Gov. Pat Quinn has loved to hold Sunday news conferences for decades. He discovered a long time ago that Sunday was usually a slow news day, so a news conference pretty much guaranteed coverage in Monday’s newspapers.
The problem, though, is that newspapers and other media outlets tend to send younger, less experienced reporters to Sunday events. And sometimes those reporters miss something that others might catch.
For instance, two Sundays ago, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said something pretty important that was completely ignored by the media.
Cullerton appeared that Sunday with Quinn, state Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) and parents of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre victims to tout a ban on high-capacity gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. Cullerton highlighted his anti-gun bonafides during his opening remarks.
“I’m very proud of the fact that Illinois has been the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow for concealed guns to be carried in public,” he said.
But that wasn’t the news. Throughout his long political career, Cullerton has been a staunch opponent of the National Rifle Association. He doesn’t like guns at all. Nothing to see there. Move along.
So what was the big news that was missed?
“In the case of concealed carry, some say we have to pass a bill,” Cullerton told Chicago reporters.
“The fact of the matter is, if we don’t pass a bill in Springfield, the city of Chicago, county of Cook, 208 home-rule units can pass their own legislation. So, while we should pass a sensible bill to regulate it (concealed carry) statewide, if we don’t it’s not the end of the world.”
It was the clearest statement yet from Cullerton that not passing a concealed-carry bill might be the best way to go.
As you know, a federal appeals court has given Illinois until June 9 to pass a state law allowing concealed carry. If not, Illinois’ current law will be struck down.
At first, liberals were being stampeded into passing new legislation. But Chicago’s mayor and his legislative allies have lately made it quietly known that not passing a bill might not be so bad. Chicago could pass a much stricter proposal than anything that could ever get through the General Assembly.
The statement was also somewhat of a cover for Cullerton’s inability to move a concealed-carry bill out of the Senate a few days before. Top sources said two of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s strongest Senate allies flipped from supporting Cullerton’s bill to opposing it.
The sponsor, state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and Cullerton both blamed the NRA. But it was Madigan (D-Chicago) who actually killed it.
Why? Madigan did not want the Senate bill to pass because he believed it would undermine support for the House bill among liberals and Chicagoans. He also believed that the Senate’s far more restrictive bill could not pass the House, so killing that measure was a way to avoid gridlock.
After Madigan passed a concealed-carry bill through the House on Friday, Cullerton said he could see ways to compromise, but he also blasted parts of the House bill as “offensive” and said he was “violently opposed” to them. The main thing Cullerton objected to was a provision that would kill off all local gun control ordinances, including Chicago’s assault weapons ban.
So, if Madigan’s radical local pre-emption language on all gun ordinances were removed, the rest of the bill would be a whole lot more acceptable. Offering up a completely unacceptable and even outrageous demand to get the other side to accept some things they might not otherwise is a pretty standard legislative negotiating tactic.
And if they can’t come to an agreement? Well, Cullerton has said it wouldn’t be the end of the world if nothing happens and the state law is struck down. If he’s telling the truth, it gives him a pretty good negotiating stance.
* Via IR, Sen. Dick Durbin talks about the 1st Amendment and a media shield law…
“But here is the bottom line — the media shield law, which I am prepared to support, and I know Sen. Graham supports, still leaves an unanswered question, which I have raised many times: What is a journalist today in 2013? We know it’s someone that works for Fox or AP, but does it include a blogger? Does it include someone who is tweeting? Are these people journalists and entitled to constitutional protection? We need to ask 21st century questions about a provision that was written over 200 years ago.”
Durbin has tried to use this media shield issue as a not so back door way of defining who is and who is not a journalist. The federal government should not be in this business. The people we are covering should not have that sort of control over us. That “unanswered question” Durbin frets about so much ought to be up to the people themselves.
Buried more than 400 pages into the 524-page gambling expansion bill that would bring a casino to Chicago are directions for splitting some of the state’s take to create new ways to pay for the pork-barrel projects politicians covet.
Money from the new casinos and slot machines at horse racing tracks would be steered to a new “depressed communities economic development fund,” a “Latino community economic development fund,” grants to the State Fairgrounds and county fairs, funding for equine research, soil and water conservation, cooperative extension services and an annual grant to the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Other provisions in the bill allow several suburbs to split the local share of the new gambling take, guaranteeing that nearby cities and villages will collect cash even if they aren’t the coveted winners of a new casino or have a horse track within their borders.
All told, some legislative estimates show about $250 million in annual revenues will be diverted from the state in what’s shaping up to be a conga line of earmarks. At once, the promise of spreading a new influx of money to interest groups is both a powerful tool to win more votes for gambling expansion and a new way to dispense pork projects after state tax dollars dried up significantly because of Illinois’ dire budget problems.
Actually, $250 million won’t be “diverted from the state.” The vast majority of that cash, $210 million, is for local communities which host the new casinos and racinos, and that money is further divvied up for regional revenue sharing. That’s pretty standard stuff.
* Gaming bill undergoes changes: Also Sunday, the House approved a bill to return advance deposit wagering to the state. Illinois had a law on the books that provided for advance deposit wagering, but it expired before lawmakers renewed it. Under advance deposit wagering, bettors can wager on horse races online using money from special accounts they have established.
* Illinois House Re-Authorizes Online Horse Betting: A few lawmakers worried that the horsemen are being coerced — they are only receiving a fraction of the $109 million in the horse-racing fund. But Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, says that is not the case.
* Some Illinois jobless face benefit cuts: Thousands of out-of-work Illinoisans will see a nearly 17 percent cut in their jobless benefits beginning in early June. The cuts are the latest fallout from automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.
* Cross: Medicaid not getting the scrutiny it needs
* For some reason,. there’s nothing on the governor’s weekend schedule about meeting with lawmakers…
GOVERNOR’S PUBLIC SCHEDULE
**Saturday, May 25, 2013**
DES PLAINES – In remembrance of Illinois servicemembers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom, Governor Pat Quinn will unveil the Portrait of a Soldier memorial exhibit.
WHEN: 9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Des Plaines Oasis
Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90)
Des Plaines, 60016
CHICAGO – Governor Pat Quinn will join city, state and national leaders to honor Gold Star families and the brave men and women that have given their lives for our country.
WHEN: 11 a.m.
WHERE: Daley Plaza
Outside the Picasso Statue
**Sunday, May 26, 2013**
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – In honor of Memorial Day, Governor Pat Quinn will address and cheer on runners at the Got Freedom Run.
WHEN: 7:45 a.m.
WHERE: Miner School
1101 East Miner
Arlington Heights, 60004
CHICAGO – As part of his agenda to support our Veterans and servicemembers, Governor Pat Quinn will announce a major investment to increase affordable homeownership opportunities for returning Veterans and their families.
WHEN: 12 p.m.
WHERE: Former Army Reservist Janelle Hamilton’s Home
3809 West 83rd Street
**Monday, May 27, 2013**
PARK RIDGE – Governor Pat Quinn will march in the annual Park Ridge Memorial Day parade.
WHEN: 10 a.m.
WHERE: Park Ridge Memorial Day Parade
Steps off at Talcott Road and Cumblerland Avenue
Park Ridge, 60068
CHICAGO – In honor of Memorial Day, Governor Quinn will bring Challenger the bald eagle to soar above U.S. Cellular Field and raise awareness for the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund.
WHEN: 5:20 p.m.
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Field
333 West 35th Street
ADDITIONAL: There will be no additional press availability following this event.
* I’m finding it difficult to work up much excitement about the Crosstown Classic this year. The biggest reason, I suppose, is that I’m stuck in session during the series. But even if I was in Chicago this week, I probably wouldn’t be feeling it.
Yes, the White Sox are on a roll of late. After an absolutely miserable start, we finally got our first sweep of the season and are now just four games out of first place in the AL Central. But, man, those first two months really took a toll on my baseball soul.
Maybe I’m not my usual self because the Flubs are so exceptionally horrible these days. 19-30? Words fail me. Perhaps y’all should send your entire team down to AAA. And I don’t mean just the players. I mean the entire team, rickety stadium and all. Do us all a favor and secede from the National League. Move to Rosemont. Heck, move to Peoria, for all I care.
* Anyway, go Sox, Cubs suck, etc. Let’s at least go through the motions.
“If you go back and look at the Senate Bill 1 that I introduced, it had two parts. It had both bills in the same one, and the one that the House passed was primary. And I sponsored it and wanted that to go to a court. And if, and only if, they threw it out would they have to look at the back-up. And Ty Fahner and the Tribune editorial board and the Republicans who said they would be for that came off the bill. And I didn’t have enough votes because, of course, the unions were against it. So congratulations business community, who now want me to only call the first part of the bill and not the second part even though the second part, the one that we passed, had a three-fifths vote. Republicans and Democrats alike, Republicans in the House, are urging the speaker to call [SB2404] so they can vote for it. And [Madigan’s] bill barely passed.
“So, you know, I’ve always been trying. And I, by the way, called for a vote Senator Biss’ bill, which is very similar to the speaker’s bill, and it got 23 votes. Seven votes short, and by the way, seven Republicans voted ‘no.’ And I voted for it. I’m sponsoring Senate Bill 1. It doesn’t have enough votes. It has fewer votes than Senator Biss’ bill because now the unions have gone out and they’ve actively worked against it, okay. So, I’m going to continue next week to see if I can reach some kind of compromise. Maybe the Tribune editorial board and the business community would - and the Sun-Times editorial board - would change their position and go back to my original Senate Bill 1 that I originally proposed, which has both bills with theirs being primary. And then we can have the court decide on that.”
Q: Would you lose union support on a bill like that?
A: “That would be up to them to decide. I suppose they probably would be against that. That’s why I’m having trouble passing Senate Bill 1, you see. I just want to emphasize that I’m not holding us back from trying to advance compromises.”
Q: Do you have any idea how close SB2404 is to getting 60 votes in the House?
A: “The bill that we passed here with 40? That had two people missing when we passed it so we would have 42? I would say probably 84 votes, maybe 85 like [Speaker Madigan’s concealed carry bill] got today.”
“…So there’s a consensus on - very close to a consensus on - what a concealed-carry law should be. And that’s what our task should be this session, not to go out and do a wish list that the NRA - that has nothing to do with concealed carry that preempts home-rule.”
Q: Are you going to call SB2193 for a vote?
A: “Well, I’m going to try to defeat the bill, and we’re going to have a caucus on it on Monday.”
Q: Madigan said he thought SB2193 would have overwhelming support in the Senate. Can you say where the vote might be?
A: “What would have overwhelming vote in his chamber would be the pension vote that we passed over there that is still in Rules Committee. I don’t know what he bases that on. We have a different makeup here. We have a lot more Democrats than he has over there. We won a few more seats than he did. So, I don’t know why he would predict that.”
Q: But he also successfully lobbied against Sen. Raoul’s bill last week…
A: “That’s true, but now what we’re saying, as it relates to concealed carry, we’re accepting the Brandon Phelps version of concealed carry.”
Q: Do you have an idea how much ground you may need to make up to defeat SB2193?
A: “I really don’t know. The people who want to pass a bill have the burden of going forward and getting 36 votes. So the question is how far back is Senator Forby (the bill’s Senate sponsor) in getting his 36 votes.”
Q: So do you envision calling it, having it rejected and then moving forward with a compromise proposal?
A: “Well that’s what I would hope we have.”
Q: So there will be a vote on Phelps’ bill in the Senate as it is now?
A: “Well, maybe our caucus doesn’t want to go forward with it. Maybe we’ll have a caucus and see there is no support, and we’ll go ahead with an alternative. Once the members realize there’s an alternative that’s very similar, almost identical to the House alternative, maybe we can avoid this. Maybe we can focus our attention on concealed carry, which is what the courts tasked us with doing, and then solve that part of the problem we have facing us.”
The transcript doesn’t show it, but Cullerton is now in favor of preemption of local concealed carry ordinances - something that would be unheard of just a week or so ago. The overwhelming House vote in favor probably moved him (and quite a few of his more liberal members) off that particular dime.
Cullerton is, however, “violently” against the “super preemption” of all local gun ordinances currently on the books.
Imagine the push-back from citizens if you strip local governments of their ability to pass local firearms laws. That’s the most noxious provision of legislation the House approved Friday. The bill includes other reasonable safeguards and restrictions.
We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the provision pre-empting local firearms laws is a loss leader, added to the bill so it can be negotiated away in talks with the Senate. That chamber, less open to concealed carry, wants to let municipalities and other local governments set rules for their unique circumstances.
So cut a compromise. The Senate can make changes in the House bill — most important, strip out that pre-emption provision — and send it back to the House. You’re not that far from meeting the mandate of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A “loss leader” is probably right on the money. I told subscribers as much last week.
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka isn’t in the running to take a position she once had — chairman of the Republican Party of Illinois. But she’s not shy in saying what she thinks of the job after just “a tad of discussion” that she could take it again.
“That has got to be the worst job in the world,” Topinka said. “It is horrendous. It was just so wearing after two years of that. I was thrilled when I was able to divest myself of it.”
* Wouldn’t Joe Walsh have to give up his brand new radio gig if he took the chairmanship? I doubt he’d get the chairmanship anyhow, but here’s what he had to say…
“The Republican Party in this state is irrelevant,” Walsh said. “We’ve been an irrelevant force for a long, long time. … Party leaders going all the way back to Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar, George Ryan, Tom Cross, you name ’em, we’ve all been happy playing second fiddle, and we’ve let the Democrats run this state. I really do believe that the Republican Party … has been complicit, in this almost criminal arrangement, where we let the Democrats run the state and we just take a little bit of power wherever we can have it. That’s got to end.”
Yeah, Thompson, Edgar and Ryan ceded all sorts of power to the Democratic Party. Right. Please.
Illinois Democrats seemed poised to rule almost unchallenged in the state Capitol after winning super majorities in the House and Senate last fall. But as intraparty divisions have surfaced, things haven’t been that simple.
Heading into the final week of the legislative session, Democrats are split on some of the state’s biggest issues, from the nation’s worst pension crisis to the public possession of guns, gay marriage and gambling expansion. Lawmakers also have yet to get a deal on the state budget, the expansion of Medicaid or how to regulate a high-volume oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.”
It’s a weighty agenda to wade through by Friday’s scheduled adjournment, even in a statehouse accustomed to leaving legislation to the last minute.
“It is unusual in the scope of what has to be done,” said Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who’s working to pass a measure in the House to legalize same-sex marriage. “Those are each big things on any one day, much less all at one time.”
Also too, McCormick Place expansion. That’s kinda disappeared from the media’s radar screen.
* We’ll get to the individual topics later. The budget, however, is moving forward…
House and Senate Democrats have agreed on a proposed Illinois budget that would keep education funding at the same level and increase human services spending.
Sen. Heather Steans is one of the Legislature’s budget negotiators. She says Democrats will present their 2014 spending plan early next week, after which Republicans will get a chance to weigh in on it.
Gov. Pat Quinn proposed cutting education funding by about $400 million, a cut he said was difficult but necessary.
But Steans says unanticipated revenue increases helped restore that money. Democrats also want to reduce the amount of money that goes to local governments.
In his budget proposal, Gov. Pat Quinn called for a cut of about $300 million to K-12 education and another $100 million to higher education. Cullerton said the cut to K-12 education would have resulted in general state aid to schools being prorated at an 82 percent level, rather than the 89 percent this year.
The General Assembly’s budget plan calls for maintaining an 89 percent level, he said.
Sullivan said the budget will also preserve transportation assistance for school districts, a priority for downstate lawmakers.
Cullerton said the issue of accounting for back wages owed to union employees as well as raises contained in their new contract is “still up for negotiation.”
Sullivan said some areas of human services will see additional cuts, although they will not be across-the-board.
Q: What’s the agreement principle on the budget from here?
A: “Well the fact that the House and the Senate Democrats actually worked together on a budget is a first in the last four years. So, I’m really encouraged by that. And we have an agreement on the amount of money we have to spend and a general idea of where these categories of money should go. You know, how much for higher [education, how much for elementary and secondary, that sort of thing. And we’re working through all the different line items over the weekend to make sure we have an agreement. Then we will share this with Republicans. We will not vote on it on Monday. We will give data that we have to them, at least in the Senate. I can’t speak for the House. And we’ll vote on it maybe two or three days later.”
“I’m very confident that the Republicans are going to like the budget, and hopefully we can get them to vote for it.”
Q: Will education money be restored?
A: “That was our number-one priority to restore education money and to try to not create new old bills.”
Q: How much will be restored?
A: “We’re hoping to get back to 89 percent of [the foundation level]. The governor’s budget was like 82 percent.”
Q: Have you figured out how to deal with the back-wages owed to unions?
A: “That’s still, I think, up for negotiations in terms of how to deal with the back-wages as well as the new contract.”
Q: Do you see forcing the governor to choose between paying the back-wages and laying off workers in state agencies?
A: “Well, I would just say that if you look at what we’ve done this year, there’s been a number of supplementals that we’ve passed. As you see, a budget is just an authorization to spend, and we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen during the course of the year in terms of revenues…So, I would say if you manage your agencies and if you look like you need more money, you come back and we react.”
* Big issues remain as adjournment nears: The legislation to provide state incentives to attract a $1.2 billion fertilizer plant on Tuscola’s west side is struck in the House Rules Committee. Rose said he is confident the measure will be considered in the closing days of the session. “I think this is classic Speaker Madigan. He holds all of his cards until the end,” Rose said. “There are too many jobs at stake with this.”