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A programming note

Monday, May 24, 2010

* Chicago Tonight is now doing live Skype interviews, so I’ll be on this evening without having to venture to their studios up in Alaska (OK, it’s not that far northwest, but it’s far, man. It’s far.).

Just a warning, I haven’t had a haircut in months because I refuse to cut my hair or trim my beard until these jokers end this session. So, it ain’t a pretty sight. Not like I’m ever pretty, but I really is not pretty now. “On purpose” is the big difference this time. Heh.

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      

Kirk blasts Giannoulias for not releasing tax returns, disclosure report

Monday, May 24, 2010

* This tax returns, personal finance issue is hotter now in Illinois politics than I’ve ever seen it. And, ironically, we have the top of the ticket going opposite directions. Bill Brady defends his running mate’s refusal to release his tax returns while Mark Kirk blasts Giannoulias for holding out. From a press release…

The Kirk for Senate campaign today urged Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias to release his 2009 income tax return and explain to Illinois voters why he filed last week for an extension on his U.S. Senate Financial Disclosure Report.

“While Congressman Kirk demonstrated his commitment to transparency and accountability by making his tax returns available and filing his annual financial disclosure on time, Alexi Giannoulias refuses to release any personal financial information covering the last calendar year,” Kirk campaign spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski said. “Federal law requires Mr. Giannoulias to disclose his personal financial information to the Secretary of the Senate. After reckless banking practices brought down Broadway Bank and cost the FDIC more than $390 million, Alexi owes the people of Illinois a full accounting.”

Last Monday, Congressman Mark Kirk filed his annual Financial Disclosure Report with both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Earlier this year, Congressman Kirk made available his personal tax returns dating back to 1999.

In April, Mr. Giannoulias announced he had filed for an extension on his 2009 personal tax return but refused to disclose when he would make his tax information available to the media. Mr. Giannoulias’ U.S. Senate Financial Disclosure Report extension is available upon request.

I asked the Giannoulias campaign for a statement, and here it is…

“Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, who served in Congress for over 10 years, did not release his tax returns until we pressured him to – and still he would only release his tax returns for an in-person 15 minute review at his campaign office. In short, he can spare us the lecture.

“As he has already done every year he has served in elective office, Alexi Giannoulias will release his tax and economic interest disclosure information fully and publicly as soon as they are filed. As Congressman Kirk’s campaign knows already, Alexi has requested an extension to ensure an accurate picture of his personal finances, which have dramatically changed since the sale of his father’s business.

“All of Alexi’s information will be filed and publicly disclosed prior to Election Day.”

“Prior to election day” could mean anything, but there you have it.

* Also, I’m told we may hear more from Lisa Madigan’s campaign on her tax return issue later today or tomorrow. No response yet from her opponent, either.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      

New budget proposal emerges

Monday, May 24, 2010

* A group of House Democrats held a press conference this morning in Chicago to talk about their new budget-cutting ideas. You can listen to the entire presser by clicking here.

Most of this stuff is already old news to subscribers. They’re looking at $300 million in cuts to K-12 education - $200 million to mandated categoricals, and $100 million to grants. Another $100 million would be cut from universities. A 5 percent cut to operations, which works out to $300 million, including for statewide officials. Contracts would not be renewed without being rebid or renegotiated, which could save as much as $500 million, they claim. They also want state retiree/dependent health insurance premiums would rise, bringing in $100 million. They want $200 million in efficiencies and savings in Medicaid. Also, salaries and benefits for part-time state boards and commissions would be eliminated.

Other stuff from Melissa Hahn’s Twitter feed

Group of Democrat lawmakers outlining cuts that can be made to state operations, including cuts to schools and gov’t contracts.

These Chicago-area Representatives also want retirees to pay more for healthcare.

…and increases in what families pay to be a part of Medicaid programs.

Rep. from Urbana, also part of this group, pushes furloughs (which unions have opposed) and lower mileage reimbursements for state workers.

Plus a 5% cut to the legislature’s budget.

…Adding… The SJ-R focused solely on the proposed retiree health cuts

“As much as we love our retirees, this is a tough love exercise,” said Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park. “They have to feel the pain.”

May said 25 percent of state retirees are not old enough to qualify for federal Medicare coverage and 95 percent of retired state employees do not pay health care premiums.

“We are the only state that is this generous,” May said.

More details about another group working on the budget

Quinn has been meeting with members of the legislative Black Caucus who have sought his assurance that cuts he would make under the proposed emergency powers for himself would not be to teen-reach programs, summer jobs for youth, early childhood education, family case management, child care that supports low-income mothers, violence prevention programs, teacher programs like “grow your own teacher,” alternative education programs, digital divide programs, HIV outreach, adult education, etc.

“Lots of legislators have individual programs or causes they have worked for,” Quinn said. “I’m not excited about cutting education.”

Asked Friday if further cuts to the Department of Corrections would mean more early-release of prisoners, a practice that has already brought bad press for Quinn, the governor said, “No.” He said he hopes not to cut from corrections, health or education. Of course, those areas account for most of the spending in the budget.

* Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune editorial board trotted out its goofy, discredited budget plan again today

Three months ago, on Feb. 28, we offered an option that’s still available: at least $6.4 billion in recurring savings that would in time nix the deficit:

Then they go on to rehash their horrifically vague and no-can-do “plan.” As I’ve pointed out before, a $6.4 billion cut does not equal $13 billion, no matter how long that cut (which is mostly imaginary anyway) stays in place. It cuts $6.4 billion (which it doesn’t, but just saying) and not $13 billion. Pretty simple mathematics. No wonder that company went bankrupt.

And this is hilarious…

We were pleased to hear the governor’s top staffers suggest that Illinois can’t erase its $13 billion budget deficit — recklessly accumulated over several years — in one budget.

I don’t know of a single plan that would wipe out the deficit in one year, Democratic or Republican. But, in order to do it a step at a time, borrowing has to be done, and so does deferrals. The Tribune calls borrowing to make the pension payment “madness,” but whether you borrow for pensions or borrow for something else, it’s still borrowing. Man, are they dense over there.

* Speaking of silly editorials

If Illinois’ elected officials truly are serious about creating a responsible budget, they would freeze the wages of all government employees.

No raises. No steps or lanes. No cost of living increases. Nothing.

Instead, the budget that Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed calls for $1.5 billion more in spending with $350 million of that money dedicated to increasing wages for government union employees.

Some of those raises range from 7 percent to 20 percent — unheard-of amounts in the private sector where most of the taxpayers work.

If the Rockford paper knows how to bust AFSCME’s contract, then it should speak up now. If not, it should retract that goofy editorial.

* Funny

Two East Central Illinois Republican legislators will not support a state budget proposal containing an income tax increase unless the state first substantially cuts spending.

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he believes the state will not have a balanced budget until wasteful spending is cut. He said Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed income tax increase would still leave an approximately $4 billion “hole” in the budget.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Rose wouldn’t support a tax increase no matter how much was cut from the budget. There’s just no way.

* Related…

* Ex-state budget officials pessimistic on deficit: “There’s no longer a path out of this… They are in the worst of all worlds,” Schnorf said. “The new governor is going to have to come in here with the intention that his entire term is going to be solely dedicated to the budget and making terrible, terrible decisions,” added Joan Walters, another of Edgar’s budget chiefs. “Under the best of circumstances, it will be several years before we get back on track,” said Dawn Clark Netsch, a former state comptroller.

* Editorial: Don’t throw in the towel

* Voice of The Southern: Elected officials must serve voters, or pay the price

* The story goes on and on

* Can we suspend state’s ‘license’?

* Budget plan doesn’t inspire confidence

* Lawmakers to work on state budget … again

* Illinois Lawmakers Head Back to Work on Budget

* Statehouse Insider: Will things go from bad to worse?

* Govern like a leader, not a politician

* Quinn says lawmakers shouldn’t be ‘irresponsible’ on pensions

* Our Opinion: Make pension payment top budget priority

* Quinn won’t use budget power to raise state retiree insurance rates

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, May 24, 2010

* How many years would you like to see Rod Blagojevich serve in prison?

Snark it up.

- Posted by Rich Miller   87 Comments      

Brady voted for bills to help his company

Monday, May 24, 2010

* You have to read through 25 paragraphs of mostly rehashed material in the Tribune’s profile of Sen. Bill Brady’s business ventures to get to a buried nugget about how Brady voted three times for legislation that helped a real estate project he was working on

In 2003, the state legislature gave the [Champaign] local government authority to take land for sewers along Curtis Road east of Brady’s property. A final vote to enact the law occurred Nov. 4, as Brady was securing options on the land he planned to develop. He voted for it.

Three years later, when the legislature re-authorized the sewer plans, well after Brady began acquiring the land, he again voted in favor of the measure. In 2007, Brady also voted for similar legislation allowing Champaign and other local governments to seize property to build their share of the interchange.

Although the actions would help move the interchange project along, and affect the value of his land, Brady did not recuse himself.

“If I felt I had a conflict, I wouldn’t have done that,” Brady said. Later, in an e-mail, Brady said he believed the legislation had no direct effect on his Champaign property.

Read the whole thing and discuss.

* Related and other campaign stuff…

* Brady calls for more business sense in state politics

* Our View: Where’s Brady’s plan to balance state budget?

* Bernard Schoenburg: Schuh joining Brady’s campaign team

* Madigan to speak at Dem fundraiser

* Preckwinkle not changing her message

- Posted by Rich Miller   56 Comments      

Report: Jackson mulling Kirk nod

Monday, May 24, 2010

* It would certainly be a shock if Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. endorsed Mark Kirk for US Senate or remained neutral. But considering that Jackson was embroiled in the controversy over the alleged crimes committed by Rod Blagojevich during his Senate appointment deliberations, it could have a downside as well

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election.

“I like Alexi Giannoulias, but I have great respect for Mark Kirk and his service to the people of Illinois,” Jackson told POLITICO.

Jackson and Kirk work together on the House Appropriations Committee, on which both are senior members of the subcommittee that provides foreign aid.

It’s exceedingly rare for a lawmaker of one party to endorse a colleague of the other party — particularly within the same state — meaning Jackson lending his name to Kirk would be a bit of a shock to the political system and a blow to Giannoulias’s campaign.

Jackson always craved the spotlight, until he got caught up in the Blagojevich scandal, but he’s been slowly reemerging. He backed Forrest Claypool’s independent bid for assessor without stirring up too much controversy, so he appears ready to take the next step. Then again, the Blagojevich trial is coming up and his name is almost sure to be mentioned.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Lisa Madigan won’t release her tax returns

Monday, May 24, 2010

* On Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with a Bill Brady campaign person talking about Jason Plummer’s refusal to release his tax returns. The operative wondered aloud why Attorney General Lisa Madigan hadn’t released her own tax returns. I didn’t really get the point until somebody mentioned in comments later in the day that since AG Madigan is one heartbeat away from the governor’s job (there being no lieutenant governor) she was fair game.

So, I called Madigan’s campaign and left a message with her campaign manager Mary Morrisey about how my thinking had evolved and about how I was now requesting her boss’ returns, just to be fair. I didn’t hear back, so I called again and spoke with Morrisey late in the afternoon. She read me this statement…

“This has nothing to do with Lisa. This is about Bill Brady not releasing his tax returns and Jason Plummer not releasing his tax returns.”

Asked if that meant AG Madigan was refusing to release her returns, Morrisey would only repeat the statement.

* Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn went on the offensive against Plummer’s refusal to disclose his tax returns

“When these candidates play peek-a-boo, or not at all, with their tax returns, I think there’s legitimate questions to be asked,” said Quinn.

In response to a question, the governor opened a full bore attack on the Republicans running for the state’s top executive offices.

He was asked if thought Plummer was hiding something, Quinn said: “I think that’s a natural conclusion - I don’t think there’s any question about it, you know, when you don’t disclose your tax returns and you’re running for lieutenant governor of Illinois.”

Quinn also took a whack at Brady for not paying income taxes for two years…

“If you’ve got a taxpayer salary, if you have taxpayer paid health insurance, and you don’t pay one penny in taxes… It isn’t right,” said Quinn.

* Plummer responded

“It’s really frustrating to have an enabler of Rod Blagojevich try to question your ethics or transparency,” Plummer said.

And explained

“I’m the guy running for lieutenant governor, not investors or business partners or different people like that. If I release my taxes I’m releasing information about them, and you can’t do that,” Plummer said.

Plummer said releasing full returns with detailed information about business ties is “a standard that hasn’t been set anywhere.”

But Brady, Plummer’s own running mate, let reporters examine six years’ worth of such documents.

Exactly. He has no leg to stand on.

* I got the idea for my weekly syndicated newspaper column from a running debate we had in comments last week…

Twenty years ago, Secretary of State Jim Edgar and Attorney General Neil Hartigan ran for governor against each other. Both men released their tax returns without much fanfare.

Four years later, Gov. Jim Edgar and his opponent Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch both released their tax returns. It wasn’t much of a story.

Then, in 1998, gubernatorial candidate George Ryan released his tax returns for the first time. He had adamantly refused to do so while he was secretary of state. And Ryan continued to refuse to release anything other than his current returns. Most of what he eventually got busted for happened while he was secretary of state, which may be no coincidence.

Four years later, Rod Blagojevich said he had filed a tax extension in April and wouldn’t be disclosing his returns until right before the election. By then, he was so far ahead of his opponent Jim Ryan that it really didn’t matter.

Four years ago, Blagojevich did the same thing and filed a tax filing extension. He finally released his returns in the fall, but only the front pages. He left out all the details that would’ve shown where his wife was making all her money. Turns out, a big chunk of Mrs. Blagojevich’s income was being funneled to her through fine upstanding folks like Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

Now comes 2010, and you’d think after 20 years and two criminal governors that the candidates would learn their lessons. They haven’t.

State Sen. Bill Brady flatly refused to release his tax returns, then finally relented after a media firestorm ensued. It turns out the reason for Brady’s reluctance was that he had paid no federal income taxes for two years on his state Senate salary, and no state income taxes on that government salary for one year. Indeed, he had asked for and received full and complete tax refunds. Brady’s businesses lost so much money that he was able to avoid taxes on his state pay.

After the beating that Brady took over his taxes, you might think that his running mate would’ve wanted to avoid the bad press. You’d be wrong.

Jason Plummer is 27. He won his campaign with some hard work and a whole lot of money from himself and his father, a wealthy lumber dealer. Plummer and his father gave or loaned his campaign fund well over $1.3 million.

Shortly after he surprised the establishment by winning his campaign, reporters looked at him a bit more and found that the political unknown had inflated his resume. He often said during the campaign that he’d worked for a Washington, D.C. think tank and a U.S. Senator, but he was just an intern. He said he founded and ran an Internet service company, but his father was listed as the owner and Jason wasn’t even on the corporation documents. He’d touted himself as a Naval intelligence officer, but he hadn’t received any training since obtaining his commission in the fall.

Plummer repeated the twin mantras of “transparency” and “accountability” just about wherever he went during the primary. He also pledged not to take a state salary if he was elected lieutenant governor.

Since Plummer’s running mate had disclosed his own income taxes, it was assumed that Plummer would have to follow suit.

Instead, the onetime champion of openness, transparency and accountability adamantly refused to disclose his returns last week. No way, no how, Plummer harumphed. Releasing returnsis just a “political distraction by those who cannot answer the real issues that voters care about,” he said. That doesn’t reflect all that well on his running mate, but whatever.

Plummer claimed last week that voters “need to know any potential conflicts that a public official might have.” But what about a guy who won’t be taking a state salary for four years? Won’t there be numerous potential “conflicts” if he’s still living on his private income without telling us how much he’s making and where it’s coming from?

The last two governors who played games with their tax returns were crooks. That doesn’t make Brady and Plummer crooks, but in an era when we ought to do everything we can to avoid the mistakes of the past, it’s a fair hit.

Just release the returns and get it over with, man.

* I was also inspired by comments on a post over at Illinois Review to pull up a press release by Adam Andrzejewski blasting Bill Brady for not releasing his income taxes last year

“Some people parrot ‘reform’ rhetoric to get elected,” Andrzejewski said, “I want to be elected so that I can enact real reforms. The people of Illinois are intelligent enough to understand that the posting of tax returns is a serious step to reform, not a gimmick. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s ‘Gold Standard’ ethics policy included the posting of tax returns, and after the policy was enacted hundreds of elected officials resigned their posts.”

“I posted my tax return more than two months ago, and I have challenged my opponents to do the same – to prove that they have not benefitted financially from their government positions. None of them have followed suit. When I bring this up on the campaign trail, their embarrassment is not lost on the people in the audience. The people of Illinois get it.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   63 Comments      

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Monday, May 24, 2010

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

Reader comments closed for the weekend

Friday, May 21, 2010

* On the run from the English tax man, hounded by French police over all the junkies hanging out at Keith Richards’ southern France villa and frustrated by band members constantly gone missing, the Rolling Stones managed to make a masterpiece out of the jumbled yet strongly coherent Exile on Main Street.

Exile’s grungy mix was sharply criticized when the album was first issued almost 40 years ago. But to many Stones fans, including myself, the sound achieved (or blundered into, depending whom you believe) was more authentic than anything the group managed to do before or since.

The album was recorded in a dirty basement and it definitely sounded like it. That dirty, even muddied sound induced righteous feelings of euphoria in those of us who know those guys are capable of so much more than poppy stadium rock. The band members explored different musical styles, different sorts of phrasing and new instruments, mostly at the behest of one of those junkies who was hanging around all the time: Gram Parsons. And they did it all without overtly and cynically pushing for that “one big hit” designed to appeal to the juveniles and keep the record in the top forty. They also succeeded in making an album that covered the musical gamut while holding together as one. All the songs have the same Exile feel. There’s just nothing else like it in rock.

I never heard Exile until I got to college, but I’m glad I had to wait. It is a classic “college” album, ready-made for those of us who were discovering they loved art, not just the mindless hard rock of their high school daze. Just play it, man, put it on tape and release the thing. That’s Exile. Or, at least, that’s how it sounded to me.

* As you probably know by now, Exile has been reissued with some old tracks that were never released. Many of the tracks have been redone, with lyrics written and vocals added because they were just instrumentals back then. Still, the Stones didn’t manage to totally screw it up.

All but one of the new tracks are on YouTube, so I’ve been listening to them the past couple of days. My father and my brother Devin are in love with a boogie-woogie song called I’m Not Signifying

If that doesn’t put you right back into that basement with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other, nothing will.

“Tumbling Dice” has always been one of my favorite Stones hits, and now they’ve released the song it was based on, Good Time Women

Again, you definitely get that high, rough feel which you will only find in spots on most other Stones albums.

Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren) has all new vocals, so we get that overly affected Jagger voice which I really wish he’d drop. Plundered My Soul sounds a lot like some of the songs the Stones released in the early 1980s, which will probably make it the big hit off this new release. An alternate take of Soul Survivor has Keith Richards singing instead of Mick. So Divine (Aladdin Story) sounds like “Paint it Black” at the beginning, but listen carefully because you’ll hear the inspiration for later Stones songs.

And while Dancing In the Light doesn’t really sound like an Exile tune, it’s something I’ll probably be playing in the convertible all summer…


- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

*** UPDATED x1 *** Kirk: ‘I command the war room in the Pentagon’

Friday, May 21, 2010

* This looks like an oppo dump that didn’t quite succeed. Kirk exaggerated, but as it turns out, he really does play a huge role in the war room

“In my role in the military, I command the war room in the Pentagon,” Kirk told a gathering of experts on U.S.-Chinese relations last May.

This struck military observers as, literally speaking, implausible: The Pentagon’s National Military Command Center is typically run in eight-hour shifts headed by an officer of the rank of a one-star general, who would outrank Kirk, an intelligence officer in the Navy, both a retired flag officer and current Pentagon official said.

But as it turns out that while Kirk’s comment may have a tinge of braggadocio, his reserve role does put him in charge of an important element of the NMCC. He has a remarkable job for a reserve officer, spending his weekends in a front-line post at the NMCC, where he serves as the Deputy Director of Intelligence, his campaign said.

The NMCC, the retired flag officer and current official both said, is physically and organizationally sectioned off into “silos” with different functions.

Kirk’s post puts him “in charge of the intelligence section of the alert center — the information ‘war room’” — and is responsible for contacting the [Director of Intelligence] when necessary,” his campaign said.

Kirk “is regularly called upon to brief the JCS Vice Chairman or Director of Operations,” the campaign said.

Kirk’s remarks come at about the 4:18 mark

* That disturbing Richard Blumenthal story out of Connecticut is prompting partisans to dig up some old news on Republicans, like this one

Mark Kirk was claiming on his campaign site to be “the only member of Congress to serve stateside during Operation Iraqi Freedom,” which was true, but on his official web site he claimed to be “the only member of Congress to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” To say you have served in a campaign is precisely the sort of falsehood for which Richard Blumenthal has been castigated for the past few days.

Yet, whereas Blumenthal repeatedly pointed out in speeches that he had served “during” Vietnam–with that noteable slip-up–and then corrected the record when the mistake was pointed out, Kirk’s office refused to address the falsehood on his web site for more than 50 days after I first contacted him, despite the fact the Navy’s Office of Information agreed that, because Kirk had never served in Iraq during Iraqi Freedom, he had no right to claim to be an Iraqi Freedom veteran.

In the end, Kirk’s staff simply changed the site without comment or apology.

*** UPDATE *** Says Illinois Review’s headline

Miller attempts to equate Kirk with Blumenthal

Um, no. I posted a story written by someone else and prefaced it with the observation that the oppo dump didn’t work.

- Posted by Rich Miller   48 Comments      

What’s going on with McPier? Plus, push is on to expand the Worst Bill Ever

Friday, May 21, 2010

* This is why there will be no veto of the McCormick Place reform bill

“I can’t imagine the governor not signing it. If for some reason he got confused and vetoed the bill, we would quickly go back to Springfield and override his veto and make it the law of the land,” said Sen. John Cullerton, Illinois Senate president.

Cullerton hasn’t yet transmitted the bill to the governor. Subscribers know why.

* There’s no doubt that Quinn will sign the bill

About 10 trade show leaders met with Quinn at his Chicago office Thursday. They emerged from the more than hourlong session saying Quinn had concerns about the bill but that they expect him to sign it.

* Not the real reason for the delay…

Mr. Quinn is “working intensely on it,” said Mia Rampersad, a vice-president of the International Housewares Assn., who attended the meeting. “It’s complex legislation, and they’re doing what they can to get it done as soon as possible.”

The reason they’re looking so closely at the bill is to find a way to justify the delay

The legislation designates Jim Reilly, a former chief executive of the agency that runs McCormick Place, as a trustee to oversee an 18-month restructuring. But there is no succession plan in the event Reilly cannot serve out that term, and that concerns Quinn, meeting participants said.

But since there will be no veto, he will try for a trailer bill and use that above language problem to justify helping his friends in labor

The reform bill puts Quinn in a tough position. Some unions oppose the work-rule changes it would impose at McCormick Place, and Quinn could use their money and volunteers in the fall.

But the General Assembly could just pass a trailer bill cleaning up that one provision and ignoring the rest.

* And Bill Brady is finally weighing in via press release…

“Pat Quinn needs to stand up for jobs instead of standing in the way of reform for McCormick Place.

“This is a prime opportunity to be on the side of growth and to make a clean break from the insider politics of Illinois. Pat Quinn failed the children of Chicago by opposing the Meeks voucher bill, and he is failing the people of the Pullman neighborhood who want jobs and opportunity in their community. Let’s hope he gets this one right. Governor Quinn should sign the reform bill today.”

* In other economics-related news, Sen. John O. Jones wants the STAR bonds bill expanded to other counties

A Mount Vernon lawmaker says it’s not too late to consider other communities for special tax districts, as is being done with Marion with a proposed destination development.

State Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, offered these comments in response to an article in the Friday edition of the Southern Illinoisan.

Jones challenged Democratic Marion Rep. John Bradley’s notion it was too late to include Mount Vernon in the STAR bonds district. The creation of the district - which is outlined in Senate Bill 2093, now awaiting action in the Illinois Senate - would allow a portion of sales tax revenue generated by business patronage in the development site to pay off construction bonds.

The expansion push is happening even faster than I thought it would.

* Related and a roundup…

* State unemployment falls; census hiring a factor

* Quinn won’t use budget power to raise state retiree insurance rates: “It’s very difficult legally and we think the best way to approach that is with a collective bargaining approach with the union instead of trying to do it unilaterally through the emergency budget act,” Vaught said during a meeting with The State Journal-Register editorial board.

* Will officials angry about new state law: Will County officials are furious about a new state law that allows the dumping of construction debris in local quarries.

* Public projects biggest TIF beneficiaries: While the Daley administration has caught heat for its use of tax increment financing for private developments, it’s likely that public projects and educational buildings were the biggest recipients of TIF money in the past decade.

* Nine school districts back Marion plan

* Court: Illinois can profit from unclaimed property: The state Supreme Court says Illinois is doing nothing wrong when it makes money off of unclaimed property.

* State can keep interest on unclaimed property

* In Blue Island Office, Seeing Recession’s Toll

* Adoption records to be opened up under new Illinois law

* MAP money gone, aid applications increase

* UI Extension consolidates

* HIV/AIDS advocacy groups fear loss of funding to programs

* Cook County must restrict spending

* Preckwinkle’s wobble

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, May 21, 2010

* Fox Chicago got ahold of Rod Blagojevich’s mug shot from his 2008 arrest…


- Posted by Rich Miller   86 Comments      

The long death march will continue Monday

Friday, May 21, 2010

* Check out the last line in this excerpt of a story about how the House and Senate are coming back to session next week

Quinn has been meeting with legislators to build support for his budget proposals - borrowing billions of dollars, raising cigarette taxes and giving the governor broad new power to cut spending where he sees fit.

Republicans, who have been largely shut out of budget discussions, are refusing to support the proposals. Some Democrats object, too, and want assurances that Quinn won’t cut programs they see as vital.

“He has not made any commitments,” Kraft said. “He has definitely heard from legislators about things they’re interested in preserving.”

Quinn better start making some commitments if he wants to finish up this session. We’re getting down to the wire here, and it’s time to make some tough choices.

* Subscribers know more details, but here is a little about what to expect on Monday

In the two weeks since lawmakers suspended their work, Gov. Pat Quinn’s been meeting with groups of Democrats in an attempt to structure a budget compromise that can get enough votes to pass. Some of them are planning a Monday news conference.

“Our philosophy is that we have to reform the process,” said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest.

That means, she said, targeted budget cuts, a thorough review of state contracts and how they are awarded, and giving rank-and-file lawmakers more input into crafting a budget.

“Cuts are going to be some things brought up to move us forward,” Garrett said. “We want to be more specific so certain agencies can plan ahead. … I’m assuming everyone is going to have to deal with some cuts.”

Here’s a little bit of what subscribers know

A group of House Democrats, the Capitol Fax Blog reports, plans to propose $1.3 billion in cuts on Monday.

* The Senate is waiting until Wednesday to return. Here’s why

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said there is no reason for the Senate to come into session earlier since the chamber already passed all of the components of a new budget earlier this month and sent it to the House.

* Gov. Quinn’s top aides met with the Daily Herald editorial board to explain why they want to borrow to make the pension payment

Quinn’s Chief of Staff Jerry Stermer pointed out that the state can borrow at a 4.5 percent interest rate, whereas if the pension payment is shorted, the state is automatically hit with 8.5 percent interest in making up the shortfall. And pushing off billions in state payments to vendors to make the budget look balanced incurs a 12 percent interest rate under late-payment laws.

Given those choices and the rejection of other proposals, Stermer said borrowing at 4.5 percent makes the most sense.

“Our analysis is we ought to do the most fiscally conservative thing,” he told the Daily Herald editorial board.

The Sun-Times editorialized in favor of the borrowing option today

Borrowing is a miserable solution. But the alternatives — skipping or delaying a payment to the pension system — are far worse. Illinois is obliged to make this payment sooner or later — whether we resent those public union pensions or not — and the longer it’s delayed the more it costs the state.

* And Rep. Frank Mautino gets out quote of the day for his prediction of what the final state budget will look like…

“This will keep the trains running, though not on time.”

* Related…

* Press release: United Way of Metropolitan Chicago wants a revenue increase as part of budget deal

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

Sen. Dillard calls on Plummer to release tax returns

Friday, May 21, 2010

* The second-place finishers in the gubernatorial primary were both on Chicago Tonight last night. They answered several questions about the budget, but at the end of the program, host Elizabeth Brackett asked Sen. Kirk Dillard whether lt. governor Jason Plummer, a fellow Republican, should release his tax returns. Here’s Dillard’s response…

“I think public officials should release their tax returns, and Jason Plummer, a fine young man, you know, I think, is going to have to figure out how he releases his tax returns.”

Dillard’s remarks come at about the 20-minute mark

* The Pantagraph editorialized on the subject today

In a Dec. 4 editorial on this topic, we referred to comments made by Joseph J. Thorndike, contributing editor of the website TaxAnalysts, on the value of presidents and presidential candidates making their tax returns public.

The reasoning applies to candidates for governors, too, and is worth repeating: “Public returns can reveal points of inconsistency between a candidate’s public rhetoric and his private finances. Which is no small thing, especially when a candidate makes a point of targeting tax avoidance.”

Arguing that releasing the information invades a candidate’s “privacy” is not a persuasive argument.

When an individual chooses to seek public office, particularly high public office — such as governor or lieutenant governor — their expectations of privacy should shrink considerably.

When running for statewide office, that includes recognizing that their income tax returns shouldn’t be private — not if candidates want to demonstrate a commitment to openness and transparency.

The latest rumble I’m hearing is that Attorney General Lisa Madigan ought to release her returns before the Democrats call on Plummer to do the same. That’s kinda weird, since she’s not running for governor and her opponent hasn’t offered up his own returns and demanded she do the same. Also, it’s not just Democrats calling on Plummer to disclose. Dillard is no Democrat, and the Pantagraph is no Democratic paper.

* And the trend is spreading

After releasing his own federal and state tax returns to the Daily Herald, Republican congressional candidate Joe Walsh is calling on Democratic U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean to do the same. […]

A Bean spokesman said information about her finances can be found on her U.S. House financial disclosure forms, which are public. Scheurer said he’s keeping his tax return under wraps because of privacy concerns.

Walsh has ignored Scheurer and instead is focusing on Bean.

“Republicans and Democrats alike running for offices from the U.S. Senate and governor on down have released their tax returns,” Walsh said in a recent e-mail. “Rep. Bean clearly thinks she shouldn’t be held to the same standards of transparency and full disclosure. She is wrong.”

That’s not helpful to the Brady/Plummer ticket, which Walsh supposedly is supporting.

* Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Brady missed almost half the floor votes taken in the closing days of the spring session…

GOP nominee for governor Bill Brady recently missed more than 200 votes as a state senator during the waning weeks of the legislative session, a Daily Herald review of voting records found. […]

Hundreds of roll call votes from the hectic two-week period covering late April and early May are riddled with Brady omissions. The Bloomington state senator missed 207 votes during that period and cast 239.

For instance, Brady, who’s campaigned heavily against taxes, missed a rare chance to actually end a tax. He’s not recorded as voting on a proposal to do away with the sales tax imposed by the DuPage Water Commission. That proposal is now in Quinn’s hands.

Here’s the list. Oddly enough, Brady cast only two votes on April 27th. Both of those votes were for bills supported by the Humane Society, which whacked Brady for his “puppy and kitty killing” bill.

* In other campaign news, Greg Hinz explains why he doesn’t cover third-party candidates all that much

Part of the reason is philosophical: I don’t believe in spending much time or ink on folks who have no chance to win. It’s hard enough to get most voters to pay even minimal attention to election races, and I hate to distract them.

- Posted by Rich Miller   80 Comments      

Unclear future for Thomson

Friday, May 21, 2010

* A powerful US House committee appears to have put a big brake on President Obama’s plan to transfer Gitmo detainees to the shuttered Thomson prison

The House Armed Services Committee has dealt a blow to President Obama’s hopes to shutter the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by unanimously approving legislation that would prohibit creating a detention center inside the United States.

That doesn’t appear to mean that the feds won’t buy Thomson for another purpose, but things are once again looking grim for the people in that area who just want to get that facility open. And the committee’s move doesn’t completely kill off the president’s idea, either

The White House had no official comment on the committee’s action, but an official noted that the National Defense Authorization Act doesn’t entirely reject the idea of jailing Guantanamo prisoners in the U.S.

“The chairman’s mark also required a report, due by April 2011, from the [secretary of defense] on the merits, costs and risks of using any proposed facility in the U.S. or territories. So the issue will be revisited,” the official said.

However, if the White House accepts such a report as a prerequisite to closure, it will mean abandoning Obama’s prediction that the facility could close by the end of 2010. He had earlier vowed to close Gitmo in his first year in office but saw that prospect fall away because of bipartisan congressional resistance to bringing prisoners to U.S. soil.

At the very least, this puts off action for another year or so.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      

Out of control fiefdoms

Friday, May 21, 2010

* This is not how you plead poverty and justify an almost ten percent tuition increase…

[U of I Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy] says newly hired U of I President Michael Hogan is “a bargain” at $620,000 a year.

Sen. Martin Sandoval is right

State Sen. Martin Sandoval (12th) called the tuition increase “unconscionable” and “insulting,” noting that it’s coming even as the board hires a new university president at a base salary of $620,000.

University officials have said new president Michael Hogan’s salary is comparable to what other Big Ten schools pay.

“There is no justification to the salary,” Sandoval said. “They just want to keep up with the Joneses. It is not an acceptable model.”

The salary is only a “bargain” because of a skewed marketplace. Captive board members buy into the mystique of super-high salaries and are therefore eager to pay out the nose. The exact same board attitude has driven corporate CEO salaries into the stratosphere. Everybody else is doing it, we need to do it too. As my mother would say, “If your friends jumped off a roof, would you follow them down?”

* But Progress Illinois makes a good point

During a severe economic crunch, when the state’s revenues are in the tank and students and university employees are being asked to sacrifice greatly, it’s totally reasonable of Sandoval to request Hogan voluntarily give back the raise. But we shouldn’t pretend that the state legislature is an innocent bystander in the college cost crunch. Since FY 1997, state allocations for higher education have dropped $137 million in real dollars. It’s far lower when adjusted for inflation. Worse yet, the state can’t even keep up with those measly payments, falling behind on its appropriations to U of I by $464 million.

Then again, that’s all the more reason to wonder why the board is willing to spend so much money. Does paying huge mountains of cash always mean you’ve found the best? Could they have found someone who actually wanted to run the U of I so much that s/he would’ve been willing to sacrifice the glitzy salary? Did they even try to break out of this race to the top?

One reason state approps dropped or held constant during Rod Blagojevich’s tenure is that he was trying to force the universities to rein in their pricey fiefdoms. It was one of the few policy initiatives of his that made sense. The problem is, the schools just kept increasing tuition without changing their money-based culture.

* Speaking of fiefdoms

It was the elephant in the room.

The RTA board met Thursday, but there was no discussion of the recent discovery of a half-million-dollar fraud against Metra committed by late executive director Phil Pagano.

The RTA has financial oversight of Metra, but no one would even say whether the RTA would audit Metra.

RTA executive director Stephen Schlickman declined any comment about the Pagano investigation.

The reason they gave for staying mum was a federal investigation. Sen. Susan Garrett wants some changes over there

Garrett said she is filing legislation calling on Metra to hire an independent auditor to review its finances and to require Metra to appoint an inspector general with specific watchdog duties.

Pagano made $269,625 a year in salary and allegedly stole at least $475,000 right under the noses of everyone at Metra. He was able to get away with this for so long because he had so much power that nobody wanted to question him. Sound familiar? Another captive, all-too-compliant board.

- Posted by Rich Miller   44 Comments      

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