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This just in… Madigan amendment pulled for lack of votes

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* 2:20 pm - A proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan failed to pass today and was pulled out of the record and put on “Postponed Consideration.” That means Madigan can bring this back for another vote if he thinks he can pass it.

The rare public failure by the Speaker ended with 67 “yes” votes, 21 “no” votes and 27 “present” votes. The measure required a three-fifths majority of 71.

The description

Provides that a person must have been a licensed attorney-at-law for a minimum of ten years to be eligible to serve as a Circuit Judge, a minimum of twelve years to be eligible to serve as an Appellate Judge, and a minimum of fifteen years to be eligible to serve as a Supreme Court Judge, except that a person serving as a Judge on December 31, 2010 is not disqualified from completing the current term of office or seeking an additional term.

As we discussed yesterday, the Republicans are upset that Madigan is apparently attempting to pack the ballot with constitutional amendments so that the Republican proposal to change the redistricting process couldn’t be approved. The state Constitution limits to three the number of articles that the GA can propose to amend. One is already on the ballot (recall), and Madigan is proposing another to abolish the lt. governor’s office. This judicial amendment would’ve been the third.

During the debate, however, Madigan did say that he intends to support changes to the redistricting process. He didn’t elaborate.

- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      

Garrett talks about her future, Hendon praises, Quinn doesn’t know the numbers

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* Sen. Susan Garrett talked to reporters today about the lite guv post. She said she has “no indication” that she’s the frontrunner, which kinda defies most evidence, but that’s media talk. She also addressed a report in Capitol Fax that she’d been driven to various events on Saturday by a Quinn campaign worker. She characterized the person as “just a driver.” Yeah. OK. Take my word for it, the guy ain’t just a driver. Gov. Quinn appeared to deny the report yesterday, so this is becoming a bit of an issue for me.

Anyway, watch the interview

Garrett also talked about her position on Quinn’s tax hike. Have a look

* Sen. Rickey Hendon hasn’t exactly been a fan of his fellow member of Democratic leadership Susan Garrett. Back when Garrett was leading the charge against a legislative pay hike in 2008 Hendon had this to say about her

“People should not miss out on the fact that she’s a millionaire. She don’t need it. Have you seen her house? Mind-boggling,” Hendon said. “So it just blows my mind how the filthy rich are always the ones saying, we don’t need the raise. No she don’t.”

But Hendon did have plenty of nice things to say about Garrett today, and called that ‘08 fight over the pay raise “minor,” adding, “She has a kind heart.” Hendon also said the pick was a good strategy for Quinn and that the two would be a good fit. He also had some unkind words for Rep. Art Turner, with whom he has been feuding for ages and who is also vying for the lite guv job. Have a look

* Gov. Quinn supported the federal health care reform bill, without knowing what it would cost the state budget

How much will Medicaid cost the state should the federal health care legislation become law? No one really knows for sure, including Gov. Pat Quinn, who backs health care reform.

Speaking with reporters Monday, Quinn said it won’t worsen the state’s deficit, yet he doesn’t know how much the cost will be. According to Quinn, the state hasn’t made a cost estimate.

Progress Illinois has run the broad Medicaid numbers, but there will also be some benefits to the state not included in this list…

After covering the full cost until 2016, Washington will cover 95 percent of the expansion in 2017, meaning Illinois would need to pay an additional $130 million that year. In 2018, the federal assistance drops to 94 percent, costing Illinois $156 million. In 2019, it drops one more percentage point, adding $183 million to the state budget. That means the grand total Illinois would owe, between 2014 and 2019, will be approximately $469 million. Thought about another way, Illinois will extend health coverage to about 5 percent of its population at a cost of just $40 per person annually.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* The setup

Schools could shave a day off the school week to try to save money under legislation the Illinois House approved Monday.

The plan that passed 81-21 requires students still be taught the same number of total hours in a year, but would allow it over four days rather than five. The decision to cut a day would rest with the locally elected school boards, though the Illinois State Board of Education would maintain some oversight authority.

Local boards would be required to have public hearings on reducing the school week. State Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican and the plan’s sponsor, said 19 states already allow for reduced school weeks. […]

Black brought the proposal to Springfield at the behest of a small, rural downstate district trying to save transportation and utility costs. He said the state is months behind in reimbursing the school for transportation costs, local fuel providers can’t afford to carry the school much longer and officials are running out of options.


Though the bill passed 81-21, there was considerable opposition from some Chicago Democrats who questioned whether parents would be able to care for their children on the new off day.

* The Question: Support or oppose? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   59 Comments      

Tribune: Rigging claim not true

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* Chicago Republican state Rep. candidate Scott Tucker has been getting a whole lot of mileage out of the red-light camera issue. Tucker, who’s up against Ann Williams in the November general, has been featured several times in Chicago and national media blasting the cameras as unsafe.

No problem with that, of course. That’s just good politics. People generally don’t like red-light cameras, so it’s a great issue, even though his rhetoric has often been way over the top

“Red light cameras are causing accidents, hunger, evictions, and foreclosures in Illinois.”

More than a bit much, but it’s in keeping with his tea party-like appeal.

* The real problem is with Tucker’s oft-repeated claim that he has timed several red-light camera intersections and believes Chicago is rigging the system

“We’ve actually gone out and timed 13 Chicago intersections that have these red-light cameras and we’ve found that the city is shortening the yellow light to two and a half seconds.”

The yellow lights are supposed to last three seconds, but Tucker claims the city is not telling the truth, and that the alleged timing change has resulted in more red-light tickets and more accidents.

That’s simply not true.

The Chicago Tribune did the due diligence and clocked 70 Chicago red-light cameras. All came in at 3 seconds or longer. They took apart a control box to see how difficult it would be to reprogram the lights. Not easy at all. In fact, the lights are programmed to revert to flashing red if the yellow light time meanders lower than 2.8 seconds.

Also, the 3-second yellow light has been the standard in Chicago for 50 years, according to the article. And then there’s this…

[Brian Steele, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation] also said a recent sampling of 14 high ticket-generating intersections found that 99.87 percent of all cars passing through did so without triggering red-light cameras.

Not exactly a “trap,” as has been claimed.

And why are yellow lights longer in the suburbs? This makes logical sense…

With only a few exceptions, the speed limit on Chicago thoroughfares is 30 mph. Speeds tend to be faster in the suburbs — one reason why yellows last longer there.

Anyway, it’s fine to hate the cameras. There are plenty of good reasons. But let’s try to stick to the facts from now on.

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 *** Giannoulias hit, Sullivan shunned, Simon realistic

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* Mark Kirk’s US Senate campaign took another tack today. They issued a press release slamming Alexi Giannoulias for telling the Illinois Education Association that he is for a state tax hike. From the release…

Congressman Mark Kirk today criticized State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for endorsing a state income tax hike just days after new jobs numbers put Illinois’ unemployment rate over 12 percent.

“I have said from day one, as your state Treasurer, that, while politically it’s not the smartest thing to say, we need an income tax increase,” Giannoulias announced Saturday.

“With unemployment topping 12 percent and Illinois families struggling, the last thing we need is higher income taxes,” Congressman Kirk said. “We know that Rod Blagojevich and his allies in Springfield taxed and spent our state into economic ruin. Raising taxes further will make our state less competitive, stifle job creation and slow our economic recovery. After wiping out $70 million in college education savings, Alexi Giannoulias wants to bail out his party’s fiscal mismanagement on the backs of hard working Illinois families. Put simply, Illinois families cannot afford Alexi Giannoulias.” […]

In December, Giannoulias revealed his office lost roughly $150 million in Bright Start college education savings and only recouped about half of the loss. Giannoulias did not comment whether families that lost money in Bright Start would be exempted from his income tax hike proposal.

Kind of a snarky line, eh? The release went on to reiterate the campaign’s claim that Kirk “voted to cut taxes more than 40 times for Illinois families.”

Watch the video

*** UPDATE *** The Giannoulias campaign responded this morning by saying the candidate’s position that any tax increase “needs to be coupled with lower property taxes.”

The campaign has also released a video blasting Kirk on his vow to repeal the health care reform bill

[ *** End of Update *** ]

* In lite guv news, it appears that Sen. Sullivan got the cold shoulder

State Sen. John Sullivan did not attend weekend meetings held for potential candidates for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket.

“I met the governor and his people and said if they were looking for someone like me, I was interested,” Sullivan said. “It was quite clear that the governor is not looking for someone like me.”

Sullivan is a pro-life, pro-gun conservative downstate Democrat. The governor, of course, has huge problems with women, which would seem to rule out Sullivan. But as I discussed with subscribers this morning, Dan Hynes cleaned Pat Quinn’s clock downstate. Quinn’s problems transcend gender.

* Sheila Simon apparently got the memo, so to speak…

Despite her willingness to serve, Simon doesn’t believe she is the favorite for the [lt. governor] job and believes recent news reports which peg state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, as Quinn’s choice of running mate.

* Paul Vallas’ father-in-law says picking him would mean the process was honest. Hooookay

After Round 1, Dean Koldenhoven remains in the running to be the next Illinois Lieutenant Governor Idol.

Even he’s not sure if he should believe it.

“Is this for real? I hope it is. I want the job. I want to do it,” an energized Koldenhoven told me Monday. “If I do get the job, you will know the process was honest.”

Or we will know that the process went way off the rails. Just sayin…

* Meanwhile, the Democrats got yet another spot of bad news this week

The Republican Party won the ballot lottery in Cook County.

The GOP will be listed first after a lottery determined the order parties will be listed on the November ballot.

Democrats will be listed second and the Green Party third.

* Related…

* Quinn still mum on lt. gov. preference

* Quinn: I’ll get my choice for lieutenant governor

* Too bad Dems didn’t think of this earlier

* Garrett moves closer to Dem lt. gov. spot

* Krishnamoorthi in fray for Democrat’s nomination

* Editorial: A more sane primary date

* Former Bolingbrook woman slaps village with suit

* Rutherford wants to use treasurer’s office as ‘bully pulpit’

- Posted by Rich Miller   51 Comments      

Embracing the worst in ourselves

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* Our old friend Jim Nowlan has a new book

Illinois residents are largely passive when it comes to the state’s culture of corruption, allowing it to fester for decades, says one author in a new book on state government.

The public has come to expect a certain level of bribery and backroom dealing in state politics, and people are tolerant when it does happen, said James Nowlan, a former state lawmaker and senior fellow in the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

But I’m not 100 percent sure this startling classroom exercise totally matches up with the hypothesis…

To emphasize his point, Nowlan has his students at the University of Illinois take an ethics quiz every semester. He poses a simple scenario to his students: A relative is arrested for driving under the influence, which threatens his job. The relative’s lawyer, however, says he can pull some strings and get the charges dropped for an extra $1,000. Should he do it? Nearly two-thirds of the students say he should.

“Ingrained in them is a sense that this is the way things are done in government,” he said. “They have to play the game to get what they want.”

That’s probably true. But I’d add a question.

Could it also be that the students have embraced this perceived system and are corrupt themselves?

After all, believing that the system is inherently corrupt doesn’t at all excuse bribing somebody to get out of a DUI. Then again, if the belief is that the system is completely corrupt, a bribe may be seen as necessary just to get fair treatment.

Open bribery was a part of life in Iraq when I was there. I witnessed it several times first-hand. The Iraqis use a more polite word than “bribery,” however. They call it “Baksheesh,” which translates somewhere between a tip and a bribe. Perhaps then they don’t feel as bad. But if you wanted something done with the government, you paid money. Period. No money meant it didn’t get done. It was a bribe in everything but name.

The students in Nowlan’s class appear to believe the Baksheesh system is very much alive and well in Illinois, and they’ve embraced it to the point where they are willing to break the law themselves to get a governmental favor. That’s disturbing on more levels than I can fathom at the moment.

I’ve also seen this attitude in campaigns, mainly when it comes to first-time amateur volunteers. The last 50th Ward aldermanic contest featured plenty of whispers about lawbreaking by both sides. Much of the more blatant problems appeared to result from recent or somewhat recent immigrants who had heard lots of Chicago corruption stories and thought what they were doing was standard operating procedure. Oops.

Illinois has been a corrupt state pretty much since its inception. Back when Abe Lincoln was a state House member, individual businesses were required to pass a law before they could incorporate. That meant lots of legislators were put on corporate boards, or got bigtime corporate contracts.

So, maybe it really is a part of our DNA.

Anyway, this is more than a little rambling, so let’s move on.

* The Tribune editorializes against a reform bill because it doesn’t end legislative scholarships

Yes, there are lawmakers who award the scholarships based on merit or financial need. But the abuses are shameless and widespread. Anyone who takes the time to scrub the public documents can find dozens of examples in any given year, and the bad apples are brazenly unapologetic.

“Dozens of examples” every year? I must’ve missed that series.

* Related…

* State government won’t release details of Department on Aging move

- Posted by Rich Miller   43 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

* With unemployment rates climbing, workers forced to retrain for high-demand jobs

Retraining programs seem to hold the best hope for unemployed workers to change their situation. However, the reality seems to be that workers who take retraining do little better than those who don’t.

Too often, they want the retraining program that will have them back in the job market in the shortest amount of time. They are competing for the available jobs with everyone else in their situation. And until businesses are ready to hire again, the scarcity of open positions means it may not matter how well-qualified a worker is.

* Big jump in Chicago gas prices

* Chicago Home Sales Rise in February, But Prices Drop

Chicago home sales jumped 41 percent in February from a year ago. The median price dropped 19 percent.

* Local home sales up 32% in February

The median price in the Chicago area — at which half the homes sell for more and half for less — fell to $165,000 in February, a 10.3% decrease from last year, according to the release, and down from $175,000 last month.

* [Will County] Home sales up across the board

* Lake County home sales up 43 percent in February

* Illinois farmers buying land back from shell-shocked banks

Prices for raw land in exurban Chicago have plummeted to around $10,000 an acre from $50,000 an acre or more during the peak of the housing boom…..And for banks that lent heavily to residential developers, there’s a lot of raw land on the books. Case in point: First Midwest Bank, with $7.7 billion in assets, had $113 million in seriously delinquent residential development loans as of Dec. 31; nearly $33 million, or 29%, of that was secured by raw land, according to an investor presentation the bank made in February.

* Yellow lights shorter in Chicago

Most Chicago yellow lights last three seconds, the bare minimum recommended under federal safety guidelines. In the suburbs, yellows generally stay on for four to four-and-a-half seconds….City officials insist, however, that Chicago’s three-second yellows adhere to sound engineering principles and predate the installation of red-light cameras by decades. And they say the number of red-light-running violations caught on camera is tiny compared with the volume of traffic, proof that yellows in the city are not a trap.

* Duncan had list of favor-seekers

When U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan ran Chicago Public Schools, his office quietly kept a log of elected officials and others seeking to help kids win admission to the most coveted schools in the system, a former top Duncan aide said Monday.

That list has now come under the scrutiny of both federal officials and the schools inspector general as part of a probe of whether clout played a role in admissions to Chicago’s elite schools, sources said.

* Duncan’s staff kept list of politicians’ school requests

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

* CPS board to review school food service

* Daley to Chicago Teachers Union: Only shared sacrifice can avert drastic budget cuts

Daley was asked whether the threat to raise class size to 37 students might prompt him to sign off on another school property tax hike on the heels of last year’s $43 million increase.

“You can’t raise real estate taxes. People can’t even pay ‘em today. That’s the difficulty. I’m just telling you,” the mayor said during a news conference at Mozart Park fieldhouse, 2036 N. Avers, called to make yet another push for property tax relief.

* Mayor Daley considers extending deadline to apply for property tax relief

The Chicago Tax Assistance Center has received just 20,000 applications — and only after a surge prompted by a TV news report last week about the lack of interest. To date, 5,000 of those homeowners have received debit cards totaling $600,000.

* Learning from the NIU tragedy

* Strike up the bandwidth; Google parade marches through Peoria

Woodruff High School cheerleaders traded their pompoms for special signs Monday, cheering not for the school’s team, but for Google.

Each of the six cheerleaders held a sign with a letter spelling out Google. At the Google parade, Mayor Jim Ardis, members of the City Council and County Board and about 50 people marched to music from Woodruff’s pep band in another push to attract Google to Peoria.

* Pekin council approves 2011 city budget

* City won’t publicize fire station closings, but union does

* Woodland School raises $12,000 for Haiti relief

- Posted by Barton Lorimor   10 Comments      

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Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

Unsolicited advice

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* Dear Leader Cross,

Good point and keep ‘em coming

The constitution provides that only three constitutional articles can be put on the ballot for voter approval at one time. One of those spots already is taken by a proposed amendment allowing recall for future governors, which was approved last year.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, says [House Speaker Michael Madigan’s] judicial experience amendment could be used to keep other ideas from reaching the ballot – such as changing how lawmakers draw their own districts, an effort Republicans are pushing this year.

“We believe it is a tactic by the Speaker,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross.

From the Constitution…

The General Assembly shall not submit proposed
amendments to more than three Articles of the Constitution at any one election.

Madigan’s judicial reform amends Article VI. The Speaker’s amendment to abolish the lt. governor’s office amends Article V. The already ballot-approved recall measure amends Article III.

So, if the two Madigan amendments are approved, no further amendments could be submitted to voters by the GA.

* Dear Decatur Herald & Review,

I don’t get your logic in a recent editorial calling for local government consolidation

No one has suggested consolidating governmental units to make operations more efficient and reduce the burden on taxpayers. […]

So, one of the first steps has to be taken by the General Assembly to change the statutes that stand in the way of consolidation. Our lawmakers should be embarrassed that while the state is facing a monumental budget crisis, there has been no serious discussion that government in Illinois is simply too big and bureaucratic.

OK, government is too big, but you want to make local governments bigger? I’m not quite following.

* Dear Chicagoland judges,

I own a sports car (it’s 13 years old, but I like it) and I admit to driving very, very fast on occasion, but giving supervision to most of the people who get popped for doing over 100 mph is absurd

A Tribune analysis of state police tickets, license data and court records shows that since 2006, Chicagoland courts have given supervision to nearly two-thirds of those found guilty of driving 100 mph or faster.

For hundreds of motorists caught driving that fast every year, court supervision helps keep their insurance rates low while stopping officials from using the tickets as a reason to suspend their licenses.

* Dear pundits,

Basing predictions on the bizarre musings of Rod Blagojevich is a bad idea. Blagojevich said on WLS a couple weeks ago that he thought the White House would push Alexi Giannoulias out of the race and replace him with Rahm Emanuel. Since then, a slew of folks have fanned the flames, including Laura Washington

So who can sit in for Obama’s beleaguered basketball buddy? In this March Madness, the two best candidates could compete in a political jump ball. They’re two short guys with big political stories. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is headed back home sooner than later. Chase executive and political powerhouse William Daley has been a major mouth for Obama.

And, Bill Daley? C’mon. Really? The guy has floated his name for tons of offices and never once pulled the trigger. And the Daley name ain’t so great these days.

* Dear Caterpillar,

I really hope you build that new plant in Illinois, but your whining about a new tax on your truly gigantic federal subsidy isn’t making me love you much. The background, which has been repeatedly cited by opponents of the health-care reform bill…

Caterpillar Inc. said the health-care overhaul legislation being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives would increase the company’s health-care costs by more than $100 million in the first year alone.

The real story

The company said the potential extra costs would primarily come from provisions to tax the federal subsidies the company now receives for providing prescription-drug benefits to retirees and their spouses.

Since the Medicare drug program was enacted in 2003, Caterpillar and more than 3,500 companies that already provided drug benefits for retirees have received tax-free subsidies from the federal government as an incentive to maintain their drug programs.

The subsidies average $665 per person covered under a company-sponsored prescription program, according to benefits consultant Towers Watson, which recently completed a study on the health-care legislation’s effects.

Watson Towers estimates federal taxes on the drug subsidies would amount to $233 per person receiving drug benefits under such programs.

Also, this will be a non-cash charge by Caterpillar, according to that story.

* On a related note…

Dear David Axelrod,

Two whacks at Mark Kirk in a week? Worried much?

Axelrod also made it clear that Dems will play hardball: “I heard Congressman [Mark] Kirk in Illinois — running for the Senate — say he was going to lead the fight to repeal this health-insurance reform. So the question is: Is he going to look young people in the eye who now are [going to get coverage despite] preexisting conditions and say, ‘You know, I don’t think you should get that’? Is he going to look the small businessman in Illinois in the eye and say, ‘You know what? I don’t think you should get those tax credits to help you cover your employees.’ It’ll be interesting to see if they’re willing to do that — whether they’re willing to say, ‘We want to put the insurance companies back in the driver’s seat,’ or not.”

* Dear Michigan,

Bite us. Again

The Supreme Court has turned down a second request to immediately close shipping locks to prevent invasive Asian carp from infesting the Great Lakes.

The court on Monday refused a renewed request by Michigan to issue a preliminary injunction that would order the locks closed. The justices turned down the original request in January.

* Dear Rep. Bassi,

I think you might be about to get those calls you say you haven’t received

Bassi says she has had very few, if any, phone calls from teachers or parents about school cuts in her Northwest suburban district.

Three… Two… One…

* Your turn…

…Adding… Dear Rep. Holbrooke,

Smart move

A supporter and sponsor of a House bill that would create sales tax revenue bonds in Illinois now opposes the proposal.

State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, announced Monday that he was joining fellow state lawmakers Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, and Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Decatur, in officially opposing “STAR” bonds.

The local mayors are lining up against the project, so its prospects are looking worse by the day. I once called the STAR bonds proposal the “Worst. Bill. Ever.” and I meant it. Still do.

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* Before we begin, just a quick thanks to everyone who commented on Friday’s QOTD. Dad really got a kick out of it.

* To the question: Last night, the president cautioned against making snap political judgments on how his healthcare bill will play out in November, but let’s do it anyway.

Will the new law (assuming the Senate follows suit) be a net positive or net negative for Illinois Democrats and Republicans this fall? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   71 Comments      

Another process rant

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* I’m old enough to remember when the state passed the Gift Ban Act. Lobbyists could no longer buy gifts for legislators, or take them out for expensive dinners.

The people who grumbled most about that law belonged to a handful of legislative mooches - members who existed mainly to mooch goodies off of lobbyists. Most lobbyists I knew (and since they’re almost all subscribers I know most of them) actually favored the law. Many even wanted to go further. A ban on all meals and drinks, for instance, would mean they could go home to their families a whole lot earlier and avoid being strong-armed by politicians who didn’t want to pay their own freight.

The above may sound counter-intuitive, even unbelievable, but most political reporting and punditry is cartoon-based. It’s cynical stuff and cynicism in most cases is just a cover for intellectual laziness (Rod Blagojevich excepted, of course).

People just aren’t nearly as bad as they are portrayed. Yes, they’re human, yes, there are some bad ones out there, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over my reaction when I first began covering the Statehouse. I was so surprised at how meticulously ethical the vast majority of the lobbyists were.

That’s a big reason why I was glad to see David Kelm’s op-ed piece the other day. Kelm was writing about the ridiculous new fee imposed on lobbyists that has been ruled unconstitutional by a judge…

We all hate lobbyists. We all have an image of a whiskey-swilling, cigar-munching, three-piece-suit-wearing lobbyist palling around with legislators in dimly lit bars in quiet corners of Springfield. Lobbyists, we cynically believe, exist to prevent government from being “for the people” and instead use their influence and money to make government serve the “special interests.”

However, the advocacy that lobbyists perform in Springfield on behalf of the elderly and poor, sportsmen and conservationists, small businesses and large corporations, and so many others, is the natural extension of our collective guaranteed First Amendment rights. When a lobbyist speaks before a committee or button-holes a legislative staffer in a Capitol elevator or speaks to the governor at the James R. Thompson Center, they are speaking on behalf of those they represent. […]

Lobbyists make for easy villains. The truth of the matter, though, is that we are all part of a special interest that represents our interests in Springfield. Parents with autistic children, CTA riders, teachers, farmers and birdwatchers are all guaranteed the right to freely speak without the burden of a lobbyist tax. You may not like the ACLU or lobbyists, but the courts have recognized that the basic right to speak freely extends to those who advocate in the Capitol on our behalf. Constitutional liberties should not be so easily eroded in the General Assembly’s pursuit of a shallow revenue stream for the state’s budgetary woes.

Again, I’m not so naive as to think that all lobbyists are the greatest people on Earth. If they were, we wouldn’t need reforms. But I’m also clear-headed enough to not always let cynicism rule.

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

Brady vs. Quinn and a new Claypool theory

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* If you watched the Pat Quinn vs. Bill Brady debate at the IEA conference on Friday, you saw this jab by Quinn

In the first debate of the campaign for governor Friday, state Sen. Bill Brady told a packed hall of anxious teachers that he knows the tough choices needed to solve the state’s financial crisis because he laid off 25 workers and withheld raises at his business.

Gov. Pat Quinn saw his opening.

“That is not a very good record in job creation,” he shot back movements later.

The dig drew laughs and howls from the nearly 1,500 union members at the Illinois Education Association banquet in Rosemont - naturally not a friendly environment for Brady, a Republican conservative who has called for the abolition of the state education board and expansion of charter schools.

Too much? Probably.

Brady seemed to hold his own, and got in his licks when speaking to the teachers’ union, however…

“I think Governor Quinn dealt with you in an unfair way. He used the word ‘heartless’ to refer to my plan. I think it’s heartless to make you the scapegoat for this,” Brady said.

Watch a few of IEA’s excerpts

* Meanwhile, Sen. Brady campaigned with Karl Rove over the weekend. He’s also trying to mend a few fences with pet owners

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady stepped in some deep political do-do with his short-lived sponsorship of legislation that would allow for the mass gassing of stray dogs and cats.

But the state senator now appears to be making amends with pro-pet voters by supporting a measure busting neglectful dog owners who keep their animals chained outside inhumanely or in unsafe conditions.

Brady broke ranks with some of his Downstate GOP colleagues by voting Thursday for anti-tethering legislation pushed by the Humane Society of the United States and backed by the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“He voted for this because it was a humane thing to do,” Brady campaign spokesman John Hoffman said. “One of the aspects of tethering is often it’s related to dog-fighting, and he felt it was important to protect dogs.”

Not enough, but at least he’s listening now. The Quinn campaign responded…

“The governor has never wavered as a leader for animal care and against animal cruelty, while others seem to flip flop on their positions regarding animal welfare,” Quinn spokeswoman Mica Matsoff said.

* And the Sun-Times connected the dots over the weekend on the seemingly contradictory Forrest Claypool rumors. Turns out, the contradictions may have been part of a wider plan

According to some committeemen and elected officials close to [Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool], Claypool tried the unusual tactic of threatening to run as an independent candidate for Cook County Assessor against the Democratic nominee for that office, Joe Berrios, the chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, if Madigan would not support him for lieutenant governor. Berrios is a close ally of Madigan.

But Claypool’s threat —some Democratic voters got polling calls asking if they would support Claypool in such a race — did not result in Madigan throwing his support to Claypool, so it’s unclear whether Claypool will now follow through on the threat to run for assessor. Claypool was not on the list of lieutenant governor candidates scheduled to appear today. He has not returned calls on the issue and Madigan’s spokesman would only say that Madigan is following the public process for lieutenant governor candidates.

However, Berrios warned that Claypool better get more than the required 25,000 signatures to run for assessor as an independent because he planned to go over them closely.

I bet he will.

* Related…

* Illinois GOP announces “I Give Republican Red” blood drive in June

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      

The Tribune’s magic beans

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* A recent Tribune editorial repeated a blatant falsehood

Three weeks ago in this space, we offered “A no-tax-hike option,” a list of financial proposals for Medicaid, education, pensions, capital improvements, subsidies to local governments, privatizing internal services, selling surplus assets and so forth. The minimum $6.4 billion in annual savings would eliminate the state’s budget shortfall — in truth, it has accumulated over several years, not just one — in two years. In year three, Illinois would turn a surplus.

What they’re doing is saying, “OK, we have a $12.8 billion deficit, so cut that in half one year and those cuts will wipe out the remaining deficit in the second year.”

That doesn’t make any sense.

The governor’s proposed FY 2011 budget slashes appropriated spending by $3.2 billion over what was actually spent in FY 2009, and almost two billion under the current fiscal year. But, pension contributions will rise by $1.4 billion over FY09 and a whopping $3.9 billion over the current fiscal year (the state borrowed rather than digging into revenues to make much of the payment this FY). Debt service (including pension bond debt service) and other required-by-law payments (entitlements, worker pay and health insurance, etc.) increases by about a billion dollars over FY09 and $710 million over the current fiscal year.

Total all that up and you’ve got an operating deficit of $4.7 billion - and that includes all the governor’s hugely unpopular proposed cuts to schools, local governments, human services, etc.

However, even with this, the state still can’t pay past due bills totaling about $6.3 billion.

Now, back out all the governor’s proposed cuts and substitute them with the Tribune’s proposed cuts and pretty much all of that $6.3 billion in unpaid bills will still remain.

What the Tribune purports to do (and some of their alleged cuts aren’t really cuts - like reducing capital spending that’s already been spent or that can’t be transferred out of the Road Fund for operating expenses) is match revenues to spending and eliminate the structural deficit.

That’s a very good, laudable idea, but then they count the savings twice. If state spending is reduced to around $27 billion or so (about where the Trib’s target is), we still have to spend that $27 billion the following year with pretty much the same revenues coming in the door. There’s no huge pile of “extra” money to pay off that bill backlog in a year. It just doesn’t exist.

Not to mention that fixed costs like wages, health insurance, transportation and pension payments will continue to rise above that $27 billion.

So, while the Tribune’s proposal slows the state down from digging the hole ever deeper, it does nothing to get us out of the hole that’s already been dug. This two-year “solution” relies on magic beans.

* In that same editorial, the Tribune also threatened Democratic members who toe the Madigan/Cullerton line…

Parents of schoolchildren, university students, families of people who rely on health, disability and other social services: If your current legislature won’t reform how Illinois spends money, you have a choice. You can re-elect lawmakers who, for two decades, have grown state obligations at twice the rate of inflation. Or you can mobilize en masse and elect a responsive new legislature.

Because if Madigan and Cullerton, with those 72 years in Springfield, continue to fail at responding boldly to this epic moment, you need to curtail their clout.

Strange, but when the Tribune made Democratic primary endorsements, it backed the incumbent Democrats or preferred Democrats almost half the time. Now that we get to the general election, it’s all about beating incumbent Democrats.

* Related…

* Illinois House takes small ‘first step’ on pensions

* State House OKs change in pension benefits

* House approves less lucrative legislative pensions

* House OKs pension measure

* Illinois Budget Deficit Could Hurt Odds of Winning Federal Money

* Erickson: GOP tries to cut it both ways

* Cuts to Illinois State Police budget could be deep

* Taxpayers fed up with spendthrifts

* Finke: Giving up furniture a good thing

* State’s ‘day of reckoning’ arrives in force

* Illinois’ public schools hit by ‘double whammy’ of economic pain: The Illinois comptroller’s office has a $4.3 billion backlog of bills that haven’t been paid, and some of those date back as far as Sept. 1, spokesman Alan Henry said.

* Roundtable: Education Funding

* School districts suffer while state funds lag, but severity may vary

* Schools will suffer because Illinois has no money

* Southland teachers face mass layoffs

* Schools prepare for worst: Districts across metro-east cutting budgets, programs, staff

* McCaleb: No future in using reserves to offset deficits

* Delayed revenues cause Kane problems

* Bloomington council prepares Plan B for funding shortfall

* [Pekin] Budget vote Monday

* Wearing their hearts on their backs

* [Fox River Grove] eyes water rate increase

* State behind on $135K in payments for DeWitt Co. workers

* [Waukegan] eyes furloughs, layoffs, ‘rainy day funds’

* [Park City] Aldermen take 8.3% salary cut

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

They did it to themselves

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* While I’m preparing a few more complicated posts, have a look at my weekly syndicated newspaper column

I’m going to tell you right up front that this is a column about the state budget and involves a little math.

Wait! Don’t move on to the next story. I know this can get a bit tedious. But the math is easy and the story itself tells us a lot about how this state is being governed.

I decided to write about this when Gov. Pat Quinn appeared on public television’s Chicago Tonight show last week and was grilled hard by hosts Phil Ponce and Carol Marin.

The governor did his best to deflect some very tough questions about his budget and other topics (many of the questions seemed to come right from one of my previous columns, by the way).

One thing the interviewers returned to again and again was how Quinn’s proposed budget cuts more than a billion dollars from education spending. The governor wants to stop those cuts with a one percentage point income tax surcharge. Quinn has warned that, without a tax hike, the schools would suffer. Thousands of teacher layoffs would result. Kids would be put into ever-more crowded classrooms.

The governor kept explaining that the federal government was primarily to blame. The state got about a billion dollars from the U.S. government’s stimulus program last year to fund schools, but that cash won’t be forthcoming again this year, and now there’s a crisis.

Blaming Washington, D.C., is always fun, but his comments were misleading at best. Quinn and the General Assembly actually did cut state education funding last year, and that’s why we have a problem now.

The truth is that federal education dollars were used to replace existing state funding last year.

Here’s what they did.

First, the schools budget was cut by about a billion state dollars and then the hole was immediately refilled with about a billion federal dollars. Quinn and the General Assembly essentially put that federal money into the state’s permanent spending base, instead of using it to supplement what the state already was spending.

And now, with the federal school program ending, that billion-dollar education budget hole has reappeared.

The absolute worst part about this whole thing is Quinn and everybody else knew last year that the federal stimulus program was a temporary, one-shot deal. They knew what the consequences would be if the economy didn’t turn around quickly and state revenues began to grow again. Instead, the economy may have since bottomed out, but unemployment still is rising and state tax revenues have continued to plunge.

This time, Quinn’s plan is to fill that hole yet again with a one percentage point income tax surcharge.

What they did last year is pretty much what the state does with lottery proceeds. Instead of increasing dollars to schools, lottery cash (which is about $650 million a year) just frees up money so it can be spent on the rest of the budget.

Despite all this, it’s tough not to blame Quinn for pulling that little fiscal trick last year. The budget was such an intense, unprecedented disaster, and not enough political will existed to increase taxes, that Quinn and the other leaders - Democrats as well as Republicans - were looking for anything they could do to keep the government afloat.

While some did call for big cuts last year, particularly the Republicans, even they blinked when reality started hitting home. It was the Senate Republican Leader, after all, who demanded that money be found somehow, some way (without a tax increase, of course) to fund human service providers last summer when the prospect of providers going out of business became an all-too-clear reality. So, pulling the switcheroo with that federal school money was an easy target. They did what they had to do to get through the crisis.

No matter the reasons or the excuses, this year’s education hole is the governor’s fault, shared with the General Assembly. And it’s entirely misleading to blame the feds for this current calamity with school funding. They did it to themselves.


- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Monday, Mar 22, 2010

* Prices at the pump up 4 cents, highest since Oct. 2008

The nationwide average hit $2.799 per gallon, a penny higher than Wednesday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

* Daley: ‘Thank God’ Boender got convicted

* Daley won’t discuss specifics of 2008 FBI interview

Mayor Richard Daley on Saturday refused to discuss specifics of his 2008 interview with FBI agents investigating a West Side land deal, saying he was simply cooperating in a federal attempt to root out corruption.

The mayor said developer Calvin Boender’s conviction last week following a probe into the Galewood Yards development is an isolated incident, not an indication of a broader problem of pay-to-play relationships between real estate developers and Chicago elected officials.

* Suspected ‘front company’ has good city hall lobbyist

It’s one of City Hall’s busiest woman- and minority-owned contractors. And, for the last two years, Azteca Supply Co. has been the target of a federal investigation that led to charges last month that the company is a sham “front” that fraudulently was awarded millions of dollars in government contracts.

This is the story of a Hispanic woman who found she could make millions by selling goods to government agencies eager to do business with women and minorities — and did so with the help of some of Chicago’s most well-connected Hispanic leaders, including a former chief of staff to Mayor Daley.

* Former news reporter gets home detention for union theft

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a former Post-Tribune reporter to six months of home detention and three years’ probation for stealing $18,100 from a newsroom employee union.

* Advocates: State needs more sunshine

* Putting our resources to work for you

* Compliance with Freedom of Information Act under way

* Marin: Words alone can’t stop gun violence

* SIUC and city need students to do census

* Daley wants Chicago college students who study out of town counted as city residents on Census

* Daley urges South Side residents to return census

* Nearly 60,000 CTA transit cards set to expire in April

* Cook Co. gets $16M to battle obesity

* Editor’s view: Citizens can insist on accountability

It’s not just state aid cuts that has districts worried. Property values are dropping, and the state used stimulus funds to pay for some school funding, which won’t be available in the next fiscal year.

* Will Grayslake charter school be the same with union teachers?

Prairie Crossing’s teachers became eligible for union representation through a law Gov. Pat Quinn signed last July, which also allows the number of charter schools to grow from 60 to 120 statewide. Charter school instructors had not been allowed to organize under state labor laws.

* Word on the Street: Councilman knows stress of startup loans

* DACC rate hikes may keep coming

Jacobs said in 1994, Illinois provided about 40 percent of DACC’s operating budget. By next year she expects that percentage to be cut in half, while local property taxes continue to fund approximately one-third of the budget.

* ICC officials say recession likely cause of app increase

* Some Illinois program regulations make trying to go green a lot harder

* [Champaign] County Board Redistricting

* Most law enforcement agencies giving drivers time to adust to new texting, cell phone laws, but time is running out

- Posted by Barton Lorimor   Comments Off      

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Monday, Mar 22, 2010

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* More shenanigans!
* Saturday campaign money report
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Shenanigans!
* Tribune drops bombshell on Biss running mate
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Rauner: "Madigan has rigged the Democratic primary for Pritzker"
* New Ives radio ad claims Democrats are trying to help Rauner, while Brady does Rauner robocall
* *** UPDATED x1 - DGA responds *** Elections board says DGA should file disclosure for Ives ad
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Jones; IEA/IFT; Reis; Mitchell; Edgar
* ISRA, Drury both try to claim Raoul inserted "poison pill" into gun bill
* Pro-life group launches GOTV effort for Lipinski
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Rauner opens new online track against Ives
* Erika Harold still can't remember comments, but says "I was wrong"
* Rauner calls Madigan "a unified force of bad, of evil"
* Sen. Duckworth gets involved in another state central committee race
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Has Pritzker gone to ground?
* Illinois House Bill HB 4900 Wastes Government Resources
* McCann, barred from SGOP caucus meeting, claims Rauner threatened to "destroy you and your family"
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Caption contest!
* Obama mailer kerfuffle in Lipinski district
* Rauner attended Quincy campaign event after Quincy veterans' home presser
* After spending millions in Dem primary, Rauner accuses "Washington liberals" of "hijacking" the GOP primary
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