PI Original Adam Doster Thursday October 1st, 2009, 11:38am

The Daily Herald's "Special Interests"

Even as it has acknowledged that the state faces monstrous debts, the Daily Herald editorial board has not hidden
its skepticism about raising income tax rates in Illinois.  What's
frustrating about their editorial yesterday, however, is the way in
which they discount the ...

Even as it has acknowledged that the state faces monstrous debts, the Daily Herald editorial board has not hidden its skepticism about raising income tax rates in Illinois.  What's frustrating about their editorial yesterday, however, is the way in which they discount the motives of progressives who support such a policy.

In the piece, the paper targeted members of the Responsible Budget Coalition for acting out of "self-interest" and lawmakers calling for new revenue for failing to identify programs unworthy of state funding:

AFSCME Council 31, which Bayer heads, is among the 90 special interest groups that make up the coalition. Others include Arts Alliance Illinois, Chicago Jobs Council, Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, Protestants for the Common Good, the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, the Legislative Education Network of DuPage and many more. All, no doubt, serve a positive societal function. Many provide critical services. But some, we're willing to venture, bring little more than self-interest to the debate.

The hard fact is that the state's special interests do not hold the answer to our budget woes. On that point, we must count on our political leaders to define terms that are clear and unequivocal. And they must realize that until they provide those, no other response, whether for cuts or for tax increases, will be acceptable. [Emphasis added]

Let's take this one by one, shall we? First, it's pretty bizarre to describe Responsible Budget Coalition members as "special interests." It's true that a few key unions are members of the group, but those organizations exist to advocate for thousands upon thousands of workers and their families (both inside and outside of their ranks) who can't do so individually. Suggesting that they are on par with corporations, which use their resources and government contacts to protect or increase profit margins, obscures the primary mission of the labor movement.

More to the point, the large majority of the Coalition members have no clout at all. They do not raise money for campaign contributions. They do not hire professional lobbyists. They work hard to provide adequate resources in communities across the state so working families can live fruitful and productive lives. They are now joining together to preserve those very services -- on which millions rely. Their interests aren't "special."  To the contrary, they are shared by countless Illinoisans.

Second, if the board wants to rail against "self interest," perhaps they should focus their ire on the state legislators who failed to vote for new revenue last spring out of  pure political cowardice. In the interest of putting off any votes that may threaten their popularity, both Democrats and Republicans left social service agencies in peril, college students without any tuition assistance, increased the state's debt burden, and failed to reform a tax and education funding system that's dangerously outdated and unfair.  All in the hopes of avoiding resistance at the ballot box next year.  As the Herald board wrote itself back in July: "political self preservation still rules the day in Springfield."

Lastly, if the paper is challenging Gov. Quinn and legislative leaders in favor of a tax increase to provide a "clear and unequivocal" definition of "essential" state services, it seems only fair that the Daily Herald should do the same. Given how little the state actually spends per capita, we'd be interested to find out what the paper deems wasteful.  And simply citing one earmark -- as they did in yesterday's editorial -- isn't going to cut it.

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