October 10, 2018



A long time ago there was a TV game show called "Truth or Consequences." The premise was that if a contestant didn't tell the truth when asked a question, and clearly lied, there would be adverse consequences, like losing the jackpot.

In the 2018 contests for state representative in the 15th and 19th Illinois House districts on the Northwest Side, any show like that would be dubbed "No Truth and No Consequences."

The candidates - incumbent Democrats John D'Amico (15th) and Rob Martwick (19th), along with Republican challengers Amanda Biela in 15th and Ammie Kessem in 19th - are uttering the same hollow clich's, heaping on the same tired blame, and spewing forth the same pre-packaged, on-message drivel.

"Blame it on Rauner" chant the two Democrats. "Trust us (Democrats) to fix it," meaning J.B. Pritzker and Mike Madigan. "Blame it on Madigan" retort the two Republicans, who are endorsing Rauner, and who parrot the standard Republican twaddle about cutting waste, consolidating agencies, cutting spending and freezing property taxes. And as for finding $155 billion to close the state's current pension and vendor deficit? Well, I'll get back to you.

Illinois is approaching FUBAR proportions - which is a vulgar World War II acronym that essentially means being damaged beyond repair. The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accounting, a non-partisan state entity similar to the Congressional Budget Office, has projected that the state's $155 billion deficit will eclipse $224 billion by 2027. Their proposed solution is to tack a one-percent surcharge (meaning an income tax payment) on the market value of every parcel of property in Illinois - residential, commercial, industrial and farmland. That means every owner of a $300,000 house would pay $3,000 annually until the deficit is erased, which could be 12 to 20 years. And that would be on top of the current 4.95 percent state income tax.

Three of the four candidates have been superficial as to their solutions, but Martwick, to his credit, has had the guts to propose a "progressive" state income tax to replace the current 4.95 percent flat tax on individuals/couples. It won't be pretty, and Martwick s going to take a lot of heat for this. Martwick proposes a 4 percent tax on incomes up to $7,500; a 5.84 percent tax on incomes between $7,500 and $15,000; and a 6.27 percent tax on incomes from $15,000 to $225,000. Those earning in excess of $225,000 would pay 7.65 percent. That means the Democrats' much-beloved "working families," who are certainly making $100,000 or more, would see their current state tax rise by 27 percent, and all those "wealthy" people making more than $225,000 would see their current state tax rise by 54 percent. The tax would not be imposed on retirement or pension income, but would be based on net taxable income, as reflected on the IRS Form 1040, and would include unearned investment profits, including 401Ks, stocks and real estate sales.

Other states have "progressive" income taxes, and all are higher than those proposed by Martwick. California is between 1 to 12 percent, New York 1 to 10 percent, and Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon have had "progressive" taxes for decades. Wisconsin imposes a graduated rate from $60,000 to $265,000 and above.

But wait, said Martwick, this plan is counter-balanced by an $18 billion property tax decrease. With the state collecting more money for education, the local school districts would need less money from the property tax levy. Therefore, said Martwick, a "20 percent decrease" in property taxes would result. Don't hold your breath.

Both Martwick and D'Amico are in sync regarding Rauner, using him as both a scapegoat for the state's fiscal ills and as a justification for supporting the 2017 income tax hike.

"He ran (the state) into the ground," D'Amico said, who opposed the 2017 income tax hike to 4.95 percent from 3 percent. "We were at risk. There was no budget for 2 years. We were in danger of closing schools, universities and mental health clinics. We had to raise taxes." Never mind the fact that the Illinois constitution requires a balanced budget, and that projected revenues must equal projected expenditures. Democratic majorities could have passed a tax hike during fiscal 2017 or 2018 years and balancing the budget but didn't. By submitting no budget, Rauner kept spending at fiscal 2016 levels, which exhausted funds 9 months into each fiscal year, and ran up a $30 billion vendor debt, which in turn ran up $1 billion in interest to the providers, for which Rauner is now being attacked on TV. But, of course, Democrats are not complicit.

The governor worked to "undermine unions and cut wages," D'Amico said, which produced a conundrum when his "property tax freeze" came up for a vote. Both that and workers' comp reforms were part of his "Turnaround Agenda." But Democrats decoupled them, and 18 votes were taken on the freeze, which would have capped any increase in fair market value, and hence assessed valuation, at one percent per annum.

"It was phony," said Martwick, who voted no 16 of 18 times. The Republican minority also opposed it, as they wanted it tied to collective bargaining and worker's compensation reforms. D'Amico voted for the "freeze" all 18 times. Kessem's proposal to cut the income tax to 3 percent would have caused an $8.3 loss in state revenues, and a $3.4 billion loss in local revenues, said Martwick.

Both Republican women profess similar platitudes on statewide issues, asserting that their constituents cannot afford an income tax hike, but each is planning to go for the jugular before Nov. 6, with each tapping into distinctively different financial bases. Biela, a former teacher, is working with the House Republican Organization (HRO), run by minority leader Jim Durkin, which has budgeted $8,000 a pop for eight mailings to 15,000 households, four of which have already been sent.

The mailers will be largely negative, blasting D'Amico for his and his family's "Laurino Machine connections" spanning 50 years, his family's legal problems, the fact that D'Amico is a "double-dipper" with a $100,000-plus-a year job as an assistant superintendent with the city Water Department, his tax hike votes, his pro-Madigan voting record, and the ongoing cycle of nepotism - with D'Amico's uncle being state representative from 1970 to 1996 and his aunt and grandfather being 39th Ward alderman from 1965 to date, more than 50 years. "We have to break the cycle," Biela said. "We have to have term limits." D'Amico has had only one mailing. As of Sept. 30, D'Amico had $278,827 on-hand, to Biela's $6,132 as of June 20.

"I'm proud to be a Democrat," said D'Amico. "She (Biela) never mentions that she is a Republican."

Kessem, a 20-year police officer, has gone "rogue," spurning the HRO and aligning herself with Dan Proft's Liberty Principles Super PAC, and Matt Podgorski's Northwest Side GOP Organization. People "cannot afford any more taxes," she said, arguing that the state income tax needs to be cut, not increased. She also said that spending needs to be cut, that the state's 850 school districts need to be reduced, and that new state workers need a 401K-style pension. Kessem's fund-raising has been tepid, with $5,791 on-hand as of June 30, but she claims to have more than 700 lawn signs in place. Martwick had $437,871 on-hand.

She needs Proft, a right-wing radio commentator and prolific fund-raiser to deliver. His modus operandi is to bury the opposition with a deluge of mailers during the last 2 weeks, so as to impair their ability to respond. As a Super PAC, Liberty Principles cannot endorse Kessem, but it can "advocate" and beat-up on Martwick. Among the negatives will be Martwick's "progressive" tax hike plan, his vote for the income tax hike, his refusal to take a position on the 5150 N. Northwest Highway mixed-use apartment development - which Alderman John Arena (45th), a Martwick ally, claims will be a step toward desegregating the Northwest Side. Kessem opposes the project. Martwick's position is that he "does not get involved" in zoning matters, but Kessem said otherwise. She said that she has proof that Martwick gets involved in other zoning/development matters, which she said she would release.

Over the years this columnist has been critical of Martwick since he ran for state senator in 1996 because his eponymous father, Robert Martwick, was the Norwood Park Township Democratic committeeman since the early 1960s, had a lot of clout, and is the principal in a law firm that specializes in property tax reduction. That enabled young Martwick to be a township trustee and a Norridge trustee at a very young age. Martwick, in 2002, ran for county commissioner, at which time I said he was the only resident of Norridge with a Porsche. Martwick told me that after he got married and had a child that he disposed of the Porsche.

When the 19th District was reconfigured in 2011, it included Martwick's Norridge residence, and when incumbent Joe Lyons retired, Martwick was slated and subsequently elected. Martwick has since moved into east Portage Park, is now the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman, and won easy re-elections in 2014 and 2016.

Kessem called Martwick a "triple-dipper," referring to the fact that Martwick has a state salary, works for his dad's law firm, and is a "consultant" running his First Tuesday direct-mail firm. "I will be a full-time" legislator, she said.

Neither D'Amico nor Martwick will lose, but it looks like Kessem is being groomed to run for 45th Ward alderman in 2019.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com, or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.