* The Senate might return this summer, apparently, but they are adjourning today without taking up the pension borrowing bill. From the Senate Democrats…
The Senate is returning to the floor to vote on the Emergency Budget Act, the McPier Trailer Bill and a list of other measures. The pension borrowing bill is not on that list.
President Cullerton supports the bill, but it is clear that there are not enough votes to pass it today.
Like last year’s pension borrowing solution, the Governor will need Republican support before the bill passes the Senate. A few House Republicans took responsible action on the borrowing bill, and we will need a similar number of Senate Republicans to support the measure here.
If there is evidence of Republican support in the next few weeks, President Cullerton is will reconvene the Senate this summer to pass the bill.
Ask yourself this: If you were in charge of Illinois, would you take out a 10-year, $12 billion loan with strong provisions for quick payback in return for two things:
* tax rebates for Illinois families totaling $690 billion from 2021 to 2045; and
* a constitutionally-protected spending growth limit that reins in spending to the rate of inflation plus population and cannot be changed without voter approval?
This is the choice offered by implementing our Pension Funding and Fairness Act, in combination with the modest pension benefit reforms proposed by Governor Pat Quinn in 2009.
We think the choice is obvious. Do we stick with “business as usual” in Illinois and continue to bankrupt our state, or choose long-term, fiscally responsible programs that address the harsh realities facing our state? […]
True, our proposal reluctantly endorses borrowing. But it does so to address the real political and policy challenges facing Illinois in a proactive and practical way.
The lack of leadership from elected officials in our state reared its ugly head again this week. Illinois will likely be stuck with another unbalanced budget this year, thanks in large part to two retiring Republican legislators.
Rep. Bill Black and Rep. Bob Biggins joined House Democrats in voting for a $3.7 billion borrowing plan to make the state’s annual pension payment. Instead of putting the pension contribution at the front of the payment line—where it belongs after years of neglect—and then allocating remaining resources to various programs, this plan takes the pressure off the General Assembly to balance the budget without gimmicks. This irresponsible borrowing package was such a bad idea that leaders had to bring it up for a vote twice in order to pass it.
Then again, maybe it is easier to stick the next generation with a bigger bill when you’re retiring from office and won’t have to deal with the consequences next year and thereafter. Unfortunately, taxpayers continue to pay the salaries of elected officials who choose punting the hard decisions until next year instead of rolling up their sleeves to do the job they were elected to do – even the ones retiring.
A loan to make pension payments and fund tax rebates is sound policy but a loan to make pension payments and avoid a tax increase while still making budget cuts is not?
* Meanwhile, Attorney General Lisa Madigan showed her tax returns to Greg Hinz…
There wasn’t much in the reports — she and her husband have survived exclusively on her state pay and her husband’s sporadic income as an artist, paid their taxes and given a bit to charity — so there’s not much the public needs to know.
But that’s not the case all time, so the pressure will continue on, say, wealthy GOP gubernatorial candidate Jason Plummer to tell us how much he paid in taxes.
* House Speaker Michael Madigan spent about 15 minutes with reporters today after he adjourned the chamber to the call of the chair.
Part 2 is the more interesting video. Right off the bat, he bluntly admits that the budget he passed is not balanced, which is a blatant admission that it’s unconstitutional.
Madigan also talks about the impact the Rod Blagojevich trial will have on the election, and particularly on his own House members. He cracked how the Bill Brady campaign is the “best thing for the Quinn campaign.” It’s well worth a watch…
Sen. Bill Brady issued a statement claiming that Quinn was “working to cut a deal to support the same insiders who led us into this mess in the first place and who he is courting to help his own political career.”
Brady didn’t mention the issue while talking to reporters today about the governor’s AV.
The House and Senate both voted to override the governor’s veto today.
* Speaking of quid pro quo, there is lots of chatter about some major logrolling going on during the Senate’s attempt to pass the pension borrowing bill. And Sen. Rickey Hendon probably didn’t help matters much during committee today when he asked the budget director to remember the Democrats when it comes time to divvy up the state cash.
Sales tax and revenue (STAR) bonds legislation failed to get enough support to move out of a state senate committee today, according to State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon). […]
“They didn’t call it because there weren’t enough votes to get it out of State Government (Committee),” McCarter said Thursday.
Ah, but have no fear, the bill was sent back to the Committee on Assignments, which reassigned the measure to the Senate Labor Committee. The chairman of Labor is Sen. Gary Forby, who is sponsoring the bill.
*** UPDATE *** It’s about to be called the “Worst Law Ever.” The bill passed 34-17-3 and is heading to the governor.
[ *** End of Update *** ]
* A few days ago, a House Republican campaign operative pointed out a story I had missed. The Rock Island County Board had voted for 12.7 percent pay raises over four years, with no pay raises the first two. Three days later, the county asked its union employees to take voluntary furloughs.
It’s relevant to me because Republican county board member Rich Morthland is running for an open House seat against Democrat Dennis Ahern. The Republicans think they have a shot there, and were thrilled to be handed the issue. Morthland is milking it for all it’s worth…
County Board Member, Rich Morthland, calls this action “Immoral and unjust”. This is the time for the people of Rock island County to tell their elected officials that enough is enough. This is the time for us to take back our government and bring these people to account.
At the news conference [to kick off a repeal the raises petition drive], Morthland referred to a website asking for donations of $500 to $2,500 for the repeal effort.
Visitors who click on the site’s donation button are taken to a separate page, where they’re told the money is for the repeal effort but that it will go to Morthland’s campaign committee.
“In the event that all such contributions are not necessary to support the (repeal), remaining contributions may be used to directly support the Committee to Elect Rich Morthland,” the website says. […]
“I can’t have a separate campaign that also might benefit me not go through my campaign fund,” [Morthland] said.
Somebody else could’ve set up the campaign fund, but since Morthland’s campaign is running the whole show, he’s probably right.
So, what happened? Well, the Republicans tried to nitpick the bill to death during debate. They pointed out that Boland had voted for or gainst this or that bill in the past to say he was a hypocrite, etc. Here’s one example…
To sum up: The Republicans found a great campaign issue. The Democrats realized they had a campaign problem and moved quickly to address it via legislation. The Republicans pitched a fit because they’ve now lost a campaign issue. The Democrats, on the other hand, have set a pretty dangerous precedent by bigfooting the locals on what ought to be a county matter.
*** UPDATE *** Sen. Mike Boland, who also represents Rock Island County, took over sponsorship of the Boland bill today and apparently will sit on it…
Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, suggested the measure may have a tough time getting a hearing in the chamber before lawmakers adjourn for the summer.
“I don’t know what business it is of the state to tell local governments how to balance their checkbooks when the state can’t balance its own,” Jacobs said.
It includes several provisions, but the most controversial deals with its requirement that 12 separate counties, including Champaign, Coles and McLean counties in East Central Illinois, establish separate early voting and grace period registration sites on [college] campuses for the Nov. 2 general election only.
The GOP response is all about self-preservation, since college-aged people trend Democratic and several universities are represented by Republican legislators, not to mention the statewide race this fall…
Among those voting no was Sen. Dale Righter, R-Charleston, whose district includes the Eastern Illinois University campus.
“I think it’s inappropriate for Springfield to say we’re more worried about registration and early voting for college students than we are for seniors, individuals with disabilities, or racial minorities or whoever else may be served by that county clerk at all,” said Righter. “That’s what this bill does by saying you’re going to put an office on the college campus as opposed to anywhere else.”
The Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to pass the bill today.
* The House passed a bill not long ago taking away free rides for seniors. The bill ran into opposition in the Senate, which then sent the House a bill that reformed the free rides program by putting an income limit on it. The House adjourned today without taking action, so the matter is dead for now. But one Republican gave the Democrats some cover on the issue…
A suburban lawmaker who pushed legislation to eliminate the controversial free rides for seniors program said she isn’t interested in supporting changes the Senate made.
State Rep. Suzie Bassi, a Palatine Republican, said the Senate version that would limit free public transit rides for single seniors making more than $41,515 wouldn’t save enough money over the long term.
A Chicago-area atheist activist isn’t happy that $20,000 in state money is going to an 11-story cross on southern Illinois’ highest point, and he wants the landmark’s overseers to give the money back or be sued.
Atheist Rob Sherman has told the group Friends of Bald of Knob Cross that a religious symbol getting taxpayer money is inappropriate. […]
The 47-year-old cross near Alto Pass is undergoing a renovation expected to be completed this summer.
* The Question: Is this an appropriate use of state money? Explain.
They say they don’t know who Scott Lee Cohen is, why he’s running for governor or who his opponents are.
They don’t know who can legally sign a petition.
But that’s not stopping people hired off the street on behalf of the Cohen campaign from collecting petition signatures for a dollar each.
You should really read the whole story. It’s unintentionally hilarious. Allegations of “junkies” being recruited to circulate petition sheets, a base of operations at a Cohen pawn shop and the flop-house upstairs, and then there’s this fantastic quote from Cohen’s spokesperson…
“There are thousands upon thousands of people collecting signatures for Scott around the state.”
Yeah. Right. I totally believe that “thousands upon thousands” of people are passing sheets for Cohen. Ridiculous.
* In other unusual campaign news, Green Party gubernatorial nominee Rich Whitney is getting quite a bit of local coverage of his statewide tour…
The Green Party candidate for governor is using the state’s public transit systems to push a green agenda.
Rich Whitney is in the midst of a nearly 700-mile tour of the state, which he is traveling exclusively by rail and bicycle. He hopes the journey will draw attention to the need to upgrade the state’s public transit infrastructure, and lessen Illinoisan’s dependence on cars.
And, unlike a certain lt. governor nominee I can think of, he’s promised to release his tax returns…
When asked about releasing his tax return, Whitney said he would likely get around to doing so after redacting some of his wife’s information. He characterized the joint return as reflecting “lower-middle class” incomes of a “people’s attorney” and a nurse.
He hemmed and hawed a little bit in Springfield this week, however. Watch…
* Yesterday, the governor’s staff told Crain’s that the trade shows supported his amendatory veto of the McPier reform bill…
The trade show people are OK with the gov’s action.
I followed up and asked the governor’s spokesman to provide some names of trade show folks who backed the AV. Here’s his response…
We’ve met with and been in communication with several of the major trade shows, including Housewares and the Restaurant show. The governor promised them swift action and to not weaken the reforms in the bill. We’ve responded by strengthening the reforms based on their demands for more efficient and streamlined operations at McPier. They have been supportive of stregthening the bill and want certainty by Friday, which will happen.
“I’m desperately concerned, when you start with different amendatory pieces, that you could unintentionally dilute what you’re trying to do and what you can deliver to the customer,” said Mary Pat Heftman, who runs the National Restaurant Association’s annual show here. The show is waiting for a final outcome in Springfield before deciding whether to remain in Chicago beyond 2011.
The mayor voiced support for an override of Quinn’s amendatory veto, saying a failure to do so could lead to the exit of a number of trade shows.
“It would put a lot of people in jeopardy, because a lot of these conventions sign five years or 10 years out. Will they not sign a five-year contract? That is the problem, and uncertainty,” he said. “When you have uncertainty, when you lose some of them, we’re afraid to start losing more and more.”
Daley spoke against the $2 increase in taxicab rides from the city’s two airports the other day, but he’s now changed his tune…
Daley lobbied against increasing the tax on taxi and limousine rides to and from the airport for fear that it would hurt struggling cabbies and single out Chicago airports. But he said the money was needed to boost Chicago’s meager tourism budget against rival cities that have “unlimited” marketing budgets.
The governor also rejected a $2 tax increase on taxi and limo rides at the city’s airports, to pay for convention marketing. That higher tax would be “counterproductive” to efforts to boost the convention industry, Quinn said.
Hey, we’re glad to see the governor acknowledge that tax increases have economic consequences.
But, really. He’s taking a stand against $8 million in taxi fees while he pushes a $2.8 billion income tax increase? Come on.
The biggest howler of all in Quinn’s veto message was this quote: “As long as I have been governor, my message has been clear: When it comes to reform, half measures do not suffice. The only real reform is comprehensive reform.”
Oh my goodness, Governor! Can you really say that with a straight face to Patrick Collins and the other members of the ethics commission you appointed last year? You set them up and promptly abandoned them and their comprehensive ideas. You signed half-measure after half-measure that you called ethics “reform.”
* Since last year, a small group of local citizens has been fighting Navistar’s plans to build a corporate headquarters in Lisle and bring 4,000 jobs to the site. They’ve forced the town to hold large numbers of hours-long zoning hearings on the matter, they forced subpoenas to be issued and depositions to be taken, threatened lawsuits and recently filed suit to restart the excruciating hearing process all over again. Lisle has spent $200,000 on the process.
Navistar officials said Wednesday the company is no longer interested in moving its international headquarters to Lisle.
The announcement took many by surprise, and prompted a flurry of activity, including an attempt by Gov. Pat Quinn to step in. Business leaders and county policymakers were quick to condemn a vocal few for thwarting the plan.
Stung by what they called unfair criticism that was sullying the engine-building giant’s reputation, Navistar will begin looking for other sites, possibly but not necessarily in Illinois, said Don Sharp, Navistar’s vice president of communications.
“We certainly never signed up for our company to be put on trial by a small group of people opposing economic development,” Sharp said. “In our view, we are being put on trial for things simply beyond zoning issues.”
* But the opponents are still unmoved…
Rich Wilkie, another neighbor who spoke against the proposed plans repeatedly, is skeptical that the company is really walking away.
“All Navistar has said is that they will be stepping back from the zoning hearings and revisiting other locations that they previously considered,” he said. “It could very well be a strong-arm tactic to cause backlash to those who oppose elements of their proposal.”
He reiterated his wish to have Navistar put in writing the assurances it has made in public meetings.
“Many public officials were subpoenaed for these hearings, in an effort to get at the truth and determine what has gone on in the back rooms,” Wilkie said. “There is no question that Navistar has the zoning board and village board votes to get the deal done, so there are other forces at work here. The public should not be so quick to play into their hands and condemn this as a bad thing. There is a lot more to this story.”
* Indiana is now working hard to woo the company to Fort Wayne…
The cost of running a combined operation in Fort Wayne would be about $33 million less annually than the cost of doing it in Lisle, according to an Ernst & Young 2009 comparison study commissioned by Navistar. The economics are in Fort Wayne’s favor, Udris said.
* This all started because parents of children attending a nearby school for autistic children were worried about about the company’s plans to build a diesel engine testing facility on-site. It snowballed into something bigger and Navistar couldn’t stop the opposition even after addressing the parents’ concerns.
* As I told subscribers this morning, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has a new report out analyzing next fiscal year’s state budget. Here’s the meat…
That means the state will have to come up with at least $3.1 billion again next year just to keep the deficit at $7 billion. And that doesn’t include the pension payments. Oy.
More from the CTBA…
After all revenue sources, recurring and non-recurring are included, Illinois’s 2011 budget deficit is 26.7% of its General Revenue Fund. Consider that over 90% of General Funds are spent on four areas: Education; Healthcare; Human Services; and Public Safety.
The General Fund is the area of the budget that elected officials have the ability to manipulate. So, if the budget is to be balanced by cutting 26.7% of spending, these four areas, all of which provide critical services to Illinoisans, will be first on the chopping block.
Under the Emergency Budget Act the Governor has been given the authority to make additional cuts in two areas: “discretionary human services” up to $ 2.2 B, and “discretionary operational and state government” up to $ 1.2 B.
In the [current] FY 2010 budget, human services (including the Departments of Aging, Children and Family Services, and Human Services) were cut by $ 2.1 B (38%) from FY 2009.
“We overspent,” Madigan said. “We took on too much and it’s legitimate to say we’ve got to reduce thresholds. Not nickel and dime stuff, but threshold questions: Can we afford this?”
Madigan acknowledged the budget passed by the House Tuesday evening “isn’t pretty” but said borrowing and giving Quinn the responsibility to allocate next year’s funds was the legislature’s best option facing a $13 billion budget deficit.
“There’s a built-in reason why (Quinn) will do a good job managing, because if he doesn’t it will reflect poorly on his performance and he’s a candidate in a few months for election,” Madigan said.
State support for education would drop about $585 million, or nearly 8 percent, according to a House Republican analysis. Higher education would see a 4.5 percent cut. The agency that provides medical care for the poor would be cut 10.7 percent. The Department of Children and Family Services would see a 28.7 percent reduction.
State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said he doesn’t like the idea of higher cigarette taxes, but remains open to the concept. With the legislative session winding down, however, and a handful of lawmakers already leaving Springfield, a vote doesn’t appear imminent.
“I don’t think there’s sufficient support for that,” Bradley said.
“There are members of the Senate Democratic caucus that don’t support borrowing for the pension, so we will definitely need Republican votes,” said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
That could be a major problem.
“I have been told there are no votes in the Republican caucus for borrowing,” said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, one of the Democrats’ budget negotiators. […]
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said Republicans have not yet taken a position on the pension borrowing bill.
“The governor called me (Tuesday). I said I will consider it. Right now, I haven’t ruled it out or decided to support it,” Bomke said.
Brady, the state GOP chairman, said [Republican Rep. Bill Black] was not singled out for criticism because he attended the House GOP caucus while Biggins skipped it for a meeting in Quinn’s office.
“That’s what raises questions,” Brady said. “I think questions have been raised. We just want to know.”
Biggins said Brady should call him for his reasons for voting instead of issuing critical news releases.
“When the GOP has the guts to call me and ask me why I voted for it, I’ll provide them with the answer for this fiscally responsible vote,” Biggins said. “The Republican position was fiscally unsound.”
From Brady’s press release…
“On the eve of the Blagojevich trial, Pat Quinn seems content to use the same pay-to-play politics of his former running mate. Whether secret meetings behind closed doors were held with a Democrat or Republican doesn’t matter. Governor Quinn, Rep. (David) Miller and Rep. (Bob) Biggins have some explaining to do. Just what did Quinn offer in exchange for their votes for his irresponsible borrowing plan?”
On Wednesday, Quinn said rumors that Biggins had been guaranteed a job in his administration were “completely ridiculous.” Asked if that meant he’d never hire Biggins even if re-elected, Quinn launched into a story.
“Bob Biggins, I’ve known him for a long, long time,” the governor said. He then related how one day years ago while attending to business at Chicago’s City Hall, he came across Biggins, who’d had a stroke. Quinn called for emergency assistance. […]
Biggins attributed his recovery to the immediate medical assistance he received.
Biggins said the story did not come up Tuesday night when he met with one of Quinn’s top aides and ultimately chose to switch his vote and support the borrowing plan.
At a press conference Wednesday, the governor was asked whether he will sign the university borrowing bill that legislators approved more than two weeks ago. Quinn said he first wants the Illinois Senate to vote on the $4 billion pension bill narrowly approved by the House on Tuesday.
“I’ll look at other borrowing after that,” Quinn said.
Quinn sent out a news release Tuesday morning saying he wanted to include the university borrowing bill in the pension legislation. He argued the comprehensive borrowing plan would bring more competitive interest rates on state bonds, lowering costs for taxpayers. The university measure was temporarily combined with the pension bill, but that amendment was later dropped.
“We’re going to address that one, and we’ll address it properly,” Quinn said Wednesday. “But front and center is the borrowing for the pensions.”
Meanwhile, the one decent piece of budgetary legislation in this whole mess sits unsigned. In Carbondale, Edwardsville, Champaign, Charleston and throughout the state, state university officials wonder how they’ll pay their people this summer and fund next semester’s operations.
As SIU President Glenn Poshard has noted, the university will need about 30 days before it can get commercial paper on the market. Naturally, SIU would like to meet its July and August payroll.
Governor, we’d really appreciate if you would put the politics aside, pick up your pen and sign the university borrowing bill. The university communities do not deserve to be held hostage. And, by the way, we vote.
One day after the House approved Gov. Quinn’s $3.7 billion pension borrowing plan with help from two outgoing Republicans, Daley accused lawmakers of mortgaging Illinois’ future.
“Just like the federal government, they borrow and print money. . . . Find out how it’s gonna affect every taxpayer here. Is it gonna affect you next year, the following year, the following year? That is the big problem,” Daley said.
“If you keep borrowing money — just like foreclosure — someone has to pay it back eventually. Who’s gonna pay it back? Is it gonna be my child, my grandchild or great grandchild? That’s the big question everybody has to ask.”
Borrowing money to pay bills is usually a really dumb idea. But when you arrive at a place where not paying those bills is an even worse idea — and that’s the reality for the State of Illinois now — there is no other choice. […]
Though hard to fathom, borrowing is actually much cheaper for a pension system that is already one of the most underfunded in the nation.
Getting a loan to pay the $3.7 billion bill will cost the state about $1 billion over the next eight years. In contrast, skipping the payment would cost at least $20 billion in lost investment income over the next 20 years, the governor’s office estimates.
This is not how we hoped the spring legislative session would end. But we’re done dreaming. It’s time for the state Legislature to do the same and make at least one responsible choice.
Metra appointed a firm headed by former Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard to run a new inspector general’s office in the wake of the discovery that its former executive director took hundreds of thousands of dollars in unauthorized pay.
The Metra board approved the interim appointment of Hillard Heintze on Wednesday to investigate fraud and abuse at the agency after Metra determined that the late Phil Pagano took $475,000 in unauthorized payments. The new office will take tips from any source, including anonymous sources, Metra said.
* Top Metra official says she knows of no other illegalities
Doris also disclosed during a meeting with the Tribune’s editorial board that she rejected a suggestion that she quietly resolve the Pagano scandal rather than go public with the disclosure that he improperly took money and forged her signature to get it.
“We just don’t want any gang problems at the beach,” said Ald. Vi Daley (43rd), whose lakefront ward includes North Avenue beach. “Beaches are there for people to enjoy, to play volleyball, swim and walk along the beach. We want to make sure it’s a safe place for people to go.'’
Several incidents Monday have focused attention on the beach.
First it was state Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, who failed in his attempt to consolidate the troubled commission under the County Board.
Now his opponent in the upcoming race for DuPage County Board chairman, Aurora Democrat Carole Cheney, is taking aim with a different tactic. Early this week, Cheney called for “more equitable representation” for municipalities on the commission. She’s referring to the seven of 12 commissioners appointed by the County Board and its chair, that is, whomever wins the November election.
Covering the Capitol for The Associated Press, O’Connor’s dogged pursuit of stories and meticulous research of state records has resulted in stories of waste and mismanagement in state government that are far too numerous to list here. (For one random example, O’Connor’s comparison of travel and campaign records in January 2009 showed that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich had raised $42,000 in campaign funds the previous November during an official visit to southern Illinois, where he had traveled on a state plane.)
The AP recognized O’Connor’s work this week by awarding him its 2010 Oliver S. Gramling Journalism Award.