As 2011 draws to a close, we’re counting down the ten most significant stories in politics/government in Illinois. The first installment is here, the second can be found here.
The countdown continues…
Illinois apparently bucked a nationwide trend in 2011, becoming more Democratic through redistricting. The Land of Lincoln (a Republican) is one of just a handful of states where Dems hold the governor’s chair and control both houses of the legislature.
Illinois’ Congressional delegation will shrink, from 19 to 18. Republicans, who now hold 11 seats, may drop two, three, four, or even five seats, thanks to creative electoral map-making that, incredibly, has passed judicial muster. Judges who believed the new maps to be “a blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats” and “enacted in large part to give Democrats a partisan advantage” allowed them to stand.
Democrats who control the Illinois legislature strengthened their dominance in drawing new districts for the General Assembly and State Senate, as well.
Voters in a number of big states have voted to take redistricting power away from legislatures, and put the re-drawing of political maps in the hands of relatively independent commissions.
Don’t look for that in Illinois, though. Lawmakers would be loath to give up redistricting power that allows them to create “safe” districts in which to run.
The power of the people to vote in such a change is severely limited in this state. Illinois’ rules governing referenda are so restrictive (sponsors must gather signatures from a whopping 10% of the state’s registered voters, for instance), only one binding initiative has ever been passed (in 1980, voters cut the number of state legislators from 177 to 118).
The 2010 Census has also produced a fraught redistricting battle in Chicago’s City Council. The city lost 200,000 residents over the last ten years, 90% of them African-Americans.
Latino aldermen say the growth in their communities (+25,000) should be reflected in the Council’s makeup. Black aldermen have drawn up a map that limits the loss of seats in mostly-black areas.
If the conflict isn’t resolved in the City Council, municipal coffers will have to be tapped to the tune of $30-million, to pay for a special election. Mayor Rahm Emanuel vows not to let that happen, and is threatening to put a proposal to cut the number of aldermen in half on any special election ballot.
The prospect of cutting electoral opportunity from 50 wards to 25 will probably be enough to pressure the aldermen to agree on a new map.
3) Tax breaks for Sears, CME
After hiking Illinois’ corporate taxes significantly in January, the governor and lawmakers spent much of the rest of the year trying to offer deals to major employers who threatened to leave.
The piecemeal approach— giving big businesses a break not available to smaller firms and regular folks— is unpopular, but necessary, according to the governor.
“You have to defend yourself,” Pat Quinn was quoted as saying after legislators approved tax breaks for Sears and he CME Group: “If Ohio is offering $400 million to Sears, a company that has thousands of employees in Illinois, we will defend ourselves with a reasonable, adequate, approach…That’s what you have to do in 21st Century America to make sure your state and your businesses have support.”
Ohio, it was widely reported, had dangled $400-million a year in tax breaks, trying to lure Sears headquarters— and the 6100 jobs it represents— to the Buckeye State. We never heard of any similar effort to woo the commodities exchanges a operated by CME, but Illinois lawmakers agreed to cut back the number of electronic trades subject to state tax.
The total cost of the tax-relief package, which did include some tax breaks for other employers and for individuals— upwards of $200-million, perhaps as much as $350 million a year. That’s a big additional hole in an already-tattered state budget, and no one expects this was the last special tax deal big employers will seek.
A sign of Illinois’ “rudderless, dysfunctional business climate” is what a spokesman for Caterpillar Corporation called it. Caterpillar had briefly threatened to move its headquarters out of state in the spring, though CEO Doug Oberhelman backtracked on the threat within weeks.
So special tax break requests will keep coming from those with lots of jobs to dangle before other states. Less powerful taxpayers will either paying more when big employers leave the state, or dig deeper to make up for tax breaks the big guys are able to wangle from state lawmakers.