From the new $45 billion capital bill, Democratic state senators will get an automatic $6 million and Republican senators just $3 million for their districts. Veterans in municipal finance tell me they’ve seen nothing before like that before in Illinois. Sure, politics have always played a role in where money is spent, but nothing openly admitted and automatic as with this capital bill, by far Illinois’ biggest.
Think about it. I live in a well-off suburban area represented by Democrats who vote as they are told by party leadership. We will automatically get $3 million more than Republican districts, which are mostly poorer and downstate.
What’s the reasoning for that unprecedented, overt discrimination? I’ve seen no political leadership take a shot at answering until Senate President John Cullterton (D-Chicago) yesterday, as reported by Politico:
The disbursement to members was initially planned for $3 million for each lawmaker’s district. But Cullerton told Playbook those numbers were adjusted, given the size of the capital bill — thanks in part to his cigarette tax that was three times more than the 32-cent increase Pritzker proposed. Simply, the cigarette tax was Cullerton’s baby and he wanted Democrats to benefit from it.
Huh? Never mind that some Republicans voted for the tax. There’s no actual answer there; he’s basically just thumbing his nose at a request for an explanation.
Others have defended the notion of punishing people in districts that voted against the capital bill. Imagine the uproar if conservatives prevailed in, say, a tax cut but put it through only in Republican districts.
Stunning, too, is the total silence on this from Republican leadership. Not a peep from House Minority Leader Jim Durkin or Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady.
Then there’s Deputy Governor Dan Hynes’ claim, also in the Politico article, that all spending grants went through a “detailed process.” Many others have said the same.
What nonsense. Let’s compare their process to standard procedure in the private sector.
When an investment fund is raised, commitments for the cash are secured first, whether for a real estate, private equity or venture capital fund. Those funds are often as little as $30 – $50 million dollars. Some are $1 billion or more, but that would be an unusually big fund. The fund’s investment professionals then spend the next five years deploying the money. They reject the vast majority of opportunities they see. When they find something the like, they spend enormous time and effort valuing the opportunity so they don’t overpay. Again, that takes five years to deploy the fund.
But for Illinois’ new capital program, politicians slapped together their list of $45 billion of projects in a few months. No private sector fund on the planet would ever dare anything so reckless.
The real thinking behind Illinois’ vastly oversized capital plan and how it will be spent couldn’t be more clear: They did what they want because thy hold a supermajority in the legislature. That includes punishing political opponents.
If you don’t like it, tough.
–Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.