Myth: HB14 allows Illinois utilities to automatically raise rates every year.
Fact: That is not the case. Under HB14, utilities are required to submit to more frequent oversight (annual) and still are subject to stakeholder challenge and ICC prudence reviews over 8 ½ months.
Myth: HB14 eliminates much of the oversight currently provided by the ICC.
Fact: HB14 actually strengthens oversight because it makes the regulatory process a more frequent annual process that is transparent, allows discovery, holds utilities accountable for every dollar they invest and jobs they create. The ICC retains responsibility for reviewing utilities’ costs and setting rates.
Myth: HB14 provides utilities with higher-than-needed profits.
Fact: Under the Public Utilities Act, utilities are allowed to earn a reasonable rate of return. This is done through determining a return on the equity invested (ROE) for the utility. This rate has varied from rate case to rate case. This proposal only changes the way the ROE is set and is consistent with past ICC approved ROEs. Utilities still must establish that they managed work prudently at reasonable cost and stakeholder challenge and ICC prudence reviews remain.
Hallucinogenic powders with names like “Ivory Wave,” “White Lightning” and “Zoom” may soon be illegal in Illinois.
The Illinois House Wednesday passed House Bill 2089, which would make the substance MDPV – the key psychoactive ingredient in those powders – illegal.
“These substances are legal in many states, although they have effects similar to cocaine and methamphetamine,” said the sponsor, Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Morrisonville. “They’re sold in convenience stores as ‘bath salts,’ ‘plant food,’ but a 1-ounce package … is sold for $60, and it’s just below the street value of cocaine.”
According to Ivory Wave’s website, the powders sell for $36.31 for 500 milligrams, which is less than 2 percent of one ounce. Bath salts for foot baths typically sell for between $2 and $5 an ounce.
The street value of a comparable amount of cocaine is $80 to $100, according to Montgomery County Sheriff Jim Vazzi, who brought the proposal to Rosenthal.
* The Question: Should this substance be banned? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks.
* It blows my mind that almost nobody is considering a recount of Chicago’s miserable census results. The city is down 200,000 people, but when you drill down, the numbers just don’t look right to me and to others I’ve consulted. Yet, the media is meekly accepting the figures as carved in stone or something. From a Sun-Times editorial…
The news that Chicago was the only top 10 big city in the nation to see its population shrink over the last decade had you asking yourself:
Yet, Mayor Daley is silent and the media just accepts the figures as gospel.
* For crying out loud, even Murphysboro is doing a recount. Suburban Westmont is also considering an appeal. It’s a pretty common thing. The city would have to pick up the cost, but the state might be convinced to kick in since Illinois narrowly missed out on keeping its 19 congressional seats intact.
Here are just a handful of stories from around the country about recounts…
* I told subscribers weeks ago that we might expect the General Assembly to use the long-dormant conference committee process to iron out differences between the House and Senate budget proposals. Senate President John Cullerton was the one who brought it up to me, but yesterday House Speaker Michael Madigan broached the topic as well, and in a way that appeared to be a shot at Cullerton…
Reconciling those, and therefore the different chamber’s budget bills, could be troublesome.
Madigan laid out one possibility Wednesday during the Elementary and Secondary Education Appropriations Committee. When the Senate and the House can’t come to some kind of agreement on a specific bill, five members from each chamber meet and try to hammer out the details in a conference committee.
Because the House’s $33.2 billion revenue projection is more conservative than the Senate’s $34.3 billion projection, Madigan said Senate Republicans might be inclined to side with the House in such a meeting.
“In the Senate, I think the people that want to raise the numbers would be the Democrats, and they would have three appointments on that conference committee, and they ought to be out voted,” Madigan said. “The report coming out of the conference committee should be for the numbers contained in the House bill(s).”
Actually, conference committees were used during the early 1990s. But the system got out of hand as lobbyists and members started inserting major legislative changes into long conference committee reports. So, it was stopped.
* But the scenario might not work as Madigan envisions. The Senate Republicans aren’t yet willing to completely abandon their Democratic colleagues and throw in their lot with the Speaker…
State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, the Senate GOP’s budgeteer, said he’s not sure how a conference committee on budget legislation would play out.
His Republican colleagues in the Senate generally lean toward more conservative budget numbers and didn’t agree with the Senate’s adopted $34.3 billion projection, he said, with a caveat.
“We also felt like a number a little bit higher than what the House came up with is reasonable as well,” he said. “I think it’s a little premature for us to start to weigh in, and choose sides, in a conference committee that I don’t know is even going to happen.”
A truce broke out in the Illinois House Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans embraced the outline of a budget plan that is more conservative than the one proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn and would cut money for schools.
In a rare side-by-side appearance, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, acted like old chums rather than political warlords out to crush each other. They led the House in allocating billions of dollars for debt and pension payments and setting out spending plans for areas including education.
As Madigan and Cross faced reporters, shoulder to shoulder, after a committee hearing, both brushed off the idea that there was ever bad blood between them.
“I don’t think there ever was a problem. Was there, Tom?” said Madigan, who routinely has bottled up Republican bills in the Rules Committee and repeatedly referred to Cross’ caucus as “nonparticipating dropouts.”
“I don’t remember a problem,” said Cross, whose political organization put up billboards throughout northeast Illinois blaming the state’s fiscal problems on Madigan.
“Maybe some journalists thought there was a problem,” Madigan said.
Madigan teamed up with Cross and the Senate Republicans the last time he went up against a free-spending governor and Senate President. Cross eventually broke with Madigan over the capital bill (with Cross siding with Rod Blagojevich and Emil Jones) and the two have not cooperated since then. Until now, that is.
The latest projection from Springfield is that schools can expect at least $600 million less than last year. […]
Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said there will be $200 million fewer state dollars, and nearly $400 million fewer federal dollars this year. Davis, who will craft the education budget in the House, said he’s been told he can spend no more than $6.8 billion. […]
Although school districts have received less money and delayed payments from the state, ISBE is still advocating for more education funding. The agency recommends $7.6 billion in state funding for fiscal year 2012 budget, more than 5 percent more than the governor’s proposed $7.2 billion.
ISBE is going to be sorely disappointed, and this story about schools hoarding cash reserves won’t help their cause…
The statewide total of $8.9 billion unspent at the close of the 2010 budget year is enough to cover the entire state portion of public school budgets across Illinois next academic year, though districts stress that the money isn’t just sitting around for no reason — some of it is meant for future school expenses, building projects and other uses.
They say that while these balances can help stave off staff or program cuts, they cannot eliminate the need for them. Many districts that lay off teachers or cut programs have already spent down their reserves, and school officials say it’s irresponsible to use fund balances, which the state likens to checking or savings account balances, for ongoing expenses.
Fund balances are widely considered prudent by school officials weathering Illinois’ fiscal crisis, but they rile taxpayers who say districts are hoarding their money and should give some of it back by lowering tax bills.
The balances have grown by $3.6 billion since 2004-05 and now average about 40 percent of districts’ main operating revenue, up from 30 percent five years ago. The Illinois State Board of Education’s barometer for healthy fund balances is at least 25 percent — enough to cover three months of expenses.
The Tribune found that 8 of 10 school districts had fund balances exceeding that amount when the books closed on June 30, 2010. Nearly half of districts reported fund balances of 50 percent or higher, and 70 school districts — many in the Chicago area — had balances equaling 100 percent or more, enough to cover a whole year of expenses.
Madigan and Cross have settled on a revenue projection about $600 million lower than Quinn’s. After covering various fixed costs, such as pensions, they’re allocating that money to five different broad categories: $6.9 billion for education, $1.2 billion for general services, $2.1 billion for higher education, $12 billion for human services and $1.7 billion for public safety.
Now House appropriations committees are supposed to decide which particular programs get money and which ones don’t. The demand far exceeds the amount of money available.
“We’re going to try to figure out how to stick a 10-inch foot in a 5-inch shoe,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago.
Meantime, dozens of lobbying groups circulated through the Capitol Wednesday calling on lawmakers to reverse cuts proposed by Quinn.
In a letter distributed to members of the legislature, Southern Illinois Healthcare President Rex Budde, said Quinn’s proposal to reduce Medicaid spending by $552 million could result in delays to bricks and mortar improvements at its hospitals and other facilities as well as cuts in services and physician re-cruitment.
“We urge the General Assembly to reject the proposed Medicaid cut,” Budde noted in the letter.
Quinn spokesman Kelly Kraft responds that paying interest costs on another $2 billion in debt might still leave Illinois with a good chunk of the $175 million Medicaid reimbursement. She notes that the Republican proposals couldn’t be enacted soon enough to produce $2 billion in the current fiscal year. And, she says, the higher income tax isn’t producing new money fast enough to meet the other demands on that revenue and also pay these Medicaid bills. We won’t argue. [Emphasis added.]
Um, so the state shouldn’t borrow, but it might be a good idea? I don’t get it.
* Press release: Senate Democrats Respond to GOP Budget Suggestions
News reports that Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. was thinking of exiting Illinois were misleading, Doug Oberhelman, chairman and chief executive of the construction and mining machine maker, said Wednesday.
The media read too much into his recent letter to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, he said.
“The headlines were sensational — they said things like ‘Cat leaving Illinois,’ and lots of other things, which isn’t what the letter said,” Oberhelman said in an address to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce gathering in Washington, D.C.
“I actually said, I’m looking forward to finding ways to invest more in Illinois and to change the business climate,” he said at a summit hosted by the chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness.
The business climate in this state is in definite need of improvement. If nothing else, the shock from those nutty headlines might hopefully spur Springfield to act.
* Much of the reporting and commentary on this story has been crazily sensationalistic and just downright horrible. Here’s just one goofy example…
Joliet became part of TV news coverage of the Caterpillar story Sunday when Andrew Mihelich, one of the city’s mayoral candidates in Tuesday’s election, held a quickly staged rally in support of the company and invited coverage of the event. Four Chicago TV news crews came to town, and at least two stations aired footage of the event attended by about 40 of the candidate’s supporters, many of whom held up “Mihelich for Mayor” signs and wore Mihelich T-shirts.
About an hour into the rally at Mihelich campaign headquarters, no Caterpillar workers could be found. But Keith Godsey of Joliet, who said his father is a Caterpillar retiree, was there and said he supported Mihelich’s efforts.
Low levels of radiation from Japan have been discovered in test samples taken in unincorporated DuPage and Will counties, officials said Tuesday.
Warrenville-based Exelon Nuclear said small amounts of radioiodine 131, a type of radioactive isotope associated with the troubled Japanese plants, were discovered March 22 during testing at Dresden, its nuclear plant near Morris in Will County.
Also, Argonne National Laboratory, near Darien, found a small amount of the isotope in its regular air test samples last week.
“You wouldn’t find that kind of evidence in normal operations here,” said Marshall Murphy, a spokesman for Exelon Nuclear.
Stink bugs — long a scourge of the mid-Atlantic states — have made it to the Chicago area.
The aptly named pests have been spotted in recent months in Geneva and Western Springs. Homeowners reported an infestation in Geneva last fall and in a yard in Western Springs in January, according to Kelly Estes, state survey coordinator for the Illinois Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey program. […]
The brown marmorated stink bug emits a foul stench when frightened, disturbed or squashed.
Cutting the city’s rat baiting crews in half, as Laborers Local 1001 claims Streets and San is planning to do, won’t cause the rat population to explode to 6 million again. But it may increase the rat problem in poor neighborhoods, where overcrowded buildings generate more garbage than carts can hold.
* Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) wants future Census-takers to count prison inmates as residents of their home towns, not where they are currently residing, as has been common practice in Illinois…
For example, in 2010, when U.S. Census workers tallied the population of Randolph County in southwestern Illinois, they included in their total the 3,552 inmates locked up in Menard Correctional Center, the state’s largest maximum-security prison.
Though the men serving time there can’t vote, they account for more than 10 percent of the county’s population.
The higher head count makes counties such as Randolph eligible for a bigger share of the pie when state and federal money is distributed. The population count affects everything from funding for the sewer system that carries waste from Menard and the nearby town of Chester, to financing for the county courthouse, which handles disciplinary cases stemming from prison yard fights.
State Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, whose district encompasses Big Muddy and Centralia correctional centers and nearly 3,500 prisoners, is among lawmakers who say the local benefit is only fair because those counties are the ones dealing with the inmate issues. […]
On current legislative maps, prisoners who serve even a two-year prison sentence are recorded as residents of the correctional center for the next 10 years.
* Gov. Pat Quinn has complained repeatedly over the past several months about how the General Assembly punted by sending him lump sum budgets the past two years. But, today, House Speaker Michael Madigan told reporters that Quinn asked him to pass yet another lump sum budget this year. Watch…
* Madigan also said that Quinn’s borrowing plan is “not being real well received by the Legislature,” which is kinda obvious. And Madigan said that he has “no plans to pursue” some of Quinn’s other ideas like school consolidation.
* This story is more than a little behind the curve since the actual House resolution divvying up the cash to appropriations committees passed the chamber 117-0 way back on March 17th…
Illinois House leaders are pushing forward with a budget plan that would ignore many of the governor’s spending proposals.
The top Democrat and top Republican in the House said Wednesday they have settled on the amount of money available for major categories of state government. Now, House committees will decide which services get a piece of that money and which don’t.
Education, for instance, would get about $6.8 billion — a cut of $200 million.
* The reason it’s “news” today is because Speaker Madigan and Leader Cross testified in committee about some approp bills. Watch…
You can peruse the budgetary work sheet distributed to approp committee members by clicking here.
One of the center’s conclusions was that despite all of the complaints about the state spending too much, it would be a good deal more if spending had kept up with inflation and population growth over the last decade. If you take those factors into account, the analysis determined, spending is less now than it was in 2000. Not a little less, but nearly 16 percent less. Overall. Higher education, it said, is down 35 percent, and the often vilified outgo for health care is down 13.4 percent.
It’s hard to argue that state government is somehow immune from inflation. But it’s also going to be hard convincing taxpayers - whose own paychecks probably haven’t kept up with inflation - that the state needs to spend more. […]
The analysis determined that about $5.45 billion of [the governor’s proposed $8.75 billion borrowing plan] is for old bills. Another $1 billion is to pay for current bills. That’s a no-no, in the same sense you don’t mortgage your home to buy this month’s groceries. The groceries will soon be gone, but the debt will last for years.
The center also said repaying the money over 14 years, as Quinn wants, is too long and the whole thing is backloaded, which is not a good idea.
The chief executive of Caterpillar Inc. again criticized the business climate in the heavy equipment maker’s home state of Illinois on Wednesday, but downplayed reports that it might leave.
“Legislators in Illinois have created an environment that is unfriendly to business and investment. At Caterpillar we want to help and lead a change in that climate,” said Douglas Oberhelman at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. […]
At the chamber event, Oberhelman said headlines suggesting Caterpillar might leave the state were misleading.
“That’s not really what I said,” he told the chamber. “I actually said I was looking forward to finding a way to invest more in Illinois and change the business climate. Illinois is our home.”
Notice that Oberhelman once again blames legislators, not the governor, for the problems. Also take note that he repeated his claim that he wants to find a way to invest more here, not less.
[ *** End Of Update *** ]
* I haven’t seen the now infamous letter from Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman to Gov. Pat Quinn actually posted in its entirety So, here it is. Pay close attention to the third paragraph, which has received the least amount of media coverage…
Dear Governor Quinn:
Caterpillar has been proud to call Illinois home for over 75 years. Personally I grew up in Woodstock, Illinois, and aside from a few years out of the country for my work at Caterpillar, I have lived here my whole life. Before, I never really considered living anywhere else, and certainly never considered the possibility of Caterpillar relocating. But I have to admit, the policymakers in Springfield seem to make it harder by the day.
I’ve included just three of the several letters from Governors across the country that I have been receiving. They are welcoming Caterpillar to their states with open arms, and they make compelling arguments. I have been called, “cornered” in meetings and “wined and dined” - the heat is on.
You’ve always been honest with me, and that’s why I want you to know about these letters. I’m not sending them to you as a threat that Caterpillar is leaving Illinois. I want to stay here. And as our business grows, I’d like to invest more here - Illinois has always been the heart of Caterpillar. But as the leader of this business, I have to do what’s right for Caterpillar when making decisions about where to invest. The direction that this state is headed in is not favorable to business, and I’d like to work with you to change that. Frankly, we need to re-structure this State’s business from top to bottom. I think you know that.
This is a firm letter, no doubt, but it’s also quite respectful and even complimentary of the governor. What it clearly isn’t is a dire threat to move the company out of state anytime soon, or a blatant diss of Gov. Quinn.
Oberhelman seems to genuinely want to work with Quinn to find solutions to the state’s problems. The Cat CEO has taken some heat from the Left for grubbing for money or whatever other advantage he could get here, but that doesn’t appear justified when reading the complete letter.
* Also, if you’ve been wondering how the letter became public, it was cc’d to several politicians, including Congressman Aaron Schock, Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno, House Republican Leader Tom Cross, Speaker Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Quinn’s chief of staff Jack Lavin. I’d bet any money that one of them leaked it. Caterpillar’s spokesman has said the letter was meant to be private.
For governors cutting education and health care and going after public-sector employees to balance budgets, here’s a message from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn: You’re wrong. Not mistaken, not misinformed.
“Just plain wrong,” said Quinn, 62, during a March 22 interview in his Chicago office. “I don’t buy into all these radical cuts in government as a way to make life better for ordinary, everyday people.” […]
Quinn says he has made plenty of unpleasant decisions, including raising the retirement age for public employees, putting new hires into a 401(k) retirement plan and altering the Medicaid system.
“I’m not going to get our state out of the hole that it’s in in terms of the economy by just severe cuts in education,” Quinn said. “Lay off teachers? What’s that all about? Is that going to help us?
* Lawmakers defend tax hike, express concern for CAT
* Editorial: Cat not leaving today, tomorrow, hopefully not ever, but Illinois should take nothing for granted
* Gov. Pat Quinn has nominated Terry Cosgrove for a spot on the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Cosgrove runs Personal PAC, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure Quinn got elected last year. Indeed, one of Bill Brady’s top campaign operatives blamed Personal PAC’s efforts for his candidate’s narrow loss last November.
Brady’s spokesman responded to the appointment…
Brady spokesman Dan Egler said the governor “reached out to reward one of his big-time political supporters. The citizens of Illinois deserve fair and open-minded people on state’s boards and commissions—not pay-to-play political appointees.”
Gimme a break.
* If anyone thinks that Terry Cosgrove supported Pat Quinn because he wanted a part-time state job, then you really need to get your head examined. Brady is 100 percent pro-life. Cosgrove despised the man and was very worried that Brady would be elected, so he went all out. “Pay-to-play” is by very definition a mercenary act. Say what you want about Cosgrove, but he ain’t no mercenary. He fully believes in what he does.
Rewarding political allies with sweet little plums is as old as government. Brady wouldn’t have given any of his pals state jobs? Please. Get real.
Also, Cosgrove is qualified for the post. He helped pass human rights ordinances in Champaign and Urbana back in the day and has long been a quiet force behind the scenes for gay rights. He’s probably not the most unbiased person on the planet, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a gay voice on the Human Rights Commission.
Brady lost. Not by much, but he lost. Time to move on and stop over-reaching for non-controversies like this one.
* But this may rankle the state Senator as well. I received an e-mail from Rebecca Sanchez this week…
I wanted to keep you in the loop and let you know that the gov appointed me as his senior advisor on Hispanic issues. I’ll also act as a liaison between the Hispanic Caucus and the governor.
Friday is my start date.
Sanchez is a reporter for the Spanish-language newspaper Extra. She’s the one who asked Brady during an ABC7 gubernatorial debate last year why he attended a fundraiser thrown by Rod Blagojevich cronies Juan Ochoa and Dean Martinez. Brady was tripped up by the question and then called the two men “good people,” which resulted in a firestorm.
That appointment ought to make Brady’s head explode again.
Illinois’ top insurance regulator said Tuesday he’s committed to working with Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers on pressing state issues during his last two months on the job.
Insurance Department Director Michael McRaith is leaving in June to take a post in the President Barack Obama’s administration. Until then, McRaith said, he’s dedicated to working with Illinois lawmakers this session on reforms to workers compensation, health insurance and financial regulations.
“My first objective is to work hard every day and be a constructive leader on insurance-related issues,” McRaith said in an interview with The Associated Press.
McRaith is Quinn’s point man on workers’ comp reform. There’s real worry out there that he won’t be as focused as he should be while preparing for the DC gig. Let’s hope the worriers are wrong.
* Another Quinn appointee has to step aside on a contentious issue. Hiram Grau has been nominated to run the Illinois State Police. He used to work for the Cook County State’s Attorney, who has refused to file any charges in the death of David Koschman. Koschman died after allegedly being punched or shoved several years ago by Mayor Daley’s nephew…
Responding to the Sun-Times’ reports, Alvarez called Thursday on the State Police to examine the handling of the Koschman investigation, saying an outside, “independent” police agency needed to step in.
The next day, the State Police agreed to do that, even as Gov. Quinn announced he was appointing Alvarez’s chief investigator, Hiram Grau, to head the State Police. At the time of Koschman’s death, Grau was a deputy police superintendent with the Chicago Police Department, overseeing the department’s detectives. According to the State Police, Grau had no role in investigating the Koschman case but, “out of an abundance of caution, Mr. Grau will be recusing himself from the State Police’s review of the matter.”
* On Sunday, Senate President John Cullerton dusted off his plan to use Chicago’s amusement tax growth to help finance upgrades outside Wrigley Field…
The multi-million dollar proposal would upgrade Wrigley’s creaky creature comforts for both fans and players. The Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, said they would not alter the fundamental appearance of the historic ballpark.
The idea fell flat in Springfield this past winter. The Ricketts family and their lobbyists tried to push it through in the same lame duck session that approved a 67 percent increase in the Illinois income tax.
In a Fox Chicago Sunday taping, Cullerton said that he thinks the measure has better prospects in the current spring session. He hopes the General Assembly would vote to approve it by Memorial Day.
“There should be some conditions,” Cullerton said. “First of all, Mr. Ricketts has to come up with half the money himself. He should make sure that he comes up with that first. If there’s money to be spent inside the park, that’s where he should spend his money.”
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he wants to find a way to save 97-year-old Wrigley Field, but the taxpayer-financed plan being floated anew by Cubs’ chairman Tom Ricketts is a “non-starter.” […]
After striking out with Mayor Daley and Gov. Quinn, Ricketts had hoped for a different outcome with Emanuel.
But during a post-election meeting with Ricketts, Emanuel said he reiterated the “healthy skepticism” he expressed during the campaign about using taxpayer dollars to renovate Wrigley.
In other words, it’s back to the drawing board for Ricketts.
“They know my position from the past. It was an informational meeting. It was a short meeting. … And I let them know that, if all we did was re-package old ideas, that was a non-starter,” he said.
* Meanwhile, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle stated the obvious yesterday. Rahm Emanuel’s “luxury tax” is dead in the water…
With Emanuel at her side, Preckwinkle said she likes the concept, but believes the Illinois General Assembly is unlikely to act.
“My understanding from my conversations with the people in Springfield is that the legislature there is sort of done on the tax issue,” Preckwinkle said. “And having raised taxes on individuals and businesses at the beginning of this year, that’s all that anyone can expect coming out of Springfield.”