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Monday, June 05, 2006

What will governor try to sell next?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune


What Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is trying to do to the state and its taxpayers used to be called "living out of the attic."

That's selling your assets in order to pay your everyday expenses, such as eating. Because you irresponsibly have been living beyond your paycheck, you must sell your car, furniture and first-born. Soon, your attic will be empty, and then how will you eat? Having sold off your house, where will you eat?

It's a recipe for disaster, as it is for the State of Illinois.

In Blagojevich's cynical attempt to (in the following order) get himself re-elected, cover up his gigantic fiscal mess and live the liberal dream of a cradle-to-grave caretaker state, the governor wants to sell our assets, most recently the lottery and tollway.

It's not the first time he's tried this scam. Three years ago, the Democratic governor was ready to put up the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop. The state office building is still in the hands of taxpayers, but no telling what he'll try next: Navy Pier, McCormick Place, U.S. Cellular Field, the state Capitol, state parks, the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Cicero, the governor's office?

Not that selling off some of the state's stuff is necessarily a bad idea. But when it's the only alternative left to balance the budget, then it is bad. It's a sure sign that the budget is nothing but a pile of rot. It is an act of desperation.

We're at this point because of Blagojevich's prior flimflams, such as raiding the state's pension fund. I suppose he could try to squeeze more money out of state retirees, but that would be too politically expensive.

Even the usual political allies are concerned. John Adler, of the Service Employees International Union, said selling the tollway could be perceived as the equivalent of Native Americans selling Manhattan Island for $24 in beads and trinkets.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, sent out a letter to fellow lawmakers raising serious questions about the lottery: "Let's slow down and take a look at what assets should be held perpetually in trust for the taxpayers. Is this the best way to fund education? How much would it generate and which schools would benefit? Will it lead to further state-sponsored gambling?"

Funny, those are the same kinds of questions that Republicans, including Blagojevich's GOP opponent, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, are asking. They are not getting answers.

Republican state Sens. Peter Roskam, a west suburban congressional candidate, and Kirk Dillard want to know a potential sale's effect on suburban drivers. In case the governor hasn't noticed, the tollway serves the suburbs. Will their (increased) tolls be siphoned off, in effect, to benefit other areas of the state? Apparently, that's not a question that interests Blagojevich, as the Democrats (who run the tollway) failed to schedule any hearings on the proposal in DuPage or suburban Cook County, the tollway's two largest users.

The lottery, the governor claims, could go for $10 billion. But he refused to let anyone examine the study. It would be like sharing a sports playbook with an opposing team, his office said, meaning that companies interested in the lottery could use the information to bid lower.

Arrogant nonsense. Forget about the public's right to know. Any company that would spend $10 billion to buy a lottery will rely on its own study, not someone else's, to decide how much to bid.

Arrogant nonsense is all we've been getting from Blagojevich. Every week seems to bring more reason to regard Blagojevich as a dangerous windbag who will do anything to get re-elected. Most recently was the disclosure that the governor's aides, early in his administration, reviewed and approved hundreds of employment decisions, often by name--jobs that were supposed to go through the non-political civil service process. Or using the lottery idea to buy off state Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago independent who threatened to run against the governor.

All this from the guy who promised a new day of reform. One who has the feds sniffing around to find out if he has handed out jobs to campaign donors and political allies.

Sound familiar?

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E-mail dennis@dennisbyrne.net

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

1 comment:

Jim O. said...

Boondoggle of massive proportions
By Jennifer Roback Morse

Jun 5, 2006
Once again, the bad arguments in favor of universal pre-school arise from the dead like a vampire. I feel like Dr. J, the Vampire Slayer: I’ve been arguing against the high-quality-low-cost-universal preschool crowd for years. How many times do I have to shoot this thing? But this time, the universal preschool argument has a $2 billion dollar price tag attached to it.

Rob Reiner and his liberal allies have created Proposition 82, the "Preschool for All" Act. If approved by the voters of California on June 6, this proposition would create an entitlement for government funded preschool for all four year-olds for at least three hours a day. The fate of Proposition 82 matters, even if you don’t live in California. Bad ideas have a way of oozing out of California and into the rest of the country.

Supporters claim that the $2.4 billion spent on preschool education will be cost effective for the state because "studies show" that attending "quality" preschool will improve reading, school achievement, reduce the drop out rate, teen pregnancy, drug use and crime. Supporters say that Prop 82 will have no cost for 99.4% of California taxpayers.

These arguments for Prop 82 are fatally flawed.

The proponents of universal preschool consistently overstate its benefits. Their favorite study is a Rand Corporation study that extrapolates the benefits obtained by a program in Chicago in the 1980's. The results of that particular preschool study have nothing to do with the results the average family could expect, or with the results the entire state of California would be likely to achieve.

The Chicago preschool program was targeted at low-income, high-risk children, most of whom had unmarried parents. Finding that high quality preschool helped this group of people says absolutely nothing about the impact of preschool on the children of middle class, married-couple households. Most of those kids are already in preschool programs anyway;overall, 65% of California children are in some form of preschool. It is pointless to spend taxpayer dollars subsidizing kids who are already well-provided for by their own parents.

These same kinds of studies are used to browbeat stay at home mothers into placing their kids in preschools or daycare centers. "Am I harming my child by depriving him of the enriching preschool experience?" mothers ask me all the time. No, I always reply. Just pay attention to what your child needs, and trust your instincts. Ignore the studies, unless they apply to your situation very specifically. The studies touting universal preschool are based on non-universal samples and have nothing to do with the experiences of most families.

Furthermore, the Chicago program was more than an academic program. It also required parental involvement, and taught parenting skills. Some of the program’s benefits are surely attributable to the improved parenting the mothers used throughout the child’s formative years. Yet the supporters of universal preschool assign all the credit to the one year the child spent in their precious preschool program. After all, we wouldn’t want to give credit to parents. Everyone knows parents are the problem. The sooner we get kids away from their parents and into government run schools, the better off everyone will be.

And by the way, Prop 82 mandates that the state determine curriculum standards for preschool. Remember, this is the state that micromanged the curriculum to the point of requiring history textbooks to include the contributions of gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. The state legislature has no common sense about the curriculum they are already responsible for, so it's important not to put the little kiddies into their hands any sooner than necessary.

The supporters of Prop 82 say it will have no impact on 99.4% of the taxpayers, because the program will be funded by a special tax on the highest income bracket. Prop 82 requires a 1.7% tax on individuals with incomes over $400,000. But this claim is misleading.

According to the official Legislative Analyst, these same taxpayers already pay one third of the state’s annual income taxes. Remember that the state’s solvency is deeply dependent on this handful of people. Last time we had a big recession in California, tax revenues went to hell in a basket. The burst of the "Dot Com" bubble drained wealth from the wealthiest, so these high income people no longer had the income to tax. Besides paying the taxes, these are the people who create jobs in our state. Prop 82 says, "let’s tax them some more." We might as well have a contest to see how many wealthy people we can drive into Nevada.

Proposition 82 requires preschool teachers to have approximately five years of college. Proposition 82 funds would pay a half billion dollars to colleges and universities to develop new courses. There is no proven benefit to this increased credentialism. Think of what the state and individual families could do with that money instead.

This is a boondoggle of massive proportions. Even if you don’t live in California, forward this column to everyone you know who does. Even if you don’t go to the polls on June 6th for any other reason, go vote no on Proposition 82.



Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage: (You can improve your marriage, even if your spouse doesn’t change a bit) which you can find at www.jennifer-roback-morse.com