The Illinois House today gave final passage to a bill that will prevent schools from conducting those brief first and last school days of the year and counting them as full days.
A short time later, the House adjourned for the week, having met for less than an hour. […]
Current Illinois law allows schools on first and last days of the year to ignore the standard rule that students must have at least five hours of class time to call it a school day, for purposes of state aid to the schools. […]
There’s no word on whether legislators will address a similar tradition in the General Assembly, in which they meet briefly on the first or last working day of the week, just long enough to qualify for their per diem payments. For example, the House convened at 11 a.m. today, and adjourned for the week before noon.
* Gov. Pat Quinn appeared on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” this week to talk about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Quinn told the host that he watches the show almost every night. Quinn’s appearance begins about six minutes into the video, which is here.
I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of that program. I despise cable news, and that’s one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. Man, talk about shrill. And Quinn’s admission about being a loyal watcher sure tells us a lot about his partisan bent.
But, hey, some people dig that cable stuff, so…
* The Question: How often do you watch cable news programs? What do you watch the most? What do you dislike the most?
House Republicans have been hesitant to support a cigarette tax increase, instead urging Quinn to make good on his initial call for $2.7 billion in spending cuts to Medicaid. Republican Rep. Patti Bellock of Hinsdale, who worked on a Medicaid cut panel, said she does not support the hike and does not see “a lot of support” among House Republicans.
The Senate has passed cigarette tax increases twice in recent years, only to see the proposals stall in the House, where some Democrats joined Republicans in opposition.
Democrats who control the General Assembly face potential backlash from voters for increasing the personal income tax rate 67 percent last year. In turn, GOP lawmakers largely have staked out opposition to tax hikes, and they have called for more cuts in the Medicaid program before increasing any taxes.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson called the governor’s cigarette tax hike a responsible way to stave off the collapse of the state’s Medicaid program. Anderson said failing to straighten out the program would be “disastrous.”
“Hesitant” is a charitable word usage. “Adamantly opposed” would be more like it.
* After the Rod Blagojevich scandal, Illinois banned campaign contributions to constitutional officers from businesses and people who have state contracts of higher than $50,000 with those officers. Today, Sen. Matt Murphy held a press conference to demand action on his bill to ban public employee unions with state contracts of higher than $50,000. From his press release…
The legislation, SB 2988, sponsored by State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), was developed in conjunction with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy group.
It will apply the same restrictions on donations that were enacted two years ago for private companies that do business with state agencies. A vendor that does over $50,000 of business with the state is now prohibited from donating any funds to a candidate who may oversee that company’s contract. However, a loophole was left in the 2010 bill to allow government unions that negotiate employee contracts worth hundreds of millions to continue to donate huge amounts to politicians in charge of those contracts.
The bill would mean that Gov. Quinn could not receive contributions from AFSCME and other public employee unions. Other constitutionals who have union contracts would also be barred from receiving contributions.
* A representative from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity was also at today’s press conference. Here’s that group’s press release…
Today Americans for Prosperity – Illinois (AFP-IL) announced its support for SB 2988, legislation which will prohibit government unions from contributing campaign funds to the state constitutional officers with whom they negotiate their collective bargaining contracts. At a press conference with Senator Matt Murphy and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, AFP-IL State Director David From explained his support for the bill:
“Taxpayers should always take precedence over the demands of special interests – whether they be corporations or unions. Unfortunately, a loophole allows state officials to take large campaign contributions from the very government unions they sit across from at the negotiating table supposedly representing the interests of the taxpayers.”
A few years ago, in the wake of the Blagojevich scandals, state legislators and Gov. Quinn saw fit to put an end to “pay to play” deals by banning contractors with over $50,000 in state business from contributing to the state constitutional officer who oversees their contract.
But inexplicably this does not apply to government unions negotiating millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts each year. In fact, right now the Governor’s Office is negotiating a massive contract with the AFSCME, the largest union representing Illinois state workers, and one of Gov. Quinn’s largest campaign contributors.
“The largest campaign contributors to many of Illinois’ statewide officials are the powerful government unions like SEIU, AFSCME, IEA and others. This loophole in our state’s finance laws allows these powerful special interests to be the largest campaign contributors to the very person who negotiates their contracts,” From continued.
* Illinois House panel to consider case against Rep. Derrick Smith this week
*** UPDATE 1 *** US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wrote a letter to the committee telling them that he would not release any information about Smith beyond what has already been released. Fitzgerald also said that basically any investigatory action beyond subpoenaing Smith’s testimony would be considered interference with the federal investigation.
The committee has voted 6-0 to send a letter to Smith asking him to testify. If he refuses to appear, then the committee might consider issuing a subpoena.
“It’s my feeling that the committee can’t wait forever,” said committee chair Rep. Elaine Nekritz. But it looks like there will be more delays as they wait for events to unfold, including Smith’s Monday arraignment. The committee is recessed to the call of the chair.
Smith was not at today’s hearing and neither was his attorney. Smith did, however, show up at the House vs. Senate softball game last night.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Fitzgerald’s letter to the committee has now been posted on the GA’s website. From the letter…
We appreciate the Committee’s recognition of the sensitivity of our ongoing criminal investigation, and its forebearance in not engaging in any active investigation that would interfere with the federal criminal process. We also appreciate the Committee’s constitutional obligation to conduct its inquiry of the allegations against Representative Smith in a timely manner.
However, it is our view that, at present, the requirements of the federal criminal process cannot be reconciled with a public disclosure of the government’s evidence to the Committee or with a separate, but necessarily parallel, investigation by the Committee. […]
(I)t is our strongly held believe that any disclosure of the government’s evidence or active inquiry conducted by the Committee into the allegations of the federal indictment will likely interfere with our pending case and ongoing investigation. […]
We do not, however, believe that an interview of Representative Smith by the Committee will create any issues with the pending indictment or continuing federal investigation.
Illinois’ troubled system for compensating injured state workers hands out money too readily, sometimes without medical evidence to back up a claim and occasionally paying benefits the hurt employee didn’t even seek, according to an audit released Wednesday.
Auditor General William Holland is suggesting awmakers follow up last year’s overhaul of the workers’ compensation system with further improvements in a report that found information about the process “incomplete, inaccurate, and inconsistent.”
State workers claiming injury at work received $295 million on more than 26,000 claims from 2007 through 2010, the report found.
Holland’s report found overworked claims adjustors carrying caseloads several times larger than is practical and negotiating settlements with workers’ lawyers, a job the attorney general should do. They sometimes approved temporary disability payments while a case was under way, even though the worker hadn’t asked for it.
Files on some claims paid were missing medical evidence for the injury. Arbitrators deciding contested cases had no guidelines for deciding compensation and issued wildly inconsistent awards for the same injuries. Some had conflicts of interest in the cases they presided over.
Between 2007 and 2010, state workers filed 26,101 workers’ compensation claims with more than half from the state Departments of Human Services and Corrections:
1,180 claims — the highest number from any state agency — from Chester Mental Health Center,
869 claims from Menard Correctional Center in Chester — the most of any corrections facility.
The state paid out a total of more than $295 million during that time frame. Sprains and contusions accounted for three-quarters of all injuries.
The audit identified problems within the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the state’s Central Management Service, or CMS, both of which oversee the workers’ compensation program. Among the findings:
The commission failed to review arbitrators’ performance annually and had no guidelines for how arbitrators were to award compensation for particular injuries, causing inconsistencies.
CMS negotiated settlements with injured employees’ attorneys, made decisions about compensation without appropriate forms and had no policies to address conflicts of interest by those who handle workers’ compensation claims for the state.
Also, the review board that investigates complaints against arbitrators and commissioners did not meet for three and a half years.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series trophy made a stop at the Illinois Capitol Wednesday.
Members of the House and Senate – as well as aides and other Redbird fans — lined up to take pictures of the trophy, which is traveling around Cardinal territory.
None of the actual World Series players accompanied the trophy, which was brought into the building by handlers wearing special gloves. It’s not the first time a championship trophy has been paraded around the House and Senate chambers.
Ozzie showed up to town when the Sox won the World Series and spoke to both chambers.
Anyway, out of respect for the trophy, this will be a very rare St. Louis Cardinals open thread. Have at it.
Can we raise desperately needed state revenue and create more private sector jobs – all without raising taxes? A new study says – Yes!
A gaming solution under SB 1849 will have a $2.16 billion net impact on the Illinois economy, create nearly 20,500 new jobs and a generate $200 million in increased annual state revenue.
The legislation will significantly boost our state finances and translate into the largest jobs creation program in modern history, according to a study by the respected Spectrum Gaming Group commissioned by the Illinois Revenue and Jobs Alliance (IRJA).
The legislation would allow for a Chicago-based casino, four additional riverboat casinos throughout the state, slot machines at existing racetracks and more slots at existing casinos. Economic benefits include:
• 20,451 more total private sector jobs
• $3.49 billion more in economic output (gross impact on Illinois economy)
• $2.16 billion more in gross state product (net impact on Illinois economy)
• $1.5 billion in personal income
• Creation of $1.2 billion in new construction expenditures that would generate-
o 4,583 construction jobs
o $473 million in wages and benefits