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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.

Oy.

* 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.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      


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

Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012

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Odds and Ends

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Gov. Pat Quinn to sign the speed cam bill

The legislation would allow red light cameras near schools and parks to be used to ticket people who speed through those areas.

The Illinois House and Senate approved the measure last fall, but Quinn has yet to sign it, saying he is still studying the idea.

Emanuel says the study shows a new law could reduce fatal accidents.

“We have seen all the data that show when you put the cameras in – actually – traffic, people comply, and it’s the right thing to do,” Emanuel said. “I didn’t think it was going to be popular. The question is can I save lives.”

* The Expired Meter blog FOIA’d Quinn’s office on the public response to the bill, and it wasn’t even close to positive

The Governor’s office released a report via a Freedom of Information request by The Expired Meter, that shows the Governor’s office has received a total of 224 phone calls, emails or letters from constituents regarding SB965, of which just 19 were in support of the bill. The other 205–over 91%–were opposed to the bill and urged the Governor to veto it.

In total the Governor’s office received 15 letters (11 opposed, 4 in support), 36 phone calls (35 opposed, 1 in support) and 173 email comments via the Governor’s website (159 opposed, 14 in support).

* Meanwhile, another call has been issued for a race to the bottom

[Kim Clarke Maisch, Illinois director for the National Federation of Independent Business] said the governor should start considering how Illinois can compete against neighboring states that have enacted or are considering right-to-work legislation. The Indiana House recently approved a proposal banning contracts between companies and labor unions that require employees to pay union dues. The Indiana Senate will consider the measure this week and is expected to approve it. Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he will sign it.

Supporters say right-to-work laws make a state more attractive to businesses, but opponents say such laws are an attack on labor unions and will drive down workers’ salaries.

“Indiana is a game-changer,” said Maisch. “Most of the economic growth over the past 20 years has occurred in the right-to-work states in the South and West. But it’s coming to the Midwest now, not just in Indiana but Michigan is looking at it too, and that is going to give businesses here a very convenient alternative to Illinois.”

She warned that Illinois has to keep up with its neighboring states or its business climate will get worse.

If you compare Mark Kirk’s 2010 Downstate vote totals to Bill Brady’s, you’ll see that Kirk does slightly better. Some say the reason for that is Brady’s support of so-called right to work legislation. Also, too, Cook County. This is just talk for the NFIB base, nothing more.

* And speaking of elections

A new progressive Democratic leaning SuperPac–called CREDO–announced Monday that Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) will be one of their first targets. Walsh, a freshman, is running in the Illinois north suburban 8th congressional district. Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi are locked in a March primary battle.

Earlier, the Democratic House political shop said Walsh is also one of their prime targets.

The group is spending $3 million on ten races.

* Back to state stuff

A local pastor accepted a bribe from a Danville Correctional Center prisoner to take time off the man’s sentence, according to law enforcement officials.

The Rev. Floyd S. Crenshaw Sr., 51, of the 500 block of East Main Street, appeared Thursday afternoon in Vermilion County Circuit Court for a preliminary hearing on a felony charge of official misconduct. […]

Bank records indicated that Crenshaw received two payments from the prisoner’s wife. Kilduff said the first, which totaled $4,000, was made to a non-profit organization handled by Crenshaw. The second payment was $700 sent via PayPal to a website handled by Crenshaw.

Bizarre.

* Other stuff…

* Suburbs have sway on governor’s pension team

* Rockford Rep Dave Winters Endorses Kinzinger for New 16th CD

* Springfield’s election-year inertia could keep tough issues off the table

* Regional Superintendant Says Earlier Intervention Key To Lowering Drop Out Rate

* Heating bills bucking upward trend

* Editorial: Another cellphone law is unnecessary

* Study: Low Wages For Restaurant Workers Costs More In The Long Run

* RTA replaces thousands of reduced-fare cards

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      


Sen. Kirk’s condition upgraded to “fair”

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* Excellent news

A week after Sen. Mark Kirk suffered a stroke, doctors Monday said his condition has been upgraded to fair.

“Senator Kirk’s recovery is continuing,” said Northwestern Hospital’s Dr. Richard Fessler in a statement. “He is alert, talking and responding well to questions. He has been upgraded to fair condition and we are very pleased with his progress.”

* Related…

* ADDED: Kirk, Giffords’ stories intertwine again, after stroke

* As Kirk recovers, Illinois GOP launches plan he helped fine-tune: “Everything we’re executing is the plan we worked out with him, what we’re going to do,” Illinois GOP chair Pat Brady.

* Editorial: Kirk’s recovery

* Editorial: Decision looms for Sen. Kirk

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


The budget is about people

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* Imagine, if you will, the horrific anguish that the parents of this 14 year-old boy (named “N.B.” in this story) are going through

N.B. has been placed in a psychiatric hospital 14 times, where he stays an average of three weeks. N.B. is extremely aggressive, doesn’t talk and has been diagnosed with moderate to severe mental retardation, autism spectrum disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, mood disorder, disruptive behavior disorder and more, the lawsuit states. He also has “a history of maladaptive and self-injurious behaviors, including hitting himself in the head, scratching himself and biting his hand.”

The parents have filed a lawsuit against the state to force it to provide better home-care treatment programs. According to their lawyer, the system is downright unfair

“Some parents are told they can’t get funding for their child’s treatment and they reach a point where they don’t pick the child up from the psychiatric hospital because they’re a danger to their other siblings,” Farley said. “Then DCFS gets called and they take custody. The parents get residential treatment (for the child), but they’ve given up custody, and that shouldn’t have to be.”

The class action lawsuit could affect more than 18,000 kids with severe problems in Illinois alone. So, as the talk turns to cutting Medicaid, keep this heartbreaking story in mind. As the headline says, the budget is about people.

* And then there’s this

An attorney for Gov. Pat Quinn faced blistering questioning by legislators Friday on why the governor didn’t quickly fire the head of the state’s child-welfare agency last year after a report of fraudulent billing under his watch.

At a hearing in Chicago, Rep. Jack Franks called it “cowardice” on the part of Quinn’s office to ask for Erwin McEwen’s resignation from his post as chief of the Department of Children and Family Services rather than fire him. State inspectors had found that a friend of the former director collected millions of dollars for shoddy or non-existent work.

“I can’t believe the cowardice,” Franks exclaimed in reaction to Quinn’s general counsel, John Schomberg, who had said that accepting a resignation instead of firing an employee can avoid a lawsuit.

“Let him sue,” Franks said, his voice rising. “Who cares? Do what’s right.”

* More

State ethics investigators say they may never know the full extent of an alleged contracting scheme that they say cost taxpayers at least $18 million and led to last year’s resignation of the head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The comments came during a legislative hearing Friday examining a probe that found numerous violations by George E. Smith, who held various state contracts across a number of agencies, including DCFS.

The state executive inspector general’s office accused Smith of forging documents, presentingfalse information about grant funds for after-school services, submitting budgets that allowed him to conceal funds, and accepting payments he was not entitled to receive.

But Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza said the wrongdoing may go further, as the state only investigated contracts Smith held dating back to 2008. Smith has been doing businesses with the state since 1986.

Sometimes, as in this case, the budget can be about the wrong people.

* And sometimes, a governor wants to do things that the state cannot afford

Watch for Quinn propose a tax cut targeting families with children Wednesday at his State of the State address. “This tax cut will benefit almost 1.5 million families in Illinois, by putting more money in their pockets,” a top source said.

More

“We need to understand that by targeting tax relief for the people who need it the most, that’s a very important mission for us this year in Illinois. We have to help our veterans too. We have a veterans hiring tax credit that I’ll be speaking about Wednesday. We want to make sure our employers are hiring veterans because they have the discipline, the teamwork, the leadership and the skill to get a job done, “said Quinn.

* Related and a roundup…

* ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ to be focus of State of State

* Illinois’ Quinn Pressured To Roll Back Tax Increase

* Krohe: The state makes a bad bet on Sears

* Editorial: Cut costs, state prison population

* Hearing examines charges of misconduct at DCFS

* Lawmaker: Quinn A ‘Coward’ For His Handling Of DCFS Investigation

* Editorial: Aon’s London move a head-scratcher

* Governor Quinn’s Office Seeing Strong Opposition To Chicago Speed Camera Bill - Public Response To SB965 Oppose Bill By 9-1 Margin

* Erickson: Illinois courts finally join 21st century

* Chicago area prolifers honor Cardinal George

* What’s next for Belvidere Chrysler plant after start of Dodge Dart?

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Hooray! The Stratton tunnel is now open

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* This is good news…

IMPORTANT NOTICE

STRATTON TUNNEL OPEN

TO: ALL USERS OF THE STRATTON TUNNEL
FROM: J. Richard Alsop, III, AIA
Architect of the Capitol
DATE: January 30, 2012
RE: Notice of Opening of Stratton Tunnel

Effective immediately, the Stratton tunnel to the Capitol is open to the public.

The weather is gonna be amazingly warm this week, but that blessing can’t last forever and the tunnel between the Stratton and the Statehouse is a must during winter.

Anyway, it’s not exactly the most important story in the world, but it is something that people like me need to know.

*** UPDATE *** Somewhat off-topic, but it wouldn’t qualify for its own post, so here’s the press release…

The Illinois House Republicans led by Leader Tom Cross (R- Oswego) are launching a new design of their website today at www.ilhousegop.org, which includes a platform driven by up to the minute House Republican news.

“Our caucus believes it is important to keep constituents informed and to keep the lines of communications open. We are making it a priority to provide constituents and the media with up-to-date information through the use of social media and websites. We are excited about this new format and hope you will visit our website often,” said Cross.

The new website is driven primarily by news releases, audio and video feeds. The House Republican Twitter and Facebook feeds are also present on the site. The website can be found at www.ilhousegop.org, the Twitter feed has the handle of @ilhousegop, and you can follow along on Facebook by hitting Like on the Illinois House Republicans page.

It actually looks pretty good.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* Last week, House Speaker Michael Madigan talked about the governors he’s worked with over the years

Gov. James Thompson (1977-1991):

“Governor Thompson is a very intelligent person, quick learner, very flexible. Understood that he was involved in government, where everybody is entitled to their due and that you need to fashion compromise if you wish to move forward.”

___

Gov. Jim Edgar (1991-1999):

Edgar “was a little more strident than Governor Thompson. Jim Edgar was and is a student of government. Thompson had another career. He was a lawyer. He was a U.S. prosecutor in Chicago. Edgar was involved in government, I think, all his life, and he made himself a student of government. And so he’d be far more interested in heavy discussion about government policy, government operations. He’d be far more willing to engage in protracted negotiations in order to get what he wanted, especially on the budget, which is exactly what he did in 1991.”

___

Gov. George Ryan (1999-2003):

“Very flexible, very interested in just identifying problems and fashioning solutions. One of Governor Ryan’s favorite approaches … would be to convene leaders. He and I would be in the room with the other leaders and George would just say, `Well, look. We’ve got problem A. What do we have to do to solve this problem?’

“That’s what he was like. And of course in these situations, (leaders) might want to evade the question, they might have their strategic plan that they’re working on and they don’t want to answer today. And George would just pursue, persist: `I want an answer.’”

* The Question: Of the three governors Madigan mentioned above, who in your opinion was the best? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks.


- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Worst. News. Ever.

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* This story has not been getting the attention it deserves, mainly because the Civic Federation released its study late Sunday night

Illinois’ unpaid bills may more than triple to $34.8 billion by 2017 unless lawmakers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn immediately bring Medicaid and pension spending under control, said a research group.

The “potentially paralyzing” backlog, projected to reach $9.2 billion when this fiscal year ends June 30, would be fueled by an “unsustainable” increase in Medicaid spending, according to the Civic Federation, which calls itself a nonpartisan government research organization.

“Failure to address unsustainable trends in the state’s pension and Medicaid systems will only result in financial disaster for the state of Illinois,” Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation in Chicago, said in a press release today.

* More

The report points to rising pension costs and medical bills for the poor and uninsured as the primary culprits of increased state spending. Among the Civic Federation’s suggestions for reining in state finances are reducing automatic 3 percent increases built-in to retirement pay for government workers and increasing the cigarette tax.

“It’s a very frightening situation,” Msall said. “It’s one that calls for not half measures, not politically massaged answers. It calls for significant, drastic action by the state of Illinois.”

You’re darned right this is frightening. That report freaked me out when I read it last night. Right to the bone.

* From the report

* The bad news in words

General Funds Medicaid costs are projected to increase by 41.7% from $8.6 billion in FY2012 to $12.1 billion in FY2017, according to a recent analysis by HFS.49 General Funds costs of the program are projected to increase 13.0% between FY2012 to FY2013 due to an anticipated decline in resources from Other State Funds. Between FY2014 and FY2017, program costs are expected to increase at an average annual rate of 5.8%. […]

Unpaid bills increase in FY2012 because the program is underfunded by approximately $1.5 billion. As a result, the backlog of unpaid Medicaid bills is expected to grow to roughly $1.8 billion by the end of FY2012 from approximately $300 million at the end of FY2011, meaning that it will take longer for healthcare providers to be paid. If the increase in Medicaid appropriations were limited to 2% a year going forward, unpaid Medicaid bills would grow to $21.0 billion by the end of FY2017. […]

Annual Medicaid costs can exceed appropriations because State law allows Medicaid expenses, unlike most other State expenses, to be paid from future years’ appropriations.52 This provision of Section 25 of the State Finance Act has repeatedly been used to budget an insufficient amount of Medicaid appropriations to cover costs for a given fiscal year, knowing that the bills will be paid from the next year’s appropriations.

There are no real solutions in this report, either. The Civic Federation wants aggressive cost controls, but they’ll have to be draconian to put this budget into balance.

* And that’s just the Medicaid problem. Here’s the full Monty

Click the pics for better views.

* Pension funding will cost the state a total of $9 billion from this year’s base in five years. The red is debt service costs on the chart…

That $9 billion isn’t chump change, of course, but it’s nothing compared to how much money will go into the base via Medicaid.

* One of the Civic Federation’s ideas is to tax retirement and Social Security income, as well as increase the cigarette tax by 98 cents a pack. This would put a dent into the stack of old bills, but not a big one. The Tribune, believe it or not, is not dismissing these two ideas out of hand

All of us can debate these and other Civic Fed proposals. But we suspect many politicians would rather take an easy route this report doesn’t suggest: renewing the “temporary” income tax hikes for years beyond 2014.

Tell us, Governor, where you stand. Candor in these two speeches might restore some of the credibility lost when you (a) pledged during the 2010 campaign to veto any personal income tax increase above 1 percentage point and (b) after the election, signed your 2-percentage-point increase into law.

Tell every Illinoisan, Governor, that “temporary” does not mean “permanent.”

Um, even if the temporary tax is made permanent, that 2017 stack of unpaid bills will still be about $17 billion.

*** UPDATE *** AFSCME has issued a press release which it claims “debunks” the Civic Federation’s report. The union doesn’t challenge the Medicaid projections laid out above, however, and essentially focuses on a demand for a tax hike on the wealthy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   44 Comments      


Too late to die young now

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* While you’re reading my latest Sun-Times column, you should probably listen to the song the column is built around: Todd Snider’s “Age Like Wine”

* And here’s the Sun-Times column

“Old timer, old timer, too late to die young now.”

I’m turning 50 soon, so I’ve been planning a big party in Chicago on March 31 to distract myself from my own mortality. As Todd Snider confides in his song Age Like Wine, “I thought that I’d be dead by now . . . but I’m not.”

The party will be a benefit for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, one of this state’s most indispensable organizations. The featured presentation will be a roast of yours truly. Cash bar. The last thing I need is some of these roasters sucking down free drinks and then taking to the microphone to tell jokes about my many, many faults.

Carol Marin, this paper’s political columnist, has graciously agreed to roast me, as has the acerbically witty Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green. Politicians like Senate President John Cullerton (our event’s emcee) and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka have agreed to join the fray. The rest of the list is pretty long, but no less distinguished.

Actually, the most difficult part of planning this event has been limiting the number of roasters. It isn’t every day that a media type gives those he or she covers carte blanche to say cruelly funny things about him in front of an audience. They’re coming out of the woodwork to be a part of this thing, and I guess I’m not surprised.

I’ve been pretty rough on them over the years, so they’re eager to exact some sweet revenge.

“Old timer, five and dimer, trying to find a way to age like wine somehow.”

Fifty used to be old. It used to be that when you reached 50 years of age, you were considered somehow wiser than others. Now, the baby boomers have decided to change all that and dub 50 “the new 30” and keep treating people like me as if we were kids.

But I clearly remember when my boomer friends turned 50. They were all horrified out of their minds. As they aged even further they’ve tried to pass off the milestone as no big deal, as if 50 isn’t even middle aged.

Let me tell you something, my friends, there’s no way on God’s Earth that I’ll live to be a hundred. Trust me on that. Middle-aged my eye.

“My new stuff is nothing like my old stuff was.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is 52, not much older than me. As I write this, Kirk is in a Northwestern University Hospital intensive care unit recovering from a major stroke. Most of the comments I’ve heard by his fellow politicians were about how young he is. People, he’s not young. Face facts here, man, bad things start happening to your body when you turn 50.

The night after we all learned about Kirk’s stroke, I found myself in a supermarket shopping for some sliced ham for my lunches. I remembered I was also running low on toothpaste, so I went to the “drug store” section, and before I realized what I was doing I’d filled my basket with vitamins for people over 50, various stop-smoking aids and Slim Fast. And then I returned to the grocery section and dumped the ham and picked up some turkey instead. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what was going on. I’d been freaked out by Kirk’s stroke more than I cared to admit.

Get well soon, senator. And don’t let those graying boomers fool you.

You’re not nearly as young as you used to be. Neither of us are. Like it or not, we’re both getting old. Let’s try to make the best of it.

* The March 31st event will be held at Maggiano’s in Chicago. And I can’t wait until you see the menu. Mm-mm… good. This ain’t gonna be no rubber chicken political dinner, baby.

As of now, cocktails will start at 6:30. Invites will be mailed soon and tickets will also be available for purchase online here and at LSSI’s website. It’ll be high dollar, but it’s tax deductible. I’m mentioning it so early because I want people to save the date on their calendars. March 30th is the last day of session before spring break, so we needed to make sure folks didn’t zoom outta town before the party on the 31st. We tried to schedule it for the 23rd, but the date didn’t work for President Cullerton, and I specifically wanted him to emcee.

Our old friend Dave Kohn’s band Voodoo Pilot will be playing.

More details will be released soon, but there may be at least one big surprise that’ll be saved for the event itself. The idea is to raise lots of money for LSSI and throw the party of the year. Yes, it’s a tall order, but that’s one of the reasons I chose Lutheran Social Services of Illinois as the beneficiary - they have the experience, time and skill to put on a big to-do and I don’t.

Anyway, be there or be square.

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


Get ready to pay… Again

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Last week, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan appeared to all but endorse an idea to force downstate and suburban school districts to pay a significant share of their state pension contributions.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) floated the same proposal last year, and Gov. Pat Quinn added his support not long ago.

Needless to say, if all three Democratic leaders are talking about it, you can probably expect some action this year. However, there will be strong pushback from suburban and downstate legislators who undoubtedly will fear a voter backlash over potentially massive local property tax increases to pay for the idea.

Madigan (D-Chicago) spoke for well over an hour last week at an Elmhurst College event at the invitation of his old nemesis Lee Daniels, who served as speaker for two years after the 1994 Republican landslide. Madigan almost never talks for that long in public, so his speech was heavily covered by the media.

As is his custom, Madigan didn’t officially endorse the plan to ease the state’s ongoing budget strain by passing pension obligations down the governmental food chain to school districts and public colleges and universities, but he did indicate that he was strongly leaning in that direction.

The “normal arrangement,” for pensions, Madigan said, was that the employee and the employer both pay into the pension system. But school districts pay just 0.054 percent of payroll into the Teachers’ Retirement System, Madigan noted (and when he has it down to the decimal like that, you know he’s focused on the issue). He also said the universities pay “zero” toward employee pension costs.

“And let’s understand,” Madigan said about public school employees, “these are people who never got a payroll check from the state of Illinois.”

The speaker went on to note that the state paid $4 billion this year into its five pension funds, half of which went to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS).

“So over one half of our obligation to pensions, which is the subject of great public debate today, is for people (teachers) who never worked for the state of Illinois,” Madigan said.

Madigan also correctly pointed out that the Chicago Public Schools has its own pension fund and pays its employer share.

“You’re never going to read this in a newspaper article. … They’re never going to put a paragraph in there talking about that,” Madigan said, echoing others who’ve wondered for years why Chicago taxpayers fund the schools’ pension fund while they and the rest of Illinois taxpayers pick up the tab for suburban and downstate school districts.

“Even I don’t remember why that happened,” Madigan said jokingly. “I’ve never found anybody who can tell me why the state of Illinois stepped up one day and said, ‘OK, school districts, we’ll just pick up all your pension costs.’”

He also pointed out that school districts pay the employer share for pensions for support staff, such as janitors and cafeteria workers, but not for teachers.

This is truly an odd arrangement. All state taxpayers finance TRS, but the Chicago Public Schools receives just a relatively small amount of state cash for its pension fund. It doesn’t seem fair, but often life ain’t fair.

The teachers unions haven’t taken a position yet on this issue, probably knowing that freeing state money could mean more cash for education and that school districts couldn’t short the pension fund because state law forbids it.

The state is the only government entity in Illinois that can legally shortchange pension funds and has done so for years, which is what got us into this long-term pension crisis to begin with.

It’s doubtful that anything close to the state’s annual $2 billion contribution to TRS will be passed down to school districts right away, but property owners may be about to get hit with a bigger bill nonetheless. Get ready to pay. Again.

* Related…

* Speaker Madigan says it’s high time school districts pay for their own pensions

* Michael Madigan and Illinois’ governors

* Finke: Madigan graces us with his presence

* FOX Chicago Sunday: Mike Madigan and Illinois Budget Problems

* House Speaker Spreads Blame for State’s Mess

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


Caption contest!

Monday, Jan 30, 2012

* Crain’s

Anyone hoping that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would follow through on campaign promises of openness and transparency in Chicago government has to be disappointed in the ward remap fiasco that unfolded earlier this month. We certainly are.

The city’s ward map is legally mandated to be redrawn and rebalanced every 10 years, an event that is always a juicy opportunity for wheeling and dealing—the kind that usually takes place behind closed doors. Politicians know how to count, after all, and the maps they draw tend to be the kind that can best ensure each incumbent’s re-election. But even by Chicago’s considerable historic standards of backroom back-scratching, this latest effort is an embarrassment.

After a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t public comment period that lasted just under two hours, the City Council, with the mayor’s acquiescence, rammed through new boundaries that ignore neighborhood history, sever residents’ and small-business owners’ long-standing relationships with City Hall representatives and effectively disenfranchise large swaths of voters by overweighting certain wards at the expense of others.

The result is a twisted mess. The 2nd Ward alone—as noted by Greg Hinz in a delightfully acerbic blog post—is a profile in absurdity, snaking as it does from the Gold Coast to the Clybourn Corridor, hopscotching over the Kennedy Expressway and curling around to encompass much of Ukrainian Village on the West Side.

And here’s the 2nd Ward map…

Have fun.

- Posted by Rich Miller   68 Comments      


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Monday, Jan 30, 2012

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