Posted by Leave a Commenton Wednesday, April 13, 2016 |
Eric Zorn’s Commentary Grade: An Epic F
The Chicago Tribune‘s Eric Zorn has a whopper of a column out slamming Bruce Rauner’s performance so far as Illinois’ governor.
In equally surprising news, the sun rose in the east this morning.
Let’s break it down now, shall we?
Bruce Rauner is a failed governor.
Good job of not burying the lede.
Fifteen months after the wealthy Republican private equity investor was sworn in to his first elected office, the state he was elected to lead is in worse shape by nearly every measure than the state he inherited from his Democratic predecessor.
The backlog of unpaid bills is higher, as is the unemployment rate and the largest-in-the-nation unfunded public pension liability. We were one of just six states that showed a net loss in private sector jobs last year. Accordingly, our credit rating has continued to fall, meaning it will cost us even more than anticipated to dig out of a financial hole that’s growing at an estimated rate of $33 million every day.
Let’s be clear why the state is in “worse shape” now than it was 15 months ago. Illinois is facing massive system failure. We haven’t had a balanced budget in more than a decade, we have the nation’s largest unfunded pension obligation, and we have a government that has for years and years made promises that it can’t possible afford to keep. All of these problems were set in motion and existed long before Bruce Rauner was elected. And, despite Rauner’s desire to begin to defuse this ticking time bomb, he has run into a seemingly immovable object in the Democrats’ legislative supermajorities.
Illinois still doesn’t have — and at this rate probably never will have — a budget for the fiscal year that began last July, which has put many human service providers and public colleges and universities into a financial crisis.
A problem the legislative Democrats could solve with their supermajority powers. I feel like a broken record here.
Now, yes, it’s quite true that Rauner didn’t create the underlying economic problems facing Illinois — those came about due to decades of irresponsible governance, some of it bipartisan, much of it Democratic.
Hey! We agree!
But he’s made those problems worse.
He campaigned for office promising to “shake up Springfield.” Instead he has cold-cocked it.
I’m not sure what that even means. But it sounds fun! Can I cold-cock Springfield, too?
By refusing to negotiate on the budget until the Democrats who control the General Assembly enact key provisions of his pro-business, anti-union agenda, he’s not only generated an unending number of heart-tugging stories of disadvantaged and disabled people suffering from a loss of state funding, he’s also created a climate of uncertainty that makes employers and credit-rating agencies wary.
This is just false. Rauner has been so willing to negotiate that he’s negotiated with himself, by relenting to the idea of putting a tax increase on the table, which he said he didn’t want to do, ‘t it comes in exchange for some of the reforms in his Turnaround Agenda. The only one who has steadfastly refused to negotiate is House Speaker Mike Madigan. He’s the only one wanting Rauner to surrender on every front to perpetuate the status quo in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to the powers that be.
How these people continue to blame Bruce Rauner when he’s the guy with the least amount of power in Springfield would be baffling, if not for the obvious political agenda in doing so.
Also, there’s that term “anti-union” again. Just like we saw a few times the other day from Rich Miller. It’s almost like these guys are reading from the same script or something! Weird!
Calling him a failure may sound harsh, but it’s fittingly Rauneresque.
After all, he bashed away at Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn during the 2014 campaign, branding him a “complete failure,” “a massive failure” and so on, even though, under Quinn, the unemployment rate, discretionary spending, and the number of state employees had fallen, and even though Illinois was at last making the required contributions to the state’s pension funds and whittling down the backlog of bills.
That would be because Quinn did it by further burdening Illinois taxpayers in the here and now with his “temporary” income tax increase to fix up some of the landscaping when the house was burning down. Illinois’ problems are structural. The pension system, which is the biggest issue, has made promises that it will never be able to afford to pay out. The idea that we should celebrate Pat Quinn for making the legally obligated payments into that system while never even considering making changes to make it more affordable into the future is ludicrous.
Quinn, at best, fiddled on the margins if a rapidly failing state. And this is to be celebrated, while the guy who campaigned on a promise to starting addressing the core causes of the crisis is to be branded a failure, because he can’t single-handedly surmount the intransigence of Democrat supermajorities in the legislature. Because, reasons. I guess.
Earlier this year, Rauner whacked his wine-drinking buddy, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, by charging that Emanuel has “failed on public safety, he’s failed on schools, he’s failed on jobs in the neighborhoods, he’s failed on taxes, he’s failed on reforms.”
Oh! The horror! He drinks wine! Such an elitist.
By the governor’s own standards, he’s failed on jobs, on human services, on pensions, on the debt and on the deficit.
Let just ignore that Emanuel presides over a Chicago City Council that is 49-1 Democrats, and that has traditionally been a rubber stamp for the mayor. And, that he’s a member of the same political party that controls supermajorities (sorry to keep pointing that out, but since no one else can seem to be bothered to do it, I feel I have to) in both houses of the legislature. OTHER THAN THAT, RAUNER AND RAHM ARE PRETTY MUCH IDENTICAL.
He has failed to build consensus and bipartisan trust, failed to build political momentum with incremental victories and failed to show any talent for leadership over a divided government.
The Republicans control the governor’s office The Democrats control both houses of the legislature to the extent that they can cut the governor completely out of the process if they so choose. So, yeah, sure, I guess calling this “divided government” is technically true. And, like nearly all things that are “technically true,” they really aren’t in any meaningful way.
Sure, Democratic legislative leaders have stood squarely in his way, as they sometimes stood in Quinn’s way, refusing to OK even the most popular items, such as legislative term limits, on Rauner’s so-called turnaround agenda.
You don’t say!
Who didn’t see that coming? The Democrats, predictably, hung on to strong majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly in the 2014 election as Rauner was beating Quinn with 50.3 percent of the vote.
…to Quinn’s 46.3% of the vote. A four point margin of victory. Which most people who call pretty significant, especially when you add that Rauner won every county in the state except for Cook.
But, yeah. Who didn’t see that coming? That’s kind of my point here. Democrat leaders, who wield far more power than Rauner, have been intransigent and unwilling to compromise. I’m glad Zorn has finally come around to acknowledging this. Only 15 paragraphs into a screed blaming the other guy for standing his ground in the face of that wholly predicable obstruction.
Yet the new governor swaggered into office as though he’d won a mandate that would force veteran Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and his caucus to enact a Republican wish list of structural changes. He used his bully pulpit to brand Madigan and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton as failures and to insinuate that they’re crooked.
Swagger and insult work when you’re a CEO taking over a troubled company or, sometimes, when you’re an elected official with legislative winds at your back. But not when you’re a rookie governor holding a weak political hand.
He failed when he tried to go city-by-city throughout the state shortly after his inauguration to build local support for his agenda. He failed last year when he paid “superstar” budget consultant Donna Arduin $165,000 for eight months of work in which she did little but help him craft a spending plan for this fiscal year that relied on $2 billion in phantom savings. He failed in February when he put forth a budget for next year with a $3.5 billion hole in it. He failed last month in the primary elections when he tried to unseat a Republican state senator who’d cast pro-union votes and tried to retain a Democratic state representative who’d supported him at key moments.
I don’t think Rauner ever expected to get every prong of his agenda implemented in one fell swoop. And, if he didn’t, he probably should have expected exactly what he’s dealing with now. But I imagine he expected to would be able to swap a tax increase (which he’s already put on the table) for something, anything. Instead, he’s been told to drop everything from his agenda and just go along to get along, which has been the motto of Illinois Republicans for years. Given the man’s personal and financial success in life, I don’t know why anyone is surprised that he hasn’t just rolled over.
And he’s failing every day that he doubles down on the idea that if the state’s economic woes just get bad enough, if unfortunate people just suffer enough, Democratic lawmakers will break down and vote as Republicans.
Again, the one way blame here. Madigan and Cullerton are counting on exactly this breaking down Republicans and Governor Rauner to get them to do what people like Zorn and Rich Miller have been calling for: capitulate. No mention of that, of course. I’ll just assume it didn’t make it through the editing process.
Can he turn things around? Stop overreaching and picking unnecessary fights and start practicing the art of the possible?
Ooooooh, can he?
Sure. He has 33 months left in this term to show himself as a statesman and visionary tactician, the author of the Illinois Miracle, instead of the foundering ideologue he has so far appeared to be.
But, of course, Madigan isn’t an ideologue, right? No calls for him to be a statesman. Or a “visionary tactician.” No, Bruce Rauner alone must become of the author of the “Illinois Miracle” of surrendering to the Democrats who run the state where math is an opinion.
But for now and until further notice, call him “Failed Gov. Bruce Rauner” and hope that, somehow, the title doesn’t stick.
The only way he becomes “Failed Gov. Bruce Rauner” is by doing exactly what Zorn and others so desperately want. Give up, and pretend that Illinois isn’t a state that’s on fire, that has made promises it can never afford to keep, and just give the Democrats who (mostly) created this mess exactly what they want.
And if he does, the people he will have failed are the ones who will be left to pay for it.
Last week, AFSCME Council 31 released a short online video taking some swings at the Illinois Policy Institute:
All in all, this is pretty ho-hum stuff, and just about what you’d expect rhetorically from AFSCME. Up to and especially including the obligatory, “Ahhhh, the boogeyman!” mention of the Koch Brothers.
But let’s take a quick look at some of the liberties AFSCME took with this video.
First up, the Chicago Tribune column from Diana Sroka Rickert. Rickert is VP of Communications at IPI, and regularly publishes a guest column in the Tribune. Here’s the freeze-frame from the video where they highlight the headline and the byline:
Notice the byline. Now look how it actually appears on the Tribune‘s website:
Just a name. No identifier. Here’s now the identifier shows up in a footer at the bottom of the column, emphasis mine:
Diana Sroka Rickert is a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute. The opinions in this essay are her own.
I’ve looked, and I can’t find where this article appears with the byline as displayed in the AFSCME video. I’m left to assume that the video image has been edited to add “a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute” behind Rickert’s name or to remove the second half of what appears in the footer, clarifying that “the opinions in this essay are her own.”
The second part is important. Rickert is not writing this piece in an official capacity for IPI. She’s expressing her own opinions. I would like to imagine that AFSCME would appreciate the same courtesy being extended to their members and officials when expressing their opinions in a private-citizen capacity and not as speaking on behalf of AFSCME. Otherwise, it’s fair game to attribute everything AFSCME members say to the union itself. Things like, perhaps, this.
Also left on the cutting room floor? The real, complete thrust of Rickert’s proposal:
Lay off the entire state workforce, and close the pension system. Work with the General Assembly to open a different retirement plan for newly hired government workers, modeled after the nation’s most popular retirement vehicle: the 401(k). Then offer to rehire state workers under the new retirement plan.
Guess they forgot to mention that whole “hire them all back part.” Oops.
Overall, there’s no sourcing for anything in this video. Most political campaign ads include some kind of citations where, if you’re really interested, you can go find and examine their justification for the claims being made. But AFSCME doesn’t tell you where you can find any context for what they’ve chosen to excerpt here.
For example, they’ve attributed the words “abandon pensions” to IPI CEO John Tillman. A quick Google search for John Tillman “abandon pensions” returns no results. And even if I stipulate that Tillman has said these two words consecutively at some point in time, there’s no way to access any greater context for those remarks. They’re two words. I imagine if we went back through the statements of AFSCME officials we could have some tremendous fun excerpting two-word phrases out of context from their greater statements.
Later on, the video asserts that IPI’s agenda is to “Wipe Out Unions.” Their justification for this claim is this:
Establishing local right-to-work zones = “wipe out unions?”
First of all, we’re only talking about localized right-to-work zones. In this particular case, this is about legislation that was approved in Lincolnshire that only governs that village. Simply put, there are unions within right-to-work zones. There are 26 right-to-work states in the country, including union-heavy Michigan. There are unions existing and operating within all of those states. The only difference is that there are no closed shops. No one has to join a union (or pay tribute) in order to take a job and work in those states. They can choose to. But they’re not compelled against their will.
Claiming the establishment of local right-to-work zones is tantamount to “wiping out unions” is absurd, and pretty self-indicting the part of the unions. What they’re really saying is that they believe when people are extended a choice on whether or not to join a union, people will overwhelmingly choose not to join, thus resulting in the union being “wiped out.” They’re saying that they themselves believe unions are only sustainable when people are coerced and compelled into joining and supporting them. What does that say about unions?
If this is really the best that AFSCME has to offer, then that’s pretty weak sauce.
There are plenty of people who are disenchanted with the current election cycle. But I think it’s safe to say that Reboot Illinois publisher and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Madeleine Doubek is not looking forward to this fall’s state contestso:
Why should we care about what happens in contested state legislative races all over the state this year? Each really is about the battle for control between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. You knew that, but perhaps you didn’t realize we all will lose no matter who wins.
I can empathize with the general feeling. I’ve accepted that, for me, this year’s presidential election ends in tears no matter what happens. I’ve taken to describing it as the Alien vs. Predator election. Whoever wins… we lose:
Anyway, let’s get to why Doubek thinks this:
Every election cycle, there typically are a couple dozen hotly contested state legislative races, even after one political party or the other gets done rigging maps in their favor. Each party in both chambers has seats they can swipe from the other side. It’s in those races, traditionally, where most of the money is raised and spent.
This year is no different. But where it has changed, is that Republicans now are energized because of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner changes the political landscape in Illinois with his determination to shake up Springfield and his bottomless checking account. After years and years of failure, Republicans have their best shot in decades at winning the nuclear arms race that is funding and winning campaigns. …
Rauner shook up Springfield all right. Now, instead of one dictator, we now have two.
Rauner and Madigan control how much money goes into the key races like never before.
Tthe importance of money to political elections is generally overstated. Yes, it’s important. But it’s not everything. If you think money is everything, be sure to tell that to people like Republican Presidential nominee Jeb Bush or Illinois U.S. Senator Blair Hull. Or Bryce Benton, who challenged State Sen. Sam McCann, backed by a large amount of money, and lost by a sizable margin. They’re all examples that spending all the money in the world can’t make people vote for you if they don’t want to.
And the “dictator” line is just ridiculous hyperbole.
But this general consternation over how much money is being spent in Illinois political races, of the type being expressed here by Doubek, seems to be a recent phenomenon. And, at that, one prompted mostly by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s regular and significant investments in Republican candidates and infrastructure.
But for years, House Speaker Mike Madigan was the central bank of political contributions in the state. He controlled a fortune that was doled out to the candidates of his choice. And yet, it seems that far fewer people ever batted an eye at that hegemonic control of the campaign purse than they are at Rauner’s attempts to level the playing field for Republican candidates.
How can we constituents fight to be heard when the politicians all owe their jobs to Madigan and Rauner?
I’d say they can be heard in that there’s an alternative to Madigan’s singular control over politics in this state. At least there’s an alternative. And I think she gives far too little credit to voters, assuming they don’t know what they’re buying, or what is generally at stake in this election.
We’ll find out in a few weeks time what the voters think.
If there is one thing that Chicagoland politicians are good at, it’s finding all kinds of new and creative ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. Take, for example, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has the benefit of being viewed as reasonable and competent by far too many people mostly because she’s not Todd Stroger. According to Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times, she’s currently mulling a tax on soda and other sugary drinks as a desperation ploy to try to close the county’s budget gap:
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is “looking hard” at a new tax on sugary soft drinks — anywhere from half a penny to a full penny an ounce — to close a $174.3 million budget shortfall without employee layoffs, sources said Tuesday. …
Now, Preckwinkle is returning to another controversial revenue idea she considered last year: a tax on sugary soft drinks long championed by public health advocates to curb obesity and diabetes that drives burgeoning health care costs.
Anything to avoid admitting the need for structural reform, I guess.
Back when the state was considering a similar tax, I wrote about why taxing soda — and other so-called vice taxes — are inherently contradictory in rationale and just generally terrible public policy:
First, the notion that obesity is an epidemic is commonplace but also grossly overstated. And the idea that people aren’t aware of what the First Lady of the United States has spent the last 5-plus years working to combat is absurd.
But the bigger insult to logic and reason is the 2nd paragraph in the quoted text above. We hear this same kind of reasoning, typically from Democrats and the left, when it comes to cigarette taxes. It goes like this: “This tax increase on [cigarettes, soda, whatever] will be a good thing because that tax revenue will help fund this really, really, really important government program. And, also, by raising the price of [smoking, drinking soda, whatever] it will discourage people from doing something that really just isn’t all that good for them.”
I hope you can clearly see the problems there. Cigarette taxes, and now soda/sugary drink taxes, are seemingly the one area of life where the left will acknowledge that what you tax you get less of. You tax cigarettes, you get less smoking. You tax soda, you get less consumption of soda. You tax income/work … you get less work? Of course. Except the left usually never makes that connection on that last one. Weird.
On the other side of the argument is the notion that said cigarette or soda tax revenue is going to help pay for some critical government program. Except that typically there won’t be enough revenue generated by the tax to actually fund the program, especially when you consider the diminishing returns on the tax revenue by the higher cost of consuming the drinks. The cigarette tax that was to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, had one major problem: it needed about 22 million MORE smokers in order to fully fund the program. Oops.
That’s all assuming that this tax will actually be successful in driving people to other drinks. …
For the tax to have the effect Rep. Gabel desires, to drive people to drink something other than soda or other sugary drinks, it needs to be significant enough to make it costly enough for people to seek other alternatives. Will a penny per ounce do that? Unlikely. Adding extra $.12 to a can of soda or $.20 to a bottle, or $.32 or $.64 to fountain drinks isn’t likely to be enough of a cost burden to drive people to seek alternatives. There are a whole gaggle of people who regularly shell out $4 or $5 for a coffee or cappuccino at Starbucks. Do you really think that less than a dollar of extra cost is going to make that big of a difference? For most people, again, unlikely.
Which brings us to the last big problem: the problem of acceptable alternatives. Say the tax is effective in driving people to want to buy something other than soda or the other sugar-filled drink they like. It won’t be, but let’s say it does work. What alternatives exist out there? It seems clear that most people won’t be satiated with just water. Not everyone is going to want to drink coffee instead — into which people often put a significant amount of sugar. Nor does it seem likely people will flock to tea — iced tea often being sweetened, as well.
There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of alternatives out there for people to choose from if they don’t want to bear the cost of the tax on sugary drinks. So, they’re then still likely to just bite the bullet and buy the drink they want.
This tax just isn’t significant enough to have the discouraging effects that they proponents claim to want.
Which makes the real point of this gambit clear. It’s about revenue. It’s not about a concern for people’s health. And, why is it any of Rep. Gabel’s business what people want to drink any way? It’s a clear example of politicians feigning concern for your well-being in order to regulate the minutia of your life. And, finding new and exciting ways to separate you from your hard-earned money, to boot.
It was a terrible idea then. It’s a terrible idea now. And if Preckwinkle pursues it in this year’s budget, it’s nothing more than kicking the can of real, meaningful reform down the road even further for Cook County.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the Illinois Policy Institute has a new documentary film coming out on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The trailer:
The kicker: the website for the documentary is www.MichaelMadigan.com. Which begs the question, even if he famously eschews technology, how on earth did Madigan’s team not own that URL?
Capitol Fax‘s Rich Miller is in the film. But he’s claiming that he was “duped” into participating. From Miller’s Crain’s Chicago Business column:
I was duped by a right-wing organization into appearing in what will probably be a propaganda movie. It’s my own fault. The producer claimed that while some people were pointing fingers at House Speaker Michael Madigan, his company was interested in doing a fair and balanced film about “what’s really at the center of it all.”
Two days later, I found out that the forthcoming “documentary” is backed by an arm of the well-funded Illinois Policy Institute, one of Madigan’s fiercest critics and a staunch ally of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The institute’s top executive is also a close Rauner adviser. I’m not exactly popular with that group, although I have strongly supported several of its small-business initiatives in Chicago. I’m not expecting to come out of the editing room looking too well.
Such is life.
I’m curious if Miller really thinks that the film will slice and dice what he said to make him look bad, ala the modus operandi of The Daily Show. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what he had to say if he’s openly fretting that he won’t “come out of the editing room looking too well.”
As for this controversy… look, I wasn’t there. But I’ll say this much: there’s a lot of pre-judging of a film that no one has seen yet going on here. It’s hardly uncommon for documentaries to have a distinct point of view. Take a look at some of the recent Oscar winners for Best Documentary:
- 2014: Citizenfour, which is a very sympathetic look at NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden.
- 2010: Inside Job, which contends that the 2008 financial meltdown was, well, an inside job perpetrated by the corrupt financial services industry.
- 2006: An Inconvenient Truth, a very one-sided and widely disputed take on global warming/climate change featuring Al Gore.
- 2002: Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore’s anti-gun take on the Columbine school shooting.
And those are just some of the winners. Nominees with distinct points of view have included films like Super Size Me, Jesus Camp, Sicko, Food Inc., Gasland, and plenty of others that were never nominated. If “propaganda” is now being defined as a film having a point of view, then you’d have to say all of these films are propaganda. And it’s pretty hard to judge the Madigan film, since it hasn’t been released yet. Let’s cross that critical bridge when we come to it.
But something caught my attention in the comments on the first Capitol Fax post about this story. Here’s a supposedly anonymous comment:
And Miller’s response:
Sounds awful threatening. And so much for anonymous comments being anonymous, I guess.