) in Illinois and allowing for the elimination of local governments via referendum:

Today, Gov. Rauner introduced a plan to reduce the number of local governments. He says it will save taxpayers billions of dollars every year, but some lawmakers say his plan has little chance of getting done.

[…]

The recommendations include:

  • A moratorium on any new units of government
  • Giving voters the ability to, via referendum, decide to eliminate or dissolve units of (government)
  • Eliminating the prevailing wage on union projects, which would allow for lower wages
  • Limiting collective bargaining for local government employees

As you can tell, two of those four proposals (specifically, the latter two of the above proposals) are clearly aimed at driving down wages in Illinois and stripping workers of their rights, which makes Illinois’s already broken economy even worse. Regarding the other two, one of them (the moratorium on new local governments) is clearly undemocratic, since I strongly believe that voters should have the right to create local governments, and the other one (allowing voters to eliminate or merge local governments via referendum) is something I would be open to supporting as stand-alone legislation (but not as part of a package proposal), depending on how it would actually work. While Rauner and his ilk think that suburban municipalities and townships in the Chicago area would be most likely to be consolidated or eliminated, the fact of the matter is that most consolidation of local government would take place downstate.

Not only is Bruce Rauner trying to undermine local control in Illinois, he’s also using his push to undermine local control to sneak in an anti-worker and anti-middle class agenda.

Bruce Rauner pushing more unconstitutional pension theft bills in Illinois

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is publicly pushing for more pension theft legislation here in Illinois, despite the fact that the legislation appears to blatantly violate the Illinois Constitution:

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday announced a massive pension overhaul bill that he said would save billions of dollars while incorporating reform ideas from various leaders.

The lengthy bill — all 500 pages of it — would cut retirement benefits for police officers, firefighters and public teachers. It would also give local governments a way to file for bankruptcy “as a last resort” after a review or the declaration of a fiscal emergency.

Cutting pension benefits that have already been guaranteed to our state’s public employees is explicitly unconstitutional, according to Article XIII, Section 5 of the our state’s constitutional, which states the following:

Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this year that a pension theft bill signed into law by then-Democratic Governor Pat Quinn in 2013 violates the Illinois Constitution because it cut pension benefits that are supposed to be guaranteed to those who are currently publicly employees once they retire. Bruce Rauner, State Senate President John Cullerton, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are supporting more pension theft legislation that is likely to get struck down by the courts for cutting constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefits to our state’s public employees. While our state has a major pension debt problem, it should be dealt with without cutting benefits to current public employees and retirees.

How the Republican agenda hurts rural Wisconsinites

I’m going to share something that Wisconsin State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), wrote for the Madison, Wisconsin-based newspaper The Cap Times a week and a half or so ago. In her op-ed, Hesselbein talked about how the Republicans’ state budget in Wisconsin hurts rural Wisconsinites especially hard:

  • On public schools, the Republican budget cuts $150/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts in the 2015-2016 school year and $135/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts over the biennium (the two-year period of the budget). Additionally, Republican Governor Scott Walker wants more charter schools, which get public funds that would otherwise go to public schools, in Wisconsin. Furthermore, the Republican budget cuts funding used to create homeschooling lessons and online educational materials, which are produced by Wisconsin MediaLab. These cuts could force some rural school districts in Wisconsin to consolidate, costing small towns jobs they need to survive.
  • On rural sanitation, Walker proposed, in the original state budget proposal, to eliminate a fund that helps low-income Wisconsinites replace failing septic systems, but it had its funds restored by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural roads, Walker proposed eliminating funding for removal of deer carcasses from rural roads in Wisconsin, which would have caused an even greater hazard to people driving in rural areas of Wisconsin. This also had its funding restored by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural health, the Republican budget eliminates both Wisconsin’s Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program and a loan forgiveness program designed to encourage medics to work in rural areas of Wisconsin. The program also cuts $25 million in Medicaid funding to most of Wisconsin’s community health centers.
  • On local government property insurance, Walker proposed eliminating Wisconsin’s Local Government Property Insurance Fund, which insures street sweepers, salt sheds, and other things that local governments in Wisconsin own and use to carry out street maintenance and other duties of local governments in Wisconsin. The City of Middleton, the Village of Waunakee, and the Village of Cross Plains, three incorporated municipalities in Hesselbein’s state assembly district, currently pay a combined total of $120,419 ($51,342 for Middleton, $49,214 for Waunakee, and $19,863 for Cross Plains) in premiums for insurance provided by the state’s local government insurance fund. If this fund is eliminated, local governments all across Wisconsin would have to pay more for local government property insurance from the private sector, if that kind of insurance is obtainable from the private sector. In its review of Walker’s budget proposal, the Wisconsin State Legislature delayed the demise of the program by two years.
  • On higher education, the University of Wisconsin Extension (UW-Extension) maintains a presence in all 72 Wisconsin counties, providing assistance to Wisconsinites in areas such as agriculture, 4-H youth development programs, and family living. Walker’s proposed funding cuts to the entire University of Wisconsin System (UW-System), which includes the UW-Extension, could result in the loss of 65 to 80 county-level Cooperative Extension positions, making it harder for Wisconsin’s farmers to get help they need from the UW-Extension.

Pointing out how Republican policies hurt people who live in small communities and rural areas is something I wish Democrats in Wisconsin and other states did much more often. However, unlike some other states, reaching out to rural voters is a necessity for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin for two reasons: Hard-partisan voters and the urban Democratic strongholds of the state don’t provide Democrats with enough votes to win statewide in Wisconsin, and suburban areas, outside of the heavily-Democratic suburbs around Madison, are some of the most Republican areas in the entire country. This is something that isn’t a necessity in, for example, my home state of Illinois, since the Chicago suburbs aren’t as staunchly Republican as the Milwaukee suburbs in Wisconsin are, so Illinois Democrats can win statewide with either an urban-suburban coalition or an urban-rural coalition, with most Illinois Democrats preferring the former, which, sadly, leaves rural voters in Illinois mostly ignored by Democrats. However, the urban-suburban coalition can’t be formed in Wisconsin, because the Milwaukee suburbs are the strongest of the GOP strongholds in Wisconsin, so it would take an urban-rural coalition for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin.

In short, Scott Walker proposed a budget that either would or would have cut funding to rural school districts, septic tank replacement programs, rural road maintenance, rural health care, local government property insurance, and university extension programs in Wisconsin. This would result, or would have resulted, in a lower quality of education for rural children, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time paying for septic system replacement, lower-quality rural roads, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time getting the health care they need, taxpayers having to pay more for insurance of local government property, and Wisconsin farmers having a harder time getting help from the UW-Extension. While Rob Brooks, a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Saukville, has outright admitted that Walker proposed a “crap budget”, the Republicans who run the Wisconsin State Legislature intend to keep some of Walker’s budget cuts that will make life for rural Wisconsinites harder.

Wisconsin Republicans and corporate Democrats attack a successful business

A large number of Republicans and twelve corporate Democrats in the Wisconsin State Legislature have decided to target a successful Wisconsin business: Union Cab of Madison Cooperative.

The Wisconsin State Legislature is on track to pass legislation, Wisconsin Senate Bill 106 (SB106), or, as I like to call it, the Julie Lassa-Cory Mason Bill to Revoke Local Control on Taxicab and Ridesharing Services, that would allow ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to operate statewide in Wisconsin with very few regulations. Ridesharing companies allow people who drive automobiles to offer rides to those who pay the ridesharing fee for a particular trip, usually via a mobile phone application that both the driver and the passengers are required to have.

These ridesharing companies engage in predatory practices that screw over customers, workers, and taxpayers. While I could write a 100,000-character blog post about the negative aspects of ridesharing companies, I’ll mention three of them in this blog post. First off, ridesharing companies screw over customers by raising their rates by using dynamic pricing, which is also called surge pricing. Surge pricing allows the ridesharing companies to raise their rates when their computer algorithms tell them that traffic is heavy, demand for rides is high, or something else that their algorithms factor in, such as, in at least one documented instance, a terrorist attack, allow them to raise their rates. Secondly, ridesharing companies screw over workers by taking a sizable chunk of the money that the drivers collect from offering rides. In some instances, ridesharing drivers are effectively paid a negative salary (i.e., effectively charged money to work) because the portion of the ridesharing fee that the driver keeps is less than the vehicle-related costs of the trip. Furthermore, ridesharing companies are a burden to taxpayers for two main reasons. First, taxpayers will end up on the hook for accidents involving ridesharing drivers who don’t have commercial automobile insurance. Second, there will be tons of lawsuits over liability claims over crashes involving ridesharing drivers, resulting in court cases that clog up the justice system and result in more taxpayer money being spent on trials.

However, the main reason why I oppose the Lassa-Mason Bill is because it’s clearly designed to take away local control from Wisconsin’s second-largest city, Madison, in regards to taxicab regulation. Furthermore, I highly suspect that this is part of a coordinated attack to put a successful business, Union Cab of Madison Cooperative, out of business for purely political reasons, something which I strongly oppose. Also, I strongly believe that any Democratic elected official who supports legislation that allows companies like Uber and Lyft to operate with very few regulations is effectively a traitor to the progressives who vote them into office, and I would have no problem supporting progressive-minded primary challengers to corporate Democrats who support the Lassa-Mason Bill and/or other parts of the political agenda of Uber and other ridesharing companies.

The Progressive Response to the Illinois State Budget Address

In his budget address today, Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a draconian budget that, among other things, includes deep cuts to Medicaid, higher education, and other important government services that many Illinoisans rely on and help make our economy strong. While our state’s current fiscal situation is unsustainable, Rauner’s budget proposal would actually make Illinois even worse off than it is now.

In his budget, Rauner proposed deep cuts to Medicaid, which thousands of Illinoisans who are not well off rely on in order to make health care more affordable for them. While any actual waste in the Medicaid program (Medicaid payouts to deceased people, etc.) should be eliminated, taking away health care benefits from people who rely on them would bankrupt thousands of Illinois families. Additionally, Rauner proposed taking money from higher education and giving it to K-12 schools in our state. While our state’s K-12 system needs more funding, to cut funding from our state’s public universities and community colleges in order to do so is the wrong way to do so. Additionally, Rauner proposed freezing property taxes and cutting state funding to local governments around the state. This would force many municipalities to cut police departments, street maintenance crews, and other important services, if not outright eliminate local government altogether.

In his budget speech, Rauner proposed gutting pensions, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance, as well as making it harder for Illinoisans to sue those who have wronged them in a significant way and make the Illinois tax code even more tilted toward the wealthiest people in our state than it currently is. To put that another way, Rauner wants to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it, as well as make it easier for businesses and other people and groups to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it.

Additionally, Rauner used his budget speech to advocate for items that do not belong in a state budget or budget speech, such as a proposed state constitutional amendment to enact term limits for many of our state’s elected officials. If it’s not a fiscal item, it doesn’t belong in a state budget or budget speech, and bringing up non-fiscal items in a budget speech is purely political grandstanding.

In his speech, Rauner compared himself to Abraham Lincoln and claimed that his budget would make Illinois a more prosperous state. First off, Rauner is no Lincoln. Lincoln believed that “labor is the superior of capital”. Rauner believes that capital is the superior of labor. It’s clear to me that Rauner has a completely different political philosophy than that of Lincoln. Also, while the bottom line of Rauner’s budget proposal may look good, what is inside Rauner’s budget is what really matters, and Rauner’s budget would make millions of Illinoisans far worse off than they currently are and lead to even worse fiscal crises in the future.

The Progressive Response to the State of the State of Illinois Address

Earlier today, Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of our state that we instinctively know as Illinois, outlined his plan to drive down wages, infringe on the rights of Illinois workers, and destroy an already weak Illinois economy.

Prior to giving his State of the State address, Rauner went around the state using PowerPoint slides to publicly bash our state’s public employees, whine about public employees being, in his view, overpaid, spread lies about worker’s rights and public employee pay, and blame public employees for our state’s fiscal problems. Additionally, it was reported yesterday that Rauner strongly hinted that he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for our state’s public employees. Given that Rauner has given his top administration officials pay raises and appointed a $100,000/year chief of staff to his wife despite the fact that his wife has no official duties whatsoever, for Rauner to give his cronies pay raises while wanting to drive down public employee salaries is blatantly hypocritical.

In his State of the State address, Rauner called for gutting our state’s workers’ compensation system, lowering property taxes while our state and local governments have billions of dollars in unpaid bills, allowing local governments and/or voters to bust unions at the local level, prohibiting project labor agreements, eliminating prevailing wage laws, and privatizing public education to benefit his political cronies. Rauner did have a few good ideas that he talked about in his address to the people of Illinois, such as banning trial lawyer donations to judicial campaigns, merging the offices of state comptroller and state treasurer, and increasing funding for early childhood education.

While there is no disputing the fact that our state is in a fiscal mess for a large number of reasons, the primary reason why our state is in such a fiscal mess is because the wealthiest Illinoisans, such as Rauner himself, don’t pay enough state income taxes thanks to an ridiculous provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits the General Assembly from passing legislation to tax the incomes of wealthier Illinoisans at a higher rate than the incomes of poorer Illinoisans. The flat tax requirement in the Illinois Constitution prohibits our state from raising the revenues that would be needed to pay off our state’s unpaid bills and put our state on solid financial footing. I would strongly support a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution to allow the General Assembly to levy a progressive state income tax in order to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Illinoisans, cut income taxes for the poorest Illinoisans, and put our state’s finances back on track. Additionally, I would strongly support eliminating all tax breaks for businesses, such as the ridiculous tax break that Sears and CME Group received a few years ago, as this would also bring in more revenue to the state that can be used to pay off unpaid bills.

Regarding public employee pensions, another reason why our state is in a fiscal mess, I would strongly support a pension reform proposal that would phase out the current public employee pension systems in our state, but still allow public employees who have paid into the current pension systems to still receive the benefits they’ve earned once they retire, and require all new state and local elected officials, appointed officials, and hired public employees who receive a full-time salary but had not previously paid anything into the current public employee pension systems in our state to pay into a newly-created public employee pension system that is designed to be fully-funded and provide our state’s future elected officials, political appointees, and public employees with a steady retirement income once they retire. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose any pension reform proposal that cuts benefits for those who have currently paid into the pension systems, creates a 401(k) system for public employees, and/or turns an existing pension system into a 401(k) system.

Regarding cutting spending, I would support an audit of the entire state government and every single county, township, city, town, village, and other type of local government entity in our state in order to find actual wasteful spending and propose common-sense solutions to cut actual wasteful spending and help save the state money in both the short term and the long term. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose cuts to public education, social services, and other government services that reduce the quality of service by our state and local government agencies.

Regarding strengthening our state’s economy, I strongly support raising the state minimum wage here in Illinois to $15/hour and indexing automatic, annual minimum wage increases to productivity. Additionally, I strongly support creating a North Dakota-style economic development bank here in Illinois to issue and/our guarantee loans to factories, farms, small businesses, and other types of businesses that have to be repaid in full with interest. These two proposals would lift thousands of Illinoisans out of poverty, establish a minimum wage that values work, and help entrepreneurs start up new businesses and create jobs without pocketing government benefits to simply pad profits. Busting unions and driving down wages is something I strongly oppose because those policies would do absolutely nothing to strengthen our state’s economy or empower Illinoisans.

Regarding campaign finance, ethics, and government reform, while a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United v. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped Rauner and his cronies buy the last gubernatorial election would be required to allow Illinois to enact meaningful campaign finance reform, I strongly support eliminating the conflicts of interest that are currently allowed by our state’s campaign finance system, such as a couple of conflicts of interest that Rauner mentioned, prohibiting unions from donating to candidates for public office that they’d have to collectively bargain with if said candidates are elected and prohibiting trial lawyers from donating to judicial candidates, and one that Rauner did not mention because he’s effectively opposed to it, prohibiting business owners and managers from donating to candidates for public office that could use the public office in question to directly benefit said business owners and managers if elected. Additionally, I would support setting the maximum campaign contribution for a statewide office here in Illinois at $250 and enacting even lower limits for state legislative and local offices. Additionally, I strongly support implementing a pair of public campaign finance systems, one for judicial elections and one for other non-federal elections. The judicial public campaign finance system would prohibit judicial candidates from receiving campaign contributions from other people and/or funding their own campaigns, require that all judicial candidates receive a set amount of campaign funds from the state, and require that judicial candidates receive the same amount of campaign funds from the state that their opponents receive. The public campaign finance system for other offices would allow candidates for those offices to receive $4 of state funding for every $1 they receive in contributions and/or self-fund their campaigns with. Additionally, I would support enacting what I like to call the Bruce Rauner Rule, which would outright prohibit candidates for statewide office here in Illinois from donating or loaning more than $100,000 of their own wealth to their campaign, and set even lower self-funding limits for other offices. On term limits, I would support limiting the offices of governor and lieutenant governor to one elected term, limiting the other state executive offices to two elected terms, limiting state senators to five elected terms, and limiting state representatives to eight elected terms, and anything stricter than that would receive my opposition. Some other government reform ideas I support include allowing Illinois voters to recall all non-federal elected officials, converting the Illinois General Assembly into an unicameral legislature with at least 177 members via a state constitutional amendment, and amending the Illinois Constitution to establish a truly non-partisan redistricting process for congressional and state legislative districts.

Regarding reforming the criminal justice system, I strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating recreational marijuana, which would reduce the incarceration rate in our state and provide our state with much-needed tax revenue. Additionally, I’m open to various ideas to reform the criminal justice system in order to make our prison system more about rehabilitating convicted criminals instead of simply punishing them and make our criminal justice system more fair. For example, one idea that I strongly support would be requiring independent investigations of deaths that occur in the hands of state and local police here in Illinois.

Regarding education, I strongly oppose implementing school voucher programs here in Illinois, expanding charter schools, or any other school privatization scheme. I strongly support repealing Common Core State Standards and replacing them well-rounded, developmentally appropriate K-12 academic standards developed by the state and are held accountable by measures other than assessments and standardized tests. Additionally, I strongly support getting rid of the emphasis on career preparation in K-12 education, since I believe that career preparation should be the responsibility of higher education institutions, not the K-12 system. Also, I strongly support increasing funding for public schools in our state and making our state’s K-12 school funding system fairer to poorer school districts.

Illinoisans are worth more than speeches, political buzzwords, and PowerPoint presentations about driving down wages, busting unions, and making our state’s economy even weaker than it currently is, and Illinoisans are certainly worth more than Bruce Rauner’s far-right policies to drive down wages, bust unions, and destroy our state’s economy. It’s time for Illinoisans to push for progressive policies to protect workers’ rights, strengthen our state’s economy, put more money into the pockets of poor and working-class Illinoisans, provide a world-class education system for our state’s K-12 and college students, and provide for a more perfect Illinois.

How frac sand mining companies are buying influence at the local level in Wisconsin

In the small cities of Blair, Wisconsin and Independence, Wisconsin, which have fewer than 3,000 people combined and are both located in Trempealeau County in the west-central part of the state, frac sand mining companies are getting around a county-issued temporary moratorium on sand mining, which serves an even more dangerous industry of fracking for oil and natural gas, by asking the two cities, which have weaker regulations on sand mining that supercedes the county’s regulations within the borders of the respective cities, to annex mining sites.

In the case of Blair, a sand mining company is literally bribing local officials into annexing their mining site into the city:

Sometimes there’s cash upfront. One company offered $1.5 million to the City of Blair — population 1,379, plus two mines — if the city annexed another site.

Cities like Blair and Independence also offer more-permissive rules for mines than the county. “We let them work 24 hours, ‘round the clock, you see, where the county don’t,” says Blair’s mayor, Ardell Knutson. Rules around noise can also be less strict.

This is not simply frac sand mining companies getting creative. This is outright bribery of local elected officials to annex sand mining sites into municipalities that have weaker regulations than the county or town (as townships are known as in Wisconsin) regulations that the mining sites. This flagrant corruption is putting the health and quality of life of many Wisconsinites at risk, as sand mining sites that operate continuously make it difficult, if not impossible, for nearby residents to sleep in their own homes, and sand mining sites put workers and nearby residents at risk of contracting silicosis, a breathing disorder caused by inhaling silica dust.

I’d like to thank James Rowen of the Wisconsin progressive blog The Political Environment for bringing this to my attention.