As 2011 draws to a close, we’re counting down the ten most significant stories in politics/government in Illinois. The first installment (items 10-8) is here, the second (7-5) here, and the third (4-3) http://lodeplus.com/government-in-chicago/politics-illinois-top-10-p… here.
The countdown concludes…
2) State tax hikes and fallout
Not two weeks into the year, lawmakers passed a 66% increase in the state income tax rate. Illinoisans were upset, seeing the state bite on wages increase from 3% to 5%.
The governor signed the increase, breaking his campaign pledge to veto any increase above 4%, a promise made just a couple of months earlier.
That sent Quinn’s approval ratings— never stratospheric— to the 30% level. Nearly a year later, he’s still struggling to rise above 35%.
Corporate taxes were also raised, going from 4.8% to 7%. Businesses howled, many threatening to leave for more tax-friendly places.
Other states leapt in, trying to poach the disaffected. Indiana launched an “Illinoyed by Taxes?” campaign, aimed at wooing tax-fleeing companies across the border. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker borrowed his state’s old tourism slogan, hoping to entice tax-weary Illinois companies to “Escape to Wisconsin”.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came to Chicago, predicting his state would make hay off the “disaster” of a tax hike.
Some Illinois companies have taken the bait elsewhere, while others have demanded ad hoc tax breaks as the price for staying put, discussed in the previous post.
1) Election of Emanuel
In most states, the governor’s the most powerful political figure. Not in Illinois.
Here, the mayor of Chicago’s got the most clout. It was true under the Daleys, and remains so, now that the Daley dynasty has given way to the Rule of Rahm.
Governor Quinn is hamstrung by recalcitrant legislators. He’s not even seen as the most powerful guy in Springfield, not with House Speaker Mike Madigan in firm control of the legislative machinery.
Emanuel, meanwhile, has ridden his impressive electoral mandate (55% of the vote in a crowded field in February) and his gifts for political persuasion and intimidation into a position of nearly unchallenged authority.
A potentially contentious relationship with City Council dean Ed Burke seems to be on an even keel. Emanuel hasn’t had any close-call Council votes— his budget passed with nary a dissent. The mayor was a congressman for a long while, knows the legislative game, and has been solicitous of aldermen’s opinions. Aldermen also know Emanuel has great fundraising skills and that he’ll donate to Council allies and the opponents of his Council opponents.
The City Council easily approved Emanuel’s proposal to get rid of the city “head tax”— a job killer, the mayor had called it.— and Emanuel has made it a habit to be on hand whenever new jobs are announced by firms relocating or expanding in Chicago.
He and his new schools chief will soon get the longer school day they wanted. He’s easily won the public-opinion battle with the teachers’ union opposition, not even taking much flak for his decision to send his own kids to private school.
He hasn’t won every battle— thus far, legislators and the governor have not handed Emanuel the big casino he wants for the city, though gambling expansion is certainly not a dead issue.
And 2012 will bring a big test. Leaders of the major industrial nations— the G8— and NATO will be meeting in Chicago in May. The twin summits will pose huge security challenges, and Emanuel’s already catching flak for proposing that penalties for resisting arrest and other protest-related crimes be greatly increased on a temporary basis, just during the summit meetings.
Certainly, Chicago’s rocky finances will continue to pose problems. But a mayor whose approval ratings tickled 80% (in August) may well have the political capital needed to make even tough dollars-and-cents choices without debilitating backlash.