“They need to come back and get to work and fund the CTA,” Blagojevich told reporters at a news conference. […]
“They need to be prepared to be there every to work,” Blagojevich said.
The political dynamic changes in Springfield come the new year, when once again a simple majority is all that’s required to pass legislation. That also means the influence of Republicans, who’ve had a seat at the table since the start of June, once again wanes. Democrats control the House, Senate and governor’s mansion.
He also had this to say, which I find very interesting…
Blagojevich also appeared to try to put some pressure back on Mayor Richard M. Daley, saying he’d discussed with Daley the idea of tapping into the city’s cash reserves from selling the Skyway as a way to stave off the Jan. 20 CTA cuts. [Emphasis added]
*** 2:07 pm *** Statement from Speaker Madigan’s spokesman…
“The governor has not informed the office of this decision. I am certain the members of the House will be ready to fully consider all the legislation he plans to introduce for this special session.”
*** 2:25 pm *** Letter the Governor sent to legislators…
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
December 20, 2007
Honorable members of the General Assembly:
As you know, despite the immediate and growing need to fund the Chicagoland mass transit system, Speaker Madigan decided to cancel session this week. This delay leaves millions of people waiting in uncertainty. I had hoped to receive legislation on my desk before the end of the calendar year. I considered calling a special session this week, but was informed by the legislative leaders that many of their members would be unavailable, and that it would be counterproductive to call them in right before their holiday break.
It has been ninety-two days since the Senate approved a capital plan with bipartisan support. That plan also provided for $200 million in interim relief for mass transit. In the three months since, the House has taken no action. Additionally, twice in the past four months I have been forced to bail out the Chicago Transit Authority to avoid crippling service cuts and fare hikes. In the absence of a permanent funding source, these bailouts have totaled almost $100 million.
Transit riders deserve better. The people of this state deserve better. As such, I am writing to notify you that I will call for a Special Session after the holiday break, beginning January 2, 2008, and to ask you to work quickly to pass a statewide infrastructure plan, so that there is also sufficient support for a long-term solution to mass transit funding. As I have said before, I support Representative Saviano’s plan, or a comparable plan, to provide mass transit funding by redirecting the sales tax on gasoline in the RTA region. This legislation received a near-majority of 57 votes on November 28, even though many members were absent or failed to vote on the measure.
With the RTA prepared to implement drastic layoffs, service cuts and fare increases on January 20 if no agreement is reached, our time is running out. You must focus on passing legislation in this short timeframe. There will be only 18 days to work before the transit doomsday, so you should be prepared to meet as often as needed during that period.
I am providing this notice now so that all members of the General Assembly can make arrangements to be present, and be prepared to vote. Let’s start the New Year on a great note by passing a long-term solution for mass transit. The citizens of Illinois are relying on us to get the job done.
*** 5:05 pm *** Email thoughts from Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff commenting on the line in the Tribune story…
The Governor didn’t say he’d discussed with Daley the idea of tapping into the city’s cash reserves from selling the Skyway as a way to stave off the Jan. 20 CTA cuts. He said downstate lawmakers have been grumbling about how Mayor Daley keeps insisting the state should bail out the CTA and not tie it to funding for downstate infrastructure projects; but meanwhile the city of Chicago - which has millions in the bank from the Skyway deal - hasn’t stepped up to help meet the CTA’s needs. We are pushing for passage of a long-term solution for mass transit, but the City-state funding disparity combined with the City’s reluctance to back a statewide capital plan, contributes to the challenge of winning support for transit funding in Springfield.
* Here are the winners from our final round in the annual Golden Horshoe contest…
* JoAnn Sullivan was an easy winner in the “Best legislative secretary” category. She always gives above and beyond the call of duty and is one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, which is somewhat ironic considering that she works for Speaker Madigan.
* I’ve met Beth Goncher from Rep. Tim Schmitz’s district office and dealt with her on various matters and she definitely lives up to the hype in comments yesterday. She gets the “Best district office administrator” award hands down.
Thanks to all who voted.
By the way, Linda Brown, Dan Brady’s Springfield secretary, is retiring at the end of this month. Her party is at the Pasfield House tonight.
* Someone asked yesterday for a list of all our winners. Here it is…
* State legislator who best empitomizes public service: Tie - Rep. Frank Mautino and Rep. Julie Hamos
* Most effective local mayor of a city with less than one million people: The late Rosemont Mayor Don Stephens
* The Illinois US Congressman who shows true statesmanlike qualities of putting country over party: Ray LaHood
* The Illinois union, association, etc. that has the most positive impact on Illinois government: CUB
* Best political bar/restaurant in Springfield: Boone’s Saloon
* Best statewide officeholder: Lisa Madigan
* Best state legislative staffer: Tie - Ellen McElroy-Kenworth and Liz Brown
* Best press spokesperson: The “Spin Sisters” (Abby Ottenhoff and Rebecca Rausch)
* Best lobbyist: Bill Anderson
* Best Capitol Fax Blog commenter: “Bill”
* Best legislative secretary: JoAnn Sullivan
* Best district office administrator: Beth Goncher
* Mayor Davlin mentioned this idea to me a week ago, but it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere, although Davlin was very hot on the concept…
[Rep. Raymond Poe], a Springfield Republican, is pushing the idea of holding harness races — and the betting that goes with them — at the Illinois State Fairgrounds beyond the limited run of the 10-day fair itself.
“The facility is there,” Poe said. “Someone could come in and make it work. I think it would be a great revenue source.”
Poe’s idea has already been raised in gaming discussions between House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
“I brought it up with the speaker,” Cross said Wednesday. “It was not rejected.”
But neither is it on the front burner, Cross said. A number of other gambling issues have been on the table longer, and negotiators think they are closer to resolving those without injecting a new element into the debate.
The racing wouldn’t be year-round, but I’m wondering whether they’d put a year-round “racino” at the facility, with slot machines, etc. They could really upgrade the fairgrounds with revenue like that. Plus, it would give us somewhere else to go after long session days.
Experts will tell you gambling is a lousy way for the state to raise money. It’s not stable, doesn’t grow with the economy and isn’t progressive. But gambling is the only revenue-raising plan with a prayer of passing, and even then, it’s a long shot. Unfortunately, our hopes have to rest on a gambling boom to avert the CTA’s day of doom.
* Remember during the 2001 holiday season when Corinne Wood was running for the GOP nomination for governor? She ran a TV ad of her sitting in what I remember was her beautifully decorated home, wearing a red dress. I don’t remember all she said, but she ended with something like: “And have a merry Christmas”
Pundits jibber-jabbered over the appropriateness of wishing voters “Merry Christmas” in a political ad. Some were shocked, as I remember it, some were underwhelmed with Wood’s presentation.
Well, the extremely early Iowa caucuses have prompted several presidential candidates to run their own holiday season ads. Let’s look at some of them, shall we?
…Adding… As I write this, there’s a slight problem with YouTube. Just hit the “play” button and the videos will load.
* There’s something about Mike Huckabee that I really like. Yeah, I know there are issues with his background, but the man is a born communicator. Still, anyone who knows anything about bigtime television ads knows that every tiny detail is taken into consideration. So it bothers me that Huckabee would so obviously lie that there is no Holy Cross in this spot when his TV Cross is as visible as that gigantic Cross near Effingham off of I-57. Anyway, here’s the spot…
* Giuliani wishes for “Peace with strength” and “secure borders” in his ad, which is a bit weird, but here it is…
…Adding… I used the wrong ad. LOL. Oops. Here’s the “real” one, sans pentagram…
Sorry about that, and thanks to a commenter for setting me straight. That ain’t always easy. :)
* Obama’s is next. Is that the word “Christmas” in a liberal Democrat’s ad? What will the atheists say?
* And, finally, Hillary Clinton, alone with her presents…
* Jim Thompson called yesterday to bust my chops about something. I gave as good as I got, as you might imagine, but it was mostly in fun. I really let the profanity fly, though, about his goofy idea to have the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority buy Wrigley Field and then lease it back to the billionaire(s) who buy(s) the team from the Tribune Co.
One of Big Jim’s arguments was to point out that the state helped subsidize the Soldier Field renovation (a publicly owned stadium, by the way), helped build the United Center and, of course, there was that White Sox deal that Thompson, himself, played such a large role in bringing to fruition. So why not help the Cubs?
I can’t tell you what Wrigley Field is really worth, but I can tell you what the team claimed it was worth earlier this year in an appraisal submitted to the Cook County assessor’s office: $12.3 million.
Yep, that’s all, barely more than the $7.9 million that former Sox slugger Frank Thomas got on the sale of his Oak Brook mansion a few years ago, or almost equal to the $12 million the Cubs will pay new Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome for his salary for each of the next four seasons.
The assessment was submitted to Cook County Assessort Jim Houlihan, whose own laughably low assessment of just $20.5 million ought to be remembered by every property tax payer in the county whenever they write that annual tax check.
And how much did the Cubs pay in property taxes this year? $1,151,487, according to Brown.
The park is essentially off the roles, no matter how much Mother Tribune whines about its assessment. The team is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers. They don’t need and shouldn’t get another subsidy.
If the state were paying its bills on time, if its roads were in decent shape with a long-term plan for keeping them that way, if its school system had a fair method of doling out tax dollars and if there were adequate funding for mass transit systems, maybe — maybe — we could find some merit in this plan.
Yet all we see is another error in the score book.
“While generally I’m a fan of small schools, you have to have some critical mass to run a viable school. When you get down to 150 or 175 students, you don’t have enough students in each grade to run a full menu of activities,” Duncan said. “Educationally [consolidation is] the right move.”
* McQueary: All I want for Christmas is pension reform; more here
A report released this week by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a respected Pennsylvania-based policy institute, describes Illinois’ pension liability as among the worst in the nation. The report is significant because it compares the pension health of all 50 states, providing context to the political kaleidescope through which Illinois’ pension health often is viewed. Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office will give a sunny perspective of the state system; his opponents’ view couldn’t be more bleak.
So here is what Pew said:
“Illinois has double the trouble of most states: a severely underfunded pension system and some of the steepest bills in the country for retiree health care benefits. On the pension side, Illinois has one of the poorest-funded systems in the country.”
Oh, and the day offered one New Year’s present from John Daley. He wants a report on how much money officials have spent over the years to modernize the technology in their offices. Which suggests that, come 2008, Daley will ask those officials two crucial questions:
How many actual jobs have you eliminated because of all the automation money you’ve spent?
And how much new revenue has all that new technology generated for Cook County?
* 10% budget cuts would be a disaster, Cook Co. officials tell board
One by one, Cook County officials on Wednesday described a dim future for the public if the County Board forces them to cut spending by 10 percent.
Patients will die, the head of the health system warned. Criminals could run free, State’s Atty. Richard Devine said.
* A friend of mine and I were talking last night about Mike Huckabee’s surge in Illinois. The Tribune poll showed him essentially tied with Rudy Giuliani here, but the former Arkansas governor has no real presence here. No staff, no advertising, no media coverage. Nothing. The only explanation we could come up with is that some voters are paying very close attention to the Iowa contest and are basing their decisions on that. Imagine.
* Meanwhile, some very far right fringe candidates have so far been running Mike Huckabee’s campaign in Illinois, such as it is…
[Jonathan Wright] was an assistant prosecutor in the Logan County state’s attorney’s office when he was appointed to fill an unexpired term in the Illinois House in 2001.
During his short stint in the House, he backed legislation that would have allowed student-led prayer in public schools. Wright did not seek re-election in 2002 but re-emerged on the political scene during the 2004 election when he made a long-shot bid for the U.S. Senate, running to the right of just about everybody on the ballot. […]
Also on board the Huckabee bandwagon is David McAloon of Bourbannais, who is running for a seat in the Illinois House against incumbent state Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Morris. McAloon is listed as chairman of the Slot/Values in Religion to Unite Everyone political action committee, which has funneled money to social conservative candidates over the years.
McAloon lost the GOP primary in that district last year. Wright’s Senate bid was pretty pathetic.
* Joe Wiegand, who ran Jim Oberweis’ 2006 gubernatorial primary campaign, told me today via e-mail that Huckabee is “days away from announcing Illinois Co-chairs.” We’ll see if they move up to a more A-List crowd, but almost all of those people are already on board with other candidates.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Tuesday it’s “ridiculous” to suggest he might owe taxes for personal use of state aircraft.
* And I’m still with him even though the AP has found some instances that suggest this might possibly be an issue…
When Jane Hull became Arizona’s governor in 1997, she promised not to use aircraft for personal use. Her predecessor, Fife Symington, who resigned after he was convicted of bank fraud, had been criticized for personal use of airplanes.
But news reports in 2001 detailed more than 100 personal trips on state planes to weekend retreats and questioned whether Hull owed taxes. She later announced she would have accountants review the trips for tax liability, but no resolution ever was made public before she left office in 2003.
Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder resolved a tax issue with the IRS for personal helicopter flights he took in 1990. And then-Lt. Gov. Jane Swift of Massachusetts was criticized for a state-financed helicopter trip home to avoid Thanksgiving 1999 traffic.
We have a state of Illinois building in Chicago. The governor has an office there. Many agency directors are stationed there. Blagojevich has decided that this is his base office. And the Illinois Department of Revenue backs him up, despite what some tax “experts” tell the AP…
Tax experts told the AP the IRS likely would consider Blagojevich’s principal place of business to be Springfield, the seat of state government. That means anytime he flies to his hometown Chicago with no job-related event planned, it’s a personal flight and he either must reimburse the state or pay taxes on the value as income.
A hostile IRS could probably do whatever it wants, but that doesn’t make it right.
We were entertained by the response from his spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff, who said the AP had it backward: “We define the principal place of business as Chicago and all the flights are billed accordingly.”
So Blagojevich believes when voters hired him, they wanted his workplace to be in Chicago instead of in the centrally located city with the rent-free mansion where all the other state leaders work? Who’s got it backward?
Perhaps they didn’t notice, but this was an issue during the governor’s reelection campaign last year and for most of his first four years in office. Blagojevich won reelection, despite all the criticism. So, the voters decided that it wasn’t a big deal.
If the governor uses state planes for purely personal reasons, he should obviously reimburse the state or pay taxes on the benefit. But even that Blackhawks jaunt was not purely personal. He was invited in his capacity as governor to help promote the team. Politicians do that all that time. He should probably still reimburse the state for the flight, just for appearance’s sake, but I can’t see how even that egregious example would be considered outside the realm of a governor’s normal duties as head of state.
* Yesterday’s announcement that the lucrative FutureGen project would be sited in Illinois created a lot of hype. But the Bush administration’s Energy Department wasn’t at the press conference. The US government’s share of the project’s cost is huge, and DOE officials have been grumbling about the rising costs of the project for a couple of weeks (a bit before Illinois started to get private signals that it was ahead in the bidding war with Texas) so that should have sent up a lot more red flags than it did…
The Energy Department’s absence speaks volumes considering the government (a.k.a. taxpayers) is slated to foot most of the bill: 74 percent compared to the industry’s 26 percent. A November report includes a section about what would happen if the feds didn’t share the burden… “in the absence of DOE participation, it is unlikely the FutureGen Project would be implemented.” The report later adds, “The No-Action Alternative is considered a ‘No-Build’ Alternative.” [Emphasis added]
I’m sure it’s just a coinkydink that the Bush people are upset that their guy’s home state of Texas lost out in the bidding to Illinois, of all places. And pardon me if I’m not buying the “rising cost” argument against this proposal. This administration has few rivals in the spendthrift department.
We love the idea of the FutureGen project. It’s a great technology and this project will be a boon to east-central Illinois in many ways. If successful, it could be an environmental boon worldwide.
But we don’t like what we saw Tuesday, when - it appears - FutureGen tried to use emotions in Mattoon as leverage to get its way with the government. The alliance appears to be banking on the Department of Energy not wanting to play the bad guy and break the hearts of those who celebrated on Tuesday.
We hope that strategy doesn’t backfire, leading officials in Washington to dig in against FutureGen. In the short term, it has left a cloud of doubt and confusion over those who celebrated Tuesday morning.
Few people have ever won a political fight with the Bush administration.
1. Refuse to forward political joke e-mails.
2. Not say a single thing about a candidate I can’t back up with at least one fact.
3. Avoid entirely any mention of various candidates’ sex lives.
4. Turn off the television and put down the magazine at the exact moment the conversation about the candidates’ wardrobes begin.
5. Murder the “electable” criterion in its cradle.
The latest pol to stagger me is Aaron Schock. The Peoria wunderkid is skyrocketing to notoriety, but his recent loop-dee-loops make me dizzy.
First came Schock’s innovative approach to world peace: sell nuclear missiles to Taiwan, which somehow would not prompt China to go ballistic but instead embrace American policies. Hmm. That’s like trying to win over the neighborhood bully by calling him a yellow-bellied wussy. Good luck.
Then came news of Schock’s refusal to show up at debates if opponents videotape him. He says he’s worried they might use footage to kick him in TV ads. Um, yeah, duh - that’s politics. Worse, by dodging cameras, he comes off like a whiny Britney Spears scurrying from paparazzi - hardly the image of a get-tough Republican.
But his oddest move is his yes-I-do/no-I-don’t support for Rudy Giuliani, as revealed in the Word on the Street column Monday.
Schock endorsed Giuliani last spring and planned to run as a delegate. He was even on Giuliani’s “leadership team,” which meant he was supposed to have some influence over events in Peoria and the Rock Island area.
But when Schock decided to run for congress he didn’t just drop out of the Giuliani leadership team, he also withdrew his endorsement. Schock’s campaign manager explains…
“When you’re in a primary of your own, you’re not going to endorse other candidates.”
Not really. Lower-tier candidates often love to hitch their stars to presidential contenders.
LaHood announced he wouldn’t run again in July. Schock had been preparing to run for that seat for longer than he will likely admit. He was up and running almost immediately, and on August 24th, he was announced as the regional chair for Peoria and Rock Island.
Schock’s decision to abandon Giuliani was news to House GOP Leader Tom Cross, who supports Schock in the race and is heading Giuliani’s campaign effort in Illinois.
“We thought he was on board,” said Cross spokesman David Dring.
Luciano’s closing argument…
It seems like more political tap-dancing. Plus, it begs the question: Can an effective leader change his mind so much?
Sam Zell needs to stop looking for sweet deals from taxpayers. The Tribune might have allowed him to gobble up its company with very little money down, but we aren’t so charmed by billionaires. Instead, he and his new company need to court the growing list of private buyers for their crumbling stadium. Remember whom we are talking about here. Samuel Zell is No. 52 on the Forbes rich list with a net worth of $6 billion. The Tribune is the third largest newspaper company in the country. Turn down the violins, please.
Halvorson (D-Crete) said Tuesday she’s giving the Illinois Department of Transportation until March 1 to submit its airport layout plan to the Federal Aviation Administration. If IDOT doesn’t meet the deadline, Halvorson threatened to start publicly airing her grievances with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his administration.
“After March 1, I’m not going to be quiet,” said Halvorson, a candidate for the 11th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller. “I have been very cooperative so far.”
Fermilab may have to shut down for a month or more and stop research on a pivotal new physics project if federal budget cuts passed by the House this week become law, according to the Batavia lab’s director, who said the fiscal woes amount to the biggest crisis in the facility’s 40-year history.
The physics lab’s overall budget would drop by $62 million under the new House-Senate compromise on the 2008 budget, said Fermilab director Pier Oddone. The lab had been planning for an operating budget of $372 million.
At that point, the always-emotional mayor choked back tears as he struggled to continue. “I hope those people understand that Patrick is a very good son,” Daley said. “I love him. And Maggie and I are very proud of him. I hope you will respect that I will have nothing more to say on this.”
With that, Daley changed the subject to the CTA’s financial crisis. Asked a few minutes later if he knew whether his son or nephew were involved in any other city contracts, the mayor said, “I don’t know.”
His press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, said later that calls to contract officials in various city departments yielded no evidence that the mayor’s son, who is now in the Army, and nephew are involved in any other city business.
The report by Noelle Brennan, who has monitored city hiring since August 2005, alleged that several high-ranking aides to Daley skirted hiring rules to give jobs to favored candidates. In other instances, preferred job-seekers were put on the payrolls of outside contractors to get around restrictions at City Hall, Brennan said.
Many city employees who violated hiring rules have not been punished, the report said. Brennan also alleged that city lawyers repeatedly provided false or misleading information about hiring problems, hampering her investigation.
* Talcum powder sent to Daley, aldermen in letters; more here and here
As many of them below capacity are clustered in a few neighborhoods, the district’s overall elementary enrollment has fallen by 41,000 over the last seven years.
Dispensa said that trend is seen elsewhere nationwide, as younger families have fewer children. The children of many Baby Boomers, meanwhile, have moved on to high school, where enrollment remains strong for now.
Some officials may again try to exploit the 17 percent charade Wednesday, when they’re scheduled to discuss possible cuts of 10 percent for 2008. Expect to hear them whine about those 2007 cuts — followed by their blustery resistance to doing what mere taxpayers have to do whenever their income falls short of the amount of money they need: reduce spending.
The true story of the 17 percent started to unfold last week. The county’s budget director distributed a report on actual budget cuts for 2007. The report startled several board members who dutifully had cut 17 percent from their own office expenditures — and assumed everyone else in county government had done the same.
Most of Cook County’s top officials are expected to testify Wednesday that they cannot sustain a 10 percent cut in their 2008 budgets.
Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), chairman of the Finance Committee, said he has received letters from most countywide elected officials and department heads, nearly all of them saying their operations could not withstand another round of spending reductions.