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House passes “no free rides for all” bill - And MJM talks to the press

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* The House has overhwelmingly passed a bill to get rid of free rides for all seniors, regardless of income. 83 members voted “Yes.” If the bill becomes law (not guaranteed yet), seniors enrolled in the Circuit Breaker program would still be able to ride free.

* Also today, House Speaker Michael Madigan talked to reporters about his constitutional amendment, whether he advised the governor to introduce a budget without a tax hike, the Republican opposition, the people who’ve contacted him about the lt. governor opening and whether Rep. Art Turner has a better chance now that Duckworth has dropped out.

Have a look

The Madigan availability continues. MJM talks about whether a Downstater would help the ticket, the budget and the Republicans, Bill Brady, whether a tax hike is more likely after the November election, his differences with Gov. Quinn over abolishing the lt. governor’s office, the weak support for the Senate’s tax plan in the House, how the state Democratic Central Committee will pick the Cohen replacement (one day for hearings and one day for votes).

Watch it

* Other legislative stuff…

* Southwest Side lawmaker to monitor Iraq elections : Rep. Susana Mendoza, 37, is part of a mission in conjunction with the National Foundation for Women Legislators and the U.S. Department of State to travel to Baghdad.

* Voluntary compliance with insurance reforms urged

* Consumers warm up to Illinois’ appliance-rebate program

* Illinois seeks to block new Michigan move in Asian carp battle

- Posted by Rich Miller   50 Comments      

Question of the day

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* The setup

At noon today, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget office will post information online about how much the state is receiving in tax dollars and where it’s being spent, and it will invite the public to recommend fixes to a deficit approaching $13 billion.

The Web site - - will include a “suggest a solution” feature through which anyone can submit an idea. It will also be possible to add attachments to send to the governor’s budget staff.

Quinn teased the new Web site as part of “electronic democracy” during a Chicago news conference and said it’s his administration asking the public “What do you think?”

According to Quinn, information on the Web site will show tax revenues for the current budget year and how they’ve been spent so far. Also posted will be projected revenues for the next budget year, which begins July 1, and all the projected program costs, debt payments, pension liabilities and other spending pressures.

* The Question: Go to the new site when it launches at noon and rate it. Also, report back on any suggestions you sent or whatever else you did.

- Posted by Rich Miller   57 Comments      

“Privatization Lite” for McCormick Place?

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* Mayor Daley has floated a “privatization lite” plan for McCormick Place

Mr. Daley told reporters in Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon that he’s not proposing to hand control of McCormick Place to a private operator under a long-term lease, as he has done with the Chicago Skyway and city parking meters in deals that reaped billions of dollars in upfront payments for the city.

Rather, he’s talking about short-term leases of individual convention halls within the complex to show operators—for the duration of a particular convention.

“You could lease it for seven days,” Mr. Daley told reporters in the nation’s capital, where the Supreme Court is hearing a case involving Chicago’s handgun law. “A lot of show places do that.”

Mr. Daley said show operators would be responsible for furnishing all services required for a convention, including labor, utilities and catering. They would have “full responsibility for all the payments inside their leased piece of property,” he said. “They’d pay for everything, not inside the building but inside the hall.”

From the Trib

The goal would be to cut expenses for exhibitors, many of whom have chafed at costs stemming from the in-house electrical service and from union work rules that prevent exhibitors from doing a lot of their own booth set-up. The city has lost two major shows that complained of high costs, and several more are on the fence.

If exhibitors can bypass the in-house electrical service and smash the choke-hold by the two contractors who control most of the price markups, then that would be worth looking into. The exhibitors would probably still use at least some of the union workers, particularly the Riggers and Decorators, because they know what they’re doing (lots of those union members are flown out to Vegas and Florida to handle shows there, which gives you an idea of their expertise). Work rules, however, would have to be loosened, especially for the electricians.

The governor is cautious

“Well, I think you’ve got to be careful here,” Quinn said Tuesday. “I think any of these privatization proposals need to be carefully analyzed to see whether or not they do indeed save money and if they do indeed improve service.”

The General Assembly is putting together a special joint committee to examine the situation

On Wednesday, the House Executive Committee is expected to consider a proposal by House Speaker Michael Madigan to create a 16-member House-Senate committee to recommend ways to improve McPier’s “operational stability and profitability.”

“It’ll be a place to channel whatever legislative recommendations people have concerning that institution,” said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan.

It’s absolutely essential to get at what’s really going wrong at McCormick Place. It’s a gigantic and irreplaceable economic engine for the state. The early ideas looked mainly to my eyes like they were designed to lower some costs for the contractors, so they could buttress their bottom lines in a down market. That’s not the way to go, however.


- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

Dire straits, indeed

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* Finke has a very good story today about how state checks are being prioritized right now

“Our priorities for the remainder of the fiscal year have to be debt repayment, general state aid to schools, expedited Medicaid payments and payrolls to keep government running,” said [Comptroller Dan Hynes] spokeswoman Carol Knowles. “We can’t afford to have our credit rating downgraded even further.”

The single biggest monthly commitment facing the state is repaying short-term loans obtained earlier in the year. Just over $500 million a month is needed through the end of the budget year June 30, except for April, when the repayment jumps to $750 million.

That money is needed just to repay short-term loans the state took out this year. Another $45 million is needed each month to repay pension bonds and $79 million to repay bonds issued for capital improvements.

The second largest monthly commitment is $450 million to make Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes within 30 days. Making those payments quickly qualifies Illinois to get additional federal Medicaid reimbursements. […]

The state also is trying to keep up with general state aid payments to school districts. However, reimbursements for other school expenses, such as transportation and special education, are lagging. General state aid payments cost about $418 million a month.

Of course, that means that almost nobody else is getting paid. Some of that unpaid cash was also for schools, and the delay is causing big problems out there

Maine Township High School District 207 in Park Ridge has approved the elimination of 75 teaching and 62 nonteaching jobs.

Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 has discussed cutting up to 160 full-time jobs next year and eliminating the fifth-grade band program. […]

Elgin-based School District U-46, the state’s second-largest district, has cut 348 jobs — mostly nonteaching — for the current school year. It also closed five swimming pools and canceled the athletic “B” teams. The district predicted a $15 million budget deficit next school year, on top of the $50 million deficit carried over from this year.

Naperville’s Indian Prairie School District 204 is considering up to $13 million in cuts, including a layoff of non-tenured teachers, increasing registration fees and delaying new textbook and technology purchases.

And general state aid to schools could fall next fiscal year

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, who heads a House education committee, said by the time lawmakers are done in May, schools could be looking at hundreds of dollars less per-student in state aid.

“The real price tag could be anywhere from $500 to $700 less,” said Chapa LaVia.

The Republicans say cutting school money is ridiculous

“I think this is very cynical, and ridiculous to make a show like this. As if this is the only choice. This is the Democrats’ choice,” [GOP Rep. Chapin Rose] said.

Rep. Rose is staunchly against a tax hike and thinks cuts in Medicaid should be looked at first. What he surely understands is the state is facing a $13 billion or so deficit, and cuts to Medicaid alone won’t, um, cut it.

Some relief is coming, though…

The federal government is sending a half-billion-dollars to Illinois schools. Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Matt Vanover calls the $555-million infusion a “relief.” He says the money will pay the general aid the state sends schools twice a month.

* David Vaught, the director of the governor’s budget office, had some plain words for a joint Senate appropriations committee hearing last night

“We’re beyond a situation where we can do what I call ‘efficiency cuts,’ where we save money and eliminate waste,” he said. “We’re at the point now where cuts are very real. They involve a reduction of services and they involve pain in many communities.”

* CoGFA director Dan Long distributed an analysis at the same hearing last night which you can view by clicking here. Let’s look at a few of his charts. As always, click the pics for better views…

Personal Income Tax, Corporate Income Tax, and Sales Tax Receipts - FY ‘98 thru FY ‘10 Q2…

Personal, Corporate, and Sales Tax Revenues - Year-Over-Year Percent Change by Month…

FY 2011 Budget Hole [Base]…

Check out that dotted red line on this chart. It’s the General Funds balance after lapse spending. Oof…

* Not surprisingly, the governor is still talking about raising taxes

Gov. Pat Quinn says he thinks it’s “necessary” the Illinois House consider a plan to raise the state income tax that passed the Illinois Senate last year.

* Related…

* Quinn warns of ‘very real’ budget cuts

* Illinois stuck in a ‘historic, epic’ budget crisis

* Illinois must reform pensions, make cuts before tax talk

* From the right, civic duty in Illinois

* Politicians can’t sugarcoat Illinois’ dire straits

* Senator seeks open school enrollment statewide

* Legislative scholarship perk defended: The Illinois senator put in charge of overseeing efforts to reform controversial legislative scholarships defended those scholarships Tuesday, denying they are perks and saying they should remain in lawmakers’ control.

* No vote on lawmaker scholarhships

* New state law causes changes in driver’s ed programs

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      

Brown fights back

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* Earlier this month, Chuck Goudie wrote a column about Patrick Collins’ new book. Collins had made a startling allegation about the House Speaker’s office

“One of our commission members received an unexpected call from a top aide to Speaker Michael Madigan” writes Collins. “The aide essentially proposed that the [Illinois Reform Commission] cut a deal with the legislature” to avoid meaningful reform.

Even though Collins ignored the alleged shakedown attempt, in the end - to use the terminology of infamous Chicago Alderman Paddy Bauler - Illinois “ain’t ready for reform.”

“With none of the major Democratic power brokers willing to champion our cause or seriously consider our proposed legislation” writes Collins, “the most significant proposals were rejected or simply ignored.”

* Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown checked around the office and determined that he was the only one who had met with a commission member in the timeframe given by Collins. So, Brown responded to the Collins allegations in the Daily Herald today

Collins named neither the Madigan aide nor the commissioner. I determined Collins referred to a meeting I had with Brad McMillan on Jan. 26, 2009, at the One World Cafe in Peoria. This is a total distortion of our discussion. Furthermore, a distortion of this magnitude casts a troubling light on Collins’ credibility.

I had contacted Mr. McMillan because I wanted a better understanding of the institute he heads at Bradley University, to determine it if it could be a resource for the legislature and if I could be of service.

My other goal was to share my personal concern over many members of Collins’ commission and their general lack of campaign experience. Common sense suggests those who prepare rules for an activity have some experience. Aside from Mr. McMillan, who once ran for judge and served U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, and Ms. Sheila Simon, few members of the commission had worked in a campaign or even made a donation to a political committee. It struck me that this was akin to asking novice Metra engineer to develop rules for Illinois’ high-speed rail line.

Mr. McMillan focused on reapportionment reform and further limiting legislative candidate’s ability to raise funds from outside their district. I mentioned the current Congressional remap plan was the product of an agreement between his former boss, former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former U.S. Rep. William Lipinski. The outside donation issue was an outgrowth of efforts to support former state Rep. Rica Sloan from an expensive attack campaign.

At no point did I suggest a backroom deal or predict a confrontation. Mr. McMillan suggested I might want to testify at commission hearings. I find it unlikely that Mr. McMillan might believe any part of our conversation fits into Collins’ description. Since the commission had not begun its work, I think it actually strains credibility to even hint anyone was talking to anyone about deals.

I raise these issues because it seems Mr. Collins plans to continue to press for additional changes in state law concerning ethics and campaign law. I fear his distortion of my meeting with Mr. McMillan might become part of his characterizations and a tool to gain support. His conduct seems like an act that should disqualify him.

* Meanwhile, Brad McMillan is now pushing for the Illinois Fair Map constitutional amendment, and spoke in Jacksonville recently about the issue

“Why should politicians in secret, and that’s key, behind closed doors, be allowed to choose their own voters? What’s democratic about that?” said Brad McMillan, a former member of the Illinois Reform Commission and now director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University. […]

“I would argue strongly that what we need in Illinois is a competitive two-party system in order to ensure accountability,” McMillan said. “The truth is it doesn’t matter if it’s Republicans or Democrats controlling the process, they draw safe districts. … They know they’re in safe seats and they don’t necessarily have to make the hard decisions to turn things around here.”

He said the gerrymandered districts in Illinois are partly responsible for a 98 percent re-election rate among incumbents. […]

McMillan said some districts aren’t always gerrymandered for political reasons. He said the 38th Senate District in the north was drawn to include the residence of the incumbent’s fiancee.

Again, many, if not most, of the current lopsided House and Senate districts will still be lopsided even if this amendment is approved. You’re not gonna get a Republican district on the South Side, and you’re not gonna draw a Democratic district in Bloomington.

What a change like this will do, however, is prevent districts from being drawn to benefit individual incumbents or candidates that the leaders want to run against the other party’s incumbents.

Also, it’s telling to note that McMillan knew about the situation in former Sen. Pat Welch’s district. The Senate Republicans are surely feeding the reformers all the dirt they can right now.

* Related…

* Congress not part of Fair Map Campaign: I apologize for misleading readers in previous columns, but I was under the impression that congressional districts would also be covered by the amendment.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      

Duckworth begs out as bills advance on primary, lt. governor

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* NBC5 broke the story yesterday afternoon that Tammy Duckworth doesn’t want to be Pat Quinn’s running mate. Here’s her statement…

“While I am honored my name has been mentioned for potential consideration by the Illinois Democratic Central Committee for the Lt. Governor candidate position, I have respectfully requested that my name be removed from consideration,” Duckworth said in a statement.

“I made a commitment to President Obama and our Nation’s Veterans to serve at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and I want to fulfill my promise before returning home.

“Governor Quinn has my full support as he continues to fight hard on behalf of working families across the state.”

Quinn has been floating her name since soon after the primary, apparently without fully consulting her.

…ADDING… I’m now told that Quinn talked to Duckworth several times and that she expressed interest in the job.

He finally met with her over the weekend and asked her to consider…

Quinn said he met with Duckworth when he was in Washington last weekend for National Governors Association meetings and that she called him [yesterday] morning to say she was staying put.

“I think it was an agonizing decision for her,” Quinn said.

And here comes the deluge

Some Quinn supporters say a female candidate would help his standing among women voters. A Downstater would help him win votes outside the Chicago area. Republican gubernatorial front-runner state Sen. Bill Brady and his running-mate Jason Plummer are both from Downstate.

The five candidates who lost the Democratic primary election to Cohen, led by State Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, are interested. Turner said on WVON Tuesday that he got votes Downstate, so he would be a good choice.

Quinn refused to say if he thought regional balance was important, saying only he is looking for “a person who shares my point of view, who believes in progressive, honest government. We have to use the power of government to help the people of Illinois. The economy is the No. 1 issue.”

He also wants someone committed to veterans’ well-being. Quinn spent his six years as lieutenant governor focusing on veterans — that’s how he met Duckworth. […]

Quinn did not say whether he’s hearing bloggers’ attempts to draft [Paul] Simon’s daughter Sheila, who Quinn named to his state ethics reform commission, as a nominee. Sheila Simon ran and lost for mayor of Carbondale. Another ethics panel member, Democratic U.S. Senate runner-up David Hoffman, has been mentioned as a possible running mate. Downstate Sen. John Sullivan has been touted by, among others, former state Senate President Emil Jones.

Being endorsed by Emil Jones is probably not the thing to highlight on the resume. Jones lost his state central committeeman slot to Jesse Jackson, Jr. this month, so Jones’ backing will work against him there. But Jones loaned a ton of money to Quinn’s campaign, and appears to have the governor’s ear on some matters.

* Meanwhile

A House committee approved one measure that would push the state’s primary election to mid-March instead of having it in February.

This year’s early election, which was the first in the nation, has been attributed by some lawmakers for low voter turnout.

“I think given the experience of the voters and candidates in the February election that it is a good idea to move it back,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, the bill’s sponsor.

It was approved by a 9-0 vote and now moves to the House floor for a full debate.

The second plan lawmakers approved Tuesday also would shake up campaigns by requiring candidates for governor to pick a lieutenant governor running mate for the primary. Currently, governors and lieutenant governors are nominated separately in the primary, and they run together in the general election.

* House Speaker Michael Madigan is planning to testify this morning at 10:30 in the House Executive Committee (rm. 118) on behalf of his constitutional amendment to ban the office of the lt. governor. You can read HJRCA 50 by clicking here. You can also click here at 10:30 to see if they’re broadcasting the hearing live.

* Related…

* Illinois primary would return to March under House bill: Republican House leader Tom Cross of Oswego proposed legislation that would move the primary in presidential-election years to March and also shift the primary in nonpresidential years to June. Cross said he still doesn’t think March is late enough but felt the committee’s decision to advance Nekritz’s proposal was a step in the right direction.

* Primary election changes considered: “Who do you think Gov. Blagojevich would have picked? Harris?” asked Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat, referring to the former governor’s chief of staff, John Harris, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud. “You’re saying that whoever the governor is would have the right to choose his or her successor.”

* Democrats dispute need for more campaign finance limits: Reform advocates testified in support of the legislation, calling it a necessary next step. Additionally, they said refusing to close the loophole would foster a dangerous dependence on legislative leaders and political party money in general elections. “That exception, I think, makes for not only an incomplete system of campaign finance but a system that discourages the support at the local level from the districts the legislators represent,” said Peter Bensinger, co-chair of CHANGE Illinois.

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      

Fox Chicago looks at HGOP staff, primaries

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

* Fox Chicago followed up on its “Madigoons” story from yesterday with one about the House Republicans

The Republicans are doing the very same thing as Democrats. We discovered 13 staffers taking a leaves of absence and being farmed out to do political work.

It’s not included in the Fox write-up, but if you watch the video you’ll see the chit-chat after the story included a charge from the House Democrats that 13 HGOP staffers taken off the payroll is way too low, along with a suggestion that the Republicans might have been using staff on state time for campaigns. The allegation wasn’t investigated further, however.

* House GOP Leader Tom Cross defended the practice of taking state staff off the payroll for campaigns…

“You get young kids that come to work for you that like politics and like policy and say I want to get involved in campaigns,” Cross said. “And that’s okay.”

As Cross explained, it’s only okay — and ethical — if there is a distinct line between state work done at taxpayer expense and political work done off the state payroll.

“We passed a law several years ago, an ethics bill, that made it very clear that you can’t do any political work while on state time,” he said. “Which would seem to be the obvious thing.”

Like the Democrats, we also found Republican staffers getting paychecks from campaigns while working fulltime for the state.

Leader Cross’s chief of staff Matthew O’Shea earned $140,000 in his state salary, but also collected $12,000 from the Republican party.

“He does political work, he likes it he want to do it,” Cross said of O’Shea’s two jobs. “It’s over and above his state work.”

* This is kinda interesting…

But there’s no explanation for another case uncovered by FOX Chicago Investigates. In July, 2008, house Republicans hired a pair of policy analysts to work for the state. After only two weeks on the job, they jumped off the state payroll to go work for the Republican party until after the November election.

So why put someone on the state payroll for two-weeks? Cross said he did not know the specifics of those two hirings.

* Patrick Collins kinda misses the point, at least when it comes to general elections…

“When [legislative leaders have] the ability to control the dollars as well as the people that’s really a one-two punch that can change the dynamic of a race,” he said.

Since everybody is doing this, it doesn’t really impact general elections. Primaries, however, are different stories…

When Democratic St. Rep. Dan Burke found himself in a tough race this year, Madigan told Burke to fire his campaign manager, and sent in state worker Tom Wogan to run Burke’s campaign.

Burke won.

Republicans also gave employees time off for the 2010 primary and paid them more than $50,000 dollars for campaign work.

Almost always, primary opponents who aren’t backed by the leaders are in a very disadvantageous position.

* Rich Means gets to the heart of the real problem here…

Election attorney Rich Means has battled state staffers on the campaign trail and says the ability to assign armies of state workers to political races gives legislative leaders a hammer.

“What it does is give all the power to the legislative leaders,” Means said. “It stifles political dissent within the political parties. It stifles independence in the legislature. It just closes the system down.”

* Picking on individual, rank-and-file staffers is way unfair. I don’t think Fox handled that aspect very well at all. In my mind, this issue is only tangentially about whether staff ought to be allowed to jump off state payrolls to work campaigns.

And completely separating politics from the Legislature is a goofy concept. Our democratic system is fundamentally based on campaigns - a basic fact that people like Collins don’t seem to understand. Still, there ought to be a limit.

What is important here is the power of the leaders. Without that staff, they can’t control their members nearly as well.

Here’s just one example: People who staff committees answer directly to the leaders, not the chairpersons and minority spokespersons. The leaders appoint the committee chairs. They appoint the committee members. It’s total, absolute control.

* Watch the entire Fox report

- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      

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Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010

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* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Update to this morning's edition
* Question of the day
* First Class all the way
* Manteno Veterans' Home tests show "low levels of Legionellosis"
* Pritzker signs EO committing Illinois to Paris Climate Agreement
* The Dome is leaking
* It's Time To Put Our Progressive Values Into Action
* More on Pritzker's HB40 EO
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* Report: Ald. Solis recorded conversations with Ald. Burke
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