“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

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Paradise Lost

BorderlandBack in the early ‘90’s, a client of mine bought an old lodge up on Crane Lake in Minnesota and spent a small fortune fixing it up. It became a go-to destination for my dad, my brothers and me to spend a week together doing things we never did when we were growing up. Dad lived for those trips, and I’m convinced that they kept him alive for years.

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When dad passed in 1997, I told my brothers that we should still go up North, but so long as I could portage a canoe, I wanted to go into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is a national wilderness area of several million acres of lakes, islands and forests where motorized craft are prohibited and all you get in the way of campsite amenities is a fire grate and a box latrine.  Whatever you pack in, you have to pack out.

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For over 20 years (with periodic interruptions) we would take a shuttle boat across Lac LaCroix and be dropped off on a rock just over the Canadian border and paddle our way into some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and which is listed on National Geographic’s 50 Places of a Lifetime “Paradise Found” list.

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7025720-R1-002-00AThe trips always lived up to the promise (mosquitoes notwithstanding). A week of incredible quiet, where right at dusk the lake would turn to glass and you could hear loons calling to one another across miles of water. Nighttime shot full of stars, the Milky Way so bright it would cast your shadow, meteors streaking across the sky and the occasional thrill of the Northern Lights. One year we caught sight of the International Space Station hurtling across the heavens.

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We were never great fishermen, but we always caught enough for supper (even if it was the occasional Northern Pike with its troublesome “Y” bones). 7025720-R1-036-16AI had a black lab that I’d take with me, and Jake would swim from island to island to keep track of us as we paddled around the lake. He was a great dog.

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I just returned from the BWCA, and I learned that though the wilderness is constant and unchanging, I’m not. It’d been some time since I’d been up there, and that constant and unchanging wilderness showed me how much I’d changed since I was last there. The years are taking their toll, and I found myself struggling to do the simple things like climbing out of my tent. What was once easy had become an ordeal.

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There were also a few cracks in the plaster of Paradise, as well. On 3 consecutive days a guided fishing boat came through and parked itself in front of our campsite in complete violation of the prohibition against such vessels in the Wilderness area. I filed a complaint with the Forest Service with the hope that they’ll come down hard on these people. The ticket for each violation can run as high as $5,000, and we know who the culprit was.

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One of the beauties of the BWCA is the total lack of cell service. You’re completely cut off from modern communications, or so I thought. I didn’t go up with my brothers this year, that’s a story for another day, but went with an acquaintance from Springfield. On the day we were to break camp, my traveling companion turned on his cell phone to take a few final pictures and 62 text messages showed up on the screen. It seems that even out there, we can’t escape the reach of technology if we choose to let it in.

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I guess it’s time to move on.

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Paradise Lost.

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The Ever-Too-Short Route to Chaos

Sir Thomas More“When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” – Sir Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons”

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From this morning’s “Illinois Playbook”:

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The Niles Township Democratic Organization is recruiting candidates to run against state Rep. Yehiel “Mark” Kalish, a Chicago Democrat who decided not to take a position on the Reproductive Health Act — the measure that made access to abortion and other women’s health procedures “a fundamental right” in Illinois.

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Kalish, the first rabbi to serve in the General Assembly, is one of 10 Democrats who didn’t support the bill, which was ultimately passed 64-50 and has since been signed by the governor. Six of those Dems voted no and another four, including Kalish, voted present.

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But Kalish is the only one taking heat: When he was appointed to the seat vacated by former Rep. Lou Lang, he promised Democratic committee members that his votes would align with Lang’s progressive record on gay rights, gun safety, unions and abortion rights.

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That was true through much of the session. But when it came time to support RHA, Kalish backed out. Apparently, it’s one thing to believe in the abortion-rights movement but another to support a bill that declares “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.”

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Lang understands now that Kalish’s non-vote was an act of “conscience.” Nevertheless, Lang told Playbook, “I wouldn’t have chosen him if I’d known how he was going to vote on this bill. It’s a gut bill. It’s a bill about the present and future of the Democratic Party.”

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What does it say about our politics when the present and future of the Democratic Party takes precedence over a man’s conscience? It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world – but for the Democratic Party? It just underscores the fact that the Lou Langs of this world have no soul.

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Mark, if this is the vote by which your service in the House will be measured, I’m proud to say I served with you.

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An Open Letter to My House Colleagues: The Progressive Income Tax Won’t Work

As we move into the new week and the prospect of considering the resolution to place the progressive income tax on the 2020 ballot, I’d like to add an additional objection to its passage.

 

It won’t work.

 

The Governor has said that the measure will add $3.25 billion to revenue in its first year. Based upon the bills we’ve passed just this term, that money’s already been spent.

 

But the big issue hanging over us is the same one that’s been plaguing us for years: Debt. Our backlog of bills is huge, but it pales in comparison to our pension debt. Just consider what the payment “ramp” requires us to do over the coming years:

Pension Ramp

When you start out by taking 25% or more from General Revenue and putting it into pensions, there’s no way that any change to the income tax structure will accommodate both that and the need to fund essential state programs. The cost as a percentage of General Revenue may drop as a result of the tax change, but the dollar amount is the same. Where’s that money supposed to come from? The Governor is on record as saying he’ll allocate $200 million per year of the tax increase toward the debt, but as you can see, that amount won’t even keep up with the annual increases that are called for under the ramp. It’s a rounding error.

 

Do we need tax reform? Absolutely. But this isn’t the way to do it. We need a global review of our entire tax structure with an eye toward creating a tax system that moves in the direction of our economy, which requires us to look at not only income taxes, but all sources of revenue: sales taxes, motor fuel taxes, user fees and property taxes. That doesn’t mean raising rates across the board, but looking at changing the mix, broadening bases and thus encouraging economic development, which is the real solution to our problem. Otherwise, the rates that we’re going to be asked to vote on as part of this package of bills will have to be raised, by a large amount and soon.

 

There’s an element of moral hazard at play here, as well, and that’s the real risk that people will think that by going to a progressive income tax, we’ll have solved our fiscal problems. We know that’s not the case. And when it doesn’t, we’re going to find ourselves back here with the same problems and fewer options to fix them.

 

We can start down a path of fixing this mess. But it begins by acknowledging the depth of our problem and making a bipartisan commitment to fixing it. The progressive income tax isn’t it, and may very well end up making things worse.

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Please vote “No”.

 

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Rich Miller: Thanks for the Shout Out

Rich MillerRich Miller, the chief cook and bottle washer at the Capitol Fax blog, took aim at me for some comments I made on the House floor last week where I said that the rush for a progressive income tax and other revenue measures is taking front seat over our lack of concern about what happens to that money when we get our hands on it. He started by referencing a line in a story from the Illinois News Network:

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“State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, told lawmakers on the House Floor that they’re ignoring the problem and need to begin examining where state money is sent in lieu of properly funding pensions.”

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His response to that:

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“What we need to do is pay into the freaking system and stop the gimmicks and the scare tactics. Neither are getting us anywhere. You wanna help? Find $2 billion a year. Auditing state contractors ain’t gonna do that.”

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Rich, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Of course I know that auditing state contractors “ain’t gonna do that.” But what a deeper examination of the operations of state agencies might do is show taxpayers that we’re serious about fiscal responsibility. It might make them more trusting of us when we do go to them for more money. Hell, it might have actually saved us a few million dollars.

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You seem to be quite fond of scoffing at any suggestion such as mine, and would probably say that there are any number of cost studies that have been done that never went anywhere and are gathering dust on some shelf at some state agency, and you’d probably be right. That’s not the fault of those who commissioned the studies; it’s the fault of the Legislature for its failure to do the necessary work of implementing their recommendations. It says more about us as a body than it does about those who thought it might be a good idea to see where all that money goes.

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I’m not saying that we don’t need more revenue. We do. And I’m not one of those who spends all his time railing against new revenue without offering up any ideas as to how we’re supposed to pay the bills except to insist that we can do it through cost cutting. They’re more unrealistic than you say I am. And you know who I’m talking about. Dogma and principle aren’t the same thing, and nothing was ever accomplished by relying upon dogma.

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But raising revenue piecemeal: a progressive income tax here and a hike in the motor fuel tax there and God knows what other proposals that will spring from the fevered minds of those who now control all the levers of State government is not the answer. We need systemic change of our entire taxing system; we need a tax system that tracks the direction of our State economy, which is away from heavy industry and its reliance on income taxes to services and consumption. It involves every source of State revenue, but is a task that will take longer to accomplish than we have before the next election cycle, so of course it’s doomed.

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So, Rich, if you want to have that conversation, let’s have it. But come to that conversation with an open mind, because if you don’t, all you’re doing is scoring cheap points at the expense of those of us who actually give a damn.

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The Difference Between Genius and Stupidity is That Genius Has Its Limits

IgnoranceToday’s lesson is about what the newly-elected members of Congress from the 6th and 14th Districts of Illinois don’t know about their jobs.

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It begins with a headline in the Northwest Herald that says: “Underwood, Casten Call for IRS to Help With Local Tax Burden.” The article goes on to say:

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“Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, and Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, are urging the IRS to address what they call the disproportionate tax burden on Illinois taxpayers because of the changes in the law, which limit the state and local tax deduction.”

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The pair wrote a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig expressing their concerns about IRS efforts to alleviate the burden of the new rules as being “insufficient”:

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“We are concerned that the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) current efforts may be insufficient to alleviate these burdens…Illinoisans are already facing higher federal taxes due to the Republican tax law, which places a uniquely large burden on middle-class families in the Illinois 6th and 14th Congressional Districts. Working families are being unfairly double-taxed, This law limited the state and local tax (SALT) deduction to just $10,000 for individuals and families—a devastating financial blow to many of the nearly two million Illinois households that claim the deduction. SALT taxes allow our communities to pay law enforcement and first responders, offer high-quality public education, and provide a multitude of other services that contribute to the well-being of our communities. We urge your attention to this important matter and request an update in writing on the IRS’s actions to address these burdens on Illinois taxpayers no later than February 12, 2019,”

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The fundamental ignorance on display in the letter these two sent beggars the imagination. If they don’t understand that the IRS is simply an administrative body empowered to enforce the laws passed by Congress, and has no authority whatsoever to “address the disproportionate tax burden on Illinois taxpayers because of the changes in the law” then what else don’t they know about the responsibilities of the office to which they’ve been elected?

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It says right there in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, that document they swore an oath to uphold, but probably haven’t taken the time to read:

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“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…”

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Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that members of Congress can run to the IRS, of all places, to “alleviate the burden placed on the citizens of Illinois by limiting the deduction for state and local taxes.” If they don’t like the tax bill that was passed in the last Congress, the proper remedy for what they’re trying to do is (wait for it!): pass a law! It’s in all the civics books, or at least it used to be.

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Of course, they aren’t the only Democrats trying to alleviate the tax burden of the very people they’re generally busy trying to gouge. Last year we had a group in the Illinois legislature that tried to change taxes into charitable contributions so as to get around the SALT limitation. That idiotic scheme met the same fate as the appeal to the IRS will have.

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So, class, this is what you should take away from today’s lesson:

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If you live in the 6th or 14th Congressional Districts of Illinois and you voted for Sean Casten or Lauren Underwood as a way to send a message to Donald Trump, you brought this vacuous nonsense upon yourselves, but unfortunately you brought it upon the rest of us, as well. As Ed Koch famously said after losing his mayoral bid: “The people have spoken, and they must be punished.”

Posted in 2018 Election, Taxes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments