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Even more unsolicited advice

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* Dear major media,

Why do you listen to this guy?

“What Quinn hasn’t revealed is that the state is getting more than $11 billion in stimulus money, so that covers the alleged deficit. If he would raise the income tax $4 billion a year, that would give him $20 billion a year in new revenue,” added [president of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois, Jim Tobin].

Tobin says the money will likely just go to pad the pension pockets of retired state workers.

That’s so ludicrous on so many levels that I won’t even touch it. And not one person was quoted to shoot down these claims? Suddenly, I feel like banging my head against a wall.

* Dear Gov. Quinn,

Leaking stories to Michael Sneed means you’re putting your message in her hands, and you may not love the outcome

To wit: Although Quinn will not dress up as an Easter Bunny, Sneed hears he will read stories to disabled kids searching for 1,000 plastic Easter eggs on the grounds of the governor’s mansion on April 11.

Sweet idea. Not-so-wonderful visual of Quinn as the Easter Bunny, however. You’d think after the “Will the new state police director attend the police academy?” piece, Quinn would’ve learned something.

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


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Daley on Quinncome tax: Change it; Cig tax advances

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* 12:21 pm - Looks like a revamp may be coming

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said if income taxes go up under Governor Pat Quinn’s proposal, property taxes should go down. Quinn wants to raise the tax to four-and-a-half percent, but the mayor says if it’s going to happen, property owners need some tax relief.

For years, the mayor has advocated what some call a tax swap, wherein the income tax would be raised only if property taxes were lowered a corresponding amount. The mayor said his position on increasing the state income tax has been a long-standing one. […]

“Taxpayers are, first of all, losing their homes,” said Daley. “They are losing their homes. They are losing their jobs. Or someone in the home has lost their job. They are not getting overtime. Some have lost their pensions. There has to be property tax relief. You cannot increase (income) taxes without property tax relief, simple as that. People can’t pay these property taxes.”

Daley wants local governments to get their traditional slice of any income tax increase (Quinn uses that 10 percent share for his capital bill), so this property tax thing could be a negotiating ploy. But it also strengthens Sen. James Meeks’ hand while he negotiates for a tax swap. You can bet the house (and the Senate) that Chicago legislators and the governor and everyone else in politics in this state are taking note of Daley’s remarks.

The governor’s spokesman was surprised that Daley held a news conference to comment on the Quinn budget plan.

I’ll bet he was.

* 12:27 pm - From Lee Newspapers

A day before the federal tax on cigarettes jumps $.62, a Senate committee voted to phase in another $1 increase for Illinois over two years.

* 12:49 pm - More Daley react

“We get no benefit,” the mayor said at a news conference at a school on the South Side. “Then why should anybody be for it?”

The mayor called on the state to expand property tax relief if it is going to raise the income tax.

“You cannot increase the income tax without property tax relief,” he said, noting the high rate of foreclosures.

Daley also complained that the city would only get $54 million in new education funding from the state under Quinn’s budget, saying the schools need an increase of $200 million.

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      


This just in…

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* 11:59 am - The chairman of the governor’s independent reform commission talked to the Daily Herald editorial board before unveiling his plans to the Statehouse media later this afternoon. Here’s a bit of what former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins had to say…

The reform commission wants to put Illinois campaign law more in line with federal law, limiting donations from individuals to $2,400 per election cycle and contributions from unions, businesses and interest groups to $5,000.

That would mirror federal guidelines, which haven’t really cleaned up DC all that much.

Under the proposal, contributions from registered lobbyists and trusts would be banned and outside groups would have to make donors public.

I cannot see how contributions from lobbyists - a group of people protected under the constitution - can be banned.

On the contracting end, the commission is proposing rules to isolate procurement officials from political bosses and institute a watchdog agency to oversee state spending

We’ll have more details here later today.

* 12:38 pm - The Trib has a list

*Hold primary elections in June, closer to the November general election, to cut down on costs and length of campaigns.

That’ll never happen. As I’ve pointed out before, legislators would have to take a lot of tough votes at the end of session in May, then immediately face the voters in a June primary. Not gonna happen. And it’s probably not such a great idea, either. If you think legislators are averse to tough votes now, just require a June primary and see what happens.

More…

*Increased disclosure requirements, including requiring contributions of $500 or more to be reported more quickly year-round instead of only before an election.

*Requiring political action committees to disclose “bundling” of contributions from several people of $16,000 or more in a six-month period.

*Amend ethics act to require enhanced training.

*Reduce number of state jobs exempted from a ban on patronage hiring.

*Prohibit campaign contributions by state employees to constitutional officers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      


Question of the day

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* This bill has already passed the House, but today’s Sun-Times editorial reminded me to ask the question. The setup is from a recent Tribune story

Student-athletes across the state would be subject to random drug testing throughout the season if a bill that was unanimously passed by the House on Thursday is approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Illinois last fall joined Texas, New Jersey and Florida in testing its high school athletes in a plan implemented and funded by the Illinois High School Association. Florida dropped its state-funded program in mid-February, citing a lack of money.

Sponsoring Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) said the bill proposes testing an additional 1,000 student-athletes each year from at least 25 percent of Illinois high schools. […]

Of the 264 tests that were administered last fall, 258 came back negative; the six others were granted medical exceptions.

“I think it’s a good thing because it will even the playing field,” said Nazareth running back LaSteven McKinney, a junior. “With the old system, they had time to clear their system before a random test. I think most kids still think they won’t get caught.”

The Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the legislation because “there ought to be some basis on which to do that search,” said spokesman Ed Yohnka.

* The Question: Should Illinois’ high school athletes be randomly tested for performance enhancing drugs? Explain fully. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


The horses are approaching the starting gates

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* Congressman Mark Kirk says he will make a decision about running for statewide office “by the end of next month.” He told NBC5 that he wants to read the Blagojevich indictment before making a final decision.

Asked if he’d made any downstate trips to learn more about the state, Kirk said he’s so far been to McHenry, DuPage and Champaign counties. [Hat tip: Team America]

* I asked a source close to Sheriff Tom Dart yesterday about whether Dart might be interested in running for statewide office. I’ll save the response for subscribers, but CBS2 talked to Dart himself

Sheriff Tom Dart seems to be everywhere these days. He’s arresting sex offenders, tackling the dark side of the Internet and rescuing puppies. He’s gone after cemetery vandals, helped to run a sting aimed at burglars, and Monday, in another moment made for TV, specifically Dr. Phil, Dart took on prostitutes using the Craigslist Web site. He’s a media regular.

So, is he running or what?

“People have talked to me about other opportunities out there,” Dart told CBS 2.

If Lisa Madigan runs for governor, as expected, some Democrats want Dart to run to replace her as state attorney general. If that doesn’t happen, Dart may against Todd Stroger for Cook County Board president. […]

“I can’t think of a scenario where I would not be running for re-election,” Dart said earlier this month. “I couldn’t be more honest with you, if I wanted to.”

CBS2 asked Republican strategist and Cicero town/township/park district/TIF district spokesperson Dan Proft his opinion about Dart. Maybe they should’ve also asked Proft about the quite weird but oddly persistent and credible reports that Proft wants to run for governor. I just tried calling him, but there was no answer, so I left a message.

* The Illinois Republican Party responds to yesterday’s announcement by Alexi Giannoulias that he won’t take corporate PAC money or federal lobbyist cash in his US Senate bid…

In an attempt to hide his record of questionable loans to crime figures and willingness to look the other way on Rod Blagojevich’s flagrant corruption, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias announced today that his Senate campaign will refuse donations from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists.

“No amount of phony reform and renewal pledges from Alexi Giannoulias can hide his shameful history of bankrolling mobsters and convicted felons like Tony Rezko,” said ILGOP Spokesman Lance Trover.

The Giannoulias family bank, Broadway bank, made millions of dollars in loans to Tony Rezko as well as Michael Giorango and Boris Stratievsky, convicted felons and reputed mob figures. These loans were made while Alexi Giannoulias was the chief loan officer.

“If Mr. Giannoulias wants to kick off his campaign by talking about reform then he should begin by fully explaining why, throughout the last six years, he loaned millions of dollars to mob figures and endorsed Rod Blagojevich for re-election in 2006,” added Trover.

In addition, Mr. Giannoulias apparently has no problem with unions attempting to “buy a seat at the table”, as he neglected to ban the labor contributions that bankrolled his Illinois Treasurer campaign to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

* Sen. Rutherford is gearing up for treasurer

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is headlining a fundraiser for state Sen. Dan Rutherford, who’s interested in running for Illinois treasurer.

A downstate Republican, Rutherford says he plans to announce when the General Assembly is on Easter break that he will form an exploratory committee.

* Chicago Public Radio talks to state Rep. Julie Hamos about her future

An Illinois state representative says she’s interested in running for two high-profile offices in next year’s election. But Evanston Democrat Julie Hamos says everything is in a “holding pattern” for now.

As we’ve discussed before, Hamos is thinking about running for attorney general or Congress, if Jan Schakowsky defies expectations and runs for US Senate.

HAMOS: Some musical chairs have to take place. People are judging where the state’s going, how well we can solve the problems facing us, and nobody’s quite jumping in to anything quite yet.

With a primary election in Illinois just ten months away, Hamos needs to organize and start lining up contributors - efforts, she says, that are already underway.

Petitions go out just over four months from now. Time’s a-wastin’.

Hamos is avoiding any firm position on possibly the most politically explosive issue right now in Illinois: Governor Pat Quinn’s proposed income tax hike. She says she wants more answers about the state’s finances.

That does put her in a bind.

…Adding… Ald. Preckwinkle appears to be using her vote against the Chicago parking meter contract to her advantage in the county board presidency bid.

* Related…

* Giannoulias to decline special interest cash

* Treasurer says he won’t accept lobbyist cash

* Editorial: Quigley for 5th District seat : A brief word about Pulido. She is the founder of the Illinois Minuteman Project, a far right group that battles illegal immigration. The national Republican Party is offering Pulido no help, which speaks volumes about her candidacy. She is well outside the mainstream.

- Posted by Rich Miller   46 Comments      


Fumigation and reform

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* More fumigation

Four of the state’s largest public-employee pension systems would face a major shakeup at the top under a plan by key statehouse Democrats to purge holdovers from ex-Gov. Blagojevich’s scandal-tainted tenure, several sources briefed on the ethics proposal said Monday.

The plan, which will be unveiled today, would end the terms of the current gubernatorial appointees on the boards of the Teachers Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the State Employees Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment.

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column takes up the ethics issue and how it may play out in Springfield…

Both Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan have said they’d like to see Illinois politics and government cleaned up before any deficit-closing tax increases are debated.

It’s doubtful, of course, that the two men are talking about the same sort of cleanup - with Madigan coming from the old school and Quinn being the decades-long reformer.

Madigan mentioned two targets for reform the other day when talking to public television: The pension systems and the state’s purchasing act. He didn’t elaborate much. A spokesman said ideas are being developed, but Madigan does want some of the state’s purchasing reforms from a few years ago applied to the state pension systems.

Quinn, meanwhile, has pushed binding public referenda, campaign contribution limits and a whole host of other ideas that are never very popular in Springfield. Good government groups and some newspapers have made contribution caps their top priority, partly because disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign funding apparatus was so obscene.

So, where does it go from here?

Senate President John Cullerton may have pointed the way last week when he told a downstate newspaper’s editorial board that he believes campaign contribution limits will become the law in this state. Illinois is one of just a handful of states that places no limits on contributions. Cullerton didn’t elaborate about how high he’d place the cap, but Madigan has said he worries that wealthy candidates or interest groups could overwhelm opponents with a huge barrage of uncapped spending.

If caps are put in place, they will likely wind up being higher than the federal government’s $2,400 per election for individuals and $5,000 per year for political action committees. A starting point may be Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno’s proposal to limit contributions to $10,000 per year from all sources.

Despite what you may think, gigantic contributions of $100,000 or more are the exception, not the rule in Illinois. But $25,000 checks are more common. The despicable Blagojevich apparently set $25,000 as his ticket price for appointments to some state boards and commissions.

Cullerton and Madigan co-chair a special bicameral committee created to come up with ethics reforms. But that legislative committee has a competitor out there, a special citizens commission formed by Gov. Quinn and run by respected former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins.

As I write this, Collins is preparing to unveil his commission’s proposals. It’s widely expected the Collins commission will propose far more radical ideas than the Madigan/Cullerton committee, and members will be way more wedded to their recommendations. One member of the Collins-headed commission told a Rockford audience at a recent town hall meeting that he would feel “very disenfranchised” if the commission’s recommendations were swept under the rug.

Quinn is proud of his reformer reputation, so implementing real change is one of his top priorities. But he also wants to pass a multibillion-dollar, job-creating capital construction plan, and he absolutely must have a balanced budget by the end of this spring’s legislative session. He needs cooperation from the General Assembly and their leaders to succeed, so he has to be somewhat careful how he proceeds on his reform agenda.

Collins and his commission have been operating independently from Quinn. The governor’s office has been given no real idea how far and wide the commission will go. And if they go too far and push too forcefully, Quinn will be put smack dab in the middle of any potential clash between the commission and the Madigan/Cullerton committee. The governor’s own commission could put him in a major political bind.

A saving grace might be the fact that Collins didn’t put any members of the state’s “good government” groups on his commission. While they’re often ignored at the Statehouse, if the groups decide to act as a sort of referee between the “too tame” and the “not gonna happen,” they could help shape the final product’s outcome.

And Quinn may have given himself a somewhat graceful way out if he has to pull the plug on the reform push. The governor said last week that he would initiate a statewide petition drive to make contribution caps the law of the land if the legislature fails to act. He probably can’t do that under the state’s constitution, but it’ll be a fun summer project for the guy.

* Related…

* Reform group includes Harper in complaints on Illinois lobbying: A new report by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform set to be released today shows Harper officials increased their spending on clout-heavy lobbyists last year by 50 percent, from $84,000 in 2007 to $126,000 in 2008. The report analyzes lobbying efforts from dozens of governmental agencies to highlight how much taxpayer money is being spent to lobby other taxpayer-funded entities, and cites Harper’s lobbying expense as a troubling example of the practical costs of passing legislation in Illinois.

* Panel discusses ways to change legislative redistricting in Illinois

* IL Senate President Says Some Privacy Needed in Government: “You always have to have certain privacy with regard to legislative strategy but debating public policy should always be open to the public.” A spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan says a state committee on political reform could look at the issue as well. But he says that might not be necessary because all final legislative decisions are made out in public.

* Reform Politics in Illinois

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      


Former first lady imperiled; More on Trib/RRB talks

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* Unsurprising

A federal grand jury probing corruption under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the last two weeks has called witnesses to testify specifically about his wife, defense sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The recent questioning has centered in part on Patti Blagojevich’s real estate dealings and comes as the feds close in on an indictment involving the ex-governor and others.

You’d think she’d want to save herself, since her husband seems intent on going down in a brilliant, white-hot ball of flames.

The indictment has an April 7 deadline but could come Thursday — the day that grand jury meets.

What’s your over/under on the maximum number of prison years in the indictment? I figure since Chris Kelly is looking at something like 800 years, then RRB ought to at least be facing 10,000 years.

Do they even let you out of prison to be buried if you get that many years?

Defense lawyers said witnesses were questioned about Patti Blagojevich, her former firm, River Realty, and commissions she was paid on real estate deals involving political supporters, donors or state contractors. The former first lady took part in more than half a dozen real estate dealings with convicted businessman Tony Rezko, sources said.

Go read the whole thing.

* Meanwhile, Blagojevich had a “code name” for the Tribune/Wrigley Field deal: Project Elwood

Early on a Sunday evening in December, e-mails went out among state officials who had just learned that financially strapped Tribune Co. was about to file for bankruptcy protection.

“This could measurably complicate Project Elwood,” wrote William Brandt, chairman of the Illinois Finance Authority. […]

Two days later, the plan grew far more complicated when Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges. Among the charges were allegations that he was trying to extort Tribune Co.—the owner of Wrigley, the Cubs and the Chicago Tribune—over the state purchase.

The “plan grew far more complicated when Blagojevich was arrested” line is quite the understatement. But, hey, it’s the Trib reporting on Tribune Co.

So, was the governor calling in plays during games or something? Check this out…

Blagojevich’s telephone log shows several calls to members of the team, including manager Lou Piniella, coach Larry Rothschild and John McDonough, the team’s former president who is now with the Chicago Blackhawks

…Adding… Substitute “Mexico” or a country with no extradition treaty for “Chicago” and adjust the mileage accordingly, and perhaps this will be RRB and a friend come Thursday? The “real” Project Elwood perhaps? Just sayin…


* Related…

* Rod Blagojevich indictment could bring more defendants - Former governor’s brother, wife and campaign committee, as well as lobbyist Lon Monk, are possible targets

* Blagojevich takes unreality show to radio airwaves

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Your assignment for today - Build a budget *** UPDATED w/Roundup ***

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* The folks at Wonkish.com have done it again. Their latest Web app allows you to build your own state budget.

You don’t get to go down to the line item level on every state agency, but you get to make changes to quite a few items in budgets for the State Board of Education, Corrections, Human Services, Aging, and others.

We’re talking about bringing the Wonkish folks over here to the front page so that we can have better access to their projects. Stay tuned on that.

Anyway, have a go at the app and tell us how you did.

Forgot to add the budget roundup…

* Several Ways to Tackle Illinois’ Budget Deficit: CULLERTON: There’s a whole bunch of different alternatives to this that we’re certainly open to, it could be temporary, we could borrow the three billion dollars and pay it off in a couple of years if that’s what people want to do, so we’re very open to people with suggestions.

* Quinn eyes community college building projects in budget

* Clinton, Eureka would lose Human Services offices under Quinn plan: A full list of the proposed closures released Monday shows no lost jobs among workers, but their commutes could lengthen

* Five Southern Illinois human services offices to close

* Thomson prison supporters to rally in Illinois
: Even though money for Thomson Correctional Center wasn’t included in the governor’s proposed budget, supporters will hold an informational rally Saturday in hopes of changing the situation.

* Editorial: Sales tax holiday: Regardless, though, a back-to-school holiday could result in more students being more ready to learn. And it would be a real break for working families, coping with everything from the day care years to college costs.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* 77 Names Added to Slain Journalists Memorial in Washington D.C.

The youngest journalist’s name added to the wall was Ryan Rendleman, 22, who was on assignment for the Daily Egyptian student newspaper at Southern Illinois University in April 2008 when a tractor-tractor slammed into his stopped car at a construction zone.

* Batavia native added to journalists memorial

* Batavian’s name added to journalists memorial in D.C.

* New law reduces charges for uninsured

[Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s] office says hospitals have sometimes charged the uninsured at rates that are more than 200 percent over the cost of services.

* Ford to call back 300 full-time workers to build new Explorer

* Union: Ford calling back workers

Amid weak demand for cars, Ford dropped a second shift at the Chicago assembly plant in November, eliminating 600 part-time positions and about 200 full-time jobs. The plant began a temporary shutdown this week.

Kolanowski said building the Explorer will lead to the callback of 300 laid-off full-time workers at the plant and at a Chicago Heights stamping plant.

* State on a high in tech

Despite Motorola’s thousands of layoffs, Illinois’ high-tech industry managed to add 2,400 jobs in 2007, pushing the state to No. 7 from No. 8 in cyber sophistication among the 50 states, according to a study being released today. […]

Illinois’ tech industry employed 211,800 with a total payroll of $16.6 billion in 2007, the latest data available, while Indiana’s tech industry employed 71,300 with a total payroll of $4.2 billion, the report said.

* Chu believes FutureGen project has merit

* B-N to receive more than $1 million in energy efficiency grants

* Collapsing mines have been long-standing problem in Metro East

Schools, it seems, have been common victims.

* Students reassigned from school damaged by subsidence

* Caught in the 2-earner trap

But with so many women joining the work force, other expenses have skyrocketed for middle-class families, who have bid up prices for things like a home in a safe neighborhood with good schools. Other expenses in a dual-earner family — including child care, an extra car for mom to go to work and rising college costs — have gobbled up nearly all of the gains in salary, some argue.

* Daley deal to privatize Midway might not fly

Mayor Daley’s $2.5 billion plan to privatize Midway Airport has run into turbulence — and it just might be grounded entirely — because of the nation’s credit crunch and Wall Street slide, City Hall sources said Monday.

An April 6 closing date that would have made Midway the “first privatization of a major American airport” has been cancelled — and it’s likely to be put off for six months to give Midway Investment and Development Company LLC an opportunity to salvage the deal by lining up more equity investors or bank financing.

Asked to assess the chances the blockbuster deal will ever go through, the source said, “I wouldn’t put odds on it. No matter what happens, the city gets $126 million. That’s more for the city budget than the city gets” if the deal goes through, because of strings attached to the larger pot of money.

* O’Hare: Computer kiosks replace laid-off greeters

* HP, Chicago create high-tech lounges for visitors at O’Hare

* No stimulus money for $15 billion O’Hare expansion

* Federal Stimulus Money Flowing To O’Hare

* O’Hare Receives Millions in Stimulus Money

* City plans $15.5B in downtown projects

A draft of Chicago’s plans for the city’s central area through 2020 calls for $15.5 billion in public works, mostly for transportation improvements, and asserts the projects are attainable with or without the 2016 Olympics.

The projects include a West Loop transit hub beneath Clinton Street with an estimated price tag of almost $6 billion. The hub would connect Metra and CTA rail and bus lines with a proposed Carroll Street rail line, itself a $260 million item, near the north bank of the Chicago River.

The city’s share of the total $15.5 billion cost should be in the range of $6 billion to $8 billion, the report said. Most of the money would come from tax-increment financing, a property tax source that diverts money from regular government expenses. The rest would have to be drawn from state and federal aid or corporate deals, it said.

* Deloitte to sponsor U.S. Olympic team

* NLRB threatens complaint against Chicago company

* Window co. violated labor laws: NLRB Chicago

* City Hall hiring: Federal judge rejects compliance chief’s memo to department heads

In a “transition plan” memo issued Thursday to all city department heads, Anthony Boswell, executive director of compliance, said his office would manage “the day-to-day monitoring of all hiring.”

But an order issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen states that the court-appointed hiring monitor shall continue each of her duties until Boswell’s office “advises her, and she concurs, that it is capable of assuming that function.”

The court monitor, Noelle Brennan, declined to comment Monday. In a report that led to the order, she cited continuing City Hall hiring abuses and “notably decreased” efforts to comply with federal court rules.

* Cop probed in senior’s missing $400K

Authorities are investigating whether a Chicago Police officer assigned to help senior residents bilked an 87-year-old Northwest Side woman of several hundred thousand dollars, according to court filings.

Officer Anthony Robles does not deny that his name is on Maria Hoyos’ bank accounts, nor that she lived with him for a time, nor that he traveled to Puerto Rico with her to help her.

* Let the Trout Fishing Begin!

It may still look like winter out there, but here’s a sign of Spring. Illinois’ hugely popular trout-fishing season opens this Saturday. The state’s Department of Natural Resources is stocking lakes, ponds and rivers with rainbow trout–60-thousand of them. But you need a special permit, and there’s no jumping the gun, says Chris McCloud of the Natural Resources Department..

- Posted by Mike Murray   3 Comments      


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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


This just in… Sun-Times files for bankruptcy

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* 7:57 am - Sad news, but not unexpected, I suppose…

Sun-Times Media Group Inc., owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and many suburban newspapers, today voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with the aim of reorganizing operations, settling a tax liability and making the company fit for a buyer.

The petition was filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. Chairman Jeremy Halbreich said the filing was a difficult decision but essential for the company “to re-establish itself as a self-sustaining, profitable operation. That is worth fighting for.”

His overriding goals are to sustain the company’s print and online news operations while “preserving as many jobs as possible,” he said.

The company has one significant creditor — the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has said Sun-Times Media Group owes up to $608 million in back taxes and penalties from past business practices by its former controlling owner, Conrad Black, now imprisoned for theft from corporate coffers.

Unlike other newspaper owners that have filed for bankruptcy amid steep dropoffs in advertising, including Chicago-based Tribune Co., Sun-Times Media Group has no bank debt. But its IRS debt thwarted efforts to raise new capital.

Halbreich said Sun-Times will continue talks with the IRS while implementing a “strong and impressive” business plan. It also will pursue a deal with buyers and has hired Rothschild Inc., which was involved in the bankruptcy of United Airlines’ owner, to field offers.

Several potential buyers have approached Halbreich since he took over Feb. 10 as chairman and interim chief executive, he said. “We’re very confident that there’s going to be some interest here,” he said. “We intend to start that process immediately.”

The company claims it has “sufficient financial resources” to continue its day-to-day operations.

* Sun-Times Media Group CEO’s letter to readers

To Our Valued Readers:

Today our corporate parent, Sun-Times Media Group, Inc. and certain of its affiliates voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This action begins a legal and financial process that is designed to protect our Company’s brands, stabilize our business and create a brighter future for all of our stakeholders, including our news organizations, advertisers, employees, and you our valued readers.

Please be assured that this action does NOT mean the Company or our newspapers or online sites are going out of business. We will continue to publish and operate our newspapers and corresponding online sites, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the SouthtownStar, Beacon News (Aurora), Courier-News (Elgin), Herald News (Joliet), Lake County News-Sun (Waukegan), Naperville Sun, and Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.); our weeklies published by Pioneer Press and Fox Valley Publications; our free shoppers and content on corresponding online sites, including YourSeason.com and Rogerebert.com.

If you are a subscriber to any of our publications, your newspaper will continue to be delivered as it is today, and you will still get the great mix of news, sports, features and opinion that you count on in each edition. Like many U.S. companies today and like many other newspaper companies across the country, Sun-Times Media Group has faced significant declines in revenue. This process will help us to better address these challenges and ultimately work toward strengthening our commitment to remaining the Chicago area’s best, most reliable and most distinguished source of news and information for our readers.

Sun-Times Media Group intends to move through the Chapter 11 process as quickly as possible, and expects that the process will be completed in 2009.

In the coming weeks, we will be keeping you informed through our Web site thesuntimesgroup.com. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

I would like to thank you for your business and support during these challenging times.

Sincerely,

Jeremy L. Halbreich

Chairman of the Board
Interim Chief Executive Officer

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


More unsolicited advice

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* Dear Gov. Quinn,

Why hasn’t McPier been fumigated as of yet?

* Dear FCC,

Why not open this option up to newspapers not covered by the federal “grandfather clause” and are still under the ban of cross-ownership of newspapers and TV/radio stations…

Tribune Co., a newspaper publisher and television station owner that operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, said Monday that it has combined a newspaper and two TV operations in Connecticut in a bid to become more efficient and cut costs.

The move puts the operations of The Hartford Courant and WTIC-TV and WTXX-TV in Hartford under one roof, an unusual pairing, and places a TV executive in charge of both.

I know there are fears of too much consolidation, particularly among liberals, but can’t we have some limited mergers so we can maybe save some newspapers in this country?

And this is OK with me as well…

It has gotten to the point where Larry Wert, president and general manager of WMAQ-TV/Channel 5, confirmed the station is considering an arrangement in which it would outsource its sports reports to Comcast SportsNet, effectively eliminating its sports staff.

* Dear Chicago Reader,

A notice in your comment sections says this

We do not prescreen or edit comments, but we do reserve the right to delete any we find inappropriate.

So, I suppose that the multitude of insane, racist, over the top and definitely inappropriate comments all over your site are just fine with you. I don’t think the word “inappropriate” means the same to you as it does to me. But maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps you just can’t “find” them? In that case, I don’t blame you for not looking. It’s pretty disgusting stuff. But, hey, it’s your shop, so your rules. Have fun with that.

* Dear American Journalism Review,

Considering that this blog has the word “Fax” in its name, do you think I might also publish on more than one platform?

Most states also have niche publications geared toward political insiders, such as Arizona’s Capitol Times, which publishes on multiple platforms, or online-only outlets such as Illinois’ Capitol Fax blog.

Thanks for the plug, by the way.

* Dear John Shimkus,

Huh?

* Dear John Howard Association,

Great idea

Award-winning journalist Hanke Gratteau has been named executive director of The John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) , the leading advocate for prison reform in the Midwest. She joins John Howard on April 6.

Gratteau will oversee projects and research aimed at monitoring and improving conditions in the state’s prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities. She is the seventh person to head the Association since it was founded in 1901.

“My role with The John Howard Association will be a very natural extension of the public policy advocacy that was at the heart of my journalism career,” said Gratteau, former managing editor/news of the Chicago Tribune. “We will aim to shine a bright light on places and issues that are hidden from public view and provide a strong and clear voice for sound public policy grounded in research.

Seriously. Great idea.

* Your turn…

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      


Over the line, or no big deal?

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* Setting aside the debate over the actual bill for a moment, do you think this open letter to Catholics from Cardinal George on Archdiocese of Chicago letterhead is appropriate? Please read the whole thing by clicking here, but I’ll give you a few excerpts…

Before the Illinois General Assembly there is a proposal (HB 2354, the “Reproductive Health and Access Act”) that would remove the right to conscientious objection to abortion and related procedures for all health care workers. […]

The enemies of human life and religious freedom in Illinois are well funded. Pressure on legislators is great and is increasing. I ask you to contact your Representative this week to express your dismay that the Illinois legislature, elected democratically, would debate a bill that removes freedom of conscientious decision-making for health care workers as a condition of their employment. If, as we are told, the State should not come between a doctor and a mother, then surely all can agree that the State should not come between a health care worker and God. […]

This proposed law will rend the already fragile garment of our civic unity and further alienate many from our government. Catholics and all people of good will should work to ensure its defeat. I also ask you to thank those legislators who are courageously opposing HB 2354 and to pray for those who are supporting it. To contact your legislator, please go to www.ilga.gov, or call 312-368-1066. Thank you and God bless you.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

Archbishop of Chicago

Just to be clear, a proposed, but as yet unfiled amendment to the bill will significantly change the conscience clause language that the Cardinal discusses.

As a non-Catholic, I’m usually reticent to post my own thoughts on these sorts of things (generally out of a very legit fear of being labled anti-Catholic), but I thought maybe you’d like to discuss this letter yourself.

As always, decorum rules will be enforced. Try to keep your tempers and preconceived notions in your head, not in your typing fingers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   67 Comments      


Let’s look local

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* The Sun-Times headline reads: Rosemont rarity: A real race for mayor.

There’s no doubt that Rosemont mayoral candidate Joe Watrach is running a far more visible campaign than has been seen in a long time, if ever, in that town. He’s also pretty feisty, listing $5 million a year in government contracts for people with the name “Stephens” on his website and telling the CS-T…

“Donald E. Stephens made sure that while he took care of his family, all of Rosemont was his family,” Watrach said. “He was making sure the village residents were happy. Before, Rosemont had an endless supply of money. Now we don’t. The difference was his dad never cut the village employees’ health care.”

Watrach argues that before Stephens cuts employees’ health care, he should cut other parts of the budget first, such as contracts to his family members or the $1.3 million for landscaping that goes largely to Krimson Valley Landscaping, which has donated generously to Stephens’ political fund.

“The reason Bradley didn’t want to cut [the] flowers [contract] is they have given him $50,000 over two years,” Watrach said. “In two years, he has raised a million dollars for his campaign fund, all from contractors who hold no-bid contracts at Rosemont.”

But is Watrach viable?

Maybe not so much.

The State Board of Elections website shows that Watrach has raised about $3,200 since he began campaigning.

* Moving on to Niles

Nick Blase left the helm of this suburb after 47 years as mayor when he was convicted of taking $420,000 in kickbacks from an insurance company to which he steered businesses that wanted to set up shop in Niles.

Running with Blase’s endorsement to succeed him is Acting Mayor Robert Callero, a retired accountant. Callero got some static for creating an ethics committee in a closed meeting that Attorney General Lisa Madigan said violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. He was also criticized when Niles employees used village equipment to tape testimonials for Blase to be used at his trial. Callero said he agreed that was inappropriate and said he was unaware it was happening.

Challenging Callero are: Luigi Nitti, Carol Harczak, Trustee Kim Sychowski Biederman — who runs with the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and other local Democrats — and Krzysztof “Chris” Hanusiak, a Polish immigrant who owns a Royal Kitchen and Bath Cabinets store.

That Callero ethics committee thing is hilarious. Biederman is the wife of former House Dem staffer Rob Biederman, which the acting mayor is attempting to use against her

Callero said that Biederman would use the job to “build a political machine.” Her husband, Rob Biederman, who is running her campaign, once was a political operative for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, and he now is a public relations consultant. “He will really run Niles,” a Callero strategist said.

I’m so sure. What an insult to Biederman to suggest that her husband will be the guy behind the throne.

Ms. Biederman also has some other bigtime support

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th, state Sens. Dan Kotowski, D-33rd, and Ira Silverstein, D-8th, and state Rep. Lou Lang, D-16th, have all endorsed Biederman’s candidacy, according to her campaign. […]

State Representative Michael MacAuliffe is the lone Republican on Biederman’s list thus far, supporting Biederman because he believes she will keep taxes low, according to a written statement attributed to him by her campaign.

That’s quite a list.

* On to Peoria

The race for Peoria mayor features the incumbent against a challenger who, even if he wins, cannot serve because of a prior felony conviction.

OK. Nevermind.

* Are there any interesting local races in your neck of the woods?

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


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Question of the day

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* A post at NCSL’s blog reminded me that March is Women’s History Month.

Yeah, the month is almost over, but there’s still time to squeeze in a question.

* The Question: In your opinion, who is the most influential woman in Illinois political history? Please explain your answer fully. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Politics and the budget mess *** UPDATED x1 Giannoulias refuses some contributions ***

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* Laura Washington takes a look at what happens if Lisa Madigan and others decide to move up or off the political ladder, or stay right where they are…

Evanston-based State Rep. Julie Hamos, who represents the 18th District along Chicago’s North Side and North Shore, is already raising money and taking names for a run for attorney general. Hamos may have Madigan’s blessing, but until the AG jumps, there’s nowhere for Hamos to land.

Talk about jumping the ladder. Media outlets across the nation have been touting Chicago Urban League CEO Cheryle Jackson’s anticipated run for Burris’ seat, though all they seem to know is how to spell her name. Her backers, particularly in the black community, are waiting to see if multiple investigations by Fitzgerald, the U.S. Senate and the Sangamon County prosecutor will knock Burris off the ladder.

Jackson doesn’t have a prayer if Burris stands for election. The two will split the black vote and not much else. Things will be even more hopeless if U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky decides to take a shot at the seat. Schakowsky is a powerhouse fund-raiser with a bullet-proof base among female, progressive and Jewish voters.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) is said to be salivating over a Schakowsky bid, as that would give him a shot at her 9th Congressional District seat. The national thrill of his foie gras crusade is long gone, and he wants it back. Still, since the Rogers Park pol barely won reelection in 2007, he may not be in the best shape to muscle another rung up the ladder.

At 32, Giannoulias may be the youngest straddling his way up the ladder, but he’s moving up fast. He’s formed a Senate exploratory committee, is raising funds nationally from Greeks and Obama-ites, and is turning up regularly on the business channel CNBC. His own chief of staff, former state Rep. Robin Kelly, is gearing up to take his spot. The 52-year-old resident of Matteson is looking to become Illinois’ first African-American treasurer.

* Speaking of Giannoulias, he was asked by the Kankakee Daily Journal’s edit board to say what he’d do if he was in charge of Illinois’ budget

I think your first step is to find ways to cut waste, to cut your budget, to find ways to do more with less, to make government more efficient, to streamline services, to technologically advance the way you conduct business.

If there is an income tax increase there needs to be a decrease in property taxes. People are getting decimated by property taxes. And also you can maybe make the school system more equitable. That being said, right now in a recession — and almost any economist can tell you - is not the right time to increase taxes on people. There is never a good, right time.

That’s not a bad political position: Cut more waste, streamline, cut property taxes, improve education, income tax hikes bad. It doesn’t get us very far in this debate, however.

*** Sigh. *** Screwed up something and so I deleted this part of the post. Oops. Gotta slow down. Less coffee.

*** UPDATE *** Giannoulias just announced that he won’t accept contributions from corporate PACs or federal lobbyists

…I am taking a step that no major Illinois candidate from either party has ever taken in a run for the U.S. Senate. It is a decision that advances us one step closer to that change that we all fought for and believed in last November. I will simply say “NO” to contributions from all federal lobbyists and corporate PACs.

These special interests do not represent the interests of most Americans, and they should not be allowed to buy a seat at the table when it comes to deciding critical issues or determining the direction of our nation, especially in the midst of our current financial crisis.

[Hat tip to a Giannoulias supporter who referenced a Daily Kos piece which contained the link to the above press release.]

* Related…

*** ADDED *** What does tax plan mean to jobless ex-governor?: In short, if Pat Quinn gets his way, Rod Blagojevich will soon be paying an extra $13.50 to the state every week.

* Governor Quinn said ‘cut, cut, cut,’ so what’s up with all of this?

* An extravagant holiday

* Clock ticks on one of Quinn’s first big plans

* Transit and taxpayers

* Smokers face a hit as federal tobacco taxes spike

* Planned Merger May be Good News for Illinois’ Historic Sites

* Quinn believes agency merger within his bounds

* Toll reforms tardy, but welcome news

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


Reform and Renewal

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* When reading stories like this one, always try to keep in mind that this is Rod Blagojevich we’re talking about. So placing blame on Blagojevich is absolutely paramount. Only some of his targets were complicit

Four potential candidates for President Obama’s vacant Senate seat were each to be targeted for contributions by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign as part of an aggressive, $2.3 million race for cash late last year, an internal campaign document obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times shows.

The four were among about 150 people targeted for contributions by the Friends of Blagojevich campaign organization by the end of 2008, when a new Illinois law took effect that bans taking money from state contractors and appointees, the document shows.

This says it best…

“They may have had him on the list,” [JB Pritzker] spokesman Dave Lundy said. “But they had a lot of quirky ideas that didn’t have a basis in reality.”

Yep. He had lots of “quirky” ideas, like this one

During one conversation, Blagojevich brought up with [White Sox/Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf] the possibility of appointing Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Obama’s election, sources with the Blagojevich camp say. They say he was seeking a way to advance legislation through the Illinois House — controlled by Madigan’s father, House Speaker Michael Madigan

What a stupid idea that was. The plan was to offer to appoint Lisa Madigan to the US Senate in exchange for Speaker Madigan’s support for the governor’s capital plan, health care expansions, etc.

Complete, utter lunacy.

First of all, Speaker Madigan wasn’t even returning Blagojevich’s phone calls. He was also refusing to meet with the guy.

Most importantly, though, Speaker Madigan had absolutely zero trust in Blagojevich’s word. No way would he have cut that deal. No way. When I told Madigan about the “plan,” he laughed incredulously.

* Since we’re on the topic of corruption and, by extension reform, let’s take a look at two other stories worth mentioning

Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) said she will consider amending one of the ethics bills in the legislature this year to add new requirements for opening certain legislative meetings. She said the governor’s involvement in a meeting with lawmakers should “trigger” an open meeting requirement because two branches of government are involved. “I think that what’s happened here, and I’m not condoning it, is that it’s a tradition that is followed at the state and federal level,” Garrett said.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said she would be surprised if caucuses or meetings with the governor were opened up, saying “in our culture we have been so unaccustomed to that degree of openness.”

Understatement of the week goes to Currie.

* The governor’s extra-legislative reform commission meets again today. Scheduled topics are…

- The powerful role played by the “rules committees” in the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate. To a large degree, they decide whether legislation will advance.

- The flawed process used to determine how Illinois redraws its legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years after a new U.S. census.

- The rushed, last-minute way that the Illinois General Assembly typically approves a new state budget, generally with little input from rank-and-file lawmakers.

Apparently, former GOP Sen. Steve Rauschenberger is the expert witness today.

And this weird little demonstration will be part of the day’s festivities…

To spotlight the need to get rid of government corruption, members of the [Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service’s] student advisory committee will encourage fellow students to throw water balloons at a 3-by-5-foot sign depicting a mud-stained image of Illinois. The sign will be posted outside the meeting site.

The idea is “to wash the mud off of the state,” said Josh Cox, a Bradley senior who is studying political science. “We’re kind of starting the cleansing process.”

A member of the governor’s reform commission, Brad McMillan, runs that institute sponsoring the water balloon toss. That should give you a good idea of how this commission is running.

* Meanwhile, the Sun-Times has a very good piece about how Blagojevich pal Chris Kelly allegedly made a fortune doing roofing jobs for two major O-hare-based airlines. And the AP takes a look at the alleged “corruption tax” issue, which has been discussed ad infinitum. No real new stuff there.

* Related…

* 3 weeks in office adds $40,000 a year to pension

* Illinois corruption: State officials could look at stricter ethics laws in other states

* Clock Ticking in Blago Case

* Statehouse Insider: An upleasant blast from the past

* Blagojevich is still everywhere – and some can smile about it

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


Trib slams Monken detractors

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* The Chicago Tribune editorial board is all-in for Gov. Pat Quinn’s choice to run the Illinois State Police. They’ve run an editorial that literally oozes hostility towards the young man’s detractors…

Last weekend, Gov. Pat Quinn chose 29-year-old Army combat veteran Jonathon Monken to head the Illinois State Police. The selection of a young man with no conventional policing experience provoked anonymous online complaints (evidently from veteran troopers) and on-the-record harrumphing from state senators who’ll decide whether to confirm the appointment.

It was more than just anonymous online complaining, as I told you last week, but whatever.

* The paper apparently sat down with Monken and came away impressed…

Quinn isn’t backing down. And, after hearing Monken handle probing questions about his qualifications during a Friday meeting with the Tribune editorial board, we understand why. We urge the Senate to thoroughly vet Monken and—barring some unexpected surprise—to confirm him. If the choice of Monken upsets some troopers or legislators, tough. They aren’t answerable for Monken’s performance of his duties. Quinn is.

Tough? Wow. And is there no awareness of the constitutional principle of “advise and consent”? Senators are, indeed, “answerable” for Monken’s performance because they will have to vote to confirm him.

* More…

This page often has argued that chief executives are entitled to have their own appointees in such sensitive posts, provided the appointees aren’t kooks or crooks.

Ha! Wrong. Remember how the Tribune flatly and loudly opposed Marty Cohen’s nomination to chair the Illinois Commerce Commission? Here’s a little taste

State Sen. Rickey Hendon has a message for Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Yank your controversial nomination of consumer watchdog Martin Cohen to chair the Illinois Commerce Commission or risk an embarrassing defeat in the Senate.

Blunt advice like that is a rare commodity in Springfield, especially when it comes from a key member of the governor’s own party. And in this case, it’s good advice.

Cohen was neither a “kook” nor a “crook,” but that didn’t stop the Trib from blasting the guy.

* More…

But the criticism of Monken’s résumé strikes us as exaggerated: The director’s job is to administer and inspire a big agency—less to make urgent decisions about an unfolding emergency than to have on the ground the best ISP rank officers to make those decisions. Monken wears a business suit rather than the state police uniform that he respects as symbolic of what troopers have struggled and sacrificed to earn.

State Police troopers undergo a rigorous vetting and training program and have to prove that they’re still up to the task on a regular basis. They are some of the best trained cops in the bidness, and rightfully proud of that uniform. That also understandably leads them to distrust outsiders brought in to run the show. But it’s also a cop thing. Just look at how the Chicago coppers have reacted so negatively to Mayor Daley’s pick of a former FBI guy to run that shop.

There are exaggerations on both sides. Unfortunately, the Tribune decided to exaggerate on behalf of the governor’s ISP pick instead of taking a reasonable approach to the subject. This is fast becoming the MO at that paper, and it’s a very disturbing development.

* Related…

* Quinn defends state police director pick

* New State Police chief says he’s up to challenge : “God willing, I will never face as dire a security situation as I did in Kosovo or Iraq,” Monken said. “Frankly, I have leadership experience in security and police operations as challenging as anywhere on the planet.”

* Illinois police lab delays hamper cases, report says

* Quinn may remove Box from Illinois Commerce Commission

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


The middle class, tax hikes and the GOP

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* It’s no wonder the middle class feels besieged

Even before the recession hit, economic data backed what the majority were feeling: After a steady climb that lasted more than a generation, the real median income in the United States peaked in 1999 and then dropped. It has yet to return to that peak, making it the longest downturn in modern history. […]

Illinois was not immune to the trend between 2001 and 2008. Weekly wages dropped or remained stagnant in most sectors, according to a December report, “The State of Working Illinois.”

Meanwhile, expenses for things like health care, housing and college have gone up at rates far faster than inflation. Home values (before the recent market crash) in 1970 were typically twice family income; now they are five times as much.

Lincolnshire-based Hewitt Associates reported last month that workers’ yearly health care costs nearly tripled, to $3,800, since 2000; 65 percent of employers plan to reduce health benefits further. That’s if your job offers health care at all, as more than 4 in 10 workers in the state are no longer covered by employer insurance. Employees covered by pensions dropped in Illinois, too.

One problem is that the idea of what a middle class family is has so radically changed over the years. People struggled to keep up with the Joneses while their wages stagnated. That led to a credit overextension, which led to some of the current housing-related woes.

In Chicago, the Heartland Alliance estimated recently that it would take a family of four nearly $50,000 annually just to pay for bare essentials like food, housing and health care — an amount higher than some households at the lower end of the middle class earn. That doesn’t include savings for college or retirement, vacation or preschool or private school costs.

The housing bubble contributed to this problem. For instance, I was looking for a house in 2005 and was appalled at Chicago prices. I just couldn’t see spending that much money for that little house. So, I decided to move back to Springfield (I was also getting sick of the commute during the governor’s seemingly endless OT sessions). But I can live just about anywhere. Not many can do that. Still, if Chicago housing prices forced somebody like me out of the market, imagine the pain of all those who make less than I.

And, considering the financial pressures, it’s no wonder people are so upset at Gov. Quinn’s proposed tax hikes, even if they’re being misinformed or misunderstanding that some of them might actually get a tax cut.

* Some Republicans, like possible US Senate candidate Mark Kirk, are proposing ideas

Mr. Kirk has scheduled a press conference with several small-business owners at which he is to call for permanent elimination of the inheritance tax. He’ll also call for suspending the mark-to-market accounting rule, arguing that it’s triggered a run on banks. And he wants to reimpose the uptick rule, which bans the short sale of borrowed stocks or bonds.

While Mr. Kirk surely believes in all three populist stances, none would hurt him any in a primary contest for the U.S. Senate next year, a race he appears to be heavily leaning toward.

Would any of that make any difference in the lives of the middle class? I guess it depends on how you define who is middle class.

* GOP Congressman Aaron Schock is touting a different approach to get money into the hands of some who might be struggling…

“As more and more individuals try to increase their household income(s) and a lot of public sector employees take on additional work, whether part-time on the weekends or in the evenings, they are paying into social security,” Schock told News 25.

But because those people (such as public school teachers) have a full-time job with the government, the social security benefits they would receive from their part-time, private employment are reduced. Schock says that has to change.

I know this post is a bit of a ramble, but do you have thoughts about any of this?

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

* Fire officials put Empress Casino damages at $340 mil

* Illinois Poverty News Weekly

* Steel plant closing ‘cuts deep’

But now the company that owns the steel plant - ArcelorMittal, the fourth owner - has decided to close it, and Burress; his dad, Don; and about 285 others are out of a job. Layoffs started Feb. 20, and now only 25 workers are still in the plant, left for “asset protection,” says Duane Calbow, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 7367 and chairman of the Putnam County Board.

* Ford’s Chicago plant set to make new vehicle

* Local group finding support in creation of ‘green’ jobs

* Kettles of cash

The Salvation Army has rolled out its red kettles for holiday fundraising since 1891. But it has never had a year as successful as 2008. At a time when need was skyrocketing, so was generosity.

Donations across the country reached $130 million, up 10 percent from 2007. That’s the biggest single-year jump since 1997. The collection in the Chicago area remained steady at $14.7 million.

* Urban League’s nextOne program developing minority business dreams

* Health centers get $15.2 mil in stimulus funds

* Crusaders Central Clinic Association of Rockford to receive $555,180 through federal stimulus plan

.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a statement Friday that 36 centers in Illinois will use the money to make a number of changes, including expanding their hours and the services they provide.

Durbin said the support for health centers will create jobs in low-income areas.

* 14th District lands another $10 mil in stimulus funding

Congressman Bill Foster announced the money will come via the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. That means communities receiving the money must put it toward energy efficiency, conservation or renewable energy efforts. Examples of eligible projects include conducting energy efficiency building audits, installing or retrofitting street lighting or traffic signals with energy efficient bulbs and creating energy efficient transportation programs such as bus rapid transit.

As far as the stimulus package overall, even Foster said the gap between the goals of the stimulus and how states are administering the funds is wider than he’d hoped.

“There’s a difference between how effective the state governments are being about distributing the money,” Foster said. “And I think I’ll leave it at that.”

* Federal Stimulus Money Flowing To O’Hare

Other transportation will also benefit when the stimulus money comes in. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $1.3 billion for Amtrak projects nationwide, of which $80 million will be invested in Illinois.

* Chicago transit: Ideas to reach 1 billion rides a year

While his views may be shared by many, what sets Renn apart is that he gathered his thoughts into a comprehensive proposal that won a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce contest aimed at growing transit use to 1 billion rides a year in the region. For his effort, Renn won the first-place prize of $5,000.

* Region’s transportation wish list gets review

* DuPage funnels $5.2M to fix distressed homes

County officials recently accepted DuPage’s share of federal funding from the 2008 Housing and Economic Recovery Act in the form of a $5.2 million check.

* Some newspaper negativists fail to reveal conflicts of interest

Randy Siegel is president of Parade Publications and a co-founder of the Newspaper Project.

* Friends gather to help support convicted Daley aide

Thomas Breen, Sanchez’s attorney, said the event was to help Sanchez, not strictly to help pay for legal bills.

“Since the verdict, many, many calls have come in, in support of Al,” Breen said by phone. “It was with my blessing that, if his friends want to assist him in light of the verdict and the loss of his pension, that they should. It’s for Al.”

* Olympic “Memorandum” Falls Short, Activists Plan IOC Protest

The deal was ostensibly struck between Chicago 2016, the organization Mayor Daley put together to oversee the games, and the Outreach Advisory Council, a group put together by Chicago 2016. Think of it as Mayor Daley negotiating with himself.

* Finance committee approves 2016 minority-contract deal

* USOC clears issue haunting Chicago 2016 bid

* Chicago spruces up for key IOC visit

* City to turn on fountains, protests for Olympic visit

In addition to the various sites of planned venues, the IOC delegation will see two Millennium Park fountains in all their glory — unusual for this time of year.

The IOC is also going to see something that’s been part of the landscape here for as long as anyone can remember: protests. Citizens groups like “No Games Chicago” and disgruntled police union officials, angry over pay, plan to make their voices heard.

* Daley: Cop union ‘unfair’ to Olympic bid

* Daley: ‘No affect’ of police picket on Olympic bid

Daley told reporters Saturday that the Olympic bid is a vision for Chicago that’s bigger than him or the union. He says officers can demonstrate, but “it won’t have any affect.”

* Ruling for cops could cost city big

The ruling comes as nose-diving revenues tied to the prolonged recession threaten to poke a $200 million hole in Mayor Daley’s 2009 budget.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue says cash damages can and should be substantial.

“Our members have been harmed by not being able to use their comp time because it’s at the discretion of the commander to approve or deny,” Donahue said.

* Firefighter suicides: Chicago officials investigating increase with eye on prevention

* Parent Survey: School Safety Information Scant

Twenty-nine Chicago Public Schools students have been murdered since September. But most district parents reached in a survey said they’ve never received public-safety information about their local schools.

* Are Charter Schools Public? Some Parents Don’t Know

It’s been almost 12 years since Chicago opened its first charter school. But a report out Friday says many parents in the district still don’t know that the city’s charter schools are public and free.

* Honors Students Also Struggle at Robeson High School

* UI will try to avoid large tuition increase

* Community should rally to try to save, reform Irish parade

* St. Patrick’s Day: South Side Irish parade may march into the suburbs

* Southland towns consider salt-buying consortium

- Posted by Mike Murray   4 Comments      


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* *** UPDATED x1 - Quinn campaign responds *** Rauner campaign responds to firestorm over Sun-Times reporter's sidelining
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        * IBM Appears Close to Selling Chip Unit to GlobalFoundries
        * Jason Voorhees Is Here to Terrorize Your Computer, Maybe Corrupt Some Word Files, Too
        * Here’s a Twitter Debate Worth Reading
        * Lessons from Doctor Who: “Scared Is a Super Power”
        * Tweet a Short Story for a Chance to Win a Copy of Margaret Atwood's 'Stone Mattress'
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        * Lost in Isolation: A White Sox fan abroad.
        * Pnoles' 2014 White Sox offseason plan
        * Former White Sox star Rowand excited for 'little' cousin Shields
        * The South Side Sox 2014-15 White Sox offseason plan project
        * Sox coaches get to know young players in Glendale
        * The longest White Sox home runs of 2014
        * Alexei Ramirez remains top shortstop at turning two


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        * Republicans Crow As Questions Swirl Surrounding.....
        * McLean still fighting for cultivation center..
        * Birth control coverage big issue on the ballot..
        * Illinois voters to face a rare 5 ballot questions..
        * Rauner Allegedly Hammers, Shakes Sun-Times Afte.....


        * Obama urges Quinn supporters to vote early
        * Report: Springfield HS often missing armed guards
        * Belleville, Champaign, Peoria papers back Rauner
        * Peoria woman charged in man's stabbing death
        * Homeless man found dead in wooded area in Elgin
        * Elderly couple, both 87, die in house explosion
        * Chicago Sun-Times endorses Rauner for governor
        * Driver in deadly ATV crash in Illinois arrested
        * Illinois voters to face a rare 5 ballot questions
        * George Lucas fills in details on Chicago museum

        * Chicago Sun-Times endorses Rauner for governor
        * Sun-Times, Belleville, Champaign, Peoria newspapers endorse Rauner for governor
        * Bill Clinton to address workers at pro-Quinn rally
        * Body camera use concerns Illinois police officers
        * Illinois unemployment rate falls again, to 6.6 percent
        * Panel to look at body cameras in eavesdropping law discussion
        * Phil Luciano: Company paying surrounding counties to support Logan Co. marijuana growing center
        * Parties donate big to area legislative races
        * Reports give snapshot of 2014 spending
        * Quinn, Rauner school funding counting differs

        * How this exec hopes to strike it rich in water, again
        * Two local businesses profit from a jump in skydiving
        * Emanuel, Preckwinkle clash over mandatory minimums
        * John Murray leaves Chicago Sports Commission. What's next?
        * Rauner, GOP matching Madigan's money in House races


        * TIME TO GET AHEAD OF EBOLA
        * Editorial: Bruce Rauner for governor
        * Editorial: Why we are back in the endorsement business
        * Bruce Rauner for governor
        * Chicago Police officers overwhelmingly ratify contract
        * Judge in Pakistan recommends former city comptroller be extradited
        * Why we are back  in the endorsement business


        * Obama urges Democrats to vote early for Quinn
        * Man seriously wounded in West Englewood shooting
        * Aunt of slain teen: 'Emanuel, please do something about the violence'
        * Prosecutors: Man repeatedly whipped son, 13, with cord
        * 1 dead in single-car crash in northwest suburban Bull Valley
        * West Side woman held in boyfriend's stabbing death
        * 1 dead, 7 hurt in shootings since Saturday afternoon
        * Man in custody after 4 women found dead in Gary, Hammond
        * Police release sketch of man who tried to lure 2 kids on Southwest Side
        * Cragin: Gunfire now common in what was a quiet neighborhood


        * Removing The Pension Protection Clause
        * Listen to State Week - October 17, 2014
        * The health problems facing rural and urban poor in Illinois
        * 'Deliverance' Actor Plays Folk Music In Springfield
        * Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair?
        * Delay In Fracking Regulations Spurs Lawsuit
        * Privacy Issues Complicate Body Cams For Illinois Police
        * Let's Talk Kids - "The Cost of Worry"
        * Scary Story: The Neighborhood By Millicent Bliesener
        * Shaking "out" Illinois Today at 10:16 a.m.


        * Our Opinion: Re-elect Durbin for another term in U.S. Senate
        * Bill Press: Do you trust your government on Ebola?
        * Quote of the Day: Monday, Oct. 20, 2014
        * Our Opinion: Rodney Davis has earned another term
        * Bernard Schoenburg: CWLP’S Burns considers run for city treasurer
        * Rep. Mike Smiddy: Improving care for those fighting breast cancer
        * Deckle McLean: Party imbalance falls along urban, rural lines
        * Statehouse Insider: Does he wish he hasn’t asked that?
        * Chicago Sun-Times endorses Rauner for governor
        * Bill Clinton to address workers at pro-Quinn rally


        * UI golf roundup: Women win in Indiana
        * Illini not back in win column yet
        * Monday Morning QB: CBs prepare for isolation
        * Better Business Bureau warns of Ebola scams
        * The Weirdness that is Ween
        * JALC presents Meet Me in Paris
        * Homeless man found dead in wooded area in Elgin
        * Peoria woman charged in man's stabbing death
        * Belleville, Champaign, Peoria papers back Rauner
        * Spooks come out for Moline Halloween parade


        * Man found dead at wooded McHenry County crash scene
        * With stop in Illinois, Obama in campaign mode
        * Trestman trying to figure out what to do next
        * Pope beatifies Paul VI at remarkable synod's end
        * U.N. says Iraq has executed 60 people this year

        * Patrick Cannon defense strategy rare but n...
        * Feds fine Jesse Jackson Jr.'s campaign com...
        * Ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. faces sen...
        * Representative Jan Schakowsky Sends Letter...
        * Rep. candidate pushes to uphold marriage b...
        * Reps. Schakowsky and Waxman Introduce Bill...
        * Statement by Representative Jan Schakowsky...
        * U.S. House Passes Resolution Condemning An...
        * FAA Rejects Call For New O'Hare Noise Stud...
        * Representatives Quigley, Duckworth, Schako...

        * Our Opinion: Re-elect Durbin for another t......
        * Senator: Government Shutdown Would `Make U......
        * Senator: Government Shutdown Would `Make U......
        * Senator: Government Shutdown Would `Make U......
        * Senator: Government Shutdown Would `Make U......

        * Kirk wants travel ban for 3 Ebola-affected......
        * St. Louis-area lawmakers call for travel b......

        * United, American Airlines Execs' Contributions To Emanuel Skyrocket
        * Republicans Crow As Questions Swirl Surrounding Sun-Times' Rauner Endorsement
        * Don’t you wish our schools owned a TV station?
        * #Waukegan Strong Twitter storm. Monday from 7-9 PM. Everyone in the U.S. who reads this blog.
        * Dear Online Essay Writers: What to Do to Make the Best Online Writing
        * Never Fret! University Ideas And Methods To Aid
        * The "streak" era - how do you know you got the job?
        * The latest on Illinois’ Senate Bill 16. It’s a bill that will slice a very tiny cupcake of state school funding into different sizes.
        * Sunday reads.
        * Imaginary Numbers


        * Rauner Sweeping Endorsements Across Illinois
        * Belleville News-Democrat Endorses Rauner
        * Champaign News-Gazette Endorses Rauner
        * Peoria Journal Star Endorses Rauner
        * Chicago Sun-Times Endorses Rauner




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