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Toby Keith, Buddy Guy, Boat Drink Caucus will play Rauner inauguration concert

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* From a press release…

The Illinois Inaugural committee announced the musical lineup for the Inaugural Concert on January 12, 2015. Tickets can be purchased online at www.IllinoisInauguration.com

Superstar Toby Keith will headline the concert.

From his first No. 1 smash “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” to his latest release Drinks After Work, Toby has been one of the most consistent self-directed hit makers of his era. At the core of Toby’s unparalleled success is his songwriting, which has powered an astounding succession of hit songs to the tune of more than 85 million BMI performances on commercial radio stations worldwide. He has been honored by the Nashville Songwriters Association International with its Songwriter/Artist of the Decade distinction, is a three-time BMI Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year and was named the American Country Awards’ Artist of the Decade.

His albums have sold more than 40 million copies, ranking him among the top-selling all-genre artists on Billboard’s Top 200 Artists of the Decade. Keith is also Billboard’s No. 1 Country Artist of the Decade and No. 1 Country Songwriter of the Decade.

Legendary blues musician Buddy Guy will precede Toby Keith on stage.

Buddy is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, a major influence on rock titans like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, a pioneer of Chicago’s fabled West Side sound, and a living link to that city’s halcyon days of electric blues. He has received 6 Grammy Awards, 28 Blues Music Awards (the most any artist has received), the Billboard magazine Century Award for distinguished artistic achievement, and the Presidential National Medal of Arts. Rolling Stone ranked him in the top 25 of its “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

The Boat Drink Caucus – comprised of Representative Chad Hays, Representative Mike Tryon and Senator Don Harmon – will open the concert. The trio combine a Jimmy Buffett-like tropical style with classic rock favorites.

First they kicked off Phases of the Moon and now they’re opening for Buddy Guy and Toby Keith. Not bad.

- Posted by Rich Miller   43 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* Your favorite politics-related Christmastime memory?

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


Congress finally does something

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* An important development that I missed

Congress dealt a historic blow to the United States’ decades-long war on drugs [a week ago] Saturday with the passage of the federal spending bill, which contains protections for medical marijuana and industrial hemp operations in states where they are legal.

The spending bill includes an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state-legal medical cannabis programs. If the bill is signed into law, it will bring the federal government one step closer to ending raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as stopping arrests of individuals involved with pot businesses that are complying with state law. […]

“Congress has finally initiated a drawdown in the federal government’s war on medical marijuana,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “This legislation makes it clear that the DEA has no business interfering in states’ medical marijuana laws. Taxpayer money should not be used to punish seriously ill people who use medical marijuana and the caregivers who provide it to them.” […]

Industrial hemp also received new protections from DEA intervention under the spending bill. The same plant species as marijuana, cannabis sativa, hemp contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana associated with the “high” sensation. The farm bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law in February, legalized industrial hemp production in states that permit it.

Eighteen states have legalized industrial hemp production, and more than a dozen others have introduced legislation that would authorize research into the plant, set up a regulatory framework or legalize growing it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Two brief insights on new Kirk poll

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* The election is a long way away, but this new poll has some merit for at least two reasons

A new poll reveals that incumbent GOP U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is locked in a dead heat against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who holds the slimmest of leads, in a 2016 general election contest.

The survey of 1,003 Illinois voters, commissioned by The Illinois Observer and conducted by We Ask America on Thursday, December 18 with a +/- 3% margin of error, has Duckworth leading Kirk 45.59-45.02%, with 9.39% undecided.

1) Kirk might be in for a real race; and 2) People are just done with Gov. Pat Quinn

Meanwhile, Kirk is swamping soon-to-be ex-Governor Pat Quinn 55.0-35.7% with 9.3% undecided.

60 percent of indies and 21 percent of Democrats back Kirk over Quinn in this poll.

- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      


Today’s number: $12.7 billion

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* From the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability

CTBA’s issue brief, The Pending FY2016 Fiscal Cliff details the significant—potentially over $12 billion— fiscal shortfall facing the next General Assembly and Governor-elect Bruce Rauner as they work to craft a General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2016. The issue brief delineates the amount of recurring income tax revenue the state stands to lose when the temporary income tax increases under the Taxpayer Accountability and Budget Stabilization Act of 2011 phase down on January 1, 2015, as well as the worsening of other fiscal pressures that are projected to occur under current law.

Assuming no tax policy changes, if spending on services in FY2016 is held constant in nominal, non-inflation adjusted dollars at FY2015 levels, the state’s accumulated deficit in its General Fund will almost double, increasing from an estimated $6.8 billion in FY2015, to $12.7 billion by the end of FY2016.

The full report is here.

* From the report…

- Posted by Rich Miller   71 Comments      


C’mon, man

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* There are those who believe that Treasurer Dan Rutherford believes he will run for something else in the future. Stories like this one, however, aren’t gonna help

More than 25 nonunion employees in state Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office got pay increases ranging from 8 percent to 36 percent over the past year.

Rutherford’s office also awarded $88,966 in one-time payments to 35 nonunion employees on Oct. 31. Most were less than $3,000, but former chief of staff Kyle Ham, whose base salary was $125,004, received a $10,000 extra payment. Ham started a new job Dec. 15 as chief executive officer of Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council. […]

Among employees who didn’t get raises in the past year but who did get one-time payments were Curt Conrad of Springfield, deputy chief of staff, who makes $99,996 annually and got an $8,000 payment, and Bridget Byron of Chicago, chief investment officer. She is paid $114,996 annually and got a $9,200 payment.

His office claims the bonuses and pay hikes were based on “performance … job duty changes and more responsibility.” But some of those folks worked on his campaign.

* And what happened with the union workers this year?

Prochaska said AFSCME Council 31 represents about 30 workers in the treasurer’s unclaimed property division. The new three-year contract is retroactive to July 1, 2012. Members received lump-sums equivalent to 2.1 percent of salary for each of the first two years and 1.75 percent raises as of July 1. With changes in cost for medical coverage, the members at the treasurer’s office “about break even,” he said.

“They would not give these huge increases to management while they were at the bargaining table with us (saying) our request for 2 percent wage increases would not be fiscally responsible,” Prochaska said. “This was this administration’s final opportunity to profiteer off of state government on their way out the door, while the dedicated state employees who have and will continue to perform the actual work serving the public are left behind, literally and financially.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


Unintentionally hilarious editorials

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* From a Southern Illinoisan editorial entitled “Free Advice for Topinka replacement”

Well, Mr. Governor-Elect, you spoke a lot during the campaign about working “across the aisle” to get things done. Here’s your limited-time, risk-free opportunity to take it out for a spin while short-circuiting Democrats Pat Quinn and AG Lisa Madigan from creating an unnecessary special election two years from now.

Our simple free advice: nominate Sheila Simon to be the state’s next Comptroller.

And to ease the time crunch involved in your transition, we’ve taken the liberty of drafting your appointment speech:

I am today pleased to appoint Sheila Simon to be the next Comptroller of the great state of Illinois. I again commend the accomplishments of the late Judy Baar Topinka and the service she gave to Illinoisans for decades. And, out of respect to Judy and a sense of commitment to our state’s future, nominate the next most capable person to replace her.

Oy.

Homers to the bitter end.

* From an Ottawa Times editorial entitled “Voters spoke, now here come the budget cuts”

As most people understand by now, Illinois does not actually have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. There has never been more money flowing into state coffers. There’s also never been more owed, and demand continues to outstrip supply.[…]

If Rauner has his way, the income tax rate will drop from from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on New Year’s Day.

It’s true that there has never been more money flowing into state coffers. But almost all that money is going to one thing: Pension payments. Until the Times figures out how to cut that gigantic bill, we have a revenue problem. Also, past due state bills are way down from where they were a few years ago. And the income tax is partially expiring on New Year’s Day regardless of Rauner, who won’t even be sworn in until January 12th.

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


*** UPDATED x3 - More Garcia - Emanuel retorts - Garcia responds *** Emanuel lashes out at opponents after Tribune runs critical red light cam stories

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* Tribune

Chicago’s red light cameras fail to deliver the dramatic safety benefits long claimed by City Hall, according to a first-ever scientific study that found the nation’s largest camera program is responsible for increasing some types of injury crashes while decreasing others.

The state-of-the-art study commissioned by the Tribune concluded the cameras do not reduce injury-related crashes overall — undercutting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s primary defense of a program beset by mismanagement, malfunction and a $2 million bribery scandal.

Emanuel has credited the cameras for a 47 percent reduction in dangerous right-angle, or “T-bone,” crashes. But the Tribune study, which accounted for declining accident rates in recent years as well as other confounding factors, found cameras reduced right-angle crashes that caused injuries by just 15 percent.

At the same time, the study calculated a corresponding 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes that caused injuries, illustrating a trade-off between the cameras’ costs and benefits.

The researchers also determined there is no safety benefit from cameras installed at intersections where there have been few crashes with injuries. Such accidents actually increased at those intersections after cameras went in, the study found, though the small number of crashes makes it difficult to determine whether the cameras were to blame.

Go read the whole thing.

* More Tribune

Nearly half of the Chicago red light cameras included in a new Tribune study did nothing to make drivers safer and may have caused an increase in injury-related crashes.

Researchers hired by the Tribune to analyze the effects of the city’s cameras said the finding involved 43 of the 90 camera intersections in the study — the ones that averaged fewer than four injury crashes a year before red light cameras were installed.

The small number of total crashes makes it difficult to know for certain whether the cameras were to blame for the increases, but the scientists from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute said they are confident in their conclusion that the cameras offered no safety benefit at those intersections.

* Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s opponents respond

Chicago mayoral challengers Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Ald. Bob Fioretti are calling for an immediate suspension of the city’s red light camera program.

Citing a recent Tribune study that found the cameras fail to deliver safety benefits long claimed by City Hall, Garcia, a Cook County commissioner running against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the Feb. 24 city election, said on Sunday that the city should stop ticketing drivers “until the red light camera can be justified.”

“The simple fact is that all the money that was received from the red light tickets made this administration blind to their impact on drivers and residents,” Garcia said at a news conference.

He called the cameras “a runaway program” and said a thorough investigation by an independent academic institution should be done to determine the effectiveness of the cameras.

* The Emanuel campaign responds with an oppo dump…

Statement Attributable to Steve Mayberry, Emanuel Campaign Spokesman:

“Before Commissioner Garcia can attack a program that is critical to public safety and has helped reduce the number of serious crashes that result in injury or death, he needs to explain his own questionable record on red light cameras. Commissioner Garcia must explain to the public why he accepted a $1,500 donation from Safespeed, a red light camera operator company, on March 10, 2014 and voted to approve their installation of a red light camera the very next day. In fact, Mr. Garcia’s tie-breaking vote ensured the company’s success. With all of the tough decisions we as a city must face in the next four years, the voters deserve better from a candidate for mayor.”

Background: Commissioner Garcia’s $1,500 Red Light Problem

    In August of 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported that River Forest, Illinois officials needed Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) approval for River Forest’s contractor, Safespeed, to install and operate a red light camera at Harlem Avenue and Lake Street, where the FPDCC’s headquarters are located.

    On March 10, 2014, Citizens for Jesus Garcia accepted a check from Safespeed, LLC for $1,500.

    On March 11, 2014, Commissioner Garcia voted in favor of an intergovernmental agreement that allowed for a red light camera to be placed on Forest Preserve property. Garcia’s vote ensured its success.

    From OakPark.com: “Drivers beware: The red light camera at Lake Street and Harlem Avenue will go online in a month. More than a year after the camera on Harlem at North Avenue went live, the River Forest village board Monday authorized an intergovernmental agreement with Cook County allowing for the device to be installed on Forest Preserve District property.”

* The campaign also defended the program…

Background: Facts on Red Light Camera Program

    The City’s red light camera program has reduced dangerous angle crashes, which are three times more likely than rear-end crashes to cause serious injury or fatality (IDOT).

    The reduction in this type of accident has had a very real effect on public safety overall.

    Mayor Emanuel fired Chicago’s red light camera operator and put in new accountability and transparency initiatives that have been monitored by the independent inspector general.

…Adding… A new one just came in about Fioretti…

Attributable to Steve Mayberry, Emanuel Campaign Spokesman:

“Alderman Fioretti is against the red light camera program, but voted for its expansion in the 2009 City budget. The alderman doesn’t support the $13 minimum wage, but voted for the increase. He is opposed the use of TIFs to benefit large corporations, but pushed for $15 million in TIF dollars for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Alderman Fioretti does not have a problem with the Mayor—he has a problem with his own record.”

From the Garcia campaign…

“Commissioner Garcia has built his public career on listening to people — not ignoring them. He believes strongly local people know what is best for their neighborhoods. In this case, the camera was requested by River Forest. They also chose the vendor to be used. Both of those actions took place in 2013. Commissioner Garcia simply acted responsibly in listening to one of the municipalities covered by Cook County and ratifying their actions a full year later,” said campaign spokeswoman Monica Trevino.

“Today, Commissioner Garcia called for an investigation into the effectiveness of the red light camera program. For Mayor Emanuel to respond by unleashing his paid henchman is typical of his style of leadership. We still believe Mayor Emanuel owes Chicago drivers a thoughtful response to our red light camera proposal as soon as he returns from vacation. Until that time, the lights remain on and nobody is home.”

*** UPDATE 2 *** The Emanuel campaign retorts…

Attributable to Steve Mayberry, Emanuel Campaign Spokesman:

    “Just a short while ago, Commissioner Garcia’s campaign released a fundraising email about red light cameras, asking for donations at the end. We guess it really is, as he stated yesterday, ‘all about the money.’

    Was he ‘listening to the people’ when he accepted $1,500 from a red light camera vendor the day before he cast the deciding vote in their favor to install a red light camera?

    Did Commissioner Garcia personally accept the check from the company?

    Did Commissioner Garcia discuss with the company or its lobbyists the vote that was taking place the next day?

    Or does Commissioner Garcia want the public to believe that this is all just a strange coincidence?

    These are simple questions that someone seeking the City’s chief executive position should be willing to answer.”

*** UPDATE 3 *** Garcia campaign…

“It has been 2 days since the Tribune’s devastating profile of the red light camera program showed it was neither safe nor fair. And still Mayor Emanuel has refused to answer those facts. What we have been saying is the Mayor owes the people of Chicago a response on why his red light program is not working, and when he gets back from vacation, I hope he will answer that question. Until that time, the lights remain on and nobody is home, and that’s no way to run a City,” said Monica Trevino, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia spokeswoman.

“Instead of researching his own government, Mayor Emanuel is researching Chuy Garcia, and he’s not even doing a very good job. The Mayor should spend less time researching his political opponents and more time researching how to effectively run the City.” That is what we are talking about here is research. The research shows the city’s red light cameras have not been effective. That means we should stop the program and reassess. We should not send out another ticket until we can look people in the eye and say this program works.”

“River Forest asked for a red light at that intersection — and they chose the vendor — because research showed there was a need.” Those are the facts, but Mayor Emanuel obviously cares more about trying to score political points than he does about the facts. Chicago can do better.”

* Related…

* Are Rahm’s numbers creeping up? New internals show him near 50

- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      


Today’s quotable

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* Kurt Erickson

Please file this Rauner quote from Tuesday for future reference.

“I’m a competitive guy. I don’t lose.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   52 Comments      


Rauner’s gonna miss JBT more than he may know

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

There’s little doubt that the late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka would’ve continued her straight-talking ways during a Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner administration.

Topinka was “good copy” for reporters. When she criticized a budget or a fiscal position, we listened.

Other Statehouse denizens respected her fiscal smarts as well. If she attacked a proposal, legislators and everyone else under the dome took note.

Rauner showed great deference to Topinka after the election, officing in her Statehouse suite and giving her chief of staff the authority to hire most of his new employees. I don’t think there’s any question that he grew to truly admire the quirky redhead.

But Topinka had called for a far more gradual reduction to the state’s 2011 income tax hike than Gov.-elect Rauner has said he wants. A particularly brutal package of budget cuts or one-time gimmicks proposed by Rauner next year wouldn’t have gone down too well with her. Rauner would’ve had to take her opinion into account before unveiling his budget, or suffer the consequences afterward.

She was also much more liberal than Rauner admits to. Topinka was expected to help build bridges between Rauner and organized labor, as well as to Democrats and left of center groups she worked with over the years and who have not yet become comfortable with the idea of a Republican governor.

Yes, many of us lost a friend this month, but we also lost an experienced, respected politico who could counsel the new and inexperienced governor about how to be a more effective leader, and one who could help nudge him, publicly or privately, to stay on a more humane and fiscally responsible fiscal path.

And with Topinka’s post-election passing, I don’t see any of Rauner’s fellow Republicans out there with the power or credibility who will also have the guts to stand up to the guy.

Some holes can be patched here and there. Both Republican state legislative leaders have ties to unions, for example. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno is a former social worker who has championed human services causes.

But neither of those leaders have yet to show much independence from Rauner, whose money had a major impact on House races this year and could have an equally big impact on 2016 Senate races.

For instance, Gov. Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have all forcefully argued for a special election so that Rauner’s pick for Topinka’s replacement won’t serve beyond a 2016 special election. A four-year appointment by Rauner, they all argue, is just downright undemocratic.

When the topic was first broached, Rauner claimed such an election would be unconstitutional, but the Illinois Constitution clearly says that the appointee serves until the successor is elected and qualified “as may be provided by law.”

The next day, the two legislative leaders, Radogno and House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, released what higher-ups in the attorney general’s office derisively dismissed as a “half baked” legal opinion about why a special session would be unconstitutional.

The opinion deliberately left out crucial words in important constitutional passages, defied logic by claiming “as may be provided by law” passage didn’t allow the Legislature to actually do anything, and ignored committee reports from and debate at the state’s Constitutional Convention which made it abundantly clear that the Legislature has the authority to act.

Not only did that opinion bode ill for the incoming Rauner administration (with one person at the attorney general’s office saying it reminded her of Rod Blagojevich, whose lawyers would often pull legal arguments out of thin air to counter the attorney general), it also showed an astonishing servility by the two GOP legislative leaders.

I don’t know whether Comptroller Topinka would’ve wanted a special election to replace her in 2016, rather than allow her successor to serve four years until after the regularly scheduled 2018 election. None of us do. She had her partisan leanings, so she might be wary of holding a special election in a presidential election year, when Democrats do much better than off years. But she was also a small “d” democrat and a four-year appointment sure doesn’t feel democratic to many folks.

I do know, however, that Topinka never would’ve signed her name to an obviously bogus legal “argument” like the one released last week.

“There’s a hole in the hearts of the people of this state,” Gov. Quinn said at Topinka’s memorial service last week. That’s true. But there’s also now a gaping hole in the government which assumes power next month.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


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* Six Pack of Stats: White Sox 5, Mariners 0
* Jimenez, Rutherford in Saturday's top prospects
* Covey tosses gem, Leury robs HR in shutout
* Covey overthrows King Felix, 5-0
* Covey rebounds with scoreless gem vs. M's
* Moncada sets goal to reduce strikeouts


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