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Question of the day

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* What are you most thankful for?

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      

Today’s number: $1,428.57

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* Greg Hinz

A Chicago big business group says it’s going to keep pushing Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan to negotiate a state budget deal, even though neither politician seems ready to blink and the effort itself may not be very popular with some.

In a joint interview, the two top executives of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, President Ty Fahner and Chairman Frederick “Rick” Waddell, said they think they’ve had impact with the $1 million spent so far on ads, billboards and other media, and intend to keep talking.

“I think the campaign has been pretty successful,” said Waddell, who on his day job is chairman and CEO of Northern Trust. Specifically, the committee’s LOL Illinois campaign has reached over 1 million people, they say, led to an active Facebook page with 38,000 comments, and generated 700 letters to Rauner, Madigan and other lawmakers. […]

Fahner said he’s spoken with both the governor and speaker, and he sees no sign yet they’re ready to do a deal.

Neither Fahner nor Waddell nor a third Civic Committee member, retired PricewaterhouseCoopers exec Jan Henderson, would say who’s more to blame, Madigan or Rauner. Nor would they lay out terms of a proposed compromise, with Fahner saying that’s up to the Springfield principals to accomplish.

A million bucks to generate 700 letters works out to $1,428.57 per letter. LOL really needs to work on its ROI.

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      

Today’s quotable

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* OK, fine. But when are we supposed to start counting?…

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      

This should never have happened

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* New York Times

A school bus driver was speeding and swerving when he crashed on Monday, killing at least five students, the authorities said, in one of the deadliest school bus accidents in recent years.

In an arrest affidavit that the Hamilton County General Sessions Court released on Tuesday, the authorities said the driver, Johnthony K. Walker, 24, had been driving at “a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour” at the time of the wreck. Mr. Walker has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide.

“Mr. Walker lost control of the bus and swerved off the roadway to the right, striking an elevated driveway and mailbox, swerved to the left and began to overturn, striking a telephone pole and a tree,” said the court filing. It said Mr. Walker was being charged because of “the reckless nature” of his driving.

Details of the crash emerged Tuesday as Woodmore Elementary School, whose student body is mostly impoverished, began a day of mourning. Thirty-seven students were on board the bus when it crashed, and Kirk Kelly, the interim school superintendent for Hamilton County, said at least five students had been killed.


According to the driving history report, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker had a wreck in a school bus two months ago.

On Sept. 20, Walker was driving a school bus on Sylvan Drive in Chattanooga. That’s when, according to the police report, he sideswiped a Kia Soul going in the opposite direction. This reportedly happened at a blind curve in the road. He failed to yield.

And, yet, there he was still driving.

* From the Tennessean

The private company that owned the bus involved in Monday’s fatal wreck in Chattanooga that killed five elementary school students has 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the last 24 months, according to federal records.

Durham School Services, based in Warrenville, Ill., has more than 13,000 vehicles and 13,000 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They’re a large company, and they have an overall satisfactory safety rating from the administration, but they still have more problems when it comes to driver fitness than their peers, the records show.

The administration’s records on Durham state “93% of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance than this motor carrier.”

A safety event group includes other similar bus and truck companies. In the last 24 months, Durham has been involved in 346 crashes, 201 of which were towaway wrecks. That data was last updated in late October.

We’ve talked about these privatized school bus companies before, but that’s not why I posted this story. The company is based in Warrenville, but that’s not why I posted it either.

* I got a text from Steve Schnorf today. His wife has been a Big Sister to a girl named Zoie for the past four years. Zoie was a “beautiful, delightful, sweet and innocent little girl 3 weeks short of her 10th birthday,” Steve said. She was also on that bus. And she was one of the children who died.

Steve, his wife Jane and Zoie were supposed to all have dinner tonight. The authorities identified Zoie’s body by the jacket and bookbag Jane had bought for her.

* Her sister has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for medical and funeral expenses. Zoie’s brother Zach was injured in the crash and is in critical condition. Click here to give. Here’s a photo…

* Related…

* Durham School Services: Why Outsourcing Is Right For You

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      

More lousy pension news

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* Greg Hinz

A Chicago agency that thought it had finally solved its pension woes has been dragged back into a nasty underfunding morass, and the situation is complicating its new budget.

Three years ago, the Chicago Park District reached a precedent-setting deal with its unions that called for both workers and taxpayers to pay more, and for the district’s retirement plan to be fully funded by 2049. But then the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in cases dealing with the state and city that benefits could not be reduced for those already on the payroll, and SEIU sued to overturn the park district deal.

“We believe we will lose the court case,” concedes Steve Lux, the district’s chief financial officer. So, as per a preliminary court ruling, both the district and workers are back on their lower, previous funding schedule, even though as of Dec. 31 the park district’s pension fund was roughly $515 million short of the assets needed to pay promised benefits, and was only 43 percent funded.

In the short run, that means extra money for pensions will not have to be included in the $449.4 million proposed 2017 budget parks Superintendent Mike Kelly is unveiling today. The district will contribute $20.1 million toward pensions, about $7 million less than required under the 2013 deal and less than the $36 million that actuarially is required. […]

If the district ends up following the pattern in the city, new hires will pay more, and taxpayers will pay a lot more. In the city’s case, police and fire retirement funds are getting a $453 million property tax hike that’s being phased in over several years. There are other levies for other employee units.

- Posted by Rich Miller   35 Comments      

New “Stranded by the State” documentary series debuts

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* From In These Times

Illinois has not passed a real budget in over a year, the first state to do so since the Great Depression. The ongoing fight over the budget between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly has been covered widely, but what do the effects of this lingering crisis look like in people’s day-to-day lives? This new video series—a collaboration between In These Times and Kartemquin Films—follows the families, workers and students living through the de facto budget cuts, showing the ways it deteriorates the fabric of Illinois communities.

Each episode will focus on a different aspect of the crisis—from higher education to social services to housing—as well as who is benefiting from the crisis and what kinds of solutions could ultimately solve it. The series incorporates data connecting the situation in Illinois to long-term trends of austerity affecting the country at large, and how it ultimately costs taxpayers more in the long run.

* Here’s the trailer for the film series

* And here’s the first episode, which is about higher education with a focus on Eastern Illinois University

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      

Should Illinois repeal the estate tax?

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* Illinois Policy Institute

With Republicans winning the presidential race and controlling both houses of Congress, federal tax code changes may be on the way, and Illinois should prepare by getting its state tax code in order. One of the first changes Illinois should make is to repeal the state’s death tax. The death tax drives out-migration of high-income Illinoisans, and it reduces economic growth in the Land of Lincoln. This tax particularly harms owners of farms and manufacturing firms.

One area of agreement between President-elect Donald Trump and the Republicans who will control Congress is on the need to repeal the federal death tax. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax reform plan includes a full repeal of the federal estate tax, as does the plan put forward by Trump.

A repeal of the federal death tax would put pressure on Illinois, the District of Columbia and the 16 other states that still have a version of the tax. Under the current system, state death taxes can be deducted against federal death taxes. Without the state deduction against federal taxes, the state-based death tax will become an even greater driver of wealth flight from states that still impose the tax.

Over the past two decades, Illinois has sustained a net loss of $50 billion in annual adjusted gross income due to migration losses to other states. More than $14 billion of that loss came during the four years of the income-tax hike. This amounts to a severe loss of both economic activity and desperately needed tax revenue.

The largest recipients of wealth from Illinois are states without a death tax and without an income tax – with Florida and Texas in the lead.

Nowhere does the piece mention that the first $4 million is exempt from the state tax. At an average of $7,450 per acre, the first 537 acres of farmland could be willed tax free.

Even with that large exemption, Illinois took in $306 million from the tax last fiscal year.

Your thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   76 Comments      

*** UPDATED x3 - Rauner administration: Commitment to move bill to cap rates *** Update on the Exelon/ComEd bill

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* There have been three late updates to the Exelon/ComEd story we’ve been following.

First, ComEd will reportedly drop its complicated and unprecedented “demand rates” scheme at a noon meeting today. The proposal was characterized by the governor’s office yesterday as “insane rates.”

Second, I’m told that the subsidy for coal-fired power plants will likely be dumped.

Third, enviros are saying the best way to satisfy the governor’s demand that ratepayers not be socked with huge increases to subsidize Exelon’s unprofitable nuke plants is to move forward with an ambitious energy conservation program. Ameren has not been happy with that, however. So, we’ll see.

* Plus, there’s this

NRDC estimates that the savings from efficiency outnumber the costs by about 3 to 1.

But advocates for large commercial users counter that, with energy costs a major concern, industrials have been investing in efficiency for years—well before it became a cause celebre in the age of climate change. They are resentful that they’re being asked to pay so much more for programs controlled exclusively by the utility that likely will benefit peers and competitors that haven’t invested as much in saving electricity.

IMA’s Denzler says manufacturers want the ability to opt out of the utility program and pursue their own initiatives, which they can do in Illinois to comply with requirements to reduce natural gas consumption. The bill doesn’t currently allow for that.

Also raising the costs for power consumers, both commercial and residential, is that ComEd would be allowed for the first time to earn a profit from administering the efficiency programs. Under current law, ComEd recovers its costs via a surcharge on customer electric bills but isn’t permitted to earn a return.

Neme, representing NRDC, says more-efficient use of electricity benefits all customers, whether they participate directly in the programs or not, by holding down prices and lowering their bills. Efficiency gains are a particularly potent price suppressor if they take hold at peak-demand times like hot summer afternoons. “That’s the challenge of efficiency,” he says. “The benefits don’t show up on your bill in as visible a way as the costs do.”

* More specifically, here’s how the company gets its money

Under existing law, ComEd collects money from ratepayers to help support energy efficiency efforts. If a consumer decides to upgrade to a new thermostat, for example, those dollars allow ComEd to provide a rebate to help defray the cost. Currently, it’s a pay-as-you-go system with ratepayer dollars being doled out as needed.

The proposed change would allow ComEd to instead finance those costs on behalf of ratepayers, and collect a management fee and interest in the process.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office has likened it to forcing customers to take out a mortgage they don’t necessarily want. Cara Hendrickson, an attorney in Madigan’s office, told a panel of lawmakers last week that the provision would, for the first time, allow utility companies to build profits into the energy efficiency program.

“Of the $3.6 billion in additional spending (on energy efficiency), roughly $1 billion of that would go exclusively to profit,” Hendrickson said. “We don’t think that is a good use of ratepayer dollars.”

The governor’s office, you may recall, said yesterday that it supports conservation efforts.

*** UPDATE 1 ***   Press release…

Experts on Illinois energy issues will hold a teleconference Tuesday morning to emphasize the role that energy efficiency would play in lowering the bills for residential, institutional and commercial customers under legislation being considered by the Illinois General Assembly.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) commissioned an analysis with energy efficiency experts which points to $7 billion in savings under the bill.

During hearings held last week and in other public statements, many lawmakers suggested that the scope of the legislation might need to be scaled back, singling out the bill’s support for coal plants and potential changes to rate design as two areas that might need to be changed.

Scheduled to join in the teleconference will be representatives of the NRDC, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. They will point out that the savings, while significant, would only be available to customers in ComEd’s service territory, and will urge Ameren Illinois to make similar commitments to deliver savings to its customers in Central and Southern Illinois.

*** UPDATE 2 *** From a senior Rauner administration official…

The following is a quick readout from this morning’s productive discussions between Exelon and ComEd senior leadership and senior Rauner Administration leadership.

Exelon and ComEd agreed to remove demand rates and keep the plants open for at least 10 years, potentially 12 years. Following intense discussion regarding potential energy price spikes for both consumers and large employers, Exelon and ComEd committed to working with Ameren on inserting a guarantee into the legislation that would by law protect both consumers and large employers from any significant rate increase.

There are some remaining skeptics, however, so don’t get the champagne out yet.

…Adding… Some headlines were changed as clarity emerged. There’s a “commitment to work on putting a guarantee in a bill” that would cap rates. However, there’s no language yet. And as mentioned directly above, there are still opponents.

*** UPDATE 3 *** Hearing word of a very loud shouting match and real trouble on the deal.

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

Find another way

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* Heartbreaking

Residents, staff and neighbors of an Uptown shelter, scheduled to close just before Christmas, protested in front of the People’s Church on Monday to call on state legislators to pass a budget when they return to Springfield next week.

The shelter is operated by North Side Housing and Supportive Services and is housed by the church, 941 W. Lawrence Ave. It has 72 beds and serves single men, like Stanley Weatherspoon, who came to the shelter after he was no longer able to afford his rent.

“It’s inhumane to send people out on the streets right as winter arrives,” Weatherspoon said, referring to the planned Dec. 23 closing date. “We need Governor [Bruce] Rauner and the legislators to make the big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share so that we can keep these shelters open.”

* But they’re pinning their hopes on an impossible dream

The speakers at the protest support an amendment to House Bill 293, sponsored by Rep. Will Davis, which was filed in Springfield last week. According to estimates, this amendment would raise $2.5 billion by closing corporate tax loopholes. It would also enact a progressive income tax and a [LaSalle] street tax for a total revenue increase of $23.5 billion.

The General Assembly couldn’t (and wouldn’t) pass that stuff when they had veto-proof Democratic majorities and a Democratic governor.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

Should we be concerned that the squirrels are fighting back?

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* From an October 21st Sun-Times story

Chicago is wasting a ton of money replacing and repairing garbage carts because “aggressive squirrels” are eating through them, a South Side aldermen said Friday.

Colleagues giggled at the mere mention of what amounts to squirrels on steroids, but Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) was dead serious.

“It’s a pet peeve. It does invoke some giggles. But we are spending too much money on replacing garbage carts because the squirrels continue to eat through ’em,” Brookins, former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, declared.

“I get calls [with residents saying], ‘I need a new garbage can.’ I just gave you a garbage can. [And the caller says], ‘Well, the squirrels ate through it in two days and nobody wants trash throughout the community. So they keep asking us for garbage cans.”

* Yesterday

Ald. Howard Brookins announced Sunday that a “freak bicycle accident” involving a rogue squirrel left him hospitalized last week.

A photo of the accident’s aftermath posted to Brookins’ Facebook page with a brief note shows a squirrel caught in the spokes of the 21st Ward alderman’s front bike tire.

According to Brookins’ staff, the squirrel sent the alderman flying over his handlebars during a ride on the Cal-Sag Trail, leading to a broken nose, a fractured skull and the loss of five or six teeth. All told, Brookins was hospitalized from Nov. 13 to Nov. 17.

“I am okay and I have been recovering in the hospital since the accident,” Brookins said in the Facebook post. “I will, however, require multiple surgeries to recover from damage to my face and body.”

Planet of the Squirrels?

- Posted by Rich Miller   67 Comments      

Hastert wants to keep his pension money

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* Kerry Lester

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is challenging a decision by the Teachers’ Retirement System to terminate his pension and go after a refund of $222,808, arguing the federal charges he was convicted of last spring are not directly connected to his time as a teacher.

“No specific charges were ever brought against Mr. Hastert in relation to conduct that occurred while he was a teacher,” lawyer Mark DeBofsky wrote in a letter to the pension system, which the Daily Herald obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Hastert, of Plano, is serving 15 months in a federal prison in Minnesota after pleading guilty to money laundering charges involving payments to cover up sexual misconduct. At his April 27 sentencing, Hastert admitted he had sexually abused teenage boys he’d taught and coached at Yorkville High School, where he worked from 1965 to 1981.

“The applicable limitations period for charging any such offense expired long before the federal indictment was issued,” DeBofsky wrote. He also referenced a 1987 Illinois Appellate Court decision that found it is unlawful for TRS to seek to recoup benefits paid prior to the date of conviction.

At the time Hastert worked in Yorkville, Illinois’ statute of limitations on abuse cases was three years. It later was expanded, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is using the Hastert case in her push to further lengthen the time limit during which charges are allowed.

Is it a stretch to take his pension? I dunno. The charges that he disguised payments to one of his alleged victims in order to avoid IRS disclosures and then lied to the FBI about it do all stem from his time as a teacher.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

AFSCME responds to bereavement leave proposal

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* We talked yesterday about the Rauner administration’s decision to unilaterally implement an AFSCME bargaining request to grant employees bereavement leave. The SJ-R has AFSCME’s response

AFSCME said the administration is trying to distract employees.

“By seeking to impose the union’s own proposal providing for bereavement leave, the Rauner administration is again trying to distract state workers and the broader public from the real harm of Rauner’s push to hike employee health premiums by 100 percent while freezing wages for four years, cutting average worker’s pay by $10,000,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said in a statement.


- Posted by Rich Miller   78 Comments      

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Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

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* How Jason Van Dyke's projected 96-year sentence wound up being 81 months
* Pritzker campaign official pushes back hard against latest lawsuit
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* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Update to this morning's edition
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