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*** UPDATED x1 *** Preckwinkle to endorse Hutchinson

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* I told subscribers about this earlier today

In what some observers say is a surprise move, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle won’t be backing her one-time cabinet member Robin Kelly in the 2nd Congressional race, but will throw her significant political weight behind state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields).

Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times on Monday that she believed Hutchinson – not Kelly – had the muscle to win the race.

“It was a really tough decision to make. I had to make a difficult choice between two people…” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times by phone, pausing for a moment. “But I had to pick the candidate who I thought could win.”

Preckwinkle declined to answer any more questions, saying she’d talk more at an afternoon news conference to announce her endorsement of Hutchinson.

Kelly, who was also a chief of staff to former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, was among Preckwinkle’s first hires when she won the November 2010 county board presidency. Kelly was earning $172,519 annually before stepping down in December to focus on campaigning for the seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.

*** UPDATE *** With a hat tip to a commenter, here is Robin Kelly’s response…

“Getting an A rating from the NRA might get you President Preckwinkle’s endorsement, but it won’t fly with the voters in the Second District. They want someone who will fight against the NRA not stand with them. Robin Kelly is the one candidate ready to stand with President Obama to bring common sense gun control to help families throughout Chicago and the Southland.”

A bit harsh, no?

- Posted by Rich Miller   48 Comments      


Today’s numbers, and a roundup

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* Not good

Between 2009 and 2012, Illinois slashed funding for community mental-health programs by more than 30 percent — more than all but three other states, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Even before those cuts, Illinois’ per capita spending on mental health was about $85 — well below the national average of about $123 per person, the group found.

The funding situation has made it difficult, if not impossible, for people who aren’t in crisis or eligible for Medicaid to enter the system, says Lora Thomas, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Illinois.

And while there’s no way to predict when a tragedy like the recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado might occur — or even if the perpetrator will be someone with a mental illness — the lack of resources in Illinois makes it less likely a mental-health provider could intervene.

“We absolutely know the system in Illinois is so broken there is no community-based system that could catch or prevent it,” Thomas said.

* Wow

The state of Michigan lost 42,000 union members from 2011 to 2012, the ninth largest drop in the country, according to a Jan. 23 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Illinois had the largest drop in the country with a loss of 75,000 union members.

Chart

Raw BLS data is here.

* That’s a lot of TIF districts, man

It has been 13 years since Illinois lawmakers approved a significant overhaul of the law that allows cities to create tax increment financing districts.

State Rep. John Bradley, a Democrat from Marion, plans to introduce legislation this spring to bring changes to the state’s TIF laws.

A year ago, TIF reform shepherded by Bradley ran aground amid disagreements by those involved in the locally managed economic development program that continues to surge in popularity.

At the end of 1990, there were 238 TIF districts in the state. By 2006, that number had grown to nearly 1,000. Now the number stands at 1,221, according to figures collected by the Illinois comptroller’s office. […]

Under Bradley’s proposal, cities would be required to submit annual reports that would include the jobs created or kept within the district; tightened control over the transfer of funds between TIF districts; required cities to return any surplus TIF funds to taxing districts within the TIF; require property tax bills to reflect when a property is included in a TIF district; and created a state website so people could look up information about individual districts.

* This was a ton of money spent for a hat that may not have belonged to Lincoln

For the next six months, the presidential museum honoring Abraham Lincoln wants visitors to believe one thing when they see the iconic $6.5 million beaver-fur stovepipe hat put on display this past week.

The hat was his. Really.

To mark Lincoln’s 204th birthday, the museum is bringing the hat out of storage for the first time since the Chicago Sun-Times last April questioned the prized showpiece’s authenticity and for the first time disclosed holes in its provenance.

But not even the slightest doubt is reflected on the sign now attached to the hat’s display case. The placard that went up with the hat on Wednesday explains its background in eight sentences, noting that only three of Lincoln’s famous stovepipe hats are known to exist: “2 silk ones from his last days of life, and this.”

“There’s no deception at all,” said Chris Wills, a spokesman for the museum.

* Related and a roundup…

* Chicago’s growth trails most big cities

* Springfield session begins with full plate of money woes

* Tom Kacich: Jakobsson to push graduated income tax

* Stunt bill not a stunt?

* Fraud concerns linger over new Ill. license law

* Illinois illegal immigrant driver’s licenses available in 10 months

* Gov. Quinn signs bill that lets illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses

* Proposal seeks to clear air about smoking in beer gardens: Koehler’s proposal would require that one side of the enclosed area be constructed with material that allows smoke to pass through. But material that allows smoke to pass through hasn’t been defined in building or architectural codes, Schafer said.

* IL House Considering Hydraulic Fracturing Regs

* Continental Tire plans expansion in Illinois

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* From the Senate Democrats

Nearly 1 million workers in 10 states rang in the new year with an increase in pay, thanks to those states raising their minimum wage.

Illinois’ minimum wage, however, remains at $8.25, where it’s been since 2010. Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) has been working to change that.

Of the 10 states, only one raised its minimum wage because of new legislation. The other nine raised their minimum wages automatically because of existing laws that require annual adjustments to keep pace with inflation, a process known as indexing.

Illinois’ minimum wage is not indexed, however, and minimum-wage workers have seen their purchasing power erode because of it. To match the purchasing power the minimum wage had in 1968, when spending power was at its highest, Illinois would have to raise it to $10.58, according to the latest figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

* The Question: Should Illinois’ minimum wage be indexed to inflation? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.


online surveys

- Posted by Rich Miller   56 Comments      


Why Pat Brady is walking the plank

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Talk to just about any top Illinois Republican these days off the record and they’ll freely admit that they want the bill legalizing gay marriage to be approved as soon as possible.

It’s not that they’re necessarily in favor of gay marriage, mind you. Many of them are publicly and privately opposed.

Some of them do support it, even though they don’t feel they can vote for it because it might destroy their careers in the next GOP primary.

The reason so many Republicans would like to see the bill passed is because they know that with the huge, new Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, that it’s eventually going to pass anyway.

They want to get this issue out of the way and behind them as soon as possible. The issue is trending hard against the GOP’s historical opposition, and they want the thing off the table before it starts to hurt them.

In 2005, a statewide poll taken for the Illinois Policy Survey by Northern Illinois University found that 31 percent of Illinoisans supported gay marriage, while 34 percent backed civil unions and 29 percent were opposed to any legal recognition.

Five years later, in 2010, a poll by Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found little change in the public’s attitudes — 34 percent supported gay marriage, 34 percent backed civil unions and 27 percent wanted no legal recognition.

But then things began changing fast. By 2012, the Paul Simon Institute’s annual poll had support for gay marriage at 44 percent. Opposition to all legal recognition was down to just 20 percent, while backing for the civil unions status quo was at 32 percent.

A Public Policy Polling survey taken last month had support for gay marriage at 47 percent, with opposition at 42 percent. Worse yet for the Republicans, 58 percent of people under 45 backed gay marriage, while 37 percent were against it. And 54 percent of women backed the idea, compared with 37 percent opposed.

Republicans and Democrats expect this trend to continue. By 2014, people figure that a solid majority of Illinoisans will support gay marriage.

The Republicans don’t want to be on the wrong side of another hot-button issue during the statewide election that year. They also don’t want it coming up in their primary election races that spring.

Except for things such as the state income tax increase, which was designed to be “temporary,” what’s done is usually considered done in politics.

The gay-marriage issue is causing some serious short-term divisiveness within the Republican Party ranks. Social conservatives such as freshman state Sen. Jim Oberweis and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh have called for state Republican chairman Pat Brady’s head for publicly lobbying on behalf of the gay marriage bill.

The quicker this thing gets resolved, goes the reasoning, the quicker the white-hot war will end and the quicker the party can move along to other, less divisive issues such as taxes.

The Republicans want to make repealing the 2011 income tax hike (from 3 percent to 5 percent) a centerpiece of the 2014 election. The higher tax is set to expire in January 2015, less than two months after that election.

But if the GOP gets too bogged down in too many social issues where they are on the “wrong” side of public opinion, its candidates won’t stand much of a chance.

Anyway, that’s why Brady was sent out to walk the plank on the gay-marriage issue this month. Yes, he does personally support gay marriage, but he undoubtedly wouldn’t have gone so public with his support if party leaders were not encouraging him behind the scenes.

And the party’s top dogs, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and its top two legislative leaders, want this thing taken care of so they can move beyond it, even though they may not actually vote for the bill when it gets to the floor.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) will be a “no” vote on the bill, for example, but she didn’t try to stop Brady when he checked in with her before his public support of it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Kelly demands Halvorson and Hutchinson release NRA questionnaires

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* From a press release…

Robin Kelly, candidate for Illinois’ second Congressional district, today called on her opponents, former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson and State Senator Toi Hutchinson, to publically release their National Rifle Association questionnaires they filled out in previous elections.

“I am calling on my opponents to release their previous NRA questionnaires so that the people of the second Congressional district know what promises they have made to the NRA, and how they earned their ‘A’ ratings,” Robin Kelly said. “I earned a lifetime ‘F’ rating from the NRA and I could not be more proud of that fact. The voters deserve to know how Toi and Debbie both earned ‘A’s’ from the pro-gun lobby, which is notoriously known for only issuing ‘A’s’ to its very strongest supporters.”

“It is a tragedy that we have lost so many lives in Chicago and the Southland to gun violence, including losing seven lives this Saturday alone. We have to stop the violence and get the guns off the streets. I am the only candidate in the race with the record of fighting against gun violence. I am ready to work with President Obama to take on the NRA and protect our communities.”

Robin Kelly is the only candidate in the race to issue a five-point pledge to combat gun violence and has earned an ‘F’ rating with the NRA. Both Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson scored high ratings with the NRA in previous elections, but have yet to release the candidate questionnaires that earned them high ratings from the pro-gun group.

* The gun issue was highlighted in today’s Tribune

Debbie Halvorson found herself alone among leading Democratic candidates Sunday when she indicated she would not support a ban on the semi-automatic firearm used in the Sandy Hook school shooting last month. […]

“We’ve buried far too many of our own children over the years — every day. When are we going to go after the criminals? When are we going to go after the people who buy guns for those who aren’t able to go get their backgrounds checked? We need to strengthen the laws we already have instead of keep talking about new ones,” Halvorson said at the forum at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St.

“We need to do more about the criminals. Cook County has an assault weapons ban. We have the highest amount of murders in the country. Let’s do more about enforcing the laws we have at the same time doing more about keeping our streets safe,” she said, adding she backs a universal background check and tougher criminal penalties on straw purchasers. […]

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, of Olympia Fields, who replaced Halvorson in the state Senate, also has had NRA backing in the past. Hutchinson, who did not attend the forum, has embraced Obama’s call for tougher gun measures and co-sponsored a bill in Springfield to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

* Politico also had a story

Now, black leaders — concerned about Halvorson’s position atop polls — say they’re prepared to make gun control the central issue in the contest. The goal is to paint her as an NRA ally who’s too conservative for the seat and insensitive to Chicago’s rising tide of gun violence.

“The NRA gives Debbie Halvorson an ‘A’ rating,” said Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and gun control activist in Chicago who is supporting one of Halvorson’s opponents. “That tells me she should not be the representative from the 2nd District. If she gets an ‘A’ rating from the NRA, she gets an ‘F’ from me.”

Though she has described herself as a conservative Democrat, Halvorson voted with her party more than 90 percent of the time in Congress. She backed a cap-and-trade bill as well as President Barack Obama’s health care and economic stimulus measures. The onetime cosmetics saleswoman is pitching herself to voters as an experienced hand who can hit the ground running in Washington after Jackson’s long-running troubles that ended with his resignation in November.

But it’s her stance on guns that’s drawing the most attention.

* It’s not just Halvorson, though. The Kelly folks are zeroing in on Hutchinson as well. For instance

After being appointed to Debbie Halvorson’s state senate seat in 2010 Hutchinson received an A- rating from the NRA Political Victory fund, the highest rating for a candidate without a record of gun votes at the time. Until her current run, she has listed the NRA endorsement on her website. The NRA gave her a 92% rating for the 2012 cycle.

In her 2010 campaign, Hutchinson aggressively struck back against accusations from her Republican opponent that she was not pro-gun enough. In fact, Hutchinson released a statement to the press saying:

• “Law-abiding citizens don’t need any more infringements on their constitutional right to protect their families and their property.”
• “I know that my stance on gun rights isn’t the consensus in my party, but above all else, I represent the 40th district; a diverse district that is representative of the State of Illinois,” said Hutchinson. “I’m clear about our right to keep and bear arms, and I’ve been recognized for that.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   60 Comments      


We’re not like Greece because we fight it out in the courts?

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* A Lee Newspapers story about the high number of court fights over the state budget included this choice quote from the governor’s budget office

But, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, who is among a handful of Republicans mulling a second bid for governor in 2014, said previous governors have managed to deal with financial problems without the courts playing such a high profile role.

Dillard, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Jim Edgar during an economic downturn in the early 1990s, said Edgar worked across the partisan aisle to forge agreements that would reduce the budget in a legal way.

“(Quinn) is not a good manager, and he doesn’t have the legislative allies who will help him,” Dillard said. “The lawsuits are symbolic of the chaos in Springfield. There has never been such a blizzard of lawsuits against the governor or the state of Illinois than like now.”

[Abdon Pallasch, spokesman for the governor’s budget office] said lawsuits are a part of the process.

“In Greece, the government tries to cut back and people take to the streets and throw firebombs and burn down buildings. Here we go to court,” he said.

Oy.

* Related…

* Illinois Credit Rating Lowered by S&P as Pension Costs Rise: The move affects $26.6 billion of debt, according to Robin Prunty, an S&P analyst. It leaves Illinois’s bond grade six levels below AAA and ties it with California as S&P’s lowest- rated state. The combination of the pension burden and budgetary stresses may push Illinois closer to speculative grade, the company said.

* IL Bond Rating Sinks To Worst In Nation

* Discontinuation of relief programs hits home - Circuit Breaker, Rx seekers come up short

* The first system to be insolvent? GARS

* Illinois Tops ‘Job Blackmail’ List For Deals That Cost Taxpayers Money And, Potentially, Jobs

* 10-year-old state debts plague Galesburg detention center

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      


Sun-Times: Mike Madigan = Frank Sinatra, Lisa = Nancy

Monday, Jan 28, 2013

* From the Sun-Times editorial page

How could anybody believe that a Gov. Lisa Madigan is really running the show when Mike — the proud father who paved the way for her career — remains the powerful speaker of the House?

Mike Madigan would carry Lisa in Springfield the way Frank Sinatra carried Nancy when they sang “Somethin’ Stupid.”

Illinois would have itself a Gov. Madigan. But would it be Lisa or Mike?

* Lyrics

I know I stand in line until you think you have the time
To spend an evening with me
And if we go someplace to dance, I know that there’s a chance
You won’t be leaving with me
And afterwards we drop into a quiet little place and have a drink or two
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like “I love you”

* Video

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   60 Comments      


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Monday, Jan 28, 2013

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