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This just in…

Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

* 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.

Rockford, by the way, finally got its veto override vote. Background here.

* 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.

Larry’s doing a lot of posts today on this subject, so head on over there for more.

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      


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Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

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Question of the day

Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

From Sneed’s column

A top associate of Gov. Blagojevich claims the controversial governor, who seems to run against the wind, thinks he is President Andrew Jackson — who also went against the grain.

Compare Gov. Blagojevich to other presidents in American history. Explain your rationale.

- Posted by Rich Miller   64 Comments      


The never-ending mess *** Updated x1 ***

Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

* 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.

* I particularly liked this paragraph

After 45 minutes of political sniping under the guise of debating the bill, the House voted 111-3 to adopt the interim budget.

Exactly.

* 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.

The resolution that cleared Franks’ committee yesterday can be found here.

* Related stories…

* Illinois House approves temporary budget

* House approves temporary budget

* State House OKs 30 day emergency budget plan

* House OKs stopgap budget, Senate expected to agree

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


Two versions of reality

Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

* 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.

Analysis?

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Chicago’s coming “Ameren” crisis

Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


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Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

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Morning Shorts

Thursday, Jun 28, 2007

* Will Co. upset at money budgeted for airport group

* Senate doesn’t vote on electric rates

* Froehlich endures a bit of ribbing upon return

* Democrats welcome Froehlich

* Animal Farm: Froehlich faces the music

* Editorial: Message in controversial Obama praise

* Illinoize: Remembering Terry Parke

* State fire marshal still has his job despite DUI arrest

* Indiana toll discounts cause I-Pass headaches; more here

* New law allows HIV tests with just spoken consent; more here and here

* Sun-Times Editorial: Response to false radio alert shows need for new system

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.”

* Tribune Editorial: A well deserved chicken dance on school scores

* City slow to roll out program to prevent payroll fraud

* Senate President Jones to Rockford: What override?

* Rockford mayor to try again to get tax collection vote

- Posted by Paul Richardson   7 Comments      


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