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Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* I’ve posted a Jamey Johnson tune before, but I’m really becoming a big fan of his. Turn it up

Promises break like an egg on the hot asphalt

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Durbin: Schilling’s prison money doesn’t exist

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* As we’ve already discussed, Congressman Bobby Schilling claims there is $75 million in the federal Bureau of Prisons budget that could be used to buy the Thomson prison from Illinois.

Schilling wants the state to lower its asking price from $165 million down to $75 million to make the deal happen. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf has held up the sale over fears that the Obama administration wants to house Gitmo terrorists in the facility, even though there’s a federal law against that. Schilling insists that the administration could tap into the $75 million without having to go through Wolf.

* Well, US Sen. Dick Durbin’s office contacted me today via e-mail to say that the $75 million figure is a figment of Schilling’s imagination…

We checked in with the Bureau of Prisons and they again made clear that there is no funding currently in their budget that amounts to $75 million which would not need the approval of both House and Senate appropriators in order to be used for the purchase of Thomson prison. So the funding that has been cited by Congressman Schilling’s office would need the approval of Congressman Wolf who, up to this point, has not indicated that price is a problem.

If Durbin is right, then Schilling’s gonna get hammered by his local media… again.

* Durbin’s office also released the text of a letter he sent to Congressman Wolf…

Dear Congressman Wolf:

Today, in your capacity as Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, you again received a reprogramming request from the Department of Justice for federal funding to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Carroll County, Illinois, from the State of Illinois. I write in strong support of that request and to urge you to approve this important reprogramming as soon as possible.

We are both aware of the history of this project. Despite your rejection of a similar reprogramming request in May 2011, I believe a close examination of today’s reprogramming will demonstrate the issues that were of concern to you more than a year ago have been addressed by Administration officials, including funding sources.

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration has clearly restated that they will not seek to transfer any detainees from U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Thomson. As you know, current federal law prohibits these transfers. In addition, Attorney General Holder committed, under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 12, 2012, that no detainee transfers would take place to Thomson no matter the state of the law.

The Department of Justice, working with the Office of Management and Budget, has identified existing funds that could be used for the purchase of Thomson and that this reprogramming is acceptable to your Senate counterpart, Senator Barbara Mikulski.

Senator Mark Kirk and I have repeatedly pointed out that the sale of the Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government enjoys broad-based local and state support. It will lead to significant economic development in the region, including more than 1,100 jobs. The Bureau of Prisons believes that the acquisition of Thomson will help alleviate the safety problems associated with serious federal prison overcrowding, currently running higher than 50 percent over rated capacity, and especially help increase the safety of the system’s prison guards.

I hope you will act promptly to approve this reprogramming request. I will work with you and the Illinois Congressional Delegation to open the Thomson Correctional Center as a federal maximum security prison in the near future.

- Posted by Rich Miller   2 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Question of the day

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* Wordslinger sent me an e-mail today that’s worth posting…

The summer Olympics begin today in swingin’ London and some Illinois athletes rate a shout out.

Ellis Coleman, the pride of Oak Park, is the most dangerous Greco wrestler in the world. He may be skinny, but I can assure you from personal experience, the dude eats a lot. Check out his signature move, the “Flying Squirrel,” as demonstrated on this poor Bulgarian last year at the World Championships.

Wow. Just, wow

* Back to Wordslinger’s e-mail…

Also, the James Gang, 6′5″ twins from DeKalb High, who walked on at Wisconsin, are going for the gold in rowing.

I know — twins, DeKalb, Wisconsin, rowing, Olympics — not exactly the usual daydream when you’re walking the row detasseling corn. But it’s for real.

More on the James brothers here.

* The Question: What sports and athletes will you be watching during the Olympics? Explain, please. Thanks.

*** UPDATE *** I completely forgot to post this link to US Sen. Mark Kirk’s listing of all Illinois Olympic athletes. Click here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      


Howard records subpoenaed after resignation - Burke scholarship records sought - Federal courts reporter named new political reporter

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* There’s new evidence that the feds are currently interested in retired Chicago Democratic state Rep. Connie Howard

Federal authorities are widening their probe of a newly retired South Side lawmaker with a fresh subpoena seeking records of a scholarship named in her honor and of an Illinois House committee she once chaired.

Democratic Rep. Constance Howard sent in a resignation letter dated July 6. The new subpoena, dated July 18, requested records to or from the “Constance A. ‘Connie’ Howard Technology Scholarship Fund,” including grants or disbursements awarded to that fund.

Prosecutors also called for “notes, minutes of meetings, transcripts of meetings or reports issued by the Computer Technology Committee” for the years 2000 through 2007, which includes a period when Howard chaired the panel. […]

The Tribune obtained the subpoena under an open records request. The House clerk also provided a 2010 subpoena that requested a variety of financial records from Howard’s 34th District. The subpoena sought vouchers, employee time sheets and written and electronic communication for a time period from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

That July 18th subpoena was issued a week after I first reported that she was resigning. The feds don’t often give a heads up when they’re about to subpoena people, so the resignation and the subpoena aren’t yet connected, as a Tribune headline proclaimed the other day.

* Meanwhile, I put this into the subscriber section this week and neglected to post it in the public section, but the feds are taking a closer look at Rep. Dan Burke

College tuition waivers awarded by a member of one of Chicago’s best-known political clans are under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury probing possible abuses in the state’s soon-to-be-dismantled legislative scholarship program.

The grand jury in Chicago subpoenaed State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), brother of Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and brother-in-law to Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, making the veteran House Democrat at least the third known current or former lawmaker whose waivers are being probed by the feds.

The March 21 subpoena, released by the Illinois House in response to an open-records request by the Chicago Sun-Times, seeks “all information” about “Representative Daniel J. Burke’s procedures for the establishment, awarding and operation of the Illinois General Assembly Scholarship.”

The federal government’s request to Burke also seeks records “pertaining to receipt of any funds or gift in connection with the award of the scholarship, including the identity of any person/entity giving any funds or gift, the amount or gift received, and the date received.”

* And this looks like as good a place as any to tell you I’ve just been told that Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki will be the paper’s new political reporter. She’ll replace Abdon Pallasch, who is leaving to work for the Quinn administration.

Chicago federal courts reporters know politics because, obviously, they cover a whole lot of federal corruption investigations/prosecutions/etc. of Illinois politicians.

Korecki also covered politics for the Daily Herald and knows the Statehouse as well. She’s top notch. She’ll do well.

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      


Quinn gives “permission” for company to move thousands of jobs from Libertyville to Chicago

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* You may have read that Motorola Mobility is moving its corporate headquarters from Libertyville to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart

Motorola Mobility will move its Libertyville headquarters — and 3,000 workers — to downtown Chicago, taking the top four floors and rooftop of the Merchandise Mart and becoming the landmark building’s largest tenant with 600,000 square feet, Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday. […]

Gov. Pat Quinn said at a news conference in Deerfield that he gave Google “permission” to move from Libertyville to downtown Chicago, since that was the location Google preferred.

* This is why he apparently had to give permission

In 2011, after considering a headquarters move to California or Texas, Motorola Mobility struck an agreement with the state to maintain a local workforce of 2,500 in exchange for more than $100 million in tax credits over 10 years. That agreement remained in place after the Google acquisition.

* More from Gov. Quinn

“I told their CEO we expect them to work very hard here in Lake County (and) Libertyville to help all those people who are working for Motorola now be able to get down to their jobs in downtown Chicago and if they have to use extra transportation to do it, so be it. And we also want to make sure we work with Libertyville and Lake County to get a new company to replace Motorola on their campus here in Lake County. It’s a very good place to do business,” Quinn said, pointing to companies like Abbott Laboratories near North Chicago and Baxter Healthcare in Deerfield.

He said he wants to make sure Lake County continues to thrive economically.

“But the bottom line is we want to keep the jobs in Illinois,” Quinn said. “It’s important to have good technology jobs in Illinois that spawn other jobs for many, many different people. The pairing of Google and Motorola Mobility, I think, will be one that will hopefully create jobs for many people for years to come.”

* But Rep. Ed Sullivan, who represents Libertyville, is not a happy camper

State Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, complained that Quinn, a Democrat, didn’t tell local leaders in advance about the move and said Quinn was “placating Chicago at the expense of the suburbs.”

“The governor was very quick to ask for help passing the incentive package to keep Motorola in Illinois,” Sullivan said, “but was nowhere to be heard of when he stabbed Libertyville in the back.”

* Sullivan also noted the “irony” of the House roll call on the Motorola Mobility tax incentive

Twenty people voted against the tax breaks. At least 16 are lawmakers from Cook County.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Politicians and gay marriage

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* There was a small protest this week in Mount Vernon against a county board resolution against gay marriage

A rainbow-colored flag flew in front of Jefferson County Courthouse on Monday as dozens of people gathered to protest a recent county board resolution that affirmed its “defense of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman.”

* The resolution’s sponsor defended his action

County Board Vice Chairman Wayne Hails, who asked that the resolution be brought before the board, remained committed to its message, despite the crowd protesting it outside the county board’s meeting in the courthouse.

Hails said he would sit down for a discussion with people who support gay marriage but “I would not reconsider my opinion. It’s still my belief and the belief of the vast majority of the people I represent.” […]

“I don’t agree with their opinion of same-sex marriage,” he said. “The vast, vast majority of the people I represent believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”

* But a 2010 poll of southern Illinoisans found that less than half of the respondents opposed gay marriage

* And a 2012 poll of southern Illinoisans found that even fewer people were against gay marriage

Asked their position on same-sex marriage in Illinois, a little over one in five (22 percent) chose the option “gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry.” A third (32 percent) chose “gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to form civil unions, but not to legally marry”; and four in 10 (40 percent) chose “there should be no legal recognition of relationships between gay and lesbian couples.” [Emphasis added.]

Now, it’s possible that in Hails’ district the “vast, vast majority” of residents oppose gay marriage. But if they’re even close to the mainstream of southern Illinois thought, they’re rapidly moving away from that position.

The lesson here is that if you want to oppose gay marriage based on your own ideology, then go for it. But you probably shouldn’t rely on public opinion as a justification because it appears to be moving away from you.

* All that being said, something has been really grating on me for the past few days

The anti-gay views openly espoused by the president of a fast food chain specializing in chicken sandwiches have run afoul of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a local alderman, who are determined to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in Chicago.

“Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values,” Emanuel said Wednesday.

That’s just a preposterous and outrageous thing for any mayor to say.

I mean, what if a socially conservative southern Illinois mayor had decided to block Best Buy from obtaining a zoning permit to build a store in his town because the company had contributed to pro-gay marriage efforts?

And what about all the conservative Catholic business owners in Chicago? Should they all be subjected to ideological purity tests before they get a city permit?

Chick-fil-A has no discernible record of anti-gay business practices. They don’t refuse to hire gay people. They don’t refuse to serve gay customers. The CEO has said marriage should be between a man and a woman and has given some money to groups who believe that way as well. If you don’t want to go to that restaurant, then by all means don’t. If you want to help boycott the restaurant chain, then get involved. But unless there’s some illegal act here, government should stay the heck away from these sorts of purity tests when granting zoning permits.

*** UPDATE *** As usual, the Illinois Republican Party found a way to blame Speaker Madigan

The Illinois Republican Party started fund-raising off of the Chick-fil-A controversy, on Friday, promising a $5 Chick-fil-A gift card to people who donate at least $10. […]

In making the appeal the state GOP said, “Obama’s fellow Madigan-backed Chicago Democratic politicians have stooped to a new low in trying to silence a business owner, Chick-fil-A, by trying to block their business license simply for expressing an opinion that they disagree with.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      


Caption contest!

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* Here we have GOP congressional candidate Jason Plummer with retired USAF Captain Scott O’Grady. O’Grady’s story about being shot down in Bosnia was made into a movie called “Behind Enemy Lines,” starring Owen Wilson…

Consider this as just another present for our old pal Oswego Willy.

…Adding… I should’ve noted that this is a gift to OW because he won Monday’s caption contest.

- Posted by Rich Miller   83 Comments      


Minimum security inmates being moved out of Tamms

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* Frankly, I’m kind of ashamed to say that I didn’t even know Tamms had a minimum security prison camp

Inmates are moving out of Tamms Correctional Center’s minimum-security camp in advance of the prison’s Aug. 31 closure date.

Maximum-security inmate transfers have not begun, nor has a start date for those transfers been set, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.

Solano said about 30 minimum-security inmates were being moved Thursday from Tamms to the Hardin County Work Camp, on Illinois 1 in Cave-in-Rock. Solano said 145 minimum-security inmates remain at Tamms.

“The remaining minimum-security inmates will be appropriately transferred across the system in the coming weeks,” Solano said. “IDOC will implement the closures responsibly and in a way that prioritizes public safety and security while minimizing the impact on staff and inmates.”

Hardin County Work Camp was opened in 1980. Solano said there are 230 inmates, counting the new arrivals from Tamms. The facility’s capacity is 288 inmates, Solano said.

* Apparently, things can get pretty hairy at minimum security prisons

Last Thursday, a near-riot broke out at a minimum-security prison in the Illinois Quad-Cities shortly after the facility lost both power and running water. When prisoners erupted in anger and refused to return to their cells, a tactical team was deployed, threatening prisoners with tear gas until they submitted. The prison was placed on full lockdown until Saturday evening.

Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) spokeswoman Stacey Solano told the Quad-City Times that repair crews accidentally severed a set of power lines Thursday night while attempting to fix a water main break at the East Moline Correctional Center (EMCC).

Gregg Johnson, a prison supply supervisor and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 46, which represents local prison employees, told the Moline Dispatch that the drawn-out heat wave and overcrowding have exacerbated tensions among prisoners. “Correctional officers told me they have never seen anything like it. All hell broke loose.”

According to Johnson, after the facility lost power, enraged prisoners began throwing tables and chairs against windows in the day room. When told to return to their cells, they began chanting, “Hell, no, we won’t go!”

* Meanwhile, I’m not quite understanding the uproar made by some legislators about transferring prisoners out of state. We belong to an interstate compact, so we send prisoners to other states regularly, and they do the same with their prisoners. The only cost is transportation. And if we can get some of our most notorious prisoners out of here, why not do it? Why spend huge dollars, for instance, to keep them incarcerated at Tamms?

The proposal to move prisoners has state lawmakers questioning the cost of inmate transfers and whether or not Illinois’ remaining prisons will be able to hold inmates from Tamms Correctional Center and the all-women Dwight Correctional Center, both of which Quinn said he wants to close on Aug. 31 to save an estimated $48 millions.

“Our correction system is already greatly overpopulated,” said state Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, whose district includes the Dwight Correctional Center. “If the governor is choosing to close prisons that is going to further aggravate that system.”

But in an effort to avoid some of that aggravation, the governor is opting to move prisoners out of the system completely, Barickman said.

“First and foremost the ability of our state to house our criminals is a core function of the government that I believe should be provided by our state government,” Barickman said.

The argument just seems phony and contrived to me. Anything to kick up dust over the prison closures, I suppose.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      


A truly messed up situation

Friday, Jul 27, 2012

* My Sun-Times column

I spent some time at my Uncle Kenny’s house in Ashkum last weekend. We went to the Iroquois County Fair, which is like taking a step back in time.

The fair hasn’t changed much at all since I was a kid. They still don’t allow alcohol on the clean grounds where kids safely run free.

I was at that fair every day back when I was growing up, often accompanied by my Uncle Kenny.

I’m the oldest of five sons, so Kenny was like my big brother growing up. It was a nostalgic weekend, and it felt like old times.

Kenny worked hard all of his life, putting in more overtime hours as a state groundskeeper during blizzards and mowing season than I could count, and he finally retired after then-Gov. George Ryan signed early retirement legislation shortly before leaving office.

I insisted that Kenny take the early out because I knew incoming Gov. Rod Blagojevich was a vindictive little jerk. I told Kenny I had a strong feeling that things were going to get rough with this guy and if Rod ever found out that I had a state employee relative, then either Kenny would be in a world of hurt or I’d be put in a very difficult spot, or both.

Kenny mows lawns to supplement his modest state pension. He’s not one of the few greedheads you read about all the time. Kenny followed the rules, he didn’t game them. You’d think by reading some of the media coverage that all public employee retirees have huge incomes and laugh at the taxpayers every time a bloated pension check arrives in their gold-plated mailboxes.

Not true.

Kenny doesn’t charge much for his side jobs, but he may have to raise his rates soon.

We as a state have a problem. A big problem. For at least 60 years, Illinois has never consistently made its full payments to the pension systems and kept promising to pay out more benefits than it could afford.

A payment plan approved in the 1990s kicked the solution down the road, but the resulting payments ended up being so high that Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly decided not to make them. So, now we’re even deeper in the hole, and last year’s $7 billion income tax increase couldn’t solve the problem.

If the current pension reform package that’s on the table becomes law, my Uncle Kenny will have to make some difficult choices about whether to give up his compounded cost of living increases every year or his state subsidized health insurance. He’ll survive, but it’ll hurt.

Nothing stays the same, I suppose. I used to bring a steer to the fair every year and competed against dozens of fellow 4-H members. But the competition eventually got out of hand. Parents were spending small fortunes to gain even a slight advantage for their kids’ animals. This year, only a few steers were shown. Times are just too tough to be spending that much cash.

But we as a state can’t just stop making pension payments because the costs are too high and times are too difficult. Another way has to be found.

The taxpayers have done their part to address the pension deficit with that income tax increase, which is about equal to a week’s pay every year. The retirees (who pay no state income taxes on their pensions) and the active employees are going to have to pitch in to save the system.

This situation truly sucks. People like my uncle shouldn’t have to be targeted. But so far, I’ve seen no other way to do it.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   63 Comments      


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Friday, Jul 27, 2012

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


« NEWER POSTS PREVIOUS POSTS »
* Reader comments closed until Tuesday
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Tribune asked 16 mayoral candidates to release tax returns, 6 complied
* A rough idea of what they're looking at
* Question of the day: Golden Horseshoe Awards
* Rauner was wrong about "record levels" of unionization
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Stava-Murray updates
* Pritzker's inauguration ball tix will benefit Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic and Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation
* Rauner claims he's been too busy to reflect on his term
* Pritzker's day in DC
* *** UPDATED x3 - Morrison wants emergency meeting of ILGOP - McConnaughay explains - Schneider responds *** Rauner says he tried to drop out of race after primary
* Feds re-raid Ald. Burke's office
* *** LIVE COVERAGE ***
* Yesterday's stories

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