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Question of the day

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* I’ve seen Senate President Pro Tempore Don Harmon play guitar. I’ve gone to several gigs by Reps. Mike Tryon and Chad Hays (although I missed last night’s performance). I didn’t know that Rep. Martwick played in a band, however

Robert F. Martwick, Illinois House of Representative, 19th District, sported a different persona Sat., Apr. 27, when he and the Chris N group rocked in Phyllis’ Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division St.

While Martwick tucked the guitar away when he was close to 9-years-old and when years later he told his bride that he wasn’t going to run for a political office again, Saturday night was proof that life can take unexpected turns.

The photo…

* The Question: Caption?

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


This just in… Madigan files pension reform proposal

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* 11:58 am - House Speaker Michael Madigan has filed a pension reform proposal. I’m still going through it, but I’m sure our pension experts out there can help figure out what’s in it. Click here to read the amendment (which was tacked onto Senate President Cullerton’s SB1) and make sure to comment below.

* 12:17 pm - I was given a quick briefing on the bill. Here are some of the highlights, but overall it’s somewhat pretty close to the Nekritz/Cross bill…

* The Tier 3 and cost shift language from Nekritz/Cross are out;

* COLA change is a “bit less onerous.” Instead of basing compounded COLA on only the first $25K of salary at retirement, this would provide a formula of $1k per year of service. So, if somebody worked 30 years, then the first $30K would qualify for compounded COLAs;

* The proposal’s Social Security wage cap is slightly lower than Nekritz/Cross. The cap is tied to the Tier 2 level. So, now the cap is $109k, which is a few grand lower and will grow more slowly;

* Retirement age, employee contribution levels are the same as Nekritz/Cross;

* State funding guarantee language is stronger than Nekritz/Cross - basically the same commitment as made to the bond houses.

- Posted by Rich Miller   107 Comments      


Fuel taxes and speed limits

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* Tom Kacich reports

Facing dwindling revenue from the state gasoline tax, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition will propose new motor fuel fees in May, an official with the group said Monday.

Among the possibilities being considered, said Jennifer Morrison, managing director of the coalition, are a surcharge on electric and hybrid vehicles and moving away from a per-gallon tax (now 19 cents a gallon) to a percentage-based tax that would bring in more money as the price of fuel increases. Morrison’s organization is a coalition of business, labor and transit groups interested in transportation funding issues.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now program is winding down, Morrison said, and the motor fuel tax, which funds state and local road projects, “is stagnant and declining, and at the same time, there is a dramatic increase in the cost of construction. That terrible dynamic (causes) … the incredibly diminished purchasing power of the motor fuel tax.

“Obviously, that’s not sustainable going forward. Cars are going to get increasingly fuel-efficient and are mandated to do so. We need to do something to fix that structural problem and investment in transportation.”

Switching the motor fuel tax to a percentage tax from a gallonage tax is a huge ask, to say the least. A couple of reacts

In order to afford those projects, lawmakers will look for places where the state is losing revenue. Representative Mike Bost says truckers are avoiding Illinois because of its higher gas tax and the state needs to try other techniques to bring in their business.

“That’s why we still need to maintain a sensible, competitive rate, for encouraging travel through the state of Illinois and we are losing a lot of those dollars that way,” explains Bost.

Representative Brandon Phelps says Chicago lawmakers want a bigger portion of the state’s transportation fund. Right now, it’s a 55/45 split favoring downstate projects. He says Chicago lawmakers want a 50/50 split.

“We can’t afford to let that happen,” says Phelps.

Translation: No higher taxes.

* Meanwhile, AAA is opposed to raising the speed limit to 70 mph

“The Illinois legislature should not ignore the enormous speeding problem Illinois already has on its roadways,” said Brad Roeber, president of AAA Chicago. “Speeding accounts for more than half of Illinois’ over 900 roadway fatalities, and this problem cannot be fixed by letting cars and trucks travel faster.”

The data on speeding are clear. From 2008-2011, Illinois’ roadway fatalities dropped 12 percent; but those fatalities due to speeding rose nearly 14 percent. Furthermore, in 2010 and 2011, Illinois speed limits for large trucks were raised to 65 mph. Over this time, there has been a 39 percent increase in fatalities involving large trucks.

* But the SJ-R argues that “There is no good argument for keeping Illinois’ speed limit at 65 under the parameters outlined in the bill”

Well, on Illinois’ rural interstates, the majority of drivers actually are traveling well over 65 mph — more like 70 to 75 mph. We’ve all seen it. Drive 65 or slower on I-55 and you run the risk of being blown off the highway, honked at or rudely gestured to. […]

Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, who sponsored the bill, said he doesn’t believe people who already speed now will just drive even faster if the limit is raised.

“I really don’t think so,” he said. “In fact, I would be willing to support a tighter enforcement of the speed limit.”

We agree with Oberweis. If officials are concerned about excessive speeding and the possible repercussions, we encourage the Illinois State Police and other law enforcement agencies to crack down on speeding on the interstates and send a message that flouting the state’s speed limit won’t be tolerated.

The speed limit is almost always the minimum speed. Of course people will drive faster. Ever been to a state with higher speed limits than Illinois? People in state’s I’ve visited tend to drive faster than their posted speed limits. Also, is Oberweis OK with cutting other budgets to beef up ISP speed enforcement? Where and how?

Also, the SJ-R editorial cited as an authority the National Motorists Association, which is offering a $20,000 cash reward to anyone who can substantiate the stats in this National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statement

Despite the tireless efforts of thousands of advocates, impaired drivers continue to kill someone every 30 minutes, nearly 50 people a day, and almost 18,000 citizens a year. NHTSA and its partners are working together to put a stop to these deadly statistics.

- Posted by Rich Miller   43 Comments      


Protect Jobs for Illinois Veterans: Pass SB 1665/HB 2414

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

In April 2012, Peoples Gas established the Utility Workers Training Program (UWTP) for military veterans—a $3.5 million multi-partner and union-backed training-to-placement program for those who have honorably served our country. To date, 60 veterans have completed the program and 42 have started a career as a gas utility worker at Peoples Gas.

Through this program, veterans develop the skills they need to enter Illinois’ natural gas industry. The curriculum of core classes has enabled each student to earn 52 college credits toward an AA degree. The new employees have also earned their Gas Utility Worker Advanced Certification at Dawson Technical Institute, a satellite site of Kennedy-King College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago.

The UWTP was created to support Peoples Gas’ Accelerated Main Replacement Program (AMRP) to replace 2,000 miles of cast and ductile iron mains in its distribution system. This project has already created over 1,000 jobs, including UWTP graduates.

The Natural Gas Modernization, Public Safety and Jobs Bill (SB 1665/HB 2414), is needed to allow natural gas utilities to confidently invest and continue hiring in Illinois. If it is not passed, Peoples Gas will be forced to slow or halt its pipeline modernization project, which would threaten the jobs that are putting Illinois veterans to work.

Members of the General Assembly: vote YES on SB 1665/HB 2414.

- Posted by Advertising Department   Comments Off      


Show me the money

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* There appears to be a real need for this program

State lawmakers are considering legislation that encourages witnesses to cooperate more with police. The bill that already passed the House would provide more funding to protect, and in some cases, relocate witnesses of gang-related crimes. […]

Law enforcement officials say their investigations are often hampered by witnesses who are reluctant to testify. Yet some programs designed to coax them into working with prosecutors can barely keep up with demand.

“I could double the staff and keep everybody busy all the time,” said Lori Smith, head of Cook County’s victim witness assistance unit. “Every year funding shrinks and we are always subject to what’s going to happen with the county budget.”

Smith said last year the unit had 52 employees handling about 13,000 cases. […]

A similar witness protection program was launched in 1996 and administered by the Illinois State Police. The state appropriated $666,000 for the Gang Crime Witness Protection pilot program, but two years later the program was eliminated due to lack of funding.

No doubt, this is a good idea.

But the actual bill doesn’t “provide more funding.” It merely creates a new fund and specifies how the cash will be distributed, if there ever is any cash.

Unless and until there’s an official appropriation, or unless the controlling agency somehow finds some grant money, this bill means nothing. It’s just a well intentioned feel-good measure, which is why it passed unanimously.

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


Raoul points to Indiana law

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* Very interesting

A copy of Sen. Kwame Raoul’s proposed [conceald carry] legislation that was obtained by The Associated Press indicates the plan would require an applicant to not only be free of a criminal record and pass a background check, but provide a “proper reason” for wanting to carry a gun and be “of good moral character.”

Those are hallmarks of laws in states such as New York, where police have wide latitude to deny applications. But Raoul said it was lifted from neighboring Indiana, whose concealed carry law dates back decades.

Raoul said a staff member told him that verbiage came from neighboring Indiana, which has been considered a conservative “shall issue” state for at least 25 years.

“I’ve never heard anybody characterize the state of Indiana as having a super-liberal approach to guns,” Raoul said.

“Proper reason” is stated plainly in the Hoosier state’s law: It is “for the defense of oneself or the state of Indiana.”

* From the Indiana statute

(d) The superintendent may make whatever further investigation the superintendent deems necessary. Whenever disapproval is recommended, the officer to whom the application is made shall provide the superintendent and the applicant with the officer’s complete and specific reasons, in writing, for the recommendation of disapproval.
(e) If it appears to the superintendent that the applicant:

    (1) has a proper reason for carrying a handgun;
    (2) is of good character and reputation;
    (3) is a proper person to be licensed; and
    (4) is:
    (A) a citizen of the United States; or
    (B) not a citizen of the United States but is allowed to carry a firearm in the United States under federal law;

the superintendent shall issue to the applicant a qualified or an unlimited license to carry any handgun lawfully possessed by the applicant.

So, Indiana also has a “good character” test.

* “Proper reason” defined

Sec. 8. “Proper reason” means for the defense of oneself or the state of Indiana.

* “Proper person” defined

“Proper person” means a person who:

(1) does not have a conviction for resisting law enforcement under IC 35-44-3-3 within five (5) years before the person applies for a license or permit under this chapter;
(2) does not have a conviction for a crime for which the person could have been sentenced for more than one (1) year;
(3) does not have a conviction for a crime of domestic violence (as defined in IC 35-41-1-6.3), unless a court has restored the person’s right to possess a firearm under IC 35-47-4-7;
(4) is not prohibited by a court order from possessing a handgun;
(5) does not have a record of being an alcohol or drug abuser as defined in this chapter;
(6) does not have documented evidence which would give rise to a reasonable belief that the person has a propensity for violent or emotionally unstable conduct;
(7) does not make a false statement of material fact on the person’s application;
(8) does not have a conviction for any crime involving an inability to safely handle a handgun;
(9) does not have a conviction for violation of the provisions of this article within five (5) years of the person’s application; or
(10) does not have an adjudication as a delinquent child for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult, if the person applying for a license or permit under this chapter is less than twenty-three (23) years of age.

Discuss.

* Related…

* Raoul seeks ‘middle ground’ with new concealed-carry plans

* Allow concealed carry except in Cook County?

* Senate gun-carry bill to get overhaul

* Lisa Madigan asks U.S. Supreme Court for extension on concealed carry

* Dozens Pack Illinois Concealed Carry Classes

- Posted by Rich Miller   72 Comments      


A tale of three headlines

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* The heds…

* Tribune: ComEd rate hike request would add $6 to monthly bills

* Crain’s: ComEd wants $311 million rate hike in 2014

* Sun-Times: ComEd wants rate hike but says bills will be lower

* The Tribune explains the reasons behind the higher rate

Commonwealth Edison said Monday that it will charge $6 more per month on average to deliver electricity to utility customers beginning in 2014 as a result of higher transmission costs and expenses it has incurred to modernize the electrical grid.

In a filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission Monday — its third under a new formula-based rate making system devised in 2011 — the utility requested $311 million in additional revenue from customers in 2014 for its role in delivering electricity, maintaining electrical lines and improving the electrical grid. That increase would amount to about $5 per month for the average electricity customer and must be approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

* Crain’s breaks down its $311 million number and provides some context

ComEd filed for a $311 million increase in the revenue it receives from ratepayers, a figure that ComEd executives said will be more like $335 million once recently passed legislation by the General Assembly to increase the utility’s revenue becomes law.

Under the controversial 2011 “smart grid” law, enacted over Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto, ComEd is permitted to increase delivery rates annually over a decade to finance a $2.6 billion grid modernization program that includes the installation of “smart meters” in every home and business in northern Illinois.

After the ICC reduced ComEd’s rate hike last year, the utility delayed the planned installation of the meters for what it said were lack of funds. Executives said today that, if the bill just passed becomes law by June 15, the company will begin installing meters in the fourth quarter of this year and aims to install 60,000 in 2013.

Mr. Quinn is expected to veto that bill, but there are sufficient margins in both the state House and Senate to override a veto.

* And the Sun-Times explains its headline

Despite the request, the average electric bill for a residential customer will fall from about $81 monthly to about $66, beginning in June — thanks to falling energy prices.

If the higher delivery rate is approved, bills will rise in January to an average of about $72 monthly — still about 10 percent below the current rate.

Bills will fall even with the higher delivery charges because power suppliers are producing energy more cheaply, ComEd officials said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      


NRCC tries another reboot

Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013

* From USA Today

House Republicans are targeting popular “mommy blog” websites in a digital ad campaign beginning Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to repair the GOP’s image with certain voting blocs — in this case swing female voters — who have sided decisively with Democrats in recent elections.

The banner ads will be featured on over 100 websites popular among women and geo-targeted to be viewed by residents in 20 Democratic-held congressional districts targeted by the GOP for 2014. The House Republican campaign operation is increasing its use of niche digital ad marketing for the upcoming election cycle. They used a similar strategy targeting Democrats on the unpopular automatic spending cuts known as sequester in March.

The $20,000 ad buy, running on sites including Ikeafans.com and MarthaStewart.com through Friday, will call on Democrats to vote with House Republicans next week on a bill to give hourly private sector workers more flexibility to choose between compensatory time and cash payment for overtime work. […]

The legislative effort is not expected to garner much Democratic support because it has long been opposed by labor unions and Democratic interests who argue it is a backdoor attempt to weaken workers’ rights to overtime pay.

* The NRCC sent along a sample ad…

The ads link to an online petition.

* NRCC statement…

“It’s a shame that Bill Enyart is willing to play politics while working moms and their kids need a voice to fight for them in Congress. It’s time for Enyart to stop forcing women to choose between work and family and start protecting the needs of all Illinois families.” – NRCC Spokeswoman Katie Prill

Think it’ll make any difference?

* But this may be a more important issue for Enyart

The federal government won’t make a decision for years on whether to close Scott Air Force Base, but leaders in southwestern Illinois fear growing budget pressures in Washington could affect the facility’s future.

Illinois’ congressional delegation has vowed to work to keep the base open, even though the next round of closures won’t begin taking place until at least 2015.

U.S. Department of Defense officials have said the military has more infrastructure than needed, and Illinois lawmakers fear the base will stay on the chopping block as the costs of Medicare and other government-funded social programs continue to soar, forcing spending reductions in other areas of the federal budget.

“If we don’t reform our entitlement programs, discretionary dollars will continue to get cut, which puts Scott more at risk,'’ Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus told the newspaper.

* More

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, who replaced Costello in January, is seen as a strong voice for Scott. A former commander of the Illinois National Guard, Enyart serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Enyart spoke optimistically of community-wide efforts to protect Scott. It’s a campaign bolstered by the fact the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command cited the St. Louis region’s strong support for military personnel at Scott Air Force Base as the reason for awarding the region the prestigious Abilene Trophy. The trophy is to be awarded officially in June.

“The folks are pulling together because they know how important it is,” Enyart said. “We’re going to be working very diligently to make sure that Scott isn’t impacted by BRAC … This is not a partisan issue. This is our region, our economy, and we’re all working together.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


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