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Unclear on the concept

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* This ever-more-common excuse about how an incredibly offensive comment was only a few seconds out of a longer speech is just bizarre to me

The president of the Chicago Teachers Union says she isn’t stepping down over an “inappropriate” joke she made about Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Karen Lewis said Wednesday that while her remarks were insensitive, they were just 120 seconds of her 35-minute speech at a social justice event in Seattle last month.

Lewis said at the event she could tell Duncan “went to a private school, because if he had gone to a public school, he would have had that lisp fixed.”

So, we’re only supposed to be upset if she spent all 35 minutes saying stupid things?

For crying out loud, get a clue and just apologize if you’re sorry and move along. If you’re not sorry, then there is no need for these lame excuses.

Sheesh.

* So, um, I thought the GOP was the states’ rights party these days? Apparently not

U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson says he’s not done trying to alter federal law to allow Illinoisans to carry concealed firearms.

The Urbana Republican’s bid to attach an amendment bringing Illinois in line with the rest of the nation failed to reach the House floor this week, but a Johnson aide said the congressman is planning to re-introduce the measure in December.

Johnson and four other Illinois Republicans want to allow Illinoisans to be able carry loaded firearms in public if they have a concealed carry permit from another state. […]

Johnson was joined in pushing for the change by U.S. Reps. Bobby Schilling of Colona, Aaron Schock of Peoria, Adam Kinzinger of Manteno and Randy Hultgren of Winfield.

In a statement, Johnson said he believes the federal government should step in and supersede Illinois law.

* The Pro-Life Action League appears to be completely unclear on the concept. This is from a press release about a rape victim who disagrees with Jennie Goodman, who is receiving an award from Gov. Pat Quinn at a Personal PAC event. Goodman cut a TV ad for Personal PAC last year blasting Bill Brady for wanting to outlaw abortions, even in cases of rape and incest..

Mary Higgins is one of many other victims of rape and hopes that her press conference will put a face on the other innocent victims of rape. When Mary was sexually assaulted at age 18, she was faced with the choice that Jennie Goodman never had to make: what to do when she discovered that she had become pregnant with her rapist’s child.

As difficult as her situation was, Mary refused to punish her unborn child for its father’s crime. Mary chose life for her unborn daughter, and placed her for adoption. She says, “It was the best choice I ever made.” [Emphasis added.]

I mean absolutely no disrespect to Ms. Higgins. She obviously endured a terribly traumatic time, and I’m very glad that her choice turned out so well. But pro-choice folks would actually agree with her about her choice to not have an abortion. The operative word here is “choice,” and the Pro-Life Action League is not at all about “choice.”

We can disagree on what we believe on this subject, and I will always respect your position. But the Pro-Life Action League should stop using the word “choice” when want it wants to do is legally prohibit almost all women from ever having an abortion.

- Posted by Rich Miller   57 Comments      


Question of the day

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* The setup

Voters in Maine overwhelmingly approved a “people’s veto” of a Republican-backed law that tightened voting regulations. The vote on Nov. 8 restores Maine’s decades-old policy of allowing same-day registration at polling places.

The state’s Republican-led legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring new voters to register at least two business days prior to an election. Supporters of the law said it would prevent voter fraud. Opponents argued fraud is not an issue in Maine and said the law would make it more difficult to vote. […]

In Maine, the people’s veto was included on the state-wide referendum election ballot after receiving more than 70,000 petition signatures. Roughly 60 percent of voters approved the veto, favoring same-day registration.

Other state voters vetoed laws as well. Ohio, for example

Last week, Ohio voters resoundingly rejected a ballot measure known as Issue 2 by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. A “yes” vote would have affirmed Ohio’s version of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law, which would have made it more difficult for public sector workers to organize and bargain with the state government. By rejecting Issue 2, Ohio voters repealed the law championed by Gov. John Kasich, and did so by a wide margin.

* The Question: Would you favor a “voter veto” of recently enacted Illinois state laws? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks.


- Posted by Rich Miller   38 Comments      


An investigation is definitely warranted and cooperation is a must

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* No argument here

Gov. Pat Quinn took four months to remove his director of child welfare after being told state inspectors believed the man had turned a blind eye while a friend ripped off state government, and Quinn kept quiet about problems at the agency even after conducting his own review.

Quinn aides said the governor acted as quickly as possible to determine the truth and then make changes without causing major disruptions at the Department of Children and Family Services. They say state ethics laws barred him from revealing that inspectors were investigating then-Director Erwin McEwen, information that didn’t become public until three weeks ago. […]

Two Illinois House committees plan a joint hearing, said Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and chairman of the House Human Services Committee. […]

Rep. Jack Franks, chairman of the State Government Administration Committee, said he was troubled that Quinn did not remove McEwen far more quickly, particularly when the report said McEwen was no longer cooperating with investigators as required by law.

* Gov. Quinn received a report on serious ethics problems at DCFS way back on May 25th. The governor ordered a further review, which was completed August 1st. But McEwen was allowed to stay on the job until September, when he was then allowed to quietly resign.

The governor has refused to say why he let McEwen keep his job all those months and why he allowed McEwen to resign and not be fired. It wasn’t until mid October that the public was informed about what had happened

According to the Illinois Inspector General, McEwen was siphoning millions in state grant money to one of his close friends.

The investigation looked at McEwens tight connections with George E. Smith, who ran several mental health and social service businesses in Chicago.

According to a lengthy report prepared by the state executive inspector general, Smith received a grant bonanza between 2008 and 2011, more than $18 million from several government agencies, primarily DCFS.

The investigation found that Smith forged a 100 signatures to cover up misspending, had excessive expenses including $100,000 in Chicago sports tickets and kept do-nothing ghost payrollers on the books to steal state funds. That was accomplished because McEwen allowed his friend to get away with it, according to state investigators.

McEwen refused to cooperate with the inspector general, but Quinn didn’t step in then, either.

* House committees only have subpoena powers if the House Speaker grants them. So far, that hasn’t happened. As a result, the administration could easily stonewall these two committees. But that would be a very bad idea.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

* Other stuff…

* Social Security numbers revealed on Illinois college savings program mailing: Officials with the state treasurer’s office say they’re taking steps to make sure no problems result from an error on a mailing to 36,000 people who participate in Illinois’ Bright Directions college savings program. The Bright Directions account holders received a quarterly newsletter with their Social Security numbers printed on the outside.

* Illinois’ promise to pay not a guarantee: “As of this week, the state has 162,934 unpaid vouchers totaling $3.525 billion, dating back to July 8, 2011,” Hahn said.

* How Quinn reshaped tollway board: A check of political campaign records shows no direct contributions to Quinn from any of the appointees or close family members.

* Quinn ‘optimistic‘ on budget deal for facilities

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


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Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

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Stupid administrators and teacher tenure

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* And people wonder why teachers demand tenure

A Eureka High School teacher has been suspended until Nov. 28 for showing three segments of “The Daily Show” in his government and law class and warning students against an Internet search that yields results deemed to be pornographic.

School Superintendent Randy Crump suspended first-year teacher Rhett Felix on Tuesday morning following a two-hour executive session of the Eureka-based District 140 school board Monday night. During the public portion of the meeting, parents complained about bleeped obscenities and some sexual content of the segments and about a perception that Felix appears to have a liberal political bias.

“Mr. Felix has been suspended,” Crump said. “When he returns, he will be reassigned to another teaching assignment. That’s all I can share at this time.”

Felix, who lives in Bloomington, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His salary of $40,189 will continue through his suspension.

Mr. Stone was my 9th Grade math teacher at Hanover High School. As I think I’ve told you before, Mr. Stone canceled class one day so he could play a videotape of a Bob Dylan TV special, “Hard Rain.” That video did more to change my life than any other high school math class I ever took. But if we’d been in Eureka, Mr. Stone would’ve probably been vilified as a flaming liberal and suspended.

Sheesh.

…Adding… From the Hard Rain album

But nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts

- Posted by Rich Miller   68 Comments      


No, we’re not the worst

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* Good news and mediocre news in Site Selection Magazine’s latest rankings

* Look, 21st overall ain’t great, but it gives the lie to the “We’re all gonna die!” rhetoric from those who claim Illinois is the worst state ever. And 2nd in new plant openings is a plus, even though our high population means our per million rate is also around the middle of the pack. Tax competitiveness is still not horrible, even after the January tax hike.

* And we’ll never be able to compete with states like Texas because, for the most part, as survey responses clearly show, Illinois doesn’t roll this way

* “a pro-business, entrepreneurial, right-to-work state”
* “no state income tax, ease of pulling permits, available work force”
* “the government makes it easy to do business”
* “Texas is progressive, fewer regulations”
* “willingness to work with business”
* “the tax climate, regulatory environment, incentive programs and work-force development efforts”
* “the state fights OSHA, EPA and other negative, useless regulations; no state income tax”
* “work-force availability, existing facilities and good economics for labor and facilities”
* “cooperation and flexibility of state and local officials; proactive in growing the economy.”

We can make it much eaiser to do business here, no question. But busting unions, killing off the income tax and fighting OSHA and EPA ain’t gonna happen. If that’s the climate you really want, then China or Mexico would probably be your best bets anyway.

…Adding…
Via a commenter, note that 11 of the 20 states that are ahead of us in overall points have worse tax climate rankings.

…Adding More… The Tribune editorial board, which is so sure of itself on so many other issues, goes all wobbly and equivocates on meeting CME Group’s demands

We honor CME’s long history in Chicago, where it pioneered the financial futures that became its mainstay, and created the stock-options industry led by CBOE Holdings. We honor Sears, which also has deep ties to this region. We appreciate all our headquarters companies, and we hope they realize their prospects are good in Illinois, despite the frustrating political dysfunction all around them. Their petitions for economic development incentives should be evaluated individually. The state needs to drive a hard bargain on behalf of taxpayers.

But let’s face it: Illinois is in trouble. Unemployment is at 10 percent, significantly higher than the state’s neighbors. It needs to entice and to retain employers in order to grow its tax base and put its citizens to work. For lack of more taxpayers, the state isn’t paying its bills. It isn’t addressing its spiraling pension costs. But it creates a fundamental sense of unfairness if it tries to bankroll incentive packages for every employer who whispers about moving. Trying to satisfy Duffy and his peers and avoid that sense of unfairness, the General Assembly proposed a grab-bag of special deals, tax cuts and revenue enhancers.

Incentive packages for individual companies have to rise and fall based on their benefit to the state, and they shouldn’t be shoveled through as part of some tax-cut Christmas tree that winds up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nobody says being broke is easy. Illinois is finding out just how hard it is.

It’s weird that they can’t just come out and say what they mean.

* Other stuff…

* Chicago Latinos pay more in taxes than they get from government, study finds: Chicago-area Latinos pay substantially more in local taxes than they collect in education and other government services, according to a study being released on Wednesday by the University of Notre Dame. The report by the university’s Institute for Latino Studies says Hispanics pay $4.3 billion in direct sales, property and other taxes, and contribute another $724 million to stores and other businesses they patronize.

* New study shows local Latinos provide vital boost to the economy

* FutureGen-Ameren relationship could be resolved soon

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      


Civic Committee won’t push for pension vote until spring session

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* Greg Hinz reports that Ty Fahner of the Civic Committee will try to work with organized labor on the pension reform issue next spring

Ty Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, said the group will continue to lobby hard for pension reform and continue spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads demanding change.

But, in a phone interview, Mr. Fahner said the group will wait for a vote next spring — not sooner — and that it will spend the time trying to convince labor groups that reform works for everyone.

* Fahner also says he won’t be spending cash on the upcoming election cycle…

“We’re not going to play the (election) game,” he continued, “Playing the game has got us into (being) the worst financed state in America. . . .We’re not going to play the game of electing the most people, regardless of the cost.”

That’s quite a declaration, and Mr. Fahner said some may consider him “naive.” Even some business leaders tell me privately that they wish the committee would ratchet up pressure on lawmakers, much like school reform groups did in the last election cycle.

The “school reform groups” didn’t put pressure on lawmakers last fall. Stand for Children Illinois found lawmakers who supported its cause and then gave them tons of cash. The groups that pressured legislators were the teachers’ unions, which boycotted funding Speaker Madigan’s campaign funds and wound up on the short end of the stick the following spring.

* Despite what Fahner says, you might pardon some legislators for feeling like they’ve already been targeted by Fahner’s group. For instance

Yeah, that’ll work.

* Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel is pledging to up the ante

Confident that the City Council will approve his proposed 2012 budget by a wide margin Wednesday, Rahm Emanuel said he’s already turning his attention to the biggest financial problem facing local taxpayers: the soaring cost of public employee retirement benefits. Even if Chicaqo doubled property taxes, it would still face a pension cost shortfall.

The mayor said he’s told “every leader in Springfield” that he’s willing to take the lead on the issue, “if it’s helpful.” Emanuel even offered to become the first Chicago mayor since Richard J. Daley to address the General Assembly. (Moments after his dramatic appearance, the House approved the bill Daley wanted. But it died later in the Senate.)

Public employee labor unions have blocked proposed legislation to reduce the cost of future benefits for current government workers. Unions argue that it’s unfair to reduce even future benefits that public employes have not earned yet. There’ve been several versions of the proposal. Supporters claim they would help taxpayers not only in Chicago, but also Cook County and the State of Illinois. State pension funds have gobbled up virtually every penny raised by last January’s “temporary” increase in the state income tax.

“In six to seven years, some of these pensions won’t have enough in to pay it. And the taxpayers are on the hook. And I’m not raising property taxes 130 percent, which is what’s required,” Emanuel said. “As I’ve said to every leader, I’m willing to spend my political capital. I’ll get in front of this. I’ll go to your caucuses. I’ll go to the General Assembly. I’ll speak on it. So, if people are looking for political cover, I the mayor will provide that, if it’s helpful.”

* But Steve Schnorf’s comment on a pension post yesterday gives us some hearty food for thought

Rich, it’s worth reminding people that it is not the cost of the pensions that is breaking the bank. If that’s all we were paying, our payments would go down about 50% this year.

It’s the cost of the debt service on the uncontributed money from past years that is causing the strain. That payment is what is being ramped up, not the normal cost of the pensions, which is a very manageable number. Ever hear the Civic Committee tell you that?

No, I haven’t, Steve.

Schnorf is right about the real problem with the pension payments.

* The Captain’s comment indicates supreme frustration with the entire debate

Pension payments are governed by something called “the ramp”. The ramp refers to a 1995 law that was passed that laid out a payment plan to get to 90% fully funded pension system in 50 years. The pension systems had been and continue to be woefully underfuned. This plan was designed to correct that. However because of the politics of the time “the ramp” did not call for steady increases in annual pension payments, it continued to call for very low (inadequate) payments in the 1990s and then a very aggressive increase (that’s why they call it the ramp) during our current time period. All the investment losses in 2008 made the situation even worse.

When the Trib and the deities at the Civic Committee whine annually about how each budget fails to fully fund the pension obligation what they mean in each instance is that the annual contribution falls short of what was called for in the 1995 legislation (the ramp). To them the ramp is sacred.

EXCEPT NOW THEY’RE WHINING THAT LAWMAKERS ARE PAYING THE LARGE AMOUNTS THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO UNDER THE SACRED LAW.

Give me a break.

Frankly, I’m starting to think that Illinois ought to stop worshipping at the the ramp’s sacred altar. If we lower the target to 70 percent funded by 2045, those annual payments would be a whole lot more manageable. The ramp isn’t holy writ. It’s a state law that can be changed like any other state law.

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      


I think we can cut him some slack here

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

* I really find it hard to believe that the cost of this trip is an issue

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn was in New York on Tuesday to ring the opening bell at a stock exchange and get some face time on a national cable-TV morning chatfest.

The cost to taxpayers? An estimated $1,200 on airfare and hotel for the governor and a press aide, according to the administration.

A Quinn spokeswoman defended the overnight trip, saying it was well worth the expense because it allowed the governor to promote Illinois businesses on an international stage. The administration noted that the governor was joined by executives from dozens of Illinois high-tech companies and was there to lead a discussion with business owners about job creation.

$1,200 is a story? Really? If the governor did a New York fundraiser yesterday, then I’d be upset, but c’mon, man

…Quinn and others are also pushing to reinstate a research and development tax credit, which would benefit many of the tech companies Quinn appeared with. It’s an idea backed by TechAmerica, a technology advocacy group that organized Tuesday’s event in New York. The group praised Quinn’s work helping manufacturing, information technology, biotech and other companies.

- Posted by Rich Miller   38 Comments      


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