" DuPage County families are making tough decisions every day. Government must do the same."
For the past 60 days I have been doing independent research on the four Republican February 2, 2010 primary candidates for DuPage (Illinois) County Board Chairman. The candidates, State Senators Dan Cronin and Carole Pankau, DuPage County Board member Debra Olson and Burr Ridge, Illinois mayor Gary Grasso are in a knock-down-drag-out fight in the primary. Located just outside Chicago, DuPage County has an electorate that is still fairly conservative, although following recent national and state trends, the county has become more liberal over the past 20 years. Since the electorate is still leans conservative, the primary winner should handily beat the Democrat candidate, Ms. Carole Cheney, in the November General Election.
With a hat tip to Tip, the issues are local. Like municipalities everywhere, DuPage County is worried about fiscal issues and the opacity of its government.
Mrs. Olson chose to make transparency in government a centerpiece of her campaign. My research of public records indicated that over the years, she has accepted significant contributions from over a dozen contractors and vendors doing business with the county. I have written many posts on the local blogs outlining my criticism of Mrs. Olson because she brought up the issue of Ethics as the centerpiece of her campaign, and the shear hypocrisy of her claims compelled me to blog. I will do so until she satisfactorily answers the ethical questions surrounding her.
ARAMARK had lost a bid for the county food services contract. In an unusual and virtually unprecedented sequence of events, the winning bid of a different vendor was stopped by the County Board. A new round of bidding was ordered. ARAMARK still lost the bid, but significantly, around the time of the rebid, ARAMARK made campaign contributions to Mrs. Olson. One of its vice presidents currently serves on Mrs. Olson’s campaign committee.
In a scandal revealed just last year, the DuPage Water Commission was found to have depleted its funds. The funds were inappropriately transferred to the County General Fund. Those funds were promptly spent by the County Board to cover its burgeoning operating expenses. DuPage County was required to borrow $30 million to cover the shortfall in the coffers of the Water Commission. And who was the County Board member that chairs the Public Works Committee that has primary oversight responsibility over the Water Commission? Debra Olson. And who was a member of the County Board that voted to spend the misappropriated money? Olson, again. When asked if the General Manager of the Water Commission should be fired for letting this misappropriation happen, Sen. Pankau, Mayor Grasso and Sen. Cronin all said yes. Mrs. Olson said a task force should be set up to “study the issue.”
Where would you get the money?
Mrs. Olson says she was the fiscally responsible candidate in the race. Leading the attacks, she berates Sen. Cronin as fiscally irresponsible, pointing to taxes Sen. Cronin has voted for while in the Illinois General Assembly. Close examination of the voting record indicates that Sen. Cronin has been a spending hawk. NONE of the criticism aimed at Sen. Cronin is about his spending habits. All of the criticism revolves around taxes.
So we are then compelled to look at Sen. Cronin’s record on taxes. Sen. Cronin has never voted for an income or property tax, in fact, he sponsored the property tax cap legislation passed in Springfield that save property owners in DuPage County tens of millions of dollars. Sen. Cronin has fought Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn tooth and nail over income tax increases.
Sen. Cronin has voted for consumption taxes. All his votes for these consumption taxes were made after he ensured that DuPage County would receive new, significant revenue streams from these taxes. It was just these new revenues funneled into DuPage County that allowed the County Board to cover the deficits they were racking up, including the shortfall left by the Water Commission fiasco that had Mrs. Olson at its heart.
Mrs. Olson touts the cuts in spending made by the County Board, and the property tax reduction the Board recently rebated. She should be given credit for voting for a $30 million County Board budget decrease. Close examination of this budget cut shows that it rolls the budget back to 2006 levels. What must be realized that the budget had increased by that amount since 2006, during her tenure on the County Board.
If Sen. Cronin had not found and channeled money into the County Board coffers, the current County Board budget would be $70 million out of whack. What would Mrs. Olson have cut to balance the budget? So far, all we've heard is she would cut critical public safety personnel like State's Attorneys, prison guards, bailiffs and sheriffs.
One thought on consumption taxes, they are one of the necessary evils that provide revenue to provide government services. From my point of view, consumption-type taxes are preferable to income or property taxes. If you don't like 'em, don't consume the product or service being taxed. At least then the individual has responsibility; those using those goods or services being taxed pay for those services, while those that do not consume do not.
Philosophically, do you attack spending or taxes first? I think that government needs to go after spending with a battle axe, taxes will fall as a result of decreased government spending. This line of thought embraced by Sen. Cronin.
Mr. Grasso was a non-starter choice for me. Both he and Mrs. Olson have railed against Sen. Cronin for his vote to allow video gaming decisions to be made at the local level, instead of being dictated by the corrupt government in Springfield. I have no problems with gaming in general, and I certainly have no problems with local choice of gaming. Those decisions should be made by those as close as possible to the people potentially affected. Indeed, while I don’t necessarily support it, I think Mrs. Olson’s vote against video gaming in DuPage County is entirely appropriate. If her constituents don’t like her vote, they can voter her out of office. Curiously, it was Sen. Cronin’s support of the video gaming legislation that she and Mr. Grasso so hotly criticize that allowed Mrs. Olson to cast that vote.
Mr. Grasso heads a consortium, Calumet Gaming, dedicated to getting the prized last state casino license. Mr. Grasso’s law firm’s website proudly highlights that it represents gaming interests across the U.S. His attacks on Sen. Cronin are hypocritical at best, or a giant conflict of interest at the worse. You be the judge.
Mr. Grasso touts his work as mayor of Burr Ridge. Indeed, Burr Ridge has been significantly improved during his tenure. At what cost? Looking at the budget of Burr Ridge on its city website shows that the village is running a one million dollar deficit this year, and has one million dollar a year deficits projected for the next five years. Inconvenient facts for "Gambling" Gary.
Close examination reveals that Sen. Pankau's County Board record meets or exceeds Mrs. Olson's. Sen. Pankau's tenure at the County Board has many accomplishments, without all of the controversies surrounding her time in office, unlike Mrs. Olson. Sen. Pankau is an attractive candidate because she is a budget hawk and she benefits from experience in the State Senate, she was high on my list for my vote. Mrs. Olson must be worried about Sen. Pankau since Mr. Olson has thrown so many attacks her way. I'm sure Mrs. Olson is worried that Sen. Pankau may split off some of the women's vote that Mrs. Olson so desperately needs to remain competitive in this race and this must be why Mrs. Olson has attacked Sen. Pankau so vociferously.
The problems I see in Mrs. Olson and Mr. Grasso record and behavior left me with a choice between Sen. Cronin and Sen. Pankau. I ruled Sen. Pankau out because of the time I spent looking at their legislative records. Sen. Cronin’s is orders of magnitude superior.
Sen. Cronin not only fought spending in Springfield and programmed critical revenues to DuPage County, he has led the fight on several other issues that should be considered by the voters. Sen. Cronin was the lead sponsor of the resolutions leading to former Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment. Sen. Cronin was out front on this issue, months before anyone else in the General Assembly got sick of the slime ball that is Gov. Blagojevich. Compare this to the ethical lapses in Mrs. Olson’s record.
Sen. Cronin is the leading expert on education issues in Springfield, and is recognized as such on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Cronin led the fight to reform the Chicago Public School system. He led the fight to bring accountability and improved standards for teachers, administrators and students in Illinois, and is a strong advocate for new approaches in public education such as charter schools and alternate teacher certification to expedite the hiring of new qualified teachers.
In addition to the things I have mentioned in this rather long post, the list of Sen. Cronin’s accomplishments goes on and on.
Voters are struggling with a trade-off between conservative principles and the slate of candidates they are presented. The choice between this particular batch of candidates can be difficult since they all have strengths and weaknesses. I am not God, nor a Father Confessor, it is hard to judge a candidate's heart. I can only use their records. When facing a tough choice on a ballot, I always fall back on a saying from Mr. William F. Buckley: "Always vote for the most conservative ELECTABLE candidate." Politics requires tradeoffs.
As I write this, most of the loyal DuPage County Republicans, the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald (a newspaper historically very friendly to Olson) and the Pioneer Local (the local Chicago Sun Times newspapers) all agree. They endorse Sen. Cronin.