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Capitol Fax

Rich Miller’s commentary on State Government

“Is it weird that I’m kind of glad to have Judy Baar Topinka back?” a Democratic friend of mine asked me the other day.

No, I replied. It’s not weird. I’m glad she’s back as well. She’s crazy, I said, but in a very sane way.

Topinka was elected state comptroller last November by a huge margin, while spending just $270,000. That’s less than half of what it costs to run a decent state House campaign. Some cost many times that.

Down-ballot statewide races like Topinka’s revolve a lot around name recognition. Topinka was state treasurer for three terms, so Illinoisans knew who she was.

After losing the 2006 governor’s race to Rod Blagojevich, voters this last time around may have tried to make it up to her by casting more votes for Topinka than she’d ever received before. She lost just two counties and performed way better in Cook County than any statewide Republican candidate, including US Sen. Mark Kirk.

Topinka has kidded me recently for being responsible for that failed 2006 gubernatorial bid, which put her out of government for four years. I’ve covered her for over 20 years and she was a great source of information while she was in the state Senate, so while she was attempting to make up her mind about challenging Blagojevich she asked for my thoughts. I don’t give advice, but I did pose two questions to her:

1) Are you comfortable serving another four years as treasurer with Rod Blagojevich as governor?

2) If Blagojevich or one of his top cronies is indicted before the election and a Republican goes on to win, are you comfortable with all of the candidates who have announced a primary bid?

Apparently, the answer was “No” to both, because she took the plunge, but then lost by ten points.

Topinka has a well-known reputation for being tight with a dollar. She’s a thrift shop, garage sale kind of person who lives in a modest neighborhood in suburban Riverside. With the state’s backlog of unpaid bills in the billions, a penny-pincher is good to have around.

She’s also a beloved figure on both sides of Springfield’s political aisle. She’s not overly partisan and her years in the General Assembly helped her understand how the process works. But she’s no get-along, go-along type. Topinka speaks her mind, and has a very sharp tongue. Few in politics can get away with that, but she’s always managed to say what was on her mind while still getting things done.

A few weeks ago Topinka did something that most Illinois politicians have refused to do. She got specific about actual budget cuts.

As the state government slid into budgetary Hell, most Republicans chastised the Democrats for not cutting the budget, but then refused to offer up any real cuts of their own. The majority Democrats were even worse. They’re in control, but they punted to Gov. Pat Quinn, sending him “lump sum” budgets that didn’t make any specific cuts, but just reduced spending for each of his agencies.

So when Topinka mentioned on a radio program that it would be easy to find a billion dollars in cuts, I challenged her staffers to come up with a list. They did.

Now, not everybody agrees that her list would actually save a billion dollars, myself included. But at least she was willing to stick her neck out and put her name on some real budget reductions, including a $100 million cut to universal preschool, moving seniors out of nursing homes and into home care to save $120 million more, and eliminating the state’s $26 million Amtrak operating subsidy.

You may not agree with Topinka’s cuts, but we need far more budget ideas on the table. The state budget has been left to the two Democratic legislative leaders and the governor for far too long. Republicans and rank-and-file Democrats have abdicated their responsibility as legislators.

The object of a General Assembly is to collect ideas from all over the state and then percolate them in Springfield. And even though the state just raised taxes, budget cuts will still be required because the hole wasn’t completely filled and pension, labor, health care and material and energy costs will continue to rise every year.

Topinka has put herself out there. It’s time for everybody else to follow suit.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

Illinois Businesses, Escape to Wisconsin

Last week, the Wemstroms took issue with a letter by Kathy Hood which decried the recent Illinois corporate tax increase. For starters, they accused the writer of “anti-tax disinformation”. I believe they misunderstood Ms. Hood, who never stated that taxes were the only reason for Illinois’ poor economy, but rather focused on taxes because that was the most recent ill-conceived legislative action.

While business CEO’s evaluate far more than taxes when deciding where to locate a business, a business tax increase is certainly a disincentive for business location. In a survey conducted by Chief Executive Magazine, Illinois was ranked 46th, of course, this was before our recent 46% business tax increase.

Since our most direct competition is with neighboring states, let’s look at how we stack up: Kentucky has thoroughly stomped us, 23 positions in front. Missouri is showing us at 20 states better. Iowa is watching us like hawks from their perch 27 states above. Even Wisconsin wants businesses to escape up at least 3 positions. In true Hoosier fashion, Indiana trounces us by 35 states. It’s no surprise Caterpillar, an Illinois company, just announced their new locomotive plant will be built in Muncie, Indiana. Speaking of Indiana, the Wemstroms stated the entire Midwest has been losing businesses. They might want to check Indiana’s economic growth before making blanket statements. Even New Jersey is courting Illinois businesses, and given recent events in both New Jersey and Illinois, odds are they’ll be able to convince at least a few businesses to re-locate in a more favorable environment.

Losing low-wage jobs to India isn’t nearly as large a concern to me as losing high-wage jobs to Indiana (and Germany, Ireland, et al). We don’t need to raise lower and middle class taxes, which is the net result of tariffs. Instead of President Obama and Governor Quinn giving speeches to business leaders, they should be listening to them, and acting on what they hear. An eloquent teleprompter speech is no substitute for action. Given a level playing field, Americans don’t have to lose jobs to Ireland, just as Illinoisans don’t have to lose jobs to Indiana.

“Ms. Hood also doesn’t seem to understand that a vibrant economy needs a healthy population. Every study shows that our health care indicators are slipping in comparison with Western Europe and Japan. Our people are sicker and our health care costs are astronomical.” There’s no lack of understanding in Ms. Hood’s letter, she merely alliterated that an unconstitutional (as ruled by the courts), unaffordable law should be repealed.

I agree the name-calling was uncalled for. Comparing our legislators to 5th graders was, indeed, beyond the pale. Every 5th grader in the state should be up in arms! Also, referring to our governor as “three-county Quinn” would be lost on anyone who didn’t know he carried only three counties in the election. Governor Quinnocchio, whose nose should have grown an inch for every tax increase point he promised to veto, is entitled to all the respect he’s earned.

Terry Smith

Lanark, IL

Capitol Report

By Jim Sacia, State Representative, 89th District

CIVICS 101 - “I’d be happy to introduce that as possible legislation but I need to wait until January and the new general assembly.” I gave that answer to a number of you throughout the summer as you suggested ideas for new laws.

January has come and gone, and I’ve introduced the majority of your wishes. Some have already been crafted as new bills, others are still being researched and evaluated and, pending that outcome, they will be introduced.

January 12th marked the beginning of the 97th General Assembly, which will be in place for the next two years. Throughout the first year and three months, I can introduce your ideas and I have a good chance of them getting a hearing.

If your idea makes sense, I submit it to the Legislative Research Bureau (LRB). We all discuss its validity. Once I okay the drafting, it is introduced to the house clerk. Then it gets a bill number and is sent to the rules committee made up of three members of the majority party and two members of the minority. You often hear a comment like, “the bill is stuck in rules”. That simply means it has not yet been assigned to the appropriate committee, example – an agriculture bill to the agriculture committee, a transportation bill to the transportation committee, etc. It could be because the majority does not think that the bill has merit. That is an entirely separate issue that needs to be addressed in a separate column.

Let’s assume your bill makes it to committee. There it is up to the house sponsor to convince a majority of the committee that the idea makes sense. This is where I ask you to come to Springfield and testify before the committee as to why Illinois needs this law. This is the only opportunity you, as a citizen, can argue the merits of your idea to an organized number of house members. This is also where those in opposition have an opportunity to be heard.

When both pro and con finish their testimony a vote is called and, assuming it passes, it is on the way to the house floor. Certain time factors are in place to include three readings of the bill to give both pro and con opportunities to reach as many of the 118 members as possible to argue the importance either way of the issue. This is why lobbyists exist and they can certainly affect a bill’s outcome.

Once it’s on third reading it is up to me and like minded colleagues to argue why your bill would make a good law.

If it passes, it goes to the senate and the process starts over. Assuming it passes there, the governor has sixty days to approve or veto the bill. If he does nothing, it becomes a law after sixty days.

Community Forum

As always, you can reach me, Sally or Barb at or e-mail us at . You can also visit my website at It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.