* J.P. Harris and The Tough Choices are playing at 8 tonight at the Hoogland Center. From WUIS…
When The Tough Choices began, there were only two rules: keep it country, and keep it simple. They have done both, yet still weave burning pedal steel leads and painfully genuine guitar solos with the cool calm of a Spaghetti-Western Clint Eastwood. The Tough Choices have been described as such: “…imagine that somehow, defying the laws of nature, Hank Williams and Lemmy Kilmister hatched an egg…this egg was incubated under a neon light for twelve years (which is approximately the time Wild Turkey ages in the bottle), and were hatched in a juke joint…” These ruffians draw on influences ranging from early Western Swing to rough-edged Truck Driving ballads; Bob Wills all the way to Merle Haggard 15 or so years after that funny album cover with the Chihuahua in his arms. Think of them as the perfect gentlemen to bring home for Christmas, if only you could get the stains off their Wranglers and the cheap whiskey off their breath.
In voting completed yesterday, frontline employees of the state of Illinois represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 elected to implement their new collective bargaining agreement with the state.
It was the second time that state workers have voted on the agreement. The re-vote was necessary because a condition of the first ratification vote—that the state would drop its appeal of a court ruling on the matter of back wages owed to employees since July 2011—has not yet been met. While the Quinn Administration sought to drop the appeal, Attorney General Lisa Madigan holds final authority on such matters and has indicated she will not yet do so.
“Frontline state employees have done their part,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said. “They work, often without adequate staff, in state parks and prisons, to care for the most vulnerable and protect children from abuse.
“We urge legislators to act now to pass House Bill 212, House Amendment 2, to pay state workers the back wages they are owed.”
* Ever since the Tribune poll came out last week which showed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s poll numbers slipping, particularly with African-Americans, the Chicago media has seemed to really amp up the criticism.
Down was up and up was down as Emanuel joined business and labor leaders at McCormick Place to begin the formidable job of selling the concept of using more than $100 million in public money to bankroll a 10,000-seat arena near McCormick Place. It will become the new men’s and women’s basketball home of the DePaul Blue Demons.
It’s a tough sell. Aldermen, union leaders and local residents have questioned the mayor’s priorities at a time when Emanuel is closing 53 elementary schools, phasing out the city’s 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care and using millions in overtime to mask a shortage of police officers.
The Elevate finance scheme may be quite different from the Soldier Field deal, but the question is the same: Who, exactly, would be responsible in the event of cost overruns, or runaway operating expenses, or insufficient hotel tax revenue, or the financial collapse of one of the players in this project — or if the facility just turns out to be a white elephant nobody patronizes?
There’s nothing inherently wrong about public-private partnerships. But tell us now: If this thing flops, who is the ultimate guarantor? Because if it’s Tommy and Tammy Taxpayer, they’re already partners in one risky financing deal on the lakefront.
We’re not convinced that his big, new addition to McCormick Place — a 10,000-seat sports arena where the DePaul Blue Demons would play basketball — makes sense. Especially when $103 million in taxpayer dollars is involved. If DePaul were to use it 18 nights a year, who are these corporations, schools and conventions just dying to use it the other 347 days?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday defended his decision to save $108.7 million-a-year by phasing out the city’s 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care and forcing 30,000 retired city employees to make the switch to ObamaCare.
“There’s another way to upset people, which is saddle `em with a half-billion dollars worth of costs with no way to pay it. That, too, will have a lot of other people upset,” Emanuel said.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broadly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda Thursday, saying the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike last year had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools.”
In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, she suggested the mayor and his handpicked schools officials refrain from shuttering 13 of the 54 schools marked for closure. She noted that hearing officers hired to oversee the process recommended that those schools stay open. […]
“I think he came into office critical of the teachers,” she replied. “If you spend the whole year before you have to negotiate a contract insulting your teachers, I don’t know what you expect. They had a contract that said they were entitled to a raise, and then the Board of Education that he appointed refused to give it to them. That was the first summer that he came into office.”
Asked if she expected closing so many schools would trigger teacher layoffs, Preckwinkle replied, “How could it not? How could it not? It weakens the teachers’ union and I would argue it weakens our public schools. You know, one of the people in the public schools who I admire most talked to me a couple months ago — it was so depressing — the comment was, ‘I think they’re deliberately trying to destroy our public schools.’ ”
The Chicago Teachers Union’s decision to go to court to try to stop the city from closing 53 elementary schools, while not unexpected, makes clear that the Board of Education’s vote on the proposal next week will not put an end to the controversy.
The two lawsuits, filed on behalf of parents and their special needs children, say the proposed school closings are unfair, will harm students with disabilities and are discriminatory because almost all the students affected are African-American.
Making the case to close Ericson Academy on the West Side, Chicago Public Schools officials stressed that it would cost $9.6 million to fix the 51-year-old building. What they didn’t point out in materials provided to parents was that they planned to spend nearly as much this summer on repairs to Sumner Elementary, where Ericson students would be reassigned.
District officials said one downside of Calhoun Elementary, also slated for closing, was its lack of air conditioning in every classroom. Yet records that were not part of the district’s presentation on closings show the designated replacement school, Cather Elementary, would require the installation of 33 window units to bring cooling to every room.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has returned a $10,000 campaign donation from a lobbyist for a tech firm disqualified from a city program this week after the Tribune raised questions about potential violations of the mayor’s self-imposed limits on political fundraising, an Emanuel spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.
The action by Emanuel came a day after he announced he would return $15,000 in donations from several key figures behind the CityScan tech firm that potentially violated the mayor’s executive order banning contributions from vendors seeking city business. The company was also removed from the list of firms prequalified to get a city contract under Emanuel’s municipal marketing program.
* The truly big state money is spent on employer pension costs at the Teachers Retirement System. Higher education pension costs are a relative drop in the bucket…
Illinois’ public colleges and universities will gradually begin picking up the costs of their employees’ pensions starting next year under an agreed plan announced Thursday by House Speaker Michael Madigan and higher-education representatives.
“It’s only the right thing to do,” Madigan (D-Chicago) told reporters after the open meeting. “Whenever one person spends money and another person pays the bill it’s a bad policy, especially for government.”
Madigan’s long-sought pension ‘cost-shift’ bargain - an idea not contained in either of the two major pension reform bills floating in the Legislature - comes in the second week of his formal discussions with higher education institutions.
Under the plan, the state’s public universities and community colleges would pay an additional one-half percent of payroll costs into the pension system each year starting in fiscal year 2015 until the colleges cover all costs. Madigan indicated similar changes to elementary and secondary school districts were coming but did not discuss details.
Universities and colleges privately signed on to this concept months ago. So this isn’t completely “new.”
The proposal also allows community colleges and universities to opt out of future pension enhancements that might be approved by the General Assembly, since they would be responsible for picking up any additional costs associated with it.
* While this initial agreement won’t save a ton of money for the state, it will cost the colleges and universities a noticeable sum…
Republicans opposed to the change contend the move could drive up property taxes as community colleges seek to offset the extra burden. Representatives for the state’s universities and community colleges acknowledged they will have to reduce positions, cut programs, and raise tuition and fees to make ends meet.
Tuition across the state already has been on the rise in recent years. The base annual tuition for new students at the University of Illinois’ flagship Urbana-Champaign campus starts at $11,834 — a 112 percent increase from 10 years ago. With fees and housing costs, the yearly price tag grows to at least $24,729.
The pension shift will cost the U. of I. an estimated $5 million to $6 million each year, President Robert Easter said. Southern Illinois University would need to set aside a projected $3 million to $3.5 million each year, President Glenn Poshard said.
But the two leaders contended that they would rather be forced to make tough spending decisions than face additional cuts to general state spending. Those cutbacks have been the norm in recent years as the state struggles to get its finances in order.
* Caterpillar’s CEO Doug Oberhelman sat down for an interview with Business Week…
Oberhelman paid his way through Millikin University, a small private college in Decatur, “by working at a bank, where he did everything from sign home mortgages to repossess cars.”
“It was a fabulous experience,” he told Businessweek. “You knock on the door, and you tell somebody you’re gonna take their car away — and usually they’re down on their luck, and their car is the last thing they have. So I learned to deal with that.”
I prefer to charitably interpret that remark as meaning the experience gave him the ability to “deal with” human suffering. Others may not be so charitable.
* It’s been a very long, difficult week and it ain’t over yet, but let’s lighten it up a little.
My former intern Barton Lorimor and his wife Jen came over to the Capitol Fax International Headquarters (my house) Monday night and met Oscar the Puppy. Oscar loved them both, but he was particularly fond of Barton. Watch that little tail wag…
Sponsoring Sen. Kwame Raoul said he believes the restrictions in HB 183 are needed to protect public safety by keeping guns out of the wrong hands and out of sensitive places.
But many lawmakers expressed concerns over a provision that requires a person to have “good moral character” — the basis on which local law enforcement could object to a person’s application — and “proper cause” to carry a weapon in Illinois.
“What are you looking for? The guy didn’t go to enough of his kids’ softball games …? That someone drank too much, that they didn’t spend enough time at home? … What is it that you’re looking for in that?” asked Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.
Illinois State Police Lt. Darrin Clark cited as an example a person who has had repeated run-ins with police despite never having been charged with a crime.
“There’s a number of individuals that are ‘on the bubble,’ so to speak, that are not a risk at this point, but there’s just something not quite right,” Clark said. “There would have to be a pattern of behavior that had been documented.”
But Righter argued the bill’s language is too vague and could lead to law enforcement denying permits to basically anyone they wish.
By Thursday night, however, Raoul said he was drafting an amendment to be considered Friday that would remove the “good moral character” criterion.
Raoul said he would keep intact the consideration of a “proper reason for carrying a firearm” because it has been tested in Indiana and gives leeway to reject an applicant whose desire to carry a gun is “inconsistent with public safety.”
In addition, Raoul said, he plans to amend phrasing to tighten up the language so that “there would be less fear of an arbitrary objection from a local sheriff.”
After Thursday’s committee vote, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said the concealed-carry legislation could surface for a floor vote as early as Friday, but the top Senate Democrat stopped short of predicting its passage.
If it’s adopted and moves to the House, it will compete with an NRA-backed plan that fell seven votes short of passage last month but could resurface. That plan got significantly more support than a more restrictive measure, more in line with Raoul’s, that also failed last month.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he discussed the issue with Raoul and acknowledged large differences among various proposals.
“It won’t be easy,” Madigan told reporters Thursday. “People are going to be asked to compromise, they’re going to be asked to do some things they really don’t want to do.”
No one is happy with a bill permitting the concealed carrying of weapons that passed out of the Illinois Senate Executive Committee Thursday by a 10-4-1 vote.
But the bill — the result of a months-long effort by state Sen. Kwame Raoul to find a middle ground — is the best option on the table for resolving this issue. It could come to a vote as early as Friday in the Senate, and the vote is expected to be close.
* And the Tribune has a good infographic that breaks down the components of Raoul’s bill. Check it out. From that page…
Legislation lowering Illinois’ voting age to 17 for primary elections has passed the Democrat-controlled state legislature and is on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn (D) for his signature.
Many believe the law is designed to create a permanent Democrat majority in Illinois using young Hispanic voters.
Illinois is home to two million Latinos and 773,000 Hispanic eligible voters. More than a third of that are between the ages of 18 and 29.
I’m not gonna take a position on this particular bill either way because I really don’t care one way or the other. But the measure only applies to primary voters. If somebody is 17 at the time of the primary, but will be 18 at the time of the general election, then that person can vote in the primary. I really don’t see how this is some sort of “brown people conspiracy.” C’mon, man.
And secondly, even if it is a vast and nefarious conspiracy, why not start competing for those votes instead of complaining? Didn’t most of the voting restrictions that the GOP tried to put in place in other states before last year’s presidential election backfire? How about just getting out there with a winning message?
…Adding… Apparently, lots of Republicans are participating in this alleged conspiracy…
The Senate recently approved the bill 43-9. The House approved the bill 95-22 in April.