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

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McSweeney’s Frank(s)enstein Update

McSweeney & Franks

NW Herald, AP File Photo

There seems to be some question as to the current status of H.B. 4637, Representative David McSweeney’s bill to eliminate townships in McHenry County that slithered through the House on the last day of veto session.

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In a story in the Northwest Herald, the timing of when the bill would be sent to the Governor was discussed:

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McSweeney did not give a definitive date of when he plans to send the bill to the governor. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s last day in office is Jan. 14, when he must relinquish his desk to Democrat J.B. Pritzker.  “I’ll send it when I’m ready,” McSweeney said.

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He’s able to control the time that the bill will be sent to the Governor by filing a “Motion to Reconsider” the vote pursuant to Rule 65 of the Rules of the Illinois House which states in part:

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(a)…When the motion to reconsider is made during the last 3 days of April or any time thereafter during the regular session, or at any time during a veto or special session, any member may move that the vote on reconsideration be taken immediately. The member who filed the motion to reconsider may withdraw the motion at any time by filing a notice of withdrawal with the Clerk

(d) When a motion to reconsider is made within the time prescribed by these Rules, the Clerk shall not allow the bill or other subject matter of the motion to pass out of the possession of the House until after the motion has been decided or withdrawn.

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What this says is that Representative McSweeney is afraid that Governor Rauner would heed the wishes of 21 members of the McHenry County Board and veto the bill if it landed on his desk. He’s going to put a “brick” on the bill until J.B. Pritzker is inaugurated, figuring he’ll sign it.

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I’m sure that Representative McSweeney will portray this oleaginous attempt to grease the skids as we move toward the consolidation of power within McHenry County as his first measure of bipartisanship in the new administration. I can’t wait to see the photo of the signing ceremony.

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I’ve said all I’m going to say about this bill, it’s now in the political realm. When Algonquin Township votes to eliminate itself, and all those legal fees end up on your property tax bill after they get moved up to the County for payment, just remember who made it happen. Folks, it’s up to you.

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McSweeney’s “Frank(s)enstein

It's AliveMcHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks is on record as supporting Representative David McSweeney’s Township consolidation bill (H.B. 4637), saying that “We want to be a laboratory for the state.” This may make for a good sound bite, but in this, the 200th anniversary year of the publication of “Frankenstein”, I’d just as soon not be one of the Chairman’s lab rats.

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The reason I say that is that H.B. 4637 will likely be up for a vote in the Senate next week. I’ve written about this before when it was introduced as H.B. 4244, which died. But like Mary Shelley’s monster, the bill has been resurrected, and its story bears repeating.

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These are my main concerns with the bill:

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  • It would allow voters in (only) McHenry County to abolish a township by forcing a referendum onto an election ballot with a petition containing signatures of at least 5 percent of voters from a previous comparable election. Think about that for a minute. On April 4, 2017, an election was held in Algonquin Township to elect sundry township-wide officials, and the average turnout of the 4 races was 5,956. If all it takes to put a dissolution referendum before the voters on a similar, off-peak ballot is 5% of the vote, then all it would take is for 298 people to allow proponents to force a vote upon over 90,000 of their neighbors to abolish the township.
  • It would require that the County take over the functions of a dissolved Township within 90 days of passage. Several months ago, over 20 members of the County Board sent a letter indicating that there is no way the County could undertake those functions in such a short period of time. Chairman Franks was visiting the House last week and I asked him how he expected to make that transition happen, and he told me that he’d be happy to enter into any number of inter-governmental agreements so as to delay the handover. Obviously this has not been thought through. When would he decide to get around to it? My guess is 2020, when he could use it to beat people over the head in an election year for a township’s failure to heed “the word of the people”.
  • The bill provides that the Township levies to be transferred to the County be reduced to 90% of the previous levy. This is an implicit acknowledgement that the mandate for Townships to provide General Assistance is being kicked to the curb. Ask Representative McSweeney about this. If he says that those functions can be taken over by the social service agencies that exist at the county level, where does he expect the money to come from, the levy having been cut by 10%? Answer: That burden will fall upon the rest of the taxpayers in McHenry County.
  • It’s likely that there will be a division of responsibility for road maintenance between municipalities within a dissolved township and the County. How is the motor fuel tax supposed to be allocated?
  • If this bill is so good, why has co-sponsor Sam Yingling not proposed it for his own county, or better yet, why haven’t McSweeney, Yingling, et al provided for statewide application?

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H.B. 4637 (and its predecessor, H.B. 4244) is the legislative corollary to the old line “bad facts make bad law”.  From a story in the Northwest Herald discussing the bill:

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McSweeney’s bill follows on the heels of the in-house lawsuits, budget-busting legal fees and corruption allegations that have engulfed Algonquin Township.

“[Algonquin Township] is the best example of bad government,” McSweeney said. “It is a great example of a government that will hopefully be eliminated.”

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This is rich, given that Representative McSweeney was instrumental in installing the person he now blames for the dysfunction in Algonquin Township. From the same Northwest Herald article:

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“[Algonquin Township Road Commissioner Andrew] Gasser is a friend of McSweeney’s who helped him on the campaign trail in past elections. McSweeney donated $6,300 to the political efforts of Gasser, according to campaign finance records. Gasser previously supported township consolidation when he served on the McHenry County Board.”

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It’s almost as if McSweeney put sand in his own crankcase hoping that the insurance company would fall for it and give him a new car.

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If you want to see a practical demonstration of the mood of McHenry County voters on the issue, you need look no further than the referendum that was on the ballot in the most recent election in which the voters of McHenry Township were asked if they wanted to eliminate the township road district and fold its functions into the township board. The measure failed 69%-31%.

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There are legitimate concerns about the operations of county road districts, but those concerns should be addressed with a scalpel and not a meat-axe. Also, I’m not against consolidation per se, in fact I’ve written about it before, but if it’s going to be sold as a silver bullet for property tax reduction, all I ask is that the proponents show me the money.

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Prove your case. H.B. 4637 is a bum’s rush to consolidate without having to do that.

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Go to Church

church-cartoon1Right after the election, my wife and I drove to Denver to visit our daughter and her family. My youngest granddaughter was being confirmed in the Catholic Church, and we attended the ceremony.

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I’m not religious. It just never took. I grew up in the 60’s, when the message was “If it feels good, do it.” Church was viewed as square; the cool kids didn’t go to church. I was the furthest thing from cool, but I felt no incentive to buck the conventional wisdom of my generation.

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Fast forward to today, and one begins to see things from an entirely different point of view. Just the other day, I read an article in the Chicago Tribune which dealt with the matter of gun violence, and contained a litany of lines about the fear of attending public events or sending kids to school. The take-away line was:

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“Is this truly the best we can do? Is this truly the way we’re choosing to live? With an ever-present dread? Knowing that none of us is safe from an outburst of rage…”

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I want to use that line to dive into something I’ve wanted to talk about for quite some time. While we have become more and more connected through social media to people we’ve never met around the country and even throughout the world, inviting them to be “friends” on our Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, how many of us know the names of the people living next door or across the street?

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We’re now ordering our lives along a narrow band of interests and are limiting our acquaintances to those who share those interests, while at the same time ignoring our real communities, where we actually live. While our circle of “friends” grows, we find ourselves ever more isolated and alone within our own four walls.

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And why is that so? I think it’s partly due to the fact that we’ve internalized all of the incidents we see happening thousands of miles away and imagine them happening right around the corner. It’s not that those incidents are more numerous, it’s that they enjoy a wider circulation and we allow ourselves to be personally affected by them, thinking that we could be next. But the fact is that in most communities, people can walk down the street, send their kids to a park or to the movies or attend 4th of July fireworks displays or public concerts without fear of violence. Schools are statistically still the safest place for our kids to be. But by allowing ourselves to be bombarded with such widely-scattered events, we’ve convinced ourselves that all of this is happening right next door. It’s one thing to be aware of and have empathy for the victims of these random acts, and yet another thing to allow them to keep us in a state of such constant fear that they control our every action. We’re becoming a culture governed by fear.

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This is where I circle around back to the time I spent at my granddaughter’s confirmation. Strip away the rituals of the Mass, and you’re left with three things: the profession of faith, the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Eucharist. Even if you can’t make that leap of faith, those things still bring comfort because of their appeal to those who don’t seek that comfort by the approbation of an echo chamber but through the search for some deeper shared meaning. I saw generations brought together into a community that is universal, but in a way that is so much different than the community that those addicted to their social media circles would seek. That’s because those participants are looking for something that’s timeless and bigger than themselves, and are doing it in the midst of their neighbors, families and friends. I believe that’s the true means by which people can regain a connection with the things that matter. And by doing that, we can begin to knit back together the fabric of community that is being lost as we become ever smaller and more isolated in a world with boundaries so elastic that they have stretched beyond our ability to see them. We aren’t meant to live our lives in isolation; we are social beings who need and want to be needed.

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There’s a place where that can happen. Go to church.

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Nice Speech, Mr. Pritzker. What Now?

The media’s post-mortem on the election in Illinois is going true to its script. Frankly, I’m bored with that, and have my own observations I’d like to share.

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Pritzker gave a pretty good speech, making promises to all the necessary constituencies while failing to mention the one that matters most: the one which will have to pay the bill. I guess we’ll find out what he has in store for that constituency when he gives his budget address.

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In his speech, he said “We make no small plans.” He’s also on record as saying he’ll consider suggestions from Republicans on how to move forward out of our fiscal mess. Here are a few, offered free of charge. How about a private-sector examination of the operations of state government, or honest-to-goodness property tax reform or pension relief, all of which are Republican initiatives? Mr. Pritzker, our door is open.

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To the people in DuPage and South Suburban Cook County, who pay the highest property tax bills in the country, if you voted for Democrats in state and county races to send a message to Donald Trump, nice going. By doing so, you chose to let the fox in to guard the henhouse. You’re going to find, and I believe soon, that the people you elected on Tuesday will do nothing but increase your burden and then tell you that it’s someone else’s fault. Elections have consequences, and you will not be forgiven.

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To my own party, where do I begin? We lost this race for one reason and one reason only. We deserved it.

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We saw millions being thrown into our races in 2016 and thought that this was the wave of the future. In the span of two short years, we learned that one-person financing is a fickle thing and that the other side could play that game, bringing greater resources to the table. Money doesn’t talk, it swears.

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We saw a Governor who pissed away everything he ran on in 2014, and did it by negotiating against himself. Petrified by the thought of losing our funding, we didn’t do the right thing and take over the message. We stood idly by while he blamed Mike Madigan for his own failures and by extension, ours. While Nero fiddled, Rome burned, and all we did this cycle was send out thousands of ads with bad pictures of Mike Madigan on them, hoping they’d act as some kind of voodoo curse.

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We ignored the evidence of the demographic shifts that are going on in our own back yards. Instead of adapting ourselves to those shifts, we find ourselves in a cage match against a faction of our own party that is hell-bent on instituting a purity test for admission. Politics is the art of compromise, and if the Republican Party is going to get close to being relevant in this state, we need to broaden our appeal, not run behind ideological walls and pull the drawbridge up behind us. By broadening our appeal, we don’t need to sacrifice our principles, far from it. By articulating our principles within the framework of legislative proposals that affect peoples’ lives and without imposing judgment, we can make people see that what we have to offer is something better than what they get from the other side.

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Having retreated behind their respective tribal walls, both parties have created a vacuum in the great chasm which is the middle. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it will be filled. We have a golden opportunity to fill that vacuum if we’ll but just take the chance. But we can’t wait until the next election, when all we’ll get will be grenades launched at each other with bad photos of Mike Madigan and Donald Trump. We need to do it now.

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Illinois Desperately Needs Adult Supervision

In his weekly column published last Sunday, Rich Miller, publisher of CapitolFax.com wrote:

“I had written on my blog a few days earlier that if voters are looking for a check on J.B. Pritzker and Speaker Madigan and they can’t bring themselves to vote for Gov. Rauner, she [Erika Harold] might be a realistic option.”

With all due respect to Rich and to Ms. Harold, whom I wholeheartedly support, the real check on the excesses of Illinois’ government isn’t the office of Attorney General.

The real check on a Governor Pritzker (or a Governor Rauner, for that matter) and Speaker Madigan will come only if the Republicans can maintain or grow their numbers in the House.

As we enter the last week before the November election, it would be well to remember exactly what’s at stake for Illinois and who stands the best chance of assuring that there is at least one body in state government that stands against the worst of whatever happens, regardless of who’s elected Governor.

The Democrat in the race has shown himself to be nothing more than someone who says he’ll raise taxes on “the rich” (defined as anyone other than the group he happens to be pandering to at that particular time).  Have you heard him talk about using that new money to pay down our mountain of unpaid bills and pension debt? Hell, no. All we hear is promises to spend all that new money on programs and agencies that need housecleaning and responsible oversight before they get a dime of new money.

Then consider the raft of bills that Republicans were able to kill in the last session by denying them veto-proof majorities. I mean, do you want a state-mandated $15 per hour minimum wage? A government-run workers’ compensation company that will be funded by borrowing 10 million of your tax dollars? Making a resolution by a local government objecting to the state’s prevailing wage law a criminal offense?

All that stood between legislative sanity and those bills becoming law were House Republicans who drove down the vote for the minimum wage (61-53), upheld the veto of the workers’ comp bill (65-50) and the prevailing wage bill (70-42). Do you think a Governor Pritzker would veto any of those bills? Not likely.

Republicans in the House held the line on those and many other bills which would make Illinois an even bigger economic clown car than it is now. Without a majority, we won’t even be able to do that.

Republicans need to pick up nine seats in the House to claim the Speaker’s gavel. Otherwise, we won’t be able to stop the three bills referenced above, and you can be certain that they’ll be re-introduced in the next session, along with any number of other measures that will spring from the fevered minds of people who think that money grows on trees.

With the 2020 census coming up, nothing determines the composition of the House and Senate more than the electoral map, the boundaries of which are drawn by the General Assembly. If you don’t want Mike Madigan’s map being rubber-stamped by a Democratic Governor, this is reason enough to vote for a Republican-controlled House. The map is everything, because Illinois can’t survive another decade of undisputed Democratic control in Springfield.

No matter who’s elected Governor in 2018, this state is in trouble. We’ve endured nearly 4 years of dysfunction (actually, closer to 40), and there’s a strong likelihood that the next 4 won’t be any better, regardless of whether the next Governor is named Rauner or Pritzker.

Abraham Lincoln once said that “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” This campaign has been an object lesson in evasion. Regardless of who you vote for as Governor, please make sure that we end up with an adult in the room. Put Republicans in charge of the Illinois House.

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