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McCaleb: Old Latin term serves as message for legislators

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“Primum non nocere.”

“First, do no harm.”

Most of us are familiar with this Latin phrase and its centuries-old tie to the health care profession.

What does it mean? That sometimes, doing nothing is better than doing something, because doing something just for the sake of doing something sometimes can only make things worse.

In treating patients, doctors should “first, do no harm.”

This thought comes to mind as the Illinois General Assembly works its way through its veto session, and in advance of the lame-duck session in January. That’s when retiring legislators or legislators who were booted from office Nov. 6 will make their final votes that could impact the rest of us for years to come.

First, do no harm.

In the waning moments of the last lame-duck session in January 2011, the outgoing state Legislature did plenty of harm to taxpayers and local businesses. With the help of 12 Democratic lawmakers who were on their way out of office, the General Assembly passed a “temporary” 67 percent income tax increase and a 46 percent corporate tax increase.

Not a single Republican voted for the hikes. Gov. Pat Quinn needed every single one of the votes from the lame-duck Democrats to get the tax increases through. But several of the 12 Democrats who voted for the tax hikes previously were opposed to them. Something must have persuaded them to change their minds. What could that have been? I’ll get to that shortly.

Quinn and Democratic lawmakers promised at the time that the new revenue would be used to pay down the state’s billions of dollars of backlogged bills, the state’s budget would shrink, and that by 2015, the increases would be scaled back.

Of course, the first two promises haven’t been kept. Most of the new revenue has gone to the state’s bloated public pension systems, and Quinn is proposing a new budget that is more expensive than last year’s already unaffordable one.

As for the “temporary” tax increases, which cost an additional $1,600 a year for a family with an annual income of $80,000? Dream about it. The “temporary” soon will become a footnote in Illinois’ shady political history.

Now, back to the 12 lame-duck Democrats.

Since their January 2011 votes, six have landed cushy government jobs and richer pensions.

Just last week, the Illinois Senate confirmed the appointments of two of those lame-duck lawmakers to high-paying state posts. While Quinn claims there was no quid pro quo in his appointments, the rest of us know better.

Whether the governor’s last name is Ryan, Blagojevich or Quinn, it’s business as usual in Springfield.

What’s scarier is that there are 35 lame-duck lawmakers leaving the General Assembly this January. Imagine the damage they can do to taxpayers if given the opportunity.

“Primum non nocere.”

• • • 

Doing good: Not content with his election-day referendum victory, government watchdog Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake is taking his efforts to ban dual-officeholding to Springfield. (Yes, I know, the same Springfield I wrote about above. But it’s his only option.)

In an advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot, McHenry County voters resoundingly said that citizens should not be able to hold two or more elected offices at the same time. The vote was 113,513 to 12,260, or more than 90 percent to less than 10 percent.

Interestingly, more than 9,000 county voters cast ballots on this referendum than on the county executive referendum, which received tons more hype before the election. That tells me that voters have no doubt where they stand on this topic.

A similar referendum in DuPage County got the same result, with more than 90 percent saying dual-officeholding should be outlawed.

Anderson, who successfully petitioned the County Board to get the measure on local ballots, now is lobbying state legislators to carry the torch the rest of the way. He copied me on a letter he sent to state Sen. Pam Althoff of McHenry asking her to either support legislation outlawing the practice outright, or to put a binding referendum on the ballot statewide.

Anderson also is seeking to get the General Assembly to place a binding referendum on statewide ballots asking voters in 2014 whether they want to abolish their townships. That’s enough government talk for now, though. I’ll write more about this one later.

• • • 

Surveys are back: As I mentioned last week, readers of will be asked to answer a simple survey question or two before reading their first full story.

Last Sunday, I said the surveys would begin Saturday, meaning yesterday. During the past week, we decided to push it to Monday, meaning tomorrow.

We introduced these surveys in June, but because of some glitches, we disabled them until we were able to work it out, which we have.

When you first visit, you’ll see our home page as normal. But when you click on your first headline, a question will pop up. After answering the question, maybe two questions, the full story will appear. This will happen only on your first story of the day. Any other headlines you click into that day will take you straight to the story.

Registered users of our site have the option of logging in rather than answering the questions.

The survey is hosted by Google. All surveys will be completely anonymous, and Google will not use any data collected for their own ad targeting.

• • •

Powerball blues: Yes, I was one of the millions of suckers who stood in line to play the Powerball last week. Forsaking logic and the odds, I put a few dollars down with hopes of winning the jackpot.

Since you’re reading this – or, more like, since I’ve written this – it’s obvious I didn’t win.

Looks like I’ll get to share my drivel for at least a few more Sundays. You might not have lucked out on the lottery, but at least you’ve got that to look forward to.

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at Follow him on Twitter @NWHeditor.


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