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*** UPDATED x1 - It gets even better *** “Adventures in Governing” with your host Pat Quinn

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

* Gov. Pat Quinn now has the ComEd bill

Legislation commonly referred to as the “ComEd bill” that would help roll out a sophisticated smart grid program but alter the way electricity rates are decided is on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

The controversial legislation, backed by Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co., has been staunchly opposed by consumer advocates and others who call it is a “Trojan horse” meant to pad the utility’s bottom line by removing regulatory obstacles in place for 100 years.

Quinn has repeatedly vowed to veto the legislation, and a maneuver by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) stalled the bill’s delivery to Quinn. Friday, Cullerton withdrew the motion in place since June, so the General Assembly has 30 days to send the bill to Quinn, who would then have 60 days to sign or veto it.

ComEd and its lobbyists have been using the time to meet one-on-one with legislators to try to win enough votes to override a veto.

The utility has been pushing hard for veto override votes. AARP is a staunch opponent. From a press release…

As Senate Bill 1652 has finally been released by the Illinois Senate, AARP urges Governor Pat Quinn, on behalf of our 1.7 million Illinois members, to come through on his promises and veto this awful legislation that would allow utility companies like ComEd and Ameren to hit the wallets of millions of consumers with higher rates while guaranteeing their own profits.

SB1652 narrowly passed both chambers in Springfield during the Spring session as ComEd and Ameren heavily lobbied legislators to approve a bill that would allow them to impose nearly automatic electric rate hikes, while securing company profits and diminishing needed regulatory oversight.

Yet SB1652 did not garner a veto proof majority, and Governor Quinn has promised to veto the bill joining with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, AARP, the Citizens Utility Board and many other consumer advocates and watchdogs in their stern opposition to the legislation.

SB1652 is bad news for consumers as it writes utility company profits into state law guaranteeing ComEd and Ameren a return on equity of over 10% or even higher. Additionally, SB1652 creates a formula rate and shortens the rate review process effectively tying the hands of the Illinois Commerce Commission. Through this bill, ComEd and Ameren are taking the voice of the consumer out of the ratemaking process and paving the way for even higher profit margins.

Now that the bill is finally on its way to the Governor’s desk, we urge him to step up to the plate again for millions of consumers as he had done so often in the past, and use his veto powers to kill this legislation as he has promised numerous times.”

* Meanwhile, the governor is being whacked for signing a bill that slightly dilutes the FOIA law

Illinois residents who repeatedly make open-records requests to their towns, school districts and counties could face new restrictions that would keep them from getting information quickly under legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed Friday.

His decision unleashed sharp criticism from government watchdog groups that accused Quinn of eroding the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and retreating from earlier statements in support of open government.

For the first time, local governments could characterize anyone who files more than seven FOIA requests in a week or more than 15 in a month as a “recurrent requester,” giving the public bodies unlimited time to provide documents. Media, academics and researchers are exempt from the new standard.

Current law gives those governments five business days to answer a records request, with the option of an additional five-day extension.

“It is disappointing that Gov. Quinn, who once cultivated an image of himself as an advocate of open government, has approved a bill that takes Illinois’ FOIA law backward,” said Whitney Woodward, a policy associate with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which opposed the bill.

* I’m not sure if the governor’s proposed fix is any better than the underlying bill

Gov. Pat Quinn is calling for a two-minute timeout before a motorcycle driver or bicyclist can proceed through a stoplight that appears stuck on red.

The Democratic governor used his veto power on Friday to rewrite legislation that would have allowed a motorcyclist idling at a seemingly interminable red light to proceed after a “reasonable period of time.”

Quinn maintains that a specific time period is needed or riders would come up with different standards of what’s reasonable. As written, the measure is “too subjective and will result in confusion amongst law enforcement, the judiciary and motorcycle operations,” the governor explained.

A two-minute wait won’t confuse law enforcement? Who’s gonna run the timer?

* Typical

In 2007, the state spent $13.2 million to buy the former Franklin Life Insurance building in Springfield to serve as a new headquarters for the Illinois State Police, as well as a workplace for employees of other state agencies.

Four years later, State Police still are the only tenants. That’s led some officials to question whether space in the massive building is being used properly and whether the state is wasting money by continuing to lease offices when it could move people into a state-owned building.

“It is being totally underutilized,” said Ed Bedore, a member of the state’s Procurement Policy Board, which oversees state leasing. “It will cost some money to do some rehabbing, absolutely. But that will certainly be made up in a matter of months when you consolidate some other leases.”

“There’s some available space there,” agreed David Vaught, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget director and chairman of the procurement panel. “If we have that available space and we have an appropriate agency that does not impair the security needs of the State Police, it’s an opportunity to save some money.”

* The governor giveth

Local mental health officials are hoping that new legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn will be a true victory for the community – though some have their doubts.

Quinn signed House Bill 1530 at the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health in Hoffman Estates last week. The bill prevents insurers from including additional barriers within a policy – such as financial requirements, treatment limitations, lifetime limits or annual limits – to treatments for mental, emotional, nervous and substance abuse disorders if no such stipulations exist for other health conditions, according a release from the governor’s office.

Sandy Lewis, executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board, said this is an important step for mental health care.

“For too long, individuals and families have not had the opportunity to get the help that they needed when they’re insured by group health insurance because mental health and substance abuse weren’t covered the same way.”

* And taketh away

If Governor Pat Quinn ever wonders why the public, the press and the legislature find his approach to governing to be incoherent and frustrating, and at times cynical, he needs only to consider his recent whiplash-inducing turn on behavioral health care policy.

Last week Quinn held a bill-signing ceremony at the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health in Arlington Heights, and he issued a press release that stressed the importance to “improve behavioral health care throughout Illinois.” […]

[However] The governor proposed a Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which began on July 1, 2011, that sought to cut $33 million from mental health care, depriving care to approximately 20,000 individuals, principally the working poor. He also sought to cut all state funding, $63 million, for substance prevention and treatment, a move that would have eliminated care to 55,000 people out of the 69,000 currently served.

Additionally, Quinn had sought in March to drastically cut funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment in the last quarter of the 2011, throwing behavior healthcare providers into chaos. They turned away new patients and cut services to others.

* And your Pat Quinn moment of Zen

By now, most people know Quinn has a tendency to ramble in his public comments. Well, the ramblin’ man was in full voice at a bill signing last week.

Quinn started the ceremony by making some unprepared remarks that lasted about five minutes. During that time, Quinn said he once lived in a mobile home in Madison County, that state and local governments work together, Illinois believes in transportation, the state has the fewest traffic fatalities since 1921, it’s a tough economy, we’re Americans, his favorite words are “made in America,” 9/11, the state fair, Gold Star families, he’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Old State Capitol, Abraham Lincoln and proclaiming America as the first democracy on planet Earth.

Quinn then signed the bill. It allows overweight trucks to drive short distances on some state roads.

*** UPDATE *** It gets better. With thanks to a commenter, here’s the video in all its rambled, messy glory

Pay special attention to the beginning of the video when Gov. Quinn announces that his “very good friend” Rep. Dan Beiser couldn’t be at the event. Beiser is standing less than two feet from Quinn at the time.

Hilarious.

I just called Beiser and he said he was trying to think of what he was going to say when it was his turn and didn’t hear Quinn announce that he wasn’t there. He had a good laugh about it, however.

…Adding… A persistent commenter prompted me to give it a re-watch, and Quinn could very well be speaking of Sen. Bill Haine, who was, indeed, absent.

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* Roundup…

* Illinois DCFS chief steps down

* Former Sen. Rickey Hendon owes IRS $31,531

* Illinois National Guard stands down from hurricane duty

* Inmate wants out of Tamms; attorney says years of solitary confinement have harmed his mental health

* Program named after Demuzio has potential to save lives

* Chicago gang rivals band together to control neighborhood drug trade

* Brown Line renovations already need repairs

* Suburbs fight to keep foreclosed homes maintained

- Posted by Rich Miller   52 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: This just in…

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

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Question of the day

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

* On a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst and ten being the best, rate US Sen. Mark Kirk’s job performance. Take the poll and the explain your answer in comments, please.


- Posted by Rich Miller   64 Comments      


Spiting your face

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

* A boycott would definitely be cutting off one’s nose to spite their face

Does a tollway hike in January mean thousands of I-PASS users flocking to alternate routes to avoid paying more at tolled ramps and plazas?

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority officials don’t think so.

But one I-PASS devotee who uses I-88 to get from Aurora to work in Naperville said “Diehl Road, here I come!” minutes after the tollway board of directors voted Thursday to increase rates to pay for a $12 billion roads program.

Another vowed to take Route 83 instead of I-355 on the daily commute between Lombard and Arlington Heights. It was a choice of spending 15 minutes more on the drive or paying roughly $300 more a year.

15 minutes extra commuting per day is 62.5 hours a year, with two weeks subtracted for a vacation. That unnamed person must not make much money if s/he can throw away that much time every year.

* Meanwhile, this number needs far more explanation

A $12 billion capital plan that would create thousands of jobs seems like a panacea for the metropolitan region’s woeful unemployment rate of 10.5 percent.

But predicting job creation numbers isn’t an exact science, experts say regarding the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s building program.

Tollway directors Thursday adopted a construction agenda for the next 15 years they say will create 120,000 permanent jobs and 13,000 temporary construction jobs.

Because

We’d point out that the big, $30 billion-ish statewide construction plan was estimated to create 40,000ish jobs. So would a $12 billion plan create three times as many?

Tribune

We’re concerned that the tollway has come to fancy itself an economic engine. Creating jobs ought to be a collateral benefit, not part of the mission statement. The system is supported by user fees — tolls — a concept we support. But we don’t think it’s fair to tap users to pay for projects that aren’t yet needed, all in the name of creating jobs. We’ll say it again: The Illinois Tollway is a highway system, not a jobs program.

* But not everybody is up in arms

[State Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville)] addressed a question on the Illinois Tollway raising tolls by saying she was conflicted on the issue. She said she understood the reluctance to raise tolls, but understood the need for improving the state’s toll system, particularly for extending the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway and linking the state’s system with I-65 in Indiana.

“I kind of like the user fee, instead of taxing everybody,” she said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   55 Comments      


The war at home

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

* My grandmother and her sisters think I’m some sort of bigshot because I have a column in the Chicago Sun-Times. What they don’t know (because I don’t tell them - hey, it’s my grandma) is that my weekly syndicated newspaper column has a whole lot more readers because it’s in so many newspapers throughout the state. Here’s my latest

A few weeks ago, I ran into a fairly high-level Illinois Democrat at a party in Springfield. He said he’d taken my advice and was reading the New York Times’ “Disunion” Civil War blog. He also said he’d come to the conclusion that President Barack Obama should follow President Abraham Lincoln’s lead by suspending habeas corpus and then arresting all Tea Party-affiliated Republican congressmen.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but he said he was dead serious.

I always thought this guy was a centrist, pragmatic sort. But he was obviously caught up in the national meltdown over the debt ceiling fight. He was furious beyond comprehension. Actually, considering that Congress’ job approval rating now is rapidly approaching zero, his bone-chilling anger is probably comprehensible to a lot of people.

So, I kinda get why some Democrats are all wigged out over Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s attendance at U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s recent fundraiser. Madigan, who also is the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, attended the fundraiser as a guest of Terry Duffy, who was hosting he event. Duffy also is chairman of CME, a very big company that has threatened to move part of its operations out of Illinois because of the state’s recent tax hike.

Anyway, a whole lot of Democrats I know are just furious about just about everything these days. They felt pushed around when George W. Bush was president and they wanted President Obama to push back when he was elected. Instead, Obama has cut deals with Republicans and allowed himself to be bullied, at least in many Democratic eyes.

Many of the Republicans I know are consumed with anger as well. I saw a poll last week which showed 96 percent of Republican primary voters in a southern Downstate region believe the state is on the wrong track. Considering that the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus four percent, that wrong track number could actually be 100 percent.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, especially after all the calamities that this state and this country have been through the past few years.

The congressional debt ceiling fight seemed to bring everything to a head and became so vicious that at one point some pundit or another claimed that America was engaged in a “Cold Civil War.” Partisans aren’t shooting guns at each other, but their hatred and venom is more intense and the divisions between them are far wider than at any time I can remember.

So, attending a function for the benefit of the Republican House Speaker who battled the Democratic President is considered almost an act of treason by angry Democrats.

Gov. Pat Quinn also was apparently swept up in the national mania. Quinn can be a very partisan Democrat when he wants to be and he always has been a staunch defender of Obama, no matter what.

Quinn let out a little bit of anger when he was asked about Madigan’s attendance at that fundraiser last week. The governor whacked Madigan for his “support” of Boehner, which Quinn said Boehner did not deserve.

Quinn also chided Madigan for not attending a recent Obama event in a small town in Illinois, saying the party chairman should support the Democratic president, even though this was a White House event, not an Obama campaign function.

Madigan’s spokesman angrily retorted that Madigan didn’t “support” Boehner because he didn’t buy a fundraiser ticket and added that his boss interpreted the 2010 election results as a desire by the public to force both parties to work together.

Madigan’s 2010 election analysis actually is shared by the president himself, yet hyperpartisans on both sides, including apparently Quinn, want no rapprochement of any sort.

For years, the Democrats in this state have made fun of the Republicans because the hardcore right wing and the “business class” set always were at each other’s throats. One side was accused of being “too pure” and the other was accused of “selling out to the Democrats.” The Republicans formed a permanent circular firing squad. As a result, they’ve been out of power for a very long time.

Quinn and some other Democrats apparently never learned that lesson.

* Mayor Emanuel’s reaction was far more light-hearted

Madigan meeting with Boehner has everybody wondering what’s Madigan up to – but not Mayor Emanuel. He sees it just the opposite because of the congressional reapportionment map Madigan drew at the expense of Republicans.

“What’s Boehner doing meeting with Madigan given that the map was pretty good – the map that Mike Madigan and John Cullerton drew! So I ask the inverse question. What was John Boehner doing meeting with Mike Madigan,” Emanuel said.

Heh.

* And the AP has a story about the fight between Quinn and Emanuel, without really moving the ball forward very much

Both Quinn and Emanuel downplayed the importance of their verbal sparring last week. But with Illinois in such bad financial shape, at stake is a Chicago casino that could be the biggest prize Quinn can deliver to Emanuel in the next four years, and some of their colleagues are praying the verbal sparring ends soon.

“This particular conflict threatens to get out of hand,” said State Rep. Lou Lang, a suburban Chicago Democrat who is a chief sponsor of the gambling measure.

Lang said he thinks cooler heads will prevail because otherwise the two men risk spoiling their ability to help negotiate a resolution to the gambling legislation, which proponents say could bring millions in revenues to a number of communities throughout the state if Quinn signs it.

Subscribers know a whole lot more, but cooler heads really need to prevail here. Illinois simply cannot afford another political war.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Caption contest!

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

* That would be Mayor Rahm Emanuel wearing a pink bathing cap in the Chicago Triathlon

Let’s keep it clean, people. I only brought up the pink cap to get the subject out of the way. Do not “go there,” OK? I’d like to be able to continue parking my car on the street when I visit my favorite big city. Don’t get yourself banned for life because I want to save myself from nasty retaliation. Seriously. Thanks much.

- Posted by Rich Miller   73 Comments      


Done with Dunn?

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

* I’m as frustrated as any other White Sox fan about Adam Dunn’s lack of performance, but I also really feel for the guy. I kinda fell in love with him during spring training, and it’s hard to be angry with somebody who is so self aware

A frustrated Adam Dunn accepts the probably that he won’t have a chance to salvage his season in the final 4½ weeks.

“I’m a realist,” Dunn said Sunday before Dayan Viciedo hit a three-run home run in his first game with the Sox this season. “I’m not like an idiot. We’re right in the middle of things. What do you do? What do you say?”

With a .163 batting average, 156 strikeouts and an .037 batting average (3-for-81) against left-handed pitchers, manager Ozzie Guillen had little choice but to talk Sunday with Dunn about a possible reduced role. […]

“These are the guys who matter when it comes down to it,” Dunn said. “That’s the hardest part about the whole thing. If it was me, I could get over it. But it’s the guys in here. I don’t know how else to put it. It sucks.

* Phil Kadner is less patient

Adam Dunn should not be allowed to play another game for the White Sox this season.

The designated hitter and backup first baseman cannot hit.

He has a chance to become only the second player in major league history to have his strikeout total exceed his batting average in a season.

Mark Reynolds, formerly of the Arizona Diamondbacks and now with the Baltimore Orioles, last season became the first hitter to accomplish that dubious mark.

Reynolds struck out 211 times and hit .198. Dunn, as of Thursday, had 153 strikeouts and a .165 batting average.

I don’t blame Dunn for this fiasco. I blame the White Sox organization.

Every time they send him out to play, they insult baseball fans across the country and damage the reputation of their entire team.

Your thoughts?

* Semi-related…

* With Hendry out, Park Ridge wants ‘Jim Hendry Way’ gone too

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Protected: *** UPDATED x2 *** SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Supplement to today’s edition and a big campaign roundup

Monday, Aug 29, 2011

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Reader comments closed for the weekend

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* Candy Golde is playing tonight at the Castle Theater in Bloomington. If you can get there, then you should definitely check them out. The players are Nick Tremulis, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, John Stirratt of Wilco, and Rick Rizzo of Eleventh Dream Day. That’s some serious rock and roll experience, baby. A review

Unlike many of the other All-Star bands, which try to incorporate the sounds of their past work into something new, Candy Golde is eclectic and experimental. Carlos, the drummer for classic rock gods Cheap Trick for almost four decades, has adapted his style, playing more like a garage band bammer on the band’s LP, unleashing heavy percussion work that hasn’t been heard from him in decades.

“I had so much fun putting this together,” said Carlos. “It’s different not being on the road and being able to experiment. I loved making this LP.”

Tremulis, known more for his song-writing and love of experimentation with rock and soul blends, was able to play the part of hard rock singer and do more than hold his own. Stirratt, a member of an alternative powerhouse the likes of Wilco speeds up his bass playing in Candy Golde and does more than support the percussion. Rizzo, while also in a solid alternative band before CG, known for his excellent guitar work, song-writing ability and vocal stylings, plays some of the hardest tunes in his career with this quartet.

The end result is something unlike anything you’ve heard before from a band created from bits and pieces of other successful groups.

* My old friend Tom Irwin is opening for Candy Golde tonight with his band The Hayburners. Find more info here. This is gonna be one great show, campers

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Heckuva job

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* We’ve heard for the past few years that Medicaid managed care would save the state billions of dollars. But now that it’s upon us, providers don’t want to participate in a managed care pilot project for patients with cerebral palsy, autism, schizophrenia or Down Syndrome

Many doctors and hospitals are refusing to join the new Medicaid program, which the state hopes will better coordinate care and lower costs for some of its neediest recipients. The providers’ rationale: They dislike the bureaucratic hassles and cost-cutting measures associated with managed care.

The ranks of those who have said no, for the moment, include prominent medical centers and physician practices with a long track record of serving the disabled, among them Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, the University of Chicago Medical Center, Children’s Memorial Hospital and Loyola University Health System.

And that means patients who enrolled in the Chicago-area pilot project now have to find new doctors, specialists, hospitals, etc

Because of the situation, hundreds if not thousands of vulnerable, chronically ill individuals are being forced to find new doctors, some of whom appear ill-equipped to handle their needs, according to consumer advocates and families. […]

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Suzanne Klug, of Des Plaines, whose daughter, Tamara, 21, with cerebral palsy and severe developmental delays, has been forced to find a new primary care doctor, surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, neurosurgeon and neurologist after being enrolled in the new Medicaid program.

Go read the whole thing.

* In other news of excellent management and foresight, the RTA hired an outside consultant which posted YouTube videos to inform senior citizens about how their new reduced fare card will work. Trouble is, the RTA failed to include instructions when they mailed out the new cards

Many seniors have already expressed confusion and frustration over the new cards mailed to them by the Regional Transportation Authority because the cards were not accompanied by any instructions.

“How the devil do these cards work?’’ asked Rita Shafer in an email to the Tribune. “Nothing in the totally useless information provided (by the RTA) tells one how to put money on the card.’’

The RTA didn’t use “smart cards” that can be charged like an ATM card because, they say, they didn’t have enough extra smart cards on hand. So, that means seniors will have to manually charge the paper cards at CTA rail stations, which isn’t great news for bus riders

Reloading transit cards will create a major inconvenience for the many senior citizens who travel only on buses. They will need to make a special trip to a CTA rail station and walk up or down stairs to the fare card machines.

In addition, the magnetic strip cards are more prone to fail or jam in fare machines than more sturdy smart cards, which are also easier to handle, transportation experts and seniors who use the cards say.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Legislative campaign roundup

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

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Contrariness

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* Back in February, two Illinois legislators sponsored bills to require drug testing for new welfare recipients

The bill introduced to the Illinois House seeks to require new applicants for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug testing and subsequent substance abuse treatment if a drug test is positive. Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, introduced the measure, which also requires submission to random drug testing. Sacia’s proposal is a “pilot program” that exempts welfare recipients over age 65.

A parallel piece of legislation, proposed by Rep. Chapin Rose, R- is nearly identical to Sacia’s bill.

* However, Florida just implemented a mandatory drug test for new TANF recipients and only a tiny fraction are testing positive

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows. […]

The initiative may save the state a few dollars anyway, bearing out one of Gov. Rick Scott’s arguments for implementing it. But the low test fail-rate undercuts another of his arguments: that people on welfare are more likely to use drugs. […]

More than once, Scott has said publicly that people on welfare use drugs at a higher rate than the general population. The 2 percent test fail rate seen by DCF, however, does not bear that out.

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, performed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, 8.7 percent of the population nationally over age 12 uses illicit drugs. The rate was 6.3 percent for those ages 26 and up.

* Meanwhile, I really don’t care

Questions surrounding a gambling bill that is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk have focused on regulation and on how much new casinos could raise for state coffers.

But casino industry watchers are also asking whether the gambling market will be oversaturated with five new riverboats, minicasinos at the state’s five horse racing tracks and slot machines at Chicago’s airports. Increased competition from neighboring states, an unpredictable economy and casino bankruptcies are raising distress signals for the industry nationwide.

I don’t see why the state has a moral duty to protect the monopolies of existing Illinois casinos. Some of these casinos haven’t remodeled in years. Competition is supposed to be good. Why is it so horrible in this case?

Also

The State Senate president, John J. Cullerton, Democrat of Chicago, said he was recently approached by a lobbyist hired by a Wisconsin casino who hoped to stifle competition by derailing Illinois’s expansion of gambling sites. The fact that neighboring states are worried suggests there is a market for more, Cullerton said.

Supporters also argue that a casino in tourist-rich Chicago would keep gamblers here instead of sending them across state lines. Dozens of buses depart from Chicago and its suburbs every day for gambling venues elsewhere. Emanuel has said Illinois should not allow Indiana to get “$20 million a month while our infrastructure is crumbling.”

* And speaking of the casino bill, House sponsor Lou Lang was asked this question by NBC Chicago

What about Gov. Quinn’s concern that there’s not enough oversight? The bill takes some of these positions out of the oversight of the Illinois Gaming Board, and he’s worried that organized crime is going to find its way into these new gaming positions.

Lou

He’s wrong. While we do create a Chicago Casino Authority, it in no way supersedes the Illinois Gaming Board. Its job is to help the city determine what to recommend to the Gaming Board. Its job is to help determine what gaming operator the city must hire. The bill requires the city hire a gaming operator, because we don’t want aldermen and ward committeemen deciding who blackjack dealers would be, and we wanted people running the casino who know about gaming. We don’t want it run by some committee of the City Council, so we created a casino authority, and yes, the people are appointed by the mayor, but they can only make recommendations. They have no force of law. They cannot tell the Gaming Board what to approve and what not to approve. Let me tell you what I told the governor. I said, “If the optics of this are such that you need different language to satisfy that, I’ll give it you.”

* Chicago-based Groupon has been taking a severe beating in the press ahead of its IPO. For instance

Groupon’s fundamental problem is that it has not yet discovered a viable business model. The company asserts that it will be profitable once it reaches scale but there is little reason to believe this. The financial results of Groupon’s traditional business continue to deteriorate, especially in mature markets, and new ventures such as Groupon Now also have failed to drive profits. And unlike the very few successful companies that scaled before they were profitable (think Facebook or Amazon), Groupon’s business model does not benefit from significant network effects.

And

Could the fastest growing company in history sputter out just as quickly? At this point, the better question may be: How could it not?

* But Groupon’s CEO is now fighting back

“While we’ve bitten our tongues and allowed insane accusations … to go unchallenged publicly, it’s important to me that you have the context necessary to brush this stuff off,” Mason addressed employees in his memo.

Mason argued that rival services were “small and not growing” and waved off accusations Groupon was “buying customers” by splurging on marketing — two key concerns on Wall Street ahead of its market debut.

“Even if we wanted to continue to spend at these levels, we would eventually run out of new subscribers to acquire,” he wrote. “The real point is that our business is a lot harder to build than people realize and our scale creates competitive advantages that even the largest technology companies are having trouble penetrating.”

[Hat tip: Sullivan]

* And a federal judge essentially just deleted a section of Illinois’ election law

A federal judge in Chicago today ruled that candidates for Congress in next year’s election can go ahead and collect candidacy signatures after Labor Day despite a pending lawsuit filed by Republicans that challenges the Democrats’ redrawing of the state’s U.S. House district boundaries.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s order allows U.S. House candidates to gather petition signatures starting on Sept. 6 from voters who live within the Democrat-drawn districts. Under her order, if the congressional boundaries are subsequently changed by the actions of the court, the signatures of those people who find themselves in a different district will still be valid.

Lefkow’s order also said a candidacy petition cannot be ruled invalid if court action leads to a renumbering of a congressional district.

The judge’s ruling, which also ends a GOP-backed request to push back the petition-passing process, could make it difficult to challenge a candidate’s candidacy signatures if congressional boundary lines are shifted as a result of the federal court.

While that makes practical sense, shouldn’t this be for the General Assembly and the governor to decide? A judge changing state law to accommodate an undecided, ongoing federal lawsuit makes me more than a bit queasy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Question of the day

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* On a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst and ten being the best, rate US Sen. Dick Durbin’s job performance. Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks…


- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      


Updating our infrastructure ain’t free

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* Gov. Pat Quinn was asked an interesting question during his press conference yesterday to announce that Nissan was making its all-electric “LEAF” vehicle for sale in Chicago a year early. “As demand for these cars increases, can the electric grid handle it if you don’t sign off on the ComEd bill on your desk right now?”

There was a long pause and some nervous laughter. “Clearly,” Quinn finally said, “there is an impact on the electric grid.” Quinn went on to claim that many of these cars would be powered at night, although the very fast charging power stations which were also discussed yesterday would eventually translate into lots of additional power usage during the day.

The governor repeated his threat to veto ComEd’s “Smart Grid” bill as soon as it arrives on his desk, and said “No, it does not,” when asked if vetoing the bill would hinder Quinn’s goal of making Illinois “the capital of electric vehicles.”

I agree with Quinn that there are problems with the ComEd bill. I’ll be discussing this in more detail next week. But I have for years believed that the Smart Grid is absolutely needed to deal with 21st Century electricity issues. Improving and modernizing infrastructure is supposed to be a hallmark of this governor’s administration. Well, the power grid is an integral part of any state’s infrastructure. Moderinizing that grid gives Illinois an advantage over other states in attracting new jobs and keeping the ones we have. So, fix the problems with the ComEd bill and let’s put some people to work.

Raw audio of the governor…

I’ve been a very harsh ComEd critic for years. But this Smart Grid is just too important to play cheap populist politics. We need it. And I think it can be done at a lower price than ComEd is currently demanding. Let’s get moving, man.

* More on the Leaf

“We want to be the electric vehicle capital of the United States,” Quinn said, adding he wants to make Interstate 55 the “Land of Lincoln Electric Highway from Chicago to Springfield,” with charging stations along the way.

The state already gives a $4,000 tax break to Illinoisans who buy an electric car. That’s on top of a $7,500 federal tax credit. That brings the price of the Leaf down to $23,500.

Considering the electric equivalent of a tank of gas is about $4, compared with $60 or so to fill a 15-gallon tank with $4-a-gallon gas, the car could pay for itself.

The trade-off is that a fully charged lithium car battery will get the car only 100 miles or so before it needs a recharge. A readout on the dashboard tells the driver how many more miles the car can go before needing a recharge.

The only car I had when I lived in Chicago was a BMW Z-3, which can’t be driven in the winter. So, I rented a car when I needed to go to Springfield or visit my parents or whatever. An electric vehicle can be very practical for a commuter. Longer trips can be taken with a family’s other car or a rental. It’s not really that difficult.

* And speaking of infrastructure, here’s one defense of the toll hike

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, a Tollway Board commissioner, said the toll increase is needed to ensure northeastern Illinois remains a competitive economic hub.

Without the increase, he said, “the state isn’t going to be competitive in a global economy 20 years from now.”

He said two-thirds of the increase will fund repairs of the existing tollway system.

“As mayor, we’ve done a lot of work in the city on infrastructure,” he said. “If you try to cheat on infrastructure, you’re really cheating yourself. Ultimately you’ll pay a much higher price.”

* Some of Quinn’s defense of the hike

“The bottom line is I think you have to understand the tollway has not had a general toll increase since 1983. At that time, the Chicago Tribune cost 25 cents. Today the Chicago Tribune costs $1.”

Another one

“We don’t want to raise the gas tax, so we have to use the tollway in order to get people to work, get people to schools … to where they want to go,” Quinn said. “Those are user fees. The people who use the tollway understand that we have to maintain the tollway.”

* Related…

* Chicago Will Get Nissan Leaf Early Because It Loves Electric Cars

* Can electric cars win over the mass market?

* ComEd faces more frustrated customers at Glenview meeting

* Power outages worry McCullom Lake residents

* Chicago ComEd Crews Depart to Help with Hurricane Irene in Philadelphia

* Blowing about town in the all-electric Nissan Leaf

* Consumer advocates blast Ameren Illinois’ $90 million rate hike request

* Drivers not happy about toll hike

* Illinois tollways were supposed to be ‘free’ ways: In 1999, then-governor George Ryan briefly floated the idea of eliminating tolls, but it went nowhere.

* Growing Pains: The Red Line Extension

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      


*** UPDATED x2 - Quinn: Superintendents won’t be paid until October *** This just in… Judge rules against regional superintendents

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* 10:40 am - Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt has ruled that he has no judicial authority to force the state to pay the salaries of regional superintendents of schools after they were vetoed out of the budget by Gov. Pat Quinn.

* From the ruling, which you can read by clicking here

The Plaintiffs claim that their position and salary are mandated by statute and they are entitled to a temporary restraining order granting them prospective relief in the form of an order from this court that they be paid. […]

The Governor is vested with broad power. The Illinois Consitution provides that “[t]he Governor may reduce or veto any item of appropriations in a bill presented to him…” […]

Taken to the absurd, the Governor has the power to veto appropriations to pay the salaries of all state officials and suspend the operation of all of the State’s departments. The bare possibility that one might abuse their power does not authorize this Court to take from the executive the powers the Constitution plainly invests in them. People ex rel. Millner v. Russel, 311 Ill. 96, 99-100 (1924)

The rational of Russel supports the conclusion that a position and salary created by statute must still be supported by an appropriation. The Illinois Constitution states very plainly that the Governor may veto an item of appropriation. To hold otherwise would thrust the Court into the appropriation process. Such would be contrary to the Illlinois Constitution.

In sum, this Court is without authority to issue a temporary restraining order mandating the executive branch pay the Plaintiffs prosepectively.

* Statement by the regional superintendents…

“We respect the court’s decision but are disappointed that the judge did not agree with us. State law clearly calls for us to be paid for the good work we continue to do, but our fight continues. Today’s outcome doesn’t change that we believe this situation is totally unfair and against what this state stands for. We continue to work hard for the students, parents, educators and taxpayers of Illinois. And we will find a way through discussions with state lawmakers for a long-term funding solution. Clearly, the pain continues for many superintendents and their families during this very difficult time, and hardships are growing every day. They will have to make difficult decisions as this crisis continues as we work through the inconsiderate decision to end our funding with no other plan in place to pay us for doing our jobs.

“Our association is meeting this afternoon to discuss our next steps.”

*** UPDATE 1 *** Despite his budget office’s repeated claims that a solution was imminent, Gov. Quinn said today that the superintendents won’t be paid until October…

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn expects the state’s regional school superintendents to keep working without pay until at least October.

He said Friday he expects lawmakers to resolve the dispute over cancelled salaries for the 44 superintendents and their assistants when they return to work in Springfield in October. They have been working without pay since July 1 after Quinn cancelled their salaries.

Raw audio…

*** UPDATE 2 *** Follow-up statement by the regional superintendents…

“The association is reviewing the results of the court’s ruling and its legal options, including an appeal. We will thoughtfully consider our next steps and make the appropriate decision at the right time, understanding the time frame allotted to us under court rules.

- Posted by Rich Miller   83 Comments      


After vetoing their salaries, Quinn expands duties of regional superintendents

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* A bill signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday expands the duties of regional superintendents of schools. Yes, the same regional superintendents who haven’t been paid since the end of June because Quinn vetoed their salaries out of the state budget.

I kid you not.

SB 2170 takes county boards out of the equation when voters approve a sales tax increase for school construction. Up until now, the law gave county boards the option of imposing the sales tax even if voters approved it, and gave county boards the right to reject putting the questions onto the ballot.

The bill also does this

For all regular elections held on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 97th General Assembly, the regional superintendent of schools for the county must, upon receipt of a resolution or resolutions of school district boards that represent more than 50% of the student enrollment within the county, certify the question to the proper election authority for submission to the electors of the county at the next regular election at which the question lawfully may be submitted to the electors, all in accordance with the Election Code. [Emphasis added.]

Sheesh. This summer has been a comedy of errors.

To be fair, Gov. Quinn hasn’t said that he wants to completely get rid of the regional offices of education. He’s said that locals ought to pay for them if they want them. But it is surely salting the wound by expanding their duties while they’re not getting paid.

* Meanwhile, Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt will decide at noon today what he will do about a lawsuit by the regional superintendents

A Sangamon County judge said Thursday that he’s aghast at the hardship caused by Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision to cancel salaries for the state’s regional school superintendents.

But Circuit Judge John Schmidt also questioned the school officials’ attorney closely Thursday about whether the courts have the authority to interfere with the executive branch of government.

Schmidt said he’ll announce his decision in the case at noon today.

“There are no easy answers, and this case involves significant ramifications of constitutional law for the courts, the executive and the legislative branches,” Schmidt said after hearing arguments in court.

More

Terence Corrigan, an assistant attorney general representing the state, said courts have previously ruled that payments cannot be made without an appropriation.

“The issue is, ‘Can a court order payment without an appropriation?’ ” Corrigan said.

Schmidt asked if the governor could then just do away with an office created by state law by refusing to fund it.

Quoting a previous court opinion, Corrigan said, “because power can be abused doesn’t mean power doesn’t exist.”

Good question

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt used the raspberry to punctuate a question about his power to order Gov. Pat Quinn to spend state money.

“What if I issue an order, and the governor says, ‘Plfftt’?,” Schmidt pondered in court Thursday.

Check back at noon for Schmidt’s decision.

* In related news, one regional superintendent is calling it quits

St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools Brad Harriman said he plans to retire because of the state budget standoff that has left his position unfunded.

“This isn’t the way I wanted things to end,” Harriman said, “but because of circumstances, this is my best option.” […]

Harriman, 57, said he doesn’t see a quick end to the standoff between state lawmakers in favor of restoring the money — which they voted to approve — or the governor who vetoed them. And he doesn’t think any change in the situation would change his mind.

“Even if the funding is restored, frankly I don’t trust the governor,” Harriman said. “And I trust his advisors even less.”

Considering all that’s happened, I can’t blame him for thinking that way.

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


So long, Steve

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* My Sun-Times column

I feel almost the same about Steve Jobs retiring from Apple as I felt when Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he’d had enough. I truly appreciate his many years of service, but I’m happy to see him leave.

I’ve been an “Apple guy” for a long time. I was attracted by its elegant designs and its renegade status as a solidly reliable alternative to the big, bad, clunky, reboot-every-hour Microsoft machines.

My wife and I now own an iMac, two iPods, two iPhones, two iPads (both with Apple wireless keyboards), an Airport Extreme Base Station and two Macbook Air laptops. We have spent serious dollars with Apple over the years.

To say that I have reveled in my all-Mac status would be an understatement. I’ve taken pride in belonging to an “elite” club. We weren’t part of that gigantic herd of sheep trapped in their cheapo, unreliable Bill Gates worlds. And we have style, man. I’ve always enjoyed the gasps of amazement when I pulled my paper-thin, stainless steel laptop out of my briefcase at the Statehouse or a political event.

And I absolutely love looking for new ways to use my iPhone to augment my political coverage for my blog and political newsletter, Capitol Fax.

For instance, I bought a tiny directional microphone that plugs into my iPhone’s headset jack, hugely improving the audio quality of news videos I post at my website.

I even bought an iPhone case that doubles as a sort of camera tripod. I found an Internet program (ScribbleLive) which allows me to easily live-blog with my iPhone when I’m away from my office. And I stumbled across a program, which I haven’t used yet, to allow my iPhone to post live videos on my website.

That little device has allowed me to become a one-man multimedia news network for Illinois politics. I’m doing things now with my iPhone that I could only dream about just a few short years ago.

But lately I’ve felt trapped, and I’ve thought about leaving.

There are still far too many files and programs that I can’t open or run on my iMac. And some of the Apple versions of Microsoft programs aren’t yet up to snuff.

The iPad isn’t really useful to me except as an overpriced news and book reader. I have the MLB Network, so I can watch baseball games for hours on end, but the iPad viewing options are way too limited. Neither the iPad nor the iPhone has nearly enough memory, and Jobs’ longtime hatred of all things Adobe means that flash programs don’t work on the devices. The Safari browsers on both devices leave a lot to be desired, and don’t get me started about AT&T.

Jobs also has the maddening habit of treating what can be accessed on his portable products almost like Thomas Edison once did with his newfangled phonograph. Edison had a monopoly on both his player and the cylinders that contained the music. He personally chose which artists to record. If your musical tastes differed from Tom’s, well, you were out of luck.

Jobs isn’t that bizarre, but he has certainly been a control freak when it comes to the apps that can be sold in his online store.

I hope Tim Cook, who has taken the helm at Apple, won’t bring the same baggage to the company that Jobs did and will open it up to even more innovation. If he doesn’t, I probably will be leaving. I’m just tired of having my choices limited by a benevolent dictator.

Thanks for everything, Steve. Really, I mean it. And I hope you live a long, healthy life. But thanks for retiring, too.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


« NEWER POSTS PREVIOUS POSTS »
* *** UPDATED x1 - Quinn's office responds *** Art returned after police report filed
* NORML: GA should accept Rauner's AV
* Maybe not
* Message synergy
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* Running on empty and can't fill the tank
* Attorneys: Providers still not being paid
* Moody's: Illinois ratings will be based on whether state can deal with revenue problems and show it can make required pension payments
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