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Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Raw audio of Blagojevich, Jones, Cross, Watson capital plan presser

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

This just in…

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* 1:42 pm - The governor just held a press conference with three of the four legislative leaders (Madigan was not there, of course) to demand passage of the capital plan. From his pres release…

The Governor and the three legislative leaders called for passage of the plan prior to the scheduled legislative adjournment date later this week. […]

“Senate Republicans have been a clear and consistent voice for a responsible capital program. There are so many needs across the state – roads, bridges, schools, universities, airports – the list goes on and on. The infrastructure needs of this state must be addressed. We have the opportunity to address those needs, capture federal money that’s available and create jobs that are sorely needed in Illinois,” said Sen. Watson.

“Because of the great needs for roads, bridges, mass transit and school construction in this state, I support the Hastert/Poshard infrastructure plan. For us to not give full consideration to this well thought-out plan put together by these two respected individuals would be an enormous mistake,” said Rep. Cross.

* 1:45 pm - No year-round betting at the State Fairgrounds yet

A bill to expand harness racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds stalled in a Senate committee Wednesday, making it unlikely the bill will pass this year.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, asked the Executive Committee to delay acting on it. He made the request after senators from both parties raised questions about how the plan would work. Republican senators in particular said the bill appears to give control of the fairgrounds racetrack to a locally appointed board rather than the state Department of Agriculture.

* 1:46 pm - Blagojevich won’t tip his hand yet on the budget

Gov. Rod Blagojevich isn’t ruling out using his veto pen if he doesn’t like the budget plans currently being considered by Illinois lawmakers.

As Democrats in the House and Senate work to craft a spending proposal by a midnight Saturday deadline, the governor said he hopes whatever arrives on his desk ‘’does good things for people.'’

But, as he entered the State Capitol building Wednesday morning, he said he hasn’t agreed to sign off on any of the spending blueprints.

‘’I'm not going to prejudge anything, I haven’t seen anything,'’ Blagojevich said.

He also said he would be in no rush to sign a budget when it arrives on his desk.

‘’I'll take my time and deliberate and do the right thing,'’ Blagojevich said.

* 2:09 pm - If you’re rooting for on-time adjournment, then this is fairly good news. If you want a capital bill passed right away, it’s not

Blagojevich say he isn’t linking the two issues [budget and capital bill] but believes they can both get done by this weekend. He wouldn’t say how that might happen.

* 2:18 pm -
So, a half hour ago we were told that the Rezko jury had sent another note to the judge. Don’t get all tingly. Here’s part one

“Can I get a new verdict form, today spilled coffee on the old one,” the note from the foreperson read.

And remember how they left early this week but promised to stay late today and tomorrow?

Well, the second part of their note indicated the panel would leave at 4:30 p.m. instead of 5:50 p.m. as they previously said.

It’s like a country club over there.

* 2:27 pm - Frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, AFSCME is planning informational pickets at several locations tomorrow. The full press release is here.

* 3:10 pm - More capital bill stuff from the AP

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says House Democrats are still willing to talk about [the capital bill] but sees the chances of it happening as — quote “somewhere between little and nil.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   54 Comments      

Making sausage

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* Getting a legislative agreement on stuff like this can be tough

With painful fuel prices and a slumping housing market some say the draw to borrow money from cash advance places like these is strong.

“The average income of a person who goes to pay day lenders is probably that 25 to 35 thousand-dollar income range,” says Tony Pierce.

As Vice President of the Central Illinois Organizing Project, Pierce is a warning consumers to avoid payday loan business until loopholes in the Pay Day Reform Act of 2005 are changed. […]

But Pierce says even if it’s an emergency situation payday lenders charging upwards to 400 percent interest on a loan is equivalent to loan sharking.

* Here’s the problem with the way our recent state law was written…

The current law limits fees and interest rates on loans and how much customers can borrow, but that only applies to loans lasting 120 days. Consumer advocates claim the payday lending industry skirts the restrictions by directing customers to loans lasting 121 days and longer to charge up to 700 percent in annual interest rates.

* All they did was find another financial instrument. The House has a bill that caps annual interest rates at 70 percent and removes the time limit. But one element of the payday loan industry says that’s not the right way to go

Steve Brubaker of the Illinois Small Loan Association said borrowers won’t necessarily benefit from a lower interest rate. Customers most at risk are ones that can’t repay the debt and face staggering attorney and court costs, he said.

Brubaker favors a plan payday lenders discussed with the Senate that allows them to charge up to a 400 percent annual interest rate but restricts them from collecting attorney, court and triple damage costs. […]

“We haven’t really solved anything,” Brubaker said. “The process that we started with has been thrown out with the trash and now we have the same problem because we have consumers that have too much debt piled on top of them and lenders can still take them to court.”

* It’s easy to just say let’s do both: Cap interest rates and free borrowers from attorney and court costs.

But the reality of legislating stuff like this (in any state, not just Illinois) is that it’s always easier to kill something than it is to pass it, so you have to deal with the interest groups. There are just too many chokepoints along the way that opponents can use to stifle any change. That last reform bill was the end product of years of effort, and now it’s mostly worthless.

Often, a slow-moving system that works against change isn’t a bad thing. You wouldn’t want a completely unfettered legislative process, believe me. Lots of “change” ain’t so good.

But it’s stuff like this payday loan monster that drives some observers and participants up a wall.

One argument used on behalf of the payday loan companies is that a whole lot of people don’t have any other access to credit. So, the argument goes, we shouldn’t go so far as to put the payday loan companies out of business. The other side, of course, is that there’s plenty of money to be made in that business so there needs to be a reasonable but firm solution. 400 percent interest doesn’t look all that reasonable.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      

Question of the day

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* The setup

The Illinois Senate on Tuesday fell four votes short of approving a plan to let certain Illinois counties, including Sangamon, install cameras to nab motorists who zip through stoplights. […]

The cameras already are permitted in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will counties. The legislation would have added DeKalb, LaSalle, McLean, Peoria, Sangamon, and Winnebago counties. […]

Opponents said the bill is flawed. They questioned the accuracy of the cameras, raised privacy concerns and criticized local governmental bodies for using the cameras to generate revenue.

“I really believe this is just a moneymaker for municipalities,” said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, who voted no. […]

Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, urged fellow senators to “think about this vote because if you vote for this, you’re voting to live under Big Brother. You’re voting to live in a spy society.”

* The question: Do you support or oppose this particular piece of legislation? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   61 Comments      

Through the past, fondly; And through the present, darkly

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* Say what you want about George Ryan, but Daley has a point

Mayor Richard Daley, seeking more cash for Chicago Public Schools and construction money for the CTA, sounded Tuesday as though he’s longing for the good old days of Gov. George Ryan.

Though the mayor declined to single out Gov. Rod Blagojevich or any particular legislator for criticism at the lack of progress in Springfield on those two fronts, Daley did concede more business got done under Ryan, the former Republican governor whose felony-conviction appeal the U.S. Supreme Court rejected earlier in the day.

“He understood that infrastructure is always important the first day you arrive, because he had the experience in government, and he always knew it was important,” Daley said of Ryan. “And people trusted him, they did.”

The voters lost their trust in Ryan, for good reason. But at the Statehouse, at least, Ryan’s word was his bond.

* Raw video

* More from Daley on privatizing the state Lottery

“You just don’t wake up and say, ‘We’re going to lease assets.’ You have to work with the General Assembly. You have to find out what it’s going to be used for. It can only be used for those purposes. So it takes a lot of time. You just don’t do it overnight. It takes a couple of years to do these things,” the mayor said.

* Hizzoner on the Statehouse atmosphere

“It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys down there, unfortunately. Lack of trust,” said Daley, a former state senator. “I hope they can get around that.”

Not yet.

* Meanwhile, Bethany Jaeger has an excellent roundup of where things stand today…

A major piece of the Senate’s version of a state budget is unlikely to advance, but that might not hold up the entire budget. The General Assembly has until midnight May 31 to approve a budget without needing Republican votes.

The Senate’s plan to float a $16 billion pension bond scheme would refinance the state’s five pension systems — which have accumulated more than $42 billion in debt — and pay them off at a lower interest rate. […]

Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, said informal discussions with House Democrats about the pension deal indicate it may be difficult to get Republican votes necessary to get a three-fifths majority in each chamber. [,,,]

As Radogno said, if the pension deal failed, legislators could pull the sale of the dormant 10th casino license “out of a hat” in an attempt to balance the budget. That deal could be worth about $500 million.

* Speaking of the 10th license

New York investment bank Bear Stearns & Co. is in line for its first contract with the state of Illinois since becoming embroiled in government contracting scandals here earlier this decade.

The Illinois Gaming Board is set to hire Bear Stearns to help it auction the state’s 10th casino license this summer. The Illinois Department of Revenue, which oversees the Gaming Board, recommended the firm despite its connection to alleged pay-to-play schemes.

A former Bear Stearns senior managing director, P. Nicholas Hurtgen, was indicted last year on charges that he pressured Naperville’s Edward Hospital, which was seeking state approval for an expansion, to hire a contractor who then paid kickbacks to Stuart Levine. Mr. Levine is the former vice-chairman of the state agency that signs off on such projects. Mr. Hurtgen has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.

Federal investigators also have probed an $800,000 fee that Bear Stearns paid to Republican power broker Robert Kjellander for helping the firm land the underwriting work on the state’s $10-billion pension obligation bond deal in 2003. Mr. Kjellander has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

* Related…

* Federal appeals court allows discrimination lawsuit against Blagojevich

* State lawmakers returned to work Tuesday with optimism but no real progress toward a new budget as a Saturday deadline fast approaches.

* Hey, guv, if tax credits work so well for Hollywood, why not try more?

* No vacation? Blame a Democrat

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

The Sgt. Schultz defense

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* I guess the default position is not to believe anything Rod Blagojevich says

Gov. Blagojevich had no idea one of his top allies, retired state Sen. Carol Ronen, stood to add $38,000 a year to her government pension when he gave her a job she held for eight weeks.

“I didn’t know about it until I read it in the paper,” Blagojevich said Tuesday, referring to a Chicago Sun-Times story about Ronen in Saturday’s editions.

There were rumors, flatly denied by Ronen, that she and the guv had a falling out and she quit. So, maybe Blagojevich is telling the truth.

* The governor even came up with his own reform idea

“Maybe we should talk to the members of the general assembly and the leaders to see this example and take it and fix that pension system because there’s something wrong with the fact that you can work for a couple weeks and then all of a sudden, your position in the pension changes so dramatically.”

* And then he neatly tossed the hot potato to Barack Obama

“I also understand that she apparently heard the siren call of the Obama campaign. And so she made a decision to leave because she wants to work in the Obama for President campaign. So I guess you can say she left me for another guy.”

She’s actually just volunteering. Ronen, an Obama superdelegate, told me she is going to organize for Obama in her old Senate disrict and her congressional district, which will go 95 percent for the Democrat this November no matter what she does. If Ronen had hoped for a paid campaign position, this pension revelation has undoubtedly nixed that. It will be interesting to see if this gets picked up by the national press.

* The last word goes to Rogers Park Rake

By the way, Carol Ronen’s vast pension boost is apparently in accord with state law. She’s also under no legal obligation to accept it! She is legally free to waive it, which a person who was truly in tune with how inappropriate this is would do. Think that’ll happen?

Me neither.

Actually, the last word goes to you…

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      

Big Jim roundup

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* After the US Supreme Court turned down former Gov. George Ryan’s final appeal yesterday, former Gov. Jim Thompson held a press conference to announce that he would ask for a presidential commutation

“The man has gone from being the governor of the state of Illinois to being a prisoner in the federal penitentiary,” Thompson said at a news conference at the Winston & Strawn offices this afternoon.

Even with time off for good behavior, the 74-year-old Ryan wouldn’t get out of his Terre Haute, Ind., prison until he’s nearly 80, Thompson said.

“I think it would be appropriate for the president of the United States to commute to time served.”

* John Ruberry saw this as yet another unwanted and unneeded PR disaster for the Republican Party….

Yeah, he is Ryan’s lawyer, but doesn’t Thompson care about the state? Or the party? Folks watching the television news tonight, or reading tomorrow morning’s papers, will have this image to digest. A former Republican governor asking the president to commute the prison sentence of another former Republican governor. […]

If the Illinois Republican Party is going to, as I’ve phrased it in the past, “take back the state,” we have to completely wash our hands of the mess of the George Ryan legacy. Thompson is not helping things.

* But, things tend to even out. Thompson also represents Gov. Blagojevich. At yesterday’s press conference the Sun-Times’ Natasha Korecki was a show-stopper. Literally

I asked former Gov. James Thompson if another governor were indicted in Illinois whether Winston & Strawn will again provide free defense services.

Thompson dodged.

“OoooK, I think we’ve gone beyond the reach of this press conference,” Thompson replied.


* I’m assuming that Thompson won’t have to buy a ticket to this event

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is sending out invitations for a big fundraising shindig on June 26 in Chicago, where he’s happy to call folks a “co-chair” of the event for a mere $20,000 contribution.

* Meanwhile, Big Jim has come up with yet another proposal for a state buyout of Wrigley Field

Although the state will step up with a revised proposal to buy Wrigley Field from Tribune Co., the chances of such a deal succeeding appear to be waning, according to sources close to the negotiations.

“We are going to ask Tribune to resume negotiations this week,” said former Gov. James Thompson, who is chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the city-state agency aiming to buy the historic ballpark. “We’ll introduce new elements.”

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney said, “We haven’t shut the door on anything. We are working to do the best we can for Tribune’s employee shareholders, the team, and [Thompson] represents the public. […]

“Wrigley Field is the third-biggest tourist attraction in the whole state of Illinois,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich said during a press conference Tuesday. “I am determined to do everything that I can to make sure that the Cubs stay at Wrigley Field, no matter who the new owner might be. And if ISFA is not the way to go, there are other ways, and we’re working on some of those other ways.”

Personally, I really like Jim Thompson. I also greatly respect what he did for this state during his 14 years in office. I didn’t even mind it much when he represented Ryan. George was Big Jim’s lt. governor, after all, and they were close friends. When he signed on as a transition co-chair for Blagojevich, I thought it was a good idea. Bipartisanship, experienced leader helping the inexperienced goof, etc.

But, representing yet another governor in a federal criminal investigation and doing that governor’s bidding on this Wrigley deal just doesn’t sit well with me. There’s no need for this. I don’t think representing George Ryan is enough to destroy Thompson’s legacy, but this Blagojevich stuff might.


* Related…

* Ex-Governor, Now in Prison, Sees Case End

* Supreme Court refuses to hear Ryan conviction appeal

* Court slams door on Ryan appeal

* Editorial: What the wise ones knew

* Ryan’s final appeal: White House

* Would Bush really grant Ryan a pardon?

* Rezko jury takes another half day off from deliberations

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

* How to be annoying online

* Stroger’s top aide leaving for law practice

Lance Tyson, 36, said Tuesday that his resignation is effective at week’s end. He is leaving Stroger to become a partner specializing in municipal finance at the influential Chicago-based law firm Freeborn & Peters.

* Cook County candidate calls for sunshine on budget

* Role of expediters under scrutiny as federal probe targets City Hall corruption

* Chicago expected to be named Olympic finalist

* Trans fats bill at standstill at State Capitol

* Bill that aims to improve fire safety in mobile home parks is heading to governor

* Con Con Considerations: Duration


* The End of Session is Near?

* Business group backs more gambling to fund road construction

* State Could Lose $9B In Transportation Funding

* Blagojevich Calls on Lawmakers to Change Pension System

* Money & the mayor breakdown: Where is cash coming from? How is it tied to business in Aurora?

A Beacon News analysis of state and city records found at least 68 different contributors shared $64.1 million in city dollars since Weisner was elected.

* LaHood withdraws for state GOP post

* Illinois Dems face off over bill on housing for ex-cons

The dispute reflects the tension in the Democratic Caucus between more liberal members who think that convicts who’ve done their time deserve a second chance and conservative members, many of them freshmen from GOP-leaning districts, who don’t want to look soft on crime. It also illustrates the difficulty Democrats face in trying to give some of those vulnerable freshmen victories to tout back home.

* Taking the Adversary Seriously: History and Condescension

* Secret Obama foreign policy video?

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   3 Comments      

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Question of the day
* School has kid slapped with felony eavesdropping charge
* AG Madigan to file lawsuit challenging "cruel and unconstitutional policy" at southern border
* Rep. Andersson tries a comeback
* CTU's Lewis to retire
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Rauner brags he's "dramatically" reduced Medicaid enrollment, but hit on "failing" computer system
* Fitch: "The enacted budget entails significant implementation risk"
* *** UPDATED x2 - Pritzker campaign calls comments "racist" *** After Black Caucus backlash, Gov. Rauner says he's "Not surprised they're sensitive because the black legislators really have not been serving their community very well"
* Rep. Chad Hays to resign
* The local news memory hole
* No Janus ruling today
* Police chiefs want Rauner to veto hemp bill
* *** UPDATED x1 - Rauner campaign responds *** New Pritzker TV ad blames Rauner for job losses to neighboring states
* Yesterday's stories

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