Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
June 3, 2019
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
While Illinois legislators wrestled with the issue of legalizing marijuana, their counterparts in Oregon were addressing an unanticipated problem from their decision to legalize it.
Oregon is suffering from a glut of the stuff, to the point that elected officials there are trying to rescue legal sellers from the falling prices caused by the sellers’ decision to grow too much.
“The harsh reality is we have too much product on the market,” said Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
The governor is preparing to sign legislation that would allow the Oregon Liquor Control Commission additional authority to deny — based on the economic concept of supply and demand — new pot-growing licenses.
Government officials can’t resist fiddling with the marketplace, especially when private interests, in this case those who have pot they can’t sell, ask for help.
News accounts indicate that Oregon has so much cannabis that it “if growing were to stop today, it could take more than six years by one estimate to smoke or eat it all.”
The market solution to the glut would be to do nothing, let prices fall and uncompetitive sellers deal with the consequences. Eventually, supply would meet what is now insufficient demand.
But the dealers have raised the prospect that they — at least some of them — will divert unsold legal marijuana into the black market. In others words, bail us out or run the risk we’ll engage in criminal behavior.
Why is Oregon up to its neck in dope?
Previously decriminalized, marijuana was legalized there in 2014. So growers have been planting the stuff in a climate that is rich and moist. They expected to generate substantial profits based on what they perceived to be unlimited demand.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the pay window. Prices fell through the floor.
Retail prices dropped from more than $10 per gram in 2016 to less than $5 last December while production continued to boom and more competitors sprang up.
More than 1,000 producers have received “grow” licenses over the past three years.
So while denying new licenses is a proposed solution, it’s pretty obvious that there already are too many existing growers. Plus, there’s another complicating factor, and it’s a big one.
While those marijuana growers can close shop, they can’t escape their debts by filing for bankruptcy because growing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
One grower complained that “when we go out of business, we’re going to go down hard.”
Irony abounds in this debate. Current pot growers want to block entry into the market by new pot growers via legislation while would-be pot growers contend that those denied licenses to grow will do so anyway — in violation of the law.
Imagine that, growing marijuana illegally in a state awash in legal marijuana. All-knowing legislators and regulators, no doubt, will straighten that out.
The apparent problem with growing marijuana is that, if it’s not sold, it spoils. So producers are trying to save their stock by converting it to the edibles and oils some consumers enjoy. While that may prevent spoilage, it still represents unsold inventory.
What Oregon producers really want is not help from the state government, but from the federal government. If Congress would just legalize marijuana in all 50 states, they assert, Oregon could ship its marijuana elsewhere.
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, it’s hard times — not high times — for pot growers in Oregon. As for the users, getting stoned is a bargain, at least in terms of dollars and cents.
June 2, 2019
The (Moline) Dispatch and Rock Island Argus
Voting’s good for fair tax, why not fair maps?
We apologize to those expecting to see a post-mortem of the historic Illinois legislative session.
But given the game-changing issues that still were in play at this writing, it will take time to sort out the winners and losers. In fact, given the massive size of the complex bills involved, it’s hard to tell what else may be lurking in the ones that survived.
So, please indulge us as we focus today on the hypocrisy and disregard for the democratic process at the center of what our state leaders refused to do yet again. That’s create a path to independent legislative mapmaking that would allow voters to pick their state lawmakers rather than the other way around.
Instead, rank-and-file Democrats, with barely a whimper, stood by as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton buried the latest in a series of amendments to create an independent commission to draw Illinois legislative and congressional districts.
Leadership’s long opposition to giving voters the power to change the constitution leaves Illinoisans working to end political gerrymandering one last shot to get an amendment in voters’ hands. If one isn’t approved by lawmakers next year, Madigan’s cartographers will use pinpoint technology to cement his control over who gets elected for another decade.
Meanwhile, however, rank-and-file Democrats were far less reluctant to champion a leader-driven constitutional amendment to replace Illinois’ flat-rate income tax with a graduated tax. Many, including some who claimed to be undecided about the merits of the “Fair Tax,” said they backed the amendment because it gave voters the final choice.
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker also used that argument in April to help sell his signature proposal. “We have a constitutional amendment process that ultimately puts this decision to the voters,” he said. “It’s time to let the people of Illinois -- our taxpayers -- decide.”
Even Madigan couldn’t resist waving the democracy flag in a celebratory statement Thursday that began, “The completion of the Fair Tax package ensures the people of Illinois can evaluate the proposal on the basis of facts and hard numbers, not half-truths and special-interest spin.”
This newfound affinity for the power of the people will, of course, be fleeting, as reformers well know. The General Assembly has been the place where amendments to reform Illinois have gone to die for more than three decades.
Madigan supporters argue that those amendments, including ones designed to take back Illinois elections, fail to get on the ballot because proponents fail to make the case for them. That assumes proponents get the opportunity to do so.
Consider, for example, the ways in which Madigan & Co. have blocked fair maps, such as refusing to call resolutions for a vote, making sure both houses don’t pass the same bill, and using sympathetic courts to overturn the will of half a million Illinois voters who signed a petition to get an independent map amendment on the ballot.
Voters can expect more of the same when leaders are faced with an independent maps amendment next year. They also shouldn’t count on Pritzker to lead the charge for change, his April voters’-choice comments notwithstanding. Remember, when he was asked his views on fair maps, candidate Pritzker said only that he would veto an unfair map. In addition, it seems unlikely he would endanger leadership’s goodwill on that issue with pieces of his ambitious agenda still pending.
That leaves the fight for fair maps where it always has been: In the hands of voters who must convince their lawmakers to stage the legislative coup required to make them a reality.
Victory remains a long shot, of course. But the path to independent elections won’t get any easier if those in power get the chance to control who gets elected for another decade.
So stay active, alert, and involved.
May 30, 2019
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Let’s use our 18 months to make reasoned decision on income tax
It took a little good ol’ fashioned Illinois political sleight of hand to put a question regarding a graduated income tax before you. But when you vote on the matter a year and a half from now, political tricks aren’t going to be the deciding factor.
You are. Prepare yourself to make a reasoned decision.
If you didn’t know better over the past year, you’d think from the rhetoric on both sides that lawmakers were arguing over whether to convert the state’s flat 4.95-percent income tax to a graduated system with rates that vary according to a person’s income. But that, of course, is not what they did this week. They merely agreed to put on the November 2020 ballot the question of whether to remove the requirement of a flat tax from the Illinois Constitution. Then, through legislation, they established the rates and income levels that would go into effect if voters remove the flat tax requirement.
So, the first question you have to consider is whether you think everyone in Illinois should be taxed at the same rate or whether the legislature should be given the flexibility to approve different tax rates for different levels of income. That’s not an insignificant question. The fact that the concept has attracted labels as different from each other as a “progressive tax,” a “fair tax,” a “jobs tax,” a “blank check” and an “unfair tax” says a lot about what voters have to decide. We’ll all do well to use the next 18 months to consider the matter from all possible vantage points and seriously reflect on what this change could mean.
Part of the consideration will involve the graduated rates approved by the House and Senate this week, but keep in mind that those numbers are not the ultimate issue. They won’t be embedded in the Constitution, but will be subject to the same legislative review and modification involving any law.
This distinction will be just one of many important factors to remember in the coming onslaught of pro and con arguments clamoring for your attention. If it escaped you, that’s understandable, considering that both Democrats and Republicans have been ranting as if it didn’t exist -- the one side vowing a new system will be a major step toward solving the state’s budget crisis, the other declaring it will not produce the revenues projected, and both sides infusing their arguments with innuendo, misdirection and conjecture, all of it as if the issue were the numbers and not the constitutional question.
Some people may wonder what it says about Republicans that they fought so hard to block the public from having its say on the flat tax. Others may see portents in the way Democrats, especially in the House, maneuvered to make it possible -- replacing two outspoken suburban Democrats at the last minute on a committee taking a key vote, offering the prospect of a property tax task force to warm the feet of and provide political cover for the reluctant, considering a meeting to be a continuation of a session started days before because the term “adjourn” had not been used when the first session broke up.
From all this, everyone can see a vision of what’s in store between now and November 2020. It’s a daunting picture. But what’s reassuring, if you have faith in democracy, is that at least now the matter is in our hands. We, the voters, will decide. We have 18 months to examine it from every angle. Let’s use them well.