Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It's Really Not...

...a "mandate" when you win an election by a hair's-breadth margin. I'm speaking about our recent nail-biter of a gubernatorial election in Illinois.

Governor Quinn, no longer the "accidental governor," was declared the winner and his rival Bill Brady finally conceded on the Friday after the election. It was mathematically certain that Brady had no chance of winning - and personally, I'm tickled to death about that. But all the same, he was within his rights to wait to make sure. At last count, Quinn won with a margin of almost 20,000 votes. Hardly a landslide.

A "mandate" as defined by Merriam-Webster's Desk Dictionary (the 1995 edition) is: an authoritative command; an authorization to act given to a representative.

So maybe he has the secondary definition in his favor, but in popular parlance, "mandate" has come to mean "landslide," which is unfortunate. Because it's not the same thing.

Facts are these: Illinois is broke. It's in debt up to Lincoln's eyeballs. We've had two recent governors convicted on criminal charges. We're taxed to the hilt and we still can't pay our bills. Unemployment is horrible (though better maybe than Michigan's) and the state is the punchline for jokes all over the place. Corruption is the state's new slogan.

All that being said, I have to agree with Quinn on a couple of points. Our education system stinks. The way we fund education is draconian. We have funded our education system on property taxes. Which is fine if you live in a high-rent district like New Trier where the average spent on a student is somewhere around $14,000 per student. In the smaller, more rural school districts, the spending is somewhere around $4,500 per student. In my school district alone, we have the dubious distinction of being "one of the poorest districts" in the state. How's that for a warm fuzzy?

And many communities have put tax caps on the property taxes. Which seems reasonable and seems like you are truly guarding that the homeowner won't be taxed out of his or her home. Until you hit the cap. Which is like hitting a brick wall. Something has to give because you're now in a state of diminishing returns. The schools can't afford basics. I'm not talking a laptop for each student.

I'm talking about textbooks that are 12 years old. That's too old no matter what side of the "spending for education" coin you're on. I'm talking about putting the school's "library" into a space the size of a closet and making the former library into classroom spaces because the school was built for 400 students but now as a population nearing 560 or more.

I'm talking about a high school built for 2500 students when the student body is topping that and is now in the neighborhood of nearly 500 more students. Crowding? Yeah, but look at the safety issues, too. We're in Tornado Alley. If you had to move nearly 3,000 students plus staff and faculty, could you efficiently move them - quickly? Probably not.

Quinn says we have to raise taxes. Which automatically sets off all kinds of alarm bells. But you know what? He's right. We do not need another casino. It only sucks revenue out of peoples' pockets. The house always wins, folks!

We do not need to cut social services any more than they've already been cut. We're not a frivolous state: the social services we have, we need. And it would be nice if the State could pay them for what they do.

Unless they're printing money in the basement of the Governor's Mansion, we are going to have to suck this up somehow. And tax increases are the most efficient way to do this.

Do I like it? Nope.

Can I do the math? Yep.

Do I have a better idea? Nope.

If anyone else does, please contact Governor Quinn. He could use the help.

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