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*** UPDATED w/ videos *** End of session live blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

* Statehouse types are loving this feature, so let’s keep it going for another day…

…Adding… If you want to turn off the sound, click the “gear” button and you’ll see these options…

* Rep. Tim Schmitz “wins” the “coveted” Century Club Award

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

* The setup

The Chicago Housing Authority wants to require all adults who currently live in, or apply in the future for housing in any of its developments, to be tested for drugs — including senior citizens.

The blanket policy proposal for anyone 18 years or older has residents and housing advocates crying foul.

The American Civil Liberties Union charges the public agency seeks to place a double standard on the poor. […]

Agency officials argue they need more tools to fight crime, particularly the drug scourge, in CHA developments.

* The Sun-Times editorialized in favor of the plan

On this thorny issue, which raises the hackles of civil libertarians and public housing advocates, we are siding with what we believe is the silent majority of CHA residents.

We think they want drug testing.

Not to punish poor people for living in public housing. And not to stigmatize anyone, though we appreciate that is a real risk.

We’re tentatively backing drug testing because it can potentially make newly revamped CHA developments safer and set a tone that illegal activity is simply not tolerated.

Because God knows that wasn’t the case with the old public housing projects. Over the last decade, the CHA has torn down its projects, displaced thousands of residents and begun to rebuild. The last thing it wants is to recreate the high-rise ghettos it once had.

Mandatory drug testing could be one small part of a larger effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.

* The Question: Do you support mandatory drug tests for everyone 18 years and older as a prerequisite for admittance to public housing? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments.

- Posted by Rich Miller   129 Comments      

Pension, health insurance bills bite the dust… for now

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

* As we learned yesterday, the pension reform bill has been shelved until the fall veto session

Claims of strong-arm political tactics, numerous legislators with state facilities and public employees in their districts, and concerns about fairness sunk a bill that would have increased the amount current public employees would have to pay for their pensions. […]

Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, a member of the House Republican leadership, said some GOP members were told by leaders in the Civic Committee, a group of chief executives from Chicago’s largest corporations, that they would face primary challenges for re-election, if they didn’t vote for the bill.

“Hopefully they learned something from this, that if you do want help implement change, top down may not be the best model,” Watson said. “Calling caucus members and threatening them — that doesn’t play well. Yes, they may have lots of money, but some of these members down here who just won have good relationships with people. They know what they need to do to service their districts.” […]

Another factor that contributed to the bill’s collapse was the strong opposition legislators heard at home from teachers and employees of state facilities in their districts.

* The Tribune editorial board’s anger was, surprisingly, somewhat subdued

The point, though, is that we’ve seen this before. In the House, 65 votes for casinopalooza. But not enough votes for pension discipline.

We don’t fault Madigan and Cross. Their joint statement, issued with Civic Committee President Tyrone Fahner, indicates they will keep pressing for pension reform. It has been good to see Madigan and Cross work together this year to establish a spending level for the fiscal 2012 budget that’s more disciplined than what Senate Democrats and Quinn want.

But even with their combined efforts, Madigan and Cross couldn’t persuade a majority of their members to support pension reform, the most significant legislation in Springfield this year.

Lawmakers head into their final scheduled day of the spring session on Tuesday. Some of them think they dodged a bullet on pensions. They haven’t. Illinois has $85 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Every family in Illinois is already on the hook for $42,000 in combined debt. That’s $42,000 and counting.

* But the pension bill wasn’t the only retirement-related proposal to bite the dust yesterday

Retired state employees will not be required to pay premiums for their state health insurance for the foreseeable future.

Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, the principal architect of the legislation, said he does not plan to call the health insurance premium bill, Senate Bill 175, during the closing hours of the spring session. […]

Schoenberg said his intent was to target people who retired from upper-income state jobs before they reached 65, the age when they would be eligible for Medicare. Those employees would also likely be receiving larger pensions and able to afford paying premiums for their health care, according to Schoenberg.

The plan under consideration, though, would have charged premiums to retirees with pensions less than $15,000 per year. Even retirees with pensions between $35,000 a year and $50,000 a year could have paid from $5,882 to $1,476 annually for state health insurance.

* Related…

* Push to cut government worker pensions fizzles at Capitol

* State pension push stalls

* Some Illinois public school teachers earning six-figure salaries

* More unpaid furlough days for Cook County workers

- Posted by Rich Miller   55 Comments      

Some good news for Shimkus, bad news for Johnson

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

* The House tweaked the congressional map yesterday

In an amendment filed Monday afternoon and voted on roughly two hours later, [Republican Congressman John Shimkus’] home was moved from the proposed 13th Congressional District — which includes most of Springfield, all of Decatur and most of Champaign-Urbana — into the 15th Congressional District, which takes in southern Illinois.

The home of U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, is now in the 13th Congressional District.

The move is a break for Shimkus because it gives him back most of the territory that is in his current district. Johnson will now face an electorate that is more Democratic-leaning.

Johnson will now have to decide whether to run against Shimkus or face a strong push by Democrats next year. He says he’ll run in the 13th

Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the congressman expects to run in the reconfigured 13th district in the 2012 election. But, he decried the process that led to the new boundaries.

“It’s not only unfortunate, it’s crazy, that they didn’t include any members of the delegation on the Republican side when they created the map. That’s not only a disservice to the congressman, but a disservice to the people he represents,” Bloomer said.


* You can find the newly revised maps by clicking here. And here are the voting age population breakdowns by district…

Notice that African-American congressmen had to give up super-majority black districts in order to maintain the current level of representation.

* Related…

* Illinois House give OK to congressional redistricting map

* Sunday Remapalooza: Republicans and Democrats begin to cannibalize

* Saturday Remapalooza: An intensely partisan work of art

* Latino division over legislative maps

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      

“Governor Irrelevant”?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

* From the Tribune

…the governor’s involvement in crafting a new state budget has proved so minimal that Democratic Senate President John Cullerton told colleagues Monday that Quinn is “irrelevant” on the issue. […]

Quinn’s higher spending demands were ignored when the Senate sent him the final pieces of a $33.2 billion spending plan Monday. It’s more than $2 billion less than what Quinn requested. Senators, however, added an additional $431 million in spending on education and social services to a public works bill, daring House members to give up funding on projects in exchange for cutting the money.

Cullerton’s “irrelevant” comment came in a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats.

“Yes, yes, yes, he used the word ‘irrelevant,’” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. The comment was confirmed by three other Senate Democrats, who said Cullerton was characterizing the spending plan Quinn introduced as too far from what lawmakers could pass.

Later, Cullerton and his aides denied that Quinn was irrelevant to the budget process, noting that the governor fulfilled his duty to introduce a spending plan to lawmakers even though it “exceeded our revenues.”

* And then there was this

Gov. Pat Quinn has said that he is not in favor of gambling at the state fairground. While he hasn’t said he would veto it, the governor has said he opposes top-heavy expansions of gambling. He added that, each time a bill was introduced, it seemed to get bigger.

Lang noted during floor debate that the governor was careful not to use the word “veto.”

“Those of us down here are state representatives — we pass laws, and when we pass them, he gets to review them,” Lang said.

“If a bill was on his desk that paid off a billion and a half dollars of bills, and he had no other way to pay it off, I think he’d want to take a strong look at that bill.”

* And this

The House advanced the ComEd bill to the Senate on a 67-47 vote, despite an outright veto threat from Quinn

* And this

An attempt to overturn controversial new health insurance contracts for state workers and retirees was approved by the Illinois House on Monday.

The measure flew through the House on a 98-15 vote, but could be vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn, whose deputies OK’d the contracts for Blue Cross Blue Shield in the first place.

The governor’s office wouldn’t comment on a possible veto of the plan, but instead recommended workers and retirees review their benefits options in order to make a decision before a June 17 sign-up deadline.

* Coincidentally, this topic was the subject of my most recent statewide syndicated newspaper column

Shortly after Gov. Pat Quinn introduced a budget this year which was way out of balance, called for even higher taxes and increased state spending, the General Assembly decided to ignore him.

That was back in February. Things haven’t changed much since then.

The governor’s original budget proposal was just so out of sync with political and fiscal reality that pretty everybody knew pretty quickly that something different would have to be done. It wasn’t long before House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton decided that the best way to pass a reasonable, realistic budget was to cut the governor out of the process and hand the budget-making responsibilities over to the legislative appropriations committees, with strict spending limits.

When I asked Speaker Madigan earlier this spring if Quinn had become irrelevant to the process, Madigan said that the governor had not. Quinn had introduced a budget, Madigan said. That was the governor’s role, he added, politely ignoring the fact that for decades governors have had infinitely larger roles in the state’s budget process.

Senate President John Cullerton was asked last week why the governor has seemed so invisible.

“He kind of put himself in this position,” Cullerton said. “He proposed an unbalanced budget, and we’re cutting it.”

In order to make sure that legislators remembered he still had a big weapon at his disposal, the governor has repeatedly run right up to the edge of threatening to veto the legislature’s budget if he didn’t get what he wanted.

“I’m going to make it crystal clear to our legislators of both parties of both houses, we’re not going to jeopardize our economic recovery and our jobs for policies that are very, very harmful to our schools,” Quinn said in early May. “We’re not going to have severe, radical cuts in our education and our schools. We’re not going to have severe, radical cuts in our healthcare. We’re not going to put the healthcare of our Illinois workers in jeopardy. We’re not going to have severe, radical cuts in our public safety… We’re not going to let them do that.”

“My job,” Quinn said, “is to be the goalie to protect the people of Illinois from radical, severe cuts in their fundamental way of life.”

It’s true that Illinois governors have extraordinarily strong constitutional powers when it comes to vetoes. But governors cannot increase spending in budget bills. They can only reduce or eliminate spending. If Quinn did eliminate any spending, those programs would not be funded until the General Assembly returned to act on his vetoes.

If, for example, Quinn decided to veto the State Police’s appropriations bill because it didn’t meet his standards of protecting public safety, the coppers wouldn’t have any operating cash until legislators acted on his veto.

And since the General Assembly won’t return to Springfield until October or November, Quinn would have to call a special session during the summer and risk upsetting legislators so much that they might very well override him. And then there would go his remaining relevancy right out the window.

The governor also hasn’t seemed to learn any lessons. After being snubbed in February for introducing an out of whack budget, then complaining that legislators were cutting programs too much, Quinn actually had the gall to ask the legislative leaders last week to give him $300 million to spend any way he wished.

That’s simply inane. At a time when legislators were looking for even the tiniest cuts to preserve the same much-needed state programs that the governor said he wanted to protect, Quinn decided he’d ask for a gigantic discretionary fund.

Adding insult to injury, the governor didn’t even bother to identify a way to pay for his slush fund.

More than almost anything else I can think of, that request demonstrated just how far out of touch the governor has become this spring. All Quinn got out of it were rolled eyes, deep sighs and slowly shaking heads from people who had taken on the very painful task of trying to balance a budget that hasn’t been balanced in years.

If you want to be relevant, you can’t be counterproductive.

* Related and a Statehouse roundup…

* Senate panel OKs ending workers’ compensation

* State House passes Illinois version of DREAM Act for children of immigrants

* Lawmakers send Illinois Dream Act bill to Quinn

* Legislation would create private scholarship fund for illegal immigrant students

* Taylorville clean-coal plant gets go-ahead from House committee

* Bill toughening nursing home rules passes House

* Bike rider’s straight on red measure heads to governor

* Flurry of activity as lawmakers try to finish

* Senate adds $431M to Illinois budget

* State budget sent to Quinn

* Senate passes budget, sends it to Quinn’s desk:

* Legislative budget battle heading to final day

* Parties jockey for position on state budget

* House OKs Chicago casino, slots at O’Hare, Midway

* Illinois House OKs more casinos in gambling bill

* House OKs expanded gambling, including at fairgrounds

* House OKs massive gambling expansion

* House votes to add 5 casinos

* House OKs Arlington slots, Lake County casino

* House OKs ComEd rate plan, veto possible

* Quinn gets bill giving COGFA veto power on state health contracts

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      

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