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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY (Part 2) - Brown; No response; Illness; Roads; Realtors; Growth

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Enter your password to view comments      

This just in…

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

* 9:17 am - Bad news for George

The Supreme Court has rejected former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s appeal of his federal racketeering and fraud conviction.

The justices have no comment on their action, in response to Ryan’s claim that he and his fellow defendant, businessman Larry Warner did not receive a fair trial.

* 9:55 am - The Rezko trial jurors just sent the judge a note

In it, jurors asked to leave at noon today to accommodate a job interview for one of the jurors.

But they indicated they will stay an hour and a half later Wednesday and Thursday to: “help conclude our decision.” They will stay until 5:50 p.m. the next two days, the timing was set to help jurors make the train.

Some reporters were unimpressed by the note, one television reporter hurried out of the courtroom bench saying :”Excuse me. I gotta go blow this out of proportion.”
Another TV reporter joked: “I took a shower for this?”


- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

* The Illinois Tollway has a new mascot

The newest mascot on the scene is the Illinois tollway’s Captain Tollway, a cross-eyed caped crusader with a face that only the mother of Royal Canadian Mountie Dudley DoRight could love.

It’s hard to imagine Captain Tollway experiencing life in the fast lane with i-Zoom Girl, the buxom mascot for the Indiana Toll Road’s i-Zoom toll transponder system. A Hoosier hot to trot, i-Zoom Girl’s orange hair matches the orange chevrons decorating her knee-high boots.

Still, with the Memorial Day weekend officially kicking off the summer driving season, Captain Tollway is ushering in the “Know Before You Go” campaign of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

And here he is…

* Question: Come up with mascots for both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate.

Bonus question: How about a mascot for the governor?

…Adding… Some of these responses aren’t as self-evident as you may think they are, so I’m gonna ask that you explain your nominations. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Let’s just get outta here

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

* My syndicated newspaper column

Back in 1966, with the Vietnam War escalating by the day, Vermont Sen. George Aiken famously said the United States should just “declare victory and go home.”

History may have repeated itself last week when the two men assigned by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to forge a compromise on a multibillion-dollar capital construction plan unveiled a $31 billion proposal for roads, bridges, schools and mass transit and then quickly left town. Their war was unwinnable.

* We’ve had this discussion before. Nobody trusts the governor. Nobody is getting along.

* The solution? You got me. Hopefully, the General Assembly can pass a budget and get out of town this week and avoid another long overtime session. Maybe they can come up with a new plan later this year. But there’s a little problem

There are 1.7 billion reasons the House and Senate have their work cut out for them as they try to negotiate a state budget by the end of the month.

That’s the difference between the chambers’ closest budget proposals, according to Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat and the Senate’s lead budget negotiator.

The big difference is the pension bond scheme, discussed below.

* Also one potential flashpoint was avoided, but another may be on the way

Gov. Rod Blagojevich Friday decided to go ahead with two extra state aid payments that were promised to schools as part of this year’s state budget. The governor sent a letter to state Comptroller Dan Hynes directing that the payments be made in June as scheduled.

As recently as Wednesday, administration officials had said they were considering a postponement in the payments until July as a money-saving move for a state budget hemorrhaging red ink. School districts were making contingency plans.

Now that he won’t manipulate the numbers to shaft the schools, the governor is gonna have to find money somewhere to balance this fiscal year’s budget, so oxen may be gored. One can only hope that this happens after the General Assembly leaves town - if they leave town, and if he lets them stay gone.

* I’ve been telling subscribers for a couple weeks that one big key to adjourning is this item

As Illinois lawmakers try to work out a state budget by the end of this week, they also could be moving toward their second consecutive pay raise. Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other top state officials would get a pay bump, too, unless the Senate votes to reject the raise.

* Why is that so important? Here’s a hint

The Senate has 30 working session days to reject the raises or they automatically take effect. There are varying interpretations on whether to count extra days scheduled when none of the senators is required to show up, so there could be as many as 10 more session days before the raises take effect.

No Senator wants those raises to kick in during a long summer session. Even if they have no opponent, they’d get grief like crazy. So, their fear is our best hope of adjourning on time. Pray for fear.

* More session stuff…

* Ideas sunk, stalled in Capitol

* It’s crunch time at Statehouse

* State lawmakers urged to give $180 million more to Chicago Public Schools

* Senate budget contains 6 percent spending increase

* State Capitol Notebook

* Who’s pimping whom?

* Limits should be placed on House, Senate leadership

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      

The pension bomb

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

* The AP ran a series of stories over the weekend about Illinois’ pension debt problem. Here’s the first lede

The state’s pension debt will exceed $44 billion this summer, increasing at a rate of about $120 per second, according to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration. The debt already tops $42 billion — enough to give every one of Illinois’ 12.8 million residents a check of $3,300 or buy 937,000 Cadillacs at $45,000 a pop.

The combination of debt in terms of both money and percentage gives Illinois the infamous distinction of having the nation’s worst pension problem, according to an Associated Press review of records and interviews with experts. And there’s no solution in sight.

* A lot of very important numbers were buried in the middle of the stories. Like this…

State pensions will be paid whether the systems are 60 percent funded or 90 percent funded, lawmakers say — the funding percentage only matters if all state employees would retire at once.

The argument that we don’t need to have all the money on hand right this minute so that if everyone retires at once they can all get paid immediately isn’t a bad one.

* And then there’s this…

A 50-year plan adopted in 1995 has the state on track to be up to 90 percent funding by 2045.

But here’s the rub: The state agreed to pay the pension systems 8.5 percent interest — the estimated return on investments the systems would expect to get if they had all the money they were owed — for essentially borrowing money from the payments they should receive.

Those two factors (besides the complete lack of political will to change the very system itself) are what’s really driving this pension funding mess. We’re in a huge hole and we’ve deliberately rigged the system against ourselves.

* As the AP notes in another pension story

The state owes the pension systems 8.5 percent interest on debt that it carries over every year. That amounts to $3.6 billion in interest - enough to give all public schools and colleges a 40 percent funding increase this year.

That interest rate is criminal.

* So far, investment returns are keeping us above water. Check out this report from the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Last fiscal year, the state pumped $737.7 million into the Teachers’ Retirement System. Employees contributed another $826 million. However, the fund had to pay out $3.2 billion in benefits and refunds. Without a very strong investment return of $6.8 billion, the pension fund would have had to dip into existing assets, which totaled $41.9 billion as of the end of last fiscal year.

* What we need are different numbers. For example, how much do we have to pump in every year so the pension funds don’t deplete their assets to the point that they go broke? That’s a question for which I’ve yet to see an answer. The rapid aging of our teacher corps is readily apparent by looking at the numbers. Last fiscal year’s payout was almost three times what it was in Fiscal Year 1998.

Also, is it really necessary to stay on this 2045 timeline? The payoff date was essentially pulled from thin air. It was 50 years after the bill passed, so it probably seemed like a nice, round number.

* If something isn’t done soon, the pain is just gonna increase. The state contribution to the Teachers Retirement System jumped about $300 million from last fiscal year to this one, and will rise almost $400 million next fiscal year. The state’s Fiscal Year 2011 payment will be over $2 billion. And that’s just one pension fund. Add over a billion dollars for the State Employees Retirement System, close to $600 million for the university system and close to $90 million total for the judges’ and legislative systems. We’re looking at a scheduled $3.7 billion payment in that year alone. And it only goes up from there.

The governor’s people want to do another pension obligation bond plan. The $16 billion proposal would reduce this year’s payment by $500 million, and by a like amount in the near future.

The longterm impact on annual payments hasn’t been fully explained yet, and if the investments crash (the pension funds lost a bunch of money on the stock markets in 2001, 2002 and 2003) we could end up paying bondholders as well as the pension funds.

* The political viability of moving away from a guaranteed benefits plan is basically nil. Also, since teachers are not in the Social Security system, the employer share would likely negate any difference if we moved away from the current system. Discussion centered on those topics is wishful thinking, at best.

With all that in mind, what are your thoughts on this?

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      

Too tough?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

* Some think Tamms is too tough

Reginald “Akkeem” Berry said he wasted away during eight years in Tamms Correctional Center at the southern tip of Illinois.

Berry, a former Four Corner Hustler imprisoned for killing a gang rival over turf, said he lost 75 pounds from his muscular frame while in the state’s only “supermax” facility, where he was sent after a series of disciplinary problems in other prisons. […]

Tamms inmates are held in solitary confinement for at least 23 hours a day, are fed through holes in cell doors, can’t make phone calls, are allowed only three visits a year and are denied communal activity including religious services, [Rep. Julie Hamos] said. She said the prison was not designed for prolonged confinement of inmates — yet a third have been there for about a decade.

* I toured Tamms a few years back. It’s a whole lot more modern than some of our other state prisons. The prisoners’ stark isolation is almost assuredly maddening, but most of those prisoners were sent to Tamms because they caused serious trouble or continued their gang activities. So, I’m not sure that this aspect of the bill would mean much

[Hamos’] bill states that prisoners should not remain at Tamms for more than a year unless transferring them would endanger the safety of staff or other prisoners.

If that’s why they were sent there in the first place, who’s to say they wouldn’t remain a danger to others?

* And this provision would surely give problem prisoners an avenue to deliberately delay their Tamms confinement…

The bill also calls for prisoners to be told why they are sent to Tamms and to get a hearing.

* All that being said, there should be some way to allow even the worst prisoners a modicum of humanity…

Prisoners in the maximum security section of Tamms are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day, fed through a slot in the door and have no access to communal activity, including religious services, the lawmakers said.

As I recall, prisoners have complained in the past of being sent to Tamms merely for organizing for better treatment. An audit might help clear up some of the questions and force reforms, if necessary.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a prison reform thread before. Now’s our chance.

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      

$38K pension windfall after just eight weeks

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

[Bumped up for higher visibility.]

This is obscene

Former state Sen. Carol Ronen’s brief gig in Gov. Blagojevich’s office has proven as lucrative as a win in the Illinois Lottery.

Ronen worked just eight weeks for the governor earlier this year, but that job will provide her with a windfall of at least $37,995 every year for the rest of her life.

Ronen’s stint as a Blagojevich senior adviser is enabling the governor’s onetime Senate floor leader to reel in a $102,000-a-year state pension. Ronen, 63, will earn 35 percent more in retirement than she did as a $75,301-a-year legislator representing part of Chicago’s North Side lakefront. […]

“My entire career has been devoted to public service, part of the time in the Legislature and part of the time in the executive branches of state and city governments,” Ronen said. “My pension is based on all those years of service. It’s not a scam.”

Wrong, Carol. A $38K pension bump for eight weeks in the administration is a huge scam.

Anyone elected to the legislature after 1994 can no longer get these pension bumps. But Ronen was first elected in 1992, so she’s eligible.

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

* Birkett talks a different story when shoe’s on the other foot…

Maybe this experience will make you realize life isn’t nearly as cut and dried as you’d like to believe it is. Maybe now you’ll feel some compassion for the pain of DuPage defendants, guilty or innocent, and their families. Maybe now you’ll understand that when a state’s attorney steps as far over the line as you just did, it’s time to go.

* Rezko jury to resume deliberations

* Most need not apply: Ad tailored for 1 specific hire

When Cook County Assessor James Houlihan went looking for a consultant for his office, the specifications were clear.

“The consultant must have served at least three years as a Chief Deputy Assessor to the Cook County Assessor,” the advertisement read, “and must have been in charge of the automation project.”

* Bernard Schoenburg: LaHood picks visit to Lebanon over bid for RNC post

* Politics: Moderation takes a setback as LaHood exits race for RNC

* Robos against Bean

Someone must be going to great lengths to target Bean since the Springfield office has a 217 area code phone number and there’s not a single 217 number in her district.

* Biggert Flips on GI Bill

At least one Illinois Republican is switching sides on the hotly debated GI Bill, which would pay college tuition for veterans of recent wars. Congresswoman Judy Biggert says she originally voted against the bill because the domestic spending portion of it didn’t include money for Illinois research labs. She says now that the Senate has added those funds- she’s jumping on board.

* Police send Seals $2,200 bill for gas stunt

“We’re going to fully reimburse the Police Department,” she said. “We greatly appreciated their help.”

* Scott Harper Says Congresswoman Biggert Should Remember Veterans With Vote For GI Bill - Offers Petition

* Illinois lawmakers propose federal military family fund

“It is our duty on the home front to take good care of those who bear the battle on the front line,” said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who joined the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), at a news conference Sunday in the Thompson Center

* Hastert successor Foster plans GI fund modeled after state program

* Congressman hopes to create fund to help military families

* Foster hopes to create fund to aid military families

* For sale

With prospects fading for his effort to sell Wrigley to the state, Mr. Zell identified more than 10 commercial real estate firms and investment groups he believes will be interested in buying the stadium without the team, says a person familiar with the plans.

* No help from IDOT - State workers use their own time, equipment to mow along road outside Camp Butler

* Teenage Politicians

* Confused…

* Mmm, grapes of greed

* Betting probe heats up: E-mail: Firm aware of software glitch since October

* Stroger’s office, Palatine work out details of new visit

* Could Chicago recycle London 2012 stadium?

* Money & the mayor breakdown

* Chicago’s tale of corruption has no end

* The New Children’s Museum from Eye on Chicago

* Option 9: Make no little plans!

* Fox Chicago Sunday

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   7 Comments      

Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Poll results; Ethics (Use all caps in password)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today’s edition of Capitol Fax

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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Featured InsiderzExchange advertisers

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Senate Republicans and Democratic state Rep. Brandon Phelps have their May and June activities listed on the InsiderzExchange calendar. Lots more event postings are on the way.

Check out what’s posted so far here and here. [UPDATE: More events are now posted: July, August, September and October.]

One thing that makes InsiderzExchange different from everybody else is that you can keep track of new calendar events, classified ads and resumes with our handy RSS feeds. Click here for the calendar, here for the classifieds and here for the resumes.

It’s growing by the day…

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

* More shenanigans!
* Saturday campaign money report
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Shenanigans!
* Tribune drops bombshell on Biss running mate
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Rauner: "Madigan has rigged the Democratic primary for Pritzker"
* New Ives radio ad claims Democrats are trying to help Rauner, while Brady does Rauner robocall
* *** UPDATED x1 - DGA responds *** Elections board says DGA should file disclosure for Ives ad
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Jones; IEA/IFT; Reis; Mitchell; Edgar
* ISRA, Drury both try to claim Raoul inserted "poison pill" into gun bill
* Pro-life group launches GOTV effort for Lipinski
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Rauner opens new online track against Ives
* Erika Harold still can't remember comments, but says "I was wrong"
* Rauner calls Madigan "a unified force of bad, of evil"
* Sen. Duckworth gets involved in another state central committee race
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Has Pritzker gone to ground?
* Illinois House Bill HB 4900 Wastes Government Resources
* McCann, barred from SGOP caucus meeting, claims Rauner threatened to "destroy you and your family"
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Caption contest!
* Obama mailer kerfuffle in Lipinski district
* Rauner attended Quincy campaign event after Quincy veterans' home presser
* After spending millions in Dem primary, Rauner accuses "Washington liberals" of "hijacking" the GOP primary
* Yesterday's stories

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