The evil genius of G-Rod
Pure genius. Hot-dogging genius, of course, but brilliant nonetheless.
I'm referring to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's announcement last week that he would abandon his much-repeated pledge to veto any tax hike "on people" and go ahead and approve a regional sales tax hike to fund a mass transit bailout for Chicagoland. His only caveat was that senior citizens must forever ride free on all transit districts in the state.
The governor said he came up with this idea "before Thanksgiving." So the first question which comes to mind is: Why the heck did he make all those Chicago-area commuters agonize over their future for these past weeks if he knew all along what would make a tax increase acceptable to him?
The simple answer is: It's all about him. It's always all about him. The governor loves to ride in on his big white horse and save the day, and that's just what happened time after time on this months-long mass transit fiasco. He's implemented two "magic money" extensions to ward off two threatened "doomsday" scenarios of layoffs and route cuts, and afterwards patted himself on the back so hard he almost severed his spine. Meanwhile, he had this trick up his sleeve that could've been implemented long ago if he was a "normal" leader. As we all know by now, this man is anything but normal.
Then, last week, when his top legislative ally Senate President Emil Jones rewrote the transit bailout bill slightly to attract more votes from DuPage County legislators, Blagojevich didn't bother to ask Jones to insert his senior citizen freebie language into the legislation. That provision would have made the bill far more difficult to vote against, or risk alienating a powerful constituency. And it would have been particularly troubling for some of those Downstate Senate Democrats who were refusing to vote for the transit bailout until a statewide capital bill had passed. They have transit districts, too.
Instead, the governor waited until after the bailout bill had passed both the House and the Senate to unveil his latest grand scheme, which, he said, he would include in an amendatory veto of the legislation.
Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) has been at the forefront of the effort to inject more cash into her region's mass transit system. Hamos told reporters last week that she asked the governor's top staff if they would agree to simply running a separate piece of legislation to allow seniors to ride free. That way, there would be no need for a gubernatorial veto. They turned her down flat. This is his idea, and he didn't want to share.
There were other considerations. The governor reportedly considered vetoing the tax hikes out of the bailout bill and substituting them with some corporate loophole closures. That idea would likely have been rejected in both chambers, however, and some of the governor's legislative political allies are facing hot primaries in Chicago next month. If nothing was accomplished, those allies (state Senators Rickey Hendon and Iris Martinez) would have a far tougher time winning their races.
But, as I noted above, regardless of all the other usual goofiness from this governor, and the actual reasons for the end product, last week's announcement was a very politically astute move.
It's always a good idea to buy off the senior citizen crowd, especially during these times when Baby Boomers are retiring at increasing rates. Seniors almost always vote in higher percentages than any other demographic. And they truly love their entitlements. There's a very good reason why Social Security "reform" is known as the Third Rail of American politics. Illinois politicians love seniors so much that they're exempted from paying income taxes on their pensions, no matter how high those pension payments are.
Plus, commuters, political bigwigs and union/business leaders in the RTA/CTA region were practically begging the governor to flip-flop on his campaign vow to veto any and all tax hikes. So, it's doubtful he will suffer much from his change of heart. Besides, everyone's been distracted by his senior citizen ploy. The tax hike angle has barely been mentioned.
I was assured last Wednesday night that Gov. Blagojevich is definitely running for reelection. The governor's Thursday announcement sure looks like his first step down that road.
God help us all.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com