Why I Changed the Name of this Blog

When I started this blog 6 years ago, I had a clear mission to share common sense ideas positioned to the right of many of my Chicago peers. As my bio states, I am an economist at heart and that perspective often unearths challenges with otherwise well-meaning progressive policy ideas.

Back then, the term conservative fit. It didn’t mean right winger, zealot, or evangelist. Those far right of center subscriptions each had their own labels, and conservative was a term with which I was comfortable – at least when it came to non-social issues. I still believe that the cost of big government is personal freedom, that building one’s station through personal productivity is one the clearest paths to happiness, that contemporary unions are wolves in sheep’s clothing, that history matters, and that there are just too many darned laws.

Because everything that works, happens in the center.

But the former President and his attention-drunk followers co-opted the word conservative into something else. Now it leans toward anti-maskers, isolationism, good-old-days, and social justice insensitivity – concepts just as dangerous as their left wing counterparts: hyper-maskers, pandering to our international enemies, the tyranny of woke, and defunding the police. Idiots on both sides of the spectrum are equally in need of a slap.

My gut feeling is that there has never been a more equitable, more just, and more opportunity-filled time to be an American. The foundation of society, as we come out of this rule-breaking shut-down, is more pliable than ever before. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to make changes for the better. But we’ve been through a boiler of a year and it’s bubbled a lot of nasty things to the surface. These things need to be addressed openly and without fear and I look forward to exploring them on this site.

So welcome to my site, A Card Carrying Centrist. Same content, same mission, new and improved name.

The Boss that Smelt like Rotting Fish

You know the fish is rotting when the only thing keeping the head on is the self-protestation of the most powerful man in the State that he has “not been charged with any crime.”

Today, Mike Madigan announced he is suspending his campaign to be re-elected Illinois Speaker of the House. Apparently, if I read the Crain’s blurb correctly, the House Democratic Caucus has been unable to find the 60 votes needed to reelect him and has suspended his campaign.

But he is not gone yet. He still plans to keep his seat on the legislature and pulls the strings on just about every other foreseeable candidate. Furthermore, his wording suggests that as the only viable candidate, he may retain the position even without a campaign.

But that’s not the worst of it. His power is not limited to any of his offices. He will continue to hand select the majority of Illinois lawmakers until his death, and even after that, his cronies and purchased allegiances will keep the wheels of his machine running for as long as the benefits and money keep flowing their way.

Donald Trump would have destroyed our Nation’s democracy, but he did not. In the end, he made a hell of a mess, but will leave Washington without spoils. The Constitution of the United States is a tough boss.

Mike Madigan on the other hand has been riding the Illinois Constitution to his advantage his entire career. He uses his position as State Finance Chair to enforce his political agenda. He has purchased the allegiance of major voting-blocks with taxpayer-funded promises. Large corporate and union donors have repaid his favors with a war chest that keeps detractors out of office and punishes those who fail to toe his line. He controls the legislature’s ethical investigations and ensures that they never point toward himself. And he has been instrumental in eliminating the two-party system in Illinois – a handicap of which my left-leaning friends fail to appreciate the significance. No one has been more successful in undermining democracy anywhere in the United States than Mike Madigan has been in Illinois.

It is time for a couple new bosses here in Illinois.

Understand the Statistics of COVID – please?

Recently we have been hearing a lot of talk about the infection rate in Illinois. The growth in this number is quite shocking. Where it was 3% a month ago, it was 5.7% last Thursday, and it is 8% as of this writing!

Figure 1 New cases in Illinois (Bing's COVID Update)
Figure 1 New cases in Illinois (Bing’s COVID Update)

One might be led to believe that this means that 8% of Illinoisans are infected with COVID, but it does not. It means that 8% of those tested were positive. Those are wildly different things and the actual percentage of Illinoisans with the disease is something different. It could be higher and is likely much lower. Its rise could indicate a growth in the general infection rate or nothing at all. Residents of Illinois – more than almost any other state – need to be able to read between the lines recited by your officials.

I am not a conspiracist or an anti-science guy. Furthermore, I believe that the number of people catching COVID in Illinois in increasing rapidly and is cause for concern. However, my knowledge of science (and statistics in particular) leads me to worry that our elected officials are incorrectly interpreting “positivity rate” and ignoring more appropriate statistics altogether when making policy decisions.

Let us return to the early days of COVID. Initially the positivity rate throughout the Rush Medical System started in the 8% range. Within a couple weeks, that number had spiked to 25% This was consistent with what was reported in the press. The overall rate of infection in the state was unknown, but this number jumped because, given the shortage of tests, doctors began screening for symptoms before allowing a test to be administered. So, if a patient was asymptomatic or wanted a test to placate personal or professional curiosity, the request for a test was denied. Only the people who were likely sick or front-line were tested.  The infection rate of all Illinois was well below 1% at the time, but the 25% (and rising) infection rate measured meant that the tests were being used more effectively.

Post-it note captured at a Rush nurse’s station in April 2020

At some point the purpose of the this statistic was corrupted. The number is easy to track and regularly reported and it has come to be used in a way that was never intended. Testing issues have improved since then, people who are sick are still more likely to seek out testing and doctors are more likely to prescribe testing to symptomatic patients. Further complicating the issue, certain professional and demographic groups get tested more than others leading to overall results that do not match the population. In statistical terms, this is called selection bias. So, when you hear that the infection rate is 8%, understand that there is no scientific or even commonsense reason to equate that to the whole of Illinois, Chicago, or any geographic group.

Even though the positivity rate has risen 1300% since June, the fatality rate has fallen by 80% since the first peak

Still, there are important stats worth watching. My favorite (as macabre as this sounds) is fatality rate which – due to research, improved medical infrastructure, and improved treatment – has fallen consistently throughout COVID. On the first pandemic peak on May 13, 4100 people tested positive and 141 people died. On the second peak in October, 6100 people tested positive and 63 people died. This stat is not perfect either, but still, a positive test in May represented a 4.7% chance of death and a positive test in October represented a 1.0% chance of death. So even though positivity rate has risen 1300% since its low point in June, the chance of dying has fallen by 79% since the first peak. This is a reason to rejoice, not retreat further into our fears.

Figure 2 Fatal cases in Illinois (Bing's COVID Update)
Figure 2 Fatal cases in Illinois (Bing’s COVID Update)

Perhaps the best statistic available is deaths per 100,000 people. This stat cleanly identifies one’s likelihood to die from COVID and is calculated using the relatively bias-free numbers of population and COVID deaths while avoiding the sample bias of testing. Illinois’s current D/100K number is 78. That number sounds arbitrary but makes sense when used for comparison purposes. Remember our Mayor villainizing that COVID hotbed, the State of Wisconsin, a few weeks ago? Yet Wisconsin’s number is only 32. For whatever reason, Illinoisans have over twice the chance of dying from COVID than their neighbors to the north. Iowa’s number is 53, Indiana’s is 62, and Missouri’s is 47 – suggesting that all neighboring states are safer than Illinois. In fact, Illinois is and has been one of the top 10 most dangerous states as a function of COVID. Pile crime, politics, and taxes on top of that and start wondering why anyone lives here – but that is a subject for another day.

Figure 3 Death rates from COVID-19 as of October 28, 2020, by state (Statistica.com)
Figure 3 Death rates from COVID-19 as of October 28, 2020, by state.
For the complete chart, follow the link above. (Statistica.com)

I have been frustrated by misdirected, arbitrary, or politically motivated COVID policy since the beginning. I am not arguing that COVID is not dangerous. I am not arguing that people should not be diligent. I am arguing that Illinois officials are looking at the wrong data, looking at data incorrectly, and in too many cases expecting the public to accept “because science says so” without understanding the science themselves.

This issue has unfortunately been politicized. Please, do not reject my logic because it coincidentally aligns with the politics of others you oppose – some of whom you view as idiots. All the links to these numbers are included above and none of my sites have any political bias. If you wish not to believe me, click through and do your own research.

“Finally Fair” or debt reduction? The Governor’s plan can’t deliver both and likely delivers neither

Two of Springfield’s most trust-worthy politicians

Over the last two weeks I have published a bunch of posts outlining my opposition to the graduated income tax amendment or as our Governor incorrectly calls it” the fair tax amendment.” You can read them here.  What I’ve realized as a result is that its even simpler than I thought. So, channeling Douglas Adams, this is my 5th post in my 4-part series.

In order to understand the Governors proposed tax program, it is important to separate his two very separate proposals. The first is an amendment to the Illinois constitution which grants lawmakers sweeping new powers to change the way Illinois citizens are taxed. The second is a legislative proposal indicating how the amendment will first be used to increase taxes for some and lower taxes for others.

We have all heard the TV ads within which proponents of the “Fair Tax Amendment” talk about increasing the tax rate for the top 3% of earners and reducing it for everyone else. Yet the new wording proposed for the Illinois Constitution doesn’t mention top-3% this or tax-cuts that. These details are not part of the amendment. The Governor’s proposed amendment very simply removes the flat tax requirement and allows the legislature to increase  – or lower – taxes on any group at-will.

The Governor’s second proposal is to use these new legislative powers to immediately increase taxes from 4.95% to 8% for earners making more than $250,000 per year and to decrease everyone else’s tax rate from 4.95% to 4.9%. This, he promises, will 1) ensure that rich people “finally pay their fair share” (his words) and 2) eliminate the State’s deficit, leading ultimately to a reduction in the State’s debt.

We need that first one – the constitutional amendment – before the benefits of the second one – the legislative proposal – are possible. Unfortunately, those two benefits still aren’t possible as currently written. Only one can be true – and the governor knows it.

If you dig in (math shared at end of post), you will see that the numbers associated with the Governor’s program do not come close to eliminating the deficit. That “finally fair tax program” will only increase the State’s revenue by $3 billion – far short of the $6 billion annual deficit. As a result, the State will need to continue borrowing, at higher and higher interest rates, and the debt will continue to grow, and the State’s financial situation will continue to worsen.

OR…on the other hand, with the new legislative powers that the amendment provides, the State could say “to hell with fair and promises,” and legislate increases large enough to reduce the debt. The Governor’s tax rate details are not written in stone. The Legislature could enact them for a year and pick something much more aggressive the following session or just scrap the promises altogether and raise rates across the board now.

So what gives? Is the Governor trying to enact a tax program that is finally fair, or use the amendment to raise taxes to pay-off the State’s debt? The answer is likely neither.

Opponents of the program – and even some supporters – recognize that the Amendment marketing has not been completely honest. The Governor is looking for an additional revenue stream, and this amendment gets him one. It is understood that, the increased revenue will be directed at regular state services (including unchecked inefficiency and graft) and reduce borrowing. Despite promises, it was never intended to fix underfunded pensions or eliminate the deficit. It is a short-term solution to generate cash and in a few years it will be absorbed, Illinois debt will be pushing $80 billion, new sources of revenue will be needed, and that tax amendment will be right there, all warmed up ,and ready to facilitate another round of tax increases, this time much less “fair” and more widely shared.

The amount of money our state needs is big and growing and the three percenter’s pie is just not big enough to solve the problem. Everyone from middle-class on-up will eventually pay a higher rate as a result of this amendment. The usual suspects (Increasing debt service, unfunded pensions, growing entitlements, ballooning – yet ineffective – police departments and school districts) will continue to put pressure on coffers. Tax rates will rise for everyone, additional tax tiers will be introduced each with its own tax details, and 50% or even 100% of retirement income will be taxed at regular income levels. Within three to ten years of this amendment’s passage all Illinoisans will be paying higher state taxes, and some may be paying twice what they pay today.

“So, Jackass,” as my detractors may ask “what is the alternative? We can’t do nothing and isn’t this something?” Nope! The act of creating less than nothing does not make it something! Educated voters need to discern between programs which improve the fiscal health of our State and those that hurt it – regardless of promises. A tax amendment that is sold on the promise of reducing the state’s debt but in fact increases the state’s debt is not a step in the right direction. It is not something.

But, as Crain’s (I think?) pointed out last week, there may be a silver lining here. The failure of this amendment may signal a step forward for the Governor. Prior G, Bruce Rauner’s, message to state legislators was clear, if you can reduce waste, demonstrate commitment to fiscal responsibility, and pass pension reform, Illinoisans will pass a bipartisan tax increase. Before coughing up cash or turning over additional power, Illinoisans deserve proof that our legislators have turned the corner on governmental waste and that buying votes with taxpayer dollars is no longer acceptable.

If a failed graduated tax amendment in 2020 was followed by graduated tax amendment AND a pension reform amendment in 2021, taxpayers would feel a lot safer accepting it.

Note:

Here are the numbers to which I am referring. Illinois typically runs about a $6 billion dollar deficit. With COVID, 2020 will mark about a $7.5 billion shortfall. Illinois’s debt is currently at about $64 billion and growing at $6-7.5 billion per year. Without intervention, it is scheduled to hit $100 billion in 5 years.

The new tax program, proposed by the Governor, and requiring the Amendment to enact, increases the tax rate to 8% from 4.95% for earners making more than $250,000 per year and to decrease everyone else is tax right from 4.95% to 4.9%. This equates to a tax reduction for a family making $100,000/year by $1 per week, and a proposed increase in revenue of $3 billion. The State’s debt will continue to grow under this program by $3-$4.5 billion per year.

The Governor has stated that 8% is the “finally fair” tax rate for rich people even though this is insufficient to make a dent in our debt. In fact, the State’s debt is so big that at a “unfair” tax rate of 15% it would still take one full generation to pay off the debt.

“Fair Tax” impact on IL debt likely to be minimal

while unintended consequences may be severe

NOT Illinois’ new super heroes

Illinois is facing a constitutional amendment to eliminate the flat tax that has been in place for years. our Governor thinks that a change to Illinois’s tax program is the ticket to buy the state out of trouble. Unfortunately the numbers just don’t add up.

I found the following paragraph on the AARP website supporting the “Fair Tax” Amendment.

Illinois was drowning in debt. The pandemic has caused large parts of the economy to shut down and significantly reduced many sources of state revenue, like from income and sales taxes, as well as gaming.  As a result, Illinois now faces a budget shortfall of $6.2 billion.  If the graduated income tax ballot initiative does not pass, this shortfall will climb to $7.4 billion.

The article was called “Facts and Fallacies”, and this was listed as a fact. Unfortunately, it is a fallacy. These numbers are calculated under the assumption that nothing other than the tax formula will change. As I discussed in an earlier segment of this series, the behavior of the State’s greatest tax contributors will change.

Many highly paid Illinoisans will choose to reduce their income or stall its growth. Earlier, I discussed forgoing a promotion to avoid the higher tax rates, but this is not the only strategy Illinoisans will employ. Executive perks such as travel, cars, and luxury offices can be categorized as corporate expenses reducing personal as well as corporate taxation. Additionally, promises of corporate charitable giving can sub in for personal compensation. But most employers and executives will agree to reduce taxable income in favor of retirement income or deferred compensation.

It is important to note that retirement income is not taxed in Illinois – for now (take heed AARP). Following the amendment’s passage, Illinoisans will move to maximize their IRAs, profit sharing plans, and defined benefits plans or pensions. There are limits to all of these, but each removes money from the State’s pool of taxable income.

Deferred compensation such as vested options and stock sharing, will increase as a share of executive compensation. These programs do not generate taxable income until the assets are sold and can be held indefinitely without contributing any State revenue.

There will also be Illinois tax contributors who choose to set up permanent residence in Florida or Texas, where there is no (0%) state Income tax. New York and New Jersey have been suffering from the flight of its most wealthy for decades.

But there is another issue at work here and that is the danger of corporate flight. Illinois – and Chicago in particular – is viewed nationally and internationally as an unsafe environment due to guns, riots and looting, a high murder rate, an ineffective police force, and general, all-around poor, civic management. Meanwhile, the political climate is critical of right-leaning dissent and intolerant of most religion. As an additional 3% state income tax is added on to these issues, corporations considering a move to Chicago may take a pass, but the real fear is that corporations already here will choose to uproot and move to a more hospitable state with a lower tax rate and a friendlier climate to its executives.

With all these things taken into account, what does that $3 billion per year promised income really look like? I haven’t run any numbers, but I can imagine it being $2.5 billion additional in the first year – because behavioral change takes time – but $0 additional by the end of year five or six. The program might in total collect as little as $8-10 billion while offsetting that with a billion or two of additional unchecked spending – all this toward out deficit of $64 billion today and maybe as much as $100 billion at the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, we will have emboldened an already corrupt legislation to purchase more votes with tax payer dollars, witnessed the flight of many of Illinois’ best citizens, and diminished Chicago’s status as an international business center.

Now some naysayers may call me a chicken little. They will argue that there are far too many successful professionals and corporations in Chicago for a little flight to have any overall impact. And those that stay will contribute all the tax revenue the state needs to accomplish the State’s objectives of paying off the debt and increasing government services. But history offers a response t that. Detroit was one of the richest cities in the country in the 1960s and politicians making the same arguments we are hearing today increased taxes on the wealthy and driving them to the suburbs, leaving Detroit with a diminished tax base, ballooning costs of social programs supporting its urban poor, and leading the city into bankruptcy.

We do not want Chicago
to become Detroit

The COVID pandemic has dramatically increased state expenditures and decreased states revenue. This is the single greatest deficit ballooning event in history. There is no instant panacea. Revenues will need to be increased and costs will need to be cut in order to dig out of this hole. To think that regular Illinoisans will be able to get through this unscathed while Scrooge McDuck and the Monopoly Guy foot the bill is absurd. Regardless, which way this constitutional amendment goes, our politicians need to get their heads out of the sand, roll up their sleeves, and reform five decades of terrible governance.

“Fair Tax” Message Unfairly Ignores Contributions of Many Illinoisans

Illinois is facing a constitutional amendment to change the way Illinois citizens are charged taxes. Historically, Illinois has had a flat tax system where everyone pays the same rate. This does not imply that everyone pays the same taxes. A 4% flat tax equates to $40,000 on earned income of $1 million, but only $2,000 on earned income of $50,000.

But Illinois is in bad fiscal condition right now, and our Governor thinks that a change to Illinois’s tax program is the ticket he needs to buy the state out of trouble. In this third installment opposing the State Constitutional edit, and today I challenge the argument on the basis of fairness.

The pro graduated tax lobby has a pretty easy job. Their message, intended to appeal to the solipsistic masses, is that if all the regular joes vote together to approve the constitutional edit there won’t be enough votes on the other side to counter it. In other words, stick it to them, or the state will stick it to you.

It is an age-old argument that the rich should be taxed because they can afford it. These sentiments are fueled by occasional stories of some wealthy douche-hat that gets caught cheating on his taxes or some group of politicians that creates a loophole in the tax law that allows rich constituents to avoid paying taxes on certain earnings.

But these anecdotes ignore the primary fact that most wealthy Americans already pay the lion’s share of all taxes without complaint. At the federal level, a proxy for graduated tax distribution, the top 1% pays 40% of all income tax. The top 10% pays 70%, and the bottom 90% pays 30%.

In flat-tax Illinois, the distribution for income tax is a little more balanced, with the top 15% contributing 60% of the tax revenue collected, but when we consider property and sales taxes, the percentage contributed by wealthy Illinoisans increases due to expensive homes, and higher expenditures on consumer goods. Under a graduated tax program, the biggest contributors would see their taxes nearly double.

At what point are the rich paying their fair share? Imagine in your own life, one particularly good year followed by checks written to the government worth $1,000,000 on April 15. That money is not going to your family’s stability, your children’s education, your grandchildren’s independence, or the charitable causes you support. You don’t get a thank you note from the government, or the citizens it supports. Instead, you hear the ongoing call, that you should be paying even more. And if you argue the contrary you will be badged as greedy and probably evil too.

Stick it to them or
the State will stick it to you.

Our wealthy Governor has stood up, a presumptive poster child for rich Illinoisans, and said that he feels he should pay higher tax rate. But let us be honest, as a member of the richest family in the state, his lifestyle and legacy would not be diminished at any tax rate. The challenges facing a guy that owns private jets are not the same as those faced by the fellow successful enough to fly business class occasionally.

The flat tax is fair.  A graduated tax program could be fair and must be if it is successful.  But we must reject that idea that just because someone has been successful is evidence – in itself – that they did not deserve to be. If Illinois cannot create a tax system that feels fair to those contributing the greatest amount already, those taxpayers will change their behavior, reducing their productivity and taxes paid before ultimately relocating to another state.

The “Fair Tax” – One More Weapon in the Arsenal of Corrupt IL Politicians

Image sourced from illinoisfamily.org

Illinois is facing a constitutional amendment to change the way Illinois citizens are charged taxes. Historically, Illinois has had a flat tax system where everyone pays the same rate. This does not imply that everyone pays the same taxes. A 4% flat tax equates to $40,000 on earned income of $1 million, but only $2,000 on earned income of $50,000.

But Illinois is in bad fiscal condition right now, and our Governor thinks that a change to Illinois’s tax program is the ticket he needs to buy the state out of trouble. This is the second installment in a series of why a graduated tax rate is bad for Illinois.

I don’t know if you have been paying attention, but machine politicians in Illinois have figured out how to corrupt just about everything. For years, they promised higher pay to public unions in return for organizational support. When wages could not rise any higher, they sweetening pensions, and when those benefits got too sweet, they eliminated employee contributions.

Recently, with union pensions under public scrutiny the Machine managed to negotiate a COMED contract “on our behalf” which funneled millions of dollars into Democratic slush funds that then supported compliant candidates around the state. All of these are examples of buying votes with taxpayer dollars.

Until now, Illinois’ constitutionally mandated flat tax, has been the one thing that the politicians could not put their hands into and muck up. But this constitutional edit eliminating the flat tax requirement will change that. Sure, the Governor and other proponents promise that regular Joe’s taxes will go down this year (about $25 a year), and both Scrooge McDuck’s and the Monopoly Guy’s will go up, but next year, all bets are off. This constitutional amendment allows the Machine to change the gradient of the tax code anyway they want. There is now nothing preventing them from cutting sweetheart deals with special interest groups to reduce taxes at one level and sticking it to adversaries in return for support of machine candidates. 

The pro-graduated tax group points out that most states have done away with flat taxes and it might work in a well-run state, but Illinois is the worst run state in the nation.  The legislature in Illinois has a terrible track record of avoiding corruption when opportunities for buying votes with taxpayer dollars are available. Arming them with the ability to graduate taxes willy-nilly will ultimately increase corruption, further the State’s economic woes, and ultimately reduce tax revenue.

To loosely quote Grandmaster Melle-Mel, “Now I’m broke and it’s no joke.
Don’ t buy it!”

An Inefficient Graduated Tax Program will hurt Illinois

Illinois is facing a constitutional amendment to change the way its citizens are charged taxes. Historically, Illinois has had a flat tax system where everyone pays the same rate. This does not imply that everyone pays the same taxes. A 4% flat tax equates to $40,000 on earned income of $1 million, but only $2,000 on earned income of $50,000.

But Illinois is in bad fiscal condition right now, and our Governor, apparently having forgotten his Econ101, thinks that a change to Illinois’ tax program which allows him to increase the rate of high earners is the ticket he needs to buy the state out of trouble.

Economists across the state and country know this is a bad idea. A flat tax which we have currently is the most efficient form of tax because it creates the smallest amount of social waste. Social waste is an economic term for the inefficiency caused by behavior changes that reduce productivity in an effort to maximize how much income folks get to keep.

All taxes create an incentive for people to change their behavior so that they keep more money. But flat taxes, create the smallest incentives. They are the most efficient.

Understand, I am not referring to fraud, hiding assets, or anything illegal. I am talking about the calculated decision to reduce professional productivity or to position assets in less productive places to offset the higher tax burden.

A common example of reducing productivity to maximize kept income comes about when a worker turns down a promotion that puts him or her in a higher tax bracket. A 5% increase in salary corresponding to relocation in the higher tax bracket, would nearly wipe out the monetary raise without affecting the greater work and pressure of the promotion. We will see wealthy Illinoisans repositioning assets into nontaxable and retirement accounts and deferring compensation through stock sharing and vested option.

Another concern is the flight of taxpayers to lower tax states. New York and New Jersey have been suffering at the hands of Florida for years, while Illinois has been largely immune, but this could all change now.

These behavior changes involve personal sacrifice and put downward pressure on collected tax revenue. Downward pressure is another economic term that means kind of what it sounds like. These changes will work toward reducing overall tax efficiency in the long run even if the amendment causes an uptick immediately.

The best way to increase tax revenue is with a low tax rate that taxpayers feel is fair – one for which they do not feel a need to change behavior and do have enough to invest and spend which expands the tax base.

You might ask what history has to say about this. Well, Reagan cut taxes in the 80s and tax revenue doubled in five years. Not a fan of Reagan? How about JFK? He dropped the tax rate from over 90% to 50%. The tax base soared, unemployment fell, and the economy took off.

Flat taxes work because everyone pays the same rate. It is understood, there are no (or very few) exemptions or loopholes. People continue to maximize their income, and the government maximizes tax revenue.

Graduated tax rates, like our Governor is requesting, incent those at the top – the biggest payers – to change their behavior. They might write big checks next year, but in time they will change their behavior to keep the largest amount of earned income even if that means making personal sacrifices. In the long run, a graduated tax system in Illinois will not increase the state’s ability to pay off its debt, but will reduce the State’s ability to collect tax revenue.

So why do it? Tune in tomorrow.

Yup, I’m entitled.

I am a white male who was raised in a middle-class subdivision and a nice house. We had a sledding hill in our front yard with a wide oak tree at the bottom that – as legend has it – was standing there when Ulysses S. Grant traveled the Stagecoach Trail on his way to Galena in the 1860s. The town was Rockford Illinois, a place where no one visits, and no one leaves. We had a train station there once, but it closed. Then we lost our bus station too. Rockford in the seventies was a town where residents grew up thinking that the big city – even one as close as Chicago – wasn’t for us. Where people thought airplanes were for fancier types, and international travel was, well, not even invited into our imagination.

I was entitled to be raised by a single mother. My father had never been one long for employment, and so when he left, my mother was left with no prospects, no alimony, and no child support. Still, she was entitled to the “American Dream” and she vowed to keep that house. It was the foundation of what was left of our small family. Towards that goal she worked multiple jobs while going to school in pursuit of a teaching certificate.

My mother and I. The early days.

I was entitled to have a mother who turned out to be a great public-school teacher. She was loved by her students and her parents. Yet, every fall she suffered through strikes or pink slips. Once at the end of a RPS strike, she inadvertently crossed a picket line to get her classroom ready for her returning students. That afternoon she found her tires slashed in the school parking-lot. The cruelties and challenges she suffered on my behalf are almost too much to consider.

In junior high school I was entitled to receive free lunches from taxpayers. Free-lunch kids had a special line that snaked through the lunchroom at the busiest time of the day. Those better off heckled from their seats and threw uneaten food at us – alms that not even the poor wanted. Cheers went up for face shots and extra points were given for making one of us cry. I stopped eating lunches and was entitled to have a school library where I could pass that 45 minutes for the next two years.

When I was in high school, I was entitled to become a hoodlum like my peers or get a job. My mother helped me with that decision. Now, this was Rockford Illinois, the most depressed city in the country. Minimum wage was $3.35 but with unemployment over 20%, minimum wage was a king’s salary. I took a job washing dishes for $2 an hour working weekend nights from 8:00pm until 4:00am. I was 14. I would go home at the end of the shift with $16-cash in my pocket. On school nights I could go home at midnight.

I am grateful to have been entitled to leave Rockford – alive. My first friend to die was my childhood best friend, Paul Ogilvy, who died of cancer at age 21. Jim Roberts who lived across the street from him followed soon after with a shotgun in his mouth.  My dear friend Debby Warden was a drunk driving casualty as was Renee Ring and Glen Nichols.  There were a couple others too. Oh, and we should not forget poor Tammy Tracy, sister to my first-grade bestie, Darren. Her teenage body was found in a cornfield. All this before I was 21.

I was accepted to the University of Chicago where I was entitled to get my ass kicked and make the best friends a fella can make. My mother couldn’t pay for it, so I got through by “beg, borrow, or steal” – which really means borrowing and working hard. School was difficult, and I joked, I was fired from more restaurants than my classmates had eaten in. It took me an extra year, but I made it through.

After college. I was entitled to find a job, quit, and find a better one. Then I was fired from that job and found a better one anyways. But then, I quit that one and finally found an opportunity in which I believed. I was offered the opportunity to invest, and I was entitled to risk everything I had (and everything I could borrow). I took a speculator leap knowing that if it failed, that burden was no one’s but mine.

But it didn’t fail. And with financial success came a generous life with my wife, my family, and my community. I was entitled to enter semi-retirement, get involved with charities, help in a meaningful way, and make gifts larger than I ever would have thought possible. I take great pride in knowing that I have made a positive difference in the people’s lives.

As my children aged and needed me less, I found myself desiring to return to the corporate world. I missed the camaraderie and shared goals of working as part of a team. But finding a job did not come easily, and I readily saw how dispassionate hiring managers can be. As a male in my late 40s who had not worked in more than a decade, I suffered intentional bias, unintentional bias, ageism, and sexism – all the while reminding myself that every obstacle was surmountable. After many years of learning how to get around those people, I finally landed a great job where I am using all my entitlement to make a positive impact on culture, efficiency, and revenue. It is from there that I write this post today.

Like many who succeed, I have been entitled my whole life. I have been entitled keep a positive attitude. I have been entitled to show compassion learned from hardship. And most importantly I have been entitled to believe we are entitled to something better than the lot we were given.

So yup, I’m entitled. And even if I’m not, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Truman’s Cleans windows and Reduces Environmental Guilt (but not much else yet)

Also: The Simpsons!

I really love this concept but question its potential without some toothy legislation to support it. Truman’s sends cleaning supplies via Fedex or UPS in a cardboard box which you refill with concentrates that they also send you – via similar albeit smaller chipping containers. I heard the product described as “only slightly more expensive than the better cleaning products you get in the store.” I will add that they are also significantly less convenient.

If the question is feeling good about our personal footprint, these green (ish) but inconvenient products may allow us, affluent societally-conscious city-dwellers, to do something and send the right message to our children, but most Americans cannot afford to pay many times more than dollar-store prices, and jump through a bunch of hoops, to attain one-percenter benefits.

On the other hand, if the question is reducing the amount of waste society creates, the right answer is to support reusability with meaningful garbage collection fees calculated by usage – in other words, charge people for what they throw away. This would require an entirely new model for waste management. Garbage cans or trucks might need scales and geometric volume scanners for calculating each house’s waste. If you throw away a lot of stuff, you are going to pay a lot of money. If you reuse and repurpose everything (don’t get me started on recycling), you could pay close to nothing. Sounds like a fun home-ec game to play with the family, and it offers real cash prizes!

Of course there are the political obstacles. The exact same politicians who would hop all over the green elements of this concept would oppose its regressive taxation appearance. Regressive taxation is one that hurts poor people and is insignificant to rich people. But that too is manageable if collection rates vary by neighborhoods with lower rates in poor neighborhoods and exorbitant rates in rich neighborhoods (similar to property taxes). The program only works if everyone feels it when they don’t comply, so it would need to feel relatively expensive to everyone across the spectrum.

I am a firm believer that government should stay out of the way of self-interest. But where government is effective and needed is in preventing people from pursuing self-interest that harms others (that’s why we have police and courts for example). I think garbage creation – as necessary as it is – can fit this category. And who knew there were so many great Simpson’s GIFs about garbage!