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Thompson resigns

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

Maybe now he’ll go to work full time for the Blagojevich campaign.

Former Gov. James R. Thompson is resigning as chairman of law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.

He plans to leave the chairman position next month after 13 years—nearly matching his record 14-year tenure as governor—but remain active as a Winston partner, he says.

“It is time,” he says.

The move comes as Winston partners are voting on whether to curtail the chairman’s authority by consolidating operational responsibilities under the managing partner.

I was just kidding at the top of this post, of course.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

On the bus

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

[Bumped up because the post was getting lonely underneath that mountain of budget stuff.]

Unlike our last installment, this only looks like satire.

Rutherford high-fived all the candidates, then, realizing he failed to introduce Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stu Umholtz, the candidate for attorney general, rushed back to the podium and startled Umholtz by saying, “On your feet. Stu Umholtz.”

Umholtz laughed and said Rutherford also forgot to introduce him at the previous stop in Macomb. Turning serious, he said DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, should have been elected attorney general in 2002, rather than Democrat Lisa Madigan.

Umholtz said of himself and Birkett, “We don’t just talk about public corruption … we deal with it. Under (Lisa) Madigan, public corruption has not only continued, it has flourished.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      

This just in… Topinka to unveil budget plan - UPDATED x19 (Most intriguing update so far: Daley has kind words for JBT casino plan)

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

Here’s a few highlights of Topinka’s budget proposal which will be unveiled soon. Check back for more updates.

Chicago casino - 3,000 slots.

3,000 slots for existing boats

Two years of property tax freeze on portion of property tax for education.

$100 million more for higher education for tuition relief.

Additional Corrections workers, full-funded pensions.

[Full JBT press release is here… Blagojevich campaign official response is here - both are “pdf” files]


Topinka contended her plan would not be an expansion of gambling, largely opposed by her fellow Republicans, because it would use the state’s only unused casino license for Chicago. […]

But Topinka’s proposal would not satisfy one of Daley’s major caveats for having a Chicago gambling operation—that the city own the casino. Instead, Topinka’s plan would require Chicago’s casino to be owned by a private business as are the state’s nine operating casinos. […]

Her plan would use $2.4 billion in state funds to make up for any property tax increases that local school districts wouldn’t receive… Topinka does not favor raising the state income tax to reduce local property taxes. […]

The Topinka campaign estimates that bidding on ownership of a Chicago casino could reap at least $650 million in up-front cash, but could exceed $1 billion. For four years, the campaign said, the state would make $2.4 billion through increased gambling positions on casinos, $1.9 million from a Chicago casino, $200 million through higher licensing fees and another $600 million from related taxes, such as food and sales levies indirectly associated with gaming. In addition, her revenue plan counts on receiving a $1.8 billion federal block grant for the state to change its Medicaid program, including tighter eligibility rules, and another $700 million in income and sales tax growth through an increase of 15,000 jobs over the next four years. Topinka’s campaign said Chicago would receive at least $50 million in new revenues directly through a casino. They called all of their revenue estimates for a Chicago casino “conservative,” saying they were almost identical to those used by Daley in trying to seek a city casino. The campaign said its revenue plan would fully fund other proposals that Topinka has unveiled during the campaign, including a capping of state sales taxes on gasoline after it exceeds $2.50 a gallon; business tax incentives for job creation, bonding for new school construction and an increased tax credit for teachers who purchase their own school supplies.

UPDATE 2: Topinka press release:

Other highlights of the plan include:

* No tax increases.
* Billions in budget cuts including pork projects in the state budget and political jobs.
* Full funding of state pension obligations.
* Gas tax relief in the form of Topinka’s proposal to cap the sales tax on gas at $2.50

This plan also provides critical funding in the following areas:

* Tuition relief for students at colleges and universities - $950 million for higher education entities throughout the state
* $2 billion road program to expand and maintain Illinois roads, bridges and state facilities.
* $3 billion to build new safe and modern classrooms throughout Illinois.

The plan eliminates the raids on dedicated state funds and provides new resources for public safety, veterans, state parks, as the state will build up the state’s cash reserve. […]

Illinois schools will continue to realize additional revenues as if property tax collections were not frozen, and no school district will lose funds due to this proposal. The combination of the freeze and new state revenues will provide more than $2 billion in tax relief to Illinois taxpayers. […]

The Topinka-Birkett plan also calls for integrity at the Illinois Gaming Board. Reform proposals include:

Gaming Board Independence

The Illinois Gaming Board (the “IGB”) should be an independent entity, separate and apart from the Illinois Department of Revenue, or any other State agency.

Gaming Integrity Unit - Establish Independent Gaming Board investigators

The Illinois Gaming Board will hire its own investigative officers, known as the Gaming Integrity Unit, and the unit members shall be provided with all appropriate police powers.

The IGB should be free to regulate casino gaming in Illinois without political influence

Prohibit gaming lobbyists from having any contact with Gaming Board employees or

Governor’s Office employees regarding employment at Illinois Gaming Board.

New Qualifications and Eligibility for members of the Illinois Gaming Board

• No person holding any elective office or any officer or official of any political party is eligible for appointment to the Board.

• Not more than three members of the Board shall be of the same political party affiliation.

Gaming Board Integrity

The IGB should be empowered to investigate allegations of improper political influence, including political influence in the process of awarding a license. […]

I’ll post the full release in a few minutes. There’s quite a bit more.

UPDATE 3: I have posted the press release as a .pdf file

UPDATE 4: Crain’s:

One local civic leader, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce CEO Gerald Roper, said he is “very, very positive” on the proposal for a Chicago casino. The chamber for years has pushed for a Chicago casino as a boost to the city’s convention and tourism business.

However, Mr. Roper noted that such proposals have made little progress in Springfield, in large part because of opposition from GOP legislators.

“I haven’t been able to get one Republican to back us,” Mr. Roper said, adding that he does not know if Ms. Topinka has persuaded leaders of her party to switch their positions.

John Filan’s, Mr. Blagojevich’s budget director, is scheduled to respond to Ms. Topinka’s proposal later today.

Shouldn’t the governor have a campaign person respond to a campaign proposal, or did Filan leave state employment for a campaign job without telling us? [Hat tip to a commenter.]

UPDATE 5: The AP has a small placeholder story posted here. You can probably check that link in ten or fifteen minutes for the full story.

UPDATE 6: The AP piece is slightly longer now:

Topinka, currently the state treasurer, acknowledged that she has not been a proponent of gaming in the past.

But she maintained her proposal would not be an expansion of gambling in Illinois because the Chicago casino would be taking the spot of the state’s unused casino license. That license was previously held by the Emerald Casino, which intended to locate a gambling boat in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

UPDATE 7: More from the AP:

Topinka said she had discussed her proposal with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and he reacted “reasonably well,” but wanted to look at the plan further.

UPDATE 8: I’ll be on WYLL Radio with Dan Proft starting at about 3:20 to talk about this and other developments. You can listen on the Internet here.

UPDATE 9: Daily Herald:

The level of detail in Topinka’s four-year budget proposal was unusual for a governor’s campaign, but also required her to flip-flop on her previous opposition to gambling as a panacea for the state’s financial woes. It was a change in position Topinka acknowledged she was “not excited about” making.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the governor has expanded health care programs while balancing the budget deficit he inherited.

“After 25 years as an elected official and a year as a candidate for governor, it looks like Treasurer Topinka is finding that it is difficult to actually find funding for programs,” Blagojevich spokesman Doug Scofield said.

UPDATE 10: Tier One targeted Republican state Sen. Cheryl Axley comes out in support, suggesting JBT may have done her homework with the leaders on at least the suburban races. From a press release:

State Senator Cheryl Axley (R- Mt. Prospect) is applauding Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Judy Baar Topinka’s newly unveiled education and budget plan that would freeze suburban property taxes for two years, while providing more funds for school construction and classrooms.

“I’m excited at the prospect of property tax relief for my district, because it is one of the two top issues my constituents are concerned with,” Axley said. “The other is our poorly funded education system, and this plan addresses that problem as well. I’m heartened at the potential benefits this will have for my area. It is far past time the state took control of its spending and its responsibility to adequately fund schools without overburdening taxpayers. This is a step in that direction.”

Senator Axley says Topinka’s plan to provide college tuition relief is also vital.

“College tuition relief is a key component of this plan because the financial burden of sending our kids to school just keeps getting worse,” Axley said. ” As a mother of three teenagers, I share this struggle, so I hope this will be a way to make college more affordable.”

UPDATE 11: Topinka’s response to an anti-gambling group shows this was probably in the works for some time. There are no explicit mentions of a Chicago casino.

UPDATE 12: This excerpt from an e-mail I just received from a Blagojevich person likely gives us a preview of Filan’s statement.

…her proposals would do nothing more than gut health care, expand the size of government and add billions in unfunded new spending to our budget. We’re talking in the neighborhood of a 5 billion annual deficit — and maybe more.

UPDATE 13: The Blagojevich campaign already has an Internet ad up on the issue. Click the image to go straight to the .mov format ad. [Hat tip to a commenter.]

Our latest ad highlights the hypocrisy of Judy Baar Topinka in her own words on gambling expansion. Earlier this year during the Republican primary she said, “we shouldn’t be building on top of gambling in this state, or expanding gambling in this state. This is Illinois. It’s not Las Vegas. Ok?”

Yet she is now proposing to build a new, 3,000 slot casino in Chicago and expanding existing casinos to 3,000 slots as well, a complete reversal of her position in the primary. Can we trust anything she says anymore?

What’s she thinking?

UPDATE 14: Hizzoner is staying neutral on the two competing plans. That’s hugely good news for Topinka. If he had rejected it out of hand, she would’ve been sunk before she got out of the harbor. Apparently, the meeting between Topinka and Daley went better than she has admitted. More later. CBS2:

Daley is not taking a position on Topinka’s proposal to put a land-based casino in the city.

Daley says he doesn’t have a preference between Topinka’s plan and Governor Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to lease the lottery for education funds.

Daley says it would be unfair to say which one he preferred. He adds if either gets education money for the city, he wouldn’t care where it comes from.

UPDATE 15: I asked the governor’s campaign spokesperson, Sheila Nix, whether the governor still opposes a Chicago casino. Her answer? “Yes.”

UPDATE 16: Statement from Illinois Republican Party Executive Director John Tsarpalas:

“It’s troubling that Governor Blagojevich’s Budget Director, who is paid with taxpayer dollars, is standing up to react to the campaign announcement of Republican candidate for Governor Judy Baar Topinka. If the Blagojevich campaign wants to react to Judy’s plan, they should use the millions in ‘pay-to-play’ money collected in their campaign fund to pay for it. John Filan should tell taxpayers whether he is on leave from the Governor’s office or being paid with taxpayer dollars.”

UPDATE 17: E-mail from the Blagojevich campaign:

Filan told everyone there that he was taking a vacation day so JBT’s campaign knows that — there is no question about taxpayer dollars. Also, since JBT’s announcement was about the budget, it makes sense to have someone who really understands the numbers and process give an opinion on its credibility.

UPDATE 18: CBS2 has posted a viewer poll

UPDATE 19: Blagojevich press release (Or download a pdf file here):

…State Budget Director John Filan, detailed why her numbers didn’t add up.

“Her budget numbers simply don’t add up. Her budget plan would bring us back to a Ryan era deficit of $5 billion. It’s nothing short of budget fiction.”

Breakdown of Topinka’s budget priorities:

Topinka’s Cuts Do NOT Cover Increased Spending Promises

Topinka Proposed Spending:
Education $2.05 billion
School Construction Debt Service $270 million
Funding Pension System (at 1995 Plan) $627 million
Rehiring State Employees $150 million
Pay Raises for Merit Comp Employees $33 million
Energy plan $60 million
Higher Education $100 million
Local Property Tax Reimbursement (2 years) $1.2 billion

Total New Spending $4.49 billion per year
Topinka Proposed Spending Cuts:
Cutting Healthcare to Kids and Seniors $(725) million

Topinka’s New Casino Revenues Don’t Offset Revenue Shortfalls

Proposed Topinka Revenue:
Chicago Casino ($850 one time, $250 annual starts in year 2) $400 million
Additional Positions at existing casinos $350 million

Lost Revenue as a result of the Topinka Plan
Economic Development Plan (from Tax Credits) $(1.5) billion
Restore Corporate Fees/ $(408) million
Eliminate Chargebacks
Re-open Corporate Loopholes $(30) million
Lost Federal Revenue (from Medicaid Cuts) $(775) million

Total Revenue Losses $(2.713) billion

Topinka Deficit: $(5.728) billion per year

Treasurer Topinka’s spending priorities don’t match with her proposed revenue plan. Her plan would be devastating for the working families of Illinois, increasing their taxes and cutting their services.

- Posted by Rich Miller   97 Comments      

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Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Enter your password to view comments      

Question of the day

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

Is rhetoric like this too over the top or is it fine for August when Topinka can provide a little red meat for the base?

“This man has driven this state into such hole and we have to dig it out now,” Topinka said Tuesday from the Double Tree Hotel. “We haven’t had hurricanes or tsunamis like some states. We’ve had our own disaster. We had Rod Blagojevich, and that’s just finished us.” […]

“Where’s he been for four years?” Topinka asked of the governor. “Now he’s decided in the final throws of an election that he’s going to have an energy policy. We don’t have an energy policy. We have press conferences, government by press conference.” […]

“How’s he going to pay for it? His relationship with the Legislature is horrible so there’s also the question how he could do this,” Topinka said after the event before boarding the bus. “This is more pie in the sky from the governor.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   48 Comments      

Send in the clowns

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

The former patronage honcho for Cook County government didn’t exactly get the boot this week. In fact, nobody seems to know what his new job is.

Monday, new county board president Bobbie Steele was at a loss to explain what Gerald Nichols does other than act as the godfather of good jobs, so she gave him the boot. It turns out he went from one unexplainable county job to another.

ABC7 went looking for Gerald Nichols in the Cook County Department of Administration. He wasn’t in Tuesday — and no one knows if he’ll be in Wednesday. Nichols has been getting a lot of unwanted publicity thanks to a Sun-Times series that claims he put the fix in for county job applicants who had clout.

His secretary — who asked to be called an assistant — identified Mr. Nichols new job as handling the “administrative business” of county government. The county president’s spokeswoman couldn’t provide a job description either.

“I’m not sure his job title, but I know he’s going to give the residents of Cook County the bang for the buck,” said Chinta Strausberg, Cook County spokesperson.

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

Alternate universe

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

You know how you hear the complaint from voters that the Republicans and the Democrats are basically alike? Well, here’s some evidence from our neighboring state of Indiana.

House and Senate Democrats have been calling for immediate relief from high gasoline prices as an addition to energy proposals.

“While we appreciate all of these long-range plans, the fact remains that it’s increasingly difficult for Indiana families and small businesses to restart their engines with gas at $3 a gallon,” said Sen. Vi Simpson, a top Senate Democrat from Bloomington.

House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, wants Daniels to suspend the state sales tax on gasoline. Bauer has said that House Democrats would push for a permanent repeal of the tax during next year’s legislative session.

“The governor is looking at people drowning in a sea of high gas prices and offering up only the chance to build a boat for them on shore,” Bauer said Friday. “What he needs to do is send them a life raft now.”

Sound familiar? The Illinois Republicans are demanding the same thing.

The party in power won’t cut the tax because they don’t want to give up the revenues. The minority parties in both Illinois and Indiana know this but continue with the harangue because it sounds good to voters, who are fed up with incumbents.

Still, it does sometimes feel like we live in an alternate universe here in Illinois. For instance, I chuckle every time I read a comment from an obviously partisan Republican blasting Gov. Blagojevich for allowing the budget situation to get out of hand. Not a word has been uttered by those same people about the national budget situation. And, by the way, I have yet to see any Republican plan here in Illinois (or Democratic plan in Indiana) to either replace the lost tax revenue from a reduction in the sales tax on gasoline or provide for budget cuts to offset the impact.

UPDATE: Topinka has now proposed funding for her idea.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

Morning shorts

Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

· Here’s a way to kill some time: Try to find the word “Republican” on Congressman Mark Kirk’s campaign website. Mentions of the word in news stories posted on the site don’t count.

· Mayor Daley mocks an ordinance that he didn’t veto

· Dueling reports on charter schools suggest that Chicago’s are outperforming neighborhood schools, while charter-elementary-school students nationally are lagging behind their peers in traditional public schools.

· While Topinka and her ticket tour the state, the governor’s office has been running a statewide All Kids tour

· Daley sees no problem with Sorich’s fundraiser

· Alexi Giannoulias wants to auction unclaimed property on eBay. From a press release:

Instead of conducting an annual live auction that lasts only a few hours and attracts a limited number of people, Illinois can hold several online auctions during the year that will attract a worldwide audience.

Every year, the treasurer’s office sells off thousands of unclaimed items left behind or forgotten in safe-deposit boxes throughout the state. Items include coins, jewelry, gem stones, watches, sports trading cards and other collectables.

By auctioning off its unclaimed property over the Internet, the state can conduct a virtual yard sale that would increase participation and result in higher bids. Several states have partnered with eBay in recent years and have reported higher auction profits.

In addition to generating more revenue, online auctions defray the costs associated with live auctions, including the need to hire an auctioneer who can receive up to one third of the gross revenue.

· Contract talks resume in Sheridan prison strike

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      

SurveyUSA job approval: Little change

Tuesday, Aug 22, 2006

Gov. Blagojevich’s job approval numbers are still in the red and little changed from last month. 44 percent approved (44 percent last month) and 52 percent disapproved (52 percent last month). Check the trend lines and the crosstabs here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, Aug 22, 2006

[Sorry everything is so late this morning. I had one of those “But I don’t wanna go to school” experiences with myself.]

First, read this:

Illinois ranks second in the number of individuals incarcerated for drug offenses, a new report finds.

The study, conducted by Roosevelt University’s Institute for Metropolitan Affairs, shows that the state locked up nearly 13,000 drug offenders in 2002. Only California — which put away 40,000 — posted higher numbers.

Drug offenders represent the fastest-growing segment of the Illinois prison population, according to the report. In 1983, 1.9 percent of prisoners statewide were convicted of drug possession. By 2002, that number had swelled to 20.4 percent.

An analysis of the U.S. Department of Justice data also shows a large disparity in the incarceration of black and white drug offenders. Illinois ranks second only to Maryland in the number of blacks imprisoned on drug convictions.

When looked at on a per-capita basis, the state ranks first, followed by Maryland, second; Mississippi, third; and Ohio, fourth. […]

Illinois taxpayers spent more than $280 million to incarcerate drug offenders in 2002, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Justice statistics are available.

Now, the question: What, if anything, should be changed in Illinois drug laws? Also, should the governor step in and commute the sentences for non-violent drug offenders incarcerated for relatively small amounts?

UPDATE: The Tribune story fills in at least one item that commenters are questioning.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Illinois locked up more people for selling drugs than for possessing them. But by 2002, the reverse was true […]

[Year] Sale / Possession
1983 264 180
1993 4,336 1,976
2002 5,761 6,999

- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      

Steele reacts to Sun-Times by ousting clout figure

Tuesday, Aug 22, 2006

This is quite a lede.

Cook County Board President Bobbie Steele asked the county’s patronage chief Gerald Nichols to clean out his office just outside her own Friday because she could not figure out exactly what his official job was.

The Sun-Times on Monday reported county officials saying that for years Nichols called them to plug politically connected people both for policy positions — which is allowed — and also for lower-level jobs, which by court order are supposed to go to job applicants who score well on tests.

“I had a meeting with him Friday and removed him from his position,” Steele said. “He explained to me that his role when he worked for President [John] Stroger was to sort his mail, prioritize invitations and to sometimes serve as a surrogate for the president. Well, I don’t need him to do that.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

Governor to unveil ambitious energy plan - Updated x1

Tuesday, Aug 22, 2006

The governor gets super ambitious.

Pointing to high fuel costs and dependence on foreign oil, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich wants his state to overhaul its energy sources with a strategy that experts said would be among the nation’s most ambitious, including replacing half its current supply of gasoline from imported oil with that made from homegrown products in little more than a decade.

On Tuesday, Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat seeking a second term in November, will announce a five-part, $1.2 billion plan, elements of which would require the legislature’s support, aides said.

Highlights include:

Investing $225 million to build as many as 20 new ethanol facilities, five new biodiesel facilities and four new facilities that use corn husks or other plant waste to manufacture ethanol. The increased production of ethanol and biofuels would enable Illinois to replace half of its current supply of imported oil with renewable, homegrown energy sources, according to the governor’s office.

Spending $30 million to boost the number of gasoline stations that sell biofuels, especially E85, which consists of 85 percent ethanol. By 2010, an additional 900 stations would sell E85.

Spending $775 million to help build as many as 10 new coal gasification plants that would use Illinois coal. The resulting energy would meet some of the state’s need for diesel fuel, natural gas and electricity.

Building a $100 million pipeline that would move carbon dioxide from the coal gasification plants to oilfields in southeastern Illinois, where more oil and natural gas would be extracted from the ground.

Much of the $1.2 billion plan will be funded by stepped-up efforts to collect taxes owed by “largely corporate taxpayers,” said Bob Greenlee, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

This sounds very interesting. You can quibble here and there, of course, but how could you not be for stuff like this?

UPDATE: The Sierra Club has a few major quibbles, including this one:

It takes 4-5 gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol, and Illinois historically has lacked programs to regulate water withdrawals to ensure that large users in the wrong place do not take water needed for drinking, for wildlife, or for other uses. If 2.5 billion gallons of ethanol are produced in Illinois under this plan, it will require a tremendous amount of water.

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      

(Late) morning shorts

Tuesday, Aug 22, 2006

· Second utility to cut mercury pollution from coal-fired plants

· Birkett wants Blagojevich to disclose gifts

· Roskam defends federal pork support

· “Republican candidates for statewide office held a barbecue Monday afternoon in Decatur’s Central Park with roast Democrat as an entrée.”

· Petition drive on road funds falls short

· RIP Lil’ Wally

· Pals raise funds at church for Sorich’s legal bills

· Editorial: State learns expensive lesson with video law

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      

* Pritzker endorses Croke over appointed Rep. Pizer in Dem primary
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* *** UPDATED x1 *** Tobolski's chief of staff indicted on red-light cam bribery charges
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* Madigan, Pritzker, Burke top list of campaign legal spending for 2019
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