Editorial: Sham 'investigation' is perfect example of why Fair Tax failed
If supporters of the Fair Tax Amendment that voters rejected Tuesday sincerely want to understand what sank their cause, there is a perfect example playing out in Springfield at this very moment.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, a Hillside Democrat, postponed Thursday's scheduled meeting of the Special Investigating Committee he chairs to study House Speaker Michael Madigan's role in a major bribery scheme involving Commonwealth Edison. He did not set a date for a new meeting.
Madigan was identified as a key player in the scandal in a federal complaint filed in July. The Special Investigating Committee was formed in early September. The committee has met exactly twice since then. During both meetings, the three Democrats on the six-member panel did little more than obstruct or confound requests for interviews and documents. Now, Welch, a Madigan ally, says the new coronavirus surge and the need for more documents require another postponement of the committee's review.
What does this have to do with the Fair Tax Amendment? One simple word: trust.
In the aftermath of Tuesday's rejection, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other amendment supporters were right when they complained that opponents lied to and misled voters on key provisions of the amendment, but they could not overcome the main argument the opponents repeated. Illinois politicians, opponents argued, have not done enough to demonstrate to the state's taxpayers that they can be trusted with more taxpayer money.
"It is clear," said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch following the amendment's defeat, "that Illinoisans do not trust this legislature and this administration to spend more of their precious tax dollars without restraint."
On that point, they are indisputably correct, and Welch's laughable management of the House committee is an immediate example. Rep. Tom Demmer, the ranking Republican on the committee, stated the case plainly following Welch's announcement.
"A petition was filed 66 days ago in accordance with House Rules. The last meeting was 37 days ago, at which time we made a motion to issue subpoenas to key witnesses who have relevant and important information -- but the Chairman did not allow a vote on that motion," Demmer said in a prepared statement. "Members of the House of Representatives -- in both parties -- should be concerned about the way this process is being handled."
How can they not be? The investigation doesn't have to find Madigan, who denies any wrongdoing, guilty of anything to be legitimate. It doesn't even have to find that his conduct merits further attention from the House, the main question before it. It just has to question witnesses. To review facts. To meet, for goodness' sake.
Supporters of the graduated income tax may grumble about prevarications from the other side, but they ignore the dishonesty and artifice that have come to epitomize state leaders who are appealing to Illinoisans to trust them. Opponents cited various examples, some of them ancient and some distorted, in their effort to brand lawmakers as unworthy of voters' trust but they could have added inarguable recent cases, like the efforts of lawmakers to stymie the popular demand for a fair system of drawing legislative boundaries. And they most certainly could include the pathetic excuse for an investigation playing out right now in Springfield.
If lawmakers truly want to start rebuilding the kind of trust that might persuade the public to give them more money, showing a little concern, as Demmer said, about how this process is being handled would be a great place to start.