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Morning Shorts: Extended Edition

Monday, Apr 27, 2009

Hey all. Hope your weekend was eventful. Rich is sick as a dog today and is taking the day off. So here is a long, and hopefully thorough, Round-Up of the weekend’s top stories.

Quinn Round-UP

Quinn took some heat over the weekend for predominately hiring his friends and colleagues since becoming governor. Also Quinn took some criticism for firing some Blago appointees,while allowing others to continue their work. These stories seemed news worthy enough to merit this additional distinction.

* New governor turns to old friends, colleagues. This article focuses on both issues raised above. First…

Since taking office Jan. 29 after Blagojevich’s impeachment, Quinn has made about 20 major staffing decisions, from the person who handles his daily schedule to the head of the Transportation Department.

Fifteen of the people he hired have previously worked for him, either in the lieutenant governor’s office or the treasurer’s office. Others are longtime friends or, in the case of new Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig, a state legislator Quinn has known for years. Only two could be considered unfamiliar to Quinn: general counsel Theodore Chung and state police director Jonathon Monken.

So far, Quinn has given most of the top jobs to white men.

Seven of his hires are women, racial minorities or both. They include Quinn’s general counsel and policy director, but most are in second-tier jobs such as deputy chief of staff or scheduler.

And also…

Despite his fierce criticism of Blagojevich, Quinn is making use of his predecessor’s personnel.

Jack Lavin, head of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity under Blagojevich, has been named chief operating officer under Quinn. Another DCEO executive under Blagojevich has been promoted to run the agency, and most other agencies still are being run by the people Blagojevich appointed.

Quinn also is taking advice from two of the architects of the Blagojevich budgets that helped destroy the state’s financial health. John Filan, Blagojevich’s former budget director, is a longtime Quinn friend who is advising the new governor. And Blagojevich’s last budget director, Ginger Ostro, has kept her job under Quinn.

He defended using Blagojevich’s budget team, saying they weren’t the ones setting policy.

* Blagojevich hires suited him

Christopher Corcoran eventually took Blagojevich up on the offer, but his lucky break turned sour late last week when new Gov. Pat Quinn fired him and several other holdovers from the last administration. Another victim of the political purge was a friend of Patricia Blagojevich.

But the man who handled both of the Blagojevich hires is still working for the state. Jack Lavin, a former agency director under Blagojevich, was promoted by his longtime friend Quinn to be the state’s chief operating officer.

Maher-Salzman said she believes she was fired because the Quinn administration thought her previous relationship with the ex-first lady could be embarrassing. Her bosses knew she had spoken to a Tribune reporter about her job and her relationship with the former first family, she said Friday.

“It feels like scapegoating,” she said. “What exactly does that mean that they are going in a different direction when I was fighting for equality for women in business?”

* IDOT personnel manager fired

The Associated Press has learned that an Illinois Department of Transportation administrator who was among a dozen employees to receive hefty raises in the final weeks of the Blagojevich administration has been fired.

* Midnight raises should be investigated

Here are the Rest of the Quinn Stories

* Will Gov. Quinn run to keep job? ‘Yeah,’ he says

* Is anybody listening?

Dozens of others, though, filed complaints with Swanson’s office. But Voight couldn’t get anywhere, either. So on Thursday, Swanson sent a letter — including more than 70 pages of documentation — to Gov. Pat Quinn, acting Tollway Director Michael King and tollway Inspector General Tracy Smith. To make sure they got the message, she helpfully copied it to the media.

The letter asked the tollway to stop mailing tickets to Minnesotans until it can ensure that its system relies on vehicle registration data that is up-to-date, to rescind the tickets issued to Minnesotans who can show they didn’t commit the violation, and to name a liaison to work with her office on behalf of Minnesotans. She asked it to instruct its collection agency to lay off those bogus threats about getting Minnesotans’ licenses suspended.

* Work isn’t over with reopening of historic sites

The Legislature recently approved a $1.6 million supplemental appropriation for the historic sites which is allowing them to reopen.

But that money is only good through the end of the fiscal year, June 30. Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers are still working on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

* Gov. Quinn backs project to green 3 schools

Gov. Pat Quinn backed a project on Friday to retrofit three Illinois public schools to make them greener buildings.

Work on each school is expected to cost between $35,000 and $40,000 and could include improving school ventilation, increasing the use of outdoor light and better landscaping, said Joseph Clair, chairman of the local Chicago chapter.

Blago: the Gift that Keeps on Giving for the Media

* Blagojevich still looking for TV stardom

* Blago goes Hollywood

On Friday, Illinois’ ex-governor was filmed suspended in midair, flying before a giant green screen.

Blagojevich was in Los Angeles Friday promoting “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here,” an NBC reality TV show that a judge said he couldn’t join. That’s because the series will be filmed in Costa Rica and the charged ex-governor cannot leave the country due to bond restrictions. But on Friday, Blagojevich’s PR agent released a statement saying that actor Stephen Baldwin was willing to fly to Chicago and ask a judge to “Leggo my Blago.” (Or, ask U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s permission to go to Costa Rica.)

“I would love for Blagojevich to be on the show,” Baldwin said in a statement. “He would add intensity and spice.”

* Blagojevich Promotes Reality Show He Can’t Be On

* The Blago beat

Not! Although embattled former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was in L.A. on Friday promoting the “Survivor'’-type reality TV show he can’t join, he has no paying gigs lined up.

* Blago: Legal predicament `sucks and it’s scary.’

* PJStar: Blagojevich needs honest reality, not the TV kind

* Blagojevich’s next trick, wearing his bathrobe to court?

It would appear that this man, who just a few months ago was in charge of America’s fifth largest state, has been reduced to little more than a cheap stunt artist.

* Leonard Pitts: Rod is hardly a ‘celebrity’

* Bernard Schoenburg: ‘Pay to Play’ a fascinating read

You can tell by the title that it’s not a book of his creation. “Pay to Play: How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption into a National Sideshow,” is the quickly produced book by ELIZABETH BRACKETT, who got a leave of absence from the PBS station in Chicago, WTTW, to do the writing. She is also a longtime correspondent for “The NewsHour with JIM LEHRER.”

* Spinoff of Reality Rod is thriving over at Second City

Constitutional Officers in the News

* Keep business in public eye

We wonder how many investigations the Illinois attorney general has to do before Roscoe officials understand that village government isn’t a make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. It belongs to the people.

IL Congressional Delegation

First, here are stories regarding 2010 Congressional Hopefuls

* Will He Run On Empty?

If embattled Illinois Sen. Roland Burris hopes to hold onto his seat in the 2010 election, he’s off to a rocky start. According to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission, Burris raised just $845 from January to March for a potential campaign. That’s a staggeringly low amount by Washington standards, where the average expenditures in a U.S. Senate race in 2008 was more than $8 million. By comparison, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who filled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vacated seat, raised $2.3 million over the same period toward her 2010 race.

What’s going on with Burris? “Fundraising was just not on his radar,” Delmarie Cobb, Burris’s political adviser, tells NEWSWEEK. Indeed, Burris remains under a legal cloud because of his ties to ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges, including allegations that he tried to sell the Senate seat once held by President Obama. Burris, who was appointed to the seat by Blagojevich late last year and had to fight his way through the front door on Capitol Hill, has denied any wrongdoing but is under investigation by both Illinois officials and the Senate ethics committee. On his FEC filing, Burris reported more than $111,000 in debt—money owed largely to strategists he hired to help him win the Senate appointment. According to Cobb, Burris’s legal bills top $400,000, and under Senate rules he is not allowed to use campaign funds to pay them. He has asked the Senate for permission to organize a legal defense fund, but the request has yet to be approved.

* Schakowsky for Senate?

Rep. Jan Schakowsky is stepping up her interest in running for the Senate in 2010 — a poll she took shows her in good shape to win a Democratic primary over Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Sen. Roland Burris.

Schakowsky told me Sunday she will decide by June 8 whether she will run for the Senate or another term in the House. “The next part is the gut check,” she said.

* IL-10 Dance Card Filling up Quickly, At Least for the Dems

As we have been reporting for some time now, the race for the Tenth Congressional District in Illinois has already gotten very interesting, mostly because 5th term incumbent Congressman Mark Kirk has been flirting with running for either U.S. Senate or perhaps even governor. Kirk’s decision on what to do is expected by the end of this week, but meanwhile a bunch of Dems are already lining up in hope and anticipation (did I mention hope?) that they could run for an open seat and not have to face Kirk. We’ve already told you about State Senators Michael Bond and Susan Garrett, and of course, there always seems to be perennial candidate Dan Seals lurking in the background.

However, the up-and-coming bloggers at LakeCountyEye uncovered yet another stealth candidate on the Dem side, a Highland Park Attorney named Elliot Richardson.

Here are the Remaining Congressional Stories

* Congressman’s Campaign Funds Raise Eyebrows

Luis Gutiérrez chairs a House subcommittee that oversees consumer credit. He’s taking the lead on a payday-lending reform bill.

It’s softer than what he’s proposed in the past. That has irritated some consumer groups.

A study by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found Gutiérrez 11th among Congressional recipients of campaign donations from the payday-loan industry. The study says Gutiérrez accepted $18,500 dollars from the industry during the last election cycle.

* Halvorson speaks on women in politics, the airport, energy

* Paying 27 percent on a credit card

“I’ve talked to people about the potential impact of a credit crisis, and while some experts believe it could happen, others seem to think that even if it does it won’t have as big of an impact on the economy because the loans aren’t for as much money,” said U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-3rd), of Western Springs. “But I worry that some banks may now be in such bad shape that it wouldn’t take as much to tip them over.”

Lipinski supports a credit card bill of rights that recently passed out of a House committee. While he said it’s unlikely that Congress ever would set a ceiling on credit card interest rates, there are some things it can do to help consumers.

GA Round-UP

Existing Tensions between IL GOP and Sen. Lauzen over SB 600 have Spilled over into the 2010 Campaign Discussion. (The story below first deals with the 2010 campaign and then discusses general tensions over SB 600. I divide the block quotes for copy right purposes.)

* Illinois GOP leader critical of Lauzen

Illinois’ Republican national committeeman said that state Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora should “take a deep look” to see if he wants to say in the GOP and shouldn’t make another bid for Congress in the far west suburbs.

Pat Brady, who last summer became Republican National Committeeman from Illinois to replace the controversial Bob Kjellander, also said he expected a GOP primary contest next year for nomination to the 14th Congressional District seat won last year by freshman Democrat Bill Foster of Geneva.

And on SB 600…

Brady’s comments reflected the continued effort by top Republicans to counter a push by Lauzen to change the way that the GOP selects its top governing panel with balloting by primary voters rather than selection among the party leadership. Top GOP officials have threatened to file suit if Lauzen’s bill becomes law.

Lauzen, who is receiving Democratic help in moving the governing change through the legislature, has attacked leading GOP opponents as “domineering parasites” and “self-serving, officious, lying, arrogant thugs.”

Lauzen is “someone I think that needs to take a deep look and see if he still wants to be in the Republican Party,” said Brady, who is from St. Charles and lives in the 14th Congressional District.

Sen. Syverson Bucks Local Officials from his District over Proposed Capital Projects

* Morrissey, Syverson split on West State plan

Mayor Larry Morrissey spent Wednesday and Thursday lobbying House Speaker Mike Madigan, Gov. Pat Quinn and others to consider the city’s infrastructure priorities in the upcoming budget and proposed, $26 billion capital plan. For years, dating back before Morrissey’s administration, the city has sought state and federal money to improve and beautify the main arteries that bring people into town. If the capital dollars are to be spent according to population, Rockford and Winnebago County deserve about $500 million, Morrissey said.

A key corridor is West State Street. It is without doubt the most forlorn of the city’s gateways. Mayor Ben Schleicher lived on West State. The neighborhoods on both sides of the street began deteriorating in the late 1960s, when the Fairgrounds Valley housing project was built and the middle class headed to the east side, the northwest side and to Winnebago.

The West State plan is supported by the Rockford-Winnebago County Better Roads Association, but there’s one problem: State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, is not on board. Syverson is a persistent critic of the project because of its price tag: Morrissey estimates it will cost $36 million.

“I could do 10 projects for what they want to spend on West State,” Syverson said when we talked at the State of Winnebago County luncheon on April 16. In the past, Syverson has told me that spending so much money in that neighborhood isn’t a wise use of taxpayers’ money.

Crestwood Fallout Prompts the GA to Take Action, also Related Crestwood Stories

* Illinois to plug holes in water pollution law

In response to the Tribune’s investigation, Quinn and others vowed last week to ensure that state and local officials follow through on the intent of the law. They also are moving to make it a felony to mislead the public about the source of its water.

“You would expect them to tell their constituents what’s in the water they’re drinking,” said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who sponsored the right-to-know measure. “If we need to amend the law to make it clear people should be notified, that’s what we’ll do.”

* Woman’s pursuit of truth admirable in water scandal

It should not have taken a dogged mother years of work to uncover what appears to be intentional abuse of Crestwood’s water supply. But Tricia Krause’s tireless work should be recognized as a true public service.

The crux of what was done with Crestwood’s drinking water supply for 20 years is so banal that it takes reflection to realize how stupid and preposterous and perhaps even evil it was.

The village was told by state officials in 1986 that its well was polluted by cancer-causing dry-cleaning solvents. But Crestwood continued to send the well water to its 11,000 residents for 20 years.

* Crestwood toxic well: Mayor tells upset Crestwood residents that village water is safe

* Well-known attorney may take case

A Naperville environmental attorney who won a $10 million settlement in 2002 on behalf of 186 Lisle families with contaminated drinking water is considering taking the case in Crestwood.

Shawn Collins, who lives in the Will County portion of Naperville, said about 50 current and former Crestwood residents have asked him to investigate their cases. Some have family members who died of cancer. They want answers.

Pending Legislation and Related Stories, Policy Based Editorials, and GA Members in the News

* Legalize civil unions

* A Very Civil Editorial (Written by Rep. Fritchey)

Nothing in HB2234 requires anybody to approve of homosexual couples if they choose not to. Rightfully, nothing in the bill imposes any requirements or restrictions upon any religious institutions or entities. Rather, in a modern-day version of the civil rights struggles of the 60’s, the bill simply extends equal legal rights to a class of people that some people would prefer didn’t have those rights. The bill should be passed. Now.

* Stacking the deck on gay marriage

Oh, Iowa can provide recognition to gay marriages under all its laws and policies. But that’s a surprisingly small part of what marriage encompasses. Under federal law, there are more than 1,100 rights and privileges that go with being a husband or wife. And none of them is available to married same-sex couples.

* Medical marijuana should be an option for the seriously ill

* Lawmakers take aim at drug-resistant staph bacteria

* Illinois lawmakers giving up on trying to soften the smoking ban

* No salary increase for state legislators

That’s what House Republicans tried to do last week. Their attempt to get the measure voted on immediately was rebuffed by Democrats (save for three, including Jack Franks of Marengo). Democrats complained that the Republicans were trying to short-circuit the process. They weren’t going to allow that, no sir.

See, voters don’t care about the maneuvering that takes place in Springfield. They care about results. Democrats should have realized that. That is, if they are seriously planning to vote down the automatic salary increase to their $67,833 a year salary. (Leaders make close to $100,000)

State Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Democrat, quickly e-mailed staff writer Dan Carden after Carden wrote about the failed move by Republicans.

“… When a bill does come up for an actual up or down vote, all the Democrats from my area will be sponsors of the bill and will cast enthusiastic yes votes,” Froehlich said.

* PJStar: Give bill rejecting state lawmakers’ raises a vote

* Charter-school cap, safety measures top lawmaker’s talk

Illinois has a self-imposed cap limit of 60 charter schools: 30 in Chicago, 15 in the Chicago suburbs and 15 in the rest of the state.

Rockford recently had three charter proposals approved by the Illinois State Board of Education, and two more are pending. Only five more charter licenses remain for the state. School Board member David Kelley said he would like to see the state raise the cap, if not remove it.

Kelley was one of 10 people to voice their thoughts Friday to State Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, during Jefferson’s advisory Education and Public Safety committee meetings held in the Zeke Giorgi Building.

IL Ethics Reform

First, here is Rich’s South Town Star Column from Today

* Lobbying reform can have unintended consequences

B y far, the most ironic aspect of this entire post-Rod Blagojevich push to reform Illinois has to be the last paragraph of Gov. Pat Quinn’s much-praised reform commission report.

“All constitutional officers should issue executive orders, comparable to George Ryan’s Executive Order No. 2 (1999), prohibiting their campaign funds from accepting contributions from state employees under their control.”

Former Gov. Ryan issued that executive order because his crooked campaign fundraising operation at his old secretary of state’s office had triggered a federal corruption probe and he was looking for some political cover. That investigation, of course, eventually put Ryan in prison.

Gov. Quinn’s reform commission chairman Pat Collins - who presided over the insertion of that rare Ryan praise into the commission report - was the chief prosecutor at Ryan’s trial. Ryan’s executive order didn’t prevent Collins’ feds from also convicting his campaign committee.

A few years before he issued that order, Ryan pushed through widely hailed reforms of the state’s lobbyist registration and disclosure laws in the run-up to his successful 1994 re-election campaign against noted reformer… Pat Quinn. Several of Ryan’s lobbyist pals got caught up in his federal prosecution.

The irony just never stops in this state.

The lesson from this ought to be that passing new laws, no matter how enlightened and reasonable and strict, will not stop the bad guys from being bad guys. They are what they are. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich are living proof of that hard-and-fast law of the universe.

Obviously, though, we’ve got a real problem here in Illinois, and some changes have to be made. But making those changes - and making sure they actually work and don’t break something else in the process - isn’t nearly as easy as the newspaper editorial boards and some of the reformers always make it sound.

For instance, last week, some members of the governor’s reform commission testified to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Government Reform. The focus of the testimony was the commission’s proposal to revamp state procurement laws.

Stories are legion of how Blagojevich and his goons shook down state contractors for campaign contributions. Besides the really hinky stuff, they allegedly did things like delay final contract decisions to at least make it appear as though a contractor might not get the job and then put the arm on nervous and otherwise honest business people. Those who had won new contracts reportedly received phone calls from campaign higher-ups demanding tribute, with the implication that this might be the last contract they ever got.

See, you don’t always need to steer a contract toward somebody to make out like a bandit. You just have to make it look like you can give it to someone else.

That’s a big reason why the state needs a far more open, transparent and fair contracting system. If the system looks and feels clean to contractors and the state employees who run it, the goons will have a tougher time gaming it.

The problem is getting there without harming the underlying system.

The governor’s reform commission found out last week that while their ideas might address one problem, they could make another problem worse.

Their proposal to centralize and insulate procurement directors was hammered by one business consultant as a waste of money and effort because it could exacerbate the far more pressing problems of bottlenecks and gross inefficiencies in the system itself. The further procurement officers get from the agencies, the less they may understand the urgency or importance of certain contracts. And because the state lets $7 billion in contracts every year, this is a hugely vital function of government that can’t be trifled with.

The reform commission’s proposal to headquarter independent contract monitors in the auditor general’s office was thoroughly shot down by Auditor General Bill Holland, a man of unquestioned integrity. Holland said the plan would drag his office into policy-making, and that would directly contradict his constitutional role in the auditing process.

Holland also took a shot at the commission’s procurement centralization proposal by reminding everyone that Rod Blagojevich had once “reformed” the system by centralizing procurement officers under one roof.

“The process does not corrupt the process,” Holland said. “People corrupt the process.”

Still, it’s beyond clear that we need a new process here. Just keep your fingers crossed that the “fix” doesn’t break something else.

Here are the Rest of the Ethics Stories.

* Mike Lawrence: How much reform can lawmakers stomach?

* State ethics commission holds last public meeting at Morris Library

* Reform commission says computers, not hacks, should draw districts

* First, save the incumbents!

Who’ll win the right to set legislative boundaries after the 2010 federal census? This we know, little voter: It won’t be you. The cliché is a cliché because it’s maddeningly correct: In Illinois, lawmakers choose their constituents, not the other way around.

This isn’t criminal corruption of the types that ended our last two governorships. It is, though, a key reason we live in The Incumbent State. The power to map lets party leaders keep their Senate and House members in line.

In November’s election, incumbents got more than 75 percent of the vote in 25 of the 40 state Senate districts that were in contention, and 72 of the 118 House districts.

More than 75 percent of the vote. Because incumbents are beloved? No. Because Illinois gerrymandering — the drawing of districts for raw political gain — is a legalized protection racket. Who gets protected? Not you.

* Taking politics out of justice

There shouldn’t be. Let’s take the politics out of judicial elections. A non-partisan system of electing judges would go a long way toward eliminating the control that political parties have over the judiciary.

We would create a Judicial Evaluation Commission for each of those districts and circuits. Cook County, because of its size, would have a separate commission for each Supreme and Appellate seat.

The commissions would have eight members, two each appointed by the four legislative leaders of the Illinois General Assembly. The commissions would be equally balanced as to political party.

* Blagojevich, just the latest in a long line of corrupt Illinois politicians

Budget: Quinn’s Budget has Failed to Gain Momentum, and Though Quinn is Still an Ardent Supporter, his Income Tax -at the Moment- Appears to be Dead in the Water

* Few friends for Quinn’s budget

Then there are several budget ideas that were holdovers from the dreaded Blagojevich era, including an attempt to close several corporate loopholes. Quinn says they would generate $287 million for the state. Yet these concepts went nowhere in recent years. So, with less than 40 days to go before a May 31 deadline to get a budget in place, we can count a half-billion reasons why lawmakers remain far from hammering out anything close to a balanced budget.

* Quinn standing by state tax hike

Gov. Quinn says he’s willing to compromise to get a state budget, but he held firm Friday to his proposal to increase Illinois’ income tax rate even though lawmakers have indicated it doesn’t have the necessary support to pass.

With the clock ticking to get a new budget before the legislative session ends May 31, Quinn said backing off his proposed 50 percent increase in the income tax rate isn’t a good idea.

State Senate President John Cullerton, a fellow Chicago Democrat, has said there isn’t enough support for Quinn’s budget proposal as is. Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno wants to first consider budget cuts and government efficiencies.

Another GOP lawmaker, state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine said Friday he doesn’t think the Democratic lawmakers who control the General Assembly want to cut the budget to avoid an income tax increase.

* Gov. Pat Quinn Says Only One Option: Income Tax Hike

* Pension reforms, health-care costs key to state budget

* Mark Sanford: Don’t spend money we don’t have

These dangers are common to all states, but given the specific needs and differences of each state, why shouldn’t we also tailor the stimulus I am not fond of to our individual states? Why doesn’t it make sense to make lemonade out of the lemon that I believe the stimulus ultimately represents? Washington experts are wrong in suggesting that we just do as Washington says.

For these reasons, we’ve proposed taking about 10 percent and applying it to paying down our state’s high debt. If a prudent family won the lottery they wouldn’t spend every dime; they would set some aside to pay down the mortgage or credit cards — and to me there is nothing political about asking government to be just as prudent.

Economic Stories

* Buried in bills: Wages are down, costs are up

The cost of a typical auto insurance policy nationwide will jump 4 percent to $875 this year, on top of a 3 percent increase last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group based in New York.

The average homeowner’s policy will jump 3 percent, to $841, according to institute data. And term life insurance rates are increasing 4 percent to 6 percent — worse for many others — after several years of declines.

Chicagoans are facing an average 8.7 percent increase in medical insurance premiums, according to Hewitt & Associates.

Illinois insurance shoppers are lucky because the state has one of the least-regulated environments in the country, insurance experts say. Illinois ranks No. 30 among the 50 states for average homeowner’s premiums, at $674 on average, and No. 28 in auto premiums, at $740 on average, according to data from 2006, the most recent available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. No such statistics were available for term life insurance.

* Health plans taking toll in cost, coverage: ‘I am stuck’

* 32% of U. of C. redirected patients are poor, uninsured

Nearly 7 percent of the patients cleared from the U. of C. emergency room and then transported and admitted to Mercy have no health insurance coverage, according to an eight-month period of data provided to the Tribune from U. of C., analyzing 396 patients. On top of that, 25 percent of patients transported by ambulance 5 miles north to Mercy were covered by the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, which is known for paying hospitals low rates, particularly in Illinois.

At other Illinois hospitals, the number of uninsured and those covered by Medicaid is 26.4 percent, according to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Public Health. Of those, 3.7 percent are “charity patients” with no insurance, and 3.2 percent are “private pay,” who generally have no coverage or pay out of pocket. Medicaid covers 19.5 percent of admissions to Illinois hospitals, state figures show.

* When will Chicago area economy recover? Maybe by late 2012

The Chicago area isn’t expected to get back to peak employment until the third quarter of 2012.

“It’s a very big economy, and it’s taking big losses in areas like manufacturing and professional business services,” said Bob Tomarelli, associate economist with IHS Global Insight. “Those are going to need to rebound strong for Chicago to come back to where it was before the recession hit.”

He noted the professional and business services sector and manufacturing combined comprise about 23 percent of the area’s total employment.

* Home sales in Chicago area start to show more signs of life

Suburban counties seeing among the largest month-over-month sales increases were Lake County, 65 percent; Kendall County, 51 percent; and Cook County, 38 percent.

Realty agents are taking pains to not get too giddy. After all, that 38 percent one-month gain in sales in Cook County translated to 2,409 properties sold. In March 2008, 3,432 homes sold in Cook County.

* Worried about job market? Go ahead, buy that house

Layoff-insurance policies, which apparently were birthed in late winter in the car industry and spread to other commercial endeavors such as men’s clothing retailers, are starting to pile up in housing.

* Evicting the foreclosed: It’s a different ballgame

“One thing you always have to tell yourself: Never be judgmental. Never think, ‘This couldn’t happen to me,’ ” Vick said. “We have seen people who had great jobs. You do want to ask them, ‘What happened to you?’

“For the grace of God, it could be you or me. You’re working one day, the next day you’re not.”

* In a dead job market, unemployed bide their time in gyms

* The Daily Journal launching JobFinder search service on May 4

* Biden to Visit Chicago, Window Factory, Daleys

Vice President Joe Biden is coming to Chicago Monday. It’s his first trip to Illinois since the inauguration.

Biden will visit what’s become a symbol of America’s credit crunch: the former Republic Windows and Doors factory on Chicago’s North Side. Workers staged a sit-in there last fall, arguing for severance pay the company insisted it didn’t have. Now the factory’s got a new owner, and has hired back some of the workers. Biden will plug the reopening as a direct impact of spending from the federal stimulus plan.

* Argonne’s new director plans to focus on energy, recruiting top talent

* The last days of the war with O’Hare

* Changes in Bensenville, Elk Grove Village leave lawyer who has fought O’Hare expansion in limbo

Karaganis, the lead lawyer against the expansion, says he plans to keep fighting the war he has fought for more than 20 years, to keep airport pollution and construction from hurting the people in the western suburbs.

* Daily newspapers reinvent selves almost daily as economy, market forces press on them

City Hall

* Daley, parents speak out against gang violence

* Let’s slow the rush to privatization — a little

The city says it already briefs aldermen, but it’s clearly not doing enough.

We’re stuck with the city parking meter deal for 75 years.

Next time around, let’s do this right.

* Honorary street signs have gone too far: alderman

* Ron Huberman: Raising the bar on charter schools

“Drawing a line in the sand is a good way to describe it,'’ Huberman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Charters have been touted as engines of innovation by President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Huberman’s predecessor as CPS chief. The schools were envisioned as a way to give public schools some of the freedoms private schools enjoy — such as avoiding teachers union work rules or certain public school policies — in exchange for “charters” agreeing to specific outcomes.

Yet four Chicago charters have fallen subject to federal rules about “restructuring,” the ultimate sanction under the No Child Left Behind law. In Illinois, restructuring can range from replacing staff to instituting a new, proven curriculum.

Also from the above article, here is a table with some interesting data

Percentage of schools that did not make “Adequate Yearly Progress” under the No Child Left Behind law:

CPS Chicago charter New York Los Angeles
At least 1 year 67 50 11 39
At least 5 years 42 32 0 0
Source: Illinois State board of Education data about Chicago Public Schools; New York City public schools; Los Angeles Unified public schools. 1-year percentages based on schools with 2008 tests; 5-year percentgages based on schools with 2004-2008 tests. Counts CPS charter schools with multiple campuses as one school

* More Chicago schools adopt year-round schedule

* Huberman Looks to Prevent Swine Flu in Chicago Schools

* No swine flu cases reported in Illinois

* CTA mulls safety shields for bus drivers

About 10 offenses occur each month in which bus drivers are the victims, according to CTA union officials.

About 500 of the CTA’s roughly 2,000 buses are equipped with the plastic shields made of Lexan, officials said. A decision is pending on whether to outfit all buses with the devices, which cost about $800 each to buy and install, officials said. So far, about $400,000 has been spent on the pilot project.

* Autism, police beating: After autistic boy’s beating, Chicago police superintendent waits for officers’ version of how autistic teen was bloodied

Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis asks public to not rush to judgment on officers

* Family claims Chicago police officer beat autistic teenager

* Art Institute’s new wing a modern test of the times

Millennium Park, however, is free, while the debut of the $283 million, 264,000-square-foot Modern Wing comes just a week before the Art Institute raises its general admission price from $12 to $18 — all while the country is mired in a deep recession, and museums nationwide are retrenching.

So the new Modern Wing — and, really, the new Art Institute, because everything is being reinstalled — presents a test case. Is this lavish offering, to be unveiled at a May 9 gala, a misreading of the times and people’s willingness to pay a premium to view great art in a stunning new building?

Stroger’s Troubles and Cook County Governance

* Dear Todd: A few words to the unwise

For taxpayers, the most important part of this story is that in a crushing economy, when just about everyone is feeling strapped, we still have the willful hiring of unqualified patronage workers at excellent wages on the whim of a politician who can’t be straight with us. Cole is hardly the only example of the Stroger “Friends and Family” employment plan. Remember Ronald Burleson, working at the East Bank Club, where the president plays basketball, who got a $99,000 health department job until the Trib reported it? Stroger was forced to demote him, but on “Chicago Tonight” he improbably added: “That doesn’t mean he wasn’t qualified.”

President Stroger would do well to consider the words of Cassius in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”:

The fault, dear Todd, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

* Felon In Stroger Hiring Scandal Got Free Housing

* Daley suggests Stroger explain patronage scandal

* Suffering Suffredin

Geovanis, trying her best to put some positive spin on an unspinable situation, tried to engage Suffredin in a point-counterpoint debate, but Suffredin would have none of it.

“I don’t talk to the hired help,” said Suffredin, walking off.

At best, the comment could be viewed as a frustrated Suffredin refusing to let Stroger shift accountability to his minions (whose statements can always later be denied by Stroger).

At worst, though, the comment — which was captured on multiple television cameras — will come back to haunt him during campaign season as an elitist indication of his true opinion of the working stiffs he claims to champion.

* Cook County’s overtime time bomb

If Joseph Lafata were to retire anytime soon from his job as a maintenance supervisor with the Cook County Highway Department, he’d have a nice cushion to take with him into retirement: a $60,000 payout for more than 1,000 overtime hours that he has accumulated — hours that, in theory, he’s supposed to take as paid time off.

County highway workers have amassed mountains of what’s called “time-off overtime” — TOOT, for short — a Chicago Sun-Times review of county records shows, with Lafata piling up more overtime than anyone else.

Other News Worthy Stories

* Bulls Outlast Celtics for Game 4 Win

* Sun-Times staffers win 9 Lisagors for journalism

* Jackson plans Iran trip to seek release

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is heading to New York this week in an attempt to secure visas to Iran so he can seek the release of journalist Roxana Saberi. Jackson hopes to travel to Iran with some journalism students from Northwestern, Saberi’s alma mater.

* I-55 traffic stop yields 237 pounds of cocaine

Authorities say approximately 237 pounds of cocaine were found during a traffic stop on Interstate 55 in central Illinois.

The drugs are worth between $2.1 million and $3.7 million.

* Braidwood nuclear plant unit back in service

* Peoria County climbs toxic rankings

Community ranks 14th nationally with 35.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals

But the high ranking is primarily due to the Peoria Disposal Co. hazardous waste landfill near Pottstown. It accounts for nearly 25 million pounds of the 35.3 million pounds the county contributed to the TRI list.

* Grant to bring new technology to local 911; Southern Illinois to serve as pilot program

Several Southern Illinois counties were chosen to participate in the launch of the nationwide pilot program aimed at testing advancements in the methods for which dispatchers can receive 911 calls and information, including text messaging, picture messaging and streaming video.

“You can get a lot more information to a dispatch center than you previously could,” Felty said. “You can take a picture of a house fire and see it is more than just smoke and pass that along to your responders. This generation of young adults’ and children’s world is surrounded by text messaging.”

The project will be funded through the National Emergency Number Association, through partners with Next Generation 911 and will include a $600,000 federal grant.

- Posted by Mike Murray   45 Comments      

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