Thursday, April 30, 2009

Illinois cigarette tax hike looms

Today was the busiest news day for me since then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested.

But a story from Wednesday's Quad City Times about Illinois' proposed cigarette tax hike still managed to catch my eye.

Lawmakers set up what could be a final vote before Illinois taxes on cigarettes are raised by $1 per pack.

A House committee voted 4-3 Wednesday to approve legislation that would raise the tax by 50 cents in September and 50 cents more a year later. All Democrats on the panel voted for the increase, and all Republicans voted against.

Democrats favor the tax increase, Republicans oppose it. 'Nuff said.

Earlier this month the federal government increased its tobacco levy by 62 cents.

Being the Marathon Pundit, I'm not a smoker. But the $1 a pack hike is a bad idea.

As I've explained in previous posts, tobacco taxes usually bring in less money than forecasted. Some smokers give up the habit.

Back to the Times:

Opponents say, however, that people quitting smoking might mean the state could take in even less money, despite the tax increase.

The state's share of cigarette taxes was last raised in 2002. But the state's take cigarette taxes has declined from $742 million in the 2005 fiscal year to $594.2 million last year.

Other revenue sources, meaning taxes, make up the tobacco tax shortfall.

Even though I'm a non-smoker, this effects me.

But not all smokers will quit.

Some will travel across state lines to buy cigarettes in states such as Indiana. When I lived in Chicago's southern suburbs, I knew a lot of smokers who made the short trip to the Hoosier State to buy cigarettes--smokes were taxed less there. But now Indiana cigarettes cost roughly the same as they do in Illinois--that will change if the Illinois tax is approved.

Who will get hurt the most? Illinois convenience store and gas station owners--cigarette sales account for much of their revenue.

Related posts:

The effect of those high cigarette taxes

SCHIP cigarette tax kicks in, Illinois considering add'l $1 a pack increase

Marathon Pundit attacks higher cigarette taxes

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Souter retiring from Supreme Court

In a surprising move, Associate Supreme Court Justice David Souter will retire at the end of the court's current term in June.

Speculation is that Barack Obama will pick a woman to succeed the George H.W. Bush appointee. Souter ended up as a member of the liberal wing of the court, to the chagrin of conservatives.

Who will Obama pick? Well, former Weather Underground terrorist Benardine Dohrn, wife of Bill Ayers, is a Northwestern University law professor.

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Report from the bloggers' teleconference about card check

Even though today is a very busy news day, I made it a point to take part in a teleconference about the Employee Free Choice Act, better known as card check. Opponents of the bill call it the Employee FORCED Choice Act, because if it is enacted, it will take away a worker's right to a secret ballot when deciding whether to join a union.

Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI) representative Mark McKinnon and former United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Statewide Organizing Director Rian Wathen each began the teleconference with opening statements.

McKinnon spoke first, and reaffirmed the general belief that EFCA is a terrible bill for business and will have a detrimental effect on the creation of jobs. But there is more to dislike in this bill, such as the "even more problematic" federal arbitration section. When labor negotiations break down, as they invariably do, McKinnon told participants that labor's hand is strengthened. If EFCA is made into law, a federal arbitrator will be appointed--a bureaucrat--it will be this person who makes the call on such issues as workplace conditions, vacation pay, and salaries. Some businesses, McKinnon cautions, "will simply close their doors and shut down" rather than have to deal with this kind of situation.

And as we all know, many businesses are only just getting by during this recession. They hardly need additional obstacles.

"Common sense officeholders," McKinnon explained about EFCA, "including Democrats that support labor, have said this is a bridge way too far."

Wathen took his turn. While admitting there are some labor "true believers," the former UFCW organizer and collective bargaining representative said union organizers "are salesmen, although they like to say they are not." He added, "They are selling hopes, dreams, and visions."

How are these organizers trained? Sales training, more specifically, Wathen declared, "emotion based training."

Which of course gives the union reps salespeople the upper hand during a presentation. Wathen didn't phrase it as such, but I'm going to: If you've ever been on the receiving end of a life insurance or time-share pitch, you'll know what workers are going through.

Organizers have a list of questions designed to move them down the emotional timeline to get them to commit.

What happens to organizers who sign up a lot of members? Well, just like successful sales people, they get promoted.

Just as there are disreputable sales people, there are organizers who cheat, using tactics Wathen calls "creative organizing."

Union organizers will give workers rides to work, or take them to a bar, get them drunk, and then get those needed card check signatures, or worse, they'll hide the card check literature within innocent looking pamphlets, which Wathen says SEIU is doing in California.

Whatever it takes to get ahead...

And once a worker signs a card check petition--in whatever form--they cannot rescind that action. You got that?

Current labor law allows a little more than a month's time where workers can weigh the benefits of joining a union--or not joining--by taking in information provided by their employer, the union, as well as conducting their own research. And then they vote--using a secret ballot.

Wathen added that "EFCA is not about workers' rights, it's not about increasing the middle class, what it's about is bringing revenue to organized labor."

The question and answer session followed, and my query was about union decertification. I mentioned that two years ago Treasure Island grocery store workers in Chicago were able to decertify UFCW by secret ballot. If EFCA is enacted, how would employees kick out a union?

Wathen replied there is no card check petition provision to decertify unions in the EFCA bill.

To give a union the heave-ho, current labor laws would stay in place.

But workers need a secret ballot vote for that.

Oh the hypocrisy...

Related post:

Report from the bloggers' teleconference about Employee FORCED Choice binding arbitration

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Ex-Chrysler car owner, Obama, announces bankruptcy of auto maker

"For too long, Chrysler moved too slowly to adapt to the future, designing and building cars that were less popular, less reliable and less fuel efficient than foreign competitors." That's what Barack Obama said today when announcing, in what has to be an unprecedented move by a president, that Chrysler has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

What makes Obama such an expert on cars? After all, until he was shamed into ditching the car two years ago, Obama owned a Chrysler gas-guzzler, a Hemi 300c.

Italian automaker Fiat may end up running Chrysler, although when the dust settles, the United Auto Workers union might control 55 percent of the the auto maker. Oh, how Obama likes to reward his labor pals! But majority ownership may not mean majority voting rights.

In the short term, it appears all of Chrysler's plants may close for a few weeks.

Related post:

Obama in full hypocrisy mode in comments about gas guzzlers

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Former union organizer talks about card check

Look for a detailed post on card check later this afternoon--I just finished participating in a teleconfernce on what many are calling the Employee FORCED Choice Act.

But first, watch former United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Statewide Organizing Director Rian Wathen discuss the problems with card check.

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