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*** UPDATED 1x - *** No ruling or time set for further proceedings set in levee case

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

Posted by Barton Lorimor

8:15 p.m. - Our contact at the AG’s office has this to say…

Proceedings have ended. The court heard closing arguments from all counsel, and asked questions as he saw fit.

The court took the matter under advisement, and did not indicate a set time for ruling, but there are no further in-court proceedings set at this time.

An earlier update suggested the office expected a ruling, which was apparently not the best phrasing choice on my part. I guess Cairo will have to wait in a holding pattern for now and hope waters do not rise overnight.

6:32 p.m. - Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office says US District Court judge Steve Limbaugh intends to make a ruling in the case presented before the Court regarding whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may proceed with demolishing part of a levee to relieve flood waters in southern Illinois.

From the email…

The court heard from 9 witnesses: MO put on 4; the DOJ put on 4 from ACOE; and our IDNR witness.

We’ll keep you posted as soon as new developments make their way out of the Cape Girardeau courtroom.

- Posted by Barton Lorimor   9 Comments      


This just in… Four SIUC unions announce intent to strike

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* 3:48 pm - Four unions at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale have have announced they will file an intent to strike notice…

The unions that filed are the Faculty Association, Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, the Association of Civil Service Employees and Graduate Assistants United. The notice does not mean the unions are going on strike. Rather it is a procedure that must be completed for the Labor Act before any action can be taken. […]

Natasha Zaretsky, history professor and union member, said in an opening statement that the intent came about because of the administration imposing terms on the faculty, staff and graduate assistants without fair negotiations. She said “it drives a wedge between us that divides and demoralizes the campus community.”

She said the notices were filed to get the “Board of Trustees bargaining teams back at the table and negotiating in good faith” and “to encourage our employer to bring fair and reasonable proposals so we can reach acceptable agreements and conclude the negotiations for new multi-year contracts.”

Chancellor Rita Cheng said notices were sent out to faculty unions on Friday and Monday expressing a desire to return to the bargaining table. She said that possible dates were also sent out for times to return to the table. Cheng said it was made clear that the one-year contract put forth by the administration was only intended to cover the remaining months this year and was in no way a long term contract. She said she hopes “all parties can get back to bargaining in good faith.”

* My former intern Barton Lorimor took a look at the situation last night

The two sides have been negotiating new union contracts upon the expiration of previous agreements that were overseen by an interim provost and temporary chancellor in 2006. This year’s talks have brought a federal mediator to the campus and been the subject of demonstrations throughout the process. Students and faculty members even demonstrated outside of Shryock Auditorium during Chancellor Rita Cheng’s installment ceremony earlier this month.

A previous report in the campus newspaper, the Daily Egyptian, said some of the unions have considered filing litigation against the university for imposing one-year employment terms on three of the unions without their approval. Randy Hughes, president of the tenured faculty union, would not say if today’s announcement concerns those threats but said such action remains under consideration.

Unions have been resistant to the university’s implementation of furlough days and talks of having to distribute lay-off notices as enrollment and financial support from the state has declined over the last six years. A representative from SIU President Glenn Poshard’s office has said the SIU system’s state allocation is now at levels not seen since fiscal year 1999.

Poshard has been consistent in publicly supporting Cheng’s performance since she became the Carbondale campus’ sixth chancellor in ten years last summer.

The administration has mostly brushed off claims made by union leaders that the university has exaggerated its declining fiscal condition. Just this month the unions claimed the administration is plotting to eliminate bargaining rights and discontinue tenure positions. Cheng has declined to comment on these claims in the local press but said any concerns over language in the one-year terms can be discussed for a future agreement.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


Unclear on the concept

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* Greg Hinz follows up with Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka about her projection yesterday that the state would have $8 billion in unpaid bills at the end of this fiscal year...

According to the comptroller, the amount of outstanding bills she won’t have the money to pay will hit the $8-billion-plus mark at the end of fiscal 2011 on June 30 — almost exactly the level of a year ago.

“You would have thought the single biggest increase in income taxes we’ve ever had would have paid the backlog of bills,” said Ms. Topinka, referring to the two-thirds hike in the individual income tax that took effect on Jan. 1. “It hasn’t happened. How do you explain that to the public?”

It’s a good question, and one that implies that all those Democrats who run Springfield are spending like mad.

As we’ve discussed time and time again, the tax hike was designed to all but eliminate the structural deficit. The unpaid bills were supposed to be paid off with a big loan, the payments for which were actually included in the tax hike.

Also, the tax hike took effect January 1, but employers didn’t adjust their payroll programs until early March. We know this because income tax receipts spiked way up in March. So, the state will have just four months of additional tax hike revenues. That new money will not reduce the overdue bill backlog. It was never designed to do that.

That being said, Topinka is right that this will be extremely difficult to explain to voters. Heck, it’s difficult to explain to legislators and reporters. “You raised my taxes and still can’t pay your past-due bills? What the heck?”

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      


*** UPDATED x6 - Bradley: Vaccines needed now - Kentucky intervenes with Illinois - Rep. Bradley: Sue Missouri - Quinn talks about Missouri suit - Tilley apology video - Tilley apologizes *** Missouri House Speaker to Cairo: Drop dead

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* Missouri’s House Speaker Steve Tilley was asked this week whether he’d rather see Missouri farmland flooded or see Cairo under water. As you already know by now, the Army Corps of Engineers is planning to blow up a “fuseplug” levee in Missouri to relieve flooding pressure on Cairo.

“Cairo,” Tilley replied without hesitation as reporters laughed. “I’ve been there. Trust me. Cairo.”

“Have you been to Cairo?” Tilley asked a reporter, who said he had. “OK, then you know what I’m saying then.”

Watch

Cairo is mostly poor and black. Apparently, there are a few nice (white owned) homes in that federal floodway zone. I’ve tried to give Missouri the benefit of the doubt here, but Speaker Tilley pretty much showed what this is all about.

* State Sen. Gary Forby is not amused. From a press release…

“During a time when people are being asked to evacuate their homes and leave behind their belongings, it absolutely blows my mind that that type of dialogue is being thrown around by the Missouri Speaker. Not only is it in poor taste, but it absolutely disgusting that Speaker Tilley would joke about putting the lives of Cairo residents at risk by choosing farmland over a community.”

*** UPDATE 1 *** Tilley has apologized. From an e-mailed press release…

In a recent interview I was asked about a proposal that would blow-up a dam in Missouri and impact on Mississippi County and Cairo Illinois. As the Speaker of the Missouri House I came to the defense of Missouri, but in doing so I said some inappropriate and hurtful comments about the community of Cairo. I first want to apologize for my insensitive remark and personally apologize to anyone that I offended.

My commitment to the residents and farmers of southeast Missouri should not have led me to insult another community and for that I am sincerely regretful.

That’s actually a pretty decent apology for a politician.

…Adding… Maybe the reporters who laughed so hard at Tilley’s jokes should apologize themselves. Sheesh, what a mess.

*** UPDATE 2 *** Apology video

*** UPDATE 3 *** My former intern Barton Lorimor went to Gov. Quinn’s press conference in southern Illinois today. Here is the Q&A from that event, including the governor speaking about Missouri’s lawsuit to try and stop the Corps of Engineers from blowing the fuseplug levee. Watch

*** UPDATE 4 *** Rep. John Bradley told reporters today “We need to consider suing Missouri for putting Illinois lives at stake.” Watch

*** UPDATE 5 *** The hearing on Missouri’s lawsuit to stop the levee being blown is still ongoing as of 3:40 this afternoon. However, we do have some new news. Kentucky has filed a motion to intervene in the case. Kentucky is standing with Illinois and against Missouri. From the motion

Moreover, residents of and property in Hickman, Kentucky and Fulton County, Kentucky, (which sits on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River) will be at substantial risk of harm if the Corps’ Operations Plan is not implemented.

*** UPDATE 6 *** I just got off the phone with Rep. John Bradley. I asked him if anything was lacking so far in the state’s response. He said tons of people from all walks of life are helping sandbag throughout southern Illinois and they’re often working in septic water. Injuries happen, he said, so the state needs to quickly make sure these volunteers get tetanus shots.

Rep. Bradley, by the way, said that the Big Muddy river rose four feet overnight and he’s heading home as quickly as he can. At the end of the conversation, however, he said the road was closed because of the flooding and wasn’t sure he would make it. Best of luck to him - and to everybody down there.

[ *** End Of Updates *** ]

* Also, in case you missed the update below, here are Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s court filings from today.

* AG Madigan press release

* Madigan’s response to motion for restraining order and injunction

* Memorandum in support of motion to intervene with affidavits

You can also find a good history of this floodway by clicking here.

…Adding… Just in case you’d like to contact Speaker Tilley and politely express your opinion…

Phone: 573-751-1488
E-Mail: Steven.Tilley@house.mo.gov

…Adding more… Gov. Pat Quinn calls up more National Guard troops…

Governor Pat Quinn today activated an additional 200 Illinois National Guard troops, bringing the total to more than 320 Guard personnel engaged in the state’s efforts to protect citizens and critical facilities from rapidly-rising flood waters. Governor Quinn also commended private companies for donating needed supplies to the flood response.

The Governor made the announcements after he and Lt. Governor Sheila Simon attended a situational briefing at the state’s Unified Area Command in Marion.

“We’re dealing with very serious flooding throughout southern Illinois,” said Governor Quinn. “I’ve committed all available state resources to help protect threatened communities and will continue to provide personnel and other assets until the threat has passed.”

The additional 200 Illinois Guardsmen from southern Illinois National Guard companies will perform route reconnaissance, levee surveillance and maintenance and evacuation support in Gallatin and Alexander counties. More than 120 troops were deployed earlier this week to support the flood effort.

- Posted by Rich Miller   83 Comments      


Question(s) of the day

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* The Sun-Times editorializes today about the high cost of state pensions. It proposes two changes for current state employees

Two good places to start: Raising the amount employees contribute toward their pensions and/or raising the retirement age. Workers closest to retirement should be exempt.

The unions consider both efforts wrong, unfair and unconstitutional. They are intent on fighting to the bitter end. But these changes are less onerous and fairer than those proposed by [House Republican Leader Tom Cross]. And, at the negotiating table, the unions would have a mediating influence on the final product.

Something has got to give, and now is the time for all sides, particularly Gov. Quinn, to make it happen. [Emphasis added]

* The Questions: Should current state employees be forced to contribute more to the pension fund? Should retirement ages be raised for current state employees? Take polls 1 and 2 and then explain both your answers in comments, please. Thanks.



- Posted by Rich Miller   158 Comments      


State owes businesses $850M in tax refunds

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* There’s more to making Illinois business friendly than handing out tax subsidies or even reforming things like the workers’ compensation system. For instance

Thousands of Illinois businesses are waiting for the state to pay long-overdue tax refunds, and there’s no sign the wait will end anytime soon.

The state owes money to roughly 36,000 businesses that overpaid their income taxes, going back to 2008. The backlog totals about $850 million, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said Wednesday. […]

At Peters Machine Inc. in Decatur, President Jerry Nelson said he continues to wait for about $15,000 dating to the 2008 tax year.

“I’ve tried to get answers, but no one seems to be in a position to let me know what’s going to happen,” Nelson told Lee Enterprises newspapers.

Getting businesses the money they’re legally owed can only help the economy as a whole. Whether they get this done by borrowing or cuts or whatever, the General Assembly and the governor shouldn’t stop until they figure out how to pay what we owe.

* Meanwhile, Greg Baise of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association says Gov. Pat Quinn needs to be much more involved with passing workers’ comp reform

The key is Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been somewhat involved but needs to step it up if a deal is to be reached, Mr. Baise continued.

Mr. Baise conceded that some business leaders are insisting on a stronger deal than he might agree to. But they, too, listen to Caterpillar, he said, referring to the stir the Peoria-based manufacturer raised a few weeks ago when it seemed to suggest it would move out of Illinois unless the state improved its business climate.

As a matter of practical politics, a bill needs to pass in the next couple of weeks, before the Legislature turns to the volatile subjects of remap and the budget, Mr. Baise said.

“If the governor moves forward at all on causation, we can say Illinois is changing its pattern,” he said. Given Caterpillar, the weak economy and other pressures to act, “If we can’t get this one done now, I don’t see how we ever get it done.”

* Back to the budget

Illinois’ recent income tax increase cannot be temporary, as is currently written in the law, if the state wants to avoid deep cuts to social services, according to one budget expert.

“I think it’s disingenuous for [lawmakers] to have claimed that this is a four-year tax increase that is set to expire. They did the right thing by raising revenue. They did the wrong thing by making it temporary,” said Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a think tank focused on budget policy. “I think one of the most disingenuous pieces of public policy that has been perpetuated on voters and taxpayers for decades now is that they can have public services and never have to pay for them. At some point, you need adequate sustainable revenue raised in a responsible way.”

The governor has said that he wants to ensure the tax hike is temporary, and you won’t find many others who think it should be made permanent. The problem is that nobody in power is willing to do what it takes to make this happen. We’re in for another big budget crisis down the line if incredibly tough decisions aren’t made now.

* Video of Martire’s comments

[Thanks to BlueRoomStream.com for the video.]

* Budget and business roundup…

* Cross says state budget plan could be ready in two or three weeks: So far, Republicans say the two parties have worked surprisingly well together, and Cross says he trusts House Speaker Michael Madigan’s word to hold spending under an agreed-to amount.

* Topinka: State will be $8 billion in hole: Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration agreed with Topinka’s calculation. Quinn’s budget office issued a statement, saying Illinois continues to face “serious fiscal challenges due to many years of budget mismanagement.” But the administration firmly stated that borrowing money at low-interest rates to help pay down a mounting backlog of overdue bills is “paramount to stabilizing the budget.”

* VIDEO: Comptroller Topinka on unpaid bills

* Judge blocks Quinn from slashing regional superintendents’ pay

* The “Backdoor Political Game” Of The Illinois Health Coverage Exchange

* Illinois debt impacts Rockford area social service agencies

* IDS Drug Assistance Program cuts draw fire: Agreeing with advocates’ criticism of cuts in the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program announced by the Illinois Department of Public Health, an influential state lawmaker said April 22 she’ll find “excesses” in other parts of the IDPH budget to reverse the cuts.

* Insurance switch could cost Illinois, opponent says

* Tiny, localized state agency could be dissolved

* Statehouse beer battle threatens new Springfield brewery

* Legislators look at local governments

* Durbin calls for national standard for online sales tax collection

* Online sales tax could go national

* Exelon CEO Rowe to exit after Constellation deal closes

* Allstate sees Q1 profit triple

* Oprah closing up her store after show ends

* 588-2300: Elmer Lynn Hauldren, Empire Carpet Man, Dead At 89

* Ordinance to ease up on shared kitchens operators

* Consolidations Final Act of Daley’s School Board

* Emanuel team retreats on comments about property taxes for nonprofits

* Evanston Considers Plastic Bag Tax

* District 87 considers how state core changes will affect local classrooms

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


Map of the day

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* From John Jackson’s paper “The 2010 Elections: Illinois Still Blue Despite the Red Wave that Swept the Nation“…

* More from Jackson’s paper…

There are some counties which changed sides between 2006 and 2010 although all of them, except Jackson County, changed from the Democratic to the Republican columns. If you track the vote for a longer period of time, especially if all four of the statewide governor’s races reviewed here are included, you can identify a lot more variation and the record of change across many of these counties is quite evident. Those are counties where the candidates and their supporters must focus particular attention and commit special resources. Those are the counties where a strategic infusion of staff time and campaign resources, particularly media and money, can make a crucial difference. They are the marginal counties which will be the battleground counties in races of the future.

* Illinois Issues did a recent story on Jackson’s latest work

(T)here have been indications for years that the southern half of Illinois is fundamentally shifting away from its Democratic roots. To one scholar, it’s a state-level echo of the shift that the southern half of America has already undergone, as the economic appeal of Democrats’ pro-labor policies has been displaced by what the Republicans are selling: God, guns, anti-abortion activism and other cultural issues.

“I think it’s part of a larger trend. It has to do with southern politics nationally. We are catching up with the South,’’ says John Jackson, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

In a recent paper, Jackson used electoral data to show that “Illinois clearly suffers from an intense regionalism … especially polarized along the geographical fault lines dividing the rural and small town areas from the cities and the suburban areas.’’ The ongoing Republicanization of southern Illinois, he wrote, is one of the starker indications of that fissure.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** AG Madigan preparing to intervene today in Cairo flood fight

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

*** UPDATE *** OK, here are the documents I promised you earlier…

* AG Madigan press release

* Madigan’s response to motion for restraining order and injunction

* Memorandum in support of motion to intervene with affidavits

You can also find a good history of this floodway by clicking here.

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* I received this e-mail from the attorney general’s office late yesterday afternoon and was out of the office and didn’t see it until last night. Madigan will intervene today in a lawsuit brought by the Missouri attorney general to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from blowing a Missouri “fuse plug” levee and flooding some farmland in that state in order to save the town of Cairo. The levee was specifically designed to be blown in case other areas needed to be saved…

Hey Rich, here’s the latest:

We will seek tomorrow to intervene in the Missouri governor’s lawsuit to ensure that the people of Illinois are represented in court. Attorney General Madigan intends to do anything she can to defeat Missouri’s motion so as to allow the Army Corps to do whatever possible to protect the people in Illinois who’re in the path of this potential disaster.

I followed up last night and asked for more details…

We’re intervening in the suit on the side of the Army Corps, asking the court not to stop the Army Corps from proceeding with its plans to deal with the rising water and arguing that:

(1) The relief that Missouri wants, if granted, threatens to injure Illinois residents and property.

(2) We will provide detailed information on the extent of the threat to Illinois residents so that the court hears directly from us and has the information to consider.

(3) And, more specifically, we’re arguing that any delay in the Army Corps implementing its operations plan to alleviate flooding conditions will immediately put the health and safety of the nearly 3000 residents of Cairo at serious risk.

I’ll post Madigan’s filing as soon as I receive it, which will be mid-morning or so.

* State Rep. Brandon Phelps represents Cairo and issued a press release yesterday…

“What is most important here is the issue of farmland versus lives, and I find it very troubling that the Missouri governor believes Missouri farmland is more valuable than the lives of Illinois residents. The farmland in question is also designated by the United States federal government for exactly this purpose, and it is up to them to make the decision, not the governor of Missouri.”

He also held a press conference

Rush Limbaugh’s cousin, US District Court judge Steve Limbaugh will preside over today’s hearing, which is scheduled for 1:30. Rep. Phelps joked that if he was a betting man he’d wager that Limbaugh probably won’t rule in Illinois’ favor.

* Gov. Pat Quinn will be in Marion today at 12:30 to discuss the situation. It’s a certainty that he’ll be asked about the Missouri lawsuit, so I’ll post audio or video as soon as I get it.

* This comment from a Missouri state Representative doesn’t make a whole lot of sense

Missouri State Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, who represents farmers in the flood plain… said there may be just a few farms there, but those farms would be wiped out.

“People down there can’t get flood insurance because they’re in the flood plain,” he said. “They don’t allow people to build new homes down there; you can put up farm equipment but you can’t build inside the spillway. If the explosion takes place, they’re going to lose expensive homes that they’re going to have to bite the bullet (on) … It would be catastrophic.”

So, they built houses even though they weren’t supposed to, and even though it’s impossible to get flood insurance because those structures are within a legally designated federal flood-control spillway - and now they complain? The area is officially known as the “Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.” What part of that was so difficult to understand? As mentioned above, the levee was specifically designed to be blown up

The plan required modification to the frontline levee which includes raising 12,500 feet of the upper fuseplug and 7,500 feet of the lower fuseplug and installing horizontal polyethylene pipe in three crevasse locations. These crevasse locations are designated as Inflow, Inflow/Outflow No. 1 and Inflow/Outflow No. 2. In addition to the modifications to the frontline levee, all materials, including the blasting agent which will be pumped into the pipes in the levee, and equipment necessary to place the floodway into operation have been acquired by the Memphis District.

* Missouri’s congressional delegation has also weighed in

But the corps has encountered a tidal wave of opposition from Missouri lawmakers — including U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat — who joined U.S. Rep. JoAnn Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, in urging President Barack Obama to direct the corps to consider alternatives to the levee-busting plan.

* Illinois’ delegation has been more muted

While Missouri lawmakers were up in arms about a possible Birds Point detonation, their llinois counterparts were more circumspect — saying that they would rely on the expertise and judgment of corps officials in making the call.

“I am in regular contact with Corps of Engineers officials as they assess all pertinent information regarding the best course of action to deal with flood conditions in Cairo,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, whose congressional district extends to Cairo. […]

“My thoughts are with all affected families and individuals, particularly those in Cairo, Brookport and Grand Tower who are being asked to evacuate their homes,” said [US Sen. Dick Durbin] in a statement. “I will continue to work closely with federal, state and local officials to ensure that every resource is made available to communities along the Ohio, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and other affected areas.” […]

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, said he wanted to make sure that flooded communities get the help they need. “My staff and I are following the flood situation closely and will continue to work with other state and federal agencies to ensure affected communities get the support and relief they need throughout this rainy season,” Kirk said in a statement to the Beacon.

* You have to read way down to get to it, but the Tribune finally came to its point near the end of today’s editorial

We hope any judge who hears Missouri’s case pays far more attention to engineers than to lawyers or politicians. Any decision on whether to breach the levee or leave it intact will invite the possibility of widespread suffering, either in Illinois or in Missouri.

* A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for the potentially flooded area in Missouri.

* More impact

Farther south, the mayor of Metropolis said flooding along the Ohio had forced a dozen families to move to a church shelter and closed down a casino that employs 600 people. With Harrah’s Casino closed since Monday, city revenue would be affected, Mayor Billy McDaniel said.

* And reports yesterday morning that the Army Corps of Engineers would wait until the weekend to decide what to do aren’t complete accurate, according to this story

Reached at noon on Wednesday, Jim Pogue, the Corps’ Public Affairs Specialist for the Memphis District, said the wait-until-the-weekend claim “is not really correct. Let me tell you where we are.

“The equipment barges are headed north.

“The next decision point will take place this afternoon. That decision point is: do we continue to wait and watch or do we go ahead and prepare the levee for possible detonation? It will be this afternoon before any more decisions are made.

“Right now, we’re moving forward prudently and cautiously and making sure we’re in the right place on this fluid timeline. (That way) if we have to take the next steps, we’re ready to do it.”

When will the barges (which contain equipment and explosives that will be needed if the levee is blown) reach the target area?

“They’ll be pushing up to this general area. The intention is to pre-position in the area and wait – that should be sometime tonight.”

* It’s looking likely that the levee is gonna be blown

As of Wednesday afternoon, it was becoming increasingly likely the corps would have to “operate the plan,” another way of saying detonating explosives at the fuse plugs of the system to relieve the swollen river

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Thompson appointed attorney for state cops in FOID FOIA kerfuffle

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* Big Jim is back in the limelight

Former Gov. Jim Thompson will represent the Illinois State Police in a lawsuit challenging whether the state of Illinois can release the names of 1.3 million Illinoisans who hold state firearm owner’s identification cards.

Thompson and Matthew Carter of the Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn LLC were appointed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Motions naming the two men were filed Tuesday in Peoria County Circuit Court; however, they probably wouldn’t appear in town until a May 18 status hearing.

Last month, Chief Peoria County Circuit Judge Michael Brandt allowed a temporary restraining order blocking the names’ release. The Illinois State Rifle Association and the Illinois State Police are expected to argue that any release of information will have a “chilling effect on the Second Amendment.”

“It’s not infringing on their right to bear arms. It has a chilling effect to reveal the names of FOID card owners,” Thompson said. “It will make people more hesitant to exercise their Second Amendment rights if they knew their identities would be revealed.”

* AG Madigan appointed Thompson at the request of the Illinois State Police. The move was praised by pro-gunners and analysts alike

Richard Pearson of the Illinois State Rifle Association said the choice of Thompson is a smart one for Madigan. Noting how controversial the issue is among gun owners, he argued that if Thompson prevails nobody can accuse her of not giving opponents every chance to win.

“She has an issue that is a real political problem for her and now she’s got the best attorney to get her out of it,” he said.

Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, said he didn’t believe that Madigan was looking for a political out, but agreed it was a smart move.

“She has proven time and again that she’s very savvy … and she didn’t just stumble into this,” he said.

Thompson will have an even keel who won’t go out of his way to bash the AG. Smart move.

* In related news, the SJ-R editorial board weighed in on that Guns Save Life guy who created a stir by using a Holocaust symbol to slam AG Madigan’s FOIA decision and then going off the rails when relatively mild criticism was proffered. The SJ-R noted that it sharply criticized the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when they put up a display near the Statehouse for its national “Holocaust on Your Plate” push, and applied the same standard to this situation

“Given the opinions of those on the political left in our society, frankly, I think a lot of people in our society would like to see gun owners either imprisoned or exterminated,” Guns Save Life president John Boch told Schoenburg.

Exterminated?

This kind of language and symbolism is beyond inappropriate. Co-opting the Holocaust for any cause other than genocide conveys a basic lack of understanding of its true horrors, not to mention its fundamental cause. […]

Or as ADL President Abraham Foxman said regarding PETA’s infamous 2003 effort, “Rather than deepen our revulsion against what the Nazis did to the Jews, the project will undermine the struggle to understand the Holocaust and to find ways to make sure such catastrophes never happen again.”

That struggle may continue forever. So should our prohibition on using the Holocaust as a marketing tool.

- Posted by Rich Miller   13 Comments      


Priest with strong political ties suspended

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* Chicago Catholic priest Michael Pfleger has been an institution in state and local politics for decades, so his suspension by Cardinal George is news for this venue

Cardinal Francis George suspended Rev. Michael Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina Catholic Church and barred him from performing Catholic sacraments over public statements Pfleger made about a possible reassignment.

In a letter from George to Pfleger released to the media on Wednesday, the Cardinal said Pfleger’s public remarks that he would leave the Catholic Church rather than accept a position outside of St. Sabina led to his decision.

“If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish,” George wrote.

* The Cardinal released the letter (read it here) to the media before Pfleger got it “to avoid misrepresentation and manipulation on anyone’s part,” he wrote. That didn’t sit well at St. Sabina

Associate Minister Kimberly Lymore declined to comment on the letter’s contents but claimed media members received the letter before Father Pfleger did.

“That’s a lack of respect,” she said. “He was ambushed. He’s spent the last 36 years in this archdiocese, given his life to this community, to the church. To be treated like this is unfair.”

* Background

During the flap over his possible assignment to Leo, Pfleger appeared on the “Smiley & West” public radio program that he had been banned from speaking at events in the archdiocese and blamed pressure from conservative Catholics and the National Rifle Association for his most recent clash with George.

“I want to try to stay in the Catholic Church,” Pfleger said. “If they say ‘You either take this principalship of (Leo High) or pastorship there or leave,’ then I’ll have to look outside the church. I believe my calling is to be a pastor. I believe my calling is to be a voice for justice. I believe my calling is to preach the Gospel. In or out of the church, I’m going to continue to do that.”

In a later interview with the Tribune, Pfleger clarified that he feels called to preach and push for social justice in a Catholic context. He said he loves the Catholic Church and prefers to stay there, but he would not go to Leo full time.

“I’ve always said I could not do something that I don’t feel called or equipped to do,” he told the Tribune. “A full-time position at Leo is not something I’m equipped to do. I think Leo has made it clear they don’t see any need for me to come there. For both sides, it would be a lose-lose.”

* More background

Pfleger has gained national attention for his protests on everything from gun violence to drug paraphernalia to Jerry Springer’s television show, and he has often appeared with major civil rights leaders.

Pfleger, who is white and runs a largely black parish, also has made racial equality a large part of his mission. He often wears African-style robes during services, and a mural of a black Jesus is behind the altar. Both his adopted sons are black.

It has long appeared he has had a strained relationship with the Chicago Archdiocese, which opposed his decision to adopt children.

* Kimberly Lymore, the Associate Minister at the Faith Community of St. Sabina, read a statement to the media yesterday

On March 11, 2011, Fr. Pfleger met with Cardinal George where he was asked to take over as president of Leo High School.

On March 19, 2011, Fr. Pfleger sent a letter to Cardinal George saying that he was neither qualified nor experienced being president of a high school but that he was willing to help Leo High School in any way that he could

According to Lymore, there has been no further communication between Pfleger and George since that exchange, despite requests from the church’s cabinet and leadership team.

“[Pfleger] spent the last 36 years in this Archdiocese, given his life to this community to the church, and to be treated like this is unfair; to be given a letter and then he doesn’t even want to — the cardinal doesn’t want to discuss it with him — that’s not fair,” said Lymore.

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Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

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Questionable headlines

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

* The Illinois Review gets Drudgian

Absolutely nothing in the SJ-R story has anything close to such a reference about Quinn being compared to God. It’s about the governor’s annual prayer breakfast, for crying out loud

“I admire the governor for abolishing the death penalty,” he said. “I think that has brought a lot of credit on the state. I should say I admire Illinois for doing that, not just the governor.”

* From the Bloomington Pantagraph

I try to use the two-letter abbreviation for Illinois whenever I shorten the name. I don’t care for the “Ill.” because it can have another meaning, although in this case, it may not be far off.

* Crain’s

And who are these people?…

The Missouri-based group that’s trying to get TV personality and developer Donald Trump into the race for president Tuesday announced two co-chairs of its Illinois campaign.

They are Eric Johnson, an attorney and former Young Republicans activist who currently is DeKalb Township supervisor in the Rockford area, and DuPage County restaurateur Michael LaPidus.

The two men volunteered, says Mr. LaPidus, who runs a small firm named Q Restaurant Group but also serves on the board of the Illinois Restaurant Assn.

“Washington needs a CEO who can get our nation back on track,” he added.

Trump’s casino business has filed for bankruptcy three times. Also, his airline never turned a profit. I suppose that qualifies him.

* Kankakee Daily Journal

And why does state Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) believe it has failed?…

“The tax increase was sold to us as a way to pay down the state’s debts,” he said. “The backlog then was announced at $4 billion. Now it stands at $4.2 billion.”

Actually, the tax hike was sold as a way of eliminating the state’s structural deficit. Part of the tax hike was supposed to be used to pay borrowing costs which would’ve paid off the state’s past-due debts, but the Republicans as a whole as well as some Democrats are against that.

* No, the Illinois State Museum does not appear to be doing a Mark Kirk retrospective…

* What a crock

From the AP story…

A data file publicized by security researchers last week doesn’t store users’ locations, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in their general area, the company said. It promised software fixes to address concerns over that file.

It’s the same thing.

…Adding… From my father comes this pic of a sign in front of a Moline office development…

Some developer really needs to catch up on his work.

- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      


Question of the day

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

* The setup

Lawmakers voted 97-1 during the first week in April to adopt legislation that would require people convicted of first degree murder to register with the Illinois State Police for 10 years after they leave prison.

Proponents of the bill state that if adopted, Illinois would be the first in the nation to enact a murderers registry, which at this time would require up to 500 parolees and another 3,000 yet to be released inmates to sign up. […]

Named after Batavia’s Andrea Will, who was strangled to death by her boyfriend when they were students at Eastern Illinois University in 1998, the bill requires all people convicted of first-degree murder to register with Illinois State Police for 10 years after they leave prison. The legislation was sparked when Will’s ex-boyfriend, Justin Boulay, was released from prison last year after serving 12 years of a 24-year sentence.

“The murder registry would allow not only law enforcement but also the community to know who resides here, who our family members are associating with and who our children are dating. We already track sex offenders, child murderers and arsonists, and the murder registry is a natural extension to the state’s current registries,” said State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, the sponsor of the bill and an Elmhurst Republican.

* The Question: Should Illinois establish a “murderers registry”? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks much.


- Posted by Rich Miller   38 Comments      


Topinka: State could owe $8 billion at end of fiscal year

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

* When Gov. Pat Quinn said he wanted to borrow $8.7 billion to pay off past-due bills, lots of people were skeptical that he needed so much money. Well, he may not have been that far off

Illinois is on track to end fiscal 2011 with $8 billion in unpaid bills and other obligations, the state comptroller said on Wednesday. […]

The $8 billion owed to school districts, hospitals, social service agencies, as well as $1.2 billion due for state employee health insurance and $850 million in corporate tax refunds, would match the amount of unpaid obligations the state had at the end of fiscal 2010, according to the comptroller. […]

Topinka, however, said her projection could change depending on actions taken by state lawmakers.

* Despite the ongoing problem, state Sen. Bill Brady wants to eliminate the estate tax

We all recognize Illinois’ dire fiscal condition and the need to finally come to grips with our out-of-balance budget, but siphoning more money from families and businesses is not the solution. A tax on dying in Illinois will be especially onerous for small-business owners and family farmers, who could be faced with the prospect of selling their businesses and farms to pay the tax collector.

Only 17 states impose their own estate taxes. Illinois imposes an estate tax on estates valued at more than $2 million. The applicable rate depends on the size of the estate and increases with the size of the estate, starting at 8 percent and going as high as 16 percent, on top of the federal 35 percent estate tax rate.

* Sen. Brady also has a pension solution that appears to rely on a lot of magic. First, he would put all current employees in 401(k)-type programs, and then

These changes still leave the system’s legacy cost, estimated by Messrs. Rauh and Novy-Marx at $140 billion. Ideally, the majority of that will be funded through future investment growth and a modest change to cost-of-living adjustments. Challenges include a state budget that cannot afford unreformed costs and citizens who are not undertaxed. The incentive of a solvent pension plan should motivate government officials and union representatives to reach an acceptable compromise.

* Meanwhile, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability estimates that a service tax could yield $4-8 billion a year, depending on what was taxed, but don’t hold your breath

A new report says Illinois is ignoring as much as $8 billion in potential tax revenue, but there is little support from either political party in Springfield for a grab at the money.

The Legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability took a look at how Illinois taxes services, everything from providing electricity and natural gas to cutting hair and lawns. The report states that Illinois does not tax many services — only 17 — and that other states tax many more, the average is 56. COGFA’s analysis estimates that the state could generate between $4 billion and $8 billion if lawmakers were to expand the service tax base.

* Related…

* State sales tax loophole alarming for Cook County - Some say legislation could lead to businesses fleeing, millions in lost revenue

* Illinois RTA Decries Shell Game

* Press release: Governor Quinn Announces Full-Fill Aerosol Plant Expansion - $2.5 Million State Investment Package Will Help Danville Company Add Approximately 150 Jobs

* Quinn has worker’s comp reform proposal, but no details

* House approaches looming deadline to pass budget

* Editorial: No money? Big problem

* VIDEO: Mike Tryon on Service Taxes

* VIDEO: Elaine Nekritz on service taxes

* VIDEO: Rep. Roger Eddy on budget

* VIDEO: Rep. Sara Feigenholtz on budget

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Quote of the day

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

* Freshman Republican Congressman Joe Walsh

Walsh also said he’s been encouraging local tea party members - many of whom have begun scrutinizing local government spending, to begin focusing more on state-level politics.

“My hope is the tea party movement will set their sites next year on (state Democratic Party Chairman and Illinois House Speaker) Michael Madigan. He’s a king, he’s a tyrant, he runs this state. You’ve got to educate the tea party movement to that fact,” he said.

Discuss.

*** UPDATE *** The National Journal claims that Congressman Walsh is one of the top ten most vulnerable members to the remap process

Illinois Democrats are still stunned by Walsh’s shocking defeat of three-term Rep. Melissa Bean last year. After all, Walsh was supposedly a marginalized tea party candidate with so much baggage (he lived outside the district in a home under foreclosure) that local Republicans wouldn’t even carry his literature. So Democrats will do everything they can to make Walsh a one-term wonder. They could make the 8th CD even more Democratic by adding heavily Hispanic Elgin, or they could combine it with veteran GOP Rep. Don Manzullo’s 16th CD.

Also on the list, Bob Dold…

After winning GOP Sen. Mark Kirk’s open House seat impressively last fall, Dold now has the most Democratic district of any Republican in the country. As such, it’s going to be hard for Democrats to make this district even bluer, but they could try by adding Skokie or other parts of the North Shore. Even if they don’t alter the 10th CD’s partisan fundamentals, Democrats could weaken Dold simply by giving him hundreds of thousands of new and unfamiliar voters.

Judy Biggert…

Illinois Democrats probably won’t be content to wait until Biggert retires to make a play for her suburban seat. At 73, Biggert is one of the few socially liberal Republicans remaining in the House and has proven a strong general-election candidate, winning seven elections in a row. So Democrats could either make the 13th CD much more Democratic by adding cities like Aurora and Joliet, or they could fold it into the 6th CD of more conservative GOP Rep. Peter Roskam to make way for a new Hispanic-majority seat on Chicago’s North Side.

And Bobby Schilling…

Democratic legislators in the Land of Lincoln could embark on the ultimate takedown: combining Schilling and one of two neighboring Republicans, 18th-CD Rep. Aaron Schock or 16th-CD Rep. Don Manzullo, into a Democratic-leaning western Illinois district none of them may be able to win. If either scenario comes to fruition, Schilling could well be the underdog in a primary against the skillful Schock or the seasoned Manzullo. Then, the winner could be an underdog in a general election. At worst, Democrats will have succeeded in collapsing two Republican seats into one.

- Posted by Rich Miller   87 Comments      


*** UPDATED x2 - AG Madigan preps defense *** Simon defends flooding Missouri farmland to save Illinois town

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

*** UPDATE 1 *** The Illinois attorney general’s office is in the process of working out the details on how it will fight off the Missouri lawsuit…

Our office has already been actively talking to the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the situation on the ground.

Recognizing the urgency here, we’re considering several legal avenues and in the process of determining the most expeditious one. The end goal being to defeat the motion filed by Missouri and to allow the Army Corps to do whatever it needs to do to protect the people in Illinois who’re in the path of this potential disaster.

*** UPDATE 2 *** Explosives-laden barges are being moved into place

The Memphis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has moved barges loaded with explosives and equipment upriver on the Mississippi. The Corps plans to operate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway. Overnight, the barges made their way from Memphis, Tenn., to Charleston, Mo.

There could be a commission ruling tomorrow

The head of the Mississippi River Commission is expected to announce Wednesday whether to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to blow a 2,000-foot-wide hole in a Missouri levee to ease record flooding near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

And the Army Corps of Engineers may wait until the weekend to do anything

The Army Corps of Engineers will wait until this weekend to decide whether it is necessary to punch a massive hole in a levee to protect an upstream Illinois town from the rising Mississippi River, a regional spokesman said Wednesday.

The corps has said it may have to blow holes, perhaps using explosives, in the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri’s Mississippi County to ease rising waters near the 2,800-resident Illinois town of Cairo (KAY’-roh), which sits near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Missouri has filed a federal lawsuit to block the effort because it would swamp farmland. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Cape Girardeau.

But corps spokesman Bob Anderson told The Associated Press that even if a judge gives the go-ahead, the agency cautiously will wait until it gets a better forecast of the river crests to see if the breach is necessary to relieve pressure on Cairo’s levees — or if conventional flood-fighting efforts such as sandbagging could suffice.

[ *** End Of Updates *** ]

* Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon defended the Army Corps of Engineers plan to dynamite a Missouri levee in order to relieve severe flooding pressure on Cairo. Missouri has filed suit to stop the levee breach, claiming farmland would be flooded

Simon told The Associated Press on Tuesday that farmers will be compensated for their losses and will be able to use the land next year. On the other hand, flooding could devastate the poor town of Cairo.

She noted an Illinois levee was intentionally breached during 1993 flooding.

Simon also says the Army Corps of Engineers would not break the Birds Point levee until water had already topped the levee.

The Corps of Engineers says it will put off a decision until at least Wednesday.

* Via Jon Musgrave, we have this history about that particular levee that the Corps wants to blow. from the Red Cross book “The Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1937: Report of Relief Operations”…

Simultaneous with the havoc in the Ohio Valley was the insistent threat of another major disaster in the valley of the Mississippi River below Cairo, Illinois. New levees constructed after the Mississippi Flood of 1927 were being put to a severe test for the first time. […]

On January 25, the “fuse-plug” levees along the Missouri shore of the Mississippi River near Cairo were dynamited by U.S. Engineers to relieve the pressure on the sea wall of that city.

This action was part of a definite plan devised since 1927. Cairo stands upon a narrow and low-lying neck of land at the confluence of the Ohio and the mighty Mississippi Rivers. The city’s sea wall can withstand a stage of 60 feet; more than that brings disaster.

In anticipation of what was now happening, and for the purpose of slowing the velocity and reducing the depth of flood waters in the Mississippi, the Engineers, under an act of Congress, had purchased flowage rights through a 130,000 acre strip of rich plantation land extending from Bird’s Point to New Madrid, Missouri.

In other words, the federal government purchased the right to flood that very spot after the disastrous 1927 flood, which permanently displaced 700,000 people. The nation owns the flowage rights. Missouri ought to back off. But Gov. Jay Nixon still says the Corps is wrong

Nixon told reporters Tuesday he was concerned the corps is “trying to solve the entire watershed pressure on the back of Missouri farmers and Missouri communities” and should instead explore other methods of relieving pressure on the levees.

* Roundup…

* Cairo residents prepare for flood

* Cairo mayor in southern Illinois says 100 have evacuated as flood threat looms

* Levees strain in Midwest; volunteers keep fighting

* Roads closed because of flooding; more rain likely

* Illinois residents advised to consider flood insurance

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      


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* Rauner admin won't deny plan to use National Guard in strike
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* *** UPDATED x1 *** Rate Mark Kirk's new online ad
* The never-ending stalemate
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