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Question of the day

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

* The setup

When it comes to his Facebook and Twitter pages, state Sen. Sam McCann says he tries not to bicker with disagreeable constituents.

“I will accept a friend request from almost anyone,” said McCann, R-Carlinville. “There’s only been a number of folks, who I can count on one hand, who I’ve had to de-friend. We don’t put up with any nonsense or get into any debates.”

McCann is one of a growing number of lawmakers using social media to get their messages out to constituents. Out of 118 members of the Illinois House, at least 77 have created Facebook accounts of some kind, and at least 48 representatives have created Twitter accounts. Out of 59 senators, 47 of them have created Facebook accounts, and 32 have Twitter accounts.

For McCann, Facebook is like a daily journal in which he posts recaps at the end of each day. McCann only has one profile—his personal one.

* The Question: Do you use social media? If so, which sites? Also, how do you use your social media accounts? How often?

Yeah, that’s more than one question, but try to answer as fully as you can. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

*** LIVE *** Session Coverage

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

* I’m not sure that much of anything will happen today, but you can follow along with our ScribbleLive thingamajig.

* We’re also going to try something new this week. If you have a news update on session, you can now post directly to the ScribbleLive feed. However, do not use the feed for general comments and observations. Also, do not use the feed to post your lobbying talking points. Legit news updates only, please. I have it set for full moderation, so it may take some time for your post to appear. Thanks.

* OK, Blackberry users click here, everybody else can just watch the day go by…

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      

Get ready to rumble, Chicago

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

* The Chicago Teachers Union has hired Delmarie Cobb to do PR work

(T)he CTU has hired veteran political consultant Delmarie Cobb, whose clients include Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and City Council members Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) and Anthony Beale (9th).

Gadlin, the CTU spokeswoman, said union leaders hoped Cobb would help beef up the labor group’s public-relations efforts because they felt “outgunned” last year by Emanuel’s aggressive push for longer school hours.

* Cobb, you may recall, worked for former US Sen. Roland Burris. Her main job was to fend off attacks. She is a big believer in the best defense being a strong offense. But she can also be somewhat offensive at times. I did a roundup of some of her Burris quotes back in 2009

Now, Cobb says, Burris’ enemies are trying to bloody him up and weaken him with mounting legal bills.

“And then it won’t be called racism,” said Cobb. […]

Veteran political consultant Delmarie Cobb is a top adviser to Exhibit No. 1 of the old strain, Sen. Roland Burris. I visited her Bronzeville office last week during a pause in her winning battle to keep Burris in office.

“All of a sudden, we’re into this young thing, and anybody who’s been out here needs to be put out to pasture,” she vented. Cobb resents “that somebody would take this kind of knowledge and put it out to pasture.” […]

“They keep trotting out these marquee names to scare Roland,” said Delmarie Cobb, the senator’s media and political adviser, adding that some Democrats are out to “lynch” Burris and turn him into a “whipping boy.”

And then there was this gem

“In true David Axelrod style, all week, white progressive Democratic elected officials have called for Roland’s resignation - David Orr, Dan Hynes, Dick Durbin, Pat Quinn, and Alexi Giannoulias.”

The word “incendiary” springs to mind.

* But the CTU does have the mayor on the defensive at the moment

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday declined to say whether it’s appropriate for faith-based groups that have become vocal public supporters of his controversial education agenda to receive millions of dollars in contracts from his administration.

Some organizations that were awarded grants to run after-school programs and to ensure children make it to and from school safely have come under scrutiny following complaints they paid people to testify in favor of Emanuel’s plans to lengthen the school day and close underperforming schools.

On Monday, the mayor was asked whether the intersection of contracts and political support amounted to a form of patronage. Emanuel did not directly answer the question. Instead, the mayor said he did not intend to take his “eye off the ball,” which he defined as transforming a system that locks kids in to failing schools.

“We cannot tolerate a status quo that locks kids in to the shortest year of any major city…” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference. “Religious groups have a role to play beyond their congregation. They’re anchors in many communities. They are the thing that holds a community together. Can they play a role in safety and security? Yes.”

* That above story about Cobb’s hiring also included this

An exclusive interview with Emanuel highlights the 35-minute video produced by the Michigan-based Education Action Group Foundation and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams. Williams narrates the video, saying the teachers union is “radically politicized” and is “repeatedly providing terrible examples for Chicago’s school children.”

A spokeswoman for Emanuel said Monday the mayor did not share those views of the union, but CTU officials were irked by Emanuel’s more-measured comments in an interview with Williams. The mayor discusses the opposition he faced from the CTU to some of his education proposals, such as extending the length of the school day this year.

“Do I think the union leadership has been a problem in resisting? Absolutely,” Emanuel tells Williams. Emanuel also says: “I think the system was never designed to benefit the kids.” And he lauds teachers at the Noble Street charter network’s schools as being “on a mission” and “not just doing a job.”

* And this won’t go over well

Chicago Public Schools’ plan to build an elementary school on polluted property in the shadow of the Chicago Skyway and an expiring coal-fired power plant near the Indiana border is raising the ire of parents in the working-class East Side neighborhood.

CPS already has paid more than $3 million for about 2 acres near 104th Street and South Indianapolis Avenue, a triangular parcel near a heavily congested traffic corridor, train tracks and towering industrial plants.

Preliminary testing at the site, which had been home to a gas station and more recently a carwash, uncovered eight underground gasoline storage tanks, one known to be leaking, and unsafe levels of the chemical benzene in the soil. But an official with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cautioned that the true extent of the contamination won’t be known until more testing is completed. […]

CPS bought an acre from a relative of Ed Vrdolyak, aka “Fast Eddie,” the former Southeast Side political heavyweight and longtime alderman who had a reputation for wheeling and dealing. Vrdolyak was released from prison in November after serving 10 months for his role in a $1.5 million Gold Coast real estate scheme.

* This is silly, however

Parents charged Wednesday that the opposition to a 7-1/2 hour school day touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel is strong and growing, with more than 900 parents signing a new online petition against it.

900? That’s it?

* Related…

* Skinner North principal to release longer school day survey results: According to survey tallies provided by the principal, the number of parents who prefer the extended day increased from 36 percent to 52 percent, but fewer people responded to questions in January. More than 87 percent of parents participated in the survey in October, while only about 60 percent of school families answered questions in January.

* Brizard: Raising Dropout Age To 18 Is A ‘Wonderful Idea’

* Minister in ‘rent-a-protester’ flap offers to open his books

* Schools CEO: We’re too obsessed with selective enrollment

* Warren: Emanuel’s Longer School Day Logic

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      

Decades of school funding debate fly right out the window

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

* For at least the last 30 years, Democrats and Republicans alike have pushed to change the way Illinois funds its schools. The idea was to rely less on property taxes and more on statewide taxes to help ease the local burden. Dawn Clark Netsch made the proposal a centerpiece of her 1994 campaign, and Gov. Jim Edgar successfully hammered her for it. Not long after, however, Edgar himself proposed just about the same plan.

One of the concepts behind this idea is that property taxes are not based on the ability to pay. So, it’s better to lessen that tax burden and shift it to a tax that is based on the ability to pay, like the income tax.

The feeling after the 2006 gubernatorial election, when the Democrats swept the state, was that Illinois was as close as it would ever be to achieving this goal. Gov. Rod Blagojevich had a different idea, however. Instead of a “property tax swap,” he proposed what turned out to be a catastrophically unpopular gross receipts tax. The momentum was lost and the issue began to fade away.

The Senate Democrats revived the idea a couple of years ago with their tax hike plan that would’ve provided some property tax relief. The bill passed the chamber, but went just about nowhere in the House.

* And now the state budget crisis has apparently taken the whole thing off the table and Illinois politicos are discussing throwing the car into reverse. Instead of talking about local tax relief, the big new idea is to pass the pain down the governmental food chain to the locals

Gov. Pat Quinn, responding to a dire new report on state finances Monday, said more clearly than ever that he wants schools and universities to help pay for their employees’ retirement costs.

A statement from Quinn’s budget office said the practice of state government paying for the retirement of downstate teachers and professors “requires careful examination and reform” because “employers need to have a stake in funding their own employees’ pension costs.”

Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said schools can’t simply absorb hundreds of millions of dollars in new expenses.

“It’s either an $800 million cut in public education funding or … an $800 million property tax increase to cover the pension costs,” Schwarm said. “Either way, I’m not sure it’s the best way of solving the problem or in the best interest of the taxpayer.”

Sometimes, it’s amazing to me how fast things can change in politics.

I’m not sure this thing can pass, as I explained in my syndicated newspaper column this week. Downstate and suburban voters are not going to relish the prospect of paying higher local taxes, or watch as their schools are slashed even further.

There are also some who believe that House Speaker Michael Madigan is counting on vocal opposition to gain a bit of political advantage. His suburban and Downstate members can angrily vote “No” and then use the roll call in their campaigns this fall.

Either way, this issue needs to be debated in the proper context, and I think I’ve framed it the way it ought to be. Your thoughts?

* Related…

* Zorn: Researchers identify ‘effective’ school techniques

* State income tax collections up 65 percent

* Schools should pay more for teachers’ pensions: Quinn: Gov. Pat Quinn, responding to a dire new report on state finances Monday, said more clearly than ever that he wants schools and universities to help pay for their employees’ retirement costs. A statement from Quinn’s budget office said the practice of state government paying for the retirement of downstate teachers and professors “requires careful examination and reform” because “employers need to have a stake in funding their own employees’ pension costs.”

* Little dispute over report that Illinois soon to be $35 billion in hock

* Editorial: Fiscal doomsday drawing ever closer

* Pensions, Medicaid eyed during legislative session

* $35 Billion in Red should help Republicans win back Illinois

* Parents asked to protest veto

* Editorial: Yes, classrooms first

* Gov. Quinn to Deliver State of State Message

* Quinn to split budget address from State of State

* The plan to save College Illinois: Form a committee

* CME to reject $15 million in city TIF funds

* Preckwinkle to meet with worried ministers about morgue mess

- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      

Is Lollapalooza stiffing the state?

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

* The always valuable Jim DeRogatis fills us in

Joining Commissioner Bridget Gainer’s initiative examining Lollapalooza’s exemption from the Cook County amusement tax, Illinois Rep. Sara Feigenholtz is pushing the state legislature to probe whether the three-day concert is paying its share of state sales taxes on everything sold in Grant Park.

Although several sources, including Gainer, have said that the massive music festival uses its partnership with the not-for-profit Parkways Foundation to avoid paying the 6.25-percent sales tax, this reporter has not been able to confirm how it receives an exemption. Feigenholtz said on Friday that she intends to get an answer, and to seriously question whether a waiver is warranted. […]

Illinois law states that to qualify for an exemption from the sales tax, “Your organization must be not-for-profit and organized and operated exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, or governmental purposes.” Lollapalooza, which is co-owned by politically well-connected Texas concert promoters C3 Presents and Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor (run by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s brother, Ari) clearly is a for-profit venture.

Last year, the festival gave Parkways more than $2 million for park improvements. But its gross revenues were more than $21 million, and it did not pay the 5-percent city amusement tax, the 1.5-percent county amusement tax, or any fee to rent and close Grant Park for much of the summer.


* Nobody seems to know how this happened or why. Background

Although Lollapalooza is very much a for-profit event, it partners to apply for all of its licenses with the non-profit Parkways Foundation, a favorite group of former Mayor Daley and his late wife, Maggie. A long-term sweetheart deal negotiated in part by the festival’s attorney and lobbyist, Daley nephew Mark Vanecko, exempts it from paying the 5 percent city amusement tax and the 1.5 percent county amusement tax, as well as the state sales tax levied on every other major event in Chicago—even though the municipal code clearly states that every big concert and sporting event must pay what’s owed unless 100 percent of its profits go to charity. […]

The loss in sales tax could be even more substantial, Gainer said, since local government has no idea what that cut of souvenir, food, and alcohol sales would even be. Parkways applies for the festival’s liquor license, but as this blog has reported, actual sales are handled by a corporation co-owned by Texas promoters C3 Presents and local bar owner Kevin Killerman, a client and friend of Vanecko.

* More

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he would ask the City Council to appoint a “third-party, independent” negotiator to broker talks with Lollapalooza and determine whether to eliminate the music festival’s multi-million dollar amusement tax exemption.

The hands-off stance is necessitated by the involvement of Emanuel’s brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel. Ari Emanuel is the CEO of William Morris Endeavor, which co-owns Lollapalooza.


- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

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* Kirk's debate comment called "racist" and "despicable"
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