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Question of the day

Monday, May 28, 2012

* Read the post below and then answer the question: Will the General Assembly avoid an overtime session?

Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments. Thanks.


- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Nearing the finish line?

Monday, May 28, 2012

* It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but things appear to be humming right along. Even so, nobody wants to start talking about the end quite yet

(L)egislators tackled some huge problems and seem to be on track to wrap up by Thursday, the last scheduled day of session. But no one will tempt fate by predicting a smooth finish.

“That’s when the wheels go flying off,” warned Rep. Joe Lyons, D-Chicago.

* The budget is a fairly sizable hurdle

The House’s schools plan would cut how much state money suburban schools get by nearly 4 percent. Suburban schools typically rely on state money less than less-wealthy downstate schools, and the House budget would leave alone money for buses — an issue that local officials have focused on in particular in recent years.

But the Senate plan doesn’t cut schools at all, meaning the two sides will either have to compromise soon or pick one plan.

And at least some suburban lawmakers could foresee missing the deadline, a move that would make Republicans more relevant in a legislature dominated by Democrats because budget plans would require more votes for approval. […]

The Senate didn’t meet Saturday, and House lawmakers don’t believe they’ll be bowing to the Senate’s budget plan, which generally doesn’t cut spending as far.

“They’re going to have to come down,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat. “We cannot, because of our own rules, spend more than what the revenue estimates are. So they’re going to have to come down, there’s no other way around it. I hate to say there is no compromise, but that is a fact.”

* Even the grouchy curmudgeons at the Tribune seem fairly pleased. But they’re not happy with everything

Our concern here is that some lawmakers are more determined to impress voters — See? We saved the day! — than to salvage the nation’s worst-funded pension system. Once more, with feeling:

The only enduring solution to Illinois’ pension debacle is … an enduring solution to Illinois’ pension debacle. That means rolling all employee groups into a legislative package. We’re focused on that because some timid legislators would rather pass reforms affecting some employees today, but leave, say, teachers, police and firefighters for another day — which may never arrive.

Not good enough, lawmakers. You’ve come a long way since the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago presciently warned in 2006 that pension and health costs were driving Illinois toward “financial implosion.” If you leave Illinois pension protocols unreformed, every voter — and every rating agency — will see through your little charade. Settle on fixes that begin to solve the problem right now and keep it from ever recurring.

Maybe an editorial board member ought to run for the General Assembly so the rest of the board can be informed that waving a magic wand does not pass legislation. There are no magic wands.

* Related…

* Record tax hike isn’t fixing Illinois’ problems: Quinn aides are quick to note that Democrats alone didn’t create the pension problem. They point to a 1995 pension law passed under Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. Billed as a way to stabilize the pension system and get it 90 percent funded by 2045, the law backloaded pension payments so that they were minimal in early years but increased over time.

* What’s been done? What’s yet to come?

* Illinois House panel votes to cut education funding by 4 percent

* House committee votes cuts in general state aid to schools

* S. Illinois lawmakers hopeful about Tamms prison funding

* Tinley mental health center closing plan needs more funds, advocates say

* Closer Look: Illinois lawmakers near finish line

* State’s legislators are moving in right direction

* Editorial: Legislators must reform Medicaid, pensions, pass a budget

* Our Opinion: A sense of urgency at the Capitol

* State Considers Tax Break To Video Game Industry: Illinois lawmakers are talking about spending cuts. But they’re also advancing a tax break for one industry. Video games are a huge business. So much that 20 different institutions in Illinois offer classes that teach how to design them. But few jobs are available in this state. Senator Toi Hutchinson, a Democrat from Olympia Fields, is pushing a tax credit for video game companies that set up shop in Illinois… Actually, about 15 states have them. Hutchinson points out Electronic Arts, one of the biggest game makers, left the Chicago area in 2008. She says her plan won’t cost taxpayers, as the credit only would apply once the number of employees goes above a certain level. But not everyone agrees with it. Some Republicans say the state should consider breaks for small businesses, including a roll back of the state’s income tax.

* Medicaid cuts threaten nursing home reforms, advocates say

* Thousands will feel pinch of Illinois’ Medicaid cuts

* Medicaid: Cuts Now, Some Revenue Soon?

* Lenders: High rates key to payday loan business

* Point: Gambling expansion bill is based on ‘supply and demand’

* Counterpoint: Gambling expansion bill is a continuation of failed policies

* Editorial: Put the skids on massive gambling expansion

* Beloit, Rockford casino supporters push ahead

* Word on the Street: Gaming laws catch officials unaware

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


Did Emanuel open the door to Cub deal?

Monday, May 28, 2012

* Sun-Times

It looks like the controversy over Joe Ricketts’ conservative politics won’t stand in the way of a $300 million deal to renovate Wrigley Field, but it could pave the way for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to play hardball with the Cubs.

With Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts running around doing damage control and admittedly in a weakened political position, it’s advantage Emanuel — which is precisely where Chicago’s controlling mayor likes to be. […]

Emanuel said “the point has been made” and that he sees no need to prolong the dispute, nor will he allow the controversy to sabotage Wrigley negotiations that were rounding third and heading home before Joe Ricketts started the political fire.

“We will [talk] at the appropriate time. … At the appropriate time, they’ll represent their interests, and I’ll represent the taxpayers,” the mayor said.

* Greg Hinz is a bit dubious, and so, by the way, am I

In his comments today, Mr. Emanuel is quoted as saying “the point has been made” and that he “will (talk to the team about Wrigley) at the appropriate time.”

I wouldn’t want to read too much into that. The “appropriate time” might never arrive.

But Tom Ricketts took it as a good sign.

In an interview earlier today on the Mully and Hanley Show on WSCR-AM/670, Mr. Ricketts said he had “pretty good discussions” with the city until the flap. “We need to keep going and put it behind us,” he said.

* And the Tribune wants it slow-walked

A Cubs deal needs to be vetted thoroughly and publicly, in the interest of not treating taxpayers as an ATM.

Take your time, get it right. And then let’s all have a long talk about it.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Sorry, Grover

Monday, May 28, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column was due before the House vote on the cigarette tax hike. So while there is no House vote total in the piece, the prediction was solid

As state legislative support for a cigarette tax hike grew in late May, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and other conservatives stepped into the Illinois fray.

A top House Republican said over a week ago that the roll call in favor of a dollar a pack cigarette tax hike was in the double digits within his caucus. The tax would raise $700 million, including the federal match, to help close the Medicaid program’s gaping $2.7 billion budget hole.

In return, Republicans won concessions from the Democrats, particularly when it came to sparing doctors from Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed Medicaid provider rate cuts.

For the past several decades, the House Republicans’ most reliable campaign supporter has been the Illinois State Medical Society. The House GOP always sticks with the docs, no matter what. The Medical Society was against last year’s workers’ compensation reform agreement that the Senate Republicans, including former gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, supported. The House Republicans sided with the doctors and took a hard line against it. The decision not to cut physicians’ Medicaid payment rates was a huge win for the House Republicans, so they agreed to put votes on the cigarette tax.

Norquist is probably best known for his anti-tax pledge that most Republican members of Congress have signed, and that he aggressively holds them to whenever they start thinking about revenue enhancements. Norquist first allied himself with tobacco companies in the 1990s as part of the national Republican effort to defeat President Bill Clinton’s health care proposal, which was funded in part by a cigarette tax hike. He has since fought against cigarette tax hikes in numerous states.

Cigarette tax hikes are by far the most popular tax increases with the public. A poll of southern Illinois voters taken by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute last year found that 60 percent of them backed a dollar a pack tax hike. A statewide poll taken in 2010 found that 74 percent of Illinoisans - including 71 percent of Republicans - supported a dollar per pack tax increase.

But Joshua Culling, the state-affairs manager for Norquist’s group, wrote that Cross’ caucus could “ruin the GOP brand in the state for a generation” if it backed the cigarette tax increase. “Tom Cross seems content to cut a deal that will further imperil Illinois’s economic outlook while simultaneously eroding the national party’s messaging on the toxicity of Obamacare,” Culling wrote.

Since April, Cross has done several public events outside Springfield and Chicago to urge that President Obama’s health care reform bill be repealed and said he was adamantly opposed to any moves in Illinois to implement the federal law. That refusal led directly to the death of a bipartisan effort by Democratic state Rep. Frank Mautino to set up a health insurance exchange in Illinois.

But Cross’ attempts at appeasing his party’s right wing apparently didn’t go far enough. In a letter sent to supporters, the Illinois Policy Institute’s director singled out Leader Cross for criticism, saying the Medicaid proposal “destroys the credibility of leaders who talk about economic freedom only to vote in favor of more heavy-handed government.”

And the United Republican Fund, one of the oldest and most conservative GOP organizations in the state, also sent out a press release about the Medicaid compromise and the cigarette tax hike. “The time has come for legislators to stop being the unwitting (or intentional) co-conspirators in the slow demise of our great state. The time has come for leadership and courage. For statesmen instead of politicians. For competence instead of compromise.”

The Republican Party’s more pragmatic, governing wing has been in full retreat for the past few years as national politics has invaded state government as part of the GOP’s messaging against the President from Illinois. That aggressive national push has resulted in far more Illinois Statehouse partisanship, so legislators who supported cigarette tax increases in the past, like Senate Republican Leader Chris Radogno, are now vocally against any tax hike of any sort. Her caucus is even against a proposal to close a loophole that allows commercial roll your own cigarette operations to avoid most state sales taxes.

But, in Illinois, some things still trump national party interests. The Medical Society is one of those things. Sorry, Grover. You may have all the Washington, DC Republicans scared out of their wits, but things are a little different here.

* Related…

* The Medicaid money trail?: Roughly 16 percent of the state’s 47,000 doctors aren’t signed up for the program. Even among those who are, the overwhelming majority infrequently see patients, leaving the care concentrated in the hands of a few, according to a Crain’s analysis of payment records. About 25 percent of Medicaid doctors account for just 0.4 percent of the $2.8 billion paid from 2009 through 2011 and make less than $1,400 a year in the program, Crain’s finds. At the other end, the top 10 percent of Medicaid earners received more than 55 percent of the total payments, making at least $70,000 a year, the analysis shows. The shortage of doctors, particularly specialists, is likely to get worse, experts say. In 2014, an estimated 611,000 additional residents will be eligible for Medicaid, a 22 percent increase over the 2.7 million people with full benefits under the Illinois program. Meanwhile, the rising number of aging baby boomers already is increasing demand for doctors.

* IL House approves cigarette tax hike

* House OKs cigarette tax hike

* Illinois House OKs higher cigarette tax

* Illinois poised to hike cigarette tax by $1 a pack to fund healthcare

* House approves cigarette tax increase

* Governor Pat Quinn Statement on House of Representatives Passage of Cigarette Tax

* House Votes To Make Smokers Pay More

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


*** LIVE SESSION COVERAGE ***

Monday, May 28, 2012

* Blackberry users click here

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


And, we’re back…

Monday, May 28, 2012

* The House is in at noon, the Senate returns at 2 o’clock. Committee are scheduled until 4 o’clock. Here are some late Morning Shorts from my intern Owen Irwin…

* `You shouldn’t be a legislator!’ Illinois lawmaker tells colleague: “I want to know why you’re allowed to do something when someone else isn’t,” Mulligan said in floor debate, looking across the House chamber at Sente. Mulligan suggested that “because you’re considered a target, you’re getting special treatment” from the Democratic leadership of the House. A “target” is an incumbent who the other party considers to be weak enough to possibly be defeated in the next election. As a Democrat from the northern suburbs of Chicago, Sente is part of an endangered species. After Mulligan pressed Sente on whether that was the reason she was being allowed to sponsor the popular legislation, Sente shook her head slightly and didn’t respond. That angered Mulligan, who said to rising shouts from both sides of the chamber: “You should answer questions or you shouldn’t be a legislator!”

* State legislators clamp down on student loan defaulters

* Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon: State needs long-term investment in students

* Finke: Tuition waivers up until end

* Erickson: Scholarships, pay hard cuts to make

* Business incentives transparency bill goes to Quinn

* Quinn gets bill giving courts access to HIV results

* Illinois woman can’t be sued over fake online personas

* Schoenberg sales-tax fraud measure would recover millions, prosecute offenders

* Invasive plants targeted in new boating law

* Bernard Schoenburg: Durbin likes how campaign is unfolding

* Unemployment Falls In Illinois Metro Areas

* Health Advocates Push For Carbon Emission Standards At Coal Plants

* Editorial: Pay Chicago cops overtime for NATO summit duty

* Judge who dropped out of race appointed to seat

* Community Leaders, Funding Partners Celebrate Groundbreaking for Myers Place – a New $13.2 Million Housing Development in Northwest Suburban Chicago

- Posted by Rich Miller   2 Comments      


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