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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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