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End of session updates *** UPDATED x15 *** Tornado forces evacuation *** House Cancels Session ***Senate Cancels Floor Activity***

Friday, May 30, 2008

* Here’s the outline

Schools would get about $515 million more, though $148 million of that boost would be used for long overdue school construction payments, negotiators said. Classroom spending would be lower than last year’s extraordinary boost of about $550 million.

Chicago Public Schools would get about 20 percent of that total, or slightly more than $100 million, under the proposal, said Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), the lead Senate Democratic negotiator. Mayor Richard Daley had asked for $180 million more, but school officials acknowledged earlier this week they could live with an extra $130 million.

Trotter said spending overall would go up $2.1 billion in the proposal, but questions still exist over how to pay for the sizable increase. Despite a dismal economy putting a damper on tax revenues, lawmakers hope to collect as much as $1 billion more in the next fiscal year.

The new spending would be supported in part by an auction of the state’s long-dormant 10th riverboat casino license, from which they hope to reap as much as $575 million. But support for some pending measures to help avoid budget shortfalls is in doubt.

* And

But the big question that remains is whether it’s in balance. […]

Trotter says if those revenue measures don’t pass, an out-of-whack budget could be sent to Governor Rod Blagojevich for possible big cuts.

* Also

llinois House committees Friday approved major parts of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s public works construction program, including a massive expansion of gambling and leasing the Illinois lottery.

However, the fate of the plan is still uncertain as lawmakers drive to pass a budget and adjourn by Saturday. Time may run out before the capital plan can be approved. And one key lawmaker said Blagojevich must still convince legislators that he can be trusted to ok construction projects in their districts before the capital plan will be approved.

“I think the governor has a lot of work to do convincing people he can be trusted,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who is sponsoring the gambling expansion bill. […]

Some committee members said they voted for the bill only to get it to the House floor where all representatives would have a chance to vote on it.

*** UPDATE 1 *** There’s a leaders meeting at 5:30 to discuss the capital plan. The caucuses were given te final capital language at noon today and they’ll discuss any changes they want. The bill is huge and complicated, so some House Dem members are saying that passing that gigantic thing at this late date probably wouldn’t be prudent. Others say the issue is too important to put off until November. It’s highly doubtful that the plan will pass by tomorrow, but there will likely be some fireworks.

*** UPDATE 2 *** This is pretty basic stuff, but here’s more on what the governor faces with the budget deal…

But the deal could force Blagojevich to be the bad guy.

Legislators haven’t come up with a way to pay for the proposed new spending. If they pass an unbalanced budget, Blagojevich either would have to veto the whole thing - potentially triggering months of gridlock - or pick and choose which programs to cut.

He might have to slash programs for important constituencies, close prisons or scrap health care expansions. […]

“Will the governor have to make some reductions? More than likely he will,” Trotter said.

*** UPDATE 3 *** Clean Car bill update

Supporters of a bill to impose California’s stringent emission standards on cars sold in Illinois are hoping for a showdown vote before the Illinois General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment Saturday.

Although Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, it’s unclear whether a vote will happen during the end-of-session rush. “I don’t do predictions,” said a spokesman for the speaker. “It’s on the calendar, but it’s obviously controversial.” […]

The auto industry and its allies are fighting hard to keep the bill bottled up as legislators rush to finish bigger issues, such as next year’s state budget and long-term funding for infrastructure improvements. […]

Environmental groups claim to have 45 solid votes for the bill, including 37 co-sponsors, and they count about 40 likely votes against it. That leaves about 33 undecided or uncommitted, with 60 votes needed for a majority. The auto industry spokesman declined to comment on that assessment of the bill’s support.

The process would start all over in the Senate, however. It’s taken since February of 2007 to get this point, which isn’t very far.

*** UPDATE 4 *** Capital bill grows by almost $3 billion..

State lawmakers are now trying to push through a construction-spending spree that’s swelled to nearly $34 billion in the final hours of their legislative session. […]

A breakdown provided by the governor’s office shows the state would come up with $21 billion, the federal government would provide nearly $10 billion and local governments would contributed $3 billion for an unofficial total of $33.7 billion in spending over at least the next five years.

The preliminary breakdown shows $2 billion for school construction and another $165 million to provide $50,000 maintenance grants to every school district in the state. Public universities would get $1 billion, community colleges and private universities would get $300 million apiece.

Check out what’s at the bottom of the story…

But billions more in spending remains unspecified, at least to the public, at this point. For instance, there’s $1 billion set aside only for “revitalization” to be distributed by the Illinois Finance Authority.

*** UPDATE 5 *** The Statehouse has been evacuated because of the tornado warning. Members are in the basement.

*** UPDATE 6 *** The leaders meeting wasn’t started when the tornado evacuation order was issued. Most are in the tunnels under the capitol complex. No idea yet whether the meeting will go on as planned, or whether the General Assembly will reconvene tonight.

Hail has been reported, but no touchdowns or even sitings of tornadoes have been confirmed.

*** UPDATE 7 *** The SJ-R is live-blogging the storm. You can also listen online or on your radio to Jim Leach do the play-by play on WMAY.

*** UPDATE 8 *** The alarms have been turned off at the Statehouse, but people are still being advised to stay sheltered. The first storm is passed, but another big one is on the way. It’s not expected to produce a tornado, but high winds are likely.

*** UPDATE 9 *** A third storm has been spotted in Morgan County, and there are signs of rotation.

*** UPDATE 10 *** The House has canceled session for the rest of the evening. As of now the Senate is still waiting it out.

*** UPDATE 11 *** The leaders meeting will convene at around 7:45 tonight.

*** UPDATE 12 *** The Senate is in recess for committees. It is uncertain whether or not they will reconvene tonight.

*** UPDATE 13 *** The Senate has canceled any more floor activity for the night. However they are still in committee.

*** UPDATE 14 *** The leaders meeting has ended.

Officially they are expressing optimism. However, the House Democrats are saying that they have not had adequate time to review the Capital Plan. They are not promising or even speculating yet as to a vote.

Also, it appears that a 12th river boat license may be on the table.

*** UPDATE 15 *** 9:10 P.M. Senate President Jones, Senate Minority Leader Watson, and Governor Blagojevich are still currently meeting.

They are trying to hash out significant differences between Jones and Watson on the bill.

- Posted by Rich Miller   56 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, May 30, 2008

* The setup

Workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say contract proposals by the governor’s office would hurt them and the public they serve.

Thousands of union members joined Unity Pickets at about 36 offices, nursing homes and prisons around the state on Thursday, from far-south Anna to Waukegan, where protesters circled and chanted in front of the Ann M. Kiley Developmental Center, 1201 Dugdale Circle.

Marvin McBride, president of AFSCME local 785, which represents 351 employees at Kiley, said the one-half percent pay raise offered by the state would amount to a pay cut when factoring in a proposed 50 percent increase in health insurance deductibles, co-payments and pension contributions. […]

Overtime is also an issue in negotiations. Cuts in staffing have caused a shortage of technicians who work directly with Kiley’s 222 mentally disabled residents.

* The question: If the union’s contract expires without an agreement, should the workers strike? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   102 Comments      

Budget and end of session roundup

Friday, May 30, 2008

* One House member asked the presiding officer (Rep. Joe Lyons) last night if members could check out of their hotels on Friday, since the calendar didn’t show a Saturday session

“Representative, we will be here Saturday. Nice try,” said Lyons.

That’s pretty much what everybody else was told as well.

* Things are moving along

State Sen. Donne Trotter, the Senate’s budget point man, said negotiations, were mostly complete, with the exception of some human services programs.

* And schools appear to be in line for a big boost

Illinois schools could receive up to $500 million more from a new state budget coming together in Springfield, a key lawmaker said Thursday.

* But the budget won’t be balanced. The $16 billion pension bond bill, which passed the Senate yesterday and would free up $500 million, isn’t likely to pass the House. That might not be such a bad thing

A University of Illinois economist says a pension borrowing plan pushed through the state Senate by Democrats Thursday is “nothing more than a book-keeping gimmick” that won’t solve the state’s long-term financial problems.

Jeffrey R. Brown, director of the U of I Center on Business and Public Policy, said the plan passes the burden of future pension debt to the next generation of taxpayers.

“It is a classic case of using smoke and mirrors to try to fool the public into thinking we have done something meaningful when we have not,” said Brown.

* A Senate-approved $530 million funds sweep has a better chance of passing the House, but

Even without those two infusions of cash, Senate Republicans said the Democrat budget isn’t balanced because it is overly optimistic about state tax collections next year. Democrats think things like personal and corporate income taxes and sales taxes will increase by $1 billion, despite the economic downturn.

The governor will essentially be told to use his line item and reduction veto powers to bring the budget into line. They used to do that all the time in the 1970s and 1980s.

* Still, sticking points remain

The main sticking point in the overall budget appears to be with the House Democrats, who want to increase spending for human services. But Hannig said the House tomorrow likely will present two more substantial portions of a budget that would represent an agreement between the chambers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      

Pay raise politics

Friday, May 30, 2008

* This won’t work, but it’ll make some people feel good

While Senate President Emil Jones and his new chairman of the Senate Rules Committee have so far managed to avoid holding up-or-down votes on a pair of resolutions aimed at blocking legislative pay raises, the topic continues to rile up lawmakers who don’t think it’s appropriate to receive an 11.7 percent salary hike during a recession.

Fifteen lawmakers from the House and Senate gathered Thursday to denounce Jones’ tactics and demand a Senate vote on the issue. The pay increases would push lawmakers’ base yearly salaries to $73,000 and also boost the pay of judges and statewide officials such as Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

* But not everybody agreed

Later Thursday, a supporter of the pay raises said the lawmakers who want a Senate vote on the issue should stop pointing fingers at others.

“If they’re unable, because they’re not very effective legislators, to convince the leadership to do what they want them to do, who are they blaming?” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. “I mean, the blame should sit in their lap.”

* The pay raises won’t be included in next fiscal year’s budget

Trotter also said funding for pay increases of nearly 12 percent for legislators and other government officials, including Gov. Rod Blagojevich, is not included in the proposed spending plans.

“No, unfortunately, you guys have learned all our tricks on that one,” a laughing Trotter told reporters in the Senate press box. “So, you know, we couldn’t hide it nowhere and get away with it. So we just left them out.”

The same thing happened two years ago. They’ll just fund the raises next year and legislators will receive lump sum checks.

* How the pay raises will break down

Under the recommendations, rank-and-file lawmakers would see their salaries jump from $65,353 to $72,985 next July. Legislative leaders, such as Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan, would see their pay increase from $91,824 to $102,547.

Additionally, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose yearlong showdown with lawmakers has caused delays in education and agricultural funding and almost shut down government last year — would receive an increase of more than $20,000, boosting his salary to $192,773 from the current $170,917.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

Feds checking the fine print

Friday, May 30, 2008

* Meddling bureaucrats strike again

A 2006 Illinois law that allows diners to carry home an unfinished bottle of wine is going to cost Illinois 3% of its federal highway construction money, or about $23.4 million this year.

A letter to the state from the U.S. Department of Transportation dated Wednesday said the money has to be transferred to measures against driving while impaired by alcohol, enforcement of drunk-driving laws and highway safety programs.

The state law amended the Illinois open-container law, allowing diners to carry resealed bottles home in a special tamper-proof, one-use-only bag. The amendment passed by wide margins in the Illinois House and Senate and took effect last year.

However, the letter says, the law failed to specify that the bottle has to be carried in the trunk or in the rear of the vehicle, in order to meet federal requirements. Illinois has 30 days to issue a rebuttal and show why its law does comply with federal requirements.

You’d think that other state statutes would clearly cover this situation. Open bottles, even in a bag (of any kind), already have to be placed far away from the driver. To declare this again seems kinda redundant, but that’s a big chunk of money we stand to lose, so I suppose the feds will force Illinois to amend the law.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Friday, May 30, 2008

* Parole board reshuffling could spell freedom for Bacino

* Bid to oust Prisoner Review Board memberr fails

* Parole board member survives Senate challenge

* Lawmakers want lead out of toys

* Moment of silence law on hold statewide

* State budget may contain big boost for school funding

* Governor confident lawmakers will ‘do the right thing’

* Senate OKs $16B loan to bolster pension system

The 37-21 vote came as the House and Senate began passing disparate pieces of a new state budget, heightening chances that a 2009 spending package will be in place by a Saturday deadline.

* We’re likely to make the cut — but not as No. 1

* BETing on safer streets

* Bad policies to blame for gas costs, senator says

* Lipinski, Kirk seek life extension of COBRA

* Durbin says Clintons must unite party

“Once it’s clear that (Obama) is the nominee,” Durbin said, “then if she really rolls up her sleeves and says, ‘I’m going to work for him,’ then it can make a big difference. She can bring a lot of her supporters with her.”

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   1 Comment      

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* Claypool's alleged weakness: Ignorance
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