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Rapid reaction can look like intimidation to some

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* These Emanuel guys are too cute by half

In the ongoing argument over what “luxury” services would be taxed under Emanuel’s sales tax proposal, Chico held a news conference Monday to complain the tax would put neighborhood gyms out of business.

But the first neighborhood gym that Chico tried to hold his news conference at cancelled at the last minute after getting a call from the Emanuel campaign, Chico said. […]

Chico’s campaign scrambled to line up the second gym, in West Town. Then the Emanuel campaign called that gym. But owner Sharone Aharon told the caller he planned to let Chico do his news conference there anyway.

For crying out loud, leave the gym owners alone. I mean, seriously, is this the way y’all intend to govern over there? Really? Sheesh.

* And this sounds pretty suspect to me

Chico says that Emanuel’s new sales tax would include neighborhood gyms such as Well Fit in West Town.

LaBolt said it would not — it would only cover “luxury” gyms such as the Saddle and Cycle Club or the East Bank Club, where Emanuel works out.

How the heck are you going to define a “luxury” gym in a state statute? Will only gyms that have an on-site car-washing service be taxed? And if it is just a few upscale gyms, how are they going to generate any real revenues to replace the $40 million lost by cutting the city sales tax by a measly quarter point?

Gery Chico has obviously hit a raw nerve here. The media really needs to start demanding to see this alleged list of luxury services which will be taxed under a Mayor Emanuel - if, that is, he can convince the General Assembly to enact it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      

Talking points memos: Wirtz goes for the stay and Cullerton picks some nits

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* Rocky Wirtz’s lawyers went on and on in a brief filed with the Supreme Court today about how they thought they had a deal with the attorney general’s office. They originally figured both sides would ask for a stay of the appellate court ruling which declared the capital program unconstitutional. But, no, the AG’s office allegedly reneged on language. So, they couldn’t come to an agreement.

Then they wrote this

Relative to the request for stay and considerations of the status quo and balancing of harms, the challenge to the Acts at issue has been pending for 18 months and should not be a surprise, but allowing the State Parties some breathing time pending review to address
alternative financing for the state projects seems to serve the public interest, and to accommodate the preservation of the status quo pending review. Therefore, Plaintiffs do not object to a stay of the appellate court’s January 26, 2011 opinion and judgment.

OK, so that’s settled. Expect the Supremes to grant a stay. Hopefully, they can do it in less than the nine pages Wirtz’s lawyers took. Either way, immediate disaster will likely be avoided.

* Meanwhile, you’re recall that the other day I told you about Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s list of $1 billion in budget cuts that she had earlier said could be eliminated without anyone noticing the impact.

Well, Senate President John Cullerton took issue with some of Topinka’s points and sent her a letter

• You suggest the state save $100 million by rolling back a “giveaway” in the form of universal preschool, requiring those families “financially-able” pay for preschool. The Early Childhood Block Grant is the primary funding source for the State’s effort to enroll children age 3 to 5 in quality preschool. Participation is limited to children most at-risk of academic failure and from low- to moderate-income homes. Financial realities never allowed this laudable program to meet the so-called “preschool for all” threshold despite the massive marketing hype of a previous governor.

• SB3778 in on the Governor’s desk and provides that seniors who meet the Circuit Breaker income limitations may travel free of charge on public transit systems. I join you in encouraging him to sign it. This rolls back a former governor’s effort allowing all seniors, regardless of income, to “ride free.” As a former RTA director you know this was no “free ride” and cost transit agencies millions to subsidize fares. And so, I’m confused as to how the state General Revenue Fund– as opposed to the transit agencies — would save $40 million as you contend.

Cullerton goes on to write that he’s prepared to offer Topinka Senate Bills as a vehicle for any “meaningful, real cuts” she would like to propose.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* As subscribers already know, the big snow storm heading our way has canceled both the House and Senate sessions this week. The weather folks are predicting a monster

‘Virtually impossible’ travel possible from expected winter storm

Northern Illinois is bracing for a winter storm that the National Weather Service says could be life-threatening.

Chicago and Milwaukee were expected to be particularly hard-hit.

A blizzard watch is in effect from Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon for most of northern Illinois. The blizzard could bring white-out conditions with snow falling at rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour. The weather service says travel could become “virtually impossible” at times.

* Things aren’t looking so great in central Illinois, either

A winter storm described by the National Weather Service as “extremely dangerous” that could bring up to a foot of snow to some areas of central Illinois is expected to begin about midday today and last into Wednesday.

“This will likely be our strongest storm of the season,” said Kirk Huettl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Lincoln. “And it’s going to cover a lot of real estate, all the way from the Midwest to the Northeast.”

A mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain will occur today and Tuesday, then change over to all snow over the entire area by Wednesday as colder air filters into the region.

* The Question: Your blizzard plans?

And be nice to each other in comments, please. I’ve got to get to the store and stock up before this thing hits, so there will be little time to monitor y’all for the next couple of hours.

- Posted by Rich Miller   124 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 *** Commission tries to trade minor scoop to bury damaging story

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* You may have seen this brief AP report on the wires over the weekend

Gov. Pat Quinn tells a newspaper that he has authorized Springfield attorney John Simpson to oversee an investigation into potential abuse of the workers’ compensation system.

On Friday night, Quinn released to the Belleville News-Democrat a letter he sent earlier in the day to Illinois Workers Compensation Chairman Mitch Weisz announcing Simpson’s appointment.

* The Quinn announcement was specifically timed to bury this Belleville News Democrat report

The arbitrator who approved many of the workers’ compensation settlements that awarded millions of taxpayer dollars to guards at the Menard Correctional Center for carpal tunnel syndrome received $48,790 for the same type of injury.

But four months after state hearing judge John T. Dibble received the settlement, the award was not listed in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s online database, which is the primary way the public learns about these payments.

That’s because a key document, known as a settlement contract, never was assigned a case number, and the actual case file is lost, commission spokeswoman Sue Piha said. She said she does not know why the contract wasn’t filed or what happened to the case file, which would contain medical reports, and suggested that a backlog of unfiled cases could be responsible. […]

Dibble’s particular injuries were connected to an unusual form of carpal tunnel syndrome called post-traumatic carpal tunnel. A fall on the Herrin Civic Center steps as he was going in to hear cases later triggered the syndrome and led to the nearly $50,000 award.

* And how do we know that Quinn’s office Workers’ Compensation Commission tried to bury the item? Because Quinn’s office the Commission admitted exactly that

[Workers’ Compensation Commission spokesperson Sue Piha] offered the News-Democrat an exclusive story concerning imminent “major changes” that would be made in the workers’ compensation system in exchange for the newspaper holding the article about Dibble until Tuesday.

The offer of an exclusive story, which was overheard by the governor’s representative, was made as “leverage” to persuade editors to hold the Dibble story, said Piha. The reason for holding the article, she said, was so that it wouldn’t run until the day the state was ready to announce positive changes at the commission.

The day before, Commission Chairman Mitch Weisz made the same offer; it was denied.

Commissioner Dibble heard 125 of the repetitive trauma cases filed by 230 Menard prison guards, which ended up costing the state a total of $10 million.

*** UPDATE *** I just talked with a Quinn administration official who blamed this mess on the Workers’ Compensation Commission spokesperson. The Quinn people wanted to make sure they could get their guy into a story about a screwy situation at the Commission, I was told. Instead, it got translated by the Commission spokesperson as some sort of deal to delay publication of a story.

That actually makes some sense to me. So, I’ll lean their way on this one. Changed the headline and one line in the piece to reflect my updated views.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

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Monday, Jan 31, 2011

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Sweating the little stuff

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* The Pantagraph editorializes in favor of small budget cuts like this one

Meanwhile, the idea of going from two license plates to one, another action that should be easy, is met with hemming and hawing.

When this issue has been raised previously, law enforcement officials have objected because having two plates increases the opportunity for identifying a car that’s been stolen or involved in a crime or accident.

But many other states — including our neighbors in Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky — get along fine with just a rear plate.

The savings are limited — an estimated $800,000 a year. But we have to get away from this mindset that if “only” a little under $1 million is saved, the action is unworthy of attention.

* But the SJ-R is quite upset with one of those small budget cuts

Now we learn that the Illinois Department of Agriculture, without consulting city tourism officials, canceled one of the biggest potential tourism events of 2012 and 2013: the National High School Finals Rodeo.

The reason? Ag officials say the state can no longer afford the $1 million annual cost of hosting the event.

Keep in mind, this is an event that brings thousands of people — spectators, competitors and their families — to Springfield for a long stay. Long enough to generate an estimated $8 million for the local economy, most of which goes back to the state in sales tax.

We’re baffled at the logic behind the decision, but we’re especially annoyed that it appears to have been made without any consultation with local officials outside of state government. The ag department owes an explanation to Springfield on that communication gaffe.

* Doug Finke is unimpressed with the fury

Well, gee, you’d think [the Illinois Department of Agriculture] would be praised for what it did. The mantra we’ve heard for months, if not years, is that state government must cut spending. Spending’s out of control, we’ve got to cut.

So ag cut. That’s what people have been clamoring for, right? The department’s allotment of state money (it also doles out a lot of federal funds) is down 30 percent since 2007. Something had to go. It was the rodeo.

That’s the thing about cuts. Someone or something somewhere is going to be affected by them. That’s not to say the state shouldn’t make cuts in spending, but when it does, it’s going to have an impact. This time it’s in Springfield. The next time it could be Peoria or Rockford or wherever. We’ll have to see how popular cuts will be when they start hitting home.


* If people are getting so riled up about budgetary peanuts, you can imagine the firestorm which will be created by this next topic

Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration plan to make another attempt to get state retirees to pay more for their health care during this legislative session.

The legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will meet Wednesday to talk with two Quinn administration officials about how the state can craft an income-based formula for how much retirees will have to pay. Also on the commission’s agenda is approval of a request-for-proposal to study the best way to implement the new charges. […]

There are five cost tiers for current employees’ health care premiums based on their income, Schoenberg said. The top tier, for those making more than $74,901, costs $59 a month for those employees in managed care and $84 a month for those employees in the state’s preferred-provider plan.

The average retiree/survivor’s premium is just $10.22 per month. But here’s what the plans cost the state…

Managed Care / Quality Care Health Plan

Medicare retiree $294.55 / $332.47

Non-Medicare retiree $791.08 / $964.10

One Non-Medicare dependent $450.16 / $722.39

One Medicare dependent $299.35 / $344.52

Two or more dependents $773.85 / $978.19

Two-thirds are enrolled in the higher priced plan. The average retiree income is about $31K a year. But average household income is $78K a year. Click here for more detailed info.

- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 *** Chico pranked over tax talk

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* It hasn’t reached Dick Tuck levels yet, but Rahm Emanuel’s campaign has been pulling some political pranks on Gery Chico lately. All of the pranks are related to Chico’s claims that Emanuel wants to raise taxes by expanding the sales tax to services, along with a proposed quarter-point cut in the overall sales tax rate. The other day, Chico held an event a a barber shop, claiming that Emanuel’s new service tax would be imposed on those who cut hair (never gonna happen). Emanuel’s campaign was also there

Outside Ron’s Barber Shop on South Harper, someone toyed with Chico’s campaign by sending a stretch limousine with posters on it that read, “Gery’s tax-free ride.”

The limo driver would not say who sent him. Asked if Emanuel’s campaign sent the limo, Emanuel spokesman Ben Labolt said, “Can you quote me winking?”

* And when Chico spoke out again about the sales tax plan, the Emanuel folks were present and accounted for

As Chico talked, speakers from a rented truck blared a Web video produced by the Emanuel campaign, accusing Chico of distorting Emanuel’s plan to cut the city’s sales tax in exchange for broadening the tax to include some services.

The video rolled several news clips under a 1965 hit by the Lovin’ Spoonful, “Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?,” to illustrate Emanuel’s contention that Chico supported a similar idea before turning against it.

Chico called that “a bunch of bunk,” explaining he’d previously suggested adding “e-tailing” or Internet purchases to the sales tax rate, not the “entire new swath of taxes” that Emanuel backs.

* The Lovin’ Spoonful video

* The dispute was rather more intense among the campaign’s two African-American female candidates, however

“Carol Moseley Braun hasn’t been around for 20 years,” said [Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins], a community activist, prompting a verbal response from the crowd in the church. “We haven’t seen her.”

Moseley Braun, allowed to answer later, listed her public service and told Watkins, “You were strung out on crack. I was starting a business on the South Side. I was hiring people.”

Watkins has said that she used drugs from ages 19 to 21 — more than 30 years ago — but said Sunday she has never used crack.

“She has a way of embellishing her own history and other people’s experiences,” Watkins said.


*** UPDATE *** Video of the spat

Apparently, things got pretty rough later in the day on the West Side.

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* Meanwhile, Braun still has money trouble

Braun traveled to Washington and New Orleans last week to raise money so she can air television spots she has already shot but can’t afford to air. Her campaign posted a nearly three-minute video called “On the Issues, In Every Neighborhood” on YouTube.

* Braun’s Internet video

* Related…

* Sun-Times: Rahm Emanuel for mayor

* Ballots without Emanuel’s name under lock and key

* Brown: Emanuel vague on luxury tax, Chico adds it up

* Marin: Emanuel owes voters some answers

* Washington: African-American biz leaders don’t pony up for Braun

* Emanuel as the independent, reform candidate?

* Ernie Banks celebrates 80th birthday with Jeff Garlin, Rahm Emanuel

- Posted by Rich Miller   46 Comments      

Caption contest!

Monday, Jan 31, 2011

* Gov. Pat Quinn and Rocky Wirtz, who filed the lawsuit which derailed the state’s capital construction project…

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      

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