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Today’s time-waster

Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

* Just click the pic to start the game…

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

Question of the day

Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

* The setup

A 50 percent cut in Illinois’ historic preservation budget means we’re losing a chance to visit some Land of Lincoln landmarks, not just in Springfield, but Vandalia, Charleston and Bloomington, where some sites are closed completely until next July first.

Bjorn Skaptason, and Abraham Lincoln bookshop owner, said: “I think it’s tragic right now that some of these sites right now .. when the public most wants to visit them.'’

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition claims more money could be made by keeping the sites open than could be saved by closing them.

The economic benefits from tourists flocking to the state to celebrate the Lincoln birth vary, but some say it could be up to $100 million.

* The Question: Would you support a tax increase to keep state facilities like these open? Explain why or why not.

- Posted by Rich Miller   59 Comments      

Segregation ironies

Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

* Ironic juxtaposition, Part 1…

For decades, Chicago Public Schools has operated under a legal decree requiring it to maintain as many desegregated schools as possible. But a federal judge may soon terminate the plan. In anticipation, school officials are already thinking about how they’ll grant admission to the city’s popular magnet schools. Some worry the court’s decision could mean a curtain call for the district’s racially integrated schools.

Chicago’s schools aren’t just segregated. […]

Thousands of white students have left the system over the years—they’re now just 8 percent of the district. Today, more than 200 CPS schools—a-third of the total—don’t have a single white student in them. But the consent decree did create some islands of integration—magnet schools. And many of them have become the jewels of the system.

* More

Chicago Public Schools says it may use income rather than race to enroll students in its popular magnet schools. That’s if a federal judge ends the district’s desegregation plan in the coming months.

Under one plan CPS is considering, students would be assigned an income based on the census tract where they live. […]

But UCLA professor Gary Orfield, who has looked at similar plans across the country, says the idea threatens racial integration.

* Part 2, parents attempting to keep out the local riff-raff

A plan that could double the number of entry seats at elite Skinner Classical on the Near West Side by using shuttered Sojourner Truth School in Cabrini-Green as a second campus was given the green light Wednesday by Chicago School Board members.

Several Skinner parents opposed the idea because it would add an unlimited number of neighborhood students to the “classical'’ students admitted based on tests. Eventually, they charged, neighborhood kids would crowd out classical students.

* Part 3, an attempt at deliberate segregation for a special class of students fails

The organizers of a proposed high school aimed at gay and lesbian students said Wednesday that they dropped the plan from a vote by the Chicago Board of Education after realizing a revamped version failed to mention sexual identity.

Paula Gilovich, a member of the brain trust behind the Social Justice High School’s Pride Campus, said members of the group decided to withdraw its application after the school’s new mission statement shifted from being about gay students to a more generic “haven where students can feel safe and valued for who they are.”

“There were various communities that put a great deal of pressure on the proposal and on the design team and on the city and on the Chicago Public Schools to change it,” Gilovich said.

Gay rights activists supporting the school’s focus on gay and lesbian students blasted both the team pushing the plan and school officials for giving in to public and political pressure and scuttling the plan.

* But the fight isn’t over

All eight school designers vowed to resurrect the idea in time for a 2010 opening. Some hoped to bring the plan closer to its original vision: providing a safe, supportive haven for all students, especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning youth and their Allies, or LGBTQA students.


- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      

Jackson busted coming and going

Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

* I’ve been complaining about this for days, so I’m glad somebody else finally took notice

Illinois continues to wait for Governor Rod Blagojevich to pick a replacement for President-elect Barack Obama in the Senate. Obama officially resigned his seat on Sunday, but lobbying by his potential successors has been going on for weeks, not all of it discreetly. In several instances, the staff of Democratic congressmen from Illinois used government email accounts to promote their bosses’ Senate bids. Those emails are now raising some ethical questions.

The ethics manual for the House of Representatives lays out what are appropriate and inappropriate uses of government computers, phones, office space and emails.

McGEHEE: The rules are clear that you cannot use official resources for campaign or political purposes. […]

Recently, employees of two members of Congress from Illinois have wandered into that gray area. From his government email address, an aide to Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., distributed several messages to reporters related to the vacancy. One included an attachment, a poll, which showed voters in Illinois favor Jackson for the Senate seat, although not overwhelmingly. The congressman’s office could not provide a comment in time for this story.

Another Democrat hoping for the Senate seat, Congressman Danny Davis, held a press conference recently, with the stated purpose of allowing his supporters to “REAFFIRM SUPPORT FOR DAVIS TO REPLACE BARACK OBAMA AS U.S. SENATOR.”

Davis’ chief of staff contacted reporters about the event, in one instance using her government email account.

Jackson’s office routinely sends out political e-mails from government accounts. I warned them about it privately, but finally decided to out them when they didn’t change their ways.

* This looks like another targeted leak designed to bust Jackson’s chops

The Hill reported Blagojevich had placed calls to Chicago-area Democratic Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Guitierrez and Jan Schakowsky Tuesday and Wednesday. The Washington publication said it wasn’t clear whether the Democratic governor also had talked to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., another Democrat who has expressed a desire to follow Obama to the Senate.

Jackson couldn’t be reached for comment, The Hill said

While Blagojevich’s office had no comment on the calls, Davis said he had “a great conversation” with the governor Wednesday afternoon. Schakowsky and Gutierrez also reportedly had upbeat talks with Blagojevich this week.

* Stella

MY SOURCES are telling me that a lot of folks have been approaching retiring Illinois Senate Prez Emil Jones urging him to seek Barack Obama’s now-vacant U.S. Senate seat. And I understand that Jones would gladly accept that spot if appointed by Gov. Blagojevich.

ALSO a group of ministers met over the weekend to urge state Sen. Jackie Collins, a Harvard grad, to seek the seat.

* And they’re coming outta the woodwork

Dr. Jessica Davis, an African American Democrat and 2007 Mayoral Candidate in Carbondale, Illinois, submits letter of interest in the open Senate seat to Governor Blagojevich. If the Governor does not appoint her to the open Senate seat to serve the next two years, she has expressed plans to throw her hat into the race for the 2010 election. Davis states her reasons for her interest:

“I look like I am 30 years old, but I have passed 30 many days ago. I was
born and raised in the United States…”


* Meanwhile, in another campaign, this rumor was hot and heavy yesterday…

At Chicago City Hall, stories abounded over who was in and who was out in the developing contest to succeed Emanuel in Congress. Emanuel will be Obama’s chief of staff, and when he formally resigns his congressional seat, Blagojevich must schedule a special election for a replacement.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), a longtime loyalist to Mayor Richard Daley and the mayor’s unofficial City Council floor leader, acknowledged speaking to Daley about replacing Emanuel but said he hadn’t received the mayor’s blessing.

A Daley endorsement in the contest could quickly reduce the number of participants planning a run for the seat—about a dozen.

“I am interested in [Daley’s] support, and I have had some conversations with him, but nothing specific in terms of whether he will be supportive of me in exclusion to all,” O’Connor said.

The idea is apparently for O’Connor to serve as a seat-warmer until Emanuel decided to return to the House.

* Somewhat related…

* Zorn: Senate pick can skip politicians

* Bernard Schoenburg: Bill Daley mostly silent on idea of run for governor

* Schock, Halvorson join other first-timers on Capitol Hill

* Halvorson-Jackson, Jr. Feud Takes New Shape

* New president may mean new U.S. attorney for Southern District of Illinois

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

A new day in Illinois, but we ain’t out of the woods yet

Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

* The Emil Jones Era is finally over

Sen. John Cullerton won the Senate presidency late Wednesday, while Senate Republicans broke a historic glass ceiling by tabbing Sen. Christine Radogno to be their Statehouse leader.

Backed by Mayor Daley, Cullerton (D-Chicago), 60, drew unanimous backing to succeed retiring Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) after defeating two rivals for the post.

During an earlier vote Wednesday, Cullerton was up against Sen. James Clayborne (D-Belleville) and Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills). In that vote, Cullerton had 20 votes, Clayborne 13 and Link 3.

* This, of course, is a big reason why Jones’ toxic era is finished

Jones has been criticized for siding too often with unpopular Gov. Rod Blagojevich and feuding with House Speaker Michael Madigan. The 60-year-old Cullerton is seen as likely to keep his distance from the governor and improve relations with Madigan.

* As well as this…

[Cullerton] offered to be a bridge between his fellow Chicagoans, Madigan and Blagojevich, saying “we are going to try to bring those two guys together.”

While trying to break the gridlock that has characterized the Madigan-Blagojevich relationship, Cullerton said his top legislative priority would be passing the stalled proposal for a statewide construction program. […]

[Sen. Lou Viverito] and others said the resolution was a sign the caucus would be more cohesive than it was under Jones, whose strong support of Blagojevich sometimes put him at odds with his deputies and rank-and-file senators. Viverito said Cullerton will be better at reaching out throughout the state.

* But this is another reason…

Cullerton, 60, defeated James Clayborne of Belleville on the second ballot, lawmakers said as they left a two-hour meeting behind closed doors. The first vote was 20-13, with three other votes going to Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan.

Rather than risk a bitter, protracted fight, Cullerton’s rivals agreed to make the second vote unanimous.

Clayborne is widely expected to be named majority leader, the No. 2 Democratic position, partly as a reward for dropping the leadership fight and partly because he lives downstate.

Rewarding enemies with prized appointments to top jobs was not exactly a hallmark of Jones’ philosophy.

* And for the first time in Illinois history, a legislative caucus elected a woman as its leader…

Also Wednesday night, Republican senators made history by choosing the first woman to lead a legislative caucus at the Illinois Statehouse. Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont was the choice to succeed Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson of Greenville, who is relinquishing his leadership post because of a stroke.

* Her election did not come without controversy

A 12-year veteran of the Senate, Radogno beat out Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, who going into the vote appeared to be her main competitor. Dillard did not endear himself to his party when he praised Barack Obama in an Obama campaign commercial during this year’s primary election. But some conservative activists still considered him more palatable than Radogno.

Family PAC, a major campaign donor to conservative candidates throughout the years, made thousands of automated phone calls to constituents of five senators - all conservatives, most in solidly Republican districts - in an attempt to persuade them to not vote for Radogno.

One of the organization’s leaders, Paul Caprio, sent a letter to Senate Republicans opposing Radogno’s candidacy. Other social-conservative groups did the same.

To vote for Radogno is “to spit at the pro-family movement,” Caprio said hours before her selection. “She is the extreme left-wing maverick of the caucus.”

* The biggest test for both new leaders, of course, is whether they can break the gridlock

Despite even more bad budget news Wednesday, state lawmakers appear to be in no rush to give Gov. Rod Blagojevich extraordinary powers to curtail spending. […]

On Tuesday, Blagojevich asked lawmakers to give him authority to hold back as much as 8 percent of general-fund spending for his own agencies, schools, higher education and even money allocated to local governments. The governor also called for the state to borrow money in the short term to pay down old bills and to ask the federal government for $1 billion a year for the next three years to help Illinois through the recession.

Several lawmakers Wednesday balked at the idea of fast-tracking Blagojevich’s ideas. […]

“There’s no way the General Assembly is going to give him that kind of authority,” said Rep. Mark Beaubien, R-Barrington Hills. “I don’t think they feel he would exercise it appropriately.”

* Related…

* DCFS cuts jobs, not workload

* DCFS must answer for baby’s death

* Keep your sights on 2011

* Editorial: Work together to fix latest state budget hole

* State lawmakers need to OK plan to fix roads, put people back to work

* Big crowd descends on Illinois Statehouse for Pontiac prison rally

* Britt: Cartoon on Gov. Rod Blagojevich and power

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      

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Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

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Morning Shorts

Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

* Airlines seek to scale back O’Hare’s expansion

Marking an unprecedented break with City Hall that contradicts the public appearance of solidarity on the $15 billion O’Hare project, executives at six of O’Hare’s largest airlines advised city planners in letters sent this summer to downsize the large-scale remake of the airport to better fit the new economic realities of the struggling industry.

The airlines’ position poses the latest threat to Mayor Richard Daley’s efforts to modernize cramped and outdated facilities at O’Hare by 2014, a process critical to Chicago’s bid to land the 2016 Olympics.

The goal of the O’Hare project is to replace the airport’s outmoded layout of intersecting runways with a parallel runway system that promotes more efficient arrival and departure of airplanes. New passenger terminals are also envisioned to balance the growth in airfield capacity.

But American and United labeled the city’s plan for a new passenger terminal on the west side of the airfield as “ill-conceived.”

* O’Hare to open new runway

* Deflation fears grow as stocks fall

* Oil falls below $53 on fears of deep recession

* Gas not the only price that’s plunging

Core prices, which exclude food and energy, fell by 0.1 percent last month, the first drop in core prices in more than a quarter-century.

* Fed sees economic woes persisting into next year

* Business Leaders Say Next Year Could Bring Economic Rebound

Some Chicago-area business leaders say the nation’s financial crisis could rebound as soon as next year. And, they say the Chicago region will fare better than other parts of the U.S.

* Sara Lee Announces Plant Closing

The South Side plant closing means about 185 workers will lose their jobs within the next three months. The move comes as Sara Lee eliminates brands such as Best’s Kosher and Sinai Kosher. Mike Cummins is a spokesperson for Sara Lee. He says kosher meats aren’t as profitable for the company as its other products.

* Lean economic times mean more at pantries

* Don’t let travel ruin your fowl mood

Experts predict 600,000 fewer people on the roads and in the skies this Thanksgiving season, but the drop in numbers doesn’t guarantee open highways or vacant airports.

* Hard times strain mental-health system

* Durbin gathering FutureGen supporters for renewed effort

* SJ-R Opinion: Bill to help coal study deserves Senate approval

* Pat Gauen goes back to the Illinois lottery

As a result, we have the scariest economic climate I can remember. Who among us will have their livelihoods shaken, and how badly, I cannot tell.

THAT is why I bought the lottery ticket.

* Expert: Half of retailers facing crisis in 2009

Retail analyst Britt Beemer forecasted Wednesday that half of today’s retailers will be in big trouble some time next year due to the country’s financial meltdown.

“I wouldn’t buy gift cards [this holiday],” he said in an interview following an appearance before a Conference Board-sponsored seminar in Chicago.

Sears and Kmart could disappear next year, and Macy’s faces a difficult future, said Beemer, CEO and founder of America’s Research Group.

* Rockford buses will run — at least through end of the year

* The golden ticket

The struggle over Metra parking has become a growing problem in other suburbs, too, as commuter train traffic has increased. Commuters also wait years for parking permits in Lisle, Tinley Park and Downers Grove, among others. In Chicago’s northern suburbs, many officials said they don’t issue parking permits—all spaces are first come, first served. Still, many said their commuter parking lots fill as early as 7:30 a.m. weekdays.

* Ads for ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ reappear on CTA buses

* Life in the HOT lane

Will HOT lanes solve the Chicago region’s traffic woes? We’re not sold, though we’d like to be. The metro area keeps outgrowing its highway system, and it’s not a problem that can be addressed indefinitely by building more roads or adding more lanes. We need transportation alternatives that will reduce the number of cars on the roads. Fewer cars mean lower emissions, also a good thing.

* Congress Consults Sheriff Dart On Foreclosures

* Budget proposal a hit

* City Council passes Daley’s 2009 budget

* Chicago aldermen approve $6 bil budget

* Aldermen Bemoan Painful Cuts But Okay Daley’s Budget

* You’ll pay more as city services are cut back

* Cook Co. board not buying $260 million “scare tactic”

* Stroger foes decry borrowing idea, unpaid bills

* Senate sends lead-warning bill to governor

* House passes ‘Drew Peterson law’

* State law allows hearsay evidence from murder victims

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   7 Comments      

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Thursday, Nov 20, 2008

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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

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Afternoon stuff: Giannoulias; Obama; Pontiac; Taxes; Jumping Jacks

Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

* Fox Chicago is reporting that Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias told a group of supporters last night he’s running for governor. There doesn’t seem to be anything on the station’s website, however.

He did have a fundraiser last night, but someone close to Giannoulias told me today that the treasurer didn’t say anything he hasn’t said before. “He’s been telling people for a while that this is something he’s looking at.”

* RollCall reports that Rep. Luis Gutierrez has discussed the possibility of being appointed to Barack Obama’s seat, but Rep. Jackson, Jr. has not…

According to the source, the governor “has discussed the prospect” with the eight-term Chicago lawmaker, and the two Democrats “will talk more in a few days” about the possibly of his being named to the job. […]

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who some had considered until recently the frontrunner to replace Obama, “has not had a direct conversation with the governor” about the seat, his office confirmed.

“Some” had considered Jackson the frontrunner because Jackson worked the DC press galleries so hard and nobody bothered to check. This looks like it might be a targeted leak designed to take Jackson down a peg.

* Um, guys? RRB’s hanging with Ahnold in Hollywood today…

Central Illinois residents are on their way to Springfield to march in a rally to protect Pontiac Prison. The rally starts at 2:30 from the AFSCME headquarters.

The goal of the rally is to show Governor Rod Blagojevich many communities will be affected if he closes the prison. For now, a judge has issued a temporary restraining order to ban the transfer of inmates from the prison.

* This seemed to be overlooked yesterday…

Illinois pays its retailers more than any other state - $126 million a year - to collect its sales tax, a new report on Tuesday discloses.

In a study likely to give retail trade groups here heartburn, Good Jobs First, a Washington-based left-of-center research group, says what it dubs “legal skimming by retailers” in Illinois dwarfs the figure of any other state, with only the much-larger Texas coming anywhere near as close, at $89.6 million a year.

A big chunk of that loot goes to a favorite of political progressives, Wal-Mart, Inc. It gets $8.5 million a year for collecting sales taxes for Illinois, trailing only the $10 million the Arkansas-based retailer nets from Missouri and $9 million from Colorado, where the firm controls a larger share of the retail market. […]

The new study couldn’t come at a worse time for store keepers. It may provide powerful ammunition for increasingly dominant Democrats at Springfield to eliminate or reduce the retailers’ allowance at the same time that a weak economy is keeping sales down. Still, IRMA has been successful behind the scenes in keeping a good relationship both with House Speaker Michael Madigan and with his frequent antagonist, Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The study can be found at this link. Crain’s also reports that Sen. James Meeks has introduced legislation “to repeal the retailers’ allowance and redirect the revenues to hiring more school truant officers and pre-school education.”

* The world is going to heck, but Jumping Jacks was saved by a fee increase on micro-businesses

Just minutes before the full City Council convened today to consider Mayor Richard Daley’s $6.2 billion 2009 budget proposal, the Finance Committee voted to boost the fees on Maxwell Street Market vendors to raise enough money to save a popular block party freebie doled out by aldermen at the start of each year.

As a result of the effort designed to save “jumping jacks,” the annual application fee for a market license will likely triple to $75 and the fee for an alternate license probably will more than triple to $50. Daily fees for the market also would increase substantially, but they would not double as first proposed earlier this week.

* The Tribbies are live-blogging the city council budget debate.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

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Question of the day

Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

* The setup, via Richard Roeper…

We’ve heard Obama say “real baseball” is played on the South Side. We’ve seen the president-elect in his Sox cap as he takes the girls to school or goes for a workout. We’ve seen pics of Obama throwing out a first pitch before Game 2 of the ALCS. (Note: after Obama’s appearance, the Sox never lost another postseason game. Maybe he really is The One.)

But will this translate into some sort of boost for the Sox nationwide?

Writes Madden: “Dare we say it? Can it be? The White Sox America’s team?”

* The Question: Are the White Sox now America’s team, or will they be soon? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   46 Comments      

The Rod Factor is all-powerful *** UPDATED x1 ***

Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

*** UPDATE 1 *** From MSNBC’s “First Read” page

*** Just askin’: What is taking Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) so long in appointing a successor to Obama in the Senate? It’s not like Obama’s victory two weeks ago was a surprise, right? Isn’t the clock ticking on Blagojevich’s own term, as he bites his nails wondering if there’s a grand jury indictment in his future? So if he doesn’t appoint someone soon, could he end up missing the opportunity?

[ *** End of Update *** ]

* Nobody can escape the Obama replacement speculation these days…

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, after a press conference on mortgage rescue fraud Tuesday, was asked about speculation that she is in the running to replace Barak Obama in the U.S. Senate.

Madigan says she doesn’t think she is in the running. She cited her strained relationship with Governor Blagojevich, who is responsible for naming Obama’s replacement. And Madigan says she is considering a run for Governor in 2010.

She refused to speculate on whether the governor might appoint her to the senate to get her out of the way for his possible reelection run.

* AG Madigan’s full quote

“I think that because of the interesting political situation here in the state of Illinois it is a chance of less than zero that the governor will be calling me to offer that seat to me,” Madigan said.

She’s probably right about that.

* CNN tries to play it straight and treat this appointment like it’s being made by a normal governor…

Instead, that power rests in the hands of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat. Blagojevich has maintained his decision will not be made in haste, and he wants “to ensure that Obama’s successor will understand and fight for the needs of average Illinoisans.”

There is no clear successor in the wings and in the old school politics that shape the Illinois and Chicago landscape, Blagojevich will likely weigh several factors as he makes this decision notwithstanding his own possible re-election in 2010.

Candidates likely being considered for the open Senate seat:

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis
Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr.
Illinois Attorney Gen. Lisa Madigan
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky

* As I’ve mentioned before, anyone who is appointed to this seat by Gov. Blagojevich will likely suffer political consequences when they try to hold the seat in two years. Barack Obama’s pick for US Attorney General is also apparently tainted by our governor

[Eric Holder] once had a high-profile job here in Chicago. CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports Holder was the federal prosecutor who announced the indictment of Dan Rostenkowski. He ultimately sent that powerful Chicago congressman to prison. But with the FBI closing in on another top Chicago politician, Holder may face questions about a potential conflict of interest.

Four-and-a-half years ago, he held a news conference in Chicago at the Thompson Center. He had accepted a $300,000 assignment from Rod Blagojevich: Should a company whose chairman had been fined for violating gambling rules in Illinois be allowed to build a half-billion dollar casino in Rosemont?

In the end, it didn’t happen. Holder got into a jurisdictional dispute with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and he did not get the free and total access to all the documents he wanted.

CBS 2 reported this fall that sources told us federal agents believe they’ve already gathered enough evidence to warrant an indictment of Gov. Blagojevich. They add that a grand jury could act before the end of the year.

Should he become U.S. Attorney General, Holder could potentially be asked to sign off on key decisions regarding any prosecution of Blagojevich. Holder now appears to regret getting involved at all with Blagojevich in the ill-fated casino investigation.


* Meanwhile, Jim Edgar, Denny Hastert and Bill Daley held an education reform press conference yesterday, but some reporter questions apparently centered on the 2010 governor’s race

Daley, who is assisting in Obama’s transition effort, would not answer questions about his level of interest in running for Illinois governor in 2010.

* The new task force is expected to produce yet another blue ribbon commission report that will collect dust on a very crowded shelf, so political questions are probably more interesting. Still, it does have some big bucks behind it

The group has garnered $4.5 million to $5 million in funding for the next three to four years, said Steans. The money comes from various philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

The meltdown cometh

Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

* I have vivid memories of stories like this from the early 1980s recession. We’re in for it now

Inside Talecris Plasma Resources in Waukegan, business is good. Past the overflowing waiting room, 30 people recently reclined on comfortable red leather chairs, each one making $20 to $45 as they watched TV, listened to music or chatted with neighbors.

The source of the cash is blood plasma, precious to pharmaceutical companies as the raw material needed to make a wide variety of medicines. Thin tubes carried blood from each person’s arm to a piece of whirring machinery that gradually filled a container with the valuable yellow fluid. […]

An industry group said total donations may hit 16 million this year, up from 10 million donations just three years earlier. At the Waukegan center, manager Rhonda Johnson said this fall was among the busiest seasons she’s observed, with more first-time donors joining the twice-a-week regulars.

* Oy

The Sun-Times Media Group has moved to lighten its load—in the board room and on its ledgers—in the face of pressure from top shareholders agitating for change as their investments dwindled to pennies per share.

The parent of the Chicago Sun-Times and dozens of other Chicago-area publications announced Tuesday that Chairman Raymond Seitz and board members Gordon Paris and Graham Savage plan to resign by the end of the year.

Sun-Times Media also plans to de-register itself as a Class A stock in early 2009, a maneuver Chief Executive and Chicago Sun-Times Publisher Cyrus Freidheim Jr. said this summer would save about $10 million annually in lawyering, accounting and paperwork.

Every penny counts, particularly when shares closed Tuesday at 8 cents apiece, putting the company’s market value at less than $7 million. The company this month announced a $168.8 million loss in the third quarter.

* Chicago’s budget is melting down…

* Budget Cuts in the Police Department

* City Council Set To Vote On 2009 Budget

* City Council to vote on Daley budget today

* And the state’s budget is crashing

Against the backdrop of the national economic crisis, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Tuesday he wants more power to use his budget ax to close a growing budget deficit.

The governor offered no specific programs that are on the chopping block, but noted his moves could affect public schools and universities, state pension funds and grants to local governments. […]

State Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, a key Senate budget negotiator, said the plan will give the governor options if the sluggish economy continues to drive down state revenues.

“We’re in a state of emergency,” Trotter said. “The way things are going, it could get worse.”

* More gloomy news

Cash from income, corporate and sales taxes is expected to fall more than $800 million short by June, the end of the state’s fiscal year, Blagojevich budget director Ginger Ostro said Tuesday. Investment losses, a pre-existing budget deficit and a decline in casino revenues brings the total shortfall to at least $2 billion.

But it could get worse, predicts Dan Long, director of the Legislature’s bipartisan budget forecasting commission.

“We think it could be larger,” Long said. “We are entering the worst period right now.”

Long said the gap could widen to $2.8 billion or more.

* The Rockford Register Star runs an incomprehensible editorial that bashes the governor’s plan, but calls for unspecified legislative action…

We haven’t seen anything lately that would make us think the governor has earned lawmakers’ trust back.

Other parts of Blagojevich’s plan are troubling as well. He proposed a short-term borrowing program to help reduce the state’s pile of unpaid bills. The bills need to be paid, but borrowing more money seems risky. We wouldn’t advocate a homeowner making a mortgage payment with a credit card. It not only delays the problem, but would add to overall debt as well.

The governor also wants to ask the federal government for $1 billion over three years. With bailouts and requests for bailouts, we don’t see where the feds have any money to throw around.

Lawmakers avoided making tough decisions while they campaigned for re-election. The election’s over and campaigning is done (for now.)

Inaction has made Illinois’ problems worse. It sends a chill up our spines to think how bad things will get unless the General Assembly acts this week.

Acts on what? They never say. That’s the trouble with crises like this. We all scream and shout, but nobody offers a realistic alternative. And it doesn’t look like the governor is gonna get much cooperation from the GA, either…

[House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie] said much of the belt tightening can be done without lawmaker approval and that they will be hesitant to grant additional authority “without a lot of specificity on where those cuts are going to go.”

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat and co-chair of the Legislature’s budget forecasting arm, said he doesn’t foresee lawmakers giving up oversight on cuts.

Next year may make the past two years look pleasant.

- Posted by Rich Miller   57 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

* Pontiac prisoners’ move halted

* CN, suburb reach agreement on rail deal

Canadian National said Tuesday its agreement with Crest Hill includes creating quiet zones and the use of noise mitigation measures.

Approval of Canadian National’s purchase of remains pending with regulators on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

* RTA tells Elgin it can’t make ends meet

Leanne Redden, RTA senior deputy executive director, noted the agency should be spending $1 billion a year to maintain its infrastructure and transportation network, but the 2009 plan has only $470 million for that.

* Transit officials fear rider decline possible

Rockford Mass Transit District officials are afraid service cutbacks could put the brakes on significant ridership growth.

* Transit leaders seek help from Congress

Leaders from 11 transit agencies, including the Chicago Transit Authority, pleaded with Congress for help Tuesday as long-term financing deals with investors collapse amid the global credit crisis.

The officials warned that 31 of the nation’s largest transit systems could face at least $2 billion in payments in the coming months if hundreds of the deals go bad. The fallout could cripple rail and bus systems at a time when ridership is soaring.

* CTA Not Afraid of AIG-Backed Investments

* Just charge it: CTA to offer more ways to pay with plastic

* AAA predicts first decline in holiday travel in 6 years

* Minnesota’s tiered tollway charges are likely coming to Illinois roadways

* Devine’s No. 2 joining U.S. attorney

After serving as the No. 2 man under Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine for years, Robert Milan is leaving the office — but he isn’t going too far.

* Attorney general sues Rockford company for mortgage fraud

* Crime down again in Ill., drops in every category

* Illinois crime rate dipped 3.6% in 2007

* State, counties see drops in crime during 2007

* Poshard: Forgiveness ‘greatest strength’ government can have (Video)

* Durbin re-elected as Whip

* No gay high school — at least not in ‘09

Some lead members of the design team had thought that the latest version of the proposal — which deleted all specific references to gay students from the mission statement and changed the school’s name — had been the best way to garner support for the new school, Chicago public school officials said. But on Tuesday, other members balked.

“When we tried to compromise as much as we could with our language, even changing our name, in the end, the design team couldn’t fully agree that this proposal should go through,'’ one team member, Katherine Hogan, told WTTW-Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight” Tuesday.

Hogan, a literature teacher at Social Justice High School, insisted the design team had the “full support'’ of Schools CEO Arne Duncan and would “absolutely'’ submit an “even stronger'’ version of the plan next year, in time for the school to open in 2010, as planned.

* Gay-lesbian high school plan dropped

* Vote on anti-bullying Chicago high school delayed

* Let’s not give up on ’safe haven’ school

* Des Plaines’ senior center campaigns for city funds

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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008

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* React to Rauner vetoes
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Rauner vetoes several union-backed bills
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