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As much as we’d all like it, there is no magic wand

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

* The State Journal-Register published an angry editorial demanding action right freaking now on a solution to the state’s terrible problem with past-due bills. While eloquent at times, there was only one paragraph on what’s holding up a solution

Republicans are dead set on a “no borrowing” pledge, even though they concede that the current situation forces ordinary Illinoisans to carry the state’s debt load. Gov. Pat Quinn has pursued a borrowing plan that is too big. Rank-and-file Democrats say they’re hamstrung by the GOP.

Borrowing requires a three-fifths majority in both chambers. It’s never easy, and it’s impossible if one political party is dead set against any borrowing. It’s also impossible as long as Gov. Quinn is sticking to a large borrowing plan.

The Republicans want more cuts to pay off the old bills, but they’ve yet to put those cuts into an actual bill, and even they agree that their idea wouldn’t pay off all bills right away. Until they show their hand, or the Democrats can come up with cuts on their own (don’t bet your house on that ever happening) this thing is going nowhere. Gaming expansion would’ve provided some money for old bills, but Quinn is against that, too. So, everybody will just do their best to ignore the problem for as long as they can.

Obviously, what’s needed here is some sort of consensus, but there is no magic wand we can wave to achieve that consensus or even figure out what it should look like. I’m stumped as well.

* But there was some progress on facility closures, mainly for political reasons

Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said he and other legislative leaders will work with him on shifting existing funds around in the budget to find the approximately $230 million needed to keep open the prisons, mental health centers, and developmental centers.

Cross said those seven facilities have one thing in common.

“To be blunt with this, I think (the governor’s) goal was to generate support for increased spending and/or his restructuring plan, and I think he thinks he needs to aim at Republicans. They were mainly Republican districts,” he said.

* Meanwhile, speaking of delays

The clock will be ticking on efforts to overhaul the state’s pension systems when lawmakers return to the Capitol next month for the final three days of the fall veto session.

Although Republican leaders in the House say they can put up half of the votes, 30, on a controversial reform plan, Democratic leaders aren’t yet committing to a vote.

Any delay on a vote in the House could leave the Senate without enough time to debate the measure before heading home until next year on Nov. 10.

“I would be really surprised if anything happens on pension reform,” said state Sen. Shane Cultra, an Onarga Republican.

I’m pretty sure I agree with Cultra.

* Waiting until the spring is also a possibility

Even so, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, an Orland Park Democrat who chairs the House Personnel and Pensions Committee, said backers might not want to call the bill for a vote unless they’re sure it will pass, because “it could be more of a hindrance to get something done in the future.”

If it is brought back during the Legislature’s spring session, he said, “I think the support would be there with the general public.”

Again, there is no magic wand that can be waved to find a majority on this bill in both chambers.

* But there was progress on some issues, even if they didn’t come up for a vote

Without giving away many details, Kotowski laid out what he calls a “framework” for an eventual agreement.

First, Sears’ 20-year-old tax deal with Hoffman Estates would be extended so the company could recover some of the millions it says it has spent on roads and bridges in the area. Whether Sears would have to give up any of the $125 million in total tax benefits it’s seeking is unclear as the company keeps some of the details of its proposal secret.

Then, Sears would be penalized if it left for another state while the deal was still in effect.

And finally, more money would be sent to District 300. How much is still unclear, as money the school district would get might have to come at the expense of other local governments or Sears.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Report: Simon turned down Democratic offer

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

*** UPDATE *** On the one hand, this may actually be a bit of good news for the Democrats because it means that the Madison and St. Clair county parties won’t go to war over this seat

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis said Monday she will not seek the congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, who is not seeking re-election.

Callis issued a statement: “After receiving strong encouragement from numerous people that I respect and admire, discussing with my family, and seriously considering it, I have decided not to run for the 12th Congressional District, a seat currently held by a man I admire very much, Rep. Jerry Costello.”

The statement continues: “I came to the conclusion that at this time, I could not leave a community that I love, employees and colleagues of Madison County Circuit Court that have become like family to me. I consider it an honor to serve the people of the 3rd Judicial Circuit as their chief judge, and my immediate plan is to run for retention and hopefully continue to serve the citizens of the 3rd Judicial Circuit to the best of my ability.”

On the other hand, Callis would’ve probably been a far better candidate than the guy the St. Clair County people are backing.

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* The number of Democrats declining to run for Jerry Costello’s seat keeps rising

Office-holding Democrats are falling all over themselves not to run for the seat long held by outgoing U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville.

The latest name to surface as a possible Costello replacement is Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. Her campaign office said Friday she was approached about entering the race by some individuals in the southern part of the 12th Congressional District, which runs from Madison County to the southern tip of the state. But she declined to do so in order to fulfill her four-year term that began in January.

Simon is at least the eighth prominent Democrat to decide against running for the seat since Costello made his surprise announcement Oct. 4 not to seek re-election to a 12th term.

I had a story for subscribers about this district today, but it got cut for space. I’ll probably run it Wednesday. The Democrats are in real trouble here if they don’t get their act together.

* But there are some hard feelings developing on the other side of the ticket as well

Former Belleville mayor Rodger Cook says the Republican Party chairmen of Madison and St. Clair counties Saturday tried to get him to drop out of the race for a congressional seat, but he’s in it to win it.

The two party leaders, Jon McLean of St. Clair County and Deb Detmers of Madison County, said the purpose of their meeting Saturday with Cook wasn’t to dissuade him from running. Detmers said the purpose was to give Cook “a realistic assessment” of what it will take to win the race.

Cook said McLean and Detmers “made it pretty clear” that they want him to bow out of the race so that fellow GOP candidate Jason Plummer of O’Fallon can win the party’s nomination in the primary election, which is March 20.

* Meanwhile, as subscribers and readers of the Team America blog knew early this morning, state Sen. Suzi Schmidt won’t run again

Republican State Senator Suzi Schmidt has announced she will not seek re-election in the wake of the fallout from a domestic disturbance.

Last December Schmidt called 911 following an incident with his husband. she implored a dispatcher not to respond to her husband if he called police. Initially Schmidt refused to step down.

* Her statement

“I am grateful for the outpouring of support; however, at this point in my life, my personal life and my family are my priority, and I hope to dedicate more of my time with them in the coming months and years. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2012.

“I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my constituents for the tremendous honor and opportunity to serve in the Senate and for the opportunity to serve Lake County for the past 25 years. I am thankful for the trust they bestowed upon me to serve them for so many years. I am humbled by their unwavering support and honored to have been able to represent them.”

* Background for those with short memories

On a 911 call her husband made during another fight, on Sept. 26, Schmidt can be heard in the background admitting she had bitten him. At first, she denied doing it but later is heard saying: “You bet I did.”

Neither Schmidt nor her husband ever was charged as a result of any of the calls.

In the aftermath of those disclosures, Schmidt clung to the possibility she could put the dispute behind her and remain politically viable, issuing a public apology, announcing she intended to seek counseling and stating she planned to keep circulating nominating petitions.

Her refusal to step down or drop plans to seek re-election triggered potential primary opposition. Former Lake County Board member Larry Leafblad stepped forward to say he intended to run against Schmidt in a Republican primary.

* From Team America’s scoop

The word is that Joe Neal (who happens to be the son of Bob Neal, a long-time Lake County GOP Chairman) will run, and he may have the backing of some prominent Lake County GOP-ers. Joe Neal is currently Newport Township GOP chairman.

* And Illinois Review is reporting that a tea party candidate is jumping in

Round Lake’s Lennie Jarratt is announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to seek the 31st State Senate District.

Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Springfield and local politicians have raised taxes and fees driving businesses out of state. Illinois now has an unemployment rate of 10% and Lake County has the highest property taxes in the Midwest. We must change the people and the culture in Springfield. I am running to change Illinois; restore jobs; and lower taxes.

* In other news, I think I’ve told you about this before, but I don’t think we really discussed it. The state’s GOP chairman is making a big endorsement in a local primary race

The state’s Republican Party chairman will help lead Kevin Burns’ campaign in the Geneva mayor’s quest to become the chairman of the Kane County Board.

Party chairman Pat Brady was named Tuesday as the first of Burns’ campaign chairmen. Burns will face state Sen. Chris Lauzen in the Republican primary in 2012. […]

It’s no secret that the powers that be despise Sen. Lauzen, but this is an unusual move for a party chairman.

* Related…

* “I Will Be Vindicated,” Jackson Jr. Says

* Freshmen struggle to meet 2012 bar: Among those drawing quiet scorn on the GOP fundraising circuit are… Rep. Joe Walsh, the cable news mainstay buffeted by personal and financial issues who raised just $150,000 last quarter and faces a tough primary against fellow GOP freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren

* 17th District: Gaulrapp behind in campaign fundraising

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

* It’s Halloween, so a relevant question is in order.

* The Question: What costumes should the governor and the four legislative leaders wear during trick or treating tonight?

- Posted by Rich Miller   50 Comments      


This is not what democracy looks like

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

* Serving an “eviction notice” on legislators and lobbyists ain’t exactly democratic

Several Occupy Illinois groups came together Saturday in Springfield for Occupy Your State Capital Day. […]

Next came the first reading of an eviction notice delivered to the lobbyists for the 1% and their servants in elected office who currently occupy the Illinois Capitol Building. It reflects that the same issues raised by the Wall Street Occupiers exist in Illinois state government. Rather than a request for temporary fixes, it’s an indictment of a broken, corrupted political system that’s largely unresponsive to the 99%.

* Again, an “eviction notice,” no matter how symbolic, is not in any way democratic. From their press release

TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE PRESS: The General Assembly for Occupy Springfield has agreed to stand in solidarity with National Occupy Your State Capital Day by posting a Notice of Eviction on the door of the State Capitol. Lobbyists and their servants in elected office will be notified their tenure in the Capitol Building is over.

A handful of protesters has no right to overturn elections nor deny people from exercising their 1st Amendment right to petition the government, no matter how much one might disagree with their employers. I fully support the occupy folks’ rights to protest. I flat out oppose any attempt to take away constitutional rights from others. When we overturn elections we don’t like or allow the government to decide who can and who cannot lobby, we’re gonna be in really big trouble.

* Video

…Adding… I think John and Paul put it best…

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out

- Posted by Rich Miller   80 Comments      


Not even Quinn’s allies are defending him

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

* The Sun-Times asked Rep. La Shawn Ford last week how he felt about his voting button being pressed “Yes” during the “Smart Grid trailer bill” vote when he actually opposed the bill

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), a rate-hike opponent who wound up having his vote cast mistakenly in favor of ComEd by a seatmate on the first of two measures, expressed frustration that the important vote was allowed to proceed when Democratic leadership knew members were off the floor.

“It’s not usual for a bill as important as this to not have the full body in the chamber in their chairs. I think there should be some explanation as to why a bill like this came up without checking out the chambers,” said Ford, who later wound up voting Quinn’s way on the override.

Ford, like several others, was off the floor during the vote.

* But this is how Ford reacted after Gov. Pat Quinn went ballistic and began demanding an official investigation into the floor vote

“I would go on record to say he’s wildly out of line,” said Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago.

* At least one member was accidentally voted “No,” when he meant to vote “Yes”

Freshman Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, said he had just left a committee hearing when he arrived on the House floor and learned that the bill had already been voted on. He supported the ComEd legislation but was recorded as voting “no.” […]

“Obviously, the recorded vote makes the governor look bad, and so it doesn’t surprise me that he would make such a request (for an investigation),” Morrison said.

* Former Rep. Bill Black added his own two cents

Black noted that if lawmakers believe there is something fishy about the votes cast to pass a bill, they can always demand a “verification.” That gives opponents a chance to determine whether everyone recorded as voting is present. They can eliminate the votes of anyone who isn’t actually in the room. Quinn’s legislative allies did not take this step on the vote that triggered his anger.

Black said he suspects Quinn is speaking out because he lost, not because of deep concerns about lawmakers voting for one another.

“To say that shouldn’t go on is technically true,” Black said, “but it’s been going on since time immemorial.”

The aggrieved legislators who were recorded as voting “Yes” when they wanted to vote against it also could have asked to reconsider the vote. None did.

* The Tribune paints this as an attempt by Gov. Quinn to save face and change the subject after losing so badly on both ComEd-backed bills. But saving face while blaming everybody else and implying dark motives by those who won puts Quinn directly in the same lineage as Dan Walker and Rod Blagojevich. It’s governing by press release, and it doesn’t work.

* By the way, Gov. Quinn also said during Friday’s press conference that he’d heard that the House had made a motion to reconsider the vote on the trailer bill, which, if true, could prevent the bill from reaching Quinn’s desk…

“I heard that they had a motion to reconsider. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I hope they’re not going to be like the gambling enthusiasts who passed a bill on May 31st and thought so highly of it that they put it in their pocket for the last four and a half months. Sometimes that does happen, and it is kind of a disturbing trend that their motions to reconsider are starting to interfere with the proper function according to the Constitution of our legislative and executive branches of government when they look at laws.”

Audio…

* Unfortunately for Quinn this was yet another case of needlessly crying wolf. If Quinn had bothered to check the bill’s online history, he would’ve seen that the motion to reconsider was immediately tabled. From the House rules

When a motion to reconsider is made within the time prescribed by these Rules, the Clerk shall not allow the bill or other subject matter of the motion to pass out of the possession of the House until after the motion has been decided or withdrawn. Such a motion shall be deemed rejected if laid on the table.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


“Governor Road Kill”

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

* Illinois Statehouse News compiled a list of defeats by Gov. Pat Quinn last week

Smart Grid

A plan to modernize Illinois’ utility infrastructure through customer rate hikes sailed through the Legislature. Lawmakers overrode Quinn’s veto of legislation that will have Commonwealth Edison Co. customers paying $36 more a year for electricity and Ameren Corp. customers paying $40 more a year for the next decade. […]

Facility closures

The state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or COGFA, voted against Quinn’s recommendation to close four downstate facilities that serve people with mental and developmental disabilities. […]

Roadkill recovery

The Legislature overrode Quinn’s full veto of a measure that allows residents to collect the carcasses of animals dead on roads.

* That last bill, sponsored by Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) was the subject of Carol Marin’s column and the inspiration for today’s headline

The governor could use a friend in Hammond’s part of the world. Though he loves to talk about how “The Land of Lincoln” is a big state, it’s really two states. There’s Chicago/Cook County and then there’s Downstate.

In the 2010 election, Quinn carried Cook but lost 98 out of 102 counties.

Quinn, who enraged lawmakers by slamming a veto stamp on the ComEd bill, got slammed right back this past week.

And the same thing will happen in a week when the Senate joins the House in overriding him on Hammond’s bill. What a wasted veto. And a squandered opportunity. And a perfect name for what happened: Roadkill.

* But, wait, there’s more

In another blow to Gov. Pat Quinn, the Legislature voted this week to pull the Illinois Power Agency from beneath Quinn’s wing and hand it over to the Executive Ethics Commission.

The move was led by House Speaker Michael Madigan who tried through legislation in the spring session to have the IPA removed from Quinn’s oversight. On Wednesday, the General Assembly voted to override Quinn’s veto of that legislation.

The development comes less than a month after Quinn replaced Mark Pruitt, head of the IPA, with a retired 35-year veteran of Commonwealth Edison, a move that raised the ire of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office.

Quinn’s appointment of Arlene Juracek stunned political insiders who expect she will have a difficult time gaining the Senate’s confirmation because she helped spearhead an electricity auction in 2006 that caused consumer rates to jump and led to the creation of the power agency.

* The House also voted against Quinn’s solution to his summertime veto of regional superintendents’ pay last week, and some of Quinn’s other budget solutions appear to be in jeopardy

Covering union pay raises may be a non-starter for budget negotiators. House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said the four caucuses agreed to consider how they could reallocate at most $250 million. That would not include the $76 million the administration said is needed to cover the pay raises.

“That would avoid immediate closures and stay within the cap of $33.2 million,” Cross said of the $250 million reallocation.

The Quinn administration said enough money is available if lawmakers agree to additional budget cuts the governor made last summer. However, a significant part of those cuts - about $276 million - involve Medicaid payments, which will have to be made at some point.

Another $100 million involves cuts Quinn made to the salaries of regional school superintendents and to school transportation reimbursements. A plan to pay regional superintendents from personal property replacement tax money failed an initial House vote last week. And an increasing number of lawmakers are seeking restoration of some or all of the $89 million in transportation reductions.

* And then there’s this

The appointments Gov. Pat Quinn made to the Illinois Tollway board Monday were invalid because his office failed to file the correct paperwork — thus negating the actions the would-be directors took at a meeting Thursday, the Tribune has learned.

As a result, the tollway has had to schedule a new meeting of the board for Monday so the properly confirmed appointees can reconduct tollway business, including tentative approval of the agency’s $973 million budget for 2012.

* Oof

“He needs to quit being ‘Gov. Spin’ and start being ‘Gov. Quinn,’” state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City

* Inevitably, the comparisons to Rod Blagojevich are beginning in earnest

Like his predecessor, Quinn often admonishes the legislature publicly. He criticized lawmakers’ support of the original casino bill and accused them of being bribed by campaign contributions on the electricity bill.

Representative Lou Lang, Democrat of Skokie, said the governor’s attacks had backfired. Support that Quinn might have received on a revised casino bill, Lang said, evaporated once he took aim at the Legislature.

“I like the governor,” Lang said. “I just don’t like how he has handled this issue.”

Most of those who were asked about the governor said Quinn’s heart was in the right place. His credentials as an honest person carried him through the 2010 election and still influence lawmakers’ feelings about him.

“I think he really cares about the people of Illinois, about people of limited means and education, and those are values a lot of us share,” said Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who works with the Quinn administration on Medicaid spending. “But there isn’t a clear, thoughtful path to get from point A to point B, and that lack of a comprehensive plan sometimes makes it difficult for us.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a governor have a worse veto session week than Quinn did last week. It was a total trainwreck. And we haven’t even talked about his over the top antics on the ComEd vote. I’ve saved that for another post.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Huge loophole in campaign finance law

Monday, Oct 31, 2011

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column is about an unknown, but very big campaign finance loophole. I told subscribers about this last week, but as yet nobody else has picked it up. So, here it is

An apparent legislative drafting error has created a massive loophole in the state’s new campaign contribution limit law, and ComEd and its parent company Exelon have been aggressively exploiting it since early this year.

State campaign finance reform laws that capped campaign contributions went into effect this past January 1st. One provision of the new law set a $50,000 cap on what political action committees could receive from other political action committees during a calendar year.

Yet, despite that cap, Exelon’s federal PAC has transferred over $189,000 this year to a state PAC controlled by its subsidiary ComEd. Those transfers appear to be almost four times higher than the law allows.

ComEd has, in turn, taken that Exelon PAC money, pooled it with its own cash and given large numbers of contributions to state legislators as it worked to pass a so-called “Smart Grid” bill, then override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of that legislation. The company succeeded at both those tasks last week. Gov. Quinn claimed campaign contributions were behind the company’s legislative success.

So, how did Exelon and ComEd get around the contribution cap law?

Well, ComEd officials insist that what they did was completely within state law. But the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform says otherwise.

“ICPR believes that these transactions are in violation of the Election Code,” said David Morrison, the group’s deputy director. “Only political parties are allowed to make these kinds of transfers, by our reading of the statute.”

ComEd officials claim they cleared these contributions with the Illinois State Board of Elections. The Board’s executive director, Rupert Borgsmiller, said he wasn’t aware of any specific contacts with ComEd, but said the statute in question “hasn’t been fully tested.” He also said the statute has been discussed quite a bit.

“By the plain reading of it, I would say that ComEd has a very good point,” Director Borgsmiller said.

Indeed, the company does have a decent point.

What I’m about to tell you may look technical and complicated, but it’s really not. Stay with me here.

The new campaign caps were outlined in Section 9-8.5 of Illinois law. Paragraph “c” of that section deals with limits on what can be given to state political party committees. Also in that same paragraph is this language: “Nothing in this Section shall limit the amounts that may be transferred between a State political committee and federal political committee.” That language is then followed by more limitations on political parties.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan said the intent of the law was to allow state political parties, and only state political parties, to transfer unlimited money from their federal PACs. The law, he said, was absolutely not designed to give companies like ComEd a way to skirt the PAC caps.

But the sentence that ComEd relies on clearly says: “Nothing in this Section.” The “Section” deals with campaign caps of every kind, not just political party caps. If it had said “Nothing in this Paragraph,” then ComEd and Exelon wouldn’t be able to use that sentence to their advantage.

This was a very dangerous mistake by the people who wrote the law. Left unchanged, this loophole could be used to get around all state caps.

Why? Well, under the ComEd/Exelon reading of the law federal PACs do not have to abide by any of the state’s new caps. They can give as much as they want to any candidate, political party, legislative leader, whomever. And, of course, state PACs could form federal PACs to get around all of Illinois’ campaign cap laws.

Neither Exelon nor ComEd have done any of that beyond transferring that money to the ComEd PAC, at least so far, according to an ICPR analysis.

But this is, without a doubt, a truly gigantic loophole that could easily be exploited unless the General Assembly closes it soon.

Director Borgsmiller said his office has been contacted numerous times about the cap rules. A Board of Elections’ task force recently recommended that the loophole be closed during the spring session. It ought to come even sooner.

Madigan’s spokesman said last week no decision had been made about whether to proceed with legislation. He suggested that the Board ought to just enforce the law the way it was intended. But the Board is so far interpreting the laws the way they are written.

Discuss.

* Related…

* Jones says Legislature, not governor, looked out for consumers on ’smart grid’

* Lawmakers deny contributions affected their ’smart grid’ votes: State Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Morrisonville, and state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, each in their first legislative terms, received $2,000 apiece from the utility during their 2010 campaigns. McCann and Rosenthal voted against overriding the governor. McCann voted against the follow-up legislation, while Rosenthal voted for it.

* Editorial: Illinois utilities use ’smart grid’ to bypass regulators

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


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Monday, Oct 31, 2011

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Reader comments closed for the weekend

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* Wow. What an interesting week this has been. Strange times ahead, people. Fasten your seatbelts.

Anyway, have a great weekend

You know he ain’t gonna die

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


*** UPDATED x4 - Homer will take a look - AUDIO: Quinn wants Inspector General to investigate *** Quinn calls for probe of floor vote

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

[Bumped to the top for exposure.]

*** UPDATE 1 *** I asked the governor’s press office last night which police agency they’d like to see investigate the House vote on the ComEd/Ameren “trailer bill.” I was told I’d hear back. Hasn’t happened. But they did respond to Mary Ann Ahern, who Tweets

Gov Quinn wants Inspector General to look into Com Ed Button gate

FYI, I asked this afternoon how many times Quinn has had the autopen sign legislation into law for him. I’ll let you know what they say.

* So, let’s see. He’s been fighting with Senate President Cullerton since Day One. He’s been arguing with Mayor Emanuel for months. And now he picks a fight with the biggest of the big dogs. Yep. This will end well. Sure worked for Rod.

*** UPDATE 2 *** Quinn was asked by a reporter today if he had asked the Speaker to investigate this week’s vote. “It doesn’t exactly work that way,” Quinn said, adding that the inspector general should investigate his allegation. “Any wrongdoing there, any monkey business” should be looked at. When asked if he had contacted the IG about this, Quinn said the IG, by law, was supposed to investigate anything he’s heard that could be a problem. Listen…

*** UPDATE 3 *** I asked Speaker Madigan’s spokesman for a response to the governor’s belief that Legislative Inspector General Tom Homer should look into this…

“That would be Mr. Homer’s perogative.”

And that was it. Nothing else for the record.

*** UPDATE 4 *** Sun-Times

The General Assembly’s ethics watchdog agreed Friday to open an inquiry into allegations by Gov. Pat Quinn that several votes were improperly cast in the Illinois House when it passed part of a utility rate-hike package this week.

Thomas J. Homer, the state’s legislative inspector general, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he will look into the matter at Quinn’s request but stressed that any breaches of state ethics laws would have to involve legislative staffers or other lawmakers “maliciously” casting votes in an opposite manner than the way an absent legislator had intended.

Homer’s involvement comes after he was singled out Friday by Quinn and asked to undertake an investigation into the matter, which one top House Republican coined “Buttongate.”

[ *** End Of Updates *** ]

* I told subscribers yesterday about Democratic members being off the House floor for a budget briefing during the “Smart Grid trailer bill” vote this week. Gov. Pat Quinn got angry about the development and is now using it as an excuse to lay blame for one of his many defeats this week, even though the trailer bill passed with 91 votes, way more than was needed.

Seven or so members who were off the floor were voted as “Yes” during the roll call even though they were opposed to the bill. After they returned to the floor, they asked that their votes be recorded as “No,” but they did not publicly complain.

* The Sun-Times asked Quinn about the development, and he demanded an investigation

“Anybody watching this whole procedure where members may not have actually voted their own switch on such an important bill would say it’s rotten,” the governor told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“On a bill involving such high stakes and so much money, to have anyone other than the member casting a vote is a very serious matter that should be investigated immediately by the House,” said Quinn, who said such absentee voting “doesn’t work in the federal Congress” and is “breaking the law.”

“It’s a serious violation of ethical conduct,” he said.

* It’s not illegal for a House member to vote another member’s switch, no matter what the governor says. It is, however, a violation of House rules

No member may vote on any question before the House unless on the floor before the vote is announced.

It is illegal for a staffer to vote a member’s switch if it’s done with “malicious intent”

…no person other than a regularly qualified member of the House of Representatives shall at any time cause a vote to be recorded on such voting device whether by means of any voting switch or otherwise.

Whoever with malicious intent violates any provision of this Act shall be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

* By law, any investigation has to be approved by an overwhelming House majority

All complaints, complaining of the violation of terms of this Act must be filed in the circuit court of Sangamon County, Illinois, by the Speaker of the House of Representatives only after he has been authorized by a vote of 89 members of the House of Representatives.

* Voting switch controversies are not new

In the 1980s, the controversy even surrounded paperclips.

The Senate used to have voting buttons that had a little wiggle room around them, enough so that a paper clip could be used to keep a button locked down on green or red while a lawmaker was away.

When some visitors from a Soviet bloc country showed up, they began to wonder about the marvels of democracy — particularly when a handful of lawmakers were in the Senate chamber but roll calls repeatedly registered nearly all 59 senators as “yes” votes.

Turned out many of the lawmakers had jammed paperclips into the voting switches next to their buttons and locked in “yes” votes for a series of non-controversial procedural motions.

* But, of course, we now have a catchy new slogan

There’s a new term being thrown around in Springfield: “buttongate”.

* It was wrong to do the trailer bill roll call with so many members off the floor at a budget briefing. But, make no mistake, this bill would’ve passed no matter what. The governor is likely attempting to justify a veto of the trailer bill. But if he does that, then all the reforms in that bill could die if the House decides not to override the veto.

Not to mention that he’s picking a fight he can only lose. Even if he manages to gin up a lot of press coverage and even if there is a vote and even if there is an investigation, payback will be absolutely brutal.

- Posted by Rich Miller   63 Comments      


Let’s be careful out there

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* Last night, somebody on my Twitter list retweeted a post by Occupy Chicago

State police has brought canines to break up vigil. We are leaving Thompson Center and are on sidewalk

I went to the Occupy Chicago Twitter page and discovered that the occupiers were holding a candlelight vigil for Marine veteran Scott Olsen, who was allegedly shot in the head by an Oakland “police projectile.”

Also according to the page, the State Police asked the protesters to leave the Thompson Center plaza in 5 minutes or they’d be arrested. They claimed the cops had dogs.

The governor’s office said there were police dogs nearby as part of standard procedure. A different administration official said the coppers were advised not to provoke anybody and to keep things calm.

* So far, the only real violence involving the Occupy protesters here in America has happened when the police tried to break up a demonstration. Despite lots of fears, everything has been peaceful, as long as you don’t have to hear their loud drumming or their bullhorns. Let’s hope it stays that way.

I do wonder though, why the state felt that so many police had to be deployed last night. Here’s a photo posted by the “occupiers.” Click it for a better look…

* I count 38 police officers in that photo. I was told there were no specific threats made in advance.

The Thompson Center plaza officially closes late at night, so technically the vigil was in violation of the law. They don’t want to give the occupiers the idea that they can camp out there permanently, so I get that they had to tell them to move along. But that’s a lot of cops for a peaceful crowd.

* My point here is that Gov. Pat Quinn needs to continue to make sure that everything stays calm. There’s no need to be provoking folks who are just expressing their 1st Amendment rights.

* By the way, I asked Quinn the other day what he thought of the occupy protesters. Here’s what he said

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Question of the day

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* Way back in 1998, Joe Walsh (the current congressman, not the rocker) ran against Rep. Jeff Schoenberg for the Illinois House. This is from one of Walsh’s campaign mailers…

See more of the mailer here.

* The Question:
Caption?

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      


Supremes to GA: Sweep away - COGFA’s advice - Unclear on the concept

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* This decision won’t be loved by anybody who relies on a special state fund

The Illinois Supreme Court may have opened the door for Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers to grab hundreds of millions of dollars for the next state budget.

In a 6-to-1 decision Thursday, the high court upheld a 2006 Sangamon County Circuit Court ruling that backed the governor and Legislature’s ability to take money from hundreds of special state funds, a practice commonly referred to as sweeping.

Motorcycle riders sued former Gov. Rod Blagojevich after he ordered that $296,000 be taken from the Cycle Riders Safety Training Fund, or CRSTF. A portion of the fee for an Illinois motorcycle license went into the CRSTF, which the motorcycle education and advocacy group A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education, or ABATE, argued, was only to be spent on motorcycle safety education. The governor that year used the $296,000 to pay general state bills.

“Clearly, the fee charged by the state for motorcycle registration and licensing is state revenue, and therefore the portion of this state revenue which the General Assembly has allocated to the CRSTF is also public money,” wrote Justice Anne Burke in the majority opinion.

Burke rejected the ABATE lawyers’ argument that the special fund was tantamount to a special trust fund.

The full opinion is here.

* Quinn, however, has no plans to sweep

Quinn’s budget spokeswoman, Kelly Kraft, said there are no plans to sweep any special funds for the next state budget.

“Gov. Quinn worked to end the practice of fund sweeps, and sweeps are not a possibility for FY13,” said Kraft.

But the governor has come to rely on interfund borrowing. Quinn borrowed $500 million from special state funds in the current state spending plan. That money is supposed to be paid back at the end of the fiscal year.

* Considering the growing war between the governor and the General Assembly, I wouldn’t be too sure that Gov. Pat Quinn will necessarily follow precedent

A legislative commission’s vote against closing four state facilities that treat people who are mentally and developmentally disabled isn’t enough to prevent Gov. Pat Quinn from shuttering the facilities.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or COGFA, voted to keep the following facilities open: Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford; Chester Mental Health Center in Chester; Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon; and Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro.

Quinn announced he was targeting seven down-state facilities for closure, because the General Assembly’s $33.2 billion budget didn’t give him enough money to keep the doors open and their 1,938 employees working. Quinn introduced a proposed budget of about $36 billion.

“Their recommendation, unfortunately, doesn’t change the reality of the budget we’re tasked with managing,” Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Quinn, said. […]

COGFA’s vote is only advisory, meaning that Quinn still can close the centers.

“However, no administration has ever moved contrary to how the commission has recommended,” state Sen. Jeffery Schoenberg, D-Evanston, and co-chairman of COGFA, said. “He could if he wanted to, but it would set a precedent.”

If the GA doesn’t find the money to keep those facilities open, then Quinn may have to follow through. So far, nobody has come up with alternatives. The only major legislative proposals we’ve seen from the Republicans (whose facilities were targeted) have been about cutting taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, not finding ways to move money around or generate new revenue.

* And, finally, the Tribune editorial board really needs to get itself a clue

No, Gov. Quinn, you may not borrow more money, no matter how often you call it “restructuring” or any other euphemism. Borrowing is borrowing. It’s a big reason why Illinois is drowning.

First, the state is not “drowning.” That’s just the Tribune’s hyperbolic goofiness showing through. Secondly, the state is already borrowing from struggling small businesses, not for profit social service providers, hospitals, doctors, pharmacists, road builders, etc. by not paying our bills on time. The state has mostly dealt with its structural debt through cuts and tax hikes. The problem is the old bills, which will take years to pay down, one way or the other.

Either Illinois sells bonds or it continues making late payments to its vendors for years and does major budget cuts along the way. Selling bonds is a lot less painful to all involved. In other words, the difference is we can shaft our own businesses and not for profits by borrowing from them, or sell bonds on the market. So, of course, Mother Tribune demands we continue shafting the little guys, whack the budget and slash pensions and healthcare.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


World Series open thread

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* Most of my non-political Springfield friends are Cardinal fans. They’re pretty stoked after last night’s amazing finish. I don’t blame them. What a game.

So, for Keith, Ryan, Kenny, Kent and all the rest of my redbird buddies, have at it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


More bad news for Congressman Jackson

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* Uh-oh

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother has personally written to 10 members of Congress with an offer to testify before an ethics committee that last week re-launched its investigation of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

Robert Blagojevich said Thursday that he sent letters to all the members of the U.S. House Committee on Ethics because: “I believe I have information I think will help them find the truth” on Jackson.

He offered his testimony or to be interviewed about Jackson’s effort to secure an appointment by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in late 2008 to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant with the election of President Barack Obama.

“Based on what I know, I believe Jesse Jackson Jr. has a lot of unanswered questions that he needs to answer,” Robert Blagojevich said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions he should be required to answer.”

* Robert Blagojevich took over fundraising duties for his brother’s campaign. That’s what got him into trouble and is also where he got involved with Congressman Jackson’s bid to be appointed to the US Senate

As for his own role, Jackson under oath said: “No I did not” direct or order anyone to offer Rod Blagojevich fund-raising in exchange for appointing him senator.

“I never directed anyone to raise money for another politician in my life, other than myself, in 16 years,” Jackson testified.

Last week, the House committee on ethics announced it would restart its probe into Jackson

* An ironic twist

Rod Blagojevich was heard on tape calling U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. “repugnant” and a “bad guy.”

However, on the way to his sentencing hearing, the former governor tried tapping Jackson’s father for a letter of endorsement.

In another twist to the ever-complicated relationship between the Blagojevich and Jackson families, Blagojevich asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson to write letter of support to the sentencing judge.

It was an offer Rev. Jesse Jackson refused, according to a lawyer for both the elder Jackson and his son, the congressman.

“Rev. Jackson will not write a letter on behalf of Gov. Blagojevich,” attorney Paul Langer told the Sun-Times Thursday.

* In other Blagojevich-related news

Illinois lawmakers are dead set against Rod Blagojevich getting another dime from Illinois taxpayers.

On Wednesday, the General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS, Board moved to ensure that the former governor would not collect any of his $65,000-a-year state pension.

The board adopted a rule that will require it to meet and review any application from a person convicted of political corruption during his time working for the state.

* Now, let’s move on to the Cellini trial

A juror was removed Thursday morning from the trial of Springfield power broker William Cellini, forcing the panel to restart its discussions with a new member.

Jury deliberations in the extortion trial had begun Wednesday in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago.

U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel said a juror on Wednesday informed a court officer of a conflict of interest. Zagel declined to reveal the nature of the conflict, saying he was sealing the matter until after the verdict. He did not elaborate further.

Zagel instructed the jury in open court to begin deliberations from scratch.

* And just so we don’t miss any breaking news, here’s our ScribbleLive tracker

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      


Punkinhaid returns

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* Jay just can’t stay away from the House

Democrat Jay Hoffman has changed his mind about running for Congress and now plans to seek a seat in the Illinois House.

Democratic Party officials on Thursday endorsed Huffman’s run for the seat held until recently by Tom Holbrook. Holbrook announced plans to step down from the Illinois House after Gov. Pat Quinn picked him to head the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

A month ago, Hoffman had said he’d run for Congress in the newly drawn 13th District.

* It’s unclear who the Democrats will get behind in that 13th District now that Hoffman’s gone. It’s getting awful late in the petition process. Tim Johnson is surely smiling.

* And speaking of Congress, a bruising primary might be developing for Jerry Costello’s seat

The St. Clair County Democratic Party is endorsing former county Regional Superintendent of Schools Brad Harriman to run for the seat held for 23 years by outgoing U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville. […]

Harriman, 57, had resigned Sept. 30 after five years as the regional superintendent — the only elected office he has ever held. […]

Madison County Chief Circuit Judge Ann Callis, 47, is expected to announce her candidacy within the next week, Madison County Democratic Party Chairman Matt Melucci said again Thursday night following the St. Clair Democrats’ meeting.

“At this point, we are waiting for Judge Callis to announce,” Melucci said.

When asked whom the Madison County Democrats would endorse when they meet next Thursday and in light of St. Clair Democrats’ endorsement of Harriman, Melucci said: “Our committee actually votes, so I cannot say they will do this or that. There is no doubt in my mind they would be for the candidate from our county.”


* And the US House Majority PAC
has a new poll showing four Republican incumbents in trouble

The poll sponsored by the House Majority PAC found that only 42% of those surveyed in the north suburban 10th District want to re-elect Winnetka’s Robert Dold, and 50% want a change. Just 35% have a favorable opinion of Republicans in Congress.

The numbers are similar with U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale: 52% want a new congressman. But the figures are south of there for Reps. Tim Johnson of Sidney, who gets a 33% re-elect, and Bobby Schilling of Moline, at 39%.

The survey of roughly 600 voters in each of the districts was conducted by Public Policy Polling. The firm generally works for Democrats and left-of-center groups. But it also has a reputation of calling it the way it sees it, for instance recently reporting that embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has significantly boosted his odds of surviving any recall move.

Toplines are here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


Slow down, please

Friday, Oct 28, 2011

* My Sun-Times column

An expensive bidding war is escalating at the Illinois Statehouse and it needs to be slowed down.

Gov. Pat Quinn met with the four legislative leaders Thursday morning. Much of the discussion centered around CME Group’s threat to leave Illinois unless it gets a tax break. CME owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, among other things.

CME says it pays six percent of all Illinois corporate income taxes, making it the state’s largest taxpayer. The company also claims that the recent income tax hike cost it an extra $50 million a year. Its executive chairman, Terry Duffy, has repeatedly warned that he’s furious about his company’s tax burden and is seriously contemplating a move to a more favorable location.

The problem is that Illinois bases corporate taxes on instate sales and CME records all of its transactions that way, even though lots of transactions are occurring in other states and other countries. When Caterpillar sells a bulldozer in Germany, Illinois doesn’t tax that income. But when a CME trade is executed in Japan, that income is taxed by Illinois.

Our corporate tax system was changed several years ago at the behest of companies like Caterpillar. As a result, Cat paid less and CME paid more.

If Illinois readjusted its tax code, Cat would scream bloody murder. Caterpillar was already involved in one scary blowup this year over the state’s business climate. Nobody wants to poke that giant again.

So, the options are adjusting CME’s taxes or letting it leave. The state budget would take a huge hit if CME left, so we’re back to a tax cut. The problem is, the legislation drafted by Senate President John Cullerton would reduce CME’s taxes by $75 million a year. That’s a 50 percent cut. The Senate Republicans say CME’s taxes would actually fall by $100 million a year.

To sweeten the pot and attract downstate, suburban and Republican votes, Cullerton offered to reinstate the corporate research and development tax credit, which will cost the state as much as $30 million a year.

However, the Republicans want more. House Republican Leader Tom Cross insisted Thursday that a $500 million tax cut package be considered as part of the deal. Cross also wants the R&D reinstatement, so the total amount of tax cuts on the table right now is somewhere around $600 million.

All of these tax cuts have legitimate arguments in their favor.

But big tax cuts are stupid at a time when Illinois can’t pay its own bills unless the tax reductions produce lots of new state revenue by providing strong economic stimulus, or prevent significant revenue losses by convincing companies to stay put. According to the comptroller’s office, the state owes roughly $6 billion in past due bills, including $600 million in unpaid corporate income tax refunds.

So, we’re gonna cut corporate taxes by $600 million when we can’t even afford to pay corporations $600 million in tax refunds?

One of the problems we’ve had in this state for the past 20 years is that expensive deals were cut by the leaders behind closed doors and then legislators rubber stamped the agreements. A careful, legitimate process is underway in the House Revenue Committee to look at reforming the entire corporate tax code. That ought to be given time to ripen before the state makes any big moves.

And Cullerton’s CME proposal is just way too rich. The company should get a significant break, but $75-100 million is too much to ask for a company with healthy pretax profits of around $2 billion a year.

* House Republican Leader Tom Cross’ tax cut plan is here.

* From today’s coverage

“I get calls in my office, and I am not kidding, from small and medium sized businesses that say, ‘What about me? I’m struggling,’” Senator Christine Radogno, the Republican minority leader from Lemont, said during the committee hearing.

“I don’t want to perpetuate the perception of special treatment,” she said.

Speaking directly to CME’s Parisi, Radogno said, “If you guys leave because this doesn’t pass today, it does raise the question to the sincerity of whether or not you’re staying in the first instance.” […]

“We’re now looking at something growing like Topsy,” Representative Barbara Flynn-Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said in an interview. “The business community is telling us to spend less, get your fiscal house in order, and in the meantime their constituent elements are coming to Springfield with their hands out.”

* The company’s side

James Parisi, chief financial officer of CME Group, said the company’s tax payment last year represented 6 percent of all state corporate income tax receipts. The company’s annual tab is about $150 million.

“This modernization of tax law would allow Illinois and Chicago to maintain leadership as a global financial services center,” Parisi told the Senate Executive Committee.

* This tax cut push is apparently an element of the company’s longterm strategy. From Morningstar

We recently had an opportunity to attend CME’s analyst day, the company’s first such event since 2009. Among the subjects discussed at the gathering were the company’s targets for expense and revenue growth–two drivers we are particularly interested in. The company’s CFO set a long-term goal to grow revenue by at least 10% a year while keeping growth in operating expenses at no more than 5% per year on average. The expense target is in line with our views; the revenue goal, while certainly achievable, is a little more aggressive than our expectation for growth of around 8%

* Meanwhile, Reuters columnist David Clay Johnston reports that Navistar, Continental Tire, Motorola, Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi and other big Illinois companies are keeping the state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks. “If you’re already on the payroll, they get to get keep half of them,” Johnston says. “If you’re a new hire, they get to keep all of them.”

Because the companies don’t pay much state income tax the only way they can get any state tax help is by letting them “pocket their workers’ income tax.” Watch


* Related…

* Illinois Senate Executive Committee advances tax break measure for Chicago’s financial exchanges - Measure, which still faces hurdles, could cut up to $110 million a year from state coffers

* Tax break plan for exchange company faces fight

* Sears deal talks creep forward

* Dist. 300 eyes next steps in Sears tax break battle

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


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