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Illinois Issues goes bloggy

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

Illinois Issues Statehouse bureau chief Bethany Carson has a new blog. No comments yet, but she promises to turn on her RSS feed as soon as possible (update: feed is now on). Check it out.

Use this post to report new blogs you’ve found, or a new blog you’ve started.

UPDATE: Bethany has an update on how the budget negotiations went.

There’s likely an agreement on the governor’s college tuition tax credit, but there’s no telling whether a slew of pet projects will prevent the overall budget from being ready next week.

The three top Democratic leaders finished their third consecutive week of budget negotiations. This afternoon, Sen. President Emil Jones gave promising comments about getting closer, but how close, he said, depends on whom you’re talking to. “There’s a few minor issues that we’re trying to get taken care of.” […]

He did say adjourning next week is possible. Budget staffers will continue to meet, but the House and Senate won’t get back to business until May 2.

The anything-can-happen attitude was echoed by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie. Her promising sentence was capped off with a “but” and a courtesy smile that hinted she wouldn’t bet her money on it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   13 Comments      


This just in… Ryan lawyers can’t question jurors

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

AP:

A federal judge today rejected a request by lawyers for former Gov. George Ryan to interview two women who were tossed from the jury.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said her most fundamental reason for her decision was that neither Evelyn Ezell nor Cindy McFadden took part in the final round of deliberations that resulted in a guilty verdict last week in the historic case.

The judge also expressed concern that interviewing Ezell would likely lead to requests to question additional jurors. She also called McFadden’s claims that she had been set up for dismissal “very regrettable.”

Julie Bauer, an attorney for Ryan, argued that the defense should be allowed to talk to both women since each had already spoken publicly to reporters about their views of the case.

Bauer said the two former jurors raised allegations of misconduct by other jurors that should be investigated.

UPDATE: AP:

federal judge barred prosecutors Wednesday from making criminal background checks of prospective jurors in the upcoming trial of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s onetime patronage chief and three other former city officials.

“I will order that no criminal background checks be run absent an order of the court,” U.S. District Judge David H. Coar said in response to notification from prosecutors that they planned to make such checks before jury selection scheduled to start May 10 gets under way.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick M. Collins told Coar that the government had planned to make such checks in the wake of the racketeering and fraud trial of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Toddcast; Impeachment; Absentees; Deficit; Welch (use all CAPS in password)

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

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Question of the day

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

The House voted yesterday to reject a 10 percent pay raise for themselves and constitutional officers that was recommended by the Compensation Review Board. If the Senate also rejects it, the pay hike is killed. If the Senate does nothing, the raises will happen.

Do you think there will be significant political fallout if the pay raises happen? Let’s try to avoid over-the-top attacks on politicians here. Nobody cares about wild ravings on blogs, so try to confine yourselves to the question at hand. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


Meeks, the governor and the tollway system

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

I had a story about this in Capitol Fax this morning. Kristen McQueary was on the same panel with myself and Sen. Meeks and she filed this story.

Could the Illinois tollway keep state Sen. James Meeks out of the governor’s race?

Meeks, who is considering an independent bid for governor, said Tuesday he and Blagojevich have met twice to discuss a compromise that could keep Meeks from challenging Blagojevich — and GOP nominee Judy Baar Topinka — in November.

Meeks said the governor raised the possibility of selling state property as one solution to funding schools more equitably and to serving poor areas of the state — two of Meeks’ stipulations. Blagojevich said earlier this week he was intrigued by the idea of leasing the Illinois tollway to raise money for the state; Meeks would not say whether the tollway idea played into their conversation.

So far, Meeks is moving forward with plans to get on the ballot.

“I asked the governor for two things: a comprehensive plan on education and how underserved communities are going to be served,” Meeks said during a breakfast meeting at the Union League Club in Chicago. “As of this date, I haven’t seen a plan.”

Do you think this will work?

UPDATE: He’s looking more like a candidate every day. From an AFSCME press release:

Prospective gubernatorial candidate and state Senator James Meeks will visit an Illinois Department of Human Services field office on Chicago’s South Side tomorrow (Thursday, April 27). Meeks will meet with caseworkers and other frontline employees whose ability to provide essential services and benefits has been reduced by sharp cuts to the agency’s budget and staff.

Following the private meeting with DHS workers, Sen. Meeks and AFSCME director Henry Bayer will hold a news conference at 11:00 a.m. outside the office at 8001 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

DHS caseworkers and other frontline state employees are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. The union recently issued a report, Without A Net: Barriers to Illinois Public Benefits and Supports, that found DHS staff shortages have caused long delays, huge backlogs and high error rates in processing applications for Food Stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other basic public benefits.

UPDATE: The above event has been postponed. Hmmm.

UPDATE: I’m told it will be rescheduled for next week. More info here (pdf file)

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      


“Petri dish for corruption”

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

State prosecutors from around the country are told how bad things are in Illinois.

A convicted former governor and scandals at Chicago City Hall earned Illinois the dubious distinction of “petri dish for corruption” at a national meeting of state prosecutors Tuesday.

The conviction last week of former Gov. George Ryan on federal racketeering and fraud charges was a backdrop for the National Association of Attorneys General’s one-day summit in Chicago to talk about ways to stamp out public corruption.

“Illinois is apparently a petri dish for corruption. It is a real breeding ground,” Illinois Campaign for Political Reform director Cynthia Canary told the group.

Ryan was convicted April 17 by a federal court jury of steering state leases and contracts in exchange for gifts. Ryan, a Republican, maintains his innocence and promises an appeal.

Federal prosecutors also are investigating political patronage and payoffs at Chicago City Hall. Dozens of people have been charged, including the former city clerk, who pleaded guilty last month to taking $48,000 in payoffs to get companies into a city program that outsourced trucking work to private haulers.

The administration of the current governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, finds its hiring practices under scrutiny by federal and state investigators. Blagojevich has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Comptroller Hynes was in Rockford yesterday talking about ethics.

State Comptroller Dan Hynes barnstormed the state Tuesday, stopping in Rockford to urge legislators to support his three-pronged bill that he says will end “pay to play” politics in Illinois.

“There’s built-up frustration and anger among the citizenry” over repeated stories of political corruption in both parties, Hynes said. “If we can get people to channel that toward their leaders, we might be able to move this bill.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


CMS audit finds lots of problems

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

Another negative audit of the Blagojevich administration.

State auditors said Tuesday the Illinois Department of Central Management Services remains rife with waste and mismanagement a year after they first uncovered major problems at the agency.

Many of the problems uncovered in the latest audit mirror those documented in 2005, including contracts awarded without explanatory documentation, failing to monitor expenses submitted by contractors for reimbursement, and paying contractors at rates higher than stipulated in contracts.

However, the agency’s response is markedly different than a year ago, when it challenged virtually all of the findings of Auditor General William Holland’s auditors. This time, CMS said it accepts the recommendations made by auditors to improve operations and is in the process of implementing them.

Last year, Holland turned his findings over to Attorney General Lisa Madigan for investigation of possible criminal wrongdoing. Holland said Tuesday he did not turn the current audit over to Madigan because it did not uncover anything new.

It did note 17 problems repeated from last year, meaning they had not been resolved during the period reviewed by auditors.

“There are significant problems with CMS in this audit,” Holland said. “We had 22 findings, of which 17 are repeated. This is certainly not good news.”

The AP story is here. A brief list of findings is here. The full audit can be found here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      


Morning open thread

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

· Daily Herald: More than a month after winning the Republican governor nomination, Judy Baar Topinka has hired a campaign manager.

· House OKs bill to ban funeral protests

· Respublica blog has a good post about voter fraud.

· Editorial: Bobby Rush’s donation explanation has phony ring

· Editorial: Gas dollars better off in taxpayers’ pockets

· Local expert predicts gas prices will hit $4 a gallon this summer

· Madigan On Lookout For Gas Price Gouging

· Exelon loses money, trust in tritium spills

· ISBE study: State needs more math, science and special ed teachers

· School board gets earful on black studies

· Common Eco-Myth: Wind Turbines Kill Birds

· Beardstown plant to close Monday for immigration rallies

· Prosecutors fight juror interviews

· Trib: Betty is bored.

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


Strange reactions

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006

· Watch this CBS2 video of the governor’s strange reaction when asked what the state can do about high gasoline prices.

· After you’re finished with that, head over to Jim Leach’s blog for this weird back and forth with Judy Baar Topinka about whether she thinks President Bush is taking the nation in the “right direction.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Ethics; Robocalls; Rockford

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006

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Question of the day

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006

First, the setup:

One bumper sticker handed out in 2000 by a group critical of then-Gov. George Ryan may have best summed up the public’s often cynical view of Illinois politics: “Our governor is a bigger crook than your governor.”

Ryan’s conviction on federal corruption charges adds yet another chapter to Illinois’ already voluminous history of political missteps, shenanigans and scandal.

From Ryan’s subordinates barbecuing documents trying to cover their tracks to cash-filled shoe boxes in the hotel room of a dead secretary of state, Illinois - the state that gave rise to Honest Abe - is arguably best known for its less-than-honest political pedigree.

But are we really that bad?

“Yes” is the resounding answer from many, but not all, political reformers and pundits.

“I think that it’s important for people to step back and look at Illinois at this moment in history,” said Cindi Canary, the director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “The breadth and volume of the problem in this state is absolutely without compare. And it’s nothing to be proud of.”

Do you think Illinois is the most corrupt state in the nation? Why or why not? And what should be done about it?

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      


Congressional stuff

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006

Rush blasted:

An Englewood community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a key player on telecommunications legislation, received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T, one of the nation’s largest phone companies.

The chief of a congressional watchdog group says Rush’s ongoing association with the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation and his role in shaping telecommunications law as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee is a conflict of interest. Using charitable giving as a backdoor way to curry favor with lawmakers is coming under increasing scrutiny, figuring in controversies associated with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who was forced to temporarily step aside as the ranking Democrat on the Ethics panel.

· McSweeney may have goofed:

Republican 8th Congressional District candidate Dave McSweeney put himself in an unusual political position this week. Newly-nominated congressional candidates tend to play it safe politically, staying above the fray in internecine conflicts. Not McSweeney. He waded into the battle over who’d become the next Lake County Republican Party chairman. McSweeney backed Tom Gooch, the Cuba Township highway commissioner, over Dan Venturi, the Lake Villa Township supervisor. McSweeney’s guy lost, and McSweeney loses a bit of face as a result. With even House Speaker Dennis Hastert admitting it’ll be an uphill climb against Democratic U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean this fall, McSweeney needs every Republican vote he can get. Risking the ire of Venturi backers definitely did not follow the political playbook. I asked McSweeney Friday to explain the unorthodox move. He said he “made some phone calls for” Gooch. Loyalty, it seems, was the reason. “It’s not a question of looking weak, Eric. Tom was one of my original supporters,” McSweeney said. “He was there Day One for me.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


Guv: “Stay tuned” on tollway leasing

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006

Is the guv really thinking about leasing the tollways?

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Monday he’s waiting to see how Indiana’s experiment of leasing its toll road fares before deciding whether to act on a suggestion to do the same for the suburban tollway.

“Stay tuned,” said Blagojevich Monday. “This is an idea that we’ve talked about for years, actually. You’ve got to explore all kinds of creative ways to utilize the assets of the state. It sure is better than putting more burdens on the hard-working people and asking them for their tax dollars.”

Indiana is getting $3.8 billion for leasing its toll road to a foreign business group, and Blagojevich said he’s “looking with great interest” at how it plays out. Critics blast provisions in the Indiana contract that will allow the new operator to raise tolls by 2 percent a year after 2009.

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat, has suggested the idea of leasing or selling Illinois’ tollway system, but Blagojevich said he won’t consider it until next year at the earliest. Schoenberg said he’s working independently on the idea, asking a state agency to look at how much a tollway lease could bring into state coffers.

What do you think of this idea?

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      


Morning open thread

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006

· State awards $10 million for stem cells. More here and here.

· Topinka pumps plan to cap state sales tax on gasoline. More here.

· I hope he wins this case so we can finally open up this process, but I’m not sure why he’s bringing it: Parole officer sues to get report criticizing how he got his job

· They’d have more money if they stopped raiding the Road Fund: The escalation in oil prices is affecting virtually all aspects of how Illinois road-building companies bid for and carry out construction jobs, and the likely upshot for motorists is a delay in some much-needed projects because money will run out, experts say.

· Remember Mongo? His owners were so mad at how they were treated (the guv called their daughter a cheater) that they’ve taken their case to the appellate court and won: Mongo the steer wins on appeal

· Editorial: Prison plan shouldn’t be hard cell

· Brown: 11th Ward election high jinks have John Daley crying foul

· Sneed: No names

· Your turn

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


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