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Today at the Statehouse

Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

* Michael Randle is well on his way to being confirmed by the Senate

Michael Randle, who was chosen by Gov. Pat Quinn in May to serve as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, was on the hot seat Wednesday as members of the Illinois Senate Executive Appointments committee considered whether to recommend Randle to the $150,000-per-year post overseeing one of Illinois’ largest agencies.

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, asked Randle about the results of an investigative report that accused Randle of not disclosing his personal relationship with college friend Keith Key when Randle was working in Ohio’s prison system.

The Ohio report notes Randle did not benefit financially from Key’s arrangement, but the deal cost taxpayers there about $40,000 in added costs. […]

“I would characterize it as not going a step further and actually reporting a relationship that started 25 years ago in college,” Randle told the panel.

The Executive Appointments Committee unanimously approved his nomination and sent it to the floor.

* Progress on mass transit funding…

State lawmakers today say they are negotiating a plan to cut back the blanket free ride privileges for seniors on Chicago area mass transit and replace it with a program that is restricted to people with lower incomes.

The proposal was outlined by Republican leaders following a morning meeting involving House and Senate leaders from both parties and Chicago transit officials. It has yet to be presented to rank and file lawmakers, but supports want to act on the plan this week during the remaining three days of the fall legislative session.

Under the proposal, the free ride program for all seniors would end March 1. After that, only seniors 65 and older who qualify for the state’s low-income Circuit Breaker program would be able to ride for free. For a single person, that translates to a maximum income of $22,218 a year.

The move is predicted to save the Regional Transit Authority an estimated $37 million, including $25 million for the Chicago Transit Authority, $10 million for Metra and $2 million for Pace. In addition, $8.5 million the Illinois Department of Transportation would have provided this year to offset the costs of the free rides would instead be used to help pay for paratransit, a door-to-door transit service for the disabled.

The House Executive Committee advanced the plan today, as well as this…

The House Executive Committee also approved a massive overhaul of state oversight of the cemetery industry. The 240-page bill was drafted in response to revelations that a Chicago-area cemetery dug up bodies and resold the grave sites.

The bill is drawing opposition from cemeteries owned by religious denominations, which said they will incur increased costs from the legislation while there is no evidence church-owned cemeteries have caused any problems.

Officials representing publicly owned cemeteries also expressed concerns about costs, including Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin.

* Most of us have known for many years now that Illinois is last or close to last in the number of state employees per capita. A new study by AFSCME shows we’re now just slightly behind Indiana

What [AFSMCE] did is examine U.S. Census data on employment in the 50 states, and then compare it to the latest state population estimates. What he found is that Illinois, which has been reducing its employee headcount for several years and is threatening to do more cutting, actually ranks 49th in state employees per capita.

Yes, you read that right. Next to dead last, just above Indiana. In a country in which the average state employs 85 workers per 10,000 residents, Illinois has only 54, just a few tenths of a point ahead of cheapskate Indiana.

Moreover, according to the data, Illinois’ relative position has been dropping. The state ranked 47th in 2002, but since then has failed to replace a ton of workers who left in a 2002-03 early-retirement program.

* The Senate recessed to the call of the chair shortly after 1 o’clock. Both parties will caucus before committees meet. The House has delayed the scheduled noon session start until 2:30. Here are a couple of “Retweets” from my Twitter page

@ILSenateGOP Sen. Righter will hold a press conference following the redistricting hearing this morning. [Presser] scheduled for 12:30

@melissahahn The Ill. Society of Civil Engineers was supposed to hold a news conf. here, but didn’t show up. Not very civil of them.

* Completely unrelated, but the Tribune is reporting that Chris Kelly died after injesting rat poison and a pain reliever.

* Related…

* Compromise sought on STAR bonds: With a potential $200 million amusement park waiting in the wings, supporters of a major Metro East development now are banking on a compromise to get a key tax incentive plan through the Illinois Legislature. The issue is expected to come up in Springfield as early as today, the first day of the three-day veto session. Sources say parties are negotiating what is being dubbed the STAR Bonds Recapture Fund, a measure that would give Metro East communities a potential funding replacement for sales tax money lost with the implementation of a STAR bonds district.

* Durkin and Connelly move to overturn Quinn’s EO 09-15: Unless EO 09-15 is rescinded families who care for their seriously disabled family members in their own homes will be forced to ward off purple-t-shirted SEIU visitors and AFSCME phone calls every year. Despite the fact parents overwhelmingly voted against joining either union last Monday, Quinn’s EO 09-15 opens the way for a vote to be taken annually.

* The Immortal Managed Care Myth: The latest Republican official to predict gigantic cost savings without showing any support for the claim is State Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Addison), who suggested Monday on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight that Illinois could save “over $1 billion dollars” by moving patients into a private managed care network.

* Funeral directors may soon double as traffic cops

* Adobe is Bad for Open Government

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


Campaign 2010 roundup

Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

* Andy McKenna is airing a new TV ad starting today. It’s based on the video we watched yesterday. Rate it


* McKenna, by the way, is already dodging budget questions

McKenna, 52, of Chicago, vowed to not support a tax hike to repair the state’s money mess. But he refused to say whether seniors should continue to get free bus and train rides — a move Blagojevich initiated but that might be scaled back because of budget constraints.

That issue is a whole lot more volatile than many are willing to admit.

* And the sniping has begun

“Illinoisans have a track record, fortunately, of not letting people buy any major office, whether it’s a U.S. Senate seat or governorship,” said Senator Kirk Dillard, (R) Candidate for Governor. […]

“There’s no question that Andy McKenna is a Chicago politician. There’s also no question that his father’s wealth is the only reason he can get into this race,” said Senator Bill Brady, (R) Candidate for Governor.

Nevertheless, some are upset that last spring, when McKenna was party chairman, he may have had access to information about the others’ campaigns.

“If he is sitting there talking to us as the party chairman and in the back of his mind he’s looking at us as competition, I think that’s wrong,” said DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, , (R) Candidate for Governor.

More

Schillerstrom says McKenna has an “epic” conflict of interest because he laid the groundwork for running while he chaired the Illinois Republican Party. The DuPage County Board chairman also says McKenna’s desire to be governor is just “a millionaire’s whimsy.”

Oof.

* In other news, Republican US Senate candidate Patrick Hughes is apparently still struggling to get his nominating petitions signed. From an e-mail solicitation that I’ve redacted…

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2009 10:02:38 -0700
Subject: Illinois Upcoming Election

Hi,

My name is xxx xxxx and I work for a company called Proud to be Republicn (http://www.facebook.com/l/03bf7;www.proudtoberepublican.com). We are assisting Pat Hughes in finishing up with his campaign signatures and need some help.

We are located in Oak Brook and have been acquiring signatures locally but would like the assistance of a college organization to help us with the younger population. Your group has acquired a large number of followers and seems to understand the problems that Illinois is going through. If you or any other members of your organization would be interested in helping us support Pat Hughes please contact me.

Feel free to call me at (800)xxx-xxx or via email at xxxx@xxxx.xxx. I will forward you all the information we have avaliable on Pat Hughes. He is also paying for signatures which is a nice incentive. Please remember the petitions are due on Monday so this is an urgent matter.

I called this person for comment, but haven’t heard back.

* The Alexi Giannoulias campaign blasted Democratic opponent David Hoffman for soliciting campaign contributions from current and former assistant US Attorneys…

“The last thing the Illinois culture of corruption needs is political candidates soliciting the lead agency responsible for investigating corruption,” Giannoulias campaign manager Tom Bowen said in a statement. “If we are going to be serious about reform, we have to act seriously. Hoffman should cancel the fundraiser, refuse money from current federal prosecutors and refuse to take contributions from employees of the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

Background can be found here.

Hoffman’s campaign responded…

“Alexi Giannoulias just retired the award for political hypocrisy,” spokesman Thom Karmik said. “For months, he’s been trumpeting the lie that he’s emulating Barack Obama’s ethical standards by not taking corporate PAC money. But Obama swore off all PAC money in his presidential campaign. By taking thousands of dollars in non-corporate PAC money, Alexi’s failed to meet Obama’s standard while trying to fool the voters.

“Among Alexi’s latest PAC contributions is one from the Community Bankers Association. That association is leading the fight in Washington against President Obama’s efforts to pass tougher financial regulations to protect consumers. Instead of throwing stones from his glass house, Alexi ought to return that contribution.

“And while he’s at it, he can reveal for the first time how many millions of dollars in dividends he took out of his family bank while its loans were failing and the FDIC put it on its “watch list.” Perhaps that’s why he’s refusing David’s challenge to release his tax returns for the past five years - another standard Barack Obama set that Alexi’s refused to honor.”

Yikes.

A growing concern among some Democrats is that this will turn into another 1992 US Senate primary. Back then, a wealthy attorney spent a fortune attacking the frontrunner (Democratic US Sen. Alan Dixon) and that helped a relatively unknown African-American female candidate (Carol Moseley-Braun) win. The difference now, of course is that the relatively unknown black Democratic female, Cheryle Jackson, carries a whole lot of baggage because she was Rod Blagojevich’s press secretary. And Jackson would be up against a very formidable Republican opponent in Mark Kirk, unlike CM-B’s opponent, the sorely lacking Rich Williamson. The national GOP bailed on that ‘92 race. Barring catastrophe, they won’t bail this time.

* Related…

* Muslim journalist on trial as Israeli spy to speak at Rutgers: In 2003, as he was about to board a plane to Tel-Aviv, he was arrested and accused by Bangladeshi authorities of being a spy for Israel. Choudhury says he was tortured. He is now on trial for espionage, sedition, treason and blasphemy. The penalty for a conviction is death. The campaign to get the government of Bangladesh to drop all charges against Choudhury is being led by Dr. Richard Benkin of Illinois, who got the U.S. Congress — led by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — involved in the case.

* Senate candidate Giannoulias begins to unveil economic plan

* A Time To Rally The Base: When not recanting their previous positions, Republican candidates are showing themselves willing to endanger their general election prospects later to appeal to the base now.

* Republican Candidate Forum in Rockford: The Concerned Citizens of America held a candidate forum Monday night at the Stockholm Inn. Residents were able to hear from the republican candidates for U.S Senate. The group says it’s important to hold these forum’s before the primary. “This is the most important time,” said Chris Johnson Board Member for Concerned citizens for America. “Yes in the general election people break off as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, but we want our constituents to know who are the conservatives who will stand up for the needs of the American family.”

* Primary Influence: Some Lawmakers Willing To Pony Up Early

* NRCC adds 32 to Young Guns program

* Schock outlines health care proposal - Congressman says bill aims to protect doctor-patient relationship, lower costs

* Crowded fields in 8th and 10th congressional districts

- Posted by Rich Miller   60 Comments      


Question of the day

Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

* The setup

The Illinois Republican Party is inviting the public to submit questions for an upcoming debate of the GOP candidates running for governor. Questions can be sent to debate@ilgop.org

GOP officials are asking that submitters include name and hometown.

* The Question: What are your questions for the Republican gubernatorial candidates?

Try to keep the snark to a minimum. Thanks.

…Adding… I’ve asked all the GOP gubernatorial campaigns (plus the top two Democrats) to look at this post and choose a question or two and then provide a detailed answer. I’ll run those answers here tomorrow.

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      


Another problem for Dorothy Brown; Plus, reform roundup

Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

* Behold the bold stupidity

Workers enrolled in a state-funded program to provide job training tell Fox Chicago News they instead spent their time gathering signatures on petitions for political candidates.

A Fox Chicago News investigation found several Earnfare workers who said they were told to pass petitions for Cook County Board President candidate Dorothy Brown, among other candidates. […]

The workers said they were assigned to do clerical work and maintenance for the Mother’s House social service organization at 49th and Ashland on Chicago’s south side. When Fox Chicago News visited the agency on Tuesday, we found stacks of blank political petitions on a table in the office.

We also found Hassan Muhammad, a political field director for Brown’s campaign. He denied the Earnfare workers were being used for political work, and then pushed a Fox Chicago cameraman out of the office.

This is the same Dorothy Brown who held a campaign press event in the county building and who only recently stopped accepting annual cash gifts from her employees.

* Meanwhile, back at the Statehouse, Gov. Pat Quinn refused to say where he stands on the issue of capping the amount of contributions made by legislative leaders and political parties…

[Quinn] told reporters Tuesday he wants “to put the people back in politics in Illinois and take big money out of it.”

But he would not say whether that includes contribution limits on parties and leaders.

Here’s the money quote

“We have to look at all the laws as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as well. You have to comply with the fundamental law of our country. It’s an endeavor you have to work with a lot of different people, groups, individuals, both in and out of the legislature. The bottom line is to have reform.”

And the House GOP Leader stated his position

“Any proposal not fully endorsed by Change Illinois will not have my support,” says House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, drawing a line in the sand on an issue that hits at the core of how politics is played in Illinois.

The Daily Herald polled suburban legislators on the issue…

Of the 20 suburban House Republicans who responded to a survey by the Daily Herald, 13 said they will not vote for legislation if it lacks party limits. Only two said they might not withhold their support. Five declined to say directly either way, holding out to see a final measure.

On the other side of the aisle, just one out of eight suburban House Democrats said they would withhold support. Four said they will vote for legislation without party limits, and three declined to give a firm “yes” or “no.”

The split is a bit less dramatic in the Senate where two of five suburban Senate Democrats said they will not vote for legislation that lacks party limits. Three of nine Republicans said the same.

* Related…

* Marin: Voters accepting no reform imitations

* DuPage Democrats may be on the hook for health care forum costs: A report from Auditor Bob Grogan suggested the $5,142.13 sought for a variety of security and support services provided at the Sept. 15 forum at the county administration building “did not appear to be formally sanctioned by the county board or a (board) committee.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


Borrow, cut and defer

Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

* Gov. Pat Quinn is a well-known champion of veterans rights and benefits. Today, for instance, he’s announcing a new “Veterans’ Cash Stars & Stripes” lottery ticket.

But the Pantagraph just noticed something about the state’s veterans scholarship program. It’s no longer being funded

In trying to shift as much money as possible to its biggest scholarship program, the state this year stopped reimbursing universities for giving veterans free tuition.

This summer, with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission facing a major cut in funding, the commission decided to shift almost all of its scholarship money to the need-based Monetary Award Program. But that meant programs like the Illinois Veterans Grant were shorted.

Veterans in Illinois still get free tuition at state schools. But the state won’t be reimbursing the universities for providing veterans a free education like they have in the past.

Meanwhile, the governor wants to borrow more money

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to borrow another $900 million to keep state government afloat through the lean winter months.

With the state already months behind in paying its bills, Quinn said the traditional slowdown in tax collections between November and February could cause the nettlesome backlog to grow even larger.

“It’s a cash-management device,” Quinn told reporters following a meeting in the Capitol with legislative leaders.

Actually, it’s more than just a cash-management device

Quinn said the borrowing could be used for MAP [scholarship] funding, but he’s not concerned scholarships will be shorted.

“I’m very confident we’ll have the money for the scholarships,” Quinn said.

Radogno said it was clear in the meeting that the short-term borrowing will cover the extra MAP grant costs.

“We have committed to it, and it has to be funded,” Radogno said.

The Tribune explains how it would work

Lawmakers might put the borrowed money into a special pot that would be used to pay state health-care costs, generating potentially another $400 million in matching federal funds. That also would free up money elsewhere to pay for the scholarships in Illinois’ Monetary Award Program.

The situation is increasingly dire

(T)he state already has borrowed $2.25 billion to shore up its budget and has pushed off payments on another $3.7 billion in backlogged bills

Quinn also wants legislative approval to borrow a billion dollars from special state funds.

Will Hynes sign off? We’ll know soon enough…

The state comptroller and treasurer must approve a deal. A spokeswoman said Comptroller Dan Hynes had not heard about the plan. Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias said through a spokesman that funding higher education and paying backlogged bills will likely outweigh concern about continued borrowing.

Quinn said he expected no opposition to the December loan, including from Hynes, his opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in February.

* Related…

* Back to borrowing

- Posted by Rich Miller   43 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

* City property tax: Blame game kicks off as bills leap - Daley lashes out at assessor, whose aide faults General Assembly

Despite the attack, Daley didn’t make clear how the assessor could have acted legally to alter the trajectory of the latest round of bills. The mayor also did not mention that new bills to Chicago residents reflect a $65 million City Hall property tax increase passed two years ago but that’s only showing up now. Houlihan spokesman Eric Herman blamed big hikes largely on the General Assembly’s decision to phase out a program designed to soften the effect on taxes of soaring property values earlier this decade. “This idea somehow that we’re going around jacking up everybody’s assessments is just fiction,” Herman said.

* Chicago hiring abuse report recommends suspension for city environment chief

Inspector general says deputy commissioner should be fired for trying to mislead investigators

* City Council hearings on Mayor Daley’s budget start today

* Council may reject any large pay hikes for cops: aldermen

If an independent arbitrator awards double-digit pay hikes to Chicago Police officers, there’s a good chance the City Council will reject it, some aldermen said Tuesday.

During closed-door briefings on the status of police negotiations, aldermen vented their anger about the fact that public safety employees who account for 70 percent of city spending have been exempt from furlough days and other cost-cutting concessions.

Some aldermen also served notice that City Council ratification can no longer be taken for granted.

* South Side projects at risk

* Costco wants Kiddieland site

* Homeless students: Increasingly, families taking shelter anywhere they can

* Better options a must for displaced CPS kids

* Fenger student charged with concealing a homicide

* Illinois insurers agree to cover swine flu vaccine

* Arson, assault down in Illinois crime stats

- Posted by Mike Murray   16 Comments      


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Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009

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PREVIOUS POSTS »
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