Goring The Ox That Buys Ink By the Barrel

Gored OxToday, the Northwest Herald’s editorial page came out in opposition to a proposal in the Legislature to charge sales tax on advertising. The Herald at least makes the obvious point right up front:

“Our position might appear entirely self-serving. After all, as a media company, we receive advertising revenue in exchange for communicating advertisers’ messages to our print and digital readers.”

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, the editorial goes on to recite a “history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny”, all of which will, of course, “make it (im)possible to finance [their] journalistic work to keep the community informed.”

It then appeals to our patriotism:

“We believe that function has tremendous value to those we serve…American leaders from the Founding Fathers on down have had similar beliefs…The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” [Our] Founding Fathers believed so much in the importance of a free, unfettered press they enshrined it in the Constitution.”

Last week I received a letter from Robert Paddock, Vice Chairman of Paddock Publications, which publishes the Daily Herald, containing the same message. (It was addressed to me as Representative for the 63rd District. Perhaps Bob doesn’t read his own newspaper. On behalf of Mr. Paddock, I’ll say: “Sorry Jack”.)

Let’s be plain about what is really at issue here. We have a governor who’s trying to do what he was elected to do, which is to bring to heel the special interests which have held a knife to this State’s throat for decades and to make Illinois a place where companies once again want to do business. It’s only by eliminating the culture of corruption and cronyism that permeates our body politic that we’ll get that done.

Governor Rauner has proposed various reforms to the way things are done in this State, bound up under the phrase “Turnaround Agenda”. These reforms run from term limits and reform of how legislative boundaries are drawn to workers’ comp reform and allowing localities to opt out of the prevailing wage. None of these proposals are earth shattering, except to those who use the current system to feather their own nests. Rauner wants to make the Turnaround Agenda part and parcel of negotiations over the 2016 budget, but Democrats in the House and Senate are holding the budget hostage, hoping the Governor will relent.

The Governor has laid out his Agenda to everyone who’ll listen, including the editorial boards of both the Daily Herald and the Northwest Herald. Neither has come out full in favor of or fully against the agenda, and their editorial comments merely sigh at the futility of what the Governor is trying to do.

In its April 12th editorial, the Daily Herald said:

“We would quibble with the brick and mortar of some of his proposals. As much as he talks about bipartisanship, his ideas tend to be staunchly conservative, some to an extreme beyond the bounds of our support…But we don’t quibble with his basic premise that while we have many government employees and elected officials who are good people, the structure of government in Illinois — responsive to insiders and special interests rather than the people — is fundamentally, pervasively and sadly corrupt…It’s hard to believe Rauner’s revolution can be won. We remember how the deck has been stacked against other efforts at change…But here’s something else to remember. The tightest hold corruption has over us is our sense that that’s the way it is, that there is nothing any of us can do about it.
The first step in ending corruption is believing we can.”

Rather than giving a thumbs up or down on the Agenda, the Northwest Herald chose to retreat to its fainting couch and focus on the 12.8 million pawns who await the outcome of the struggle between the immovable object and the irresistible force:

“What are the pawns’ roles in all of this? Average Illinoisans have spoken up about how proposed budget cuts would negatively affect them. Some have done so on their own; others have been trotted out by politicians. Either way, their stories are compelling…Senior citizens, the poor, those with physical and mental disabilities and others who rely on state funding are imperiled. The uncertainty is difficult to bear…In Illinois’ budgetary endgame, Illinoisans must put politicians in check and exert their combined influence to demand fiscal prudence and the best interests of the people be part of the new budget.
For politicians who just don’t get it, the public can deal with them next election.”

Lest you think I’m some cold-hearted SOB who doesn’t care what happens to the less fortunate in Illinois, let me point out 2 things. My 83 year-old mother receives a public pension for her 3o+ years of folding laundry at the Kankakee State Hospital and my 90-year old mother-in-law is participating in the State program to be the caregiver for her 58 year-old handicapped son. I want to see these programs continue, not just for them but for everyone who is truly in need of or has earned what these programs have to offer. But these programs, and many others, will go to the block unless something radical takes place in Springfield.

I therefore have very little patience for the bleatings of editorial boards which see their own oxen being gored without standing up and taking a full-fledged stand for change. Perhaps they think that standing in the middle of the road and wringing their hands will satisfy all sides in the issue and thus not hurt circulation, but we’re at the stage where we have to take a side. I’m on the side of those who truly need our help. The whole idea of an editorial page is to take a stand. If the Heralds both would get on the side of growing Illinois’ economy, maybe the advertising tax wouldn’t be on the table.

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