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Congressional Remapalooza: An intensely partisan work of art

Saturday, May 28, 2011

* You gotta give the Democrats credit. They drew a much more partisan congressional map than many Republicans thought possible. Politico’s lede is pretty accurate

Illinois Democrats are poised to force through a dramatically transformed congressional map that would endanger all of the state’s freshman Republicans and could take a significant bite out of the GOP’s current 24-seat House majority.

In an astonishing display of line-drawing power, Democrats unveiled a redistricting proposal Friday that forces at least five Republicans into match-ups with other incumbents and thrusts others into solidly Democratic districts. While GOP officials said they were scrambling to determine the damage the potential lines would have, they acknowledged that the new map would take a hammer to the state’s Republican delegation.

* Also accurate

“It’s payback and a power grab. The democrats lost four seats in the november elections and they want them back,” said ABC7’s political analyst Laura Washington.

* This is an interesting point that has so far been lost in the mix

While the state would lose a congressional seat, the suburbs would gain collective strength, according to the proposal. There would be a total of seven congressional districts in Northwest suburban Cook, McHenry, Lake, DuPage and Kane counties, up from the current six.

* Some analysis

Democratic redistricters have also created Democratic-leaning districts out in the suburbs: a 10th district on the North Shore and inland in what has been increasingly Democratic territory, an 8th district in DuPage County and northwest Cook County that seems drawn to exclude more Republican suburbs and an 11th district that unites heavily Hispanic or black communities in Aurora and Joliet in the hope that their heavy Democratic margins will override small Republican percentages in much of the land in between.

* But lots of suburban counties are being split up into several congressional districts

While any map would necessarily have to divide some counties, this map would split DuPage and Will counties into five Congressional districts, and Kendall County into two.

* Here’s one way DuPage was split

Take Elmhurst. Longtime residents of the western suburb are used to having conservative Republicans like the late Henry Hyde and Rep. Peter Roskam as their congressman. They soon could find themselves represented by the liberal Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, whose home base is the North Side of Chicago.

* Still, this isn’t a bad point

Bob Peickert, DuPage County Democratic Party chairman, said changing demographics warranted changes in district boundaries.

“Thirty percent of the population in DuPage is now either Hispanic, Asian or African-American,” he said. “And that’s been a significant change over the last 10 years, which would justify boundaries that would take into consideration of that new demographic.”

* The Democrats carved up more than just the suburbs, of course

Democrats in Springfield released a proposed congressional map Friday that splits Rockford into two districts.

The city is currently covered by Rep. Don Manzullo’s 16th District.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey was disturbed by the change.

“I think it’s really going to make it hard to maximize the value of our representation in Washington,” Morrissey said. “It seems to me a very intentional disservice to our taxpayers.”

* But, again, the Democrats looked at the bright side

Winnebago County’s Democratic Party chairman Dan Lewandowski said he is pleased with the new map, which splits Winnebago County into two districts. He said having two congressmen will give the county more clout in Washington, D.C., and the voters more choices for candidates.

“In the Rockford area, we’ve had the same congressman for about 20 years, Don Manzullo, Republican, and I think it certainly allows us to have more choices,” Lewandowski said.

* Meanwhile, I don’t agree with this at all

While Shimkus’ new district appears to include more Democratic areas, it probably will remain a safe seat for him, said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois Springfield.

“You might get more serious candidates than you have had recently running against Shimkus,” Redfield said. “Twenty years ago, (then-U.S. Rep. Dick) Durbin won in a district that ran from Springfield down to the Metro East. This is all much stronger Republican than it used to be.”

It’s a signficiantly more Democratic district that it is now. Look at the map. It includes university and African-American precincts in Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and Decatur. There are a dozen or so universities and colleges in that district. This was clearly drawn as a hostile district for Shimkus.

* But this is about right

The proposed new Illinois District 17 congressional map could tip the balance in favor of a Democratic candidate, putting heavy pressure on Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, to hold onto his seat in 2012.

The proposed new boundaries released Friday by Illinois Senate Democrats would radically reshape the district. The district would gain Rockford and stretch right to the northern boundary of the state to include Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Carroll, Whiteside and part of Winnebago County. Southern parts of the district, which snaked south to connect Quincy and Decatur, would be cut off. A portion of Peoria also would now be in the district.

The map is being viewed by commentators as an attempt to bring more Democratic voters into the district to squeeze out Schilling in 2012. But the proposed district is more geographically uniform than the old one, which was one of the more oddly shaped in the country and designed to heavily favor Democrats. But that didn’t stop Schilling beating former Congressman Phil Hare in the 2010 congressional elections, securing victory in a district that had long been under Democratic control.

* We covered much of the reaction to yesterday’s congressional map proposal, but I forgot to include this one

Democrats also went an extra step to protect one of their own — U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) – from a challenge within his own party.

The Burr Ridge home belonging to John Atkinson, who has raised more than $500,000 this year in what he had hoped would be a 2012 primary bid against Lipinski, was moved two blocks outside Lipinski’s 3rd Congressional District. Atkinson now lives in the 11th Congressional District that could be without an incumbent because of Kinzinger being redrawn into Jackson’s district.

“I haven’t measured the distance, but when I woke up this morning, I was living in the 11th congressional district, not the 3rd District,” said Atkinson, who added that he has not decided which district he will run in.

* Roundup…

* New congressional map splits city of Peoria

* Three new congressional districts for county

* Democrats pass proposed congressional map for Illinois that irks Republicans

* Shimkus Odd Man Out in Proposed Congressional Map

* Johnson denounces congressional remap

* Congressional map would carve up county

* Suburban GOP districts in limbo

* Proposed Congressional Map Splits Northern Suburbs

* Rush, Jackson districts extended to Will County

* Who will speak for Naperville?

* Carving up the county: Democrats’ map plan could hurt Shimkus

- Posted by Rich Miller   50 Comments      


Question of the day

Saturday, May 28, 2011

* Saturday, even during the end of session, is always a very slow day around here, so this ought to jack things up a bit. From the Northwest Herald..

Despite how union leaders are trying to frame it, pension reform is not an attack on unions in general or public employees specifically. We respect the hard and necessary work that public employees do. But taxpayers already give too much.

Pension reform is a necessary correction to an unsustainable system that has taxpayers paying much more than what a public employee himself pays toward his own retirement.

Of course, the unions are fighting reform tooth and nail, and lobbying legislators to defeat this measure.

* The Question: Do you support the pension reform bill? Take the poll and then please explain your answer in comments. Thanks much.


- Posted by Rich Miller   62 Comments      


Then and now on workers’ comp reform

Saturday, May 28, 2011

* There’s been much consternation at the Statehouse over the fact that the Illinois Chamber’s claimed “neutrality” on the workers’ compensation reform bill is more than a little shaded toward opposition

“It doesn’t go far enough to give us true reform,” said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has declared itself “neutral” on the bill because the measure doesn’t harm businesses. “Yes, there will be some savings, but when the dust settles three years from now, we’ll still be a high-cost state.”

Whitley’s absolutely right about the fact that we’ll still be a high-cost state if this bill passes. This is an effort at reform, but it’s not a fix. Our workers’ comp costs are so far out of whack that only draconian, radical measures would’ve gotten us in line with everyone else. For instance, medical provider rates were cut 30 percent. A 50 percent cut would have moved us out of our rank as second highest in the nation, but we’d still just barely be in third place.

* However, Whitley also said this

“If we support (HB 1698) than it would give the impression that we fixed workers’ comp. And we don’t think that’s true,” Whitley said.

* Hmm. Back in January, Whitley testified at the House Executive Committee about a workers’ comp reform bill which cut only about half as much from employer costs as the current one

“The Illinois Chamber is here today to say we support the changes that are being offered and we encourage the members of the General Assembly to approve this bill. But the legislation pending before this General Assembly does not go nearly far enough to satisfy the objectives of employers who are looking for extensive reforms in our State. But there is no question that the legislation presented by Representative Bradley embodies improvements over the existing law.”

The difference between now and back in January is some believed that the reform process would continue in the spring. Whitley, himself, made some mention of that in his January testimony

“What I heard today is that that people said we got issues but for some reason a lot of these people here with issues don’t recognize that this is an ongoing process.”

So, I can see where the current legislation is viewed as the more “permanent” legislation and should, therefore, be taken more seriously. But if that bill had passed back then, I doubt that the GA would’ve taken it up again in May because the legislative plate is so darned full right now. It would’ve most likely been checked off the list. And Whitley also closed with an implied call for continued work in the years to come

“We are not here to suggest that this is the panacea or that this is perfect. In fact, we are here to say that we will recommend that you pursue what you’ve got in front of you and for gosh sakes let’s keep at it. Let’s continue to work on this issue going forward for an extended period of time. There is no quick fix, there is no silver bullet, it’s complicated, there are many people with interest in this subject area and we need to listen to them and we need to adapt. But there is no such thing as okay this is it, walk away, wash your hands we have fixed workers compensation and the problems in Illinois. We will improve the situation in Illinois if Representative Bradley’s legislation is passed. Are we done with it . . . Not at all, Thank you very much.”

* Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune is exectedly disappointed with the workers’ compensation reform proposal

But it falls so far short of what’s needed, we can’t join in the celebration. This issue presented an opportunity for the state to improve its troubled business climate. Instead of providing a competitive advantage, the proposed reforms merely stand to make Illinois less uncompetitive.

Disappointment No. 1: “Causation.” In principle, any successful claim must be related to an injury caused by the job. Illinois has a lax standard for proving that, and as the negotiations unfolded, plaintiff’s lawyers fought any effort to tighten it. Many of their cases, we suspect, would become non-starters if they had to connect the injury to the workplace in a common-sense way. Stricter causation rules have cut a fortune from work-comp costs in neighboring Missouri. In Illinois, no such luck.

The reform also includes built-in loopholes that enable lawmakers to pretend they tackled big problems while actually changing very little. One measure, for instance, establishes a network of providers with the goal of screening out doctors who would support illegitimate claims. Sounds good, but it contains a wide-open escape clause. Same goes for a proposal to follow American Medical Association guidelines when determining the level of impairment from an injury or condition. Lawyers eager to get around those potential obstacles no doubt will appreciate the roadmaps that legislators have conveniently included.

* Related…

* House OKs bill that would dump workers’ comp; but will system be scrapped altogether?

* Dueling workers compensation reform proposals pushed in Springfield

* Measure to repeal workers compensation OK’d

* Illinois House votes to change state’s workers’ comp system

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      


Lisa Madigan doing robocalls against ComEd

Saturday, May 28, 2011

* Attorney General Lisa Madigan is featured in a robocall opposing ComEd’s controversial bill. Scripts..

–LIVE ANSWER SCRIPT

LISA: Hi, this is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

BOB: and this is AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo.

LISA: Right now, ComEd, Ameren, and other Illinois utility companies are trying to pass legislation that will raise your electric and natural gas bills automatically every year – and guarantee higher profits for themselves.
BOB: We’re asking you to take action. Press 1 on your phone right now to tell your legislator “No Way!” to automatic utility rate increases. Join AARP and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to stop this legislation.

LISA: Press 1 on your phone right now and tell your legislator NO, you won’t foot the bill to guarantee profits for ComEd, Ameren or any other Illinois utility.

BOB: For more information, call AARP Illinois at 1-866-448-3613.

–ANSWERING MACHINE SCRIPT

LISA: Hi, this is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

BOB: and this is AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo. We’re sorry we missed you.

Lisa: Right now, ComEd, Ameren, and other Illinois utility companies are trying to pass legislation that will raise your electric and natural gas bills automatically every year – and guarantee higher profits for themselves.
BOB: We’re asking you to take action. Join AARP and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to stop this legislation.

LISA: Call 1-800-719-3020 and tell your legislator NO, you won’t foot the bill to guarantee profits for ComEd, Ameren or any other Illinois utility.

BOB: Call 1-800-719-3020 and tell you legislator “No Way” to automatic utility rate increases.

* Even so, ComEd’s bill is poised to fly through the General Assembly, but the ICC Chairman is also quite unhappy

In a rare political move, the chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission came out Friday against legislation being pushed by Commonwealth Edison that would reduce the regulatory body’s role.

The company has said a faster process for determining electricity rate hikes that locks in its profit margins and sets rates according to a formula would make it easier to plan and pay for modern infrastructure, including smart grid, and would lead to fewer outages.

“This bill, at its core, is not about smart grid,” said ICC Chairman Doug Scott, who oversees the regulatory body that reviews and approves utility rate increases that show up on consumers bills.

“While smart grid is in there, this bill is really about two things: 1) being able to recover all the utility’s costs through a new system with far less stringent review; and 2) getting all those costs back at a more favorable rate of return that’s locked in by the General Assembly instead of the current method that’s designed to balance the company’s interest with the ratepayers’ interest and to account for market forces.”

* Environmentalists are also still opposed

The latest version of the bill, released yesterday, dropped the idea of automatic rate hikes in advance of any regulatory review and added provisions to draw support from environmental groups and other interests.

“The bill’s becoming something of a Christmas tree,” said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, which opposes the bill. “Clearly at this point ComEd doesn’t have the votes, but that could change in two minutes,” he said about an hour before the bill cleared the committee.

* But ComEd says low current wholesale prices will mitigate its most recent rate hike

Commonwealth Edison says a rate increase authorized by the Illinois Commerce Commission will be offset by a drop in the wholesale price of electricity.

According to ComEd, residential consumers should see an average $1.30 drop in their monthly bill.

The ICC on Tuesday ruled ComEd can raise its electric rates by $156 million. ComEd originally requested an increase of nearly $400 million. Much of that would have gone to new technology.

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


Latino division over legislative maps

Saturday, May 28, 2011

* Late yesterday afternoon, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund issued a press release…

After analyzing HB3760, the legislative redistricting map passed earlier today by the Illinois House, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) opposes the plan because it fractures communities of interest and weakens the voting strength of Latino neighborhoods. For example, the proposed Illinois plan unnecessarily splits Little Village, a community of interest that is maintained whole in MALDEF’s proposed redistricting plan previously offered to the Legislature.

“We cannot support a map that splits one of the most important Latino communities in Chicago,” stated Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation. “In our proposed map, MALDEF kept Little Village together, created additional Latino majority districts and ensured the preservation of Black majority districts. MALDEF’s proposed map demonstrates that the Legislature elevated incumbency protection over respect for the Latino community,” continued Perales.

MALDEF will continue fighting for Latino voters with a map that creates more Latino majority districts and that keeps Little Village whole.

* MALDEF also had some sharp words for the House Majority Leader

“We have studied the map very carefully, and we don’t consider it a good map,” said Elisa Alfonso, redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who declined to say whether her group would challenge these maps in federal court as it did an earlier set of boundaries in 1991.

MALDEF contended what lawmakers approved “fractures communities of interest and weakens the voting strength of Latino neighborhoods,” including having Little Village split into two House and Senate districts rather than keeping the Latino community united.

During her floor speech, Currie told lawmakers that MALDEF had requested such a division, but Alfonso angrily denounced that statement from the No. 2 House Democrat as a “flat-out lie.”

“Anyone who says that is just working to protect incumbents,” she said.

Expect a lawsuit over this map.

* But the Latino Policy Forum isn’t nearly as upset. From a press release…

Leadership from the 49-member Illinois Latino Agenda is cautiously optimistic about gains in Latino representation included in legislative maps approved today by the General Assembly. Unprecedented collaboration among the Agenda’s diverse city- and suburban-based member organizations has influenced the creation of stronger Latino legislative districts throughout Metro Chicago.

“The new maps represent the growing influence of the Latino community—some advances were significant, some smaller, but all important in allowing Latino voters to effectively decide who will represent them in Springfield,” said Hipolíto “Paul” Roldan, president of the board of directors for the Latino Policy Forum, the co-convener of the Agenda. “Significant among our successes was our unified effort itself. The Agenda represents agreement among nearly 50 diverse Latino groups—a strong, united voice representing a growing, diverse community.” […]

These gains are tempered, however, by the fact that Latinos, Illinois’ second-largest ethnic community and one of its fastest-growing population segments, will continue to be underrepresented in Springfield: Latino Policy Forum analysis indicates that if the two million-plus Latinos in Illinois were proportionately represented, there would be at least 28 Latino super-majority districts in the state legislature. However, analysis shows that geographic concentration would require 13 such districts.

Additionally, Latino leaders are upset that advances came unnecessarily at the expense of community cohesion. Despite the Agenda’s advocacy to the contrary, lines were drawn through—not around—the predominately-Latino communities of Little Village, Back of the Yards, Cicero, Berwyn and Brighton Park. Fracturing these communities dilutes residents’ ability to influence their legislators and improve their neighborhoods. Some of these districts, drawn extensively across municipalities, represent a threat to real representation for Latino communities.

“Outcomes were mixed, but the process itself shows promise: Latinos and other communities of color played a significant role in determining how these maps were drawn,” said Maria S. Pesqueira, President and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Acción and member of the Illinois Latino Agenda. “Our next step is to turn these new district lines into actual representation. More representation for Latinos in Springfield is good for all of Illinois.”

The problem with the demand for all those new districts is that Latino growth was dispersed pretty much throughout the state.

* Meanwhile, the governor kept his tongue in his head when asked about the proposal

“I’ve said over and over, it’s got to be fair. I will tell every member of the General Assembly, both houses, both parties: emphasize fairness. That’s what the people want,” Quinn said.

* The Republicans were not so averse to speaking out, however

“Illinois’ redistricting process is rotten to the core. It just doesn’t work,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. “When we have a two-party system, things in this state are much fairer and work a lot better.”

Republicans, who became the legislature’s minority party under a Democratic-drawn map a decade ago, contended the current plan would pit 19 House Republicans against an incumbent while only six Democrats would face an incumbent. Even worse, they contend, eight Republican Senate incumbents would face each other while no Senate Democrats would. […]

Republican Sen. Dale Righter of Charleston, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Redistricting Committee, complained that Democrats did not provide enough time for a thorough review of the concepts underlying the map.

“There’s a tragic lack of information about how the lines were drawn the way they are,” Righter said.

That complaint about pairing is a bit rich. The Republicans’ map pairs 14 Senate Democrats into the same districts while only pairing 4 Republicans.

* Roundup…

* Democrats approve new legislative maps, send them to governor

* Illinois lawmakers OK Democratic redistricting map

* Remap of General Assembly clears House

* Illinois state legislature redistricting approved

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 - Gaming bill advances *** Quinn warns Rutherford, bashes casino bill

Friday, May 27, 2011

* Governor Pat Quinn was asked today about Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s comments this week about more borrowing. Rutherford said that if the state tried to borrow to pay off old bills he’d inform the New York bond houses that Illinois was a major credit risk and tell them he was opposed to the plan. Quinn’s response

“If I were Treasurer Rutherford i’d watch my language. I think that he’s really off base there. We’re not going to be paying any attention to him.”

* The governor also slammed the gaming bill that’s working its way through the House

Gov. Pat Quinn Friday harshly criticized a gambling expansion proposal that would add 1,200 slot machines as Arlington Park and five new casinos, including in Lake County and Chicago.

“We can’t have a top-heavy proposal in Illinois on gambling that’s going to make us the Las Vegas of the Midwest, the people don’t want that,” Quinn said. “Every time the proposal comes along they keep adding on, adding on.”

Quinn also said he was opposed to any racino at the State Fairgrounds, claiming he wanted to keep the fair a family oriented event.

* Listen to Quinn’s press conference…

*** UPDATE *** The House Executive Committee passed Rep. Lou Lang’s gaming bill on the second try today. As we figured earlier this week, Lang just had to tweak it a bit, including taking out a “labor peace” provision that was opposed by Arlington International. Most likely, Lang had to try to run it with the labor language to appease the labor folks. When that failed, he was free to move it his way.

- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      


This just in… Workers’ comp repeal bill brought to the floor - Passes 65-48-4

Friday, May 27, 2011

* 1:32 pm - Rep. John Bradley has just advanced his proposal to repeal the workers’ compensation system to the floor. Listen or watch by clicking here.

…Adding… Doug Whitley at the Chamber wrote this before the bill was passed today…

The implied threat has been that if agreements cannot be reached by affected interest groups, chaos would prevail. While such an action may appear attractive in the abstract, the consequences would force all workers’ compensation cases into the civil courts. It would overwhelm the courts and require dozens if not hundreds of new judges.

Every employer would have to scramble for new insurance coverage while the insurance companies would be trying to reassess pricing in a volatile, litigious state with a reputation for being an unfavorable judicial “hellhole.”

Workers’ compensation insurance premiums would likely escalate even higher. Many injured workers would undoubtedly suffer under the scenario of an extended period of disarray and uncertainty. Most significantly, such an action would once again send the wrong signal regarding Illinois’ ability to affectively deal with critical public policy issues.

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      


Question of the day

Friday, May 27, 2011

* The setup

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A judge has ruled that the campaign finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional.

In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris tossed out part of the indictment against two men accused of illegally reimbursing donors toHillary Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns.

Cacheris says that under last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court case, corporations enjoy the same right as people to contribute to campaigns.

The ruling is the first of its kind. The Citizens United case had applied only to independent corporate expenditures, not to actual campaign contributions.

* The Question: Do you support the current federal ban on direct campaign contributions to federal candidates by corporations? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.


- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


Blagojevich trial live coverage

Friday, May 27, 2011

* The trial resumes at 9:30 this morning, but will end by noon. We’ll be following Natasha Korecki, Steve Staeger and Stacy St. Clair, among others…

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


Workers’ comp reform moves closer to passage

Friday, May 27, 2011

* The Tribune has an excellent piece about what’s actually in the new workers’ comp reform legislation

The proposal would address possible abuses by dumping most of the arbitrators who currently hear cases for the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. The idea is to get rid of those hearing officers who may have “cozy” relationships with attorneys representing workers, Raoul said. New arbitrators would be appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, and must be confirmed by the state Senate. Arbitrators would also be required to be licensed attorneys, participate in ongoing training and would have their job performance reviewed every three years.

Arbitrators also would be required to used American Medical Association guidelines when rating a workers’ impairment after an injury, and there will be a beefed up review process to provide some standardization when it comes to the type and amount of treatment a worker receives.

The plan would also cap the amount of payment workers get for carpal tunnel claims, setting a limit that would allow workers to collect 60 percent of their average weekly salary for 28 weeks. The current average payout is spread over 40 weeks, Raoul said. To prevent “doctor shopping,” a network of medical providers will be set up by the Department of Insurance, and workers would not be able to receive benefits if they were hurt because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Business groups pushed hard for higher burdens of proof that an injury happened on the job, saying workers could get hurt on the weekend but claim it happened at work. They didn’t get the standards they wanted, but the proposal would put into law several court decisions that require a worker to prove an injury happened during the course of employment.

The Medical Society and the Hospital Association are opposed. Labor, trial lawyers and the Illinois Chamber are neutral. The Illinois Manufactures’ Association, Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Chicagoland Chamber are in favor.

* Hopefully, this will help the state’s economy. But things are already looking up a bit more

Unemployment dropped in April in each of Illinois’ 12 metro areas for the eighth straight month, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday. And officials noted that — aside from flood-soaked Alexander County in southern Illinois — the jobless rate dropped in all of the state’s counties.

The state Department of Employment Security says the biggest year-over-year drops in the unemployment rates were in two of the state’s most economically troubled metro areas. […]

Elsewhere, the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville metro area, the state’s largest, saw its unemployment rate fall from 10.7 percent in April 2010 to 8.7 percent last month. The area added 37,400 jobs over that period.

One sign of an improving economy in the Chicago area was a drop in April in mass layoffs — 50 jobs or more — that companies are required to report to the state. Big layoffs cost the area 446 jobs in April, a little over half the 810 jobs they ended a year earlier, according to Department of Employment Security records.

* More

Ten was the magic number for Decatur-area unemployment in April: In its 10th month of consecutive decline, the unemployment rate finally fell below 10 percent.

The rate was 9.7 percent, compared to 12.2 percent a year ago, according to Illinois Department of Employment Security statistics released Thursday. It was the first time April’s rates fell below 10 percent since 2008, when they were 5.8 percent.

* More

The Galesburg April unemployment rate followed the trend of other areas across the state and dropped sharply. The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported the April jobless rate in Galesburg was 7.6 percent, down from 8.7 percent the month before.

* More

Unemployment in Jefferson County dropped from 8.5 percent to 7.9 percent in April.

The rate has continued to drop, with the rate in February this year at 8.7 percent, March at 8.5 percent, followed by the latest numbers released by the Illinois Department of Unemployment Security at 7.9 percent in April.

The rate is down substantially from April 2010, when unemployment was at 9.4 percent.

* Speaking of workers’ comp, the governor needs to stop this court case right now

Things hit a new low this week when the Illinois Department of Central Management Services — a department under the governor’s control — chose to go to court rather than comply with the state’s open records law. At taxpayer expense, CMS hired the Chicago law firm of Holland and Knight to file suit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court to deny the Belleville News-Democrat’s request for records in a controversial series of workers’ compensation settlements involving employees of Menard Correctional Center.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the official arbiter of Freedom of Information Act issues under the new law, had ordered CMS to turn over the records. Among other things, CMS argues in its 31-page brief that the attorney general missed a deadline in filing its order, thus relieving CMS of the burden of obeying the Freedom of Information Act.

So here we have the governor who lauded and signed into law the new Freedom of Information Act suing the elected official whose office was empowered by that law to interpret and enforce it.

What an embarrassment this should be for the Quinn administration. What an outrage it is for the citizens of Illinois.

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      


*** UPDATED x13 - Kirk: Map designed to force Pelosi back into power *** Dems unveil new congressional maps and revised state maps

Friday, May 27, 2011

* The Tribune used sources for its story last night on the congressional remap

*Freshman Republican Rep. Bob Dold of the North Shore 10th Congressional District would find his home mapped into the district of Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a veteran lawmaker who represents the north lakefront 9th District.

*Freshman Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of the northwest suburban 8th District would be matched with GOP Rep. Donald Manzullo, a veteran lawmaker who represents the 16th District.

*As a result, a new district would open up in the northwest suburbs for Democrats to try to win. Even before the map was unveiled, Raja Krishnamoorthi, a former state deputy treasurer who narrowly lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for state comptroller last year, announced an exploratory bid for Congress. […]

*Downstate, second-term Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria will give up some ground but will still have a GOP-leaning district as will 11-year Rep. Tim Johnson in west central and southern Illinois. But Republican Rep. John Shimkus would find more Democrats and could face a challenge in his newly drawn southeastern Illinois district.

Tammy Duckworth is also interested in that new northwest suburban district.

* As subscribers know, the Senate Democrats posted the congressional remap data online early this morning. Click here to access the Senate Democrats’ page containing the new congressional map.

*** UPDATE 1 *** For the second time in a week, the Democrats have unknowingly released their own map before they intended to do so. Last Friday, you will recall, the House accidentally posted its map in the morning just long enough for us to grab it. The same thing happened again in the wee hours of this morning. They got everything ready and queued up the page, but didn’t notice that a link to the congressional data was appearing on other, readily available internal pages…

These things happen. I sure hope nobody gets into too much trouble.

Anyway, they took down the page, so click here for the cache I made of their page last night.

*** UPDATE 2 *** Their page is back up and live again. Everything’s fine now.

*** UPDATE 3 *** Archpundit’s quick take

It’s a good map for Dems. I think there are 12 likely Dem seats. Bobby Schilling is gone with this map and Adam Kinzinger has to primary either Manzullo, Schock or Shimkus. If he had to primary anyone he wanted Tim Johnson, but he has no real ties to the Johnson areas.

Pretty sure Kinzinger will go after Manzullo if he decides to run.

*** UPDATE 4 *** The House is now debating the state redistricting bill.

*** UPDATE 5 *** SJ-R

The map splits Springfield into two congressional districts. The city is currently represented by three represenatives in the U.S. House.

The new 13th District, which includes U.S. Rep. John Shimkus’ house in Collinsville, takes in virtually all of Springfield from Chatham Road east to Interstate 55.

The new 18th District includes Springfield west of Chatham Road as well as U.S. Rep. Aaron Shock’s house in Peoria.

*** UPDATE 6 *** I really don’t like the idea of using Obama numbers alone to test these new congressional districts, but Dave Wasserman, US House editor of the Cook Political Report, has taken a quick look at the new map. His initial findings

Initial calculations: new IL08, IL10 and IL11 are both easily over 62% Obama, new IL13 is 55%, new IL17 is 60%. Wow.

The new IL17 is 3 pts more Democratic than the current “rabbit on a skateboard” and doesn’t even look that egregious!

Mystery to me: why didn’t Dems put city of DeKalb in IL14 and give Manzullo parts of McHenry? Hultgren safer than I would’ve thought

By my count, only fairly safe GOP members in new IL map are Schock, Shimkus, Manzullo, Roskam, and possibly Hultgren

* Decatur Herald and Review

Central Illinois is less carved up than it was in the previous remap. All of Macon County is part of what would be a new 13th congressional district along with all or parts of DeWitt, McLean, Piatt, Champaign, Christian, Montgomery, Bond, Madison, Calhoun, Jersey and Greene counties. The area appears to be represented by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

Logan County is part of a new 18th District, which would be represented by U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria.

Douglas, Moultrie, Coles, Fayette and Effingham counties are part of a new 15th District that would eat up most of the southeast quarter of the state. That area would be represented by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana.

* Tribune

The vote on the map came only hours after its public release—a plan that featured some variations from a map Democrats released a week ago, prompting complaints by Republicans.

“I think the public has been left on the short end of this process by not being able to comment on the changes,” said Rep. Mike Fortner of West Chicago, the ranking Republican on the House Redistricting Committee. Fortner would be lumped into a district with fellow Republican Rep. Tim Schmitz of Batavia.

But Barbara Flynn Currie, the House majority leader and top deputy of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, said, “I think this has been the most transparent, the most accountable, the most open redistricting process in the history of the state of Illinois.”

Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, responded, “This is not open and transparent. The final version of this map has had zero public hearings.”

*** UPDATE 7 *** From US Sen. Mark Kirk…

“The draft map is the unfortunate result of cynical partisans who want to override the decision of Illinois voters who elected fiscal conservatives to Congress. Its main purpose is to force Nancy Pelosi back into power.

“The map senselessly divides dozens of Illinois communities and denies our growing Hispanic community their rightful opportunity to be fully enfranchised with a second Congressman.

“This map was gerrymandered to ensure suburban voters will have little voice in Congress.”

*** UPDATE 8 *** From Republican Will County Board Chairman Jim Moustis…

“The proposed congressional map fails to keep Will County together with communities of interest and, more than likely, will result in unfair representation for our residents. Essentially, Chicago politicians will now serve areas in stark contrast to where they live and call home. No surprise this map was drawn by a partisan committee, behind closed doors, and without consideration for the 677,560 citizens living in this county. Those drawing this map should start over and take a cue from the way Will County has gone about the reapportionment process- openly, transparently and by a bipartisan committee.”

*** UPDATE 9 *** Congressman Bob Dold…

“Behind closed doors the Democrats in Springfield proposed a new Congressional map that was drawn without any input from Republicans or any consideration for the hours of testimony offered at public hearings this spring. This map was gerrymandered to ensure suburban voters will have little voice in Congress. This proposal appears to be little more than an attempt to undo the results of the election held just six months ago. My Republican colleagues and I will take whatever steps necessary to achieve a map that more fairly represents the people of Illinois – they deserve nothing less. The people of my district sent me to Washington to solve our nation’s serious challenges. In my first five months in office, we have put forward solutions to address those challenges but more work remains. I intend to continue to work tirelessly for my constituents and to be a Member of Congress until that work is done.”

*** UPDATE 10 *** Letter from the entire Republican congressional delegation…

“Under the cover of darkness, the Democrats in Springfield proposed a new Congressional map that was drawn without any input from Republicans or any consideration for the hours of testimony offered at public hearings this spring. We are very concerned that this proposal does not fairly represent the significant growth that has occurred in the Hispanic community. The proposed map carves up towns and communities with little regard to the values and beliefs of the people who live there.

“This proposal appears to be little more than an attempt to undo the results of the elections held just six months ago and we will take whatever steps necessary to achieve a map that more fairly represents the people of Illinois – they deserve nothing less.”

*** UPDATE 11 *** Daily Herald

Jim Oberweis, Republican state central committeeman for the 14th District, said that as of Friday morning he was still trying to unerstand the Democratic strategy behind the map.

“At first glance it almost seems a bit less (gerrymandered) than in past years. …I’m assuming this is better.”

The new boundaries, Oberweis said, don’t “change anything from my viewpoint. We want to do the best we can to elect suburban Republicans.”

*** UPDATE 12 *** Sen. Durbin on the map

*** UPDATE 13 *** Joliet Herald News

Will County would be split into six different congressional districts, instead of the current three, if a proposed redistricting map is approved this weekend by the General Assembly.

[ *** End Of Updates *** ]

More info…

* Google Earth file [Right-click and download]

* Google Map page

* Cook and collar pdf

* Statewide pdf

* Current (2001) district maps

Have at it.

* Late yesterday, the Illinois House and Senate updated their new maps…

* Main page

* Google Earth

* Google Map

* Census data

* Senate President John Cullerton talked to reporters about the maps during the last half of this video

* Tribune coverage

The new version of the map shows five Senate districts with majority Latino voting-age populations. But the percentage of voting-age Latinos in the least-majority district was increased in one district from barely 50 percent to 58 percent. Latino groups had been seeking districts with 60 percent to 65 percent voting-age populations.

The new version also shows 10 House Districts with at least a 50 percent majority of voting age Latinos — down one district from the proposal of last week. But the plan would create five districts with a Latino-age voting majority of 60 percent compared to only four with Latino voting-age concentrations that high.

The new version of the Senate map also would create eight districts with a majority black voting-age population instead of the seven they previously proposed. It would bring up one district from a 48.6 percent African American voting age population to 50.45 percent. The number of House districts with a black voting-age majority was unchanged at 16.

It was unclear whether the changes to the legislative map would satisfy Latino voting rights groups who had sought districts with larger voting-age populations or risk the prospect of a federal Voting Rights Act suit.

* And there were objections to the Republican map

Republicans say their map complies with the Federal Voting Rights Act while trying to follow county and municipal borders wherever possible. “The maps … demonstrate that you cannot concern yourself with where incumbents live and not concern yourself with what Republican/Democrat numbers are … and draw a map that is constitutional.”

However, Dr. Leon Finney, co-chairman of the legislative redistricting committee for the African American Leadership Roundtable, said the Republican map “creates an illusion of fairness.” He said while the number of minority/majority districts is important, so is the way they are drawn. He said the plan reminds him of a proposal from the 1991 remap that “packed” districts with African-Americans and diluted their political voice. “Having gone through this in 1991, I am very painfully aware of the need to unpack those districts.”

* Remap roundup…

* Democrats roll out changes to their remap proposal

* New legislative maps unifies Chinatown, but splits others

* New Illinois congressional map still not unveiled

* Illinois Republicans propose new legislative districts

* Editorial: Remap game an ugly one

* Editorial: Brazen partisan power on display

- Posted by Rich Miller   107 Comments      


“This will not be for the faint of heart”

Friday, May 27, 2011

* “Movement” doesn’t mean “passage.” The pension reform bill has a very long way to go before it becomes law. The House floor is just one step

The legislation, pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), passed the House Personnel and Pensions Committee on a 6-2 vote with one member voting present. The measure now is positioned for a vote by the full House as early as Friday.

“This is an awful discussion, but if we let this go, if we put our heads in the sand, it just gets worse,” Cross said. […]

“This will not be for the faint of heart,” Madigan said.

* There are lots of legislators opposed to the proposal

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he didn’t believe changing pensions for current state employees would pass constitutional muster. […]

State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, said he is not inclined to support the current version of the legislation, because the employees weren’t consulted. […]

Republican state Reps. Bill Mitchell of Forsyth and Dan Brady of Bloomington agreed. “We certainly have a problem, but we should bring all the parties together and work out a solution,” Mitchell said. […]

State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said he would likely oppose the legislation. “The average state worker’s pension in my district is $29,000 a year,” Brown said. “It’s not the extravagant pension that you hear about.”

* And

One provision that “troubled” Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park, was that the out-of-pocket payments eventually could go up if workers opt to pay more now in order to maintain their current level of pension benefits when they retire.

In particular, she questioned why the worker payments would be based on a percentage of an employee’s salaries for the first three years and then recalculated every three years. She called the three-year review a “last-minute wrinkle” and voted against the bill in the House Personnel and Pensions Committee.

* TRS agrees with May

The amounts most state workers, teachers, university employees and legislators would pay to keep their current pension benefits would keep climbing in the future under legislation sent to the floor of the Illinois House on Thursday. […]

“The numbers can only go up. They can’t go down,” said Dick Ingram, executive director of the Teachers’ Retirement System. “How far and how fast will be determined by how many people elect to leave” the first tier of benefits and go to a second, lesser tier or a defined contribution plan similar to a 401(k). […]

TRS opposed the bill partly because it would cap state contributions and tie them to state revenue projections. The measure proposes to revise a 1995 law aimed at getting the five state-funded systems to 90 percent funding by 2045. It ramps up funding in fiscal years 2013 through 2015 in order to ensure the state contributes a level percentage of its tax revenue through 2045.

“Tying funding to state revenue is not a current or common or accepted actuarial practice,” Ingram said. “We have experienced a ramp proposal in the state twice before. It has failed to deliver both times.”

* The Tribune was not impressed with opposing arguments

We watched Thursday as the reform bill emerged from committee on a 6-2 vote with one member “present.” That tally reflected some courage but also cowardice. One “no” came from Raymond Poe, a Springfield Republican with a history of caving to union pressure. The other came from Karen May, a Highland Park Democrat who fancies herself a pension reformer but who, when confronted with a pension reform bill, also caved.

Then there’s Daniel Biss, a freshman Democrat from Evanston. In blather-rich questions and a pre-vote soliloquy, he illogically twisted his proclaimed belief in free markets into a fear that workers will abandon public employment if their pension plan changes. (Mr. Biss, next time do your homework. Governments have high retention rates because of the job security and benefits they offer to comparatively risk-averse employees. With these reforms, Illinois’ benefits package still would trounce most private-sector packages.)

We zero in on Poe, May and Biss because they represent three clusters of legislators who know the current pension system needs to change but who may not be strong enough to change it: Some downstate Republicans seem terrified by lobbying from teachers groups and others fighting to keep the doomed status quo. Some Chicago-area Democrats posture as pension worriers but in the end abandon taxpayers. And some freshmen of both parties want to be seen — not all of them honestly — as new-style legislators who will rescue state government finances.

* Some other good points were made in opposition

Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, said that since 1990, members of TRS contributed $12.7 billion to the system. “It has been said that 95 percent [of the public] are paying for five percent [of state employees]. It should be remembered that in the 30 some years of periodic underfunding of the pensions, the state has used our pension systems as a credit card. One hundred percent of those 95 percent actually received that benefit because they got more state government services then they were paying for in taxes. So our pension systems have been used as a credit card, and everyone benefited from that,” said Swanson, who added that 97 percent of Illinois students are educated by his members. […]

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he would also face problems recruiting employees, and he expects that many of the 20 percent of U of I employees who are eligible for retirement would likely retire to avoid the change. “There’s a high probability if this goes through, they’ll get the hell out as fast as they can.”
Hogan said a reduction in pension benefits would come on the heels of furlough days, which resulted in reduced pay for employees. “ A pension cut like this, a change like this, would amount to another pay cut, and a substantial pay cut.”

* And Henry Bayer took off the gloves

But a top AFSCME official needled the Civic Committee, which has sponsored an aggressive media campaign seeking public-employee pension givebacks, for attacking modestly paid state retirees when several business leaders on the organization’s board are in line for gold-plated pensions themselves.

The union cited the Civic Committee’s CEO, Abbott Laboratories’ CEO Miles White, who has a retirement package valued at more than $20 million and had total compensation in 2010 of more than $26 million.

“That’s Mr. White, who thinks that a $23,000 pension for state employees is too high. … A state employee would have to live a thousand years to equal Mr. White’s pension,” AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer said, prompting laughter within the packed hearing room.

- Posted by Rich Miller   125 Comments      


The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!

Friday, May 27, 2011

* My Sun-Times column

Remember that Soca Boys song, “Follow the Leader,” which went: “Jump for the left, jump for the right”?

That’s probably the best way to sum up what Democratic state legislators have been doing for the past six months. They’ve been following their leaders first in one direction and then the other.

In December, the General Assembly approved a bill legalizing civil unions. Days later, legislators abolished the death penalty, then they increased the income tax rate.

It was perhaps the most intensely liberal few legislative weeks in more than 40 years, back to when Illinois created the income tax and vastly expanded the role of state government.

It was also probably among the most unpopular few legislative weeks in Illinois. Too much change too quickly can make people very nervous and angry.

While most Illinoisans don’t oppose civil unions, polls show a majority does believe that the death penalty should be used — at least in some instances.

And tax increases are almost never a politically safe vote unless they’re done in such a bipartisan way that nobody takes the heat. The Republicans refused to put any votes on the bill, so the Democrats were forced to “own” it all by themselves.

The public reaction was not pretty. Which brings me back to that Soca Boys song, which stole a line from Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three: “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!”

But instead of letting the [expletive deleted] burn, the Democrats reached for the fire hose, figuring they’d better “go back to the right.”

The rightward move is more prominent in the House, which is run by Michael Madigan, who literally lives for his House majority. There are plenty of Democrats in the Senate who also want to get with the rightward program, but their leader, Senate President John Cullerton, is more liberal than Madi­gan. Cullerton is far from stupid. He knows how bad things are but appears to be shunning too much of a course correction.

After the liberal lurch, Madigan teamed up at least temporarily with the House Republicans to push for an austere state budget and significant public employee pension reform. Their budget spent a billion dollars less than the Senate proposed, which also was far less than the governor proposed.

The House’s pension bill emerged Thursday. If it becomes law, state workers, teachers and Chicago and Cook County employees will pay more every paycheck to stay in the current system; some will pay lots more. The workers have an option to move to a far less generous — and cheaper for them — “defined benefit” system or enroll in a 401(k)-style plan. Cullerton thinks the bill is unconstitutional, but he won’t stop it from coming to the floor.

Madigan even allowed a bill to the floor which would have legalized concealed carry in Illinois. The bill came up just a few votes short.

Cullerton has pushed hard all year for workers compensation reform. Business has complained for years about the often morally corrupt, too-expensive system. Madigan has gone one step farther and threatened to abolish the entire system if he didn’t see any real progress in reform negotiations.

The Senate also managed to pass a historic education reform bill, which mainly focuses on reining in the teachers’ unions, particularly the Chicago Teachers Union. Madigan had initially pushed for a much harsher bill, but he backed away when Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) negotiated a deal that won national praise and almost unanimous support in both chambers.

I think I need a neck brace after this political version of whiplash.

We’ll find out if the voters buy it next year.

* The “radio friendly” video

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      


The 3 year pension itch

Friday, May 27, 2011

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

From all of the testimony in the House pensions committee yesterday, the biggest concern appeared to be a 3 year nightmare scenario for pensioners and politicians. We do know that as employees retire or choose to leave tier 1, the costs will go up and cause more people to leave and further increase costs until no one is left. The same thing will happen in tier 2, until everyone has been forced out of the defined benefit system.

The worst part is, this won’t happen all at once. Teachers and public employees will have to watch costs rise and make tough decisions every 3 years. Each time a painful reminder of what their lawmaker has done to their future.

There are still many unknowns. The federal government is already investigating the second pension tier created for new hires who don’t receive Social Security. This bill will fall under the same scrutiny.

Witnesses also testified that someone who works half of their career under the old system and half their career under the new system will receive a final benefit that is less than halfway between the 2. That decrease would seem to create a clear violation of the state’s constitution.

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The Illinois Grid Modernization legislation (SB 1652) has unprecedented consumer protections in place.

Friday, May 27, 2011

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

The Illinois Grid Modernization legislation (SB 1652) has unprecedented consumer protections in place.

• Eliminates automatic rate increases: Creates an annual process for the ICC and intervenors to review utilities’ costs. The utilities must show that investments were made prudently or they are disallowed. No rates are set until 8-month review is complete.

• Includes enhanced performance standards for utilities with financial penalties if targets are not reached. The tougher metrics include reliability and customer service goals that will hold utilities accountable.

• Lowers the utility profits-level.

• Mandates that if the average residential rate increase exceeds 2.5% annually by 2014, the program terminates.

• Sunsets the entire law in 2017 requiring the utilities to reapply to the General Assembly to continue the program.

• Caps utility earnings with any dollars exceeding the cap (during a particularly hot summer for example) being returned to customers.

The grid modernization bill addresses stakeholder concerns about consumer protections. Other states are on the move, and we need to get moving building the energy infrastructure the 21st century is demanding. The time to act is now.

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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Supplement to today’s edition and a huge Statehouse roundup

Friday, May 27, 2011

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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Congressional and state remap data - With additional updates

Friday, May 27, 2011

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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today’s edition of Capitol Fax (use all CAPS in password)

Friday, May 27, 2011

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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: This just in…

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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The Green Side of the Grid Modernization Bill

Thursday, May 26, 2011

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

Much of the attention around grid modernization legislation has focused on regulatory reform. But the bill also creates more energy efficiency programs and boosts investment in clean energy resources. Here are some of the ways:

• Allows ICC to approve energy efficiency measures above and beyond those they can approve now.

• Creates Incentives for Small-Scale Renewable Energy Systems: Owners of small-scale solar generating systems are often too small to bid their credits into the IPA’s annual renewable energy auction. SB 1652 carves out 1% of the existing 6% solar requirement in the RPS statute for customer owned, behind the meter, solar installations. This, in turn, improves the economics of small-scale renewable generation.

• Requires the utilities to contribute $15 million for the start up (and $5 million per year thereafter) for the creation of Science and Energy Innovation Trust, which supports green energy efficiency-based technology start up companies.

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Live Blagojevich testimony coverage

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* I’ve set the ScribbleLive program to automatically follow Natasha Korecki (Sun-Times) and Stacy St. Clair (Tribune), who are in the Blagojevich courtroom, and I’ve added a few more Tweets as background. I’ll add others to the live feed while I write my Sun-Times column for tomorrow. As of 1:40, the court was still on break after Blagojevich choked up on the stand, but it’ll resume soon…

* Natasha Korecki’s web updates through the crying break…

* Blagojevich lawyers: Prosecution was barred from asking Jackson about Lottery

* Blagojevich takes the stand

* Blagojevich testimony: ‘I’m here today to tell you the truth

* Blagojevich compares himself to big-dreaming dad

* Blagojevich says he sounds like ‘an effin’ jerk‘ on tape

* Blagojevich: ‘I had a man-crush on Alexander Hamilton’: Rod Blagojevich’s testimony continues, bordering at times on the absurd.

* Blagojevich: I trusted law school roommate Lon Monk ‘infinitely’

* Blagojevich chokes up when he talks of meeting Patti; judge calls a lunch break

* Tribune live web coverage is here. Ward Room’s tweets are here. Susan Berger’s Tweets are here (my ScribbleLive package only allows me to follow two Tweeters at a time) , and her web coverage is here. Her morning wrapup

We heard about his first job as a shoe shine boy. How it taught him “life lessons to get ahead and do good.” And how he flunked drafting.

It took 25 minutes of this for us just to get to 1974. Then we heard how his dad worked on the Alaskan Pipeline as janitor. And we heard an emotional Rod as he said his parents would do anything for him. He too went to Alaska in 1976 to make money for college. And he pointed out how years later - the week after his arrest he would meet Sarah Palin and talk about his experience in her neck of the woods. We heard too how Rod’s dad “was someone who lost everything”. How he fought the Nazis and was a prisoner of war.

We heard a choked up Rod say that his dad never lived to see him elected. And how his mother was ahead of her time suggesting he read books about powerful women like Claire Barton and Florence Nightingale.

We heard how he liked college. Was an A student. And the most significant day? August 16, 1977- the day Elvis died. We learned too about his Aunt Helen. That he really liked her. She was his mother’s sister. And also about Ms. Dibble - his teacher that taught Shakespeare. She died of breast cancer or uterine cancer. He was sad about that. And he said a prayer for her.

- Posted by Rich Miller   79 Comments      


Early afternoon updates: Judicial pension amendment dropped for now - Workers’ comp deal - Republicans unveil remap plan

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* The pension bill advanced today without the judicial amendment

The House Personnel and Pensions Committee voted 6-2-1 to advance the bill to the floor of the House. State Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, voted “no,” as did Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park. Rep. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, voted “present.”

The committee did not attach an amendment that would include judges in the bill. House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said he planned to offer that amendment, which he says is supported by Republicans and Democrats, when the bill reaches the floor. Cross said he is unsure whether the measure has the votes to pass the House.

* Actually, as subscribers already know, this deal was reached yesterday

A tentative deal on workers’ compensation reform has been reached on Thursday, according to a coalition of Illinois employers.

The deal comes less than 18 hours after a bill to abolish the workers’ compensation system in Illinois passed out of a House committee.

The Illinois Department of Insurance claims the deal will result in savings of more than $500 million annually for businesses, according to a document signed by a number of business interests, including the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Navistar and Mitsubishi.

* Meanwhile the House and Senate Republicans have unveiled their own remap proposal. The GOPs say the amendment has been drafted and sent to LRB. From a press release

“We took into consideration as much as we could the public’s requests and observations while complying with all of the rules,” said Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago). “We worked closely with minority groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) to give Latinos in our state a better opportunity to elect candidates of their choice than what was proposed by the democrats. The Latino population grew the most in the last ten years and that should be reflected in the map.”

The Fair Map does creates nine Latino districts with voting age populations (VAP) of 60 percent or more. That’s in sharp contrast to the Democrat map that created only four districts with VAPs of 60 percent or more.

Compared to the Democrat map, the Fair Map plan also creates an additional majority Latino district and enhances and equalizes Latino voters in other districts. At the same time, it does not retrogress African-American districts. In fact, it creates two more majority African-American districts than the proposed Democrat map.

“It became clear in analyzing the Democrat map that partisan political advantage was given a higher priority than the rights of Latinos and African-Americans,” said Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon).

“In the Fair Map, as you can see, neither party was spared from the pairings. This is an indication that we did not take into account incumbency when drawing the lines,” said Fortner.

In the Fair Map, 17 incumbent Republicans were paired in the House and 17 Democrats were paired.

The Democrat proposal pairs 19 House Republicans and only 6 House Democrats despite the fact the majority of the population loss occurred in Democrat areas.

In addition, at many of the hearings—community members asked the legislators to respect county and municipal boundaries whenever possible when drawing districts.

The Fair Map maintains the integrity of more counties. The House Democrat plan splits 36% more counties than does the Fair Map.

You can click here to see the map proposals.

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      


Question of the day

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* The setup

…Democrats advanced a plan that would require Senate confirmation of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget chief, David Vaught. The measure was sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who denied it was a shot at Quinn’s budget chief but more about raising accountability over the architect of the state budget.

Opponents say the governor ought to be able to pick whomever he wants to run the budget office. Then again, he doesn’t just run a budget office. It’s called the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. And the federal OMB director is subject to US Senate confirmation.

* The Question: Should the GOMB director be confirmed by the Illinois Senate? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.


- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


School daze

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* As subscribers already know, Sen. Kimberly Lightford has worked out a deal on the school reform “trailer bill”

At the heart of the matter was the wording of the strike provision in this spring’s previously approved education package that would allow Chicago to lengthen its school days, make it harder for Chicago teachers to strike and make it easier throughout Illinois to fire bad teachers.

The original legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature, would require a 75 percent vote for Chicago teachers to strike, but teachers maintained the provision was written too broadly. Chicago union officials said only the teachers eligible to vote in union elections, for example, should be allowed to vote on whether to strike.

Sponsoring Sen. Kimberly Lightford said the follow-up measure makes it clear that only the roughly 26,000 eligible teacher union members would be allowed to cast votes on whether to strike.

Lightford told the Senate Education Committee the new legislation would not allow teachers to cast votes on whether to strike if they have opted out of union activities and make so-called “fair share” dues-like payments to the union. That group of about 2,600 workers does not vote in union elections, she said.

* That seems quite reasonable to me. Mayor Emanuel and the other education reform groups signed off on it as well

“The mayor’s position hasn’t changed at all,” Lightford said. “He’s very pleased with the bill. He still has the opportunity to increase the length of the school day.”

“I think it’s the right outcome,” added Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, an education reform organization that was involved in writing the bill. “This is not a backward step. Seventy-five percent is still a high bar.”

* But the Tribune editorial board, convinced there was some secret plot to weaken the school reform bill, demanded that no changes be made just a few days ago

The impressive education reform bill passed recently by the Illinois Legislature hasn’t been signed yet by Gov. Pat Quinn, but there is already a furious campaign to weaken it. This can’t be allowed to happen. […]

Don’t delay, governor. And please don’t hold the reform bill hostage to try to wrest some concessions on the Chicago strike provision.

That goes for everyone else who was involved in crafting and passing this excellent bill. You risk undermining your own efforts, and shorting the credit you deserve, if you turn right around and weaken the bill.

* In other school-related news

Sex education instructors would be required to teach the use of contraceptives under a measure that barely passed the Illinois Senate [yesterday].

Currently, sex ed teachers are only required to teach students abstinence to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The legislation would require any sex education class offered between grades 6 and 12 to teach students about both abstinence and contraceptives.

The bill would not force schools that currently do not teach sex education to do so. It also includes a provision that would allow parents and guardians to review course materials ahead of time to determine whether they would want their child to take the class.

Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, argued that teaching students anything more than abstinence would encourage them to engage in sex. He pointed to California’s comprehensive sex education policy, which requires students to learn about contraceptives, and said students there have a higher pregnancy rate than their Illinois counterparts.

* From a proponent

“There’s been some suggestion that perhaps this isn’t needed, that there’s not a problem. Well, I’d like to give you the facts that suggest very much why this bill is needed,” said Democratic Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago, who sponsored the bill.

Steans argued the measure is needed because significant numbers of Illinois high school students are having unprotected sex.

The bill calls for “age appropriate” and “medically accurate” materials that emphasize not only abstinence but also contraception to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in sex education classes in grades six through 12. The legislation passed 30-28 and now goes to the Illinois House.

* Related…

* Chicago Teachers Union says ‘swaps’ payments sap schools

* Students, alderman cry foul over West Side school suspensions

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      


Budget deal starts to come together

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* Outlines of a budget deal are beginning to emerge. I had my own story for subscribers today, but here are a couple of other reports. SJ-R

Illinois Senate Democrats will accept House revenue projections and craft a 2011-12 budget that cuts nearly $1 billion from the Senate’s earlier spending plan.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Wednesday he’s been in talks with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and the focus will be to reach a compromise based on the significantly lower revenue estimates for the next budget year put out by the House.

“That’s what the goal is,” Cullerton said Wednesday. “I think we can do that. That’s what we are going to be negotiating.” […]

The House placed the revenue estimate next year at about $33.3 billion while the Senate determined it would be about $34.3 billion. The Senate said its number was based on estimates produced by the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

That all depends on how you define “revenue projections.”

* Daily Herald

[Rep. Fred Crespo] says the House might cut even further parts of its general services budget - stuff like the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity or the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

That stuff, by comparison, is politically easier to cut. Then, that money they save on general services could go to human services - stuff like care for the disabled, poor and elderly.

That stuff, by comparison, is politically tough to cut.

* Meanwhile, this objection to long-term borrowing to pay off old bills needs to be flagged

“My problem with this is, if we borrow again, it’s going to get better?” asked Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, during a meeting of the Senate Executive Committee. “How long will it take for those bills to go back up?”

As I’ve tried to explain time and time again, the income tax increase wiped out most of the state’s structural deficit. But there wasn’t enough money in that tax hike to also meet the one-time cost of paying off the past-due bills which were created by that deficit. Ergo, the borrowing, payments for which were actually built into the income tax law.

* Whatever the case, this latest borrowing plan is going nowhere. Republican votes are needed, and none are willing to support it

Republicans said the state should instead slash spending and pay off bills with those savings. They attempted to amend Sullivan’s bills to place tighter spending caps on the state budget, which they said would allow the state to pay off its bills in cash in roughly 18 months. That effort failed.

“Have you laid out a budget that actually identifies where those cuts are going to come?” Sullivan asked state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, who introduced the spending caps.

“We put out a plan that has specific cuts in it and a piece of legislation which has a cap,” Murphy responded.

“File the amendments. We’d love to see it,” Sullivan said.

* The Sun-Times is kinda unclear on the concept

The Illinois Legislature wouldn’t be thrilled if Congress suddenly decided to seize a chunk of state revenues on the grounds that Washington needs the money more than Springfield does.

But that’s what Springfield is talking about doing to municipalities and counties across the state. To close the state’s gaping budget gap, legislators are discussing siphoning off tax revenues that traditionally have gone to local government.

The state has, indeed, lost a ton of federal money since the stimulus expired, and it is about to lose even more.

* Related…

* Mautino: ‘Mark will be fine’: The relocation of Hartney to Mark was of great benefit to the village. Records show that before 2003, Mark only received about $10,000 a year in sales tax revenue. After Hartney came to town, the village’s total sales tax receipts climbed, and in 2007, Hartney paid more than $3 million in sales tax receipts.

* Illinois Capitol police short-handed due to budget, attrition

* VIDEO: John Cullerton on the budget

* VIDEO: Borrowing Q&A

* Your share: $42,000

* VIDEO: Kelly Kraft on borrowing plans and budget deadline

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


Republicans “leaning against” filing their own remap proposal as Dem map tweaked for Latinos and congressional map release date still uncertain

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* The Democrats plan to file a new remap proposal today, but the Republicans have taken a pass

Republicans, who were shut out of the process since Democrats hold a majority in the House and Senate, had considered offering their own proposed changes to the map but were leaning against it. With a Democratic governor and legislature, Republicans instead were looking for grounds in federal court to mount a legal challenge to block a new map.

Each legislative caucus was given $750,000 for remap work. Republicans have spent most of their cash on attorneys.

* Subscribers knew about this push earlier in the week

Sources familiar with the map making process but not authorized to speak about it said the new plan would boost districts with Latino voting age majorities up from 50 percent and above to 60 percent in three areas on the North Side and five on the Southwest Side.

One of those 60 percent Latino districts would be that of House Speaker Michael Madigan, the 40-year Southwest Side lawmaker who also is the state’s longest serving speaker and is state Democratic chairman.

* The original objection which led to the changes

MALDEF officials said the Democrats’ map “does not create a sufficient number of Latino opportunity districts” to meet the federal Voting Rights Act.

And former Sen. Miguel del Valle of Chicago said the proposed map “worries me quite a bit” because the presumed Hispanic districts include many undocumented residents who cannot vote.

“Given that the Hispanic community has a large number of individuals who are not eligible to register to vote — they are voting age but because they are permanent residents or they are undocumented they are not eligible to vote, and so while they are counted in the census the fact of the matter is that they cannot participate — I ask you to take the next few days to amend this proposal and improve the percentages in these districts,” he said.

* Others are far from happy

Political maps for the state House and state Senate released this past week dilutes the black vote in Illinois, some minority interest groups say.

Under the proposed map, the House draws eight seats and the Senate five seats in areas where blacks make up at least 55 percent of the population. Compared to the current map, that means 10 fewer House seats and three fewer Senate seats, according to the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations or United Congress, a grassroots organization that represents about 50 groups advocating for more representation for minority communities in the new legislative maps.

For districts with populations of more than 50 percent black, the total majority-minority districts get bumped up to 16 House seats and seven Senate seats. But Josina Morita, executive coordinator for United Congress, said that’s not enough to get a minority-backed candidate elected.

“Take into account the percentage of turnout in African-American communities; 50 percent alone doesn’t mean that you’ll be the majority of those who actually vote,” Morita said.

As I’ve explained before, the massive population loss recorded by the Census Bureau was mainly centered in black legislative districts. The Black Caucus decided they’d rather keep the same number of African-American seats than drawing a bunch of districts with super-majority black populations. Also, Chicago black voter turnout is usually quite high, so I have to disagree with Morita there.

* A Lake County blogger wonders aloud why Rep. Ed Sullivan got such a sweet new map

[The new district] features a swath of Ed Sullivan’s District 51 Democrats (all of downtown Mundelein) herded into a narrow peninsula and given to next-door Rep. Carol Sente in District 59. The loss of those Democrats makes it almost impossible for Rep. Ed Sullivan to ever lose his seat, except in a primary to a fellow Republican or when he retires 75 years from now.

Hmmm. We wonder what Eddie Sullivan did to earn such a wet, sloppy kiss from King Madigan. Luck o’ the Irish?

Nope. The reality is, unless they have to move, many Republicans love this remap (as minority party members often do) because they lost Democratic turf to bolster a neighboring Dem and gained that neighbor’s Republican turf. Sullivan didn’t have to do anything for this “favor.” It’s just the way the big dogs always draw maps.

* From the Senate Democrats’ website

CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING PROPOSAL COMING SOON…

Cullerton said the congressional map could be unveiled after the state remap work is completed

* Related…

* MAPS: Minority Voting Age Population

* Harmon’s growing influence doesn’t protect political turf

* New plans have more state politicians grabbing for a piece of Chicago’s center

* Census shows more empty homes in south suburbs

* Schneider announces bid for 10th CD: A second resident announced campaign plans to run against Republican Robert Dold in the 10th Congressional District.

* Gardner officials displeased with remaps

* Editorial: Remap fallout

* VIDEO: Rep. Marlow Colvin on redistricting

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      


Here comes the pension bill

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* House Republican Leader Tom Cross unveiled his pension reform proposal yesterday

The plan, endorsed by the top Democrat and the top Republican in the Illinois House, would require many state employees to pay about 13.8 percent of their salaries into the pension system to keep their current benefits. Or they could keep more of their money but receive lower benefits at retirement. A third option would be a new 401(k)-style investment plan.

Officials said the savings will depend on which options employees choose. But the amount will be billions of dollars over the years to come, with employees contributing hundreds of millions of dollars more, said Sara Wojcicki, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, an Oswego Republican.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees complained that the plan would “slash” the pensions of employees or cut deep into their paychecks.

The union said the average pension is just $32,000 a year, which could be their sole retirement income because many public employees do not get Social Security. AFSCME argues that government employees always contribute their share to retirement systems, while state officials have often failed to meet their obligations.

* Click here for Leader Cross’ fact sheet. Click here to read the proposal itself. These are the current employee contribution levels, proposed Tier 1 increases and final proposed contribution rates. Click the pic for a larger image and alternative system contribution rates…

* Proposed Chicago and Cook County rates…

* The media has completely ignored this aspect of the plan, and it’s buried way down in the SJ-R story today

The Tier 1 contribution rates are subject to revision after the first three years and every three years thereafter. If the contributions become too burdensome, an employee can move down to Tier 2 or Tier 3 but never back up.

In other words, those numbers you see above aren’t final by any means. The contributions will automatically be recalculated every three years, and those contributions could very well be recalculated upwards as people leave the system. That scenario is a huge political nightmare for many, many legislators.

* Subscribers know more about this little twist

Cross plans to put the state’s judges, who initially were excluded from the latest pension bill, back in this morning via an amendment. Under new contribution levels for public employees who started work before Jan. 1, judges would have to pay 34 percent of their salaries, instead of the current 11 percent, to keep their current benefits.

“Some of our members felt strongly that all of the state systems should be included in the bill,” said Cross spokeswoman Sara Wojcicki when asked why the judges are to be included.

* Also from the SJ-R story

The bill also appears to revise a 1995 law that was designed to bring the pension systems to 90 percent funded by 2045.

From Leader Cross’ analysis

Each year the state will contribute an amount equal to 6% of the total pensionable salary for
employees. Further, the state will contribute a level percentage of the “big 3 revenues” (sales tax, personal income tax, and corporate income tax) to reach a level of 90% funded by 2045. For FY13-15, there will be a “step up” period to ensure a level percentage of revenue from FY16 until FY45. State revenue is assumed to grow at 2.3% per year, and in no case shall the state contribute less than 100% of the prior year’s contribution.

The language appears to smooth out the ramp-up…

* Tribune

If the changes are made, Schmitz predicted, the game plan for getting the state’s pension systems funded at a 90 percent level would be achieved by 2045. Further, he said, the state’s pension payment in 2045 would drop from a projected $20 billion to $12 billion if the steps are taken.

- Posted by Rich Miller   87 Comments      


“Labor peace agreement” stalls gaming bill as McPier refuses temporary site - Plus: A Statehouse roundup

Thursday, May 26, 2011

* This was not unexpected

A House panel Wednesday dumped an 11th-hour bid to expand gambling in Illinois.

The measure, which would have added five casinos and allowed horse racing tracks to offer slot machines, failed to receive enough votes to emerge from the House Executive Committee.

The loss came just days after Gov. Pat Quinn said he didn’t support a massive expansion of gambling, despite the lure of as much as $1.5 billion in added revenue for the cash-strapped state.

The plan would have used the proceeds to pay down the state’s lengthy list of unpaid bills.

* Here’s why it was not unexpected

Lang blamed the downfall on a provision requiring tracks to reach peace agreements with organized labor. Republicans on the panel all voted against it.

The labor provision was opposed by Arlington Park Racecourse, which is attempting to reach a compromise with food-service workers over representation of additional workers that would be required for turning the racetrack into a “racino.” Arlington had long sought the OK to bring slot machines to the racetrack, but said it would oppose the bill mandating such agreements.

Lang said labor peace agreements had already been worked out among the rest of the state’s horse racing tracks. He said he would either work to encourage a labor settlement or seek other changes in the bill to allow it to advance before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment at month’s end.

What’s a labor peace agreement? From the bill

A “labor peace agreement” is an agreement in which the labor organization waives the rights of itself and its members to strike, picket, or otherwise boycott the operation for at least 3 years.

Anyway, that language will likely be pulled from the legislation today and reintroduced. Expect Mayor Emanuel to become more involved if and/or when this bill advances to the floor

“Mayor Emanuel has been upfront about his support for gaming,” Lang said. “I think he’s prepared to convince some fence-sitting legislators it’s the right thing to do.”

* What the bill contains

The measure would have allowed casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Park City in Lake County and a yet-undetermined location in the southern suburbs.

It also would have permitted slot machines at racetracks, including a new track and slot machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Slot machine gambling would not be allowed year-round in Springfield, Lang said. It was to be legal only during the three to nine months of the year when horse racing would have taken place.

Slots at Chicago airports behind the security perimeters are also in the bill.

* Meanwhile, McPier has shot down a suggestion that it temporarily host a new Chicago casino in its McCormick Place East Building

“Lakeside Center is definitely not the place for a casino,” MPEA Trustee Jim Reilly said in a statement. “Our trade show customers do not want their attendees leaving the show floor during show hours.”

* Statehouse roundup…

* IL lawmakers OK tougher oversight of group homes

* Supporters, utilities try again with smart grid: Ameren and ComEd customers will pay about $3 more per month for the Smart Grid upgrades. Pramaggiore said ComEd customers would see a flat $36 per year increase. Ameren customers would see their bills rise quite a bit more. The monthly $3.40 charge would double each year, so that at the end of the 10-year Smart Grid program, Ameren customers would be paying $34 a month more.

* ComEd smart grid plan adds consumer protections: But Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the changes still allow ComEd to take advantage of customers. “Today, their legion of lobbyists continue to push legislation that will require consumers to fund billions more in guaranteed profits,” Madigan said. “This new proposal is just more of the same: a plan that hits consumers where it hurts the most — their wallets.”

* VIDEO: Dave Kolata of CUB on Smart Grid

* VIDEO: Kevin McCarthy on Smart Grid

* Measure would dismantle workers compensation system in Illinois

* State House committee wants to abolish workers’ comp: “Sometimes it’s easier to start from scratch than to try to fix something that’s so broken,” Bradley said. “We are continuing to work. There could be an announcement in the next matter of days, you know, or hours. But in the meantime, until we feel confident and comfortable doing that, we’re going to continue to move this into place.”

* Senate addresses acid attacks, murder registry, background checks

* Bill addressing safety of hotel patrons passes in general assembly

* Harrah’s Casino plans to re-open Friday

* Showing Support for a Rockford Casino

* Local leaders sign letter in support of bringing casino to Rockford: But Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, does not support a gaming expansion or a Rockford casino, saying the benefits are overstated. A casino may be an immediate benefit to the city, he said, but he doubts that there would be much benefit to the region.

* Broadcast museum moves offices into new building

* VIDEO: Rep. Lang on why gaming expansion failed in committee

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today’s edition of Capitol Fax (use all CAPS in password)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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* IDPH wants to ban beer garden smoking
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* *** UPDATED x2 *** What do Sha-Na-Na, Bill Enyart and pies have in common?
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* Question of the day
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