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Columnist
Why worry about the mob when the state already acts like one?
By Chris Bailey | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/15/2007 11:56 PM

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"Soooo. You wanna do business in our neighborhood, do ya? Well, maybe we'll let you. For a price. How's about $50,000 per chair just to get ya rollin'?

"And then, we'll be needin' some regular payments from you after that, ya know? Just to keep things nice and tight. We'll let you know how much later, but figure somethin' up to 70 percent. Capische?

"And don't get too full of yourself. Don't figure kickin' in all that moolah makes you one of us. We've got some buddies, ya know? Made men. Not especially good businessmen. But our guys. So we'll be settin' them up a few miles down the road. Backin' 'em big time.

"They've got horses, ya know? You remember the horse story, right? And the bed? Ah, thought so. Good boy. See ya around."

Sounds like a bad mob movie, even to me. But, of course, it isn't. It's what purports to be governance in 21st Century Illinois.

Having for years now found novel ways for its leaders to end up in prison and refuse to address any issue except with a fire extinguisher, the state once identified by statesmen like Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen and Paul Simon has been reduced to a mob-like caricature.

It doesn't pay its bills if it doesn't feel like it, but it keeps handing out money to its friends. Its leaders need legions of lawyers at their beck and call, just to stay out of the clink. It punishes successful businesses that won't play along, driving them out of town. It harbors and supports the illegal. Its high-paying jobs are disappearing, leaving it to crow about increasing numbers of low-wage jobs it controls. Its last governor is in prison and its current one, when he can be found, thinks he's a don when one of his best buds isn't being indicted. Its trains, planes and automobiles never run on time and won't run at all if the potholes and deficits get much deeper.

The solution to every problem, of course, is not long-term problem solving, honest assessments of needs, costs, benefits and establishment of consistent funding mechanisms. Of course not. Not in Illinois. In Illinois, the answer to every question is gambling. Then taxes.

According to Elgin Mayor Ed Schock, who leads the town that is home to the most successful gambling operation in the state, if the most recent gambling expansion proposal were to actually pass, between the confiscatory taxes and the up-front fleecings, Illinois would be the biggest gambling Mecca in the country.

"We'd take in more money from gambling than Nevada does in terms of state receipts," said Shock.

And yet, the state still wouldn't have enough money. The gambling plan was proposed only as a precursor to a tax hike plan. Anticipate a hike in sales taxes, motor fuels sales taxes, cigarette taxes, real estate transfer taxes or a combination of them all.

Schock says adding slots at race tracks and calling them racinos is nothing less than approval of five land-based gambling casinos. In the case of Arlington Park, it would expand a 105-day horse racing operation into a 365-day-per-year casino with slots, he said.

Also in the case of Arlington Park, it would put direct and probably devastating competition into place against the best money maker the state has.

"It wouldn't be new revenue," said Schock. "It would just take revenue from here and move it there."

But that's what passes for governance in Illinois. Still, gotta love those horses.