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This just in… Senate passes pension bond bill

Thursday, May 29, 2008

* 1:02 pm - Speaker Madigan says the governor may be delusional

A reporter asked about talk that lawmakers don’t trust him.

BLAGOJEVICH: You know, I think you hear a lot of rhetoric on both sides from people in the political process. That’s just rhetoric. It’s not at all unusual here in Illinois. You hear people in Washington say that about each other.

But House Speaker Michael Madigan, an opponent of Blagojevich’s, says the governor’s leadership style is a problem.

MADIGAN: Well if he thinks it’s rhetoric, then he ought to talk to the members of the legislature who day in and day out tell him to his face that they don’t trust him. So maybe he is delusional.

Audio from Chicago Public Radio…

[Or click here if the player doesn’t work for you]

* 3:37 pm - John Patterson scored a quick interview with Gov. Blagojevich by staking out the guv’s favorite Statehouse entranceway - the Capitol basement loading dock

Q: If the General Assembly sends you a budget that’s unbalanced, doesn’t have the revenues to match spending, what are the first things you’re going to look to cut?

Governor: Look, I can’t believe the General assembly would send me a budget that’s not balanced. The General Assembly knows that the constitution requires a balanced budget. I find it hard to believe that they would send me a budget that’s not balanced. So I think it’s kind of a moot question.

I have confidence they’ll do the right thing and send me a budget that’s balanced. I understand last year … I choose to believe that was an aberration when they sent me a budget that was more than a billion dollars in deficit. I have to think, acknowledging that, that they would never do that again. So I’m confident they’ll send me a balanced budget.

Believe it, guv. Last year was no aberration.

* 3:50 pm - I told subscribers that this approp bill would pass today and about some of the other stuff in this brief report

State lawmakers have started sending pieces of a new state budget to Governor Rod Blagojevich while they’re working on an agreement on the entire spending plan.

The House voted 61-53 Thursday to send the governor a measure already approved by the Senate that would pay for operations in smaller state agencies next year.

Democrats in both chambers say their approval should signal that budget talks are on track to be wrapped up by Saturday. If not, the session goes into overtime.

But lawmakers say some key points still need to be resolved. They include how to pay for as much as $2 billion in extra spending and how much spending to include for human services and education.

*** 4:09 pm *** The Senate just finished voting on the $16 billion pension obligation bond plan. The bill passed with 37 votes. They held their caucus completely together despite several open threats of desertion. Whatever you think of the bill, it looks like the SDems are finally all on one page for the first time in well over a year.

The bill now goes to the House.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      


Caption contest!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

(Winner gets a free classified, calendar, or resume ad for one week at InsiderzExchange)

- Posted by Rich Miller   133 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Coal; Biggins; Abstinence; SEIU; Chapa LaVia; Paul & Kevin (use all caps in password)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

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Question of the day

Thursday, May 29, 2008

* Sun-Times

Justice will not have been served if [George Ryan] is released from prison early. […]

Despite his conviction, and an appellate court decision affirming it, Ryan, as far as we know, has never admitted to breaking any laws. And in his persistent efforts on Ryan’s behalf, Thompson reveals his own reluctance to acknowledge Ryan’s guilt.

* Daily Herald

Ryan has never recognized his conviction. […]

On the night before he went to prison, he struck a defiant pose, proclaiming his innocence and saying he would begin his sentence “with a clear conscience.” […]

To grant him special favors after all that would not only be unfair. It would invite the public’s continued cynicism about our institutions of government.

* Bernie has some background on the Ryan-Bush relationship.

* Question: Should President Bush commute George Ryan’s sentence and set him free? Explain. [Note that we’re not talking about a full pardon here, just a commutation.]

- Posted by Rich Miller   56 Comments      


Reform and Renewal, Part 9,688

Thursday, May 29, 2008

* Keep in mind when reading these first couple of excerpts that these are the same people who want us to trust them with a $16 billion pension obligation bond, a $31 billion capital spending plan, a Lottery lease, etc…

An audit of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Office of Management and Budget found that the state’s top fiscal office did not competitively bid some services and failed to maintain even the most basic records of major financial activities.

* And

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Office of Management and Budget improperly awarded state contracts and had difficulty monitoring others, a state audit said Wednesday.

The review by Auditor General William Holland found that the budget office did not issue contracts based on required competitive bidding procedures. It also wrongly paid employees for travel expenses and failed to document workers’ pay raises.

“As the management agency of state government, they’re setting a poor example,” Holland said.

* From the auditor general’s summary

The Office did not exercise adequate controls over contractual agreements.

The Office did not exercise adequate control over its interagency agreements and related travel expenditures.

The Office did not exercise adequate control over its travel functions. […]

The Office did not fully comply with annual financial reporting requirements set forth by continuing disclosure undertakings.

The Office did not comply with provisions of the Accountability for the Investment of Public Funds Act…

* Aaron Chambers discusses another audit of CMS and Health and Family Services

…CMS and HFS — the agency responsible for managing the state’s health care programs — forged an agreement under which CMS raided nearly $20 million set aside for state worker health insurance to pay costs associated with worker’s comp. This is the “health care governor,” after all.

CMS also had trouble keeping its fiscal years straight, Holland’s audit found.

Go read Chambers’ post for the full effect. Horrid.

* Meanwhile

The largest state government employee union is upset with the Blagojevich administration’s contract offer that the union says will result in a pay cut for its members.

The offer doesn’t meet the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ idea of a contract that gives state employees “decent wages, health care they can afford and secure retirement,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said.

“The administration is seeking to shift significant new health-care increases on state employees and new pension costs and pay (increases) that wouldn’t keep pace,” Lindall said Wednesday. “The end result would be a pay cut for state employees who in recent years have seen their ranks reduced sharply and their workloads increased at the same time.”

Labor unrest is just what this administration needs.

Not.

* Related…

* Lawmaker laments ’session of nothing’

* A lot has to happen in three days

* Lawmakers racing the clock on budget

* Lawmakers hustle to craft spending plan

* House Democrats: little chance of passing capital plan

* Governor optimistic on big plan

* Editorial: Prospects for Illinois Works are dim

* Pension reform bill advances to full House

* Comptroller says Illinois needs to find other higher education funding

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      


Should Lisa Madigan announce now? *** UPDATED x1 ***

Thursday, May 29, 2008

* Eric Zorn urges Attorney General Lisa Madigan to announce right away that she’s running for governor

Don’t wait. Announce today that you’ll challenge incumbent Rod Blagojevich for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

* Zorn notes that Blagojevich has a big fundraiser planned for next month, so an announcement now would dry up the governor’s money…

And his re-election strategy, assuming he runs again, will likely be similar to his 2006 re-election strategy: Build up huge campaign reserves and use his financial advantage to discourage opposition and bury those who do run against him in an avalanche of commercials.

* He also lists several possible Democratic contenders who are currently mulling gubernatorial bids, including Paul Vallas, Alexi Giannoulias and Dan Hynes. A “multi-candidate primary” would be Blagojevich’s best bet for reelection, Zorn says, but if Lisa jumped in now…

Only a fool would decide to challenge you, and the prospective candidates above aren’t fools. But neither are they quitters. If you wait for one or more of them to get in first, you may find yourself sharing the protest vote in the primary.

* I see several flaws in this argument…

1) Blagojevich’s fundraising abilities have already been hobbled by the ongoing federal probes. The ethics bill, if it becomes law, would further damage his fundraising capabilities by not allowing him to raise money from state contractors. Also, half the money he raised last year went to legal fees. If Rezko is convicted in a way that points directly at Blagojevich, those legal fees will exponentially rise. Heck, they’ll increase anyway because there are plenty of other investigations afoot.

2) Dan Hynes is a Mike Madigan ally, so he’ll likely keep his powder dry while Lisa mulls. Vallas probably won’t be able to raise money in the Greek community as long as Alexi is keeping his options open. The same thing goes for potential LMadigan backers. Vallas’ 2002 campaign was so poorly run that he may not even be seen as a credible challenger. Plus, if Barack Obama is elected president, Giannoulias might be appointed to the US Senate.

3) Giannoulias appears to relish the chance of challenging Lisa Madigan in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, if it comes to that. Obama beat the Madigan machine in 2004 (Obama’s primary victory over Hynes) and he and Obama did it again in 2006 (Giannoulias’ primary victory over Paul Mangieri), so they’re not exactly quaking in their boots. The Alexi folks are painting the possible matchup between their guy and Madigan as a rerun of Obama vs. Clinton.

4) As far as the multi-candidate primary goes, Blagojevich might be indicted or even on trial by 2010. Also, Blagojevich’s only remaining hardcore base is among African-American voters in Chicago and Cook County. An Obama endorsement of Giannoulias (whether he wins the presidency or not) would wipe out the guv’s base.

5) AG Madigan told me a couple of weeks ago that she’s likely to announce her decision after the November election.

6) If she announces now and the ethics bill becomes law, she won’t be able to raise money from any company that does business with the administration, or has bid on contracts. She might disavow the cash anyway, but a formal declaration would legally close off that money. [Correction: A commenter is right to point out that she’ll have to formally file with the state as a candidate before that money is cut off, but raising money from those contractors after she has announced would surely be frowned upon.]

7) I’m not singling out Eric here, but a universal rule is to never take political advice from a journalist or pundit. They’re usually wrong. And I include myself in that category.

That being said, Eric doesn’t have a horrible idea. It could work. But the Madigan family is the epitome of political caution. They like to have their ducks completely in line before they make a move. It might make sense on several levels, but I don’t see it happening yet. We’ll see how the rest of the media responds.

Anything I’ve missed? Or, is Eric spot on?

…Adding… If AG Madigan announced today, she’d be drawn directly into the ongoing fight her dad is waging with Gov. Blagojevich. MJM says guv is “delusional,” Lisa is asked for comment. Etc., etc., etc. All bad.

*** UPDATE *** From Zorn

I’ll be a panelist this evening on “Chicago Tonight” (7 p.m., WTTW-Ch. 11) in a discussion about the 2010 race for governor in Illinois.

That was quick.

- Posted by Rich Miller   77 Comments      


Strange transaction; Plus a couple of Rezko updates

Thursday, May 29, 2008

* What the heck is up with this?

Jeffrey Duerwachter isn’t a player in Chicago real estate. He doesn’t even own a home. Duerwachter, 39, lives with his parents in Wilmette. He did OK last year at work, making $1,756 a week working on the set of the new Batman movie filmed in Chicago.

But he did even better investing, making a $413,000 profit by buying and immediately reselling a historic South Loop building that once housed the Chicago Defender, the city’s biggest African-American newspaper. And he did it all in one day — June 8.

Duerwachter reportedly paid $3.72 million for the building and a vacant lot, and flpped it the same day to a company owned by Matthew O’Malley.

Remember him? O’Malley’s the guy who runs the Park Grill Restaurant in Mayor Daley’s prized Millenium Park. As the Sun-Times notes, this deal became controversial “after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed in 2005 that O’Malley and his partners won the 20-year deal with the Chicago Park District to run the restaurant while he and a top park district official, Laura Foxgrover, were romantically involved and having a child.”

* Anyway, back to the real estate flip…

O’Malley bought the property with three loans — including $1 million in city pension funds managed by DV Urban Realty Partners, a company co-owned by Mayor Daley’s nephew, Robert Vanecko, and one of Daley’s key African-American allies, Allison S. Davis. This was one of the investments Davis and Vanecko made after their newly created company was hired to manage $68 million for five pension funds for city workers, police officers, Chicago teachers and CTA workers.

Gee, I wonder if something’s hinky there.

* Meanwhile, Tony Rezko has more legal trouble

Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who is standing trial on federal corruption charges in Chicago, is wanted in Las Vegas for failing to pay $472,275 in gambling debts to Caesars Palace and Bally’s and related processing fees to the Clark County district attorney’s office. […]

At Caesars, between March 25 and July 14, 2006 Rezko cashed a $195,000 personal check that came back for insufficient funds and was given $55,000 in markers on four other occasions, according to the complaint. He also was given four markers totaling $200,000 on July 13, 2006, at Bally’s, the complaint said.

* Duffy responds

[Rezko defense attorney Joe Duffy] said Rezko had “old debt” in Nevada with two casinos that is covered by a settlement agreement. “Why they decided to issue a warrant, I do not know,” Duffy told the Tribune late Wednesday.

* And the Rezko jury is taking its own sweet time

All told, it has taken the jury of 10 women and 2 men more than two weeks to deliberate for a combined 6 1/2 days. With this week book-ended by a holiday and a day off on Friday, jurors could confer for as little as 2 1/2 days.

Rezko is facing 24 counts, so the jury has so far deliberated an average of 2.2 hours on each count.

* Somewhat related…

* NU grads say Daley too small for big day

* Expediters’ role under federal scrutiny at latest City Hall probe

* Children’s Museum lists rejected sites: Reilly noted that Children’s Museum vice president Jim Law, Daley’s former special events director, has spent the last year insisting that Grant Park was the “only location considered.'’ “Now we’re supposed to believe he wasn’t telling the truth. The museum team is running dangerously low on credibility,'’ Reilly said.

* Children’s Museum lists 37 alternate sites

* Stroger gets backing for final 4 for hospital oversight board

* Sangamon County State’s attorney candidate wants to create anti-corruption unit

* Senator’s Pension More Than Former Salary

* Jurors send mixed signal on Rezko deliberations

- Posted by Rich Miller   13 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Thursday, May 29, 2008

* Editorial: Lead and crime

* John F. Harris: The signature defect of modern political journalism is that it has shredded the ideal of proportionality.

* Lawmakers attempted to clarify their intentions Wednesday by altering Scott’s Law to add that it should apply only to those drivers who cause property damage or death or injury to another person… motorists have complained that the harsh fines have been handed down against anyone passing even the most trivial of traffic stops.

* Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been sent legislation that would require a stiff prison sentence for a person convicted of giving a gun to a minor who then goes out and commits a crime.

* CTA operator error suspected in derailment

* DuPage County Board freezes most members’ salaries

* Harness racing expansion proposal dies in committee

* Follow the GOP Leaders (Out the Door)

And to make matters worse, Hastert backed a deeply flawed candidate, Jim Oberweis, to replace him. Oberweis lost the special election in March.

* The Price Of Pampering At The Conventions? $500K

* City urged to roll out bicycle rental plan

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   1 Comment      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today’s edition of Capitol Fax

Thursday, May 29, 2008

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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Raw audio of Blagojevich, Jones, Cross, Watson capital plan presser

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

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This just in…

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* 1:42 pm - The governor just held a press conference with three of the four legislative leaders (Madigan was not there, of course) to demand passage of the capital plan. From his pres release…

The Governor and the three legislative leaders called for passage of the plan prior to the scheduled legislative adjournment date later this week. […]

“Senate Republicans have been a clear and consistent voice for a responsible capital program. There are so many needs across the state – roads, bridges, schools, universities, airports – the list goes on and on. The infrastructure needs of this state must be addressed. We have the opportunity to address those needs, capture federal money that’s available and create jobs that are sorely needed in Illinois,” said Sen. Watson.

“Because of the great needs for roads, bridges, mass transit and school construction in this state, I support the Hastert/Poshard infrastructure plan. For us to not give full consideration to this well thought-out plan put together by these two respected individuals would be an enormous mistake,” said Rep. Cross.

* 1:45 pm - No year-round betting at the State Fairgrounds yet

A bill to expand harness racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds stalled in a Senate committee Wednesday, making it unlikely the bill will pass this year.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, asked the Executive Committee to delay acting on it. He made the request after senators from both parties raised questions about how the plan would work. Republican senators in particular said the bill appears to give control of the fairgrounds racetrack to a locally appointed board rather than the state Department of Agriculture.

* 1:46 pm - Blagojevich won’t tip his hand yet on the budget

Gov. Rod Blagojevich isn’t ruling out using his veto pen if he doesn’t like the budget plans currently being considered by Illinois lawmakers.

As Democrats in the House and Senate work to craft a spending proposal by a midnight Saturday deadline, the governor said he hopes whatever arrives on his desk ‘’does good things for people.'’

But, as he entered the State Capitol building Wednesday morning, he said he hasn’t agreed to sign off on any of the spending blueprints.

‘’I'm not going to prejudge anything, I haven’t seen anything,'’ Blagojevich said.

He also said he would be in no rush to sign a budget when it arrives on his desk.

‘’I'll take my time and deliberate and do the right thing,'’ Blagojevich said.

* 2:09 pm - If you’re rooting for on-time adjournment, then this is fairly good news. If you want a capital bill passed right away, it’s not

Blagojevich say he isn’t linking the two issues [budget and capital bill] but believes they can both get done by this weekend. He wouldn’t say how that might happen.


* 2:18 pm -
So, a half hour ago we were told that the Rezko jury had sent another note to the judge. Don’t get all tingly. Here’s part one

“Can I get a new verdict form, today spilled coffee on the old one,” the note from the foreperson read.

And remember how they left early this week but promised to stay late today and tomorrow?

Well, the second part of their note indicated the panel would leave at 4:30 p.m. instead of 5:50 p.m. as they previously said.

It’s like a country club over there.

* 2:27 pm - Frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, AFSCME is planning informational pickets at several locations tomorrow. The full press release is here.

* 3:10 pm - More capital bill stuff from the AP

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says House Democrats are still willing to talk about [the capital bill] but sees the chances of it happening as — quote “somewhere between little and nil.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   54 Comments      


Making sausage

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* Getting a legislative agreement on stuff like this can be tough

With painful fuel prices and a slumping housing market some say the draw to borrow money from cash advance places like these is strong.

“The average income of a person who goes to pay day lenders is probably that 25 to 35 thousand-dollar income range,” says Tony Pierce.

As Vice President of the Central Illinois Organizing Project, Pierce is a warning consumers to avoid payday loan business until loopholes in the Pay Day Reform Act of 2005 are changed. […]

But Pierce says even if it’s an emergency situation payday lenders charging upwards to 400 percent interest on a loan is equivalent to loan sharking.

* Here’s the problem with the way our recent state law was written…

The current law limits fees and interest rates on loans and how much customers can borrow, but that only applies to loans lasting 120 days. Consumer advocates claim the payday lending industry skirts the restrictions by directing customers to loans lasting 121 days and longer to charge up to 700 percent in annual interest rates.

* All they did was find another financial instrument. The House has a bill that caps annual interest rates at 70 percent and removes the time limit. But one element of the payday loan industry says that’s not the right way to go

Steve Brubaker of the Illinois Small Loan Association said borrowers won’t necessarily benefit from a lower interest rate. Customers most at risk are ones that can’t repay the debt and face staggering attorney and court costs, he said.

Brubaker favors a plan payday lenders discussed with the Senate that allows them to charge up to a 400 percent annual interest rate but restricts them from collecting attorney, court and triple damage costs. […]

“We haven’t really solved anything,” Brubaker said. “The process that we started with has been thrown out with the trash and now we have the same problem because we have consumers that have too much debt piled on top of them and lenders can still take them to court.”

* It’s easy to just say let’s do both: Cap interest rates and free borrowers from attorney and court costs.

But the reality of legislating stuff like this (in any state, not just Illinois) is that it’s always easier to kill something than it is to pass it, so you have to deal with the interest groups. There are just too many chokepoints along the way that opponents can use to stifle any change. That last reform bill was the end product of years of effort, and now it’s mostly worthless.

Often, a slow-moving system that works against change isn’t a bad thing. You wouldn’t want a completely unfettered legislative process, believe me. Lots of “change” ain’t so good.

But it’s stuff like this payday loan monster that drives some observers and participants up a wall.

One argument used on behalf of the payday loan companies is that a whole lot of people don’t have any other access to credit. So, the argument goes, we shouldn’t go so far as to put the payday loan companies out of business. The other side, of course, is that there’s plenty of money to be made in that business so there needs to be a reasonable but firm solution. 400 percent interest doesn’t look all that reasonable.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Question of the day

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* The setup

The Illinois Senate on Tuesday fell four votes short of approving a plan to let certain Illinois counties, including Sangamon, install cameras to nab motorists who zip through stoplights. […]

The cameras already are permitted in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will counties. The legislation would have added DeKalb, LaSalle, McLean, Peoria, Sangamon, and Winnebago counties. […]

Opponents said the bill is flawed. They questioned the accuracy of the cameras, raised privacy concerns and criticized local governmental bodies for using the cameras to generate revenue.

“I really believe this is just a moneymaker for municipalities,” said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, who voted no. […]

Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, urged fellow senators to “think about this vote because if you vote for this, you’re voting to live under Big Brother. You’re voting to live in a spy society.”

* The question: Do you support or oppose this particular piece of legislation? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   61 Comments      


Through the past, fondly; And through the present, darkly

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* Say what you want about George Ryan, but Daley has a point

Mayor Richard Daley, seeking more cash for Chicago Public Schools and construction money for the CTA, sounded Tuesday as though he’s longing for the good old days of Gov. George Ryan.

Though the mayor declined to single out Gov. Rod Blagojevich or any particular legislator for criticism at the lack of progress in Springfield on those two fronts, Daley did concede more business got done under Ryan, the former Republican governor whose felony-conviction appeal the U.S. Supreme Court rejected earlier in the day.

“He understood that infrastructure is always important the first day you arrive, because he had the experience in government, and he always knew it was important,” Daley said of Ryan. “And people trusted him, they did.”

The voters lost their trust in Ryan, for good reason. But at the Statehouse, at least, Ryan’s word was his bond.

* Raw video

* More from Daley on privatizing the state Lottery

“You just don’t wake up and say, ‘We’re going to lease assets.’ You have to work with the General Assembly. You have to find out what it’s going to be used for. It can only be used for those purposes. So it takes a lot of time. You just don’t do it overnight. It takes a couple of years to do these things,” the mayor said.

* Hizzoner on the Statehouse atmosphere

“It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys down there, unfortunately. Lack of trust,” said Daley, a former state senator. “I hope they can get around that.”

Not yet.

* Meanwhile, Bethany Jaeger has an excellent roundup of where things stand today…

A major piece of the Senate’s version of a state budget is unlikely to advance, but that might not hold up the entire budget. The General Assembly has until midnight May 31 to approve a budget without needing Republican votes.

The Senate’s plan to float a $16 billion pension bond scheme would refinance the state’s five pension systems — which have accumulated more than $42 billion in debt — and pay them off at a lower interest rate. […]

Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, said informal discussions with House Democrats about the pension deal indicate it may be difficult to get Republican votes necessary to get a three-fifths majority in each chamber. [,,,]

As Radogno said, if the pension deal failed, legislators could pull the sale of the dormant 10th casino license “out of a hat” in an attempt to balance the budget. That deal could be worth about $500 million.

* Speaking of the 10th license

New York investment bank Bear Stearns & Co. is in line for its first contract with the state of Illinois since becoming embroiled in government contracting scandals here earlier this decade.

The Illinois Gaming Board is set to hire Bear Stearns to help it auction the state’s 10th casino license this summer. The Illinois Department of Revenue, which oversees the Gaming Board, recommended the firm despite its connection to alleged pay-to-play schemes.

A former Bear Stearns senior managing director, P. Nicholas Hurtgen, was indicted last year on charges that he pressured Naperville’s Edward Hospital, which was seeking state approval for an expansion, to hire a contractor who then paid kickbacks to Stuart Levine. Mr. Levine is the former vice-chairman of the state agency that signs off on such projects. Mr. Hurtgen has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.

Federal investigators also have probed an $800,000 fee that Bear Stearns paid to Republican power broker Robert Kjellander for helping the firm land the underwriting work on the state’s $10-billion pension obligation bond deal in 2003. Mr. Kjellander has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

* Related…

* Federal appeals court allows discrimination lawsuit against Blagojevich

* State lawmakers returned to work Tuesday with optimism but no real progress toward a new budget as a Saturday deadline fast approaches.

* Hey, guv, if tax credits work so well for Hollywood, why not try more?

* No vacation? Blame a Democrat

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      


The Sgt. Schultz defense

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* I guess the default position is not to believe anything Rod Blagojevich says

Gov. Blagojevich had no idea one of his top allies, retired state Sen. Carol Ronen, stood to add $38,000 a year to her government pension when he gave her a job she held for eight weeks.

“I didn’t know about it until I read it in the paper,” Blagojevich said Tuesday, referring to a Chicago Sun-Times story about Ronen in Saturday’s editions.

There were rumors, flatly denied by Ronen, that she and the guv had a falling out and she quit. So, maybe Blagojevich is telling the truth.

* The governor even came up with his own reform idea

“Maybe we should talk to the members of the general assembly and the leaders to see this example and take it and fix that pension system because there’s something wrong with the fact that you can work for a couple weeks and then all of a sudden, your position in the pension changes so dramatically.”

* And then he neatly tossed the hot potato to Barack Obama

“I also understand that she apparently heard the siren call of the Obama campaign. And so she made a decision to leave because she wants to work in the Obama for President campaign. So I guess you can say she left me for another guy.”

She’s actually just volunteering. Ronen, an Obama superdelegate, told me she is going to organize for Obama in her old Senate disrict and her congressional district, which will go 95 percent for the Democrat this November no matter what she does. If Ronen had hoped for a paid campaign position, this pension revelation has undoubtedly nixed that. It will be interesting to see if this gets picked up by the national press.

* The last word goes to Rogers Park Rake

By the way, Carol Ronen’s vast pension boost is apparently in accord with state law. She’s also under no legal obligation to accept it! She is legally free to waive it, which a person who was truly in tune with how inappropriate this is would do. Think that’ll happen?

Me neither.

Actually, the last word goes to you…

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Big Jim roundup

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* After the US Supreme Court turned down former Gov. George Ryan’s final appeal yesterday, former Gov. Jim Thompson held a press conference to announce that he would ask for a presidential commutation

“The man has gone from being the governor of the state of Illinois to being a prisoner in the federal penitentiary,” Thompson said at a news conference at the Winston & Strawn offices this afternoon.

Even with time off for good behavior, the 74-year-old Ryan wouldn’t get out of his Terre Haute, Ind., prison until he’s nearly 80, Thompson said.

“I think it would be appropriate for the president of the United States to commute to time served.”

* John Ruberry saw this as yet another unwanted and unneeded PR disaster for the Republican Party….

Yeah, he is Ryan’s lawyer, but doesn’t Thompson care about the state? Or the party? Folks watching the television news tonight, or reading tomorrow morning’s papers, will have this image to digest. A former Republican governor asking the president to commute the prison sentence of another former Republican governor. […]

If the Illinois Republican Party is going to, as I’ve phrased it in the past, “take back the state,” we have to completely wash our hands of the mess of the George Ryan legacy. Thompson is not helping things.

* But, things tend to even out. Thompson also represents Gov. Blagojevich. At yesterday’s press conference the Sun-Times’ Natasha Korecki was a show-stopper. Literally

I asked former Gov. James Thompson if another governor were indicted in Illinois whether Winston & Strawn will again provide free defense services.

Thompson dodged.

“OoooK, I think we’ve gone beyond the reach of this press conference,” Thompson replied.

Heh.

* I’m assuming that Thompson won’t have to buy a ticket to this event

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is sending out invitations for a big fundraising shindig on June 26 in Chicago, where he’s happy to call folks a “co-chair” of the event for a mere $20,000 contribution.

* Meanwhile, Big Jim has come up with yet another proposal for a state buyout of Wrigley Field

Although the state will step up with a revised proposal to buy Wrigley Field from Tribune Co., the chances of such a deal succeeding appear to be waning, according to sources close to the negotiations.

“We are going to ask Tribune to resume negotiations this week,” said former Gov. James Thompson, who is chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the city-state agency aiming to buy the historic ballpark. “We’ll introduce new elements.”

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney said, “We haven’t shut the door on anything. We are working to do the best we can for Tribune’s employee shareholders, the team, and [Thompson] represents the public. […]

“Wrigley Field is the third-biggest tourist attraction in the whole state of Illinois,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich said during a press conference Tuesday. “I am determined to do everything that I can to make sure that the Cubs stay at Wrigley Field, no matter who the new owner might be. And if ISFA is not the way to go, there are other ways, and we’re working on some of those other ways.”

Personally, I really like Jim Thompson. I also greatly respect what he did for this state during his 14 years in office. I didn’t even mind it much when he represented Ryan. George was Big Jim’s lt. governor, after all, and they were close friends. When he signed on as a transition co-chair for Blagojevich, I thought it was a good idea. Bipartisanship, experienced leader helping the inexperienced goof, etc.

But, representing yet another governor in a federal criminal investigation and doing that governor’s bidding on this Wrigley deal just doesn’t sit well with me. There’s no need for this. I don’t think representing George Ryan is enough to destroy Thompson’s legacy, but this Blagojevich stuff might.

Thoughts?

* Related…

* Ex-Governor, Now in Prison, Sees Case End

* Supreme Court refuses to hear Ryan conviction appeal

* Court slams door on Ryan appeal

* Editorial: What the wise ones knew

* Ryan’s final appeal: White House

* Would Bush really grant Ryan a pardon?

* Rezko jury takes another half day off from deliberations

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* How to be annoying online

* Stroger’s top aide leaving for law practice

Lance Tyson, 36, said Tuesday that his resignation is effective at week’s end. He is leaving Stroger to become a partner specializing in municipal finance at the influential Chicago-based law firm Freeborn & Peters.

* Cook County candidate calls for sunshine on budget

* Role of expediters under scrutiny as federal probe targets City Hall corruption

* Chicago expected to be named Olympic finalist

* Trans fats bill at standstill at State Capitol

* Bill that aims to improve fire safety in mobile home parks is heading to governor

* Con Con Considerations: Duration

* The FINAL FOUR DAYS

* The End of Session is Near?

* Business group backs more gambling to fund road construction

* State Could Lose $9B In Transportation Funding

* Blagojevich Calls on Lawmakers to Change Pension System

* Money & the mayor breakdown: Where is cash coming from? How is it tied to business in Aurora?

A Beacon News analysis of state and city records found at least 68 different contributors shared $64.1 million in city dollars since Weisner was elected.

* LaHood withdraws for state GOP post

* Illinois Dems face off over bill on housing for ex-cons

The dispute reflects the tension in the Democratic Caucus between more liberal members who think that convicts who’ve done their time deserve a second chance and conservative members, many of them freshmen from GOP-leaning districts, who don’t want to look soft on crime. It also illustrates the difficulty Democrats face in trying to give some of those vulnerable freshmen victories to tout back home.

* Taking the Adversary Seriously: History and Condescension

* Secret Obama foreign policy video?

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   3 Comments      


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