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Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* Freddie King will play us out. Turn it up


Have you ever loved a woman
So much you tremble in pain?

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Friday afternoon music blogging - Tom Irwin

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* Over 20 years ago, I walked into Bruce’s Tavern at 11th & S. Grand on a Sunday night to buy a gallon of beer. Back then, you could buy gallons of draught beer in Springfield for less than $3. A gallon is about ten and a half beers, and that worked out quite well for those of us who didn’t have much cashola.

While waiting for Rich Bruce the bartender/owner to fill the jug, I couldn’t help but notice that some guy was playing guitar and singing. I didn’t pay much attention because I was on a beer run and he didn’t have what you would call a sweet voice.

What I didn’t know at the time was the guitar player was Tom Irwin. I had left Springfield for a year or so and Tom had become quite the rage with some of my friends at a different bar. They reminded me that most singer/songwriters take just a little getting used to, but that if I gave him a chance I’d see that his songs were brilliant.

So, the next Sunday I was back at Bruce’s to check this guy out. His songs blew me away. A big crowd favorite back then was “Crystal Palace,” with its admonitions against destroying the environment we live in…

Don’t throw stones
In the crystal palace
Or you may find it all come crashing down

* Tom was our local protest songwriter. He railed against the “White Folks Mall,” bemoaned being “stuck out here in Pleasant Plains,” and penned one of the most ferocious songs I’ve ever heard about police brutality. A local African-American man was found dead in his county jail cell after he was allegedly beaten by the cops. The coroner astonishingly declared that he had died of “natural causes.” Many of us were outraged at the time, and Tom poured those emotions into his ode


From the moment I heard that song, I was Tom’s fan for life. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be his friend over the years.

* Just about everybody who is into music in Springfield knows Tom Irwin. He’s a legend. Besides his frontman duties, he’s also played bass for Mr. Opporknockity and Elvis Himselvis and more bands than I can remember.

Here’s another personal favorite of mine, “Haven’t felt this good in a long, long time.” The background noise kinda distracts from it, but it’s surely worth a listen


* Lots of folks also know Tom from his weekly music column for the Illinois Times. What most people don’t know is that the two of us were almost business partners.

About 11 years ago, I was approached by a fledgling statewide radio network to do a weekly talk show. I came up with the idea of combining Tom’s music with political interviews, crazy poetry and even a quiz segment. It actually turned out better than it may sound here. We put four shows in the can (Judy Baar Topinka and Dan Hynes were guests on two of them), but before we could launch the new program the network fell apart and I eventually left Springfield for Chicago.

The opening song for the show was “Hootenanny Love Train Express,” which Tom wrote as a tribute to the huge crowds that eventually flocked to Bruce’s on Sunday nights for the weekly happening we at first called the “Sunday Hootenanny” and then shortened to “The Hoot”…

All aboard
All aboard
Be sure to wear your Sunday best

We’d often cram 100 people into that little space. It was free to get in and the beer was cheap and it was one of the greatest times of my entire life. The “Bruce’s Tavernacle Choir” - a bunch of us in the audience - would often join Tom or his other open mic night players at the microphone. We eventually got our own mic.

Another crowd favorite at Bruce’s was Digging in the Dirt


Most of the videos I’ve used here are from the the Capital Area Career Center TV station. I haven’t talked to Tom about it, so I don’t know why they posted the vids, but I’ve been haranguing him for years to make some videos so I could do a Friday Music Blogging post about him. So, I’m grateful.

* Bruce’s eventually shut down, and Tom moved the Sunday night extravaganza to the Brewhaus. From a recent SJ-R article

Irwin and a long list of musicians have performed almost every Sunday at the Brewhaus since it opened in October 1994. The current lineup usually features the Tom Irwin Trio (Irwin and Raoul and Chris Warren), with frequent appearances by Danny Kerwin.

“It’s the steadiest job I’ve ever had, and I greatly appreciate the continued support of area music fans,” Irwin said in an e-mail.

The Brewhaus bought the bar and back-bar used at Bruce’s, so it’s almost like going home.

I don’t go out Sunday nights as often as I’d like because I gotta make the doughnuts on Monday mornings for y’all. But I’ll stop in every now and then and talk to Tom and Raoul and the half-dozen or so friends who have been following both men from the very beginning.

As for Raoul, well, we’ll save that for another day.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


A lesson about hype

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* Bills get out of committee all the time and they often then clear their original chambers with huge majorities. But don’t look too much into it because it can mean nothing. The other chamber is where bills often go to die. So keep that in mind when you see headlines and ledes like these…

* Free ride over for seniors?: Across the State of Illinois, the days of free bus and train rides could be coming to a halt. On Thursday, the Illinois House overwhelmingly approved a measure to withdraw the perk for better-off seniors.

* Illinois lawmakers rethink free-rides perk for seniors: The days of free bus and train rides for most Illinois seniors could be numbered.

* Free CTA Rides for Seniors Might End: The Chicago Transit Agency may soon end free rides for seniors.

* Free Rides En Route To Being Over For Most Seniors: Illinois’ cash-strapped public transportation system is one step closer to ending its free rides for senior citizens across the state.

* No More Free Rides For Affluent Seniors: The free ride’s over for some seniors.

The Senate killed the free rides ban last year and Gov. Quinn said back then that he was in favor of keeping the free rides for all seniors. And today, Quinn reiterated his position with a hedge…

Gov. Pat Quinn says he doesn’t think a move to rescind free transit rides for senior citizens will pass. […]

Quinn on Friday wouldn’t say if he would sign the measure to limit the benefit. He says he doesn’t think that will pass the Illinois Senate.

We see this a lot. A bill gets assigned to a committee and everyone goes nuts, or it passes a committee (like the aforementioned aldermanic petition bill) and people assume it’ll be law. That’s not the way things work at the Statehouse.

Anyway, here are some more bills that cleared one hurdle or another and received press coverage today…

* Legislature moving fast to move primary election back to March

* Editorial: Open mockery

* Tougher rules for cabbies nearing

* Legislative scholarships may end in Illinois

- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      


Question of the day

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* OK, it’s Friday, I have a lot more to do today, but let’s have a little non-political fun for a change. This map is almost a couple of years old, but here’s the Illinois county break-out on what we call sodafied beverages…

The national map is here.

* The Question: Does your terminology match up with your county? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   80 Comments      


Double-talk and platitudes while the budget crashes

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* Our quote of the week goes to Sen. Bill Brady

“You can’t cut yourself out of the $10 to $13 billion [deficit] that they’ve accumulated in the Blagojevich/Quinn administration over the last eight years. So what we have to do is we have to reconcile ourselves into a budget that’s not just balanced but has a surplus so that we can begin paying down the backlog of unpaid bills that are referred to as the $13 billion deficit.”

That’s not a fake quote. I swear. Watch the video


So, we can’t cut our way out of the deficit, but we can’t raise taxes. Instead, we need a budget surplus so that we can pay down the overdue bills.

OK, if we can’t cut our way out of this, how do we go about creating that surplus?

“Well, you do it the way businesses and families have done it. Every business and every family has had to deconstruct and reconstruct and reconcile its spending within its means.”

So, what about that ten percent across the board cut Brady proposed during the primary? Is that now “repurposed” as “deconstruction and reconstruction”?

We need a lot more details here or this can all be dismissed as mere pablum. Who gets deconstructed? Who gets reconstructed? Apparently, schools are not exempt


The full Brady interview is here.

…Adding… The $13 billion deficit is not all “unpaid bills,” as Brady claims in that first quote. About half of it is unpaid bills, the other half is a structural problem. We’ve gone over this before with him, but he’s apparently not yet figured it out.

* Meanwhile, the Bloomington Pantagraph’s editorial board is becoming an expert at writing long-winded editorials demanding that the Statehouse do something about the budget without actually saying whether they’d prefer tax hikes, steep cuts or both

If the governor and Legislature really want to help the universities, then they should get serious about addressing the state’s financial problems and pay what’s owed. […]

The sooner the state quits acting like the person who thinks there’s still money in his account because there are checks in his checkbook, the better all of us will be.

I think I like Brady’s answer better.

* Meanwhile, the carnage ain’t pretty

[IL superintendent of education Chris Koch] said the state is still trying to reduce a large backlog of education-related payments from as far back as October.

“Of course the State Board (of Education) issues the vouchers, the money is just not there.”

“We have over 18,000 outstanding vouchers and…almost $700 million in vouchers that are outstanding,” he said.

Yikes.

Here’s a roundup of school budget woe stories. It’s just too depressing to excerpt them all…

* Central Illinois school superintendents expect more cuts ahead

* South Pekin to cut music, art teachers

* Prospect of more cuts looms for struggling schools

* Teachers turn out for school district budget forum

* Chicago schools warn of $900-million shortfall

* More CPS job cuts as $975 million deficit looms

* CPS Announces Job Cuts, Paints Dire Budget Outlook

* No way around CPS teacher pay freeze

* Chicago Public Schools’ Chief Looks to Unions to Save Money

* For kindergartners’ full day, parents will pay

And it’s not just the schools

While revenue projections for Peoria County are flat for 2010, the larger concern rests with payments from the state of Illinois, where all sources of funding are suspect, said a Peoria County financial officer.

* Related…

* Tell Quinn how Illinois’ budget can be balanced

* Illinois Seeks to Boost Taxes, Cut Spending

* State revenues down everywhere

- Posted by Rich Miller   82 Comments      


Reform and Renewal

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* The Senate Dems kinda-sorta unveiled their redistricting plan yesterday. What I mean is, they held a press conference, but didn’t introduce an actual bill

Under [the SDem] plan the legislature would draw the new map. If they chose to de-nest the districts, not have the same districts for the Senate and the House, then each chamber would draw its own map and pass it with a three-fifths vote. If they decided to stick to the current nested system, then the General Assembly would create one map that would pass as a bill and require the governor’s signature.

If the legislature cannot agree on a map, or maps, by June 30, 2011, a commission, appointed by the legislative leaders would get the job. The leaders would each appoint seven members to the 14-member commission to create a map for approval by the General Assembly. If that doesn’t work, the Democrat’s plan mirrors the Republican one in the creation of a special master to draw the map. That master would be chosen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and a justice of the other party.

The major difference between the parties’ plans is who draws the first map. In the Democrat’s plan the legislature does it, while in the Republican plan it is a commission appointed by the leaders. This is the point on which it seems neither side is willing to compromise.

Sen. Raoul was pretty up-front about the GOP/reformer demands that legislators be entirely removed from the mapmaking process

…Trying to take politics out of the process is a non-starter, [Raoul] said.

“I think we should be honest about that. The redistricting process is inherently political,” Raoul said.

That’s a fundamental difference.

Here’s some video from yesterday’s presser


The Republicans were not kind in their criticism

“The Democrat plan allows the General Assembly to pick its voters in every district,” said State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

Sen. Righter also claimed that the new SDem idea was actually worse than the current redistricting apparatus. Watch


* In other reform news, I’m always a bit torn when it comes to minimum signature requirements. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that would-be candidates have to knock on lots of doors in the rain and snow to get on the ballot. Putting together a decent petition drive can be a great tune-up for the upcoming campaign.

On its face, a bill requiring aldermanic candidates to gather 500 signatures doesn’t sound too horrific. That ain’t a lot. So, at first, this Progress Illinois piece seemed a bit off

We recently stumbled across a bill (HB6000) introduced by State Rep. Joe Lyons (D-Chicago) that would make it a whole lot harder for new candidates to get on ballots in 2011. Lyons is attempting to bump up the number of required signatures on nominating petitions in Chicago elections to 500. Compared the current requirement — a mere 2 percent of the votes cast in the ward during the preceding election year — enacting the measure would raise the threshold in every ward. In some, the increase would be dramatic; last election cycle, for example, a 22nd Ward candidate only needed 87 names.

87 names? Sheesh. That seems way too low.

But, PI goes on to make a good point…

There’s another catch too. Lyons’ measure — which passed out of committee this week and is headed to the House floor for a vote — seeks to codify a state statue that ensures each voter can only ink one candidate’s petition. That’s currently the lay of the state election law, Jim Allen from the Chicago Board of Elections points out, but it has been routinely challenged because of a gray area in another state statute known as the Revised Cities and Villages Act of 1941. That, of course, would be eliminated by writing the rule into the amended statue.

Voters will be the big losers if the measure is adopted, David Morrison from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform tells us. “It really puts a terrible burden on petition signers,” he says. “And in small wards, [candidates] could rack up 2,000 or 3,000 signatures and there would be no one left to sign.”

Well, not quite “no one,” but point well taken. The bill removes the cap on the maximum number of signatures that can be submitted at once, so the proposal could encourage vacuuming up as many sigs as humanly possible.

Therefore, I actually have to agree with the Tribune editorial board today

Could they at least lay off the crass attempts to protect the members of the City Council? Come on. Stuff the Lyons bill. It’s an insult to your constituents.

* Today’s other Tribune editorial, however, is a bit silly. The Mother Ship is just beside Herself with rage at the lack of progress on ethics reforms

Instead we’ll just point out that it’s February — late February — and lawmakers have shown little interest in finishing what they barely started last year.

Yeah. It’s February. The House’s 3rd Reading deadline for House bills is March 26th - a month away.

The Tribune also claimed that not much reform was passed last year. FOIA reform, contracting reform and campaign contribution caps - no matter how leaky - were all enacted last year.

And as far as the caps are concerned, how did they work out for the Tribune’s favorite US Senate candidate David Hoffman? The white knight reformer had to mostly self fund because he found out the hard way that outsiders have a real problem raising lots of money under the capped federal system. Heck, the Tribune opposes caps anyway on principle, except for last year, when the editorial board raged about how the state reformers’ cap plan was being blocked, even though the Tribune didn’t like the idea in the first place.

Sigh.

And what about this year? I doubt any of the reformers thought they could reopen the campaign finance reform stuff this session. Their focus right now is redistricting reform. They’ll most likely get back to the finance reform after there’s actually been an election under the changes enacted last year.

* Ever the “me too” little brother, the Daily Herald edit board also raged and rambled about an allegedly stalled campaign finance reform bill today.

Somebody apparently did a great job yesterday of ginning up these two papers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


Learn history’s lessons - or face the consequences

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* My Sun-Times column today takes a look back while looking ahead

I ran into Glenn Poshard the other day.

As I walked away from our pleasant little chitchat, I told my intern that Illinois would be a far different place today if Poshard had been elected governor in 1998 when he ran against George Ryan.

Federal prosecutors might not have had much interest in going after somebody who’d been voted out of public life. Even if they did, and Ryan still wound up in prison, he’d be an ex-secretary of state, not an ex-governor.

If the Democrat Poshard had prevailed, his fellow Dem Rod Blagojevich most likely wouldn’t have been elected governor four years later. Considering who he is, Blagojevich might’ve wound up in trouble with the law anyway, but not as our governor.

One big reason Poshard didn’t win was he was considered too far to the right for the Chicago area. Glenn Poshard was pro-gun, pro-life and anti-gay rights. Ryan had a reputation for being a conservative, but he ran to the left of Poshard on social issues and won.

Poshard won heavily Democratic Cook County by only 128,000 votes. To put that into perspective, Rod Blagojevich won Cook by over 500,000 votes in 2006. If Poshard had won Cook by just half that amount, he would’ve defeated George Ryan.

Sen. Bill Brady, the likely Republican gubernatorial nominee this year, has pretty much the same stances on social issues as Poshard.

Understandably, the Democrats will do all they can to scare people about Brady, and he isn’t doing himself any favors by reintroducing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Brady also caught some heat this week for recently introducing a bill to re-legalize the currently banned use of gas chambers to “euthanize” large numbers of dogs and cats at once. Illinois is home to almost twice as many Illinois pet owners as expected voters this November. Oops.

When Ryan defeated Poshard in 1998, the economy was humming along wonderfully, the state budget had a billion-dollar surplus and the last governor to go to prison for acts committed while he was in office was 30 years earlier.

I’m not saying that abortion rights, or gay rights or gun rights or even pet rights are unimportant here. They are to a whole lot of people. That pet gassing bill might actually say more about who Brady is than anything else. All of it deserves coverage and plenty of debate.

But Illinois’ unemployment is now over 11 percent. The projected state budget deficit is almost half of its operating budget. We’ve got one former governor in prison and another one on deck.

So far, Gov. Quinn hasn’t really come up with many great ideas to solve most of these problems. His budget plans have been unworkable and have therefore been tossed aside; his economic plan is mostly confined to public works projects; his reforms, while significant, have fallen somewhat short.

Brady’s budget plan is to slash programs and cut taxes, so we need to know far more about how, exactly, those ideas would truly impact Illinois. His economic program is somewhat vague, and while some of his reform ideas are pretty good, it’s unclear whether he can make them happen.

So, by all means, let’s pay attention to the hot buttons and the character issues, but this year we all need to give at least equal weight to how these two guys intend to repair the wreckage created after Glenn Poshard lost to George Ryan. The times absolutely demand it.

* Meanwhile, Brady’s gas chamber bill has Michael Sneed and Gov. Pat Quinn in an uproar and Quinn is vowing to keep the story alive

Gov. Quinn, the devoted owner of the state’s first dog, Bailey, is on the war path over a dangerous dog path.

• Translation: Quinn is aghast over legislation that was pushed by Quinn’s likely opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, which could have allowed the mass killing of frightened, fighting and gasping shelter animals in a box of 10!

• Upshot: Quinn, who has a yelping 12-year-old Yorkshire terrier, is so incensed, he channeled up a dog legend Thursday. “If that bill had ever gotten out of the Legislature, I’d veto it faster than you can say Rin Tin Tin!” Quinn told Sneed.

• Tipshot: Watch for Quinn to show up Saturday at the dog rescue section of the 2010 Chicago Dog Show at McCormick Place to show his displeasure over the legislation, which wound up being gutted by Brady on Wednesday after being condemned as cruel by the Humane Society of the United States.

(The heinous legislation was first tipped in Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax newsletter, Springfield’s political must-read.)

• Dogshot: Sneed is told Quinn has invited Uno, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show award-winning Illinois beagle, to visit the mansion anytime.

- Posted by Rich Miller   74 Comments      


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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Jason Plummer discovers that live TV ain’t easy

Friday, Feb 26, 2010

* Take it from me, doing live TV is a whole lot harder than it looks. One little screwup and you look like a freaking moron.

Republican lt. governor nominee Jason Plummer had one of those moments on Chicago Tonight last night. Less than two minutes into his interview with host Phil Ponce, he lost his train of thought and completely froze up. Phil mercifully bailed him out. Have a look

Almost the same thing happened to me last night during a speech to Model Illinois Government. I was able to make a funny joke about it, though, and move along. That comes from experience. Plummer doesn’t have much of that yet.

What I always try to do is watch the tapes of my live appearances. It’s a painful exercise, but it’s the only way to learn. Plus, I’ve learned a few tricks about how to attract attention at crucial moments during panel discussions or undermine somebody else’s arguments - and that’s crucial if another person on the program is, um, dissembling.

Watching and learning is essential. Back during the impeachment brouhaha, I was on Chicago Tonight and I thought the camera was shooting Carol Marin and I from the shoulders up. Nope. Most of our bodies were in the shot while I was unconsciously twiddling my thumbs. Oops. But because I watched the replay, you won’t ever see me do that stupid thing again.

* Anyway, Plummer’s performance during the rest of the interview wasn’t exactly stellar, either. Ponce is an expert at calmly and dispassionately taking apart his guests, and this interview was no exception…

“So, in terms of what you got out of those internships that would help you be governor, what would you say?”

Oof.

Plummer’s answer to why the Madison County Republican Party rented an office from his family and paid $13,000 in rent and fees while he was chairman wasn’t the greatest…

“That was the best retail location. It was the only one available at that time for that function.”

The only retail location in all of Madison County? Really? Luckily for Plummer, Ponce let that one go by.

Go have a look.

- Posted by Rich Miller   60 Comments      


New poll has big leads for Quinn, Giannoulias; Claypool won’t answer; “Fiddling while Rome burns”

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* A new statewide poll taken by Research 2000 for Daily Kos has Pat Quinn and Alexi Giannoulias with significant leads over their GOP opponents. Full results here.

First, a big advantage for Quinn vs. Brady…

Pat Quinn’s favorables…

Bill Brady’s favorables…

* Giannoulias vs. Kirk

Giannoulias’ most recent poll had him ahead 49-45. Research 2K’s last poll in January had the race at 38-30.

The poll of 600 likely voters had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. It was taken Feb. 22-24.

From the Hotline

After a tougher primary race and whispers of a scandal surrounding a bank associated with Giannoulias’ family, Giannoulias is actually more popular than Kirk, according to the poll. Giannoulias is viewed favorably by 49% of respondents, while 34% view him unfavorably. Kirk’s fav/unfav rating stands at 42%/35%.

Despite a difficult climate for their party, Dems have been seeking to portray Kirk as the DC insider in the race. Among indies — those most likely to be disillusioned with DC — Giannoulias leads Kirk by the smallest of margins, 36-35%.

Kirk trounced challenger Patrick Hughes, who ran to his right, in the GOP primary. But his moderate creds, such as support for the Dem energy bill last spring, aren’t yet paying off in the general. He is capturing just 9% of the Dem vote in the poll, while Giannoulias holds 71% of Dems.

Meanwhile, IL’s most famous DC export, Pres. Obama, remains popular among the voters he once represented in the Senate. Fully 60% of ‘10 LVs view Obama favorably, while 36% have an unfavorable impression of him.

* I’m not the only one who can’t get a call-back from Forrest Claypool

Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who’s retiring from that spot to go into private business, so far isn’t returning calls about a report in Capitol Fax that the White House wants him to replace Mr. Cohen on the November ticket.

Mr. Claypool has, frankly, seemed a bit burned out on public life lately, and winning in November is no sure thing. On the other hand, the commissioner is the best of buddies with presidential counselor David Axelrod, who can be mighty persuasive.

* Our afternoon video was taken by my intern Dan Weber. Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) criticized the General Assembly this afternoon during a speech on the House floor for adjourning so early on yet another “go home” day. Nekritz said she thought that the GA was “fiddling while Rome burns.”

Dan followed up and here’s what she had to say


- Posted by Rich Miller   65 Comments      


Question of the day

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* Devise bumper sticker slogans for both the Pat Quinn and Bill Brady gubernatorial campaigns. Snark heavily encouraged.

…Adding… Since he got 10 percent last time and might do pretty well this time, we should probably include Green Party candidate Rich Whitney.

- Posted by Rich Miller   108 Comments      


Six degrees of separation

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* I’m not sure exactly what this means, but hizzoner’s comments probably sent a chill down more than a few Statehouse spines

Don’t expect to see video poker any time soon in the city of Chicago.

That’s according to Mayor Richard Daley. The machines are banned in the city. The City Council would have to repeal that ban, but Daley says that’s not on the radar.

DALEY: So I don’t know how anybody can come out for it if we don’t allow video poker in Chicago. No, there’s no discussion. No one’s ever even brought it up.

The state of Illinois approved a measure legalizing video poker last year. That was designed to raise revenue to help the state deal with a massive budget debt. Daley has previously spoken out in favor of video poker.

If Chicago doesn’t approve video gaming, they’re gonna have to find another way to fund the capital bill.

Most likely, Daley wants to put off any decision until after next year’s election. It wouldn’t exactly be easy convincing aldermen to vote to legalize the machines with all the other grief they’re getting from constituents on parking, schools, mass transit, etc.

* Speaking of capital projects, an attempt to keep Illinois’ outsized share of federal transportation dollars jumped the tracks yesterday

The $15-billion jobs bill the Senate passed Wednesday morning hit a roadblock in the House in the afternoon, partly because it steers a large amount of highway funding to Illinois.

Some House Democrats are balking at the Senate bill because four large states would get 58% of $932 million in highway construction money set aside for special projects. Illinois would get 16%, or about $151 million; California would get 30%, and 22 states would get none.

The controversy means Congress probably will have to pass yet another short-term renewal of federal highway programs for 30 days, instead of the one-year extension the Senate adopted, creating uncertainty and making it more difficult for bidding to proceed on major highway contracts this spring. The law authorizing federal highway expenditures otherwise expires Sunday.

The dispute harkens back to the 2005 surface transportation bill and the additional funding that Illinois and some other states received for special projects when former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, was in power. Illinois got the second-largest share of those earmarks, which were allocated separately from highway funding distributed by traditional formulas based on population and other factors.

* And speaking of DC, Congressman Aaron Schock is involving himself in some state central committee races and sparking curiosity about his future plans

Are U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, and his chief of staff, Steven Shearer, trying to influence who gets on the Republican State Central Committee? And if so, why?

Those questions are being asked by some Republican county chairmen in central Illinois.

And some of them are asking another question as well: Is Schock preparing the way to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in 2014?

* And speaking of political parties

The Illinois House speaker, and leader of Democrats in the state, says only a handful of people have contacted him personally about becoming the party’s lieutenant governor candidate.

One of those is Raja Krishnamoorthi. He’s the former Peorian who narrowly lost the democratic primary for comptroller.

More on Krishnamoorthi

Less than a month after Krishnamoorthi narrowly lost his Democratic bid for comptroller, he has launched an entirely new political campaign. The Hoffman Estates resident said he has reached out to every committee member to stress what he could bring to that office: votes in the suburbs and downstate.

He also would continue themes cited in his February comptroller bid that he says would transition well to the lieutenant governor’s office: transparency, reform and accountability in government.

Response from members of the central committee has been positive, Krishnamoorthi said Wednesday while in Peoria, where he grew up.

* And speaking of the lt. governor

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan to abolish the office of lieutenant governor in 2015 advanced Wednesday despite Republican concerns that too many proposed constitutional amendments might be vying for the November ballot. […]

In a letter to Democratic leaders, House Republican leader Tom Cross warned that a “judicious and prioritized approach” is needed to decide which amendments should go before the voters due to restrictions on the number that can appear on the ballot. Other amendments under consideration, for example, include redistricting reform and a progressive income tax.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Lou Lang’s proposal that would require candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team in the primary cleared a House committee Tuesday. Lang, a Skokie Democrat, said his proposal made more sense than completely abolishing the office because it “would solve the problem you’ve heard recently of candidates not being vetted by political parties.”

* While we’re on the subject of primaries

Illinois lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to push back the state’s early February primary to a later date.

A Senate committee and then the full Senate Wednesday voted without opposition for Senate Bill 355, which would move Illinois primaries to the third week of March. That’s when it was traditionally held before it was moved up to early February in 2007 to help then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The measure now heads to the House.

Charles Thomas says the date change should’ve happened sooner

The fact remains that the General Assembly’s powers-that-be could have [changed the primary date] last year and affected the election three weeks ago. Former IRC chairman Patrick Collins told me the 2009 non-decision was like “passing an incumbent’s protection act” in Illinois because the short campaign season favored those already in office and gave Cullerton and Madigan the best chance to sustain their democratic majorities in the Senate and House.

Collins’ prediction didn’t work out too well considering the lt. governor’s race.

* Prosecutor Joe Birkett may sit out the next primary

With the murderer of Jeanine Nicarico now sitting on death row, DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett said it is getting time for him to find a new seat as well.

Birkett said during an informal press conference Wednesday that when his term is over in November 2012, he likely will not seek re-election.

* Birkett also made some interesting allegations yesterday

The special prosecutor whose investigation led to criminal charges against seven DuPage County law officers for their handling of the Jeanine Nicarico murder case earlier had told prosecutors they had a “moral obligation” to try the case, DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett said Wednesday.

Birkett said William J. Kunkle, who in 1999 prosecuted the so-called DuPage 7 case, had five years earlier reviewed the case for then-State’s Attorney Jim Ryan. At that time, the Illinois Supreme Court had just overturned the second conviction of one of the Nicarico defendants, Rolando Cruz.

Kunkle told Ryan “not only is there sufficient evidence to go forward, you have a moral obligation to take the case to trial,” Birkett said.

He also said this

In an extraordinary, two-hour interview with a handful of reporters and commentators — including some who have been highly critical of his office — Du Page County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett said Wednesday morning that, in his opinion, charges never should have been brought against the three initial suspects in the Jeanine Nicarico murder case.

* Other stuff…

* Tensions Rise over Redistricting

* Senate committee OKs helmets for motorcyclists younger than 18

* Illinois ponders ‘sexting’ trend

* Oak Lawn considers video gambling

* Voice of The Southern: Let state voters choose between doctors and lawyers

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


Not scary enough, or is it?

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* Sorry, but you’re just not gonna scare many people with $2 billion in cuts

Gov. Pat Quinn laid the groundwork Wednesday for another push at an income tax hike, previewing a grim spending plan that would severely cut money for education, social services and public safety yet still leave the state with a yawning budget gap. […]

Quinn unveiled the gloomy picture on a state Web site, budget.illinois.gov, asking citizens to e-mail any ideas that might help alleviate a budget shortfall he estimates at more than $11 billion.

And that’s after Quinn’s proposed $2 billion in cuts, including $922 million from elementary and high school spending, and about $400 million from public universities and colleges. Human services programs would take a $400 million hit and public safety would lose $69 million.

Then again

A spokeswoman for House Republican Leader Tom Cross terms the Guv’s plan “a set up” that seeks to force lawmakers into raising taxes by clobbering school spending.

Um, Tom? Dude, these proposed cuts are nothing considering the overall budget hole.

* Meanwhile, subscribers know the answer to this question

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D­Chicago, would not say Wednesday if he ad­vised Quinn to avoid calling for a tax hike now.

My own personal opinion is that Quinn should not ask for a tax hike and just run a very real, very stark budget without new revenues. The governor disagrees

Quinn supported an income tax hike, and various tax hike proposals could raise $3 bil­lion to $5 billion.

“I don’t think he’s wavered at all,” Vaught said of Quinn’s stance.

Bill Brady had some harsh criticisms about the tax hike plan

State Sen. Bill Brady, the Bloomington Republican running for governor, said a Quinn-backed tax increase would hurt the Illinois economy.

“The governor is out in left field here. I mean, he’s completely out of line. People are struggling in Illinois,” said Brady, who contended higher taxes would drive away more jobs and put more Illinois families at risk. “I’m hopeful that we’re able to persuade whoever we have to persuade that this is absolutely the wrong time to increase the tax rate.”

Brady has maintained he would address the budget woes largely by making across-the-board cuts in spending, rolling back taxes and fees, including the estate tax, and taking advantage of economic growth that would respond to a better business climate. Brady would not answer whether borrowing would be needed under his approach.

* And while the governor and the GA decide what to do, some local schools are hoping to try something new

The Jamaica school district in southern Vermilion County could save as much as $100,000 a year by moving to a four-day school week, Superintendent Mark Janesky said Wednesday.

Janesky and state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, appeared before the House Education Committee to promote Black’s bill that would allow school districts to lengthen their school day while shortening their school week. The bill is being held in committee, Black said, while the State Board of Education reviews it.

I read somewhere that a Utah legislator has proposed balancing that state’s budget by eliminating 12th Grade.

Your thoughts?

* Related…

* Schools to take wallop in 2011 state budget

* Quinn releases budget numbers

* Budget plan threatens big cuts at schools, colleges

* New Budget Website May Prove To Be Too Much For Some Illinoisans

* State Senate restricts legislative scholarships: The measure would ban a legislator from giving a scholarship to someone whose family could be linked to a campaign contribution within the previous five years. In addition, family members of a scholarship recipient could not give a campaign contribution for five years to a lawmaker who distributed the award.

* Ill. Senate President blocks proposals to end tuition waivers

* Ill. Senate advances scholarship changes

* Senate approves GA scholarship reforms

* Plan to eliminate lt. gov advances

* Curtailing free rides a fair compromise

* Sorry seniors, but free rides worth cutting

* Illinois House votes to apply income limits to free rides for seniors

* Free CTA Rides for Seniors Might End

* How your lawmakers voted

* Illinois House votes to limit free rides for seniors

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** The back and forth continues: Collins defends himself

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* Yesterday, I told you about how House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown had written a letter flatly denying claims in Patrick Collins’ new book. Brown allegedly “essentially proposed that the [Illinois Reform Commission] cut a deal with the legislature,” according to Collins, who did not name Brown in the book. The allegations resulted from a meeting Brown had with reform commission member Brad McMillan.

Today, Collins published his own letter responding to Brown

Brown claims I intentionally distorted what happened at the meeting. He is wrong.

Within hours of the Brown meeting, McMillan contacted me and described the unusual session - the two had not previously met - in an e-mail being released today.

“Steve shared his thoughts that the panel had very little real-world political experience and ‘almost none of them had ever written a political campaign check.’ I told him that while the panel may not be the most experienced politically, it was a very diverse and talented group that was truly independent,” McMillan wrote.

Brown also told McMillan that Speaker Madigan wondered whether an agreement could be reached to “avoid a direct confrontation.”

“Steve also had done some research on my campaign for the Illinois Appellate Court (3rd District) and knew that I had taken out a personal loan that was paid back by the generosity of my supporters following my loss in the Republican primary. I think the point he was trying to make is don’t change the system because candidates will not be able to afford to run for political office if you limit contributions. In his opinion, the current rules are fine and it is just a few bad apples giving Illinois a bad reputation. I also think he was subtly trying to show that they were looking into the backgrounds of the commissioners,” McMillan continued.

I have never characterized the meeting as a shakedown. However, I do believe it was Springfield’s way of telling us prospects for success would be dim if our report veered from leadership’s script.

The meeting also troubled other commission members. Nonetheless, we chose to move forward and do our work over the next 100 days. We traveled Illinois, took testimony, drafted a comprehensive blueprint for reform and wrote legislation.

Brown and his boss did not like most of our proposed reforms. And so we lost. That’s the way it works.

By executive order, our commission expired last May. Since that time, a number of us have continued to promote reform as private citizens. That fact galls Brown, as he claims it is important to raise issues about my credibility now lest I further mislead the public.

Brown’s calculated personal attacks do not trouble me. What does trouble me as a citizen is the revelation that he disagrees with the premise of my book that there is a culture of corruption in Illinois that must be challenged. He believes that having 1,500 people - including several governors - convicted of corruption in 40 years is evidence of a 99.99 percent ethical government.

Many of us disagree. Beyond indictments, there are significant parts of government that are broken. Brown has been part of a team that has had power for over two decades to change Illinois, but they have chosen to steer their own course. They have to take their share of the responsibility for the plight we face, both on ethics and on Illinois’ monumental fiscal crisis.

Collins sent me the full McMillan letter, which you can read by clicking here.

I asked Brown today if he specifically passed along the information about how Speaker Madigan wanted to “avoid a direct confrontation.” Brown said he didn’t remember doing it and wouldn’t have anyway because Madigan wasn’t much interested in the reform commission at that point.

Brown also said he would respond in the comment section today.

*** UPDATE *** I have Collins’ book, and this is what he wrote…

Within days of the [Illinois Reform Commission’s] formation, we received a not-so-subtle message about the type of reception that awaited us in Springfield.

Unbeknownst to me, one of our commission members received an unexpected call from a top aide to Speaker Michael Madigan. He asked the member to meet for coffee to discuss “ideas on ethics reform,” and the member agreed to meet. However, instead of any discussion or exchange of substantive ideas on ethics reform, the aide essentially proposed that the IRC cut a deal with the legislature up front in order to avoid, as the aide put it, a direct “confrontation” with the legislative leadership.

When I received word of this visit, I passed on the information of the not-so-subtle message we were being sent to my fellow commissioners. Our decision: There would be no backroom deals; we would roll up our sleeves, get to work, and generate a thoughtful product for the public.

So, did Collins overstate the content of the meeting in order to gin up his fellow commissioners? Or was this a legit read of the meeting?

- Posted by Rich Miller   46 Comments      


Brady backs off pet gas chamber bill

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* After two years of negotiations, the Humane Society of Illinois succeeded in passing legislation to ban the use of gas chambers to kill several dogs and cats at once. From the June, 2009 press release

The Humane Society of the United States, on behalf of its more than 448,000 supporters in Illinois, commends the state’s General Assembly for passing legislation at the close of the session banning the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers in shelters and animal control facilities. The new law also bans the use of carbon monoxide gas as a form of euthanasia statewide, so puppy mills will no longer be able to use makeshift gas chambers using engine exhaust.

“The Illinois legislature has spoken clearly that in those unfortunate situations where an animal must be euthanized, they deserve that it be done humanely,” said Jordan Matyas, Illinois state director for The HSUS. “The use of the gas chamber is less humane, more expensive, and more time consuming than the use of lethal injection.

Sen. Bill Brady voted against the legislation.

Two days after the February 2nd primary, Brady introduced a bill to re-legalize mass euthanasia via gas chambers. I told subscribers about this situation yesterday, and the Sun-Times and Lee Newspapers picked it up today. From the Sun-Times

The GOP’s likely nominee for governor, state Sen. Bill Brady, came under fire Wednesday from a leading animal-rights group for pushing legislation to allow the mass killing of stray shelter animals in gas chambers.

Brady (R-Bloomington) introduced the legislation sought by an animal-control facility in his district on Feb. 2, two days after the GOP gubernatorial primary that he now leads. […]

“I have no idea why Sen. Brady introduced a bill that would allow as many animals as you want to be put into a gas chamber and they’d be exposed to one another,” said Jordan Matyas, the Humane Society’s state director.

“Under his legislation, you could have 10 dogs in one box, gasping for air, at the same time fighting, at the same time fearing for their lives,” said Matyas, whose group has more than 400,000 members in Illinois. “Even if the animals are separated, you still have to run the gas chamber 20 to 40 minutes, which takes a lot more time than an injection.”

Lee

Brady said a veterinarian in his district asked that lawmakers consider making the change. But Wednesday, Brady moved to shelve the legislation.

Brady, the possible GOP candidate for governor, said he wanted to have a debate over how to tweak the plan but pointed criticisms from the Humane Society have killed that possibility.

“It’s not ready,” Brady said of the legislation. “And the political games were distracting from the discussion.”

Since my story appeared, Brady has filed an amendment to shell out the offending language and handed off sponsorship to Sen. John O. Jones.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 54 percent of Illinois households own a pet. That works out to almost 2.5 million households. Average Illinois household size is 2.63, so that means about 6.5 million people have a family pet. That’s almost twice the number of people who voted in the 2006 gubernatorial general election (about 3.5 million).

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   51 Comments      


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Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

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