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Anatomy Of A Tribune Editorial

The Illinois Rauner Republican Party sent this Tribune editorial out Saturday morning via its e-mail account that uses a Quinnochio header, but it's the paper's editorial board that is being dishonest.

To wit:

"The race for governor is about whether incumbent Pat Quinn or challenger Bruce Rauner will be Illinois' CEO for four years."

No it's not. It's about who will be Illinois' governor for four years. A governor is a chief executive, but one whose job is wholly different than that of a corporate CEO. If you don't understand how, you don't deserve to be writing editorials for a major metropolitan daily.

Though relatively trivial, this is just the first example of how the Tribune puts its thumbs on the scale. (Yes, an editorial is an opinion, but it's supposed to be an honest one, arrived at through factual argument, not sleight of hand.)

*

"It is also a referendum on the future of the 67 percent personal income tax increase that Quinn and fellow Democrats enacted in 2011, on whether that tax will start to recede Jan. 1 as written in the law, and on the huge implications for Illinois' struggle to grow jobs."

It's fun to call the "Quinncome Tax" a 67 percent increase, but it's also incredibly disingenuous, particularly for journalists. Folks concerned with the numerical illiteracy of journalists, for example, preach regularly that it's highly misleading to cite huge increases in percentages when the numbers you are working with are small. To illustrate: If Illinois were to see one case of Ebola this year and two cases next year, it could be said that the number of Ebola cases doubled! It could also be said that Ebola increased 100% in just one year!

In the case at hand, Illinois' flat tax for personal income taxes, which applies the same rate to the richest taxpayers as the poorest, went from 3 percent to 5 percent. A two-percent increase certainly sounds less dramatic than a 67 percent increase.

*

"It is also a referendum on whether voters ought to hold this state's politicians to their words."

This is rich. No one has told more provable lies during this campaign than Bruce Rauner. Which words of Rauner's should we attempt to hold him to when it comes to the minimum wage? The ones that want to do away with the minimum wage, the ones that are "adamantly, adamantly" against raising the minimum wage, or the ones spun in damage control that support raising the minimum wage only after a set of conditions more unrealistic than Jay Cutler never throwing another interception again are met?

(I wonder, too, which Payton Prep story the Tribune believes, and if they think what he did was okay and his lies and evasions about what he did are okay.)

That's not to say that Pat Quinn has been honest about his fake "temporary" tax increase. He hasn't. But I'm not endorsing Quinn, so I don't have to find a way around his dishonesty. I recognize it. If only the Trib could do the same with the guy they're telling people to vote for.

*

"Many Democrats who raised taxes in 2011 counted on all of us to forget about that by 2014."

Democrats suck, but I don't think that's the case at all. They counted on us to realize that there's no other way out but to maintain a certain level of revenues until the national economy turns around, lest we induce the state into a heart attack.

*

"We've forgotten nothing. Who pledged what to Illinois voters is the issue on which races for governor and the legislature may well turn. Here, then, is the anatomy of your Quinncome Tax:

The denial: Months before legislators voted to raise the personal income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, and the total corporate rate from 7.3 percent to 9.5 percent, Quinn ruled out such a big grab. From the Daily Herald of July 29, 2010:

"At a news conference, Quinn denied a Bloomberg News report that quoted Budget Director David Vaught as saying the governor planned to raise the income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. The governor said he does support an increase to 4 percent to support education. 'That is all that I propose and all that I support,' an audibly irritated Quinn said. 'I'm going to veto anything that's not my plan.'" And in related questioning:

Reporter: "Are you saying that you would veto anything more than 1 percent?"

Quinn: "I'm going to veto anything that isn't my plan. Because I want my plan . . . "

Reporter: "Is that a yes?"

Quinn: "I just told you."

True. Quinn has been just as cagey during the campaign. He'll never say "Yes," just variations on "I just told you."

Yes you did, Pat. You just told us "Yes." Why so afraid to say it?

On the other hand, that's closer to the truth than Rauner has gotten about his plan by a mile. As Amanda Vinicky said at the outset of one of the debates, only Rauner's campaign has gotten his budget plan to add up - and only after using quantum mathematics they aren't willing to share.

*

"The pledges: In January 2011, House Speaker Michael Madigan sold his lame-duck caucus on passing a big and temporary tax hike. But on the night of 1/11/11, Madigan let others do the promising:

Senate President John Cullerton: "The purpose of this bill is to raise enough money so that we can continue to pay our pensions without borrowing the money. To pay off our debt. To have enough money to pay the interest on that debt. And, for the first time ever, establish caps on how much we can appropriate . . . We have just come through the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes. And we have not paid our bills."

In the House, Barbara Flynn Currie, the Democratic majority leader: "Remember, the point of this income tax increase is not to expand programs, not to do brand-new things in Illinois state government. It is only intended to pay our old bills and deal with the structural deficit."

Cullerton again: "We are going to have our bills paid. It's going to absolutely boost our economy and create jobs when we pay those people what they're owed . . . A portion of this tax (increase) is going to expire in four years. This, again, is a temporary tax." He also said that "by raising this money," lawmakers would "improve our bond ratings."

Thirty Senate and 60 House Democrats voted yes. Of those 90 Dems, 58 are still in the legislature. No Republican voted yes.

Um, okay. And the problem with those statements is what?

*

"The reassurance: At a next-day news conference, Quinn invoked the word 'temporary' three times, including, 'I want to point out that the, I guess, 1 point of the income tax, 1 percent, is temporary for four years. It will fall to 3.75 percent at the end of that time' - that is, after Dec. 31, 2014."

True. Quinn should have made clear, of course, that when it came time for the "temporary" tax increase to expire, it would have to be revisited to make sure it was the time to let it roll back. Who knew what would happen in the interim? Another economic shock? The lack of a proper recovery? The Tribune Company promises plenty too and adjusts later to economic conditions. We all knew this would happen. Quinn was wrong to elide it. But grow up.

*

"The paybacks: Four of the 12 House Democrats who as lame ducks voted for Quinn's tax hike subsequently landed good-paying, taxpayer-funded jobs through the governor.

Two others landed government jobs elsewhere. Our favorite: State Rep. Bob Flider of Mount Zion in 2010 campaigned against even Quinn's proposed 33 percent income tax hike. He called it "the absolute last thing we need to be doing," and urged that Illinois instead "eliminate waste" and make "hard choices." He then lost his election and, on his last day in office, voted for the 67 percent hike. Today Flider is the director of Quinn's Department of Agriculture.

True. This I will not argue with; it's a perfect example of why Quinn has been such a disappointment to those of us who thought Illinois had gotten itself a reform governor quite by accident - the only way it seemed possible.

*

"The manufactured crisis: Having structured their increase to start receding, Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton should have used the additional $31.5 billion in revenue to stabilize state finances and absorb their scheduled tax rollback in future budgets. They didn't. The result, according to state data analyzed by the Civic Federation of Chicago, is a current budget that underfunds agency costs by $470 million . . . yet also increases spending by $528 million. After Nov. 4, expect lawmakers who've raised spending (and not zeroed out the state's past-due bills) to sound a panic: This is a crisis! We can't let income tax rates start to recede!"

As far as I can tell, that $528 million - 1.5 percent of the budget - is due to spending on Medicare, education and human services.

Should we cut back on spending for needy kids and the elderly? Is that what the Tribune is advocating?

Besides that, Rauner is repeatedly lying about Quinn cutting education funding and pledging to increase it (even more, I guess) should he be elected, so I'd like to see him and the Trib square that circular argument.

*

"The potential lame-duck vote: In May we devoted two editorials, one titled 'Knock knock. Your promise is here,' to the many Democrats who have unequivocally stated that they will not vote to kill the Jan. 1 rollback that Quinn signed into law. Since May, more Democratic candidates have made that promise. Their promises are online, in editorials and in responses to Tribune questionnaires.

"If Quinn wins, they'll face pressure to trash those promises. Governors can be persuasive (see above, The paybacks)."

So the argument here is: Don't vote for Quinn because if he wins, Democratic lawmakers will be tempted to break their promises. Because Quinn isn't ineffectual at all, he's super persuasive!

Hypothetical: Rauner wins. Will Democratic lawmakers be any less tempted to break their promises and give a Republican governor a huge victory that would cause incredible pain to their base?

*

"The Nov. 4 election: The bottom line is that Democrats asked Illinoisans to work one additional week, or 2 percent of each year, for the state."

Oh, come on. How much longer would Illinoisans be working if the state budget were even further in the tank than it is? How many extra hours are social service caseworkers working? How many additional weeks will Illinoisans work if the minimum wage isn't raised? Just gimmicky rhetoric.

*

"They said their hike was temporary."

And the Tribune said they weren't going to put up a paywall. But that's where most of its stories - and this editorial - sit!

*

"And they said they would use the extra revenue to fix Illinois."

I'm not sure they promised to get the whole job done. Again, "temporary" means the issue will be revisited. Should lawmakers have just made the increase permanent? Sure. But then, when future lawmakers would then try to roll some of that increase back, the Tribune editorial board would scream, "No! You promised! You said it would be permanent!" Right?

It was a cheap thing for Democrats - and the governor - to do. It was done out of an abundance of cynicism over the belief that voters can't handle the truth. And also that they'd get unfairly hammered by, say, the likes of the Tribune editorial board.

*

"Today, though, the Democrats who brought you the Quinncome Tax instead preside over the state with the worst credit ratings, the worst-funded pension system and a pile of unpaid bills that will rise this year."

And yet, the Tribune will endorse Rahm for mayor just as it did Richard M. Daley for two decades! What's bad for the state apparently is good for the city.

*

"The pols can't credibly pretend that extending their tax increase will bring more employment to one of the nation's least-friendly states for business."

Simply not true.

*

"In a subsequent editorial we'll explore how Illinois could let the increase roll back as Quinn's 2011 law provides and do a smarter job of managing Springfield."

I can't wait.

*

"For four years, Quinn and his party's leaders have made choices: what to pledge and whether to fulfill those pledges. Choices should have consequences."

Like Rauner's choices to clout his daughter into Payton, lie about state education spending, and evade reporters trying to pin him down on the issues.

-

Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on October 25, 2014


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