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Reader comments closed for the weekend

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Here’s Bryon White from The Damn Quails jamming a great Dylan tune in somebody’s living room

Dodging lions and wastin’ time

  Comments Off      

Long list of appointments by Gov. Rauner

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I’m going to leave comments opened late today so people have a chance to discuss these appointments. Click here to read it and I’ll compile a list in a few.

…Adding… Here they are, with a handful of notations…

* Randall Blankenhorn - Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation (CMAP Director, noted foe of Illiana and proponent of increasing state funding share for IDOT’s District 1, which includes the Chicago area)

* Donald Tracy - Member and Chair of the Illinois’ Gaming Board (This one could get the most press since he was a Rauner supporter and replaces a chairman who is popular with political reporters and editorial boards)

* Thomas Dunn - Member of the Illinois Gaming Board (Former Democratic state Senator, former Will County judge)

* James Joseph - Director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency

* Michael Mannion - Director, Division of Banking of the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (Former VP of Gvt. Relations for Blue Cross, former GOP staffer)

* Jay Stewart - Acting Secretary of the lllinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

* Shari Reiches - Member of the Illinois State Board of Investment (Principal at Rappaport Reiches Capital Management)

* Marc Levine - Member of the Illinois State Board of Investment (Ties to the Illinois Policy Institute, failed GOP candidate against Sen. Daniel Biss in 2012)

* Mark Cozzi - Member of the Illinois State Board of Investment (Rauner supporter on LGBT issues, Managing Partner, Lincoln Park Capital Group, served on Rauner’s transition team)

* Leo Schmitz - Director of the lllinois State Police

* Lula Ford - Member of the Illinois Board of Education (Another Rauner supporter, kicked off the ICC by Gov. Quinn)

* Eligio Pimentel - Member of the illinois Board of Education

* Craig Lindvahl - Member of the Illinois Board of Education

* Roberta Parks - Member of the Illinois Board of Education

…Adding More… Here’s the press release…

Name: James Joseph
Position: Director – Illinois Emergency Management Agency

Governor Bruce Rauner has selected James Joseph, 33, as the Director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Joseph will also serve as the Illinois Homeland Security Adviser. He brings nearly 15 years of experience in both the private and public sector to the position.

Since 2010, Joseph has worked for DuPage County in various roles within the Emergency Management Department. Currently, he is the Director and oversees three county departments, and is responsible for the Emergency Operations Center. For nearly two years, he served as Chief of the Security Division. He also was an Emergency Management Coordinator, where he managed county-wide emergencies and disasters.

Joseph also founded his own private security company called Center for Security Intelligence. He provided services in security operations, workplace violence prevention and emergency management. Clients included the Lake County Government, the 19th Judicial Circuit Court of Illinois and numerous businesses in the private sector.

Prior to owning his own business, Joseph worked at HSBC – North America as its Vice President of Security and Fraud Risk. He created and implemented security protocols for corporate offices, data centers and field offices. He also created security awareness strategies for the 70,000 employees of HSBC based in North America.

Joseph also holds a number of volunteer positions as a resident of Carol Stream. He is currently the Chairman of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners. He also is the Chairman Pro-Tem of the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

Joseph earned his bachelor’s degree in law enforcement from Oakton College. He also holds various certifications from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

· DuPage County – Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
o Director (2013-Present)
o Chief of Security Division (2011-2013)
o Emergency Management Coordinator (2010-2011)
· The Center for Security Intelligence, Owner/Consultant (2009-2010)
· HSBC – North America, Vice President – Security & Fraud Risk (2003-2008)
· Glenbrook Security Services, Account Manager, HSBC – North America (1999-2003)

Volunteer Service:
· Carol Stream Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, Chairman
· Carol Stream Planning Commission/Zoning Board of Appeals, Chairman Pro-Tem

Personal Information:
· Age: 33
· Hometown: Carol Stream

Board of Investment

Name: Mark Cozzi
Position: Member – State Board of Investment

Governor Bruce Rauner has selected Mark Cozzi to the Illinois State Board of Investment. Cozzi brings more than 25 years of private investment experience to the position.

Currently, Cozzi is the managing partner and founder of Lincoln Park Capital Group, and he provides consulting and advisory services to a wide-range of companies. He founded the company in 2008 and worked there until 2011. He rejoined the firm in 2014.

From 2011 to 2014, he was the senior managing director of the Electrum group, which is a private investment firm focused on the mining sector. He managed the company’s portfolio of investments.

Before Lincoln Park Capital Group, Cozzi was the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Leor Exploration and Production. In that role, he took a $22 million investment and transformed it into a $2.2 billion dollar equity stake in just three years for a 100 percent return on investment. He grew the company from two employees and $15 million in assets to 30 employees and $300 million in assets.

Cozzi holds an MBA from Northwestern University. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in business administration.

Name: Marc Levine
Position: Member – State Board of Investment

Governor Bruce Rauner has appointed Marc Levine, 51, to the State Board of Investment. Levine brings more than 25 years of investment and business experience to the position.

Most recently, Levine was the co-founder and managing partner of Chicago Asset Funding, LLC. He worked at this boutique investment banking and asset management firm for eight years until 2012. Levine was able to use the company’s unique structure to successfully invest during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Levine has a wide range of experience from companies and banks in Illinois, California and Florida, where he oversaw financial transactions at a number of levels. He also served on the Board of Directors of General Motors, Navistar, and other technology startups and communication companies.

Levine is a certified public accountant, and earned his degree in accounting from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He also has an MBA from Northwestern University.

Name: Shari Reiches
Position: Member – State Board of Investment

Governor Bruce Rauner has selected Shari Reiches, 52, to the Illinois State Board of Investment. Reiches has more than 30 years of experience in finance and capital management.

Reiches is currently a member, manager and principal of Rappaport Reiches Capital Management, which assists families and non-profit corporations with investment and financial planning. She co-manages the firm with other partners, and is the co-chair of the firm’s investment committee.

From 1999 to 2005, Reiches was the vice president of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., Inc., where she worked as a financial adviser. Prior to that, she worked for U.S. Bank and its predecessor institutions, eventually working her way up to the president of private banking. In that role, she managed the private banking division.

Reiches earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She earned a master’s degree in banking from the University of Wisconsin.

Board of Education

Name: Lula Ford
Position: Member – Illinois State Board of Education

Governor Rauner has named Lula Ford, 71, to the Illinois State Board of Education. Ford brings 34 years of experience as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent to the position. She also served the State of Illinois as an Illinois State Commerce Commissioner and as the Assistant Director of Central Management Services.

Ford began her career as an elementary school teacher in Chicago Public Schools. Throughout her three decade career at CPS, she was also a counselor and principal. Ford earned the Principal of Excellence Award from 1992-1994. She also served as an Assistant Superintendent and the Chief Instruction Officer.

Most recently, Ford was an Illinois State Commerce Commissioner. She served on that board for 10 years until 2013. Before that, she was the Assistant Director of the Illinois Central Management Services.

Ford earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She also holds two master’s degrees in inner city studies from Northeastern Illinois University, and vocational counseling from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Name: Craig Lindvahl
Position: Member – Illinois State Board of Education

Governor Bruce Rauner has appointed Craig Lindvahl, 57, to the Illinois State Board of Education. Lindvahl brings more than 35 years of experience in education and business to the board. Lindvahl is an award-winning educator earning the prestigious Milken National Educator Award, and has twice been a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year.

Lindvahl is currently the Executive Director of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, which is a company that educates future business leaders. He oversees the CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program. He speaks across the country about CEO, millennials and economic development.

Lindvahl spent 34 years in the classrooms of the Teutopolis District 50 Schools. He taught music, band, television production and entrepreneurship programs. Some of the accomplishments during his tenure include tripling the size of the district band program and the creation of a television production program. He also led a group of students to the Marshall Islands to produce a student-led documentary about the country and culture. The product was distributed to 5,000 schools through the Peace Corps.

Lindvahl is also an award-winning filmmaker, having earned 12 Mid-America Emmy Awards and 11 Telly Awards for his writing, producing, camera work and editing. Projects have taken him all over the world, and given him the ability to work with students from more than 25 countries. He currently owns Callan Films Corporation, which produces documentaries and corporate projects.

Name: Roberta Parks
Position: Member – Illinois State Board of Education

Governor Bruce Rauner has selected Roberta Parks, 64, to the Illinois State Board of Education. Parks brings more than 35 years of experience to the position.

As the Vice President for UnityPoint Health Methodist|Proctor Foundation, she oversees the $27 million foundation, which benefits two hospitals and doctors in the system, along with Methodist College. This also includes fund development; donor relations; and the communications of major gifts, planned giving and special events.

For 15 years until 2013, Parks was the President of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce. She was responsible for all operations of the 1,100 member organization. Parks was directly responsible for government affairs, education, transportation and community development programs.

Parks has also worked for the City of Peoria as the Intergovernmental Coordinator. She worked in tandem with the Mayor and City Council to serve the people of Peoria.

Parks is a graduate of Bradley University, with a bachelor’s degree in business management.

Name: Eligio Cerda Pimentel
Position: Member - Illinois State Board of Education

Governor Bruce Rauner has selected Eligio Cerda Pimentel, 49, to join the Illinois State Board of Education. Pimentel has a demonstrated track record of supporting education in underprivileged communities through his work in the community. He brings nearly 20 years of professional experience, both as an attorney and engineer, to the position.

Currently, Pimentel is an attorney and board member at McAndrews, Held & Malloy, Ltd. He joined the firm as an associate in 1996, working his way up to a member of the board. Pimentel is a patent attorney, focusing on litigation; and he maintains a transactional practice focusing on intellectual property rights.

Pimentel is an avid-supporter of providing educational opportunities to economically disadvantaged children. He is currently on the Board of Directors of Cristo Rey High School, serving students on Chicago’s southwest side who could not otherwise afford a private college-prep education. Pimentel also served on the Board of Directors of the Mary Crane Center, which promotes early-childhood education on Chicago’s west and northwest sides.

Pimentel is the son of migrant farm workers from California’s Central Valley. He went on to Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He worked for three years as an engineer at the Bechtel Corporation, and then decided to go to law school, earning his Juris Doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

Gaming Board

Name: Don Tracy
Position: Chairman - Illinois Gaming Board

Governor Bruce Rauner has selected Don Tracy, 54, to become Chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board. Tracy’s background as an attorney and business owner gives him the experience necessary to lead the board dealing with an important industry in Illinois.

Tracy is currently a partner at Brown, Hay & Stephens LLP, which is the state’s oldest law firm and the former firm of President Abraham Lincoln. Tracy currently practices corporate law, including acquisitions and business litigation. He represents a number of closely held and family businesses. Tracy is also general outside counsel to Dot Foods, Inc., which he owns with his 11 siblings. Dot Foods is the nation’s largest food re-distributor.

Prior to joining Brown, Hay & Stephens, LLP in 1995, Tracy was a partner at Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen for six years. He also owned and operated his own law firm for nine years. Tracy also has experience as in-house counsel at the Illinois National Bank of Springfield. He began his law career at Baker & Donelson in Memphis, Tenn.

Tracy serves on a number of boards in the Springfield area, including the Abraham Lincoln Association, the Dana Thomas House Foundation and the Illinois National Guard & Militia Historical Society. He also was appointed to the Oak Ridge Cemetery Board in 1992 and served on it for four years.

Tracy is a graduate of Arizona State University and has a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He earned his law degree from the University of Memphis.

Name: Thomas Dunn
Position: Member - Illinois Gaming Board

Governor Bruce Rauner has named former Will County associate judge and state Senator Thomas Dunn to become a member of the Illinois Gaming Board. Dunn, 72, was instrumental in bringing riverboat gambling to his district of Joliet, which brings a different perspective to the board.

Dunn served the people of Joliet and Will County as a state senator from 1972 to 1997. He was a ranking member of the judiciary committee, and also served on the public health, welfare, corrections and revenue committees.

Most recently, Dunn served as an associate judge for Will County. He was appointed in 1997 and served for eight years until 2005. He is a graduate of St. Ambrose College with degrees in political science and history. He earned his law degree from DePaul University.


Question of the day

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Gov. Bruce Rauner is to the state budget as _____ is to _____.

Keep it clean, people.


*** UPDATED x1 *** The Democrats’ budget time bomb is starting to explode

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* As we’ve discussed before, the state’s child care program is pretty much broke. From the governor’s office

The budget signed by (former) Governor Pat Quinn last year did not provide adequate funding for the entire Fiscal Year 2015. As a result, the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) faces a $296 million hole and state-funded payments to the program will cease this month unless a responsible solution and appropriate funding source is found. CCAP continues to operate on Federal funding, but those funds only support half of the program, which will result in payment delays after February 1.

Finger-pointing aside (and it’s justifiable), this is a serious problem.

* Child care providers just received a memo from the state…

“Beginning in February providers will experience a delay in payments for child care services through June 30, 2015.

The funding shortfall may also result in service reductions to the Child Care Assistance Program.

In the past we have combined Federal funds with State funds in order to pay the monthly bills for child care services; however, this is no longer possible as only Federal funds remain. This means that we are unable to make CCAP payments to providers until the latter part of the month, which is when we receive our Federal funding.

Because the allocation of Federal funding is not enough to pay an entire month, unpaid bills will be carried over to the next month and payment delays will get progressively longer each month.”


There are a whole lot of small, owner-operated child care providers out there who are not going to survive very long.

And when that happens, working parents will have to scramble to find somebody else, or even quit their jobs. Same goes for parents in school.

* GOP state Sen. Dave Syverson was quoted in a story posted earlier today

[Syverson] warned that as soon as Feb. 1 childcare providers could not be receiving reimbursement from the state unless the General Assembly passes a supplemental bill.

“(But) if we don’t pass a supplemental, then the money dries up in the account and the day cares don’t get paid and all of these families that are currently out there working, most of them at minimum wage and low-wage jobs, they’re out of luck,” added Syverson.

Letting the money dry up would create a ripple effect and force many daycare centers to close, said Richard Wooten, associate pastor at Faith-Walk International Church in Englewood.

“The local economy would collapse if daycare centers start shutting down especially in communities already battling high unemployment. Parents would not be able to go to work and that means less money spent on goods and services,” said Wooten

…Adding… Soccermom notes

Passing a supplemental does not put money into GRF. No more than writing a check puts money in your account.

That’s correct. They’ll have to find the money somewhere, either through new revenues or skimming special state funds. Moving “extra” GRF around probably won’t work because, well, there is no extra GRF money right now.

*** UPDATE *** Riopell

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and top budget negotiator, says Rauner has a solution. He says there’s about $700 million in surplus money in dozens of accounts across state government that could be used to fill the hole. The budget was crafted to allow the governor to transfer some of that money into the state’s general checkbook, Kotowski said.

Kotowski said Rauner should transfer the money out of those accounts, which collect money from various fees.

“This is a perfect time to draw from those surplus dollars,” Kotowski said.

Rauner has referred to this move in recent weeks, criticizing lawmakers and Quinn for counting the act of borrowing money from other accounts as income. His office disputes Kotowski’s opinion, saying in a budget memo that such methods aren’t available to fix the shortfall.

“Unfortunately, current law prohibits the governor from using common-sense budget management techniques to ensure the Child Care Assistance Program and other vital services endure for the rest of Fiscal Year 2015,” the memo reads.

They need to figure this out.


State threatens to zap all Chicago GSA school funding

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Greg Hinz

Who’s going to back down?

That’s the question that no one is answering after I reported earlier in the week that the U.S. Department of Education of threatening to cut off nearly $1.2 billion in Illinois school aid because of a student-testing flap with Chicago Public Schools.

The clash effectively pits Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who once headed CPS, against the woman who now holds that job, Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Eventually, it also potentially pits Gov. Bruce Rauner against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, because the threatened loss of funds could affect not only Chicago, which is refusing in most schools to use a new test linked to the national Common Core standards, but school aid statewide, which Rauner has made a priority.

Asked if those involved are making any progress resolving the standoff, Duncan’s spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the letter to the Illinois State Board of Education that threatened to hold up the $1.2 billion will have to speak for itself.

CPS’ spokesman says he’s still gathering information—for two days now. And aides to Rauner and Emanuel aren’t saying, though they clearly know what’s going on.

* Well, Christopher Koch, the state’s Superintendent of Education, and James Meeks, the State Board of Education Chairman, just sent a letter to all local superintendents and school board chairs that explicitly threatens Chicago with a cutoff of state funding

ISBE is also prepared to take recognition action pursuant to 23 Ill Admin. Code 1.20 against any district that fails to properly administer the PARCC exam to all students. As you are aware, a non-recognized district will lose General State Aid funding.

Please understand that if a district does not administer the assessment, it not only places the district at risk of losing federal funds but it also places the entire State at risk of losing federal funds. According to communications with USDOE, if ISBE fails to sanction a district for failure to test, USDOE will withhold federal funds from the State. In addition, USDOE has made clear that noncompliance with the assessment requirement also places Illinois at risk of losing its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver.

ISBE must and will enforce the provisions of ESEA as required by federal law so that ISBE does not place the State at risk of action by the USDOE and because we are committed to implementing valid and reliable performance measures for our schools.

Emphasis added.


Another optics problem

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* This started off with a chief of staff for the First Lady and is now mushrooming into a full-fledged meme

While criticizing state spending and state worker salaries as too high, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is paying top members of his administration significantly more than their predecessors in Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration, a review by The Associated Press has found.

An AP review of state payroll records found nine of ten top administrative posts paying more under Rauner, who took office earlier this month. On an annual basis, those Rauner staffers will make more than the equivalent Quinn staffers by nearly 36 percent, or roughly $380,000.

Among those receiving more is Rauner’s deputy governor, Olin “Trey” Childress III, a former chief operating officer for the state of Georgia, who is making $198,000 a year, a 24 percent increase over Quinn’s deputy governor’s $150,000 salary.

Rauner has been bashing state workers, complaining about an exploding payroll and an unsustainable state spending spree, yet nobody thought this could happen when salaries were set? Or did they figure it would happen and didn’t care? That would be a perfectly stereotypical 1 percenter way of thinking. All for me and none for you.

* Also, he’s got plenty of protection money in the bank

Rauner hasn’t said how exactly he plans to spend that $20 million-plus, but he made it clear talking to reporters on the day after he was inaugurated this month that he’s preparing to charge again into the battle for hearts and minds.

“The voters need to be informed about the issues and what’s going on,” he said. “The voters need to understand my personal view of the issues and the agenda … . We’ve got to get our message to the voters and to the citizens, the taxpayers, the families …” […]

I can easily imagine his presentation repackaged into television commercials as he attempts to take his urgent “turnaround” message directly to the people, bypassing media critics and analysts who are challenging some of Rauner’s numbers.


This is why we can’t have nice things

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From commenter Arthur Andersen, who is an old hand on the pension front

(T)he argument about members’ contributions being “a small percentage” of the total pension payments over a lifetime is a red herring that provides no justification for the hugely expensive swap to the inferior [defined contribution] plan.

In one sample case I’ve examined, a 31-year State worker with time in SERS and TRS recovered his contributions in about 3.5 years. If one assumes a State match of contributions, the recovery time goes to 7 years.

Now here’s where it gets interesting; if those contributions were accounted for separately and earned what the pension funds over the working career of the employee-the contributions are now worth over 13 years of the pension.

In turn, taking that hypothetical amount and annuitizing it for 28 years (average life expectancy) at 8% with monthly withdrawals equal to the pension payment, there was actually some money (but not much) left over.

In other words, if the state had made its payments all along there would be no problem today.

Yes, you could argue that an 8 percent return over time is too high of an expectation. But if so, why is the IMRF fund in such good shape? They didn’t necessarily invest spectacularly better than the TRS or SERS. The key difference is municipalities had to make those payments or the state could snatch their revenue sharing money.


Tiny, secluded county wants no part of ATV plan

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* NIMBY strikes again

One of the first tasks awaiting Illinois’ new state park czar is finding common ground over a proposed new park for all-terrain vehicle riders.

Hunters, neighbors and local officials have raised red flags over a plan to transform an undeveloped part of a western Illinois state park into a haven for motorcycle and off-highway vehicle riders, arguing the facility would take a prime white-tail deer hunting spot out of circulation with noise and increased traffic.

Off-highway vehicle aficionados say the state needs to move forward on the park in order to justify a new fee the state is charging on their vehicles.

The state’s new ATV fee is between $10 and $15. The money is supposed to go to build an ATV course on a state park. And the Buckhorn unit of Siloam Springs State Park is a little-used area in need of some upgrades. The state bought the land with federal money in 2001 and hasn’t done much to upgrade the thing.

* Locals are peeved

John Falrin, chairman of the Brown County Board of Supervisors, said public sentiment is against the park. In December, the board approved a resolution opposing the facility.

“I could never find anybody in this county that said they would use something like this,” Falrin said.

He also doubts the park would result in a big bump in tax revenue.

“What are they going to buy here? A little gasoline? A little beer? That’s not going to amount to much,” Falrin said.

Oh, I dunno, maybe the local antique shop and restaurant owners might see a substantial uptick, or a new ATV/RV sales and repair shop could open? Maybe even a new motel or bed and breakfast, for those not into camping?

Sheesh. The guy has zero imagination.

* Here’s how Brown County, population 6,937, touts itself on its website

We are a small community with big city thinking!

Big city thinking, perhaps, but they sure don’t want any of those big city people coming in.

* Les Davenport at Heartland Outdoors penned a vicious screed against the ATV park before the announcement was made. But he actually wound up undermining his fellow opponents and partially made the case for it

Decrepit, dangerous buildings are still standing in this public area. The Buckhorn, however, does provide thousands of resident-only deer hunters, small game hunters, fishermen, mushroom seekers and hikers a great place to enjoy the sights and whispers of nature. This may end soon if Director Marc Miller gets his way!

It is strongly rumored that Miller wants to turn this park into “The Midwest’s Biggest and Best ATV Park.” It’s said that he wishes to draw ATV enthusiasts from all across the Midwest. Most of us would rather see non-residents stay in their own state and tear up their own public land.

OK, first of all, those “decrepit, dangerous buildings” on the parkland will finally be fixed. And, secondly, locals don’t own that land, the state does. If they don’t want “non-residents” using “their” park, then they should buy their own park.

* Last summer, I was looking for a place to camp during Labor Day weekend. I stumbled across a Missouri state park which looked interesting

The roar of engines breaks the stillness of the Old Lead Belt at St. Joe State Park, one of two off-road vehicle parks in the state system. The sand flats, hills, and 2,000 acres set aside for off-road vehicle use make the park the premiere off-road vehicle area. The park also features four lakes, with two swimming beaches, an equestrian trail, a hiking and bicycling trail, and picnic sites, as well as two campgrounds capable of accommodating campers with ORV or horse trailers.

I don’t have an ATV, but that seemed like a pretty cool thing to do. I may get one if this Illinois park opens. And tons of state parks throughout the country have set aside land for ATV parks.

* I get that some locals don’t want the noise or the bother of an ATV park in their area. But this thing has to go somewhere.


It’s just a bill

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Keep in mind that not a single substantive committee meeting has yet been held in either chamber. So, this period is akin to the lead-up to pitchers and catchers reporting. Most of these ideas make for great press pops, and that’s about it

Lawmakers are toying with the idea of legalizing the sale of fireworks in Illinois. State Rep David Reis says it would be a great way to boost state revenues and keep people from going to other states to pick them up. But some fire chiefs and law enforcement officials think it’s a bad idea. They say it’ll cause a spike in fire related injuries and any extra money that comes in would be offset with increased medical claims and calls to first responders.

* I’d like to see this pass, but some school reformers (like Gov. Rauner) tend to love standardized testing because it can be used as a tool to put pressure on the hated teachers. So, this idea may have an uncertain future

Parents and educators alike have been questioning the increasing number of standardized tests now required in public schools. A measure filed by Illinois State Representative Will Guzzardi would give moms and dads a way to allow their kid to skip these exams.

“Seven other states have statutes allowing parents to opt out of their standardized testing,” Gizzard says. “Those states haven’t seen any sort of diminishment of their federal funding or anything like that, as some of the doom-and-gloom folks suggest might happen.”

Those states are California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nebraska and Utah.

* Nice press pop, really bad idea

State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) filed legislation this week that would make Illinois the 25th state that allows municipalities to seek bankruptcy protections under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Chapter 9 allows for bankruptcy protection, but includes a provision that requires a municipality to gain state authorization as part of the filing. Currently, Illinois statutes do not allow for such authorization for municipal governments.

“House Bill 298 would allow desolate and debt-ridden municipalities in Illinois to seek bankruptcy protections through the federal bankruptcy law,” said Sandack. “As more and more municipalities are looking for relief and ways to deal with rising pension liabilities and other costs, this is a tool that can help them stabilize and reorganize financial affairs in ways that benefit taxpayers.”

* Press release…

In an effort to give terminally-ill patients access to clinical-trial, experimental medical treatments, the bipartisan duo of State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Lisle) and State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) are seeking to bring “Right to Try” to Illinois.

If passed, Senate Bill 29 would make Illinois the sixth state in the nation to pass this potentially lifesaving access to experimental medical treatments. Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri have pass the initiatives either through their legislatures or through referenda.

“It is incumbent upon us in the General Assembly to provide our constituents afflicted with terminal illness access to potentially life-saving or life-extending medications that have been deemed safe by the FDA. This legislation does just that,” Connelly said.

“I hope this shows that in Illinois, Republicans and Democrats, social liberals or social conservatives, can reach across the aisle to solve problems for suffering families. These families are desperate to cut through red-tape to access possible cures for their loved ones when all other treatments have failed.” Harris said. “‘Right to try’ is a huge leap forward to help connect our state’s most terminal patients with some of the nation’s best medical resources, including those here in Chicago and give them the gift of life.”

Good idea, but it’s gonna take a whole lot of work and attention to details.

* Illinois Review

One Illinois lawmaker who is working to give Illinois kids a good education now is State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who told the crowd of parents and students that she’s dedicated to making school choice a reality in Illinois.

Ives isn’t starting from scratch. A pilot voucher program nearly passed the General Assembly in 2010, when a Democratic state senator and a Democratic state representative took up the education reform mantle. The legislation passed the Illinois Senate, but stalled in the Illinois House with the help of downstate Republican lawmakers who refused to support parental choice because of the power of the public schools, which are one of the region’s largest employers.

Ives said she intends to shepherd through the House two education reform proposals this year: one to resurrect the failed 2010 voucher bill and another to increase the state’s tuition tax credit above the current meager $500 level.

Ives hasn’t passed any major legislation before, preferring instead to oppose things. It’s encouraging that she now wants to be part of a solution, but she has a lot of bridges to repair.

* And something different

Lawmakers in Illinois may take action that would reduce the price parents pay for diapers.

State Senator Martin Sandoval is proposing that the state sales tax on diapers and wipes be cut from 6.25 percent to 1 percent.

The lower rate is the one charged for groceries, medicine and certain medical products.


Feds drop drug conspiracy charges

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Tribune

Federal prosecutors in Chicago have quietly dropped narcotics conspiracy charges against more than two dozen defendants accused of ripping off drug stash houses as part of controversial undercover stings that have sparked allegations across the country of entrapment and racial profiling.

The decade-old strategy is also under fire because federal authorities, as part of a ruse, led targets to think large quantities of cocaine were often stashed in the hideouts, ensuring long prison terms upon conviction because of how federal sentencing laws work. […]

The stings, led by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, have been highly criticized for targeting mostly minority suspects, many of whom were drawn into the bogus rip-offs by informants who promised easy money at vulnerable points in their lives.

The cases are built on an elaborate ruse concocted by the ATF. Everything about the stash house is fictitious and follows a familiar script, from supposedly armed guards that need to be dealt with to the quantity of drugs purportedly stashed there. By pretending the house contains a large amount of narcotics, authorities can vastly escalate the potential prison time defendants face, including up to life sentences.

I’m pretty sure I already told you that a former uncle of mine by marriage was caught up in a sting very similar to this. He thought he was unloading a plane that was chock full of cocaine, but the cocaine was actually just drywall paste and the plane was owned by the feds. He was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for conspiracy.

He was hanging out with some very bad people back then, so it was probably only a matter of time before he was busted for something. He has since totally turned his life around.

But ten years for drywall paste seemed a bit much.


Governing ain’t easy

Friday, Jan 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Phil Kadner writes about the problem with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pledge to swich current state workers and teachers into defined contribution 401(K) plans

Dave Urbanek, a spokesman for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, said any such change would not be nearly as simple as it sounds.

He said there’s roughly a $104 billion deficit in the state’s five pension funds, and “that’s money the state owes. There are currently 395,000 people in the (TRS) system, including 159,838 active teachers.

“If you close (TRS), freeze it so there are no new members coming in and current members can no longer contribute to the pension system because they would be making contributions to their 401(k) plans, the state would still have to find a way to pay the $928 million a year contribution (to TRS) for active members who are eligible to retire in the future.

“They (active members) would no longer be contributing to the pension system but would still be eligible to collect a pension for their years of service prior to the switch.

“In addition, the state would have less time to make up the $104 billion debt to its pension systems. When you have an open system, you can project costs far into the future. But when you have a closed system, you have a defined end date. So you have to make larger payments in a shorter time frame to fulfill the state’s commitment.

“Also, the amount generated by investment would decrease because of the shorter time frame of a closed system.

Urbanek pointed out that the state would have to make some form of contribution to the 401(k) plans of active teachers, while also making payments into TRS.

“Someone would have to figure out, in the end, if the state would actually be saving money or if it would cost more to make the switch,” he said.



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