Needless to say, I’ll be back when the special session begins. Where they go, I go.
If you’re really upset at the governor’s special session idea, then channel your anger by purchasing one of our items at our charity store. Rather than sit and wonder whether the governor is a pathological liar, an incredible goofball or “way ahead of everyone else” and bound to win this great struggle against the dark forces of evil that stand in his way, do something truly positive and buy something. All profits will be donated to Sojourn House.
If you buy something and you still aren’t completely purged of bad feelings, and still want to talk, then head on over to Illinoize. I’m sure the bloggers over there will have plenty to say.
Take care and have a great 4th!!!
Also, we did this last year and I think it’s appropriate to make it an annual event. The video from last year is no longer availabe, so here’s a different band. Ladies and gentlemen, our National Anthem…
* 1:52 pm - The governor told legislative leaders today that he will begin calling special legislative sessions starting July 5th. More info as it becomes available. [This subject item has been moved from another post below.]
* 1:58 pm - House Speaker Michael Madigan was clearly not happy after the leaders meeting and said it didn’t make any sense to call the special session. Apparently, the entire meeting today was about the special session.
Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson said the governor blew up at the leaders. House GOP Leader Tom Cross was noticeably frustrated and said he didn’t understand the rationale or logic behind the move.
* 2:01 pm - The governor had suggested that the two chambers return on the 5th during the last leaders meeting, but was rebuffed. The leaders then reportedly made him swear that he wouldn’t use their weeklong break against them and he complied. They should’ve gotten a memorandum of understanding.
The governor is said to be coming out of his office soon. More in a bit.
* 2:17 pm - While we wait for the governor to come out of his office, here are some quotes from after the meeting. Senate President Emil Jones said little to nothing…
* Madigan: “What I know is that there was an agreement on a schedule and he has rescinded that agreement.”
* Madigan: “My suggestion to the governor was if he wants to call a special session call up bills for people to vote on.”
* Watson: “He’s had five months to figure this out and he wants to blame everyone else.”
* Cross: “Theater of the absurd… I attribute it all to failed leadership…. [My members] will be here ready and willing to work whether they’re happy about it or not.”
* The guv’s spokesperson, Rebecca Rausch, said the first subject under discussion on Thursday the 5th will be pensions.
* 2:30 pm - So far, the Secretary of State’s office has yet to see the governor’s official proclamation. By law, it has to be filed with his office. The governor’s office won’t say yet what the special session will be about except to say it’s “budget related.” The specials are limited to specific bills or subject matters.
* 2:38 pm - Governor Blagojevich said he would call a special session “every day until we pass a budget.”. More Blagojevich quotes…
“The one-month budget is just a Republican budget in disguise.”
“Time for us to get the real work of the people done.”
“I expressed my view that it’s important to have the members here more often than not.”
* AUDIO FILES - CLICK NAMES TO DOWNLOAD SOUND FILES…
* 3:43 pm - The governor repeatedly referred to “Speaker Madigan and his conservative Republican ally Senator Watson” during the press bang. More Blagojevich quotes…
* “[I will be calling special sessions] every single day from July 5th, without fail, every day seven days a week until we pass a budget that helps people.”
* (Question: Will you be here every day governor?) “I’ll be in Springfield every day.
* 3:48 pm - Speaker Madigan quotes…
* “He’s offered no new ideas to be considered by those special sessions.”
* “He has no ideas on revenue generation, same old stuff.”
* “I’ve just come to expect stuff like this.”
* 3:52 pm - Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson…
* “He wants to blame everybody else for problems that everybody initiated here and he blew up… It wasn’t a Mike Jacobs kind of thing, he didn’t go that far I believe.”
* “I just sat there in bewilderment… He yells ‘Frank Watson this, Frank Watson that,’ and we’re in the minority here the last time I checked.”
* “This is not the way to get things done.”
* “I said, ‘Governor, if you want to put a bill on the Senate floor, let’s talk about how you’re going to pay for all this and just see if there’s a political will to do this. Governor, there isn’t. If you haven’t got that message by now, then that’s your fault.’”
* “This is a big issue that we’ve had with this administration… it’s a trust factor and here we go again.”
* A special session is what we call ‘A teacher a day.’ $40,000 is what will be spent on a special session… and that’s about what a salary of a teacher in my area (will make).
* Watson revealed that the governor wants to bring the press into the room for the negotiations. “I don’t know if that’s not such a bad idea. Why don’t you just come on in and see what goes on inside the room?”
* “I think he ought to spend an evening here just like everybody else and stay in Springfield.”
* 4:11 pm - A few Leader Cross quotes…
* “[Special session is] a huge cost to taxpayers of the state of Illinois.”
* “I thought we had an understanding that we would start back the following week, but obviously that’s not the case. So, we’re ready to work and get the budget done.”
* [No budget] “I attribute that to Democrats failing.”
* 4:14 pm - The AP has a brief bit up, entitled “Blindsiding lawmakers, governor wants special session on budget”…
Legislative leaders complained that Blagojevich is breaking an agreement that lawmakers would not be called back to Springfield until July 10th.
More importantly, they say there is nothing for rank & file lawmakers to do. Budget negotiations between Blagojevich and the leaders are at a standstill, so there’s no budget for lawmakers to vote on.
The governor’s last words were the legislators could forfeit their per diem if they were worried about keeping down costs.
* 4:47 pm - This won’t inflame things further I’m sure. The governor has sent a letter to Madigan and Watson, which has ended up in the hands of House Democratic members…
I understand you raised concerns about the per diem costs associated with Special Sessions. I would offer two alternatives to address your concerns. First, members… are in the position to “waive” their per diems… As a second alternative, at your request, I could use a reduction veto to eliminate per diem payments. Please let us know if this is something you would like me to do.
[Bumped to the top because nothing else is going on. News on the leaders meeting is in green.]
* 9:44 am - The House’s schedule for July was just approved. They’ll be back on Tuesday, July 10th. Senate President Emil Jones has said he won’t return until the following day. Update: The Senate will also return on the 10th.
* 9:51 am - Even though the House has just 87 out of 118 members present today, it was still able to override a gubernatorial veto. The House is now in recess until the Senate takes action on the one-month budget. The Senate is due in at 10.
* 9:59 am - The House’s July schedule is now online.
* 11:09 am - The Senate has just passed the one-month budget.
* 11:13 am - The Senate has adjourned until Tuesday, July 10.
* 11:14 am - The governor is in town and the leaders meeting is scheduled for 11:30. Topic: Schedules going forward.
* 11:37 am - Note to newspaper editors: Before printing guest columns from ostensibly private citizens that repeat the governor’s talking points on the House-passed budget bill and call out individual legislators by name for their votes on that legislation, you might want to check first to see if aforementioned letter-writers are, in reality, professional activists who work for groups that are tied at the hip to the Blagojevich administration. Just saying.
* 12:08 pm - While we’re on the topic of the media, ABC7 sports anchor Jim Rose is emceeing a fundraiser for Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Sounds kinda odd. This isn’t the first time that Rose has done an event with Giannoulias, either.
* 12:12 pm - The leaders meeting is being delayed because Speaker Madigan and Senate President Jones are in negotiations with the electric utilities on the rate relief package.
* 12:36 pm - Illinois Family Institute claims “great lull in donations” has led to staffing cuts and reductions in publications, community outreach and its upcoming voter guide.
* 12:58 pm - Speaker Madigan left the electric rates negotiations a few minutes ago saying they had made “substantial progress,” which is what he said a couple of weeks ago.
* 1:17 pm - House GOP Leader Tom Cross walked into the governor’s office not long ago, so the leaders meeting should be starting soon.
* 1:30 pm -Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks is announcing today that he’s supporting Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Franks has spent the past week or two trying to line up support from his fellow legislators, without much luck. Go figure.
[The update about a special session has been moved here.]
Hegewisch is a long way from Schaumburg, geographically and otherwise, but the two areas merged together in my mind this week.
The column goes on to explain Schaumburg state Rep. Paul Froehlich’s party switch, which we don’t need to repeat here.
The last state representative to switch parties was Sam Panayotovich in 1988, when the Cook County Republican Party thought it could become a major player. Republicans wanted to lock in “Reagan Democrat” voters by recruiting candidates who could appeal to them and by attempting to woo Democratic officeholders to their side.
There was a time when it looked as if the Republicans might actually succeed, and might even win a huge prize: the Illinois House. The chamber was closely divided between the two parties and Madigan was facing a revolt by his more conservative city and suburban Democrats, white ethnics who felt shut out by Madigan’s often imperious rule. Panayotovich, a Serbian-American Democrat from Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood, decided to take the plunge. Panayotovich announced that he was switching to the GOP, and the word was that other white ethnics would soon follow.
Madigan understood that if Panayotovich won re-election as a Republican, others would surely jump ship and he would lose the speaker’s gavel. So Madigan immediately made it clear that Panayotovich would pay a steep price, and he followed through with an expensive, brutal campaign.
Before Panayotovich’s press conference was even over, Madigan’s chief of staff ordered everything removed from Panayotovich’s office and unceremoniously dumped in the hallway. It was all downhill from there.
The fall campaign against Democrat Clem Balanoff, personally recruited by Mayor Harold Washington, was “hurtful, bitter and unfair,” Panayotovich recalls. His wife was singled out for attack, he was accused of spending more time at the popular Springfield tavern he owned instead of in the Illinois House, and on and on. To be sure, Panayotovich gave as good as he got, and eventually both sides ended up spending more money than had ever been expended on an Illinois House race. Panayotovich lost, and the way he was stomped into the ground may partly explain the lack of party jumpers since then.
And now the look forward…
Panayotovich said this week that Froehlich should prepare for the same treatment. Even though Froehlich’s party switch has little impact on the makeup of the House and no other Republicans are suspected of plotting similar jumps, Panayotovich is probably right.
“That’s our seat,” a top House Republican said this week. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get it back,” said another. The only question is whether the Republicans, hobbled by years in the minority, will have the resources to put up a fight. If they do, and if history is any guide, expect a nasty contest next year.
* Eric Krol looks at both Froehlich and Sen. Kirk Dillard, who cut a TV ad for Barack Obama. This is his conclusion about Froehlich’s future…
Froehlich is a bit of a man without a place to call home right now. And he’s got less than $20,000 in his campaign fund to fall back on. A well-funded Republican could cause him big problems. […]
This time, however, Froehlich’s desire to control his fate and stay in power could end up costing him exactly that.
If Speaker Madigan steps up, as he is expected to, it won’t matter how much money is in Froehlich’s bank account. But, yes, Froehlich is certainly in for a rough road.
Dillard also is up for re-election next year in the 24th Senate District. The district remains reliably Republican, so it’s not the general election Dillard need worry about. It’s catching a primary challenge from a Republican irked that Kirk is offering so much public love for Obama. Dillard possibly just bought himself a headache along with that spotlight he sought.
Sometimes politicians can outthink themselves.
Dillard’s campaign account had almost $200,000 on hand earlier this year and he ought to be able to raise more. Also, Obama did well in DuPage County and likely remains popular, even with Republicans.
That being said, I’m all for bipartisan comity in the General Assembly. But it ought to stay there. If Dillard does draw a primary opponent because of this move, he’ll certainly deserve it. But he’ll almost surely survive it.
* Let’s take a look at this Chicago Reader article about TIF districts and the budget situation…
Over the last few weeks Daley and Madigan have been getting kind of chummy. Daley pulled his support from the more generous tax relief plan of senate president Emil Jones and endorsed Madigan’s watered-down home owner’s property tax exemption. Why? According to statehouse sources it’s because Madigan agreed to support an extension of the Central Loop TIF, which was created in 1984 and is set to expire this year. What’s at stake? If the General Assembly extends it, it will continue pumping hundreds of millions of dollars a year in property taxes to a slush fund controlled by Daley for another 12 years.
That has been one of the rumors floating around, and Daley certainly does want the extension…
When Blagojevich figured out what Daley and Madigan were up to, he countered by calling in Cook County commissioner Mike Quigley, until then the only elected official who had dared to criticize TIFs.
Blagojevich convened a closed-door [leaders] meeting on June 20… Quigley laid out the flaws in Daley’s TIF programs
The problem was, as I pointed out in the Capitol Fax back then, Quigley had no actual legislative plan to counter the pro-TIF argument. Nothing was even drafted. So it was all an empty exercise, designed solely to pimp the mayor and Madigan. Great idea.
What will come of all this? Probably nothing, at least in terms of TIF reform. As one gubernatorial aide told me, “If Daley and the aldermen want to shoot themselves in the head, it’s not our problem.” Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, who attended the meeting, was openly contemptuous of Blagojevich and Quigley and called the session a waste of time. “It’s another day in Rod Wonderland,” says Brown. “It reminds me of a Bible-study thing where the minister comes in and talks about his favorite scripture.”
So, the governor won’t come out and oppose Daley’s TIF extension or get behind any TIF reforms. Instead, his main purpose was to gin up stories like this.
And everyone wonders why we’re still in overtime session.
* I’m not sure how “surprising” this CTA contract deal was since word has been going around about it for a couple of weeks or so. I had some of the details in the Capitol Fax a while back. But, anyway, the Sun-Times editorial today was otherwise on the mark…
On Wednesday, after the CTA announced a surprising deal with all 17 of its labor unions that calls for key changes in pension and health care contributions, the governor gave the agency credit for “showing it is serious about improving service and efficiency.” But then he showed he was not serious about helping, leaning on his tired refrain about “closing corporate loopholes” to provide money to the agency.
That’s just not going to cut it. The governor needs to see the light and give the region the power to solve its own crisis. The CTA needs a reliable, permanent funding boost — and so do Metra and Pace, which are also suffering. It also needs to raise fares, because riders should also contribute to the solution.
And Mayor Daley, who was quick to call on Springfield to follow through after the CTA announced its union deal, needs to show a little commitment of his own by boosting the city’s ridiculously low contribution to the agency. We’re all in this together. It’s time to step up.
That last point about Daley is spot on. The city’s contribution to the CTA is indeed “ridiculously low.”
* And while this idea would normally be fine by me, the timing couldn’t have been worse…
Active-duty military personnel may get a bigger break on transit fares in the Chicago area, if the RTA has its way.
The Regional Transportation Authority passed a resolution Thursday asking the CTA and Pace to consider offering discounts to those on active duty. […]
It’s up to the CTA and Pace to decide whether they’ll follow suit. The timing isn’t ideal, considering budget problems.
But Pace spokeswoman Judi Kulm said, “It’s definitely something we’d consider.” The CTA had a similar response.
Judy Baar Topinka proposed the discount. Like I said, great idea, bad timing.
I really don’t even know what to say about today’s top Sneedling item…
To pee or not to pee. That is the question.
• To wit: Sneed hears rumbles that the bodyguard detail protecting Gov. Blagojevich’s family compound in Chicago has run into a rather difficult problem.
• Translation: It seems first lady Patti Blagojevich does not want the security detail using the toilet facilities in her home, despite the fact the round-the-clock detail would have to vacate the premises intermittently in order to take care of their bodily functions.
• Which begs the question: Where do they pee?
In the parkway.
No wonder they’re suspected of “leaking” inside information about the guv.
*** UPDATE 1 *** I asked the governor’s office whether Sneed’s item was true. Here’s the response…
It is not true.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Dan Curry links to Sneed’s article, the governor’s office response and then adds…
However, about three or four years ago, I talked to a state trooper with direct knowledge of the house policy and he told me it was true.
As I mentioned in comments, just because it may have been true three or four years ago, doesn’t mean it’s still true today. Still, that’s two for no-pee, and one for yes-pee.
* Chicago Public Radio: Mass transit readies for long drought
* Editorial: Sign bill to track down online child pornographers
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a major proponent of this measure, said in a press release that “IP addresses are critical evidence left at the scene by suspected high-tech child pornographers” and the bill’s provisions would be an important tool in prosecuting child pornography cases.
* 10:12 am - The House has adjourned until tomorrow morning at 9. There’s not much to do in that chamber while they wait around to make sure the Senate passes the one-month budget on Friday. The Senate convenes today at noon.
* 10:16 am - A leaders meeting is set for today, but an actual time has not yet been set. The topic of discussion will reportedly be potential new revenue sources, but some of the leaders haven’t even been told that.
There was no leaders meeting yesterday.
* 10:25 am - New census numbers are out, based on a July 1, 2006 count…
Springfield 116,482, up from 111,454 in 2000
Peoria 113,107, up from 112,936 in 2000
Chicago 2,833,321, down from 2,896,016 in 2000
Rockford 155,138, up from 150,115 in 2000
Naperville 142,0901, up from 128,358 in 2000
Aurora 170,617, up from 142,990 in 2000
* 10:53 am - AP: Census shows Joliet is fastest-growing city in Illinois
* 11:16 am - The US Supreme Court’s ruling today rejecting “public school assignment plans that take account of students’ race” can be downloaded here. (From: IP)
* 11:21 am - I’d like to take a brief moment to wish two people well.
* Chicago Sun-Times editoral page editor Steve Huntley has been a great editor - meaning he approved all my column ideas and never touched my copy. Huntley told me yesterday that he’s starting a new job at the paper as a full-time columnist, and he sounded truly excited about the opportunity. He’s been the edit page editor for ten years, so he wanted a change. He’s being replaced by books editor Cheryl Reed.
* Peoria Journal-Star political reporter/columnist Molly Parker is moving on to a new job in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve known Molly since she was a PAR intern at the Statehouse, and she has become a pal. If you’re near Peoria, there’s a party for her next Friday starting at 5:30 at Seven on Prospect in Peoria Heights.
Good luck to both!
* 12:15 pm - The leaders meeting has been called off and rescheduled for tomorrow.
* 12:19 pm - The Senate is convening. The minister giving the prayer has asked members to put aside “personal and political opinions.” One can only hope he has a direct line to the Big Guy.
* 12:24 pm - Senate President Emil Jones is in the chair, which is a bit unusual. You can listen or watch here.
* 12:49 pm - The Senate has recessed to the call of the chair. There will be some floor action later, including moving the one-month budget from 2nd Reading to 3rd Reading so it can be voted on tomorrow.
* 12:51 pm - If you’re following today’s US Supreme Court case on school integration, the Wall Street Journal’s blog has a very good rundown.
* 1:38 pm - Word is, the leaders meeting will be held tomorrow at 11:30.
* 1:46 pm - Larry, aka ArchPundit, writes that the Wall Street Journal blog misses a key point…
The writer claims that Kennedy allows for race as a factor–he specifically says it cannot be a factor, but that other strategies may be pursued that produce diversity. That’s a huge difference and has very bad impacts on settled cases. I don’t think many of the writers have ever looked at a settlement agreement for a deseg case, but they almost always include race as a factor for several of the programs. This ruling
seems to invalidate all of those programs. It’s incredibly sweeping if Kennedy sticks by his decision.
* The one-month budget passed the House yesterday and will likely clear the Senate on Friday. Expectations are extremely low at the Statehouse for wrapping up this overtime session anytime soon. There’s word from inside the governor’s office that he’s prepared to do the one-month deals until January, or until he gets what he wants for health care.
After 45 minutes of political sniping under the guise of debating the bill, the House voted 111-3 to adopt the interim budget.
* But there’s a big hitch to simply extending the current fiscal year’s budget one month at a time…
Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican, said the next pressure point is August, when the state has to make its first payments of fiscal year ’08 to elementary and secondary education systems. He said he and other Republicans would approve the one-month budget as a stopgap measure to keep the state operating through July, but he added, “Don’t count on it in August.”
* There is no school aid payment in July (there are two in June), but future monthly aid payments will either require more revenue sources, or force the state to draw on cash that would normally be spent at the end of next fiscal year, putting the FY ‘08 budget in an ever-deeper hole. And there’s something else that will put the state further into a hole…
The budget does not include additional money for employee salaries, even though union workers are scheduled to get raises beginning July 1. Hannig said the raises will be honored anyway.
“Under any circumstances, the governor is obligated to pay the contract he entered into on behalf of the state,” Hannig said. “We think for this one month, he’ll be able to make the payments to his employees as provided for in the contract.”
* Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), who rarely votes for budget bills and never votes for tax hikes, managed a bit of showboating yesterday…
State Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, opposed the fix, saying it took the pressure off lawmakers when a long-term solution is needed.
“We were elected to make tough choices,” Franks said.
Yeah. Like he’d vote for it.
* Meanwhile, Franks’ committee unanimously approved a resolution yesterday that calls on the governor to stay in Springfield during the overtime session. Franks is a longtime Blagojevich critic, so the vote gave him another opportunity to seek the spotlight…
“We’re just encouraging him - we’re not requiring him,” said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, who chairs the House State Government Administration Committee.
Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Coal City, said the state constitution would not allow the Legislature to demand that the governor stay in Springfield, although it does require that all statewide-elected officials maintain residences in the capital city.
* And Franks is thinking about introducing yet another resolution…
Before the resolution passed, 8-0, Franks said he intends to sponsor another resolution to recommend that the state reimburse the governor for only one trip to and from Springfield each week, the same rule that applies to state lawmakers.
“I believe he should either have to pay out of his own personal account or his campaign account, and I certainly think he should get a 1099 (tax form) from the state of Illinois as a personal benefit that he’s received,” Franks said. Exceptions could be made for state emergencies, he said.
* Editorial: 30-day Band Aid needed to keep state from bleeding
* Editorial: If gaming plan is resurrected, make it fair this time
*** UPDATE *** An e-mail from the Comptroller’s office…
Just a note of clarification:
There are 2 school aid payments in June — made on the 10th and 20th of the month. (total $342 million)
There are July school aid payments, but typically they are moved up, and have been again this year. That double payment of $342 million was issued on Monday, 6/25.
In addition, we paid out all the categoricals, typically paid in July, at the end of last week and earlier this week.
The next school aid payment is due Aug. 10th, and it will require a few days processing, so if there is no budget agreement by earlier that week, payments will not be able to move forward.
* Was it the “bounty” or something else that did in Gary Skoien yesterday? What follows are two different versions of the same Metra board meeting. It’s a good lesson in how the “media filter” operates.
* First, the Tribune story, entitled “‘Bounty’ remark stalls politician’s bid for Metra board - Democrats dig in heels on nomination”…
After Gary Skoien, the former chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, offered a $10,000 “bounty” for the arrest and conviction of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley two years ago, he was fired from his real estate job. On Wednesday, the political gaffe may have cost him a bid to become a member of Metra’s board.
Suburban Cook County commissioners had no trouble reappointing two Metra board members, Arlene Mulder of Arlington Heights and James Dodge of Orland Park, but the commissioners split bitterly over Skoien’s nomination, leaving its fate uncertain. […]
Republican Commissioner Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park, whose district includes portions of Chicago’s Northwest Side, where Daley is popular, moved Wednesday to approve Mulder and Dodge, but deferred action onSkoien’s nomination until the commissioners meet again.
Silvestri acknowledged that the “bounty” comment still rankled some officials, but said it was up to Skoien whether to offer an apology.
* But is that what really happened, or did the Trib impose its own version of reality on the situation? There were other things going on at the Metra board that the Trib missed. The Daily Southtown’s report follows…
In a short but snippy meeting that included south suburban allies hurling accusations at each other, the Cook County Board’s suburban caucus chose to defer its choice on one of three seats on the Metra board.
Support was split between Metra director Elonzo Hill, of Country Club Hills, and former Cook County Republican chairman Gary Skoien, of Palatine. Neither had a majority of votes.
Commissioners Deb Sims (D-Chicago) and Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) accused chairwoman Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) of trying to cut Democrats out of the process so she could retaliate against Hill. Gorman said Hill didn’t back her choice for leader of the Metra board last year.
“To not appoint someone because they didn’t do what the chair (Gorman) wanted sends a very poor message to any appointment we make,” Murphy said. “It may be an abuse of power.”
* The back story, from yesterday’s Southtown editorial page…
Gorman said she is taking the action because Hill did not support Orland Park Trustee James Dodge, a current board member, for the board presidency last year. Hill supported Carole Doris, of Downers Grove, who won the election. “He could not support someone in his own back yard,” Gorman said of Hill.
But there’s a flaw in Gorman’s argument. She is looking beyond her back yard for Hill’s replacement. If she wants Hill out because of the Dodge issue, we can understand the politics involved. But if Hill is replaced, he should be replaced by someone from the Southland. There are many capable individuals who could represent the area on the Metra board. Instead, a northwest suburbanite appears poised to get the seat in a move that is most political.
Gorman replaced Skoien as the Cook County Republican chairman earlier this year, after Skoien resigned. Before that, as the GOP continued to wither away in Cook County under Skoien’s tutelage, Skoien made headlines with a hokey political stunt: He offered a $10,000 bounty for information leading to a conviction of Mayor Richard Daley. There is little that leads us to believe he will make an effective Metra board member — let alone one who will put the interests of the Southland high on his agenda.
* As the deadline approaches for mass transit service cuts and fare increases, Chicago and suburban legislators are getting more and more calls from frantic constituents who are wondering how they’ll get to work. A million and a half people ride the CTA every day and lots more depend on the RTA and PACE. Needless to say, the panic levels are rising in legislative circles as more and more constituents become convinced that they hold the keys to solving this pending crisis.
Without a solution, the mass transit situation has the potential to be every bit as politically explosive for Chicago-area legislators as the Ameren rate hikes have been for Downstaters. So, while yesterday’s CTA union agreement is welcome news, it puts additional pressure on the Statehouse to come up with a real funding solution.
The agreement calls for 10,200 employees represented by 17 unions to receive 3 percent pay raises during the first three years and 3.5 percent in the final two years. The CTA has also agreed to double its pension fund contribution — from 6 percent of payroll to 12 percent to satisfy the Legislature’s demand that a pension fund now 34 percent funded reach 90 percent by 2059.
In exchange for those pay raises and a no-layoff clause, active employees will contribute 3 percent toward retiree health care and double — from 3 percent to 6 percent — their pension contribution.
Employees hired after Jan. 1, 2008, would become eligible for a full pension at age 64 instead of 55.
Illinois’ auditor general would be represented on an 11-member “pension reform trust” and on a seven-member health care trust that would sustain itself through investments and contributions so the CTA could wash its hands of the headache.
The bottom line for CTA unions is an agreement that would force bus drivers and motormen to lose money during the first year, break even in the second and finally start making money in the third year.
* And it turns out that the CTA needs far more money than previously believed…
It had been believed the CTA would need $100 million or $125 million next year to avert a crisis, but CTA President Ron Huberman on Wednesday put the figure at about $200 million to cover health-care and pension expenses and other operating-cost increases.
* Mayor Daley tossed the ball in Springfield’s court yesterday…
“Now it’s time for the governor and the General Assembly to follow through.”
* The governor supports giving the CTA $100 million, which it now turns out will only meet half the need.
The problem with Blagojevich’s plan is that it uses precious state dollars and would only send cash to the CTA, while mass transit advocates are pushing a proposal that would impose a tiny quarter percent sales tax in the areas served by the CTA and the RTA and a real estate transfer tax in Chicago. That proposal would generate far more money over many more years and would help solve the system’s structural problems. But Blagojevich has promised to veto the legislation if it ever reaches his desk…
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said she doesn’t want to see the proposal for a quarter-cent increase in the regional sales tax called for a vote unless legislative leaders can persuade Blagojevich to not veto it.
“People are not going to want to be on the line for the bill if it isn’t going to happen,” Currie said.
In the future, maybe iPods could be equipped to receive emergency signals. Well, maybe not: Americans are naturally suspicious of having their personal devices tooled by the government. But as witnessed by Tuesday’s response, a radio-based warning may well have gone the way of “Duck and cover.”