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Meeks, the governor and the tollway system

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006

I had a story about this in Capitol Fax this morning. Kristen McQueary was on the same panel with myself and Sen. Meeks and she filed this story.

Could the Illinois tollway keep state Sen. James Meeks out of the governor’s race?

Meeks, who is considering an independent bid for governor, said Tuesday he and Blagojevich have met twice to discuss a compromise that could keep Meeks from challenging Blagojevich — and GOP nominee Judy Baar Topinka — in November.

Meeks said the governor raised the possibility of selling state property as one solution to funding schools more equitably and to serving poor areas of the state — two of Meeks’ stipulations. Blagojevich said earlier this week he was intrigued by the idea of leasing the Illinois tollway to raise money for the state; Meeks would not say whether the tollway idea played into their conversation.

So far, Meeks is moving forward with plans to get on the ballot.

“I asked the governor for two things: a comprehensive plan on education and how underserved communities are going to be served,” Meeks said during a breakfast meeting at the Union League Club in Chicago. “As of this date, I haven’t seen a plan.”

Do you think this will work?

UPDATE: He’s looking more like a candidate every day. From an AFSCME press release:

Prospective gubernatorial candidate and state Senator James Meeks will visit an Illinois Department of Human Services field office on Chicago’s South Side tomorrow (Thursday, April 27). Meeks will meet with caseworkers and other frontline employees whose ability to provide essential services and benefits has been reduced by sharp cuts to the agency’s budget and staff.

Following the private meeting with DHS workers, Sen. Meeks and AFSCME director Henry Bayer will hold a news conference at 11:00 a.m. outside the office at 8001 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

DHS caseworkers and other frontline state employees are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. The union recently issued a report, Without A Net: Barriers to Illinois Public Benefits and Supports, that found DHS staff shortages have caused long delays, huge backlogs and high error rates in processing applications for Food Stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other basic public benefits.

UPDATE: The above event has been postponed. Hmmm.

UPDATE: I’m told it will be rescheduled for next week. More info here (pdf file)

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Backyard Conservative - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 8:32 am:

    Maybe so. But without real school reform it would be a waste of money. Meeks has a golden opportunity to step into a leadership vacuum to really help underachieving students–advocate for school choice for failing schools. Let the dollars follow the students so they can get some help for them as individuals.Demand that NCLB is enforced to give students in failing schools real alternatives. Illinois and the CPS have been dropping the ball on this.

  2. - Cal Skinner - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 8:32 am:

    If I understand this proposal, the state senator wants to sell a capital asset to finance operating expenses.

    Does that remind anyone of the idea of selling the tollway’s headquarters for the same purpose, which was ruled illegal by Attorney General Lisa Madigan?

  3. - Leroy - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 8:34 am:

    Yes…use the tollway sales proceeds to fund education in Illinois. That will fix the funding problem!

    …just like increasing property taxes did
    …just like the proceeds from the state lottery did
    …just like the proceeds from the casinos did

    Well, at least with this plan, we won’t need to do the property tax swap…har har har.

    All the money in the universe is not enough for these people.

  4. - DOWNSTATE - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 8:37 am:

    Posted to quick so I will re-post.I knew they would come up with the money to pay Meeks off.In about 2 weeks you will hear Meeks saying what a wonderful governor we have.Well Chicago and Meeks get what they want and the rest of the state gets buffed.I think it is time I find out how you become a volunteer on a campaign and call JBT.

  5. - Wumpus - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 9:00 am:

    Meeks will have Gov Elvis speak at his church..quick, someone call Howard Dean.

  6. - Sen. Jeff Schoenberg - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 9:20 am:

    Cal - You’re confusing the tollway headquarters with the Thompson Center. I’ve long wanted to sell the Taj Mahal but the commercial market in that area continues to be incredibly weak.

    All - Consider that if a major portion of the proceeds of a public-private partnership on the tollway go toward the state’s unfunded pension liabilities, that would in turn free up resources which can be earmarked to funding education. Solving the problem of the unfunded pension liabilities arguably removes a major obstacle on the path to school funding reform, particularly since school districts are now paying a greater share of the costs.

  7. - Joe - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 9:44 am:

    Sen. Schoenberg,

    If the state sells the Tollway system, there will be a one time revenue boost. But there will also be an eliminated (or reduced if private/public partnership) revenue stream going forward. It seems like this is just shifting dollars around, and the exact reverse of what was done to create the unfunded pension problem. Seems like the only answer is a) permanent reduction in spending, or b) permanent increase in taxes.

  8. - Budget Watcher - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 9:55 am:

    A compromise with Meeks? Boy, I sure didn’t see that coming!

  9. - Fed Up - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 9:56 am:

    If Meeks is going to believe Blago, he’d better get him to sign an MOU!!! We all know how good the gov is at keeping his word!

  10. - Tater - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 10:03 am:

    It’s no surprise that Bag-o-stuff would sell off OUR property to make Meeks go away so he can get re-elected.

    I’m more dissappointed in Meeks for considering the idea. He has admirable goals, but Leroy is right, there will never be enough money for these people to waste. Does Meeks really want to have a State Garage Sale to get his way on an issue? Or does he really want to step up to the plate and provide some real leadership that this State desperately needs?

    No Senator, we shall not have a State Garage Sale and rob Peter to pay Paul. “They” have always said that we were mortgaging our kids future with this kind of thing in the past. Problem is no one ever officially told us when we got to the “future” and what it would look like. Well, welcome to the future and this is what it looks like…now we are talking about selling assets to pay for operating expenses.

  11. - cashflow_pro - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 10:04 am:

    Last time I checked, no tollways run through Evanston. It’s easy to promote a “solution” that has no negative impact on one’s constituents. Why not really solve major funding problems by making all expressways in the Chicago area tollways, leasing them all, and raking in huge dollars. This way the whole area can share in the solution, not just the collar counties and suburban Cook.

  12. - The original Bill - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 10:13 am:

    Many of the districts with the most dire financial situations are downstate and suburban inner ring communities. Senator Meeks, whose district is not wholly inside of Chicago, has made great efforts to convey to downstate and suburban districts how much they would benefit from school funding reform. Unfortunately, partisianship has obstructed progress. To suggest that Meeks can be “bought off” or that his interests are limited to Chicago does him a great disservice…and ,as usual, the Gov. Elvis remark, while amusing, invalidates whatever point the poster was trying to make.

  13. - DOWNSTATE - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 10:22 am:

    If the toll is sold and the money is placed where Meeks says it is to go and then if he does not run after all his talk then he has been brought off.It also looks like he is going to go cheaper than he said.He wnted 6 billion and he is going to settle for 3.Hey what a bargain.

  14. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 10:27 am:

    Maybe Tollway could put some of those $13,000 signs up to honor Meeks?

    Nah, Blago wouldn’t allow any state property to have anybody’s name plastered on it but his. No matter how deserately he needs African-American votes.

  15. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 12:28 pm:

    Gotta admire the guy for pushing hard on principle!

    Selling government assets for political interests has a long history, but usually involves natural areas for logging, mining, and grazing rather than roads so the actual polluters have to pay the full cost instead of all property owners or wage earners.

    Wait till local governments start selling of roads to fund new programs!

  16. - PJS - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 12:34 pm:

    Business Leaders for Transportation has been analyzing the issue of 3P legislation and drafted language for a bill lifting the ban on IDOT, RTA and Tollway to enter into public-private partnerhips. take a look at the following link for some more information.

  17. - DOWNSTATE - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 12:46 pm:

    Has anyone heard this guy say Illinois.Everything I have heard from his mouth has been Chicago.When he gets done their is he going to hop over to prisons or parks.

  18. - Bubs - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 12:55 pm:

    I have A Modest Proposal.

    If the Governor feels so strongly that something should be sold to pay for his blatant election year buy-off of Meeks, there is no need to sell (irretrievably), public property for that narrow purpose. Let the sale fall upon he who is protecting a personal interest.

    I propose that the Governor auction his house and other belongings, with all proceeds to be donated to education. As an alternative, let the Governor auction off the right to have corporate logos tatooed on his kids’ foreheads for twenty years.

    Lay off of our property to fund your political deals, Governor.

  19. - anon - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 1:03 pm:

    Spending tollway privatization funds on education wouldn’t be much better than issuing bonds to fund annual education spending. Meeks isn’t going to run anyway.

  20. - Cassandra - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 1:08 pm:

    I think Joe has it right except I don’t think a tollway sale/lease is just shifting money around. It’s borrowing from the future to get a pile of cash today. And a year after that pile
    of cash is distributed to whoever, it will be like it never happened. But the state will have
    less money coming in from the tollway going forward. What we don’t know is how much less and what that money might have been spent on.

    Just like the gas tax suspension….sounds great, but what will the long term cost be in state revenues and how will spending priorities be affected. The folks who lead us are either too clueless or too dishonest to say.

    As to DHS, isn’t it time to consider automation and outsourcing. It’s hard to believe that any routine application to a modern government agency could not be almost completely automated and that delays could not be eliminated. Sounds like a management problem not a staff problem. Maybe time for those well-paid DHS and CMS computer folks to do a little work here?

  21. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 1:14 pm:

    What happened to the old Schoenberg who used to be hellbent on making the state keep its promise that the tollways would revert to freeways? I guess the winds have changed directions, huh?

  22. - zatoichi - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 6:43 pm:

    Selling all the assets seems like a great idea. Once it is all sold and the revenue is spent what happens next? Rebuild that debt and have nothing to cover it with. That will do wonders for the state financual rating. Have the courage to greatly cut costs or raise taxes.

  23. - State worker - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 8:47 pm:

    Am I seeing things or was this question about Meeks sucking up to our Union? Sure he can say DHS needs help. He can say prisons are in danger because of lack of staffing. My question is where the hell has he been all this time? Now that he wants to blackmail Rod he cares about us? I don’t see it. My gut tells me AFSCME will continue to endorse Topinka and Rod will be in a court room and unemployed.

  24. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Apr 26, 06 @ 11:47 pm:

    Yeah, let’s let Chris Kelly, Tony Rezko, Lon Monk and Rod have the ability to engineer the biggest cash deal in state history. They have shown a great ability to govern efficiently and without corruption.

  25. - KenoMan - Thursday, Apr 27, 06 @ 12:35 pm:

    Senator Schoenburg-

    Please recheck your facts regarding the Illinois Tollway and HotRod’s proposal to sell their headquarters.

    Fact #1: “the Tollway building has been described as the Taj Mahal of Illinois. The Taj Mahal is known as one of the eight wonders of the world. The Tollway building is a wonder of waste, excess, and arrogance.” (Governor’s budget address, April 9, 2003)

    Fact #2: The Illinois Tollway then spends $200,000 for appraisals, and consultants, concerning their headquarters building in preparation for a possible sale.

    Fact #3: A quick review of current law reveals that the sale of the Headquarters Building would not transfer any funds to the State of Illinois.

    Fact #3: HotRod quietly shelves his building sale proposal. Illinois Motorists out $200,000 for his media ploy/play.

    Fact #4: HotRod and his minions now claim they never intended to sell the building.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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