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Moody’s: “Illinois is in decent shape” but there’s trouble ahead

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Moody’s summary as prepared for COGFA

Illinois is in decent shape for a state facing a slowdown in manufacturing, poor agricultural conditions, and numerous demographic and fiscal problems. The economy is doing better than it has in some time. Several private-sector industries are strengthening, and greater fiscal certainty and growth in tax revenues have allowed the public sector to recoup some jobs. After declining for most of the year, the unemployment rate dipped to an all-time low of 3.7% in December despite a stable labor force. The tight labor market coupled with a better jobs mix is helping to preserve big gains in average hourly earnings.

Most economic gauges point to a performance gap with the Midwest and the U.S. The comprehensive count of jobs from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages indicates nonfarm employment growth over the past year was weaker than suggested in the survey estimates. Income growth in key industries such as healthcare, professional/business services and manufacturing was slower than average in 2019. The U.S. trade war with China has taken a toll on the industrial and agricultural parts of the state.

Falling mortgage rates and relatively high affordability have barely offset the effects of adverse changes to the federal tax code and weak population trends. Multifamily housing has propelled almost all the growth in residential construction during the current business cycle. Single family house prices have climbed just 1.5% over the last year, the smallest gain in the Midwest and half the national increase. Home sales are decreasing, and construction remains sluggish.

An array of factors that juiced industrial production and factory job growth in 2018 have all but played out, including federal fiscal stimulus, customers’ rush to stock up before tariffs took effect, and increased demand for oil extraction equipment. Illinois can keep advancing without a positive contribution from manufacturing, but the rest of the economy will have to do its part. Illinois will be hard-pressed to match the U.S. pace of growth in any industry, but the state will lean increasingly on healthcare and professional/business services to power job and income gains. Transportation/warehousing, a vanguard of job growth during this expansion, will expand more slowly in coming years. Consumer industries such as retail and leisure/hospitality will pitch in a bit less as the shrinking population weighs on demand. Population loss and troubled state finances will limit Illinois’ long-term potential.

* Hannah Meisel

The report warns lawmakers not to count on another “April surprise” — a $1.5 billion income tax windfall that allowed Pritzker to drop a plan to defer $800 million in pension payments and impose a bevy of new taxes last year. […]

Business leaders and conservatives frequently lament that the cost of doing business in Illinois is too high. But Moody’s said Illinois’ outlook is “tarnished primarily by its budget woes and weak population trends, not its high costs relative to nearby states.”

“Business costs in the state are lower than they are nationally and have trended downward for the past few decades,” according to the report. “Overall costs are similar to those in Ohio, lower than those in Michigan and Wisconsin, but higher than those in neighboring Indiana and Iowa.”

Moody’s analysis found that while businesses in Illinois tend to pay less in taxes and utilities, “labor is on the expensive side” in part because of the “still-high presence of unions.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Tom Kacich at the Champaign News-Gazette answers reader letters every week

“With Blago out of the slammer and (former Congressman) Aaron Schock somehow avoiding prison, what’s the updated number of Illinois politicians in prison? And is this the first time in awhile that at least one of our guvs hasn’t been incarcerated?”

Tom’s response

This is the first time since Nov. 6, 2007, that a former Illinois governor wasn’t in federal prison.

As far as the number of Illinois politicians in prison, it appears to be just one: former Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran, who was sentenced to a year in prison last June and is due to be released June 29.

But three current or former state legislators are under indictment — Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park, former Sen. Marty Sandoval of Chicago, and state Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago. All three are Democrats.

Sandoval pleaded guilty last month.

Also, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke was indicted last May, has remained in office and has professed innocence.

* The Question: Do you think we’ll make it to June 29th and actually live to see a time period when no Illinois politicians are currently behind bars? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Fundraiser list; 3rd House District update

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

Today’s quotable

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Setup

Illinois’ [red flag law] works like this: A family or household member can bring a complaint to a local court, alleging that a person has threatened to use his or her firearm illegally. If the court is convinced of a potential danger, it orders the person to appear in court and their weapons to be seized by the state, generally for six months up to a year, when the weapons then must be returned to the owner.

A person’s Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card can also be revoked in Illinois, if they threaten or commit serious physical violence. In fact, there’s a mandatory-reporting requirement for law enforcement officials, school administrators, and physicians, who must make a report to authorities, within 24 hours of learning of any kind of threat.

Illinois’ law can also be used to keep firearms away from someone who does not yet possess them

* Mary Miller, Republican candidate in the 15th Congressional District

I oppose red flag laws, or any laws that take away our God-given constitutional rights without due process. When my children were growing up, we read several biographies of people that lived in Nazi Germany or communist Russia. And they were controlled by fear. And one of the things the government did is they set up a system where the citizens could tattle on each other. And I’m highly opposed to anything that would promote that.

So, Crime Stoppers is bad?

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      

Team IL For Mike Is Growing

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

As Mike climbs in the polls our team in Illinois continues to grow. Today, we are proud to unveil a new slate of state, county, and local endorsements.

State Representative Andre Thapedi, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton, Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller, 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, and 24th Ward Alderman Scott Jr. endorsed Mike Bloomberg for president, pledging to support Mike’s national campaign to defeat Donald Trump.

Commissioner Miller and Clerk Yarbrough were also named Mike Bloomberg 2020 Illinois State Co-Chairs. The new endorsers were joined by Mike Bloomberg 2020 National Co-Chair Congressman Bobby Rush.

- Posted by Advertising Department   Comments Off      

Noted fantasist responds to Pritzker

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* From the governor’s budget address

One of Illinois’ most intractable problems is the underfunding of our pension systems.

We must keep our promises to the retirees who earned their pension benefits and forge a realistic path forward to meet those obligations.

The fantasy of a constitutional amendment to cut retirees’ benefits is just that – a fantasy. The idea that all of this can be fixed with a single silver bullet ignores the protracted legal battle that will ultimately run headlong into the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. You will spend years in that protracted legal battle, and when you’re done, you will have simply kicked the can down the road, made another broken promise to taxpayers, and left them with higher tax bills.
This is not a political football. This is a financial issue that is complex and requires consistency and persistence to manage, with the goal of paying the pensions that are owed.

* David Greising with the BGA responds

The contracts clause argument has gotten some traction lately, but it’s not as black and white as Pritzker makes it sound. Respected constitutional scholars say a challenge based on the contracts clause could be defeated. There is U.S. Supreme Court precedent stating contract rights can be weighed against other factors, such as the duty of states to exercise police powers, or to protect the health of residents.

Um, David, first you’ll have to find 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate to get it on the ballot. Both of those chambers have pro-union Democratic super-majorities. Face it, man, you’re living in a fantasy world. And it’s not even guaranteed to pass at the ballot box even if it somehow makes it that far. The unions would spend every dime they have and then some and deploy tens of thousands of precinct workers to oppose it. You can’t just snap your fingers and make this all happen.

* More Greising

A pension amendment need not necessarily go to the Supreme Court, either. A negotiated solution with labor unions could lead to needed changes that address Illinois’ pension problems that are fair to all parties. “These benefits are all gained through collective bargaining, so they should be able to be modified through collective bargaining,” said James Spiotto, managing director of Chapman Strategic Advisors, who has written extensively on pension reform.


Um, public pension benefits cannot be gained or lost as part of the collective bargaining process, David. They must be passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by a governor. And the Illinois Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that public pension benefits are an individual right, not a collective right. Unions cannot legally negotiate away their members’ pension benefits in this state.

Sheesh. This is just basic 101 stuff, dude.

And how much of a fantasist do you have to be to conjure some alternate version of Illinois where AFSCME Council 31, the IFT, the CTU, the IEA, AFFI, the FOP and SEIU all agree to put a constitutional amendment like this on the ballot and pledge not to sue if it passes? I mean, have you ever met Roberta Lynch or Jesse Sharkey? They ain’t no Arizona-style union leaders. And, in any case, it only takes one person to sue.

This is all a complete, utter fantasy unless the citizenry drastically changes the membership of the General Assembly and elects a governor willing to take up the cause and public union members elect completely different leaders. Or perhaps if a global financial meltdown of a magnitude far greater than 2008-09 (which Illinois survived) totally - and I do mean totally - tanks the budget.

- Posted by Rich Miller   54 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 - Urlacher resigns from Civil Service Commission *** Corruption roundup

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Daily Herald

Casey Urlacher, the mayor of North suburban Mettawa and brother of Chicago Bears icon Brian Urlacher, is charged along with nine others in connection with an illegal offshore sports gambling ring, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

In an indictment alleging one count of participating in the gambling conspiracy and one count of conducting an illegal gambling business, prosecutors say Casey Urlacher worked as an agent for the “illegal gambling business” and recruited gamblers and other sub-agents to the operation.

Prosecutors allege those involved placed bets through a Costa Rican-based gambling platform identified only as “Company A.” The operation began sometime in 2016, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Urlacher was in contact with the group’s ringleader, 54-year-old Vincent Delgiudice of Orland Park, also known as “Uncle Mick,” in December 2018 about setting up an account for a new gambler with a maximum bet of $500 and maximum weekly limit of $3,000.

The indictment is here.

* Sun-Times

Casey Urlacher denied any knowledge of the gambling investigation when reached Thursday by the Chicago Sun-Times, and he said he didn’t know any bookie named DelGiudice. “I don’t know nothing about it,” Urlacher said. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

But the indictment alleges otherwise. It says Urlacher asked Vincent DelGiudice to create a log-in and password for a new gambler on the website on Dec. 16, 2018. DelGiudice allegedly did so, setting a $500 maximum bet, a $3,000 maximum wager for the week and a $1,000 settle-up figure.

On Dec. 21, 2018, Urlacher allegedly gave an envelope filled with gambling debts owed to DelGiudice to Prassas. That same day, Prassas allegedly passed an envelope filled with Urlacher’s gambling debts on to DelGiudice with the remark, “This is Casey’s.”

Urlacher also allegedly asked DelGiudice by phone on Dec. 26, 2018, to shut down a gambler’s account until the gambler paid a debt. That same day, after the gambler wired $3,000 to Urlacher, Urlacher allegedly texted DelGiudice and told him to turn the gambler’s account back on.

Urlacher lost a Republican primary for the Illinois Senate to Dan McConchie in 2016. I’m guessing this upcoming fundraiser will be at least slightly altered…

McLaughlin is running unopposed for retiring GOP Rep. Dave McSweeney’s seat.

…Adding… Urlacher was appointed to the Illinois Civil Service Commission by Gov. Pat Quinn and is still an active member. Oops.

*** UPDATE *** The governor’s office says Urlacher resigned from the commission this morning.

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* In other news

When an FBI raid targeted his company’s county commissioner last year, southwest suburban factory owner Zach Mottl was “ecstatic.”

“I felt like the house fell on the wicked witch,” Mottl said. “That’s what I felt like. And we were free. The munchkins were free.”

Mottl said he felt a target of the raid — Democratic Cook County Commissioner and village of McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski — had pressured him into making a campaign contribution at the same time his company was seeking Tobolski’s backing for a critical property tax break.

And Mottl provided the Better Government Association and WBEZ with an exchange of emails that detail his story.

* And

A son-in-law of former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is being sued by the Chicago Public Schools, which says he failed to pay “no less than” $366,000 under deals that allowed his company to park cars at 10 elementary schools, mostly for baseball fans going to Cubs games last year.

According to the lawsuit filed in Cook County circuit court, James T. Weiss and his parking business stopped paying CPS last April for the right to park cars at three schools closest to Wrigley Field — but kept charging customers to park there anyway. […]

On Nov. 19, Weiss told CPS his company would no longer be parking cars on school property. That was in a phone call shortly after the Chicago Tribune reported his offices were raided as part of the federal investigation of now-former state Rep Luis Arroyo. Arroyo has since been charged in a federal bribery case involving unregulated video gambling machines.

Weiss — who also owns Collage LLC, which operates unregulated video terminals known as sweepstakes machines — has been lobbying state and city officials to legalize the machines.

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      

Vaccinate your kids!

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* I told subscribers about this bill the other day and the huge number of hysterical opposition phonecalls Sen. Steans’ offices are receiving

Under newly introduced state legislation, parents in Illinois would no longer be able to claim religion as a reason to refuse vaccinations for their children — a move backed by public health officials as a way to stave off outbreaks of diseases once thought to be eradicated, and shunned by groups vocal about their objections to vaccines.

The bill introduced last week would also limit the reasons allowed for a medical exemption for the immunizations required to enter all Illinois schools, and would allow students as young as 14 to obtain a vaccine without the consent of their parents. If passed, Illinois would become the sixth state to remove religious exemptions, effectively making only certain medical conditions or reactions a way for students in Illinois schools to avoid vaccination. […]

In 2016, the state tightened the rules surrounding religious exemptions, requiring that health care providers sign off and verify that they had provided vaccine education. Despite that, religious exemptions have increased for several vaccines, according to state records. Exemptions based solely on personal or philosophical beliefs are not allowed in Illinois.

Medical experts say high vaccination rates — usually 95% or more, depending on the disease — are necessary to protect those who cannot be vaccinated due to autoimmune disorders or other medical reasons. But distrust in vaccines has caused some Americans to refuse vaccines for their children despite wide availability. This, in part, is blamed for the reemergence of some diseases like measles, according to the World Health Organization, which considers vaccine hesitancy a global health threat.

The bill is here.

* CBS News

The legislation has the backing of the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to spokeswoman Melaney Arnold, the Chicago Tribune reports. The department hopes the bill will increase vaccination rates in the Prairie State “and reduce the risk of severe illness among our most vulnerable populations,” according to the outlet.

Opponents of the bill vehemently disagree with the proposed changes. The Illinois Vaccine Awareness Coalition, a group which regularly advocates against the use of vaccines, posted a call to oppose the bill on its website.

“Please WITHDRAW SB3668 – this bill is unnecessary and discriminatory,” the group wrote as an example of what to say to the bill’s sponsor. “Vaccine exemptions are not the problem, schools failing to collect and submit vaccine record paperwork is the problem…Please focus on the serious record keeping issue and don’t remove religious and parental rights based on misrepresented immunization levels.”

Most of the replies to Sen. Steans’ Facebook post are just way over the top. They’re a clear demonstration of why this policy is needed. People are endangering others’ lives.

* More

According to the synopsis of the bill, the proposed legislation would remove all language from state law that would let children attend school without being vaccinated because of religious reasons.

According to state immunization data, about 3% of all Illinois students are not vaccinated against major diseases from measles and mumps to polio and chicken pox.

It amounts to about 64,000 students statewide. Of those, about 18,000 are listed as noncompliant due to religious exemptions. About 2,300 are not vaccinated because of medical reasons. Less than 5,000 students are on approved alternate schedules.

As we’ve discussed before, some schools have huge non-compliance rates.

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

CTBA breaks with Pritzker over education funding proposal

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* From the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability…

Governor Pritzker’s approach to the state budget stands in stark contrast to that of Governor Rauner. While both emphasized the need for fiscal responsibility, Governor Pritzker is actually supporting his rhetoric about fiscal responsibility with actions. For instance, Illinois has had a “structural deficit” in its General Fund for decades. That just means revenue growth under current tax policy is insufficient on a year-to-year basis to continue funding the same level of public services, adjusting solely for inflation and assuming no changes in law. This structural deficit, coupled with the fact that Illinois has traditionally underfunded core services like education, healthcare, public safety, and social services, are some of the key fiscal realities that motivated Governor Pritzker to support raising an estimated $3.6 billion in new revenue through implementation of a graduated-rate income tax - a policy initiative that has the corollary benefit of creating more fairness in Illinois taxation - by having income tax rates comport with ability to pay.

However, as Governor Pritzker recognized in his budget address, that new revenue will only be realized if this coming November, voters ratify the amendment to the state’s constitution needed to permit a graduated rate income tax. And even if voters ratify this amendment, the state won’t implement the new, fair, graduated-rate structure until halfway through upcoming FY 2021 - meaning it will only generate $1.4 billion in new revenue during FY 2021, growing to $3.6 billion annually thereafter.

Which is why Governor Pritzker took the fiscally prudent step of proposing two separate General Fund budgets for FY 2021, forcing the state to live within its fiscal means, whether or not the amendment passes. The Governor’s “recommended” budget identifies appropriations for core services that would be made, if the amendment to the constitution permitting a graduated rate income tax is ratified. During his budget address, Governor Pritzker emphasized he will devote a portion of the new revenue a graduated rate income tax will generate to shoring up Illinois’ questionable fiscal condition, rather than to enhanced spending on services. He does this by devoting $100 million to deficit reduction, investing $50 million to build-back the state’s rainy-day fund, and contributing $100 million more to the state’s five public employee pension systems than is required under current law.

The Governor also proposed a far more stringent “base budget,” built upon the assumption the Fair Tax amendment does not pass, and hence the state has $1.4 billion less in revenue to spend in FY 2021. Because of that, and in the name of being fiscally responsible, Governor Pritzker makes numerous “hard choices” (his words) to invest less than what the Governor believes is needed to fund core services like education, healthcare and public safety. He accomplishes this by “reserving” a portion of the target appropriations made in his recommended budget proposal, that ultimately would not be made if the amendment permitting a graduated-rate income tax does not become law.

CTBA agrees with Governor Pritzker’s focus on being fiscally responsible, and applauds his efforts to reduce the accumulated deficit, build the rainy-day fund and pre-pay some of the significant debt owed to the pension systems. Indeed, any effort to prepay what’s owed to the pension systems to flatten the unaffordably back-loaded repayment schedule his administration inherited that covers the existing pension debt is sound fiscal policy. We at CTBA think he should go much further and have a full reamortization plan (click here for more info) to deal with this problem once and for all, but laud the fact that he is focusing on the issue in a rational way.

However, CTBA disagrees with his proposal to reserve up to $150 million of the $300-$350 million in Evidence-Based Funding appropriated for FY 2021. Effectively, that means K-12 funding under the base budget proposed by the Governor for FY 2021 would [grow] by only $200 million over FY 2020 levels. If that happens it would be the first time K-12 funding did not grow by the minimum amount of $300 million targeted in statute, since the Evidence Based Funding Formula was enacted in FY 2018. It also means that Evidence Based Funding for FY 2021 would barely keep pace with inflation, effectively providing little true new money for school districts to invest in providing those evidence-based practices shown to enhance student achievement over time. That’s problematic, given that according to the Illinois State Board of Education, as it stands today, overall K-12 funding is some $7 billion less than what the evidence indicates is needed for all students to receive an adequately funded education. Barely keeping pace with inflation does nothing to close that material shortfall. And by failing to reduce that funding gap in any meaningful way, the $200 million appropriation for Evidence Based Funding in the “base” budget proposal increases the pressure on local property taxes to fund schools. Considering that Illinois is already the state that is most reliant on property taxes to fund K-12 education in America, it would be far better fiscal - and education funding policy - for the state to continue down the path of boosting the state investment in K-12, thereby taking pressure off of property taxes. An alternative to a reduction in K-12 funding that still allows the state of Illinois to live within its means would be withholding a portion of the $500 million appropriated for research facility investments for the University of Illinois, as proposed by Representative Will Davis. This would allow Illinois to continue making the necessary investment in K-12 education vital for students to succeed at the college level.

I generally concur with much of the above.

The governor essentially presented a maintenance budget, dressed up with some extra funding promises if the voters approve a constitutional amendment on taxation this November. I have no real problem with that.

But a governor’s budget is essentially his list of priorities. He told reporters yesterday that education was his top priority. His official budget proposal plainly does not reflect that claim.

* And the Republicans are eagerly putting the wood to him

Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said school districts are required by law to submit their budgets to the state by September. However, under Pritzker’s budget plan, they won’t know how much state assistance they can expect until months after that deadline.

“It will force their budgeting process to make difficult decisions without the certainty of knowing what the state will be sending to them at the end of the year,” Bourne said. “It means local school districts will be making decisions on hiring, on resources for their classrooms before we know the outcome of the governor’s political agenda.”

But they can only go so far before their logic falls apart. Governor’s office response

“Governor Pritzker is a tireless and staunch advocate for education funding, which is why he fought to find a way to actually pay for substantial increases for our schools and why he strongly supports the fair tax,” Bittner said. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Republicans to demand increased spending and refuse to pay for it. The governor’s door is always open to hear ideas from both sides of the aisle on addressing our challenges.”

* Related…

* Gov. Pritzker’s budget address concerns some Illinois school administrators: Pritzker’s contingency on the graduated income tax is not ideal for Vienna Superintendent Joshua Stafford. “We can’t have political contingencies tied to education of our children of Illinois. It’s impossible for a school district to plan for next school year and have contingencies tied to our funding,” he said.

* Budget bully? GOP accuses Pritzker of holding ‘funding to our schools hostage’ to income tax plan

* House Republicans disagree with Gov. Pritzker’s school funding proposal: “When I was listening to the Governor’s speech and he mentioned this, I couldn’t help but think of the old line - it’s a nice funding formula you got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it,” Rep. Steven Reick (R-Woodstock) said.

* Pritzker stumps for higher education budget at UIC

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

Court stops Chicago from restricting free speech in Millennium Park

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Press release…

In a win for the First Amendment right to circulate petitions, a federal judge has struck down the City of Chicago’s restrictive rules that did not allow First Amendment activities in Millennium Park, including circulating referendum petitions and outdoor evangelizing. The case stemmed in part from petition passers being harassed by security while collecting signatures for a referendum to term limit the Mayor of Chicago between 2016 and 2018.

Judge John Robert Blakey of the Northern District of Illinois found that Millennium Park’s rules unconstitutionally limit the free-speech rights of petition passers and those wishing to evangelize and distribute religious literature. The Court further found that the rules were unconstitutionally vague and were being enforced arbitrarily and “in a discriminatory manner,” including based on the identity of the speaker.

In his opinion, Judge Blakey stated that if the City of Chicago’s arguments in favor of the rules were to stand, “any park with a statue could lose its First Amendment protections.” The judge wrote, “The law precludes this absurd result.”

Attorneys Pat Quinn, former Governor of Illinois, and Ed Mullen represented petition passers Elizabeth Norden, Tyler Brumfield, Doris Davenport, and William Morgan in the case of Swart et al v. City of Chicago. They joined students from Wheaton College, represented by the firm Mauck & Baker, who were told they could not evangelize and hand out religious literature in Millennium Park.

Norden, Brumfield, Davenport, and Morgan testified that they were harassed and intimidated by Millennium Park personnel on the Great Lawn of the park, asked to leave the park, and threatened with arrest while circulating petitions for a term limit referendum on Chicago’s mayor.

The ruling is here

This Court’s analysis of the other preliminary injunction factors requires little discussion. In First Amendment cases, the likelihood of success is dispositive because the loss of First Amendment freedoms—even for minimal periods of time— constitutes an irreparable injury, and protecting First Amendment freedoms always serves the public interest.

A status hearing has been set for March 4th.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

Blagojevich benefits from a process he spurned as governor

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Kim Bellware at the Washington Post

As a newly minted member of the Illinois General Assembly in 2007, Rep. La Shawn Ford of Chicago remembers his first bill: a proposal to eliminate from state job applications the question asking if someone had ever been convicted of a nonviolent crime. Then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich (D) vetoed it.

The veto was one of the many choices Blagojevich’s critics now cite as part of his dismal track record on criminal-justice reform while governor, an office from which he was later impeached and removed and ultimately convicted of leveraging for financial gain in a 2009 political corruption trial that led to his 14-year prison sentence. Blagojevich’s history on criminal justice is especially striking now that he’s received the mercy he rarely showed others as the state’s top executive — a commutation Tuesday from President Trump. […]

According to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, Blagojevich took action on fewer than 25 percent of clemency petitions filed while he was governor, NBC Chicago reported in 2016 — 13 years after the backlog began. A group of Illinoisans with felony records went as far as suing Blagojevich over his inaction on clemency requests. […]

“There were ‘actual innocence’ petitions that some of our clients needed to get compensation for all the years they wrongfully spent in prison, and even those were stalled,” Drizin said. It got so bad that state lawmakers, still during Blagojevich’s tenure, created a workaround process for granting the ultimate forms of expungement because the governor’s office was so ineffective.

* Jennifer Soble, the executive director of the Illinois Prison Project

Illinois has done away with many of the mechanisms that other states rely on to make sure that people who can be safely returned to the community do not languish in prison.

Our state abolished parole in 1978. Eleven years later, Illinois made it extraordinarily difficult, and often impossible, for people in prison to get their sentences reduced through good behavior.

Illinois has no mechanism for releasing the terminally ill or the medically incapacitated. Our state has rendered rehabilitation, personal growth and mercy irrelevant.

In this landscape of despair, executive commutation of a sentence has remained a glimmering hope for thousands upon thousands of people who simply should not be in prison.

We are talking about people like Basil Powell, a 69-year-old man who has served more than 36 years of a natural life sentence for his role as the getaway driver in gas station robberies in which no one was hurt. He was sentenced to die in prison even though he was unarmed during the robberies, even though his armed codefendant went home after six years, and even though he has a wife, a daughter and four grandchildren at home.

Blagojevich, who yesterday was the beneficiary of executive grace, ignored the petition of Basil Powell, just as he ignored thousands upon thousands of other equally reasonable and compelling requests for relief.

* Meanwhile, he has to find a job

Trump’s order specifically noted the president was not commuting the two-year period of supervised release imposed by U.S. Judge James Zagel. Under the conditions, Blagojevich has to meet with probation regularly, cannot leave the jurisdiction without permission and must seek employment.

If he has trouble finding a job, Blagojevich must do at least 20 hours a week of community service until he finds one, with a maximum 200 hours served.

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      

How Madigan helped take care of ComEd/Exelon while the company took care of his people

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* WBEZ FOIA’d emails between Mike McClain and the House Speaker’s office, including former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes, and eventually received 1,200 pages of documents. Excerpt from the station’s team coverage

Madigan aides not only discussed ComEd jobs for loyalists. The emails show the speaker and his top staffers were taking good care of the electric company in Springfield.

In the spring of 2014, Madigan took the lead on a resolution on behalf of Exelon that warned of “dire consequences” if the company’s money-losing nuclear power plants were to shut down.

Emails between Madigan’s top advisers and McClain show how they worked in tandem to silence dissent on the pro-bailout resolution by hand-picking the lawmakers who would get to vote on it in a legislative committee.

Ahead of the vote, Exelon had identified at least six Democratic members of the committee who were likely to vote against the company’s interests. In response, Will Cousineau, a high-ranking member of the speaker’s staff, suggested a plan to remove opponents from the committee for this one vote.

The next day the opponents Exelon had identified were substituted from the committee – and the resolution passed 16 to 0. Cousineau’s tactic delighted McClain so much, he wrote him, “I love you.”

Two years after that resolution was unanimously approved by the House Environment Committee, Exelon won legislative approval for a multi-billion-dollar ratepayer bailout.

Cousineau later left Madigan’s staff and became a lobbyist. His clients included ComEd.

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      

Sen. Landek’s town hit with federal subpoena on Nice, Madigan, Mapes, McClain and Kevin Quinn

Friday, Feb 21, 2020


A clout-heavy southwest suburb has received a subpoena from federal investigators seeking documents about powerful Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party boss Michael Madigan, according to records obtained by WBEZ.

The village of Bridgeview – whose mayor, Steve Landek, is a Democratic state senator and longtime Madigan ally – was served with the grand jury subpoena on Friday, the records show.

The feds are asking for all of Bridgeview’s correspondences, including internal emails, that involve Madigan and four men who have close ties to the speaker […]

The feds also are demanding that Bridgeview officials turn over “all records related to” Raymond Nice, another veteran campaign worker in Madigan’s Southwest Side ward organization.

Documents obtained by WBEZ show Bridgeview paid Nice’s company $1,000 a month for “business and consulting services.”

Nice also had a $1,000-a-month deal as a “special consultant” for another southwest suburb, Merrionette Park – which received a virtually identical federal subpoena to the one Bridgeview got, on the same day Bridgeview officials were served. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the subpoena of Merrionette Park on Wednesday.

* Tribune

Odelson, the Merrionette Park village lawyer, said the federal government inquiry has “zero” to do with the two mayors, and is focused on Nice and his business.

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      

Open thread

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Please keep it Illinois-centric and be nice to each other. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

The Chronic Disease Coalition Supports The Illinois Kidney Care Alliance

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

Organizations from across the state created the Illinois Kidney Care Alliance (IKCA) to highlight the needs of people with kidney disease. As a coalition of health advocates and professionals, community and patient groups, providers, and businesses, we focus on raising awareness about people who suffer from End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), a condition also known as kidney failure.

IKCA is proud to have The Chronic Disease Coalition (CDC) as a founding member of our coalition. CDC is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of chronic disease patients against discrimination. Founded in 2015, CDC is comprised of patients, family members, health care providers, advocacy groups, medical professionals and others who care about the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic diseases. It works to advocate for people living with chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, cancer and other diseases.

In Illinois, more than 30,000 people suffer from kidney failure. IKCA’s goal is to protect this vulnerable population, including those on life-sustaining dialysis and those waiting for a kidney transplant. For more information, please visit our website.

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Friday, Feb 21, 2020

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