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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Enter your password to view comments      

This just in…

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

*** 10:01 am *** The governor is meeting with agency directors in his office in a few minutes to discuss the lack of a new budget. This meeting is generating tons of rumors that Blagojevich will order at least a partial government shutdown at midnight tonight, regardless of what they were saying yesterday. But so far I’m getting reports from inside that the rumors are overblown.

Nobody can really predict with 100 percent accuracy what the mercurial Blagojevich will do. I wondered yesterday whether he might try to “prove” his relevance by instigating a shutdown and was told that it wouldn’t happen tonight but a partial closure might happen before August 8th.

The governor’s press office, however, just told me this: “We are not furloughing workers.” Apparently, the rumors are flying about furloughs.

The governor is also reportedly sending a letter to state employees today which will, according to the spokesperson, “ask them to report to work in the absence of a state budget, and will explain that we intend to pay them for the work that they do.”

There’s no word yet, however, on what will happen with road projects or other state contractors. The meeting should be over at around 11:30, so check back before lunch.

* 11:27 am - The governor’s letter to state employees, which is currently being distributed, can be downloaded here

I am writing to thank you for your service as a state employee. I am asking for your cooperation to avoid a shutdown in government services by reporting to work tomorrow, and I want to make sure you are paid for the work that you do.

As I’m sure you are aware, on July 27th, I requested that the General Assembly act on a one month budget extension. One of my top priorities in making this request was to provide a measure of certainty for the employees of the State of Illinois. If the General Assembly takes immediate action on my request, then employees will continue to be paid on time, and all agencies will continue to have the resources required to operate.

Should the General Assembly not act on a one month budget extension while we continue to negotiate a full year’s budget, then employees may not receive their paychecks on time. Despite this prospect, I hope you will continue to perform your duties until a full year’s budget is in place. With your cooperation, the people who count on state government will experience no inconveniences.

* 12:11 pm - Still awaiting word on the guv’s meeting with the agency heads, but this tidbit might be interesting…

The governor has reportedly invited the four leaders in for a sitdown at 1 o’clock today. Not sure if they’ll comply yet. The governor is meeting with Senate President Jones as I write this. Jones has strongly and repeatedly advocated against any type of government shutdown.

*** 12:28 pm *** The governor’s office claims that Gov. Blagojevich used the meeting with his agency directors this morning to go over the content of the above letter that was sent to state employees.

So, what about road projects and other state contractors? From the governor’s spokesperson…

“We’re also asking vendors to continue to provide their services with the intention of paying them when we have a state budget.”

Individual vendors might make the choice to shut down, of course.

* 12:49 pm - I’ve been trying to calm some nerves in comments, but I’m not sure it’s doing much good, so let me try again on the front page.

There is NO real difference between the current budget situation and what was happening on June 30th, when the state was also without a Fiscal Year 08 budget. Several days later, the GA passed a one-month budget and everybody got paid and nobody outside the Statehouse barely knew the difference.

The only difference now is that the governor has been playing coy for days about a possible shutdown, which he wasn’t doing in June. But he walked that all the way back today. If he was seriously considering the idea, and not just playing “good cop, bad cop” he most likely realized that if Senate President Jones was against a shutdown, then the governor would lose his only ally and Blagojevich would get the full blame for any unnecessarily preemptive action.

Way too many people bought into the media hype, however, fueled partly by the guv’s office. But now, with this letter to state employees, we can be pretty sure that he won’t pull the rug out from under everyone and shut down the government.

As far as paychecks are concerned, well, the first, relatively small group of state workers will miss a payday if and only if a new budget isn’t approved by August 8th. That’s an eon away in legislative terms.

Everybody just calm down.

* 1:03 pm - The leaders meeting with the governor has reportedly been moved back to 3 o’clock.

- Posted by Rich Miller   123 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

* The governor, you most certainly already know, has proposed a one-month budget, while the four tops would rather have a one-year budget…

Blagojevich said the deadline shouldn’t be an issue. He wants lawmakers to approve another one-month budget so the state can continue to pay its bills. […]

Legislative leaders say they’re not interested in another stopgap spending plan for the state.

The governor had previously said that he opposed another one-month budget because they were Republican budgets in disguise.

Question: What do you think his game is here?

- Posted by Rich Miller   56 Comments      

Horror story

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

The governor told me about this story a few weeks ago. I’m glad to see that it’s finally getting some coverage…

As a press aide to the governor, Annie Thompson helped promote a plan to improve health care access, but didn’t think much about the realities of facing serious illness without insurance.

Now she can think of little else.

In early May, Thompson’s uninsured mother finally agreed to see a doctor for her abdominal pain. The doctors found a softball-sized mass.

Her mother, Pat, underwent surgery for colon cancer and spent about two weeks in the hospital, piling up nearly $100,000 in debt. After a delay over money, she’s starting chemotherapy, with most of the cost covered by a state program she can join only because one of her daughters hasn’t yet turned 19.

“I realized what a struggle it is when you don’t have health insurance. When she was in the hospital, she was turning down pain medications because she knew that every little pill, every little IV bag was going to up the tab,” said Annie Thompson, 25. “It just hit me all of a sudden: It’s a real issue. It’s not just political games.”

There is a valuable lesson in this story, however. It’s very dangerous to drop your health insurance, even if your premiums skyrocket…

Pat Thompson, a self-employed daycare provider in Springfield, said she dropped her health insurance three or four years ago when her premiums tripled to about $300 a month.

“I took the chance and lost,” said Pat, who is in her 50s but wouldn’t give an exact age.

We’ve had innumerable debates about the pros and cons of the governor’s health insurance plan, and over whether or not the state actually should intervene. It’s gotten repetitive and we’ve all gotten the gist by now.

Instead, today let’s discuss your own personal health insurance situations, and any horror stories you might have about yourselves or your families and friends.

- Posted by Rich Miller   49 Comments      

Mushrooms golf while leaders work

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

This was obviously not a good idea, despite the noble goal…

The road to a budget deal in Springfield took a detour Monday morning, for a golf outing on the far South Side sponsored by the Legislative Black Caucus, to raise money for college scholarships.

One of the organizers, reverend and state senator James Meeks, says the outing was scheduled months ago when no one anticipated a marathon overtime session, and since they are not due back in Springfield until Monday afternoon, and there is nothing to vote on yet, they decided not to cancel the outing even though the budget extension they passed in June expires at midnight Tuesday.

“If there was legislative business for us to attend to, we would be there in Springfield. But since nobody has planned any meetings that involve us, we’re not there,” said State Sen. James Meeks, Legislative Black Caucus.

“It makes you wonder that why do we have all these state senators and representatives if they’re not really players,” said Jay Stewart, Better Government Association.

Stewart makes a good point. Yes, there was not a lot going on, and yes, hardly anybody showed up

When the Illinois Senate came into session Monday, there were 16 of 59 members in the Senate. The number doubled to 32 after the Pledge of Allegiance and daily prayer were finished.

Over in the Illinois House, there were 26 representatives of 118 on the attendance roll call for the 10th special session ordered for 2 p.m. by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

However, it appeared that on the Republican side at least one of those lawmakers was absent and someone else had voted him present. Which would make the real number 25.

The House census increased to 67 during the 5 pm session, but that’s hardly an astounding figure.

Events like that scholarship fundraiser only serve to underscore the lack of any real power that rank and file members have - even though they have flexed their muscles and had more input this year beyond anything that has occurred in the recent past. They made themselves look like uninterested, uninvolved mushrooms.

Bad move.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      

Shutdown hype

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

* Just because July’s one-month budget expires tonight, it does not necessarily mean that the government shuts down, despite what you may have read

Lawmakers have until midnight tonight to pass a new budget.

* Again, the lack of a new budget does not mean that the state automatically stops functioning

State Comptroller Daniel Hynes says he only feels comfortable keeping his office in operation until August 8 if the state legislators and the governor can’t agree on a state budget by then. He said in a Statehouse news conference Monday that August 8 is the first day his office needs to cut the checks in order for 4,900 employees to get paid on time and for public schools to get $170 million’s worth of state aid on time to start the school year. […]

But they do have eight full days before Hynes’ warning applies. A full-year budget in the first week of August is possible.

By the way, many congrats to Bethany Carson, who revealed in that above post yesterday that she’s splitting town for a couple of weeks to get married and go on her honeymoon.

* The governor isn’t helping matters much, refusing to say when or if state government will shut down…

During a bill-signing ceremony in Farmersville, Blagojevich said contingency arrangements have been made to keep essential state services running if a temporary budget is allowed to expire at midnight. The governor did not elaborate on those plans. […]

Later, Blagojevich spokesman Justin DeJong said, “The state has contingency operations plans that are to be used in case of emergency, and on August 1 (Wednesday), we will begin putting those plans into motion.” He, too, declined to elaborate, although he said the plans do not call for the immediate closure of either state parks or historic sites.

* But at least the governor hasn’t ordered a premature closure tonight

Gov. Blagojevich’s administration has directed state workers to come to work Wednesday, despite the lack of a state budget and the possibility of not getting paid on time.
With no new progress to report on budget negotiations Monday, the threat of a partial government shutdown looms larger as a temporary budget passed last month lapses on Wednesday.

Without offering specifics, the governor said his administration has had preparations in place for a possible shutdown “for weeks and, in fact, months.

* Back to Hynes

Comptroller Dan Hynes says the absence of a spending plan doesn’t have to mean prisons, universities and state parks will close immediately.

He says Aug. 8 is the key date. That’s when Hynes says he needs to know the spending plan so he can get money to schools and make the state’s payroll.

* Some checks have to be written, others won’t…

Even without a budget, some state payments will continue, Hynes said. Checks to state retirees, welfare recipients and bond-holders must all be paid even with no budget.

Others, though, will be out of luck.

Hynes said his office would normally write about $100 million a day in checks for Medicaid payments, child care, equipment and other expenses.

* And a coinkydink?

Aug. 8 also is the date House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has set for a special hearing on education, indicating that he might believe lawmakers could still be working on a budget then. […]

“I see the glass as half full,” Blagojevich said. He added about Madigan: “Evidently, he sees it as half empty.”

* Meanwile the four tops continued to meet without the governor…

All four leaders met for about an hour … Not much was said only that they’re making progress. […]

The senate president’s spokesperson says the leaders will meet again tomorrow … Without the governor. But adds the senate president has the same goals as the governor. When asked if the governor was a problem during the negotiations… She wouldn’t respond. The speaker is calling for the entire house to meet next Wednesday about education funding.

* More

Legislative leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting on Monday with little to report.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, declined to comment.

Senate President Emil Jones said only that the meeting went well and the leaders were trying to get the budget done “as soon as possible.”

* And a small protest was held yesterday in Chicago…

Chants filled the air and candles lit up the night in front of the Thompson center as more than 100 people gathered to urge state lawmakers to pass a budget.

The People’s Movement, which sponsored the event, says lawmakers need to consider money for affordable housing, housing for the homeless, HIV patients and provide adequate resources for after school and violence prevention programs.

The Reverand Archury Phillips says any potential shutdown of the government would hurt the neediest families and communities.

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      

Morning shorts

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

* $684,924 and we’re counting

* City’s ‘08 budget picture not pretty: $217 mil. short - Fees may rise; aldermen say no property tax hike

* Another budget crunch expected - City’s ‘08 shortfall could be $217 million

* Stroger agrees to pay raise deal for non-union workers

* Cab Drivers Stay Parked In Protest Of Low Fares - Cabbies Say Fares Haven’t Kept Up With Insurance, Gas Price

* Effect of taxi strike unclear

* Illinois Gov. gets own lawyer after AG bails on Fed. subpoena cases

* IL taxpayers sponsor latest tawdry episode of AG v. Gov. soapie

* Blagojevich Says He Wants New Lawyer

* Student-loan agency sells more assets

* Weller, Biggert back Rudy

* Agency cuts back on meal program

* Cole to try a second time for power over alcohol

* Officials interpret AG letter differently - Disagree on what it says about ISP report on police misconduct

* Sun-Times: Atheist and agnostic doctors are as likely to provide care for the poor as religious physicians, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital.

* Cramer’s ‘Mad Money’ Recap: Doomsday Scenario

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      

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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

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