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Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* Candy Golde is playing tonight at the Castle Theater in Bloomington. If you can get there, then you should definitely check them out. The players are Nick Tremulis, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, John Stirratt of Wilco, and Rick Rizzo of Eleventh Dream Day. That’s some serious rock and roll experience, baby. A review

Unlike many of the other All-Star bands, which try to incorporate the sounds of their past work into something new, Candy Golde is eclectic and experimental. Carlos, the drummer for classic rock gods Cheap Trick for almost four decades, has adapted his style, playing more like a garage band bammer on the band’s LP, unleashing heavy percussion work that hasn’t been heard from him in decades.

“I had so much fun putting this together,” said Carlos. “It’s different not being on the road and being able to experiment. I loved making this LP.”

Tremulis, known more for his song-writing and love of experimentation with rock and soul blends, was able to play the part of hard rock singer and do more than hold his own. Stirratt, a member of an alternative powerhouse the likes of Wilco speeds up his bass playing in Candy Golde and does more than support the percussion. Rizzo, while also in a solid alternative band before CG, known for his excellent guitar work, song-writing ability and vocal stylings, plays some of the hardest tunes in his career with this quartet.

The end result is something unlike anything you’ve heard before from a band created from bits and pieces of other successful groups.

* My old friend Tom Irwin is opening for Candy Golde tonight with his band The Hayburners. Find more info here. This is gonna be one great show, campers

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Heckuva job

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* We’ve heard for the past few years that Medicaid managed care would save the state billions of dollars. But now that it’s upon us, providers don’t want to participate in a managed care pilot project for patients with cerebral palsy, autism, schizophrenia or Down Syndrome

Many doctors and hospitals are refusing to join the new Medicaid program, which the state hopes will better coordinate care and lower costs for some of its neediest recipients. The providers’ rationale: They dislike the bureaucratic hassles and cost-cutting measures associated with managed care.

The ranks of those who have said no, for the moment, include prominent medical centers and physician practices with a long track record of serving the disabled, among them Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, the University of Chicago Medical Center, Children’s Memorial Hospital and Loyola University Health System.

And that means patients who enrolled in the Chicago-area pilot project now have to find new doctors, specialists, hospitals, etc

Because of the situation, hundreds if not thousands of vulnerable, chronically ill individuals are being forced to find new doctors, some of whom appear ill-equipped to handle their needs, according to consumer advocates and families. […]

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Suzanne Klug, of Des Plaines, whose daughter, Tamara, 21, with cerebral palsy and severe developmental delays, has been forced to find a new primary care doctor, surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, neurosurgeon and neurologist after being enrolled in the new Medicaid program.

Go read the whole thing.

* In other news of excellent management and foresight, the RTA hired an outside consultant which posted YouTube videos to inform senior citizens about how their new reduced fare card will work. Trouble is, the RTA failed to include instructions when they mailed out the new cards

Many seniors have already expressed confusion and frustration over the new cards mailed to them by the Regional Transportation Authority because the cards were not accompanied by any instructions.

“How the devil do these cards work?’’ asked Rita Shafer in an email to the Tribune. “Nothing in the totally useless information provided (by the RTA) tells one how to put money on the card.’’

The RTA didn’t use “smart cards” that can be charged like an ATM card because, they say, they didn’t have enough extra smart cards on hand. So, that means seniors will have to manually charge the paper cards at CTA rail stations, which isn’t great news for bus riders

Reloading transit cards will create a major inconvenience for the many senior citizens who travel only on buses. They will need to make a special trip to a CTA rail station and walk up or down stairs to the fare card machines.

In addition, the magnetic strip cards are more prone to fail or jam in fare machines than more sturdy smart cards, which are also easier to handle, transportation experts and seniors who use the cards say.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Legislative campaign roundup

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Contrariness

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* Back in February, two Illinois legislators sponsored bills to require drug testing for new welfare recipients

The bill introduced to the Illinois House seeks to require new applicants for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug testing and subsequent substance abuse treatment if a drug test is positive. Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, introduced the measure, which also requires submission to random drug testing. Sacia’s proposal is a “pilot program” that exempts welfare recipients over age 65.

A parallel piece of legislation, proposed by Rep. Chapin Rose, R- is nearly identical to Sacia’s bill.

* However, Florida just implemented a mandatory drug test for new TANF recipients and only a tiny fraction are testing positive

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows. […]

The initiative may save the state a few dollars anyway, bearing out one of Gov. Rick Scott’s arguments for implementing it. But the low test fail-rate undercuts another of his arguments: that people on welfare are more likely to use drugs. […]

More than once, Scott has said publicly that people on welfare use drugs at a higher rate than the general population. The 2 percent test fail rate seen by DCF, however, does not bear that out.

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, performed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, 8.7 percent of the population nationally over age 12 uses illicit drugs. The rate was 6.3 percent for those ages 26 and up.

* Meanwhile, I really don’t care

Questions surrounding a gambling bill that is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk have focused on regulation and on how much new casinos could raise for state coffers.

But casino industry watchers are also asking whether the gambling market will be oversaturated with five new riverboats, minicasinos at the state’s five horse racing tracks and slot machines at Chicago’s airports. Increased competition from neighboring states, an unpredictable economy and casino bankruptcies are raising distress signals for the industry nationwide.

I don’t see why the state has a moral duty to protect the monopolies of existing Illinois casinos. Some of these casinos haven’t remodeled in years. Competition is supposed to be good. Why is it so horrible in this case?

Also

The State Senate president, John J. Cullerton, Democrat of Chicago, said he was recently approached by a lobbyist hired by a Wisconsin casino who hoped to stifle competition by derailing Illinois’s expansion of gambling sites. The fact that neighboring states are worried suggests there is a market for more, Cullerton said.

Supporters also argue that a casino in tourist-rich Chicago would keep gamblers here instead of sending them across state lines. Dozens of buses depart from Chicago and its suburbs every day for gambling venues elsewhere. Emanuel has said Illinois should not allow Indiana to get “$20 million a month while our infrastructure is crumbling.”

* And speaking of the casino bill, House sponsor Lou Lang was asked this question by NBC Chicago

What about Gov. Quinn’s concern that there’s not enough oversight? The bill takes some of these positions out of the oversight of the Illinois Gaming Board, and he’s worried that organized crime is going to find its way into these new gaming positions.

Lou

He’s wrong. While we do create a Chicago Casino Authority, it in no way supersedes the Illinois Gaming Board. Its job is to help the city determine what to recommend to the Gaming Board. Its job is to help determine what gaming operator the city must hire. The bill requires the city hire a gaming operator, because we don’t want aldermen and ward committeemen deciding who blackjack dealers would be, and we wanted people running the casino who know about gaming. We don’t want it run by some committee of the City Council, so we created a casino authority, and yes, the people are appointed by the mayor, but they can only make recommendations. They have no force of law. They cannot tell the Gaming Board what to approve and what not to approve. Let me tell you what I told the governor. I said, “If the optics of this are such that you need different language to satisfy that, I’ll give it you.”

* Chicago-based Groupon has been taking a severe beating in the press ahead of its IPO. For instance

Groupon’s fundamental problem is that it has not yet discovered a viable business model. The company asserts that it will be profitable once it reaches scale but there is little reason to believe this. The financial results of Groupon’s traditional business continue to deteriorate, especially in mature markets, and new ventures such as Groupon Now also have failed to drive profits. And unlike the very few successful companies that scaled before they were profitable (think Facebook or Amazon), Groupon’s business model does not benefit from significant network effects.

And

Could the fastest growing company in history sputter out just as quickly? At this point, the better question may be: How could it not?

* But Groupon’s CEO is now fighting back

“While we’ve bitten our tongues and allowed insane accusations … to go unchallenged publicly, it’s important to me that you have the context necessary to brush this stuff off,” Mason addressed employees in his memo.

Mason argued that rival services were “small and not growing” and waved off accusations Groupon was “buying customers” by splurging on marketing — two key concerns on Wall Street ahead of its market debut.

“Even if we wanted to continue to spend at these levels, we would eventually run out of new subscribers to acquire,” he wrote. “The real point is that our business is a lot harder to build than people realize and our scale creates competitive advantages that even the largest technology companies are having trouble penetrating.”

[Hat tip: Sullivan]

* And a federal judge essentially just deleted a section of Illinois’ election law

A federal judge in Chicago today ruled that candidates for Congress in next year’s election can go ahead and collect candidacy signatures after Labor Day despite a pending lawsuit filed by Republicans that challenges the Democrats’ redrawing of the state’s U.S. House district boundaries.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s order allows U.S. House candidates to gather petition signatures starting on Sept. 6 from voters who live within the Democrat-drawn districts. Under her order, if the congressional boundaries are subsequently changed by the actions of the court, the signatures of those people who find themselves in a different district will still be valid.

Lefkow’s order also said a candidacy petition cannot be ruled invalid if court action leads to a renumbering of a congressional district.

The judge’s ruling, which also ends a GOP-backed request to push back the petition-passing process, could make it difficult to challenge a candidate’s candidacy signatures if congressional boundary lines are shifted as a result of the federal court.

While that makes practical sense, shouldn’t this be for the General Assembly and the governor to decide? A judge changing state law to accommodate an undecided, ongoing federal lawsuit makes me more than a bit queasy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Question of the day

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* On a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst and ten being the best, rate US Sen. Dick Durbin’s job performance. Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks…


- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      


Updating our infrastructure ain’t free

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* Gov. Pat Quinn was asked an interesting question during his press conference yesterday to announce that Nissan was making its all-electric “LEAF” vehicle for sale in Chicago a year early. “As demand for these cars increases, can the electric grid handle it if you don’t sign off on the ComEd bill on your desk right now?”

There was a long pause and some nervous laughter. “Clearly,” Quinn finally said, “there is an impact on the electric grid.” Quinn went on to claim that many of these cars would be powered at night, although the very fast charging power stations which were also discussed yesterday would eventually translate into lots of additional power usage during the day.

The governor repeated his threat to veto ComEd’s “Smart Grid” bill as soon as it arrives on his desk, and said “No, it does not,” when asked if vetoing the bill would hinder Quinn’s goal of making Illinois “the capital of electric vehicles.”

I agree with Quinn that there are problems with the ComEd bill. I’ll be discussing this in more detail next week. But I have for years believed that the Smart Grid is absolutely needed to deal with 21st Century electricity issues. Improving and modernizing infrastructure is supposed to be a hallmark of this governor’s administration. Well, the power grid is an integral part of any state’s infrastructure. Moderinizing that grid gives Illinois an advantage over other states in attracting new jobs and keeping the ones we have. So, fix the problems with the ComEd bill and let’s put some people to work.

Raw audio of the governor…

I’ve been a very harsh ComEd critic for years. But this Smart Grid is just too important to play cheap populist politics. We need it. And I think it can be done at a lower price than ComEd is currently demanding. Let’s get moving, man.

* More on the Leaf

“We want to be the electric vehicle capital of the United States,” Quinn said, adding he wants to make Interstate 55 the “Land of Lincoln Electric Highway from Chicago to Springfield,” with charging stations along the way.

The state already gives a $4,000 tax break to Illinoisans who buy an electric car. That’s on top of a $7,500 federal tax credit. That brings the price of the Leaf down to $23,500.

Considering the electric equivalent of a tank of gas is about $4, compared with $60 or so to fill a 15-gallon tank with $4-a-gallon gas, the car could pay for itself.

The trade-off is that a fully charged lithium car battery will get the car only 100 miles or so before it needs a recharge. A readout on the dashboard tells the driver how many more miles the car can go before needing a recharge.

The only car I had when I lived in Chicago was a BMW Z-3, which can’t be driven in the winter. So, I rented a car when I needed to go to Springfield or visit my parents or whatever. An electric vehicle can be very practical for a commuter. Longer trips can be taken with a family’s other car or a rental. It’s not really that difficult.

* And speaking of infrastructure, here’s one defense of the toll hike

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, a Tollway Board commissioner, said the toll increase is needed to ensure northeastern Illinois remains a competitive economic hub.

Without the increase, he said, “the state isn’t going to be competitive in a global economy 20 years from now.”

He said two-thirds of the increase will fund repairs of the existing tollway system.

“As mayor, we’ve done a lot of work in the city on infrastructure,” he said. “If you try to cheat on infrastructure, you’re really cheating yourself. Ultimately you’ll pay a much higher price.”

* Some of Quinn’s defense of the hike

“The bottom line is I think you have to understand the tollway has not had a general toll increase since 1983. At that time, the Chicago Tribune cost 25 cents. Today the Chicago Tribune costs $1.”

Another one

“We don’t want to raise the gas tax, so we have to use the tollway in order to get people to work, get people to schools … to where they want to go,” Quinn said. “Those are user fees. The people who use the tollway understand that we have to maintain the tollway.”

* Related…

* Chicago Will Get Nissan Leaf Early Because It Loves Electric Cars

* Can electric cars win over the mass market?

* ComEd faces more frustrated customers at Glenview meeting

* Power outages worry McCullom Lake residents

* Chicago ComEd Crews Depart to Help with Hurricane Irene in Philadelphia

* Blowing about town in the all-electric Nissan Leaf

* Consumer advocates blast Ameren Illinois’ $90 million rate hike request

* Drivers not happy about toll hike

* Illinois tollways were supposed to be ‘free’ ways: In 1999, then-governor George Ryan briefly floated the idea of eliminating tolls, but it went nowhere.

* Growing Pains: The Red Line Extension

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      


*** UPDATED x2 - Quinn: Superintendents won’t be paid until October *** This just in… Judge rules against regional superintendents

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* 10:40 am - Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt has ruled that he has no judicial authority to force the state to pay the salaries of regional superintendents of schools after they were vetoed out of the budget by Gov. Pat Quinn.

* From the ruling, which you can read by clicking here

The Plaintiffs claim that their position and salary are mandated by statute and they are entitled to a temporary restraining order granting them prospective relief in the form of an order from this court that they be paid. […]

The Governor is vested with broad power. The Illinois Consitution provides that “[t]he Governor may reduce or veto any item of appropriations in a bill presented to him…” […]

Taken to the absurd, the Governor has the power to veto appropriations to pay the salaries of all state officials and suspend the operation of all of the State’s departments. The bare possibility that one might abuse their power does not authorize this Court to take from the executive the powers the Constitution plainly invests in them. People ex rel. Millner v. Russel, 311 Ill. 96, 99-100 (1924)

The rational of Russel supports the conclusion that a position and salary created by statute must still be supported by an appropriation. The Illinois Constitution states very plainly that the Governor may veto an item of appropriation. To hold otherwise would thrust the Court into the appropriation process. Such would be contrary to the Illlinois Constitution.

In sum, this Court is without authority to issue a temporary restraining order mandating the executive branch pay the Plaintiffs prosepectively.

* Statement by the regional superintendents…

“We respect the court’s decision but are disappointed that the judge did not agree with us. State law clearly calls for us to be paid for the good work we continue to do, but our fight continues. Today’s outcome doesn’t change that we believe this situation is totally unfair and against what this state stands for. We continue to work hard for the students, parents, educators and taxpayers of Illinois. And we will find a way through discussions with state lawmakers for a long-term funding solution. Clearly, the pain continues for many superintendents and their families during this very difficult time, and hardships are growing every day. They will have to make difficult decisions as this crisis continues as we work through the inconsiderate decision to end our funding with no other plan in place to pay us for doing our jobs.

“Our association is meeting this afternoon to discuss our next steps.”

*** UPDATE 1 *** Despite his budget office’s repeated claims that a solution was imminent, Gov. Quinn said today that the superintendents won’t be paid until October…

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn expects the state’s regional school superintendents to keep working without pay until at least October.

He said Friday he expects lawmakers to resolve the dispute over cancelled salaries for the 44 superintendents and their assistants when they return to work in Springfield in October. They have been working without pay since July 1 after Quinn cancelled their salaries.

Raw audio…

*** UPDATE 2 *** Follow-up statement by the regional superintendents…

“The association is reviewing the results of the court’s ruling and its legal options, including an appeal. We will thoughtfully consider our next steps and make the appropriate decision at the right time, understanding the time frame allotted to us under court rules.

- Posted by Rich Miller   83 Comments      


After vetoing their salaries, Quinn expands duties of regional superintendents

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* A bill signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday expands the duties of regional superintendents of schools. Yes, the same regional superintendents who haven’t been paid since the end of June because Quinn vetoed their salaries out of the state budget.

I kid you not.

SB 2170 takes county boards out of the equation when voters approve a sales tax increase for school construction. Up until now, the law gave county boards the option of imposing the sales tax even if voters approved it, and gave county boards the right to reject putting the questions onto the ballot.

The bill also does this

For all regular elections held on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 97th General Assembly, the regional superintendent of schools for the county must, upon receipt of a resolution or resolutions of school district boards that represent more than 50% of the student enrollment within the county, certify the question to the proper election authority for submission to the electors of the county at the next regular election at which the question lawfully may be submitted to the electors, all in accordance with the Election Code. [Emphasis added.]

Sheesh. This summer has been a comedy of errors.

To be fair, Gov. Quinn hasn’t said that he wants to completely get rid of the regional offices of education. He’s said that locals ought to pay for them if they want them. But it is surely salting the wound by expanding their duties while they’re not getting paid.

* Meanwhile, Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt will decide at noon today what he will do about a lawsuit by the regional superintendents

A Sangamon County judge said Thursday that he’s aghast at the hardship caused by Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision to cancel salaries for the state’s regional school superintendents.

But Circuit Judge John Schmidt also questioned the school officials’ attorney closely Thursday about whether the courts have the authority to interfere with the executive branch of government.

Schmidt said he’ll announce his decision in the case at noon today.

“There are no easy answers, and this case involves significant ramifications of constitutional law for the courts, the executive and the legislative branches,” Schmidt said after hearing arguments in court.

More

Terence Corrigan, an assistant attorney general representing the state, said courts have previously ruled that payments cannot be made without an appropriation.

“The issue is, ‘Can a court order payment without an appropriation?’ ” Corrigan said.

Schmidt asked if the governor could then just do away with an office created by state law by refusing to fund it.

Quoting a previous court opinion, Corrigan said, “because power can be abused doesn’t mean power doesn’t exist.”

Good question

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt used the raspberry to punctuate a question about his power to order Gov. Pat Quinn to spend state money.

“What if I issue an order, and the governor says, ‘Plfftt’?,” Schmidt pondered in court Thursday.

Check back at noon for Schmidt’s decision.

* In related news, one regional superintendent is calling it quits

St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools Brad Harriman said he plans to retire because of the state budget standoff that has left his position unfunded.

“This isn’t the way I wanted things to end,” Harriman said, “but because of circumstances, this is my best option.” […]

Harriman, 57, said he doesn’t see a quick end to the standoff between state lawmakers in favor of restoring the money — which they voted to approve — or the governor who vetoed them. And he doesn’t think any change in the situation would change his mind.

“Even if the funding is restored, frankly I don’t trust the governor,” Harriman said. “And I trust his advisors even less.”

Considering all that’s happened, I can’t blame him for thinking that way.

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


So long, Steve

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

* My Sun-Times column

I feel almost the same about Steve Jobs retiring from Apple as I felt when Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he’d had enough. I truly appreciate his many years of service, but I’m happy to see him leave.

I’ve been an “Apple guy” for a long time. I was attracted by its elegant designs and its renegade status as a solidly reliable alternative to the big, bad, clunky, reboot-every-hour Microsoft machines.

My wife and I now own an iMac, two iPods, two iPhones, two iPads (both with Apple wireless keyboards), an Airport Extreme Base Station and two Macbook Air laptops. We have spent serious dollars with Apple over the years.

To say that I have reveled in my all-Mac status would be an understatement. I’ve taken pride in belonging to an “elite” club. We weren’t part of that gigantic herd of sheep trapped in their cheapo, unreliable Bill Gates worlds. And we have style, man. I’ve always enjoyed the gasps of amazement when I pulled my paper-thin, stainless steel laptop out of my briefcase at the Statehouse or a political event.

And I absolutely love looking for new ways to use my iPhone to augment my political coverage for my blog and political newsletter, Capitol Fax.

For instance, I bought a tiny directional microphone that plugs into my iPhone’s headset jack, hugely improving the audio quality of news videos I post at my website.

I even bought an iPhone case that doubles as a sort of camera tripod. I found an Internet program (ScribbleLive) which allows me to easily live-blog with my iPhone when I’m away from my office. And I stumbled across a program, which I haven’t used yet, to allow my iPhone to post live videos on my website.

That little device has allowed me to become a one-man multimedia news network for Illinois politics. I’m doing things now with my iPhone that I could only dream about just a few short years ago.

But lately I’ve felt trapped, and I’ve thought about leaving.

There are still far too many files and programs that I can’t open or run on my iMac. And some of the Apple versions of Microsoft programs aren’t yet up to snuff.

The iPad isn’t really useful to me except as an overpriced news and book reader. I have the MLB Network, so I can watch baseball games for hours on end, but the iPad viewing options are way too limited. Neither the iPad nor the iPhone has nearly enough memory, and Jobs’ longtime hatred of all things Adobe means that flash programs don’t work on the devices. The Safari browsers on both devices leave a lot to be desired, and don’t get me started about AT&T.

Jobs also has the maddening habit of treating what can be accessed on his portable products almost like Thomas Edison once did with his newfangled phonograph. Edison had a monopoly on both his player and the cylinders that contained the music. He personally chose which artists to record. If your musical tastes differed from Tom’s, well, you were out of luck.

Jobs isn’t that bizarre, but he has certainly been a control freak when it comes to the apps that can be sold in his online store.

I hope Tim Cook, who has taken the helm at Apple, won’t bring the same baggage to the company that Jobs did and will open it up to even more innovation. If he doesn’t, I probably will be leaving. I’m just tired of having my choices limited by a benevolent dictator.

Thanks for everything, Steve. Really, I mean it. And I hope you live a long, healthy life. But thanks for retiring, too.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


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