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MLB open thread

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* I’m still not feeling 100 percent well today, but I bought White Sox opening day tickets long ago and I decided last week that even if I needed an ambulance to take me to the game I’d be there. So, I’m heading out soon.

Your thoughts on the 2014 season?

- Posted by Rich Miller   59 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* The Sun-Times reports that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is backing a Statehouse bill which would expunge some juvenile arrest records

The legislation, introduced Friday by Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago), would apply to juvenile arrests that never resulted in formal criminal charges. The state would have to expunge those arrests automatically when a person turns 18. […]

About three-quarters of juvenile arrests in Cook County don’t result in charges, records show. The legislation would have applied to more than 16,000 arrests in 2013 in Chicago. Because the proposed legislation is retroactive, it could apply to tens of thousands of arrests, administration officials said. […]

Under the proposed legislation, those expunged records would be sealed to everyone except for police agencies to use in screening job applicants.

Prosecutors also would have access to those records to make charging decisions and sentencing recommendations in cases in which someone is charged with a similar crime as an adult, officials said.

Paula Wolff, senior executive of the policy group Metropolis Strategies, said she knows of a 19-year-old who was working as a school custodian for 10 months when he lost his job because of a background check. It revealed two juvenile arrests that didn’t result in charges, she said.

* The Question: Should juvenile arrest records be expunged if no formal charges were ever filed? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.


free polls

- Posted by Rich Miller   44 Comments      


Poll: Almost everybody feels that corruption is common here

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* From the recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll

• 89 percent of Illinoisans feel corruption is somewhat common in the state, with 53 percent believing it’s very common.

• 79 percent say corruption at the federal level is at least somewhat common, with 45 percent saying it’s very common.

• 62 percent of all Illinoisans believe county or city politic al corruption is at least somewhat common, with 35 percent reporting local corruption to be very common.

    ° However, 85 percent of those living in Chicago believe county or city political corruption is at least somewhat common, with 55 percent perceiving local corruption to be very common

More numbers and results are here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


The business of Illinois

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* Obviously, Leader Durkin is hoping to bait Illinois’ newest state Rep. into voting against Speaker Madigan’s millionaire’s tax and other stuff, but the way he’s doing it is quite interesting…

DURKIN APPLAUDS NEW REP’S BIPARTISAN, ECONOMIC GROWTH PLEDGE

Chicago – House Republican Leader Jim Durkin welcomed newly appointed state Rep. Anna Moeller (D-Elgin) on Monday by applauding Moeller’s bipartisan and economic growth pledge. Moeller told reporters that she is pledging to serve in a “bipartisan fashion” and she will work to “create jobs and strengthen our economy.”

“The best way to strengthen our economy is to not raise taxes on anyone,” said Durkin. “Many key votes are coming before the Illinois House in the coming days and weeks that will slow Illinois’ economic recovery and drive unemployment higher.”

Last week, Democratic leaders have all endorsed the idea of making the 67% temporary tax hike of 2011, permanent.

“The House GOP will gladly work with any member of the General Assembly who is committed, like Rep. Moeller, to strengthening our economy and protecting hardworking families, taxpayers and job creators,” added Durkin.

Heh.

* In other economy-related news, Greg Hinz takes a close look at legislation that appears pretty good on its face. The bill would allow companies to recoup up to 100 percent of their job training costs. But all the jobs would have to be net new Illinois positions. There’s a problem with that

“More than 300,000 manufacturing workers are set to retire in Illinois in the next decade. . . .The idea of a tax credit against withholdings could greatly benefit companies making significant investments in their human capital,” said Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Denzler, in a statement.

“However, the current proposal is cumbersome and overly bureaucratic,” he added. “(That) will dampen enthusiasm while failing to provide any help for companies simply looking to train replacements for an aging workforce.”

* And

Qualified training costs could be credited not only against a company’s own income tax liability but against money it collects from workers in paycheck withholding that is supposed to be passed on to the state. There have been only a few instances in which such tax breaks have been approved in Illinois, all involving so-called EDGE tax credits. In each case, allowing companies to keep employee tax withholding has had to be approved by the General Assembly.

Under the current proposal, that authority would be given to officials at Mr. Pollet’s DCEO and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

* Meanwhile, the Tribune weighs in on the Statehouse ride-share proposal

Consumers like ride shares. They like being able to find a nearby car, check out the driver and agree to a fare, all on their smartphones. They like the option of paying a premium for faster service in peak hours or bad weather. They like choices.

Sticking to the current rules would rob them of a promising new model while protecting an archaic system that works mostly for the medallion owners. It doesn’t work for the independent contractors who actually drive the cabs. Last week, a group of them sued, saying they should be considered employees of the cab companies from whom they rent the medallions. (Another pending suit argues that the drivers should be considered employees of the city.) […]

Government isn’t doing its job if it accepts the companies’ assurances that everything is hunky dory. So the question now isn’t whether the ride shares will be regulated, but who will set the rules. […]

Lawmakers shouldn’t be in the business of marking cars or dictating fares, either. Their aim should be to promote safety and competition, not to take sides in the taxi vs. ride share battle

* Gov. Quinn wants to boost home ownership

Sneed has learned Quinn plans to announce a new state-subsidized mortgage loan program Monday for first-time Illinois home buyers.

“This program is not for millionaires,” Quinn told Sneed. […]

◆ Fact: The plan will give eligible first-time home buyers a 30-year fixed mortgage offered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority at below market interest rates, according to Quinn. (Right now, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage charges 4.4 percent interest.)

◆ Fact: It will also offer a forgivable loan of $7,500, secured by a second mortgage, to help with the down payment or closing costs. At minimum, borrowers must contribute the greater of one percent of the purchase price or $1,000 toward the down payment.

◆ Fact: This program is only for first-time home buyers, or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years, and has at least a credit score of 640. […]

◆ Fact: Quinn claims the program will be funded with $130 million from the capital budget — set aside five years ago for the Illinois Housing Development Authority to use on housing construction and mortgage subsidies.

* And the editor of a website devoted to nursing home issues says Bruce Rauner’s candidacy is gonna bring down major heat on the industry

In Illinois, when the inflammatory ads start again in the Rauner-Quinn race, few will think twice about the guaranteed loser: the nursing home profession.

Rauner’s proponents will again assert he had no hand in the day-to-day management when the bad acts occurred at his nursing home businesses. Attack. Defend.

And the remaining impression will simply be that, whether or not this guy is a greedy shark investor, nursing homes are terrible places where horrible things inevitably happen.

They might be trying to put Rauner on trial, but the skilled nursing profession will already have been convicted in the public’s mind, no matter the November vote totals show.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      


Quinn zeroes out controversial anti violence program, and other budget stuff

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* The AP drilled into the governor’s budget a little bit and found a few surprises. The biggest surprise, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise

Quinn also has suggested zeroing out funding for the Community Based Organizations for Violence Prevention program, which succeeded the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which has received $15 million over the past two years.

You’ll recall that the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was at the center of a scathing Auditor General’s report for its shoddy and goofy operations. Obviously, the governor wants to distance himself from that program. But what happens if violence spikes again this year?

* A few more

The Murphysboro youth center, which closed two years ago, could serve as a facility minimum security facility for more than 400 drunken driving offenders, according to the governor’s office. […]

The Joliet Youth home, which closed last February, also would be repurposed, according to governor’s budget office documents. […]

The governor’s office of management and budget would see a 30 percent budget increase under Quinn’s plan, as it adds seven positions. Pallasch said the increase “comes from the addition of a new requirement that would audit state grants and is housed in the governor’s office.”

But that “requirement” is a bill sponsored by state Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates that hasn’t yet been passed by the Legislature.

* Despite the expansions, the governor turned thumbs down on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s dream of expanding Soldier Field in order to attract a Super Bowl

“We have serious financial challenges,” Quinn said. “Changing Soldier Field, making it bigger? It just ain’t gonna work.”

* From the Daily Herald

In defending his proposal to make Illinois’ 2011 income tax increase permanent, Gov. Pat Quinn Friday called his Republican challenger Bruce Rauner’s plan to let the tax lapse and slash the budget a “scheme.”

Quinn argues Rauner can’t promise to both stabilize the state’s troubled budget and lower tax rates. Illinois needs the extra money to fix its budget woes, Quinn said.

“He basically has a scheme, and it’s not an honest scheme,” Quinn said.

Pushing the larger tax as he seeks re-election is risky, but Quinn has blasted Rauner and other Republicans for not offering a similarly detailed proposal.

“Some people think you get elected by not saying anything substantive,” Quinn said.

The governor’s office also pointed out to me this morning that slashing the budget could result in higher local property taxes, if education takes a hit. Rauner has pledged to protect education spending, but where would he find the money if the tax hike expires or is repealed? He doesn’t really say. The Illinois Policy Institute has called on the state to drastically cut funding to local governments, but that would also undoubtedly lead to property tax hikes.

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      


Ask and ye shall receive

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* Earlier today, I received this solicitation from the Yes for Independent Maps coalition…

Rich:

We know you’re busy. You are probably doing three things while you read this (hopefully driving isn’t one of them). So we’ll be brief: Today is the last day of the fundraising quarter, and I am writing to ask you for a contribution.

We know you support this campaign. So please head over to our website (click here) and make a $5 donation so we can continue to do what we do.

This is the paragraph where we usually include something compelling about why Independent Maps matter. Today, I’ll just say this is a big deadline for the campaign and we could use your support.

Lots of campaigns are going to ask you for money today. I bet none will ask like this.

Onward.

Michael Kolenc

Campaign Manager

About half an hour later, the coalition reported a $500,000 contribution from former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Maybe his $500,000 is more like what five bucks would be to the rest of us mere mortals. /snark

- Posted by Rich Miller   13 Comments      


Mass transit’s future

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* Greg Hinz talks about a new report due out today from Gov. Pat Quinn’s transit study commission, which is headed, Greg says, “by one of the best big thinkers in the Chicago area: business and civic activist George Ranney”

Likely to get a cooler response is a proposal to merge the CTA, Metra and Pace into one agency with one governing board and three operating units, in the process dismantling the Regional Transportation Authority. Mr. Ranney is dead set on killing the RTA, which he helped create three decades ago.

The agency never was given the power needed to do its job of supervising the CTA, Metra and Pace. Given that failure, the next-best alternative probably is setting up a mega-agency that would run the operating units, much like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Doing so has some clear advantages. CTA, Metra and Pace each have their own planning departments, IT units, personnel departments and the like. Consolidating them could save $30 million to $50 million a year, according to people familiar with the Ranney report. That would buy a lot of buses and maybe a train or three.

There are two other financial advantages. Instead of crawling all over each other in Washington in a hunt for federal capital, disputes over priorities would have to be resolved locally. And if the agency actually did some smart stuff—shifting resources to priority areas, unrolling an expansion plan that makes sense, etc.—it would help open the door to what Chicago-area transit really needs: more money.

To quote one item in the preliminary version of the Ranney report, the Chicago region spent half as much per capita in the past decade on transit capital projects as peer cities Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington: $1,039 per person here versus an average of $2,039. All those metropolitan areas have strong unified or regional governance.

* And Bill Cameron at WLS Radio quotes Ranney

“The problem is not just transit, it’s the entire transportation system in this region has come to something of a standstill and people are spending a whole lot of time tied up in traffic,” Ranney, Jr. said. “The cost of an average commuter is $1500 a year just from the delays involved. So what really needs to happen here is you need an alternative, a relief value for all that auto traffic. And the best way to do it, the most effective and cheap way to do it is getting transit into better shape and encouraging people to use it. That’s the answer.”

And the answer may include raising the RTA sales tax.

- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      


Dejua vu all over again

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* The Chicago Tribune editorial page published an op-ed by Gov. Pat Quinn

Feb. 24, 1997: “Illinois’ schoolchildren — and taxpayers — deserve something better than the state’s arcane, inadequate and inequitable system of paying for public education. It’s a method that relies far too heavily on property taxes, overburdening homeowners and creating huge inequities between rich and poor districts.”

April 19, 1997: “The legislature needs to establish a minimum amount guaranteed for each child to provide an adequate education. It should finance that foundation level by raising the state income tax, and then offset some of that increase with property tax relief. … What’s more, a modest increase in the state’s income tax would not be unduly burdensome, particularly when coupled with a drop in property taxes.”

Those aren’t my words. They’re the words of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, praising then-Gov. Jim Edgar’s thoughtful, responsible plan to change the way Illinois schools are funded by raising the income tax and reducing the property tax burden.

How right they were!

In fact, that is exactly what I set out to do last week when I proposed maintaining the current income tax rate — among the lowest in the nation — to properly fund public schools, while reducing the property tax burden by providing every Illinois homeowner with a guaranteed $500 annual refund. […]

The Chicago Tribune was right in 1997: It’s time to tackle this “arcane, inadequate system” where homeowners are overburdened and children are shortchanged.

* But is this really property tax relief? To me, anyway, it looks a whole lot like what President George W. Bush did during the 2008 crash

Tax rebates created by the law were paid to individual U.S. taxpayers during 2008. Most taxpayers below the income limit received a rebate of at least $300 per person ($600 for married couples filing jointly). Eligible taxpayers received, along with their individual payment, $300 per dependent child under the age of 17. The payment was equal to the payer’s net income tax liability, but could not exceed $600 (for a single person) or $1200 (married couple filing jointly).

* The Tribune didn’t like the idea back then

As Americans hold their breath over the economy, Bush elbowed Congress to pass a $150 billion stimulus package, with rebate checks and temporary tax cuts. Democrats agreed, with swift passage in the House.

It’s money drawn from thin air, amid crushing deficits.

* Quinn’s proposal (which was pushed by Speaker Madigan) is to cut a $500 check to every Illinois homeowner and then mail those checks before the general election.

The proposal does nothing to address the reasons behind our high property taxes. The money could’ve been used for schools, perhaps with a requirement that school districts not increase their budgets in exchange for the cash. There are no ideas here to address unfunded state mandates, which push up costs. There are no ideas to force schools to rein in administrative costs, etc., etc., etc..

There is zero “reform” in this plan. It’s just a check, paid for with money we as a state really don’t have.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


There. Fixed it.

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* Bruce Rauner and US Sen. Mark Kirk were interviewed yesterday on Rick Pearson’s increasingly important WGN radio talk show. One topic was Medicaid…

Rauner suggested the federal government wouldn’t pay for the bulk of the Medicaid expansion “for many more years.”

“When the federal government steps back to its traditional role of a being a 50-50 (payment) partner with states, Illinois will be facing a massive budget problem, a massive hole,” Rauner said.

That “when” should’ve been “if.” The feds currently pick up the entire cost, but the match isn’t ever scheduled to revert to a 50-50 split

Under the health-care law, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then the federal match is pared back to 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and then 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. It would stay at the 90 percent level unless the lawmakers change or repeal the legislation.

So it would take congressional action and a presidential signature to slash those reimbursement rates by that much.

* Sen. Kirk

“The basic political trick of Obamacare is to claim that Medicaid is a health insurance and we all know many, I would say most, doctors don’t take Medicaid,” Kirk said at a news conference in Greektown.

“The question is, is their family actually going to be covered? And the answer is no — that when you show up and find out the doctor says, ‘No I don’t take Medicaid because the…payments are too slow and the state of Illinois is too incompetent to run this,” Kirk said.

“Payments are too slow” probably should be “too low.” I asked the comptroller’s office for the current Medicaid payment cycle…

We have $635 million in Medicaid bills at the Comptroller’s Office, dating back to Jan. 21, 2014.

That does not include what is still at DHFS, which we estimate to be an additional $800 million (the agency should be able to give insight on how far back those go).

The governor’s office says all bills are submitted for payment within 30 days.

So, the bill backlog isn’t nearly as bad as it once was.

Also, Illinois has one of the least costly cost-per-patient ratios for all of Medicaid. Why? Our provider reimbursements are very low. So low, that docs are reluctant to participate.

* Back to Rauner

But when asked if the state should roll back the expanded eligibility rules, Rauner said more investigation of fraud needs to be conducted and that the state should move Medicaid further into a managed care system.

Translation: I’m trying to run as a neo-liberal. Quit asking questions like that, Rick.

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      


Problems with MJM’s millionaire’s tax

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* Eric Zorn

One thing — really the only thing — I don’t like about Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposed constitutional amendment to add a 3 percent state tax on all income over $1 million is that it’s not indexed for inflation.

“We thought about it,” said Steve Brown, Madigan’s spokesman. “But we decided this is a cleaner proposal, simpler to understand, easier to get through the legislature without arguing about whose inflation index we’re going to use and so on.”

Yes. And a clever if crude way to gain popular support for the introduction of needed progressivity in our income tax system.

But constitutional amendments are designed to last a long time, and $1 million 10 years from now will not be worth as much as $1 million today.

Think of it this way: If we’d put such an added tax into the revised state constitution when it was ratified in 1970, it would have targeted only people earning more than the equivalent of $6.1 million a year in 2014 dollars, according to the inflation calculator at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

That same calculator says that a person earning $165,000 a year in 1970 had the same purchasing power of a person earning $1 million a year today.

Agreed. It’s so difficult to change the Constitution that hard and fast numbers should never be used.

* But I’d add two more real problems with Madigan’s proposal:

1) The language leaves to the General Assembly the task of defining the word “income.” In Madigan’s proposal, the wording could be legislated to mean gross income, without any adjustments for expenses whatsoever. That would indeed leave some farmers and small business owners in danger of being hit with the surcharge, as Bruce Rauner and others have warned.

2) If voters approve the idea in November, the tax hike is retroactive to January 1st of this year. That’s an awful big first bite.

- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      


What you see is what you get

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

It turns out that the governor and the two Democratic legislative leaders met privately for at least several days to negotiate details of Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address.

The highly unusual move means that most, if not all aspects of Gov. Quinn’s budget proposals last week have already been agreed to by the Democrats who run the Illinois Statehouse.

House Speaker Michael Madigan tipped his hand after the governor’s address during Jak Tichenor’s invaluable “Illinois Lawmakers” Public Television program when he twice insisted that the governor’s property tax proposal was actually his idea.

The governor proposed eliminating the state’s property tax credit, which is currently worth five percent of property taxes paid, and replacing it with an automatic $500 tax refund.

That idea was apparently just one of Madigan’s demands in exchange for supporting the governor’s proposal to make the “temporary” income tax hike permanent, which was the centerpiece of Quinn’s speech.

Both Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton offered their full support for the governor’s income tax proposal on Tichenor’s show, with Madigan saying he planned to move a bill forward this spring and Cullerton saying he’d let Madigan go first to make sure there were enough votes, and then move ahead in his own chamber, which tends to be far more liberal than Madigan’s on stuff like this.

The Senate Republicans have claimed that the Democrats were in cahoots this entire spring legislative session to make it appear the budgetary outlook was so bad that the tax hike absolutely had to be made permanent. At least in one respect, they were right. The Democrats have apparently been working closely together for the first time in anyone’s memory. Budget addresses are rarely, if ever, negotiated this much in advance of the actual speech.

Quinn spent quite a bit of time during his address not so subtly attacking his Republican opponent Bruce Raune. Quinn ruled out ever supporting a tax on retirement income, saying he wouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of senior citizens. Rauner has said he’d be open to the idea. Quinn also said he would oppose any effort to tax small businesses that provide services. Rauner has said he’d be open to a service tax.

But Quinn also announced a five-year, $1.5 billion investment into his “Birth to Five” initiative, which he has claimed would focus on prenatal care, access to early learning opportunities and parental support.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund lavished praise on Quinn’s proposal after the speech, and warned of the “potentially devastating cuts that would be necessary without adequate revenue,” which seemed like an all but endorsement of the governor’s proposal to keep income taxes at their current levels.

Why is that so important? Well, Bruce Rauner’s wife Diana is the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s president.

So, while Rauner blasted the governor’s budget address as yet another “broken promise” to Illinoisans, said Quinn was “doubling down on his failed policies” by proposing to keep the tax hike permanent and asserted that he could “balance the budget without more tax increases,” Mrs. Rauner’s highly respected organization was saying just the opposite, that the budget proposal was a “vital investment in the state’s future at a critical juncture.”

Heh.

Then again, Diana Rauner’s more liberal approach could help soften her husband’s hardcore image

Before the speech, Speaker Madigan warned his House Democrats during a closed-door caucus meeting to “keep their powder dry” about the governor’s proposals. Madigan doesn’t want his members getting too far ahead of the game and making statements that they might have to take back when the velvet hammer comes down on their heads later in the session.

As a consequence, not many were eager to talk about the governor’s income tax hike proposal. It wasn’t difficult to see in their faces that they knew what was coming, however. They are all in for yet another extremely tough vote this year. Few want to take that vote, but most know they’ll probably have little to no choice in the matter.

One nervous member expressed the hope that the tax hike would simply be extended until the end of the fiscal year, then let Rauner deal with it if he’s elected. But that idea was quickly shot down by a top Madigan lieutenant.

“And vote for this again?” he asked, incredulously. They already took one vote, after an election during a late evening lame duck session that they’ve been hammered with constantly for over three years. No more of those, apparently.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      


Reader comments closed for the weekend

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Resigned state Rep. Keith Farnham’s replacement could be picked this weekend

Elgin businessman Kevin Echevarria is among candidates interviewed by Democratic officials for the seat left vacant after Keith Farnham resigned March 19, Kane County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Guethle confirmed Friday.

Another candidate is Elgin Councilwoman Anna Moeller. Kane County Board member Cristina Castro said she also talked to Democratic officials about the vacant House seat.

Anna Moeller is rumored to be the frontrunner, but things can change and we’ll see soon enough.

* I’ve been sick since I woke up Wednesday morning. I caught a cold or something that just won’t quit. That’s the hazard of working in a place which draws people from all corners of the state, I suppose. I’ve mostly tried to power through, but the weather certainly hasn’t helped.

And, man, it’s sure been a cold, cold winter

And the springtime take a long way around

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Durbin thanked Kirk for Oberweis statement

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* US Sen. Dick Durbin said he called Sen. Mark Kirk after Kirk said he would preserve his relationship with Durbin by not campaigning for Republican Senate nominee Jim Oberweis

“You know, a lot of people have an image of Washington as a place of two parties at war,” Durbin said. “Mark Kirk and I have really tried to find ways to work together. I think that’s good for the state. t’s really good for our country. We do have a friendship and a partnership doing a lot of things together. Oh, we’re gonna disagree on some votes, that’s for sure. But we really try to accentuate the positive. His statement this week was very nice. I called him and thanked him.”

Kirk’s office has since said he’ll be endorsing the entire Republican ticket, but no campaigning for Oberweis has been scheduled.

That’ll make some heads explode.

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


Making high-speed lemonade on the South Side

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Oy

The state is fighting to take back $2 million in grant money it awarded a company that promised to install ultra-high speed Internet access throughout the South Side.

Gigabit Squared, a Cincinnati-based company that last May touted the high-speed project in nine South Side communities, “has lied repeatedly” about its intentions and may have spent only $250,000 of the grant money for legitimate purposes, said David Roeder, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which issued the grant.

* The company has been a bust everywhere, and maybe far worse

Gigabit—a four-year-old, Cincinnatti-based startup that has announced plans to bring broadband to Topeka, KS, Chicago, Jackson, MS, and other cities—has not, to date, hooked up a single Internet connection anywhere

Kinda looks like grifting to me.

* South Siders were upset with Gigabit back in January…

Two community groups say they will jump-start a delayed plan to roll out ultra-high-speed wireless Internet access to as many as 100,000 residents and 11,000 students on Chicago’s South Side.

Pierre A. Clark, a community activist who heads the Woodlawn Broadband Expansion Partnership and the Southside Broadband Expansion Collaborative, said Sunday that the two groups have developed an alternative plan to deploy the high-speed wireless network first in Woodlawn and ultimately to the South Side, aimed at a mid-spring launch.

* And they’re making some progress

(A) South Side neighborhood group determined to get ultra-high speed Web access in Woodlawn has started work on a demonstration project aimed at starting up in late April. […]

Two of the community group’s engineers with Key Link Technologies, a south suburban engineering design firm, have started testing the Cisco access points at the Blue 1647 innovation center at 1647 S. Blue Island Ave. in Pilsen. The team hopes to put the first access point and network operations center in a business incubator started by Sunshine Enterprises and slated to open this summer at 501 E. 61st St.

Other supporters of the project include Globetrotters Engineering Corp., headquartered in Chicago, which does network mapping, and the New America Foundation, whose open-source software is designed to enable community-based and locally governed technology solutions.

The ultimate goal is to showcase Woodlawn as the “proof of concept” community in expanding to a Wi-Fi and fiber-optic network covering nine communities — Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and the rest of Woodlawn.

The project engineers hope to set up applications for telemedicine, online banking and financial literacy, and neighborhood safety and communications.

Hopefully, the state won’t step in and screw this one up as well.

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      


FTC: State’s Sunday car sales ban could lead to higher prices

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* State Sen. Jim Oberweis asked the Federal Trade Commission to comment on his legislation to repeal the Sunday car sales ban. After a vote by the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Competition, and Bureau of Economics responded

The existing Code provisions effectively ban the sale or long-term lease of both new and used automobiles (except private sales) on Sunday throughout Illinois. They therefore eliminate the possibility of competition among dealers to determine the hours of operation on Sunday that might be most responsive to consumer preferences and most beneficial to automobile dealers.

Further, because automobile dealers also provide repair services and sell replacement parts, the probable effects of mandatory Sunday closing laws extend beyond vehicle sales. The principal harms to competition from such laws likely include:

    (1) increased consumer search costs that impede comparison shopping;

    (2) a market that is unresponsive to consumer preferences for hours of operation; and

    (3) diminished competition among dealers for both automobile sales and a range of related services.

Collectively, these effects may lead to higher prices and reduced output for sales of new and used automobiles and related automobile services than would otherwise be the case.

* From Oberweis

“Since 1983, car dealerships in Illinois have been forbidden to be open on Sundays under penalty of a $1500 fine,” Oberweis said. “A majority of states allow automobile sales on Sundays, and car dealers in Illinois should be free to choose whether they wish to be open or closed on Sundays without government interference.” […]

“This analysis and recommendations from the FTC bolster the argument for repealing this ban. Senate Bill 2629 should not be bottled up in committee. It should be sent to the Senate for full, public legislative debate,” Oberweis said. “We need to rethink the weak argument that car dealers should be closed Sundays to give their employees a day off and keep costs down. Plenty of other employers and stores set their hours – with full consideration of what their competition is doing – without input from the government.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Kirk on Rauner and black votes

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* US Sen. Mark Kirk touted Bruce Rauner’s candidacy during an interview with Politico

The case for Quinn’s vulnerability is simple: He’s the leader of a dysfunctional state government that sent his two predecessors to federal prison. He raised state income taxes after saying he wouldn’t, and the state’s finances are still a mess. And by signing a pension-reform deal, Quinn alienated the public-sector unions that make up the Democratic base.

Just repeating that can work, Kirk said, provided Rauner doesn’t alienate the moderate suburban Chicago voters key to statewide GOP victory.

Kirk defined the recipe for Republicans to win in Illinois: “Be pro-choice and be a social moderate and be right up front with that. Use the pro-choice words that come out of your mouth, which for a lot of Republicans is hard to do.” […]

“He is a Republican in a Democratic sphere,” Kirk said. “If he ties his shoes wrong, the Democrats can always get a significant number of commentators to be offended at how he has tied his shoes. There’s a whole offended industry that will be ginned up to speak heavily against him in the coming campaign.”

* Sen. Kirk also said this

“There was a lot of feeling that with an African-American president, life on the south side of Chicago would be radically different,” Kirk said. “You hear that, immediately that it’s not different for me. What you’ll see is Rauner reaching into the African-American community pretty heavily.”

I, too, have heard several people on the South Side say this. But it’s one thing for them to say it, and it’s quite another for a white Republican to attack Obama directly.

* And speaking of which, Sneed had a story this week about black GOP ward committeemen who’ve never really done much of anything attacking black ministers for cozying up to Rauner

Sneed is told that the skirmish for fiscal attention resulted in a summit being called at 6 p.m. Monday at 2800 W. Madison by at least a dozen South and West Side committeemen — some of whom claim neglect and little funding under the leadership of Cook County GOP Party Chairman Aaron Del Mar. Del Mar is up for re-election on April 16, and the group is scheduled to hear from his opponent, 43rd Ward Committeeman Chris Cleveland. […]

[Larry Nelson, 24th Ward GOP committeeman] also is angry that ministers get more attention than committeemen.

“Don’t go to the ministers!” he told Sneed. […]

So who has more control over voting in the South and West Side wards?

“The ministers,” [Cook County GOP Party Chairman Aaron Del Mar] said. “Committeemen have small constituencies in their wards; the ministers have flocks all over the place. Both sides have to be happy.

There’s more than enough money to make everybody happy, I’m sure.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Question of the day

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Your one-word response to the budgetary/tax events of the week?

No cheating by making up words, please. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   68 Comments      


Fun with numbers

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* From the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute

Gov. Pat Quinn has spent about 10 percent of his time in Springfield during the past six months.

The Democrat governor found himself absent from the Illinois capitol on all but 19 days since August.

* But you have to read between the lines to get a real idea what the actual timeline is

The vast majority of the governor’s time has been spent in the Windy City, where he logged 148 days between Aug. 1 and Feb. 7 […]

Of the 19 days the governor did spend in Springfield during that same time period… [Emphasis added.]

* The beginning of August through the first week of February? You mean the totally dead time?

C’mon.

* The General Assembly was in session three days between January 1st and February 7th. The GA was in six days between August 1st and the end of December.

So Quinn was actually in town more than twice as many days as most legislators?

Who woulda thunk it?

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      


More trouble at DNR

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* This stuff has gotta stop. From the AP

The chief of state parks in Illinois must repay $7,200 of travel reimbursement he wasn’t entitled to after inquiries by The Associated Press, the latest in a series of missteps at the Department of Natural Resources since February.

Ronald House, the department’s director of the office of land management, was reimbursed nearly 80 times for commuting to or from work when state travel rules forbid such reimbursement, according to an AP review of state records.

It’s another blemish for Natural Resources officials, who initially defended the reimbursements as proper, after a series of recent public relations troubles: a deputy director who attended fishing tournaments while on sick leave and two mining regulators who accepted campaign contributions from a coal-mine operator.

Chris Young, spokesman for IDNR Director Mark Miller, initially said the director would not require House, who makes $75,000 annually, to repay the money because it was not his error. But Miller changed his mind this week and asked for reimbursement, ten days after the agency acknowledged the error.

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Some lesser-known, more nuanced reacts from two top Repubs

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka reacted to Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address this week

“I thought it was a pretty good speech, and I give the guy credit for taking on the really hard issues that have to be dealt with,’ Topinka said.

She said she’d like to see the tax increase phased out more gradually rather than have a large part of it disappear at once, which could trigger budget problems.

* State Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s reaction…

“I appreciate the fact that Governor Quinn is putting several options on the table for solving the state’s fiscal crisis. This is an approach I have long supported. I don’t want the income tax hike to stay, but it needs to be part of the discussion and not the only solution.

“I think state leaders should look to further reduce spending as I have in the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office. Through the years, I have been able to find ways to cut 10 percent from my budget. I also believe we need to focus on making Illinois more business friendly. ”

By the way, this is slightly off topic but Rutherford spokesperson Catie Sheehan, a former Downstate TV reporter, is leaving the office for a big job with the Mac Strategies Group on April 1st. That firm has made some big “gets” lately, including former Emanuel campaign manager Tom Bowen and former IRMA honcho Dave Vite.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


Living in denial

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Sun-Times

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios said the defeat of his daughter, Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios, to a self-styled reformer in the recent Democratic Statehouse primary isn’t a referendum on what critics call his old-school approach to politics.

“I don’t see it that way,” Berrios, the powerful chair of the county Democratic Party, told the Sun-Times on Thursday, when asked whether Toni Berrios’ landslide loss diminished his political power. […]

Ultimately, Joe Berrios said, Toni Berrios lost the election because of the changing racial makeup of the district — a demographic shift anchored around the hipster-centric neighborhood of Logan Square, which was once a Hispanic stronghold.

“The district completely changed. It went from 64 percent Hispanic down to about 52 percent Hispanic,” Berrios explained. “She worked hard. We did everything we could to win that election and it didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but, you know, you move on.”

I don’t think Berrios is as “evil” as the Sun-Times and others constantly make him out to be. But there’s no getting around the fact that his family name has been poisoned.

Yes, Will Guzzardi walked precincts non-stop for almost three years. And, yes, the district did change. But smart politicos change with the times and with the districts.

…Adding… From a commenter

I checked out the recent Democratic primary vote totals for unopposed candidates, like Joe Berrios, who were on the Chicago and Cook County ballots. Nobody had to vote for these candidates, so people were making conscious choices if they voted for some but not for others.

Joe Berrios only got 200,992 votes, far behind Jesse White’s 252,005, Lisa Madigan’s 240,674, and Dick Durbin’s 239,348. Even Mike Frerichs, a non-incumbent from Downstate, got 212,827 votes, almost 12,000 more than Berrios. That’s a lot of dedicated Democrats deciding to skip voting for Berrios. It doesn’t really have any immediate effect, as he still wins office for four more years. But it does show a fair amount of discontent.

- Posted by Rich Miller   49 Comments      


Quinn talks to the editorial boards

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Gov. Pat Quinn is making the rounds of editorial boards. Here’s some of what he said to the Sun-Times

He’d like to finance a new statewide construction program for roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects by closing corporate tax loopholes. He said he plans to present lawmakers with a list of tax laws for businesses “that I think are loopholes that don’t produce jobs for our state” in hopes of generating money for such projects.

“A lot of the corporations would much rather have us build infrastructure than anything else,” he added.

So, more tax hikes.

* More

Quinn said House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposal to impose a 3-percent surcharge on nearly 14,000 Illinoisans with annual incomes of $1 million or more to generate $1 billion for schools is “worth considering.”

But he stopped short of endorsing it, noting that if lawmakers approve the plan, it would bypass him and go before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. “Anything like that, the voters have to make the final call,” he said.

Courageous, indeed.

* From another Sun-Times article about the visit

Edgar wasn’t the only Republican whom Quinn called for advice about his budget plan. He said he also reached out to former GOP Gov. Jim Thompson.

“He said he would look at our ideas,” Quinn said. “The difference between me and him on this issue is Jim Thompson did things after the election, OK? ‘Ooop, ooop, we need money.’ OK? We’re doing this before the election.”

That’s very true. This may be the first time since the income tax was initialized under Gov. Richard Ogilvie that such a vote will be taken during the spring session. Ogilvie, by the way, ended up losing to Dan Walker.

* And from Crain’s

In a bit of a surprise, Mr. Quinn launched a financial attack on Mr. Rauner’s proposal to immediately stop workers from accruing further pension benefits and switch them to a defined-contribution system like a 401(k).

Even if Mr. Rauner succeeded, Illinois would still owe tens of billions of dollars to retirees for past service that the state is paying in part with retirement contributions withheld every month from the paychecks of current workers. If that revenue stream were diverted from the pension plan to a 401(k) plan, “There’s a tremendous transition cost,” Mr. Quinn said. Just one of the state’s five pension funds, the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois, estimates it would need $32 billion.

“What are you going to do, borrow $32 billion?” Mr. Quinn asked.

Indeed, Mr. Rauner has not released a detailed pension or financial plan; aides say they do not know when one will be available. Instead, he generally has suggested that the pension-reform plan adopted last year by lawmakers was inadequate and has not said whether he would raise other taxes to make up for allowing income-tax rates to drop back.

But another crucial part of the Rauner plan that Quinn didn’t mention is that Rauner would freeze all pensions forever. No more annual increases, ever. It may be heartless, but it does save a ton of dough.

* Watch highlights of the Crain’s intervew


- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      


Today’s number: $2 million

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* From an Illinois Auditor General’s report on the State Employees’ Retirement System

During our examination we noted that there were problems with the Modernization - Re-Engineering Project.

The project has been ongoing for five years, is only 20% complete, and over $2,000,000 has been expended by the State Retirement Systems collectively.

Due to staffing issues and the lack of a project management framework and the associated documentation, the project has not been fully implemented. In addition, formal documentation to provide detailed information on the current status and projected completion date is lacking.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


For a service tax before he was against it

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* Gov. Pat Quinn said during his budget address this week that he was adamantly against a service tax

And as we work together to forge a solution, let me be clear about what I won’t do.

I won’t institute any new, unfair taxes on everyday services that working people rely on. It hurts working families the most to tax basic services like going to the Laundromat…like taking your child to daycare…like visiting the barber shop…or taking your dog to the vet.

We should not create a new and unfair tax burden on everyday families and the small businesses that serve them.

Bruce Rauner has said he is open to such a tax, which is probably why the line was inserted into the speech.

* But Rauner’s campaign dug up a couple of articles from 2009 when Quinn backed just such a tax…

In 2009, Quinn Supported A Tax Hike Plan Passed By Senate Democrats That Would Have Applied The State Sales Tax To “Dozens Of Services.” “Democrats warned of severe cuts in education and health-care funding without a tax increase, but couldn’t muster the votes in the House for a two-year, 50 percent increase in the personal income tax. The House likewise balked at the prospect of considering a Senate-backed plan to raise the income tax 67 percent and apply the state sales tax to dozens of services. Republicans, the minority in both chambers, opposed all tax-increase plans and blamed Democrats for a new round of dysfunction made infamous during the tenure of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich. With lawmakers facing the need to revisit the budget talks in coming months, post-session voting requirements will give the GOP a seat at the bargaining table. Rookie Gov. Pat Quinn, who supported both failed tax plans, said he would call legislative leaders together Monday to work on putting together a better budget than one that is ‘hopelessly out of balance.’” (Rick Pearson and Ray Long, “Tax Hike Defeated; Budget Gap Remains,” Chicago Tribune, 6/1/09)

Quinn Testified In Favor Of The Senate Tax Hike Plan Before An Illinois House Committee. “The Senate Democrats’ 2009 income tax increase bill also included a provision extending the state’s sales tax to services, such as haircuts, that are not taxed now. Quinn testified for the bill before a House committee.” (Chris Wetterich, “Quinn, Brady Far Apart On Taxes,” The State Journal-Register, 10/3/10)

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Edgar supports keeping tax hike permanent, but still has criticisms

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* From Peoria Public Radio

Former Governor Jim Edgar says spending cuts triggered by the scheduled reduction in the state income tax rate would make it even harder to catch up on unpaid back bills and fund education. So the Republican Edgar says Governor Pat Quinn’s budget proposal to make the state income tax hike permanent is a good idea. But Edgar says it would have been better if the income tax increase had been paired with cuts and controls on spending in the first place.

“You don’t raise revenue or come up with a consistent revenue source and not do the tax cutting or controls that you need to do. You ought to do them all at the same time. Think that was a mistake they made three years ago, whenever they passed this temporary tax. They didn’t really make any spending cuts or put any effective spending controls in. Would have been helpful,” says Edgar. […]

As for the $500 property tax credit that Governor Quinn is proposing, Edgar says it’s useful if it helps get Quinn’s income tax rate extension passed. But he says it’s NOT like his proposal to cut school property taxes through a so-called “education tax swap” back in the 1990s.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      


AFP running cable ads against Madigan’s millionaire’s tax

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* From an Americans for Prosperity Illinois press release…

AFP-Illinois is launching a new ad aimed at educating the public about the perils of Speaker Madigan’s so-called “millionaire tax”.

“This politically-motivated proposal seeks to cynically win votes rather than craft a serious fiscal policy that will help the Illinois economy recover from years of woeful mismanagement and cronyism,” said AFP-Illinois State Director David From.

The ad campaign targets specific members of the General Assembly. It highlights Illinois’ continued economic crisis and high unemployment and encourages their constituents to contact them and express their opposition to the job-killing tax.

“It is no accident that the Speaker made this proposal in advance of the Governor Quinn saying he wants to make his record setting temporary tax increase on all Illinoisans permanent,” said From. “This is the classic bait-and-switch designed to distract voters from the fact that the biggest tax hike being pushed through is going to land squarely on the backs of working families.”

The advertisements are being run online and on cable television with an approximately $120,000 buy funded by AFP-Illinois donors within the state. The ads will run for approximately one week and are part of AFP-Illinois’ effort to educate voters about the highly politicized anti-growth agenda being pushing in the Spring legislative session.

As we’ve already discussed, the group is already running ads against the progressive tax.

* This is the ad targeting Democratic Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo). Rate it

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


The ace in the hole

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* My Crain’s Chicago Business column

Timid creatures by nature, state legislators often have to be cajoled, begged and even outright threatened to cast tough votes.

It took the Illinois General Assembly years to finally vote in December for a politically dangerous pension reform bill. The “temporary” income tax hike passed in 2011 only because some lame-duck legislators who had lost their elections (after campaigning against a tax hike) decided to play ball, and coincidentally got sweet state jobs.

That vote, which raised the personal income tax rate to 5 percent from 3 percent, was safely held weeks after an election. The hike is scheduled to expire Jan. 1, with the tax rate falling to 3.75 percent. But now, House Speaker Michael Madigan says he’d like to pass a bill to make the tax hike permanent by the end of the spring session, about five months before the Nov. 4 general election.

Making the tax hike permanent is probably very unpopular. A February survey found that 60 percent of Illinois residents want the tax hike to expire, while a mere 26.5 percent favor keeping it, according to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

Not to mention that the person taking the lead on making the tax hike permanent is Gov. Pat Quinn, who barely won his 2010 election.

Mr. Quinn forcefully argued during his annual budget address March 26 that keeping the tax hike in place would preserve much-needed state programs like education funding and prevent “draconian” budget cuts.

His Republican opponent has been ripping him all week. Bruce Rauner says Mr. Quinn in 2010 promised to oppose any tax increase above one percentage point and then signed a hike double that amount. Now he wants to make it permanent.

Mr. Quinn’s popularity among legislators is almost nonexistent; his political future is in doubt. So why follow him off a political cliff?

Click here for the rest.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      


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