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This just in… JCAR votes to block guv’s health plan *** Foster claims lead *** House members will propose bill to codify guv’s JCAR proposal ***

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

*** 1:20 pm *** The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted 8-2 this morning to block the governor’s health care expansion plan.

JCAR and the administration have been deadlocked over the issue since the governor ordered his agencies to ignore JCAR’s ruling that they couldn’t expand health care with vetoed budget money last year. Some additional background on today’s specific vote is here.

* The AP notes

Administration officials hurriedly left the committee hearing room after the vote without taking questions.

* But the governor’s office just released this statement…

JCAR has provided its input. We will move forward and continue to, within the parameters of the law, assist the uninsured in getting access to affordable coverage as well as helping to protect coverage for working parents within the FamilyCare program.

Your guess is as good as mine on what that means.

* My intern Kevin Fanning was at the meeting and filed this report…

After a few introductory questions were asked, Representative Lou Lang fired the first shot:

“Where do you have the money?”

To which the administration officials replied, “In our budget.”

“But if there wasn’t a surplus, and you added a program that wasn’t already there, where is the money coming from?” Lang asked.

The panel had no answer to the question, and more grilling ensued. Finally, Lang asked “Why did you even come to JCAR in the first place?” to which the increasingly angry panel replied: “Because we wanted to go through the process.”

Representative Fritchey added to the fray when he stated, “All we’re being told is ‘Don’t worry we can pay for it.’ How? ‘Don’t worry we can pay for it.’ Help us help yourselves.”

A member of the administration responded: “It shouldn’t be like Mother may I.”

With that Representative Lang made the motion to block the expansion. The motion was seconded, and subsequently passed 8 to 2. The director of DHFS stormed out of the meeting before it formally adjourned.

I asked Representative Lang if he considered the hearing a proxy war with the administration. “The Governor’s office will consider this a battle over process,” Lang said. “They will say that nothing is more important than healthcare. I will say that nothing is more important than the Constitution of the State of Illinois. If the Governor wants to provide healthcare, then I will sit down and join him in that effort, but he needs to come to the General Assembly.”

“We’re going to see if the administration proceeds to continue a program that we’ve now denied twice. We have something on the third floor of the Capitol called the Illinois General Assembly, and if they’re interested in changing the laws of the state of Illinois they can come there with a bill like everybody else. They can propose a law in bill form, and we will vote for it up or down. I might even vote for it. They consider JCAR to be advisory.”

*** 1:51 pm *** Congressional Democratic candidate Bill Foster just released a new poll which shows him leading Republican Jim Oberweis…

This is a special election, held on a Saturday, so polling may not be all that much help. The ground game is gonna be very important and Foster claims superiority there.

The poll itself had just 402 respondents and was taken over a four-day period (Feb. 21-24). It has a rather high margin of error of 4.9 percent.

* More from Foster’s poll

Foster continues to hold a significant lead (47%-25%) among the critical segment of voters who identify themselves as Independents. Foster has also succeeded in consolidating his party behind him following the primary, as 89% of self-identified Democrats now say they will vote for the businessman and scientist. On the flip side, Oberweis’ biggest problem is his failure to consolidate his party following the negative and divisive Republican primary. Just 76% of self-identified Republicans say they will vote for Oberweis, a number which is less surprising when we see an astonishing 11% of Republicans who are STRONGLY unfavorable to him, a number which has not changed at all since the first survey we conducted (an additional 2% hold somewhat unfavorable views).

The party results have a much larger MoE, of course, so take those numbers with a grain of salt.

* 2:01 pm -
From Taegan Goddard

LegiStorm launched a database of personal financial disclosures for thousands of the most powerful congressional aides.

By law, members of Congress and their highest paid staff are required annually to disclose information about their personal finances, including details about their debts, investments, outside earned income, spousal employment, major gifts received and even their gambling winnings.

*** 2:43 pm *** Reps. David Miller and John Fritchey just held a Statehouse press conference to announce they would sponsor legislation to codify the governor’s health care proposals which were once again rejected by JCAR this morning.

Miller and Fritchey said that their disagreement with the governor wasn’t necessarily over policy, but process. So, the governor’s proposals ought to be subjected to the will of the entire General Assembly, not just JCAR. More in a bit.

UPDATE: From the Miller-Fritchey press release…

“From the beginning, we have maintained that we fully support the principle of providing access to quality, affordable health care,” Fritchey, a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “Our concern has been rooted in the means by which the Governor has sought to do it. An initiative of this scope and importance should go through the Legislature, and that is what we are attempting to do with this bill.”

And here’s the bill: HB 6297

- Posted by Rich Miller   63 Comments      


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Question of the day

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

* Congressional candidate Jim Oberweis has this on his website about the state of health insurance in America….

The problem is, the health care delivery system we’ve created for ourselves — a “third party payer” system, in which most Americans get their health insurance through their employer — creates perverse incentives, and, because the consumer of the health services is divorced from paying for those services, offers no incentives to manage health care costs better. Moreover, too many workers are left in a “job lock,” where they are afraid to move to a new job because they would lose their current health insurance coverage. That stifles economic growth and increased productivity, and is a further drain on our national economy.

Oberweis proposes abandoning employer health insurance and moving towards things like health savings accounts.

* Question: Do you agree or disagree with Oberweis? Explain fully.

- Posted by Rich Miller   44 Comments      


Um, well, maybe not

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

* As I’ve said before, Martin Ozinga’s name is being floated as a possible successor to former 11th Congressional District GOP congressional candidate Tim Baldermann. The Pantagraph tried to reach him, but he’s out of the country

Among those mulling a run include Martin Ozinga III, owner of a Chicago-area concrete and construction company.

‘’He has been contacted. He is considering it,'’ his assistant, Margie Nelson, said Monday.

* But there could be a big problem with Ozinga. Larry found this Tribune story from 2005…

The boldly striped red and white cement trucks have long been a common sight in Chicago, pouring concrete for miles of curbs and sidewalks as well as for skyscrapers, Comiskey Park and Navy Pier.

The trucks have brought their owners, Ozinga Bros. Inc., tens of millions of dollars in city contracts and launched members of the family-owned firm to noted positions in local political and charitable circles.

But behind the scenes, documents and interviews show, the Ozinga firm repeatedly dodged city rules and exploited an affirmative-action program to win lucrative contracts.

As City Hall wrestles with scandals in its programs to lift minority- and women-owned businesses, the Ozingas provide a case study in how a white-owned company can work the system–and win.

The company’s actions include creating a spinoff concrete firm in the 1980s to win city business reserved exclusively for minority-owned companies. Martin, Richard and James Ozinga–all white men–enlisted the help of two African-American churches in Chicago’s depressed South Side, giving nine church members 51 percent ownership to technically meet the city’s rules.

But two of the African-American church members now say the spinoff company was bogus and that minorities had little control of the business. “It was a classic front,” church member Henry Washington says.

Hmm. That wouldn’t be good.

* Meanwhile, OneMan lets loose on those who have criticized Jim Oberweis for having a capital fund that invests in Asia, and whacks Bill Foster for skipping more debates before next month’s special election. Go take a look.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      


Red herrings, serious holes and the real deal

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

* The least popular thing to do in Illinois is question the sainted Patrick Fitzgerald. The US Attorney has put “The Fear” into almost every politician in this state, so it’s difficult to find fault.

However, a ruling yesterday by U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve yesterday has made me rethink parts of Tony Rezko’s prosecution. I went through a bunch of this with subscribers already, so let’s just look at this one avenue here

The ruling disclosed another alleged transaction involving Blagojevich’s campaign fund. Rezko promised a businessman an appointment to a state post in exchange for a $50,000 political donation to the governor, according to prosecutors.

Joseph Cacciatore allegedly asked Rezko to help his brother, Phil, land a spot on the Illinois Banking Board. Rezko said it would happen if he kicked in $25,000 to the governor’s campaign fund. Rezko offered to contribute another $25,000 through one of his companies on behalf of Cacciatore, according to the ruling.

Phil Cacciatore did get that Banking Board spot, but there are no corresponding contributions on the State Board of Elections website.

* Why is this important? Because Judge St. Eve said that prosecutors could use the alleged Cacciatore scam to buttress a charge against Rezko. The charge centers on an alleged shakedown of Tom Rosenberg for a $1.5 million campaign contribution to Blagojevich. That story has lots of its own serious holes, not the least of which is star witness Stu Levine’s credibility and his alleged $25,000 a month drug habit

“Two federal fraud indictments did not motivate Levine to plead guilty,” Rezko’s attorneys wrote in a 16-page filing, many parts of it redacted. “Rather, the evidence shows that Levine was fearful that the government would discover his secret life” and that Levine began cooperating only after learning that the government “had discovered and was investigating his secret life.

“As much as the government would like to describe Levine’s [redacted] as merely [redacted], the fact that each such affair involved [redacted] and all-night sessions fueled by huge quantities of illegal drugs gives Levine much more to hide, and much more to fear.”

They really want to get this out, but I’m not gonna help. You shouldn’t, either. Don’t risk being banned.

* And this is a bit weird, too

Monday’s ruling indicated that prosecutors allege that Kjellander served as a straw man for Rezko in the bond deal. Rezko, the ruling suggested, directed the investment bank Bear Stearns to give the fee to Kjellander, who then transferred $600,000 of the $809,000 fee to Joseph Aramanda, a Rezko business associate. Aramanda then allegedly turned over $450,000 to four other people designated by Rezko.

In an interview Monday, Kjellander said he made a “loan” to Aramanda “because I got a very favorable interest rate. That loan was repaid before the due date, and I made a very nice profit on the interest.”

So, if Kj loaned the money to Aramanda, what, exactly is the beef with Kj? Judge St. Eve decided that this particular avenue would be inadmissable evidence against Rezko. I’m not sure why prosecutors even brought it up, except to throw more mud on the defendant, which is not their job.

* This is mostly irrelevant

In Monday’s ruling, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, Lon Monk, was mentioned as signing off on Levine’s reappointments.

Since Monk was the chief of staff, he probably signed off on all appointments.

* All that being said, there are some obvious problems with the Blagojevich administration and serious charges against Rezko. For instance, because this contribution actually exists, I give this bit of evidence more weight

According to the ruling, Rezko and Levine met at a dinner party on Nov. 2, 2002—just three days before Blagojevich defeated Jim Ryan for governor. At the time, Rezko was one of Blagojevich’s biggest fundraisers and Levine, Jim Ryan’s law school classmate, was the largest single contributor to Ryan’s campaign for governor.

The party was hosted by Fortunee Massuda, a shareholder in Rezko’s pizza business, and her husband, Charles Hannon, according to the ruling. In 2003, Blagojevich appointed Massuda to the state’s Health Facilities Planning Board, just weeks after she gave Blagojevich’s campaign $25,000. Prosecutors contend Hannon was to be the recipient of a bogus consulting fee from an investment firm awarded business by the Teachers Retirement System, on whose board Levine sat, St. Eve said in her ruling. The fee is alleged to have been arranged by Rezko and Levine.

I’m not sure if that fee was ever paid. But there is that campaign contribution, and that’s all bad for the governor. There were others just like it around that time.

- Posted by Rich Miller   77 Comments      


Tax gimmick proposed for Wrigley deal

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

* Relaxing Wrigley Field’s landmark status is no big thing with me. It would be stupid for anybody to drastically change the look of the place, since the park is what really sells tickets, but if that’s what they want to do, then go for it. I care not.

But this new tax instrument idea is very troubling

The Tribune Co.’s plan to have a state agency acquire and renovate Wrigley Field would require the city to relax the ballpark’s landmark status and forfeit for 30 years the sales tax growth generated by the remodeling, a top official said Monday.

More on the new tax thingy…

The Wrigley renovation would be financed by bonds retired by increased stadium revenues — everything from naming rights, sponsorships and concessions to clubs seats and additional skyboxes. The Tribune Co. would get a higher price for the stadium because ISFA can issue tax-exempt, longer-term bonds at a reduced interest rate.

Thompson described the arrangement as a sales tax version of tax-increment-financing (TIF). But, instead of freezing property taxes at existing levels and using the growth for business subsidies and infrastructure improvements within the district, the sales tax increment generated by the stadium renovation would be used to modernize Wrigley.

“The city would have to give up their share of sales tax increment for the next 30 years,” Thompson said.

Too cute by half. And, notice, there’s no estimate given for how much revenue the city would lose.

* Everybody keeps quoting Same Zell and Jim Thompson on this subject, but do you ever wonder how potential team buyers feel? Crain’s had a piece recently that suggested it wasn’t going down all that well…

Would-be owners fear being saddled with decades of rent payments to compensate Tribune for a ballpark they’ll never own. That would crimp cash flow that otherwise could be spent on signing All-Stars in pursuit of a long-elusive World Series championship, they say.

“That is money not going . . . for the benefit of the team or fans,” says a member of another bidding group who also requested anonymity. “It is just rent out of the team’s pocket (that could pay) for salaries that is being capitalized into a lump sum for Tribune’s benefit.”

No way. No freaking way.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Morning shorts

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2008

* States reach bridge deal

* Don’t rush changes in early voting

* Officials still working on power at fairgrounds

“Overall, the fairgrounds needs some major overhaul as far as the electrical systems,” Reitz said Monday. “They don’t have the money to make all of the upgrades they need to do. They fix the problems as they happen. It’s just another need, and it’s not in the budget.”

* Sales tax showdown set for Stroger, board

But those dire warnings have failed to persuade most of the board’s 17 commissioners to back Stroger’s $3.2 billion budget plan, which now calls for increasing the county sales tax to 2 percent from 0.75 percent. That increase would boost the overall

* No deal yet on Cook Co, taxes, budget

* Clean Machines: State deploys decontamination units to speed response to emergencies

* Bradley Worried About Economy

* Governors wrestle with tight budget times

In Illinois, Comptroller Dan Hynes’ report prompted the governor’s office to disclose the $750 million hole in this budget. Not only do lawmakers have to worry about how to come up with enough money to pay next year’s expenses, they need to find more cash this year — or make spending cuts.

* Study: Senators abusing system

Most of the research focuses on officials who paid family members for fundraising and campaign work, and senators whose family members are lobbyists. It also details which senators reimbursed themselves with money from their campaign committees.

* Panel weighs fate of retired racehorses

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   4 Comments      


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