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Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* Illinois has been downgraded by Fitch, but it’s not as bad as it could’ve been

Fitch Ratings downgraded the state of Illinois’ general obligation bond rating on Wednesday to A, down two notches from AA-minus. Analysts cited the failure of the state to enact a budget that addresses its spending needs and structural deficit.

More

The rating is removed from Rating Watch Negative, where it was placed April 9, 2009.

The Outlook is Stable.

The downgrade reflects the significant scope of the budgetary problem and the failure of the state to enact a budget that fully addresses its current spending needs and its large structural budget deficit. The enacted budget relies heavily on non-recurring revenues, particularly the use of debt to finance current operations, which will contribute to continued difficulty in structuring a balanced budget in the future. […]

The extent of the current fiscal problem has been clear for several months as revenue estimates were downsized; however, comprehensive solutions have been repeatedly delayed.

Thank goodness it wasn’t a California-like downgrade.

Also, the state’s Build Illinois bonds were reaffirmed at AA.

- Posted by Rich Miller   13 Comments      


Trouble in paradise?

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* Is Gov. Pat Quinn having trouble managing state agency directors? This little nugget was buried at the bottom of a story about a state stimulus seminar…

Kristi Lafleur, who works on economic development out of the Illinois governor’s office, said more than 20 state agencies are involved in spreading out the federal stimulus money.

She referred delicately to the political turmoil that has gripped her state. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was removed from office and replaced with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.

“Illinois has had a lot of challenges,” Lafleur said.

“We’re trying to get our state agencies to work together collaboratively.”

Sheesh.

* Speaking of the stimulus: We’re number one!

A new report concludes Illinois has the worst official stimulus Web site in the country.

More at the Good Jobs Now website. Click here for the Illinois data. The group gave Illinois zero points. Hilarious.

* In other news, WBEZ has the full text of that Wal-Mart poll reported by the Tribune…

“This is a one-question public opinion poll concerning your view on whether Mayor Daley and the City Council should allow a Walmart to be built at 83rd & Stewart. Advocates of the plan cite the 400+ jobs that will be created and the wider availability of fresh groceries and other goods. Opponents to building the Walmart say the jobs are not good enough.

We’d like to know how you feel.

If you think the Walmart SHOULD be built, press ONE on your phone.

If you think the Walmart SHOULD NOT be built, press TWO on your phone.

If you’re unsure, press THREE.”

That ain’t no poll. Not a reasonable one, anyway.

* And our political quote of the day goes to GOP gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard…

“I have a great love and affinity for western Illinois from Jacksonville westward,” he explained. “And my mother was from Kentucky, and I have lots of relatives and friends in southern Illinois. I know how all of the puzzle pieces fall together geographically in this state and there is no part of Illinois that I haven’t visited or worshiped in. … A governor needs to understand how to bring this tremendously diverse state together.”

* You’ve probably noticed that the automated news feeds are not working today. The company I’ve been dealing with is upgrading its system or something. Not sure exactly when they’ll be back up, but I am sick of dealing with these people and am actively looking for a new service.

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      


Question of the day

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* The Champaign News-Gazette is once again live-Tweeting the commission hearing to investigate the U of I’s enrollment scandal.

Chicago Public Radio is live-Tweeting today’s redistricting committee hearing.

WTTW’s Rich Samuels Tweeted from today’s city council meeting.

And Jon Friedman at MarketWatch writes a column with the lede: A backlash against Twitter is building. MediaBistro flails Friedman via Twitter and the Twitterverse also responds.

* The Question: Do you use Twitter? If so, why? If not, why not?

…Adding… By “use” I mean “read,” not necessarily post your own Tweets.

* By the way, yesterday’s winner is vole for this little gem

PQ, pitching the perfect game in his mind, is lead to the dugout by the manager.

Please contact me. Thanks and congrats.

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      


A few Hamos strengths and weaknesses

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* Democratic state Rep. Julie Hamos has a great story to tell during her upcoming 10th District congressional race. Her parents fled Communist Hungary when she was a child after they survived the unthinkable

“As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I am passionate about Israel as the Jewish state that has a right to co-exist with safe and secure borders — and I am committed to supporting human rights and democracy throughout the world,” she said.

Some partisans commented here yesterday about Hamos’ alleged problems with Jewish voters. But she has a pretty strong hand, if you ask me.

* It’ll also be tough to peg her as a Mike Madigan clone since she’s been on the outs with MJM for quite a while now. Here’s a recent and quite snarky Speaker Madigan quote about her…

“Well, she is very knowledgeable. I mean, we should all be as smart as Rep. Hamos. Have a great day.”

That little feud goes back to the Blagojevich days, which won’t be good for Hamos

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been urging House Speaker Michael Madigan to attend a meeting about the state’s budget. Now a member of Madigan’s own Democratic caucus is joining that call. […]

This is the kind of meeting Speaker Madigan has skipped recently, so the governor’s sending the invitation through the press. Today he got some help from Representative Julie Hamos, a Democrat from Evanston.

HAMOS: I do wish that Speaker Madigan was more engaged now, as one of our key leaders in the state of Illinois. You know, we have some big issues that we did not resolve his year, and if Speaker Madigan is not at the table, they’re really never going to get resolved.

More on that Blagojevich/MJM/Hamos feud from a column written by GOP Rep. Jim Sacia in June of 2008…

What a gutsy lady. Though I often disagree with Representative Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) on issues she brings before the House, she hit the nail on the head last Saturday evening at about 10:30.

Ms. Hamos expressed her anger and disgust on the House floor (and on the record) as she chastised Speaker Michael Madigan for refusing to allow our $31 billion capital jobs and infrastructure plan from moving forward. […]

Ms. Hamos stated for all to hear that Speaker Madigan didn’t want this Governor traveling the state for the next two years cutting ribbons and accepting accolades

She also voted for the income tax hike, which may not play well in that congressional district.

* Hamos’ biggest problem right now, however, is her campaign itself. Her announcement video, which I posted yesterday, is just flat-out horrible. No self-respecting campaign would ever release something so amateurish and thoroughly flawed. What the heck was she thinking?

* Meanwhile, another Republican tosses his hat into the US Senate race…

Robert Enriquez believes the Republican Party is in trouble.

A Republican since his teen years, the 53-year-old Auroran now sees a party leading itself into disaster, and closing itself off from the diversity that surrounds it. That’s why, he says, he’s decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama in 2010. […]

“The party wants to go the easy route. They want things handed to them,” Enriquez said. “These individuals handed us where we are in Illinois today.”

These beliefs are strongly Republican, and Enriquez said he did not consider running as an independent. But, he said, the “Republican Party has abandoned me.” He said the two-party system has proved damaging, with elected officials more concerned about topping one another than creating good laws, and thinks the Republican Party has neglected the cultural diversity that could help it connect with voters.

* Related…

* Battle lines being drawn in DuPage County - 3 announce pursuit of County Board chairmanship; 4 others considering run

* Breen to Announce Bid for IL House 41: With Friday’s retirement announcement by State Rep. Bob Biggins (R-Elmhurst), Lombard conservative leader Peter Breen has declared his intention to seek the Republican nomination for the 41st District.

* Hamos: I’m running for Kirk seat

* Hamos says she’ll be an ally of Obama in 10th District

* Alexi Giannoulias Makes Campaign Stop in Peoria

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      


Politics and the budget

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* House Republican Leader Tom Cross pretty much admitted to Steve Huntley this week that he kept votes off the income tax increase to bolster GOP campaign prospects…

“For the first time in this state, people are starting to see a clear distinction between Republicans and Democrats,” asserted House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego in a recent interview.

The reason, Cross said, is the strategy the GOP adopted in Springfield early this year when the income tax proposal seemed to monopolize policy discussions in the capital. His House Republican Organization partnered with the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan free-market research group, to focus on the spending side of state government. Spending in the last decade has risen by 39 percent after accounting for inflation.

The GOP position was that discussion of a tax hike wasn’t even on the table, and they demanded much needed fixes such as controls on spending, a commission to find duplicated, wasteful and obsolete state programs, and reforms in paying for Medicaid and the under-funded state pensions. […]

Regardless of how that turns out, Cross believes the GOP’s new identity will play well in the 2010 elections…

Cross had at least eight members of his caucus who were ready to vote for a tax hike, but they were pressured into voting with the rest of the herd.

Leader Cross wasn’t the only one putting his party over his state. The House Democratic Speaker refused to push the income tax without significant GOP support because he was so worried that an all-Dem tax hike could cost his party seats in 2010 - even though the Democrats have ten seats to spare. [Emphasis added because some people apparently can’t read, including Fran.]

Also not mentioned in Huntley’s upbeat column is that Cross’ House Republican Organization had just $82,739.07 cash on hand as of June 30th. Cross’ personal campaign committee banked just $221,510.

* Meanwhile, Zorn may have missed the complete political significance of this press release…

Governor Pat Quinn today signed into law a bill compensating Illinois Veterans for their service during the Global War on Terrorism. Any Illinois Veteran who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 is eligible to receive $100.

Wrote Eric…

I’m all for treating veterans well, particularly when it comes to health care, vocational services and so on. But this token payment strikes me as odd — more like pandering than addressing the real needs of veterans (though I’m sure they all appreciate the cash).

Sure, it’s pandering. Quinn gets to take partial credit for the payment.

But keep in mind that Comptroller Dan Hynes’ name will be all over the envelopes when he mails those state checks to veterans. Hynes is, of course, gearing up to run against Quinn in the primary.

* Related…

* Senate committee meets on redistricting

* Advocates press aldermen to stand up for mental health centers: Depending on how much money CDPH gets from the state for this fiscal year, as many as five centers could close.

* State: Anna vets home not closing

* Cash for veterans found in the state budget

* Wednesdays drag without Senior Center

* Illinois axes help for the poor

* States target prisons for cuts, raising worries

* Anita Bedell: Gambling expansion will harm our society

* Daley: Those opting out of video poker law shouldn’t see profits

* ‘Initiatives’ should come with oversight

- Posted by Rich Miller   65 Comments      


Polling secrets

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* Yesterday, Laura Washington’s column focused on a poll commissioned by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce…

Question: “Should your alderman vote to approve the proposed Wal-Mart store on Chicago’s South Side?”

Seventy-three percent of voters polled said yes, 17 percent said no, and 10 percent had “no opinion.”

Question: “Has Chicago’s City Council succeeded or failed to bring job growth and economic development to Chicago?”

Sixty-six percent said “failed.”

Whatever you think about Wal-Mart, it’s tough to argue with the response to that second question.

But here’s a secret to reading any poll. Politicians and operatives pay the most attention to voter intensity. Will a certain issue mean anything come voting time? Responses above 70 percent are given a lot of attention by the players. If not, then they’re not much to worry about.

Here’s the intensity answer to the Wal-Mart question…

Question: “If your alderman voted against building a new Wal-Mart store in Chicago, would you vote to re-elect them to office if an election were held today?”

Thirty-nine percent said, “Re-election.” Thirty-eight percent said, “Not re-elected.”

So, voters care about the issue, but not enough to make any sort of difference at the ballot box. At least, not yet. We’d need more responses to other questions to see if the issue might eventually become important enough to make a difference. I don’t have the full poll, so I don’t know if those questions even exist.

* Keep all that in mind when reading stories like this today…

Wal-Mart representatives [last night] tried to increase the pressure on Chicago’s City Council ahead of a committee hearing Wednesday where the prospect of a new South Side store could come up for debate.

A spokesman for the company announced a polling firm made automated calls today to more than 75,000 Chicagoans with a one-question recording that touted the benefits of a new Wal-Mart, including more than 400 jobs and “a wider availability of fresh groceries and other goods.”

The company said the recording also said opponents “say the jobs are not good enough.”

Wal-Mart officials said the results show Chicagoans overwhelmingly favor a second store for Chicago, but it’s unclear whether their latest public relations push will win them converts among aldermen who have so far sided with organized labor groups that oppose the store.

The ward-by-ward results of that quickie survey can be downloaded by clicking here.

…Adding… The Tribune story appears to contain a an error. The automated calls were made to 1.2 million phone numbers – everybody in the white pages - according to Serafin & Associates.

* Related…

* Wal-Mart Fight Continues on Chicago’s South Side

* Poll shows Chicagoans in favor of 2nd Wal-Mart store

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


Lessons that must be learned

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* The Sun-Times looks back on the Brian Dugan case, including the indictment of innocent men

The original, flawed indictment in the case came just days before the 1984 GOP primary for DuPage County state’s attorney, a decision that underscores the perils of allowing politics to taint prosecutions.

From then on, the case got only worse, putting on display what can happen when police officers and prosecutors cannot admit mistakes, cannot confess that they arrested the wrong men.

Tribune

Dugan is serving two life sentences for “unrelated” rapes and homicides. Tuesday’s admission, however, ties these three particularly brutal cases tightly together: Brian Dugan, who murdered 27-year-old Donna Schnorr of Geneva in 1984 and 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk in 1985, now admits to a judge in Wheaton that he abducted and murdered Jeanine Nicarico in 1983.

We could fill this page with the saga of the Nicarico case and all of its twists and turns through the criminal justice system. A case in which two men were wrongfully convicted and put on Death Row. A case that had a profound impact on this page’s decision in 2007 to abandon its support for capital punishment.

The Daily Herald has long been an open booster of the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s office, regularly assigning cheerleaders instead of reporters to cover the beat. The paper has been silent on its editorial page so far this week.

* During debates over the death penalty, many will insist that the ultimate punishment should be set aside for the worst offenders. Kidnapping, raping and murdering a little girl would undoubtedly fall into anyone’s category of the worst of the worst. What the Nicarico case showed Illinois, however, is that the system is human-operated and is therefore far from perfect. Sometimes, it can be brutally wrong.

* This case should also be a lesson for journalism. A Daily Herald timeline of the Dugan case fails to point out the impact made by the early, false, screaming headlines about the wrongly arrested men, for instance.

Prosecutors are too often treated by the media as though their every word comes from the mouth of God. Humans are humans. We make mistakes. Sometimes we refuse to admit mistakes. So, flawed humans cannot ever be given the complete benefit of the doubt.

* The same goes for the police. I’m a big supporter of society’s frontline protectors, and firmly believe that they should be given the benefit of the doubt in most situations. We need their service…

According to CPD, in 2005, there were 1,705 cases of aggravated battery with a gun, the vast majority being shootings.

By 2008, the number shot up to 2003, a 17.5 percent jump.

In the first 6 months of 2009, there has been a 6.3 percent increase over last year.

But they are humans, too. They’re not always in the right, and they are citizens like the rest of us. So, they should never escape accountability, as the DuPage establishment eventually learned the hard way.

To always treat prosecutors and police as infallible undermines the very fabric of a democratic society. If we learn nothing else from the Dugan case, it should be that.

- Posted by Rich Miller   50 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009

* U.S. Pays $2.5 Trillion for Care Costing $912 Billion

“Health reform could not be more critical,” Mike Duke, president of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest private employer, said in a letter last month to Obama. “Reforming health care is necessary not just to improve the health of all Americans, but also to remove the burden that is crushing America’s businesses.”

* Glimmer of hope

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index report showed prices edged up 1.1 percent in the Chicago area from April, the index’s first month-over-month improvement since June 2008. Prices dropped 17.5 percent in May from a year earlier. But the May annual data was an improvement over April’s year-over-year report, which showed prices dropping 18.7 percent.

* Kids Count: Illinois seeing rise in child poverty

* AT&T skirting law that requires local cable-access stations

This is not just a local issue, but one playing out nationally wherever AT&T deploys its U-verse technology. While Illinois’ Cable and Video Competition law of 2007 requires companies with state video franchises to deliver PEG channels with equivalent signal quality and functionality to that of commercial channels, many communities feel AT&T is coming up short and are seeking legal remedies to gain compliance.

* Fairmount Park closing its season early; economy, lawsuit blamed

* Daley orders furloughs: ‘taxpayers are hurting’

Two thousand non-union employees at six government agencies under Mayor Daley’s control will be ordered to take furlough days and forfeit 2009 pay raises to save $18.8 million and keep their hands out of taxpayers’ pockets.

* Daley outlines unpaid days off for top schools, park district and CTA officials

* Daley: CPS admissions investigation shows change how public schools are perceived

After telling reporters that Ron Huberman was “on top of that,” Daley said he welcomed the need for an investigation. It shows there’s been a sea change in how parents perceive the public schools, he said.

“Thank God people want to get their kids into school. … Usually, they’re fleeing to the suburbs. … This is unbelievable,” Daley said.

* Debate over gay business contracts resurfaces

Six years after raising the issue only to drop it like a hot potato, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) brought it up again during a Budget Committee hearing called to extend until 2015 a construction set-aside ordinance for minorities and women.

* NYT Co.’s top lawyer doubts that aggregation is a copyright issue

* Vote expected on South Side solar plant

* CTA rider: Flaw in Chicago Card Plus unfare

“I have a Chicago Card Plus. My monthly fee is supposed to provide me with unlimited rides for the month. However, there is a major flaw in unlimited rides provision.

If I ride the same route twice within a 12-minute period, I am charged for another ride. This has happened several times.

* 3 Kennedy Expressway entrance ramps to close Saturday

The $9.3 million rehabilitation project involves permanently closing several ramps and redesigning others in the busy corridor between Hubbard’s Cave and the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate Highway 290) Circle Interchange.

* O’Hare named 2nd worst in U.S. for delays

* Money budgeted for Peotone airport changes equation

They don’t agree on much, but proponents and opponents of the controversial proposal for an airport in Peotone say the $100 million set aside for the project in the state’s just-signed capital bill is “huge.”

For airport supporters, the money signals that Gov. Pat Quinn is serious about acquiring the remaining 2,000 acres needed in southern Will County to build a third major airport for the Chicago region. No sooner had the governor signed the $31 billion capital spending bill than state officials began fielding calls from landowners near Peotone seeking to cash in, said Susan Shea, director of aeronautics for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

* Comprehensive rail plan good start

* Capitol Q&A: Seat belt usage continues to climb

A statewide survey released last week shows that seat-belt usage has increased to 91.7 percent, a record. That’s more than 15 percentage points better than in 2003, when seat-belt usage was 76.2 percent.

Fatal crashes also are on the decline this year, dropping by about 10 percent during the first half of 2009, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Traffic Safety, which conducted the survey.

* Cook County patronage worker’s phone records released

Documents show up to 18 calls a day between phones of Tony Cole and Donna Dunnings, Todd Stroger’s cousin

* Quincy fights move of postal jobs to Springfield

But a postal service spokesman in Chicago said Tuesday the agency has “clarified” the study goal to calm concerns in Quincy that the entire operation, including about 70 jobs, might be leaving town.

* County offering cheap rabies shots, pet microchips

* Get Your Free Lolla iPhone App

* Buehrle Breaks ‘Perfect’ Record

Coming off the 18th perfect game in major league history, Chicago White Sox Mark Buehrle retired the first 17 batters on Tuesday night to set a record with 45 outs in a row before the Minnesota Twins rallied for a 5-3 victory over the White Sox.

- Posted by Mike Murray   19 Comments      


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