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*** UPDATED x3 - Cullerton to call back Senate on his own *** Quinn to Senate: See you in Springfield

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

* The governor made an announcement during his City Club speech today

Gov. Pat Quinn today called for a special session of the General Assembly on Aug. 17 to take up pension reform.

“It’s time to vote,” Quinn said of lawmakers. “See you in Springfield.”

The Illinois House already was scheduled to be in that day to deal with the fate of indicted Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith of Chicago.

More in a bit.

* Here’s the official proclamation

*** UPDATE 1 *** A joint statement by the two Republican legislative leaders…

“We are encouraged by the Governor’s call for a special session on pension reform on August 17. As many people know, we have been and continue to be supportive of comprehensive pension reform that solves the major crisis facing us today. The time to act has been upon us. We are continuing to encourage Governor Quinn to take a leadership role to get a comprehensive pension bill passed in the General Assembly. We will continue to be available to discuss this very important matter in the coming weeks.”

*** UPDATE 2 *** Senate President John Cullerton will ask the governor to rescind the special session proclamation so Cullerton can just add a session day on his own next month. Details in a bit.

*** UPDATE 3 *** And here’s the press release…

Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton is asking the governor to withdraw his Special Session proclamation so taxpayers aren’t hit with thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday ordered a Special Session on Aug. 17 to address unspecified pension legislation. By doing so, the governor’s actions mean state taxpayers will cover certain transportation and travel costs for lawmakers and the total tab could cost taxpayers upward of $40,000 for the day.

“I share the governor’s interest in resolving the lingering pension issues, but it makes no sense to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars when there is an easy, no-cost alternative,” Cullerton said on Monday in recommending Quinn rethink the official Special Session.

Cullerton instead said he will bring the Senate back into session on Aug. 17, a move that would make the Senators ineligible to have travel costs covered by taxpayers. Under state law, if the governor demands a Special Session the taxpayers cover General Assembly travel costs, but if the Senate President or House Speaker simply convene an additional regular session day, there are no such taxpayer costs.

“I appreciate the seriousness of this issue, but there’s simply no need for taxpayers to incur the cost of a Special Session,” Cullerton said. Furthermore, the pension reform legislation likely to be addressed on Aug. 17 already cleared the Illinois Senate back on May 31. House Bill 1447 would substantially change lawmakers’ own pension system and that of state employees (SERS). The Illinois Senate approved the legislation in a remarkable bipartisan vote on the final day of the spring session.

According to recent media reports, the House may take up that legislation on Aug. 17. The House had already scheduled session on that day to take up a disciplinary recommendation involving one of its members.

The Senate President said all the circumstances show why a costly Special Session is unwarranted. The House was already coming back to the Capitol, the Senate President will add a session day, and the pension legislation in question already passed the Senate.

- Posted by Rich Miller   46 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

* The setup

The faithful in western Illinois are heeding Gov. Pat Quinn’s request to pray for rain as the state suffers drought conditions.

Quincy-area residents gathered Sunday evening for a “Pray for Rain” event. The Quincy Herald-Whig reports that several religious organizations participated in the half-hour prayer service in a local park. The Rev. Patrick Smith of St. John’s Anglican Parish said it was an opportunity to “collectively ask God to do something that he can do.”

* The Question: What else should Illinoisans pray for?

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


*** UPDATED x2 *** Adventures in scrolling down

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

* A recent Sun-Times story dealt with the plight of homeowners who live near a planned tollway ramp

Many, in fact, believe they are being ripped off by the tollway, which as a state agency wields the power to acquire land for the “common good” through eminent domain or condemnation. […]

“We’re being low-balled,” said Lane, who lives on the south end of the block, a cul-de-sac that is a stone’s throw from the northbound lanes of I-294. “My neighbors are all getting offers less than what their homes were worth. I hope (tollway officials) don’t get away with it. What they’re offering is nothing. The tollway is making out, the village is making out, the contractors are making out and the homeowners are losing.”

The Bells were told their home, which cost them $225,000 seven years ago, is worth $155,000. The Humeses’ dwelling, for which they paid $257,000, is worth $175,000, an assessor told them. Lane and his wife are waiting for their offer after meeting with tollway representatives on July 12.

* But if you read further into the story, you see this…

The Toll Highway Act that governs the scenario includes some protection for homeowners, and by law, the tollway will pay up to $25,000 whenever the cost of a replacement dwelling for a displaced resident is more than what the tollway paid to take the resident’s home. It also typically will pay off the balances on mortgages that are under water, tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said. Relocation benefits are available as well.

So, if they get their mortgages paid off plus another $25K, that would seem to be a pretty decent deal. But not everybody thinks so…

“They are low-balling us pretty badly,” John Bell said. “The market values have plummeted and many of us are under water in our mortgages. What they’re offering does not provide us just compensation in trying to locate the house of our choice.”

Bell said that since the tollway had talked about the interchange for decades, the homes probably should not have been built there in the first place.

* But, of course, the Illinois Republican Party blamed the Madigan family. From a press release…

“It is sadly ironic that our Attorney General, who consistently ignores political corruption and rampant gang violence in the City of Chicago under the guise of being the ‘people’s attorney’ is now sticking it to the little guy,” said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady. “Lisa Madigan should immediately suspend any further eviction actions until it is conclusively established that the citizens of Posen are being fairly and respectfully treated by the State of Illinois. I suspect the folks facing eviction would be treated substantially better if this tollway ran through her father’s State Representative District.”

* And then there’s this story about Treasurer Dan Rutherford. Here’s the AP’s lede

The state of Illinois is paying a Chicago consulting firm nearly $2 million to rebrand its program for returning unclaimed property to residents under a contract awarded by State Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office.

* But this is from the Daily Herald

Rutherford’s office says the money used to pay for the new marketing program comes from the pot of unclaimed property owed to Illinoisans, not the state’s general checkbook used to pay bills.

And…

The new I-Cash was introduced this month to replace Cash Dash, which last year returned $101 million in previously unclaimed cash to owners or heirs — up 23 percent from the year before. […]

Earlier this month, Rutherford’s office announced the unclaimed property program recently added 780,000 names from records prior to 1992. […]

This year, claims are even higher than at the same point in 2011. […]

In three weeks, [Rutherford] said, visits to the state’s unclaimed property website, icash.illinois.gov, have gone up by nearly 200 percent.

So, it appears to be working.

*** UPDATE 1 *** From comments

Unclaimed property is paid for out of the state pension fund by appropriation of the Illinois General Assembly. Any surplus funds generated by unclaimed property go back into the state pension fund to be distributed to the five systems to help bring down the unfunded liability. He’s taking this $2 million right from the much discussed and very struggling pension funds to pay for the Dan Rutherford promotional tour. How anyone thought this was a good idea right during the middle of the controversial and contentious pension debate is beyond me.

*** UPDATE 2 *** From the treasurer’s office…

About the I-Cash story, here are a few keys points to consider:

    Illinois’ Unclaimed Property Division is funded by unclaimed cash and assets transferred to the State Treasurer’s Office; any excess in what is collected is then transferred to the pension system.

    The office’s marketing budget has been consistent for the last several years.

    The contract being discussed here buys statewide radio, billboard and website ads over three years – but note that none of these promotions feature Treasurer Rutherford’s face, name, or voice.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


Dems dominate fundraising… again

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

The House and Senate Democratic leaders have once again dominated the quarterly fundraising race. The Democrats are currently sitting on almost three times the amount of cash as the Republicans.

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s three committees raised a combined $591,000 in the quarter that ended June 30th. Madigan had over $3.5 million cash on hand. Senate President John Cullerton’s two committees netted about $655,000 during the quarter. Cullerton finished with over $2.7 million in cash and investments.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross’ two committees raised $353,000 during the quarter. Cross ended the filing period with $789,000 on hand. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno raised just under $263,000 during the quarter, but had over $1.4 million on hand when the filing period on June 30th.

The disparities become even more problematic for the Republican leaders when you look at some of their hottest races. For instance, Downstate Senate candidate Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) raised an impressive $127K in the second quarter and ended the filing period with $340K. In contrast, Manar’s Republican opponent, Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy, raised just $26K and had less than $69K in the bank at the end of June.

Manar is John Cullerton’s former chief of staff, so he’d be expected to raise a lot of cash, but this is a must-win district for the Republicans and they needed a far better performance out of their candidate. They’re going to have to dip into the reserves in a big way to help out McElroy if he doesn’t kick himself into high gear.

Mike Babcock, a Republican running against Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), raised a mere $6,263.25 and ended the filing period with less than $20K on hand. Haine, on the other hand, raised over $75K and had almost $430K in the bank. Babcock has since raised $5K from conservative businessman Richard Uihlein, who has helped bankroll former gubernatorial candidate and GOP operative Dan Proft’s various operations.

Uihlein contributed $72,500 to Republican candidates since the recently ended filing period began on April 1st. The Uihlein list reads like a “Who’s Who” of hot campaigns. Randy Frese, who’s up against Sen. John Sullivan (D-Rushville), received $5,000 from Uihlein. Freeze raised an impressive $111K during the quarter, and had $127K in the bank. That almost matched Sen. Sullivan’s $131K raised in the latest filing period, but Sullivan had over $435K in the bank.

The House Republicans, meanwhile, have attempted to push their candidates to raise more money with a new “Young Guns” program modeled on the federal “Super PAC” affiliated with US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. And Uihlein played a role there, too.

According to the House Republicans, Congressman Aaron Schock approached Leader Cross last year about starting a similar program to the federal Young Guns effort. Cross agreed and candidates were given fundraising and voter contact goals for the second quarter to qualify for big bucks. Generally, the fundraising targets were $50,000.

Jonathan Greenberg, a Republican running against Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) raised about $51K during the quarterly reporting period. That qualifies him, and the other winners for a $100,000 contribution from the state’s Young Guns network, which will pool money from Schock, Cross, Congressman John Shimkus and individual House Republican members.

According to the House Republicans, about a half dozen candidates out of twelve met their Young Guns goals and will receive the $100K in matching funds. Neil Anderson is one of them. Anderson, like Greenberg, received a late $5K contribution from Uihlein. Anderson is up against Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-Milan). Uihlein’s money put Anderson over the $50K mark and qualified him for the Young Guns matching funds.

John Lawson also received a late $5K from Uihlein to get him into the Young Guns program. Lawson is up against Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg), who raised a mere $1,795.31 in the quarter and had only $27K in the bank. Another late $5K Uihlein contribution went to Julie Bigham Eggers, who is running against Rep. Jerry Costello, II (D-Smithton).

One other campaign finance story. Even though State Rep. Mark Beaubien passed away last year, his campaign committee was still funding his widow’s independent House bid this spring. Dee Beaubien received over $15K from her late husband’s committee in April, when the account was finally closed out. This is not unusual. Rep. Bernie Pedersen died in 1996, but his campaign account wasn’t closed down until 2009.

* Related…

* Disclosing taxes an issue in southern Ill. race: “If I start giving people crumbs, no one is ever going to be satisfied,” Plummer said.

* Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Treated in Hospital for Depression: Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., whose whereabouts haven’t been disclosed since he mysteriously took a medical leave several weeks ago, is being treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., according to a statement Friday from the hospital.

* Jackson move to Mayo could point to complications: It also was the first mention that he’s now being treated for a “gastrointestinal issue,” which some experts said Saturday was a sign his condition is becoming more complicated.

* Rev. Jesse Jackson: No timetable on son’s recovery

* Editorial: End the debate debate: “We felt that one debate was ample for the Quad-City area,” said Schilling spokesman Jon Schweppe. We can’t help but recall when supporters of challenger Bobby Schilling would have begged for such exposure in his bid to oust incumbent Rep. Phil Hare. What a difference incumbency makes. As for Ms. Bustos, we expected this former reporter and editor to see the value in more debates and quickly jump at both opportunities. But if her campaign intends to participate in only one, we wonder why she chose an event sponsored by the Iowa-based TV station and newspaper. There are no votes to be mined in Iowa for a candidate seeking to represent Illinois.

* Joe Walsh takes without asking

* Biggert says recovering Kirk calls his treadmill his ‘dreadmill’

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      


Caption contest!

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

* Mayor Rahm Emanuel received a health screening last week…

Keep it clean, people. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   38 Comments      


ComEd Offers New Tools to Report Outages, Enhance Customer Service

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

As reported recently in the Chicago Sun-Times, ComEd’s investments to improve customer service and storm response include an array of new communications tools that make it easier to report outages and receive status updates.

Reflecting the utility’s desire to interact more effectively and deliver greater value to customers, these tools and services include:

    • A two-way text messaging system that allows customers to report outages to ComEd by text and enables the utility to text restoration information back to customers. Simply text “OUT” to 26633. Customers receive notifications when an outage has been reported at their address and ongoing updates as outage status changes.

    • A mobile application for iPhone® and Android™ devices, enabling users to conveniently report power outages and manage their accounts from their smartphones. The app also will provide notifications as the outage status is updated.

    • An interactive outage map now available on ComEd.com. The color-coded map allows customers to easily find information on the location and size of outages and get estimated power restoration times.

Customers can access their online account at ComEd.com to report outages and receive updates as outage status changes or call ComEd at 1-800-334-7661 to speak with a representative.

Customers can also follow ComEd on Twitter (@ComEd) or Facebook (facebook.com/ComEd) to stay up to date on the latest ComEd information.

- Posted by Advertising Department   Comments Off      


Department of Corrections attempts to intimidate reporter, workers

Monday, Jul 30, 2012

* Last month, it was the Department of Human Services threatening a reporter with prosecution. This month, it’s the Department of Corrections

A story last week identified some of the dangerous prisoners Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration is considering shipping out of the state when he closes the supermax prison in Tamms.

Information identifying those particular inmates came from within the prison. And, top brass at the Illinois Department of Corrections really don’t like whistleblowers.

For example, IDOC officials recently pursued two employees who had provided information to The Associated Press regarding the agency’s ill-fated early prisoner release program. The two whistleblowers retired before they could be purged by the secretive agency.

Hoping to tamp down last week’s news about outsourcing prisoners, Jerry Buscher, executive chief at IDOC, sent a letter to the Lee Springfield Bureau, suggesting that if the names of the inmates being considered for out-of-state placement were printed, guards and inmates could be in danger.

“If you proceed to disclose any information in your possession on this subject beyond yourself, the department will view your actions as attempting to promote disorder within the prison system,” Buscher wrote.

The union representing guards and other prison employees, however, had no problem with the publication of the inmates’ names.

Thankfully, the threats didn’t kill the story.

* AFSCME is also claiming intimidation at the prisons

Illinois authorities took the unusual step of searching guards and other prison employees for contraband as they left at least seven facilities last week, sparking worker allegations that the checks may have been reprisals for complaints about overcrowding and understaffing and inside information leaked to the news media, workers and union officials told The Associated Press. […]

The searches began just days after prison workers complained publicly in Springfield about prison conditions and followed a newspaper report about where some displaced Tamms inmates would go. That report was based on an internal Corrections document.

The employees’ union said such searches are rare and may constitute “retaliatory harassment,” which the Corrections agency denied. […]

Illinois Department of Corrections policy allows searches of employees at any time - beginning, during or ending a shift - to ensure they are not carrying banned materials, from magazines and cigarettes to illegal drugs and weapons.

But Kim Larson, an accountant at the Danville prison for 12 years, said she never received a pat down before when she left her 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.

* Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn has made some changes at DHS. From a press release

Governor Pat Quinn has announced the appointment of Michael McCotter as Special Investigator of the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). McCotter, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, will be charged with reforming the investigative operations of the Inspector General’s office. Governor Quinn also named Daniel Dyslin as Acting Inspector General for DHS until a permanent replacement is named. Today’s actions follow an executive order issued by the governor earlier this month to strengthen protections for adults with disabilities.

…Adding… Related…

* Quinn’s office claims $57M in savings

* AFSCME challenges transfers from JDC: Another 23 residents are expected to be moved out of the Jacksonville Developmental Center by Wednesday, including two who will be transferred to a community-based home where employees previously were found negligent by the inspector general for the Department of Human Resources.

* DHS ends contract with Chicago mental health center: Dr. Carl Bell, the center’s head and part-time professor of clinical psychology and public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, blames the center’s fiscal problems on the state’s woes. He notes Illinois began slowing payments two years ago. He says as a result, the center he founded in 1975 has lost seven psychiatrists, in addition to therapists and case managers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


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