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Adding insult to injury in higher ed

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Tony Arnold

About 260 Northeastern Illinois University students may be forced out of their campus jobs because of a new rule put in place as a result of the Illinois’ ongoing budget impasse. […]

(A) new rule put in place in December by the State Universities Civil Service System, the organization that administers university employee rules, is creating new headaches for Northeastern officials as they try to save money. The rule states that if a university is going to force its employees to take unpaid days off, then it has to prove it’s doing what it can to save money by first kicking students out of their part-time campus jobs.

Northeastern is believed to be the first Illinois school to be pursuing furloughs that will trigger this new rule.

“I can’t figure out right now a way around it. And I just find that exasperating,” said Richard Helldobler, the interim president of Northeastern.

A university spokesman said if the school goes through with the furloughs, it’s unclear how long the students will be out of their campus jobs.

Helldobler said the state currently owes Northeastern $17 million and over the last few years, the university has taken several measures to save money, from reducing personnel by more than 100 positions to furloughing many of its employees for six days last year.

- Posted by Rich Miller   39 Comments      

Question of the day

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* SJ-R

State lawmakers are being asked to leave schools’ physical education requirements out of the “grand bargain” budget resolution that’s being negotiated in the Illinois Senate.

Senate Bill 13, one of the bills that are packaged in the “grand bargain,” primarily focuses on a property tax freeze. But it also allows school districts to reduce physical education requirements to three days a week, and would expand exceptions available to high school students who participate in extracurricular physical activities.

At an event in Springfield Wednesday, former U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart of Belleville, a retired Army major general, said he applauds bipartisanship in solving the state’s budget crisis, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to roll back the country’s national readiness.

“Do we really want to do that, when we have a statewide and a nationwide epidemic of obesity?” Enyart asked. “Let’s not have a setback in our national readiness, and in our national health. PE is essential to our public education system, and is part of the state’s duty to our nation.”

* The Question: Should the state allow schools to cut back PE to three days per week? Click here to take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   84 Comments      

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Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

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Congresscritters who draw state pensions

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* The Roskam example is particularly interesting, considering the context

Six term Wheaton Republican Peter Roskam is a powerful figure in the U.S. House, where he chairs a key panel on tax policy and wants to delay Medicare and Social Security benefits for millions of Americans by raising the eligibility age.

But Roskam - who has criticized his home state as a “fiscal basket case” and marshalled opposition to a federal rescue for Illinois’s troubled pension funds—began collecting his $37,452 annual pension from the state for his years as an Illinois lawmaker at the first legal opportunity last year when he turned 55.

Roskam is one of three members of Congress from Illinois who had previously served in the Illinois General Assembly and are now getting pensions from the state for their years in Springfield. Like Roskam, all began cashing in on their 55th birthdays under generous rules established by the state legislature long ago for its own members.

One of them, Republican Mike Bost of Downstate Murphysboro, in 2012 threw a tirade over a pension reform bill on the floor of the Illinois House. It was so spectacular that a video of it went viral on You Tube. The other, Evanston Democrat Jan Schakowsky, once used her congressional office to urge against a reduction in annual benefit increases for public pension recipients in Illinois—of which she was one.

Bost, 56, gets $73,018-a-year in retirement pay from Illinois while Schakowsky, 72, gets $27,888. And that comes on top of the regular $174,000 salaries paid to all members of Congress. Schakowsky and Roskam also have qualified to receive federal pensions after they retire from the U.S. House, while Bost has three years to go in office before reaching that landmark. […]

Expressing concern for long-term solvency of federal programs for retirees and the elderly, Roskam also backs proposals to raise the age of eligibility for drawing Social Security benefits as well as qualifying for Medicare.

When it came to drawing his own Illinois pension, however, Roskam wasted no time taking advantage once he became eligible after turning 55 in September 2016. For his 13 years of service in both the Illinois House and Senate, Roskam recently began collecting an Illinois pension that starts at $3,128-a-month but will grow over time with automatic cost of living add-ons that kick in once he turns 60.

In Congress, Roskam frequently holds up Illinois’ fiscal crisis as a cautionary tale illustrating the need to bring pension entitlements under control.

In 2011, Roskam organized a letter signed by Republican leaders in the U.S. House as well as all GOP U.S. House members from lllinois warning then-Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois legislature that financial help to resolve the state’s pension crisis would not be forthcoming from Washington.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 - ISP responds *** The Mendoza car saga continues, including a Rauner twist

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Sneed

Sneed hears the 2005 Chrysler that State Comptroller Susana Mendoza dumped in favor of a $32,000 Ford Explorer may have had 104,000 miles on it, but a top source claims it was in impeccable condition and not in need of expensive repairs, despite Mendoza’s claims.

“It was spotless inside, detailed all the time — and in mint condition,” the source added.

A friend of mine who once worked for the comptroller said he’d ridden in that car and agreed with the above characterization, “except for a slight Marlboro musk.”

* Meanwhile…

Days after the Bruce Rauner-funded Republican Party attacked State Comptroller Susana Mendoza for buying an Illinois-made used car for appropriate state government use, the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association slammed Rauner for his hypocrisy after failing to pass a state budget, spending 54K dollars on a luxury SUV from funds earmarked for State Troopers, and ignoring the outrageous fiscal mismanagement of Donald Trump.

“Rauner should end his petty political games and get to work passing a state budget to help Illinois families,” said President Doug House of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association. “It’s especially rich that he breathlessly attacked Comptroller Mendoza for purchasing a used vehicle for pool use when he bought a brand new $54,000 SUV for his own use out of funds earmarked for State Troopers,” said House.

Pictures of the SUV parked outside the Thompson Center are included in this release. Also included are purchasing and voucher records detailing the vehicle’s intent and use.

Funds for the luxury SUV for Gov. Rauner’s use came from a fund that is supposed to pay for the Illinois State Police. The starting salary for a State trooper is $57,000 – about the cost of the Governor’s sweet new ride.

House continued to blast the Rauner-funded Republican Party for its hypocrisy on fiscal matters.

“Where was the Republican outrage when Governor Rauner hired Donna Arduin, a $30,000 a month budget consultant that couldn’t pass a budget? What about giving his “wingman” Leslie Munger a new job as Deputy Governor that pays $135,000? And hiring her whole patronage army of nearly 30 people at a cost to taxpayers of $1.8 million? How about Donald Trump’s weekly golf trips to Florida – an amount spent on his family in just one month that President Obama spent over an entire year?

“The Republican Party lead by Bruce Rauner is bankrupt of credibility when it comes to fiscal matters,” said House.

Finally, House defended Comptroller Mendoza’s service to Illinois to fix the mess she inherited.

“In her short time in office, Comptroller Mendoza has been working tirelessly to prioritize payments to the needy and to minimize the impact of Governor Rauner’s inability to do his job and submit a balanced budget. His failure to propose a balanced budget has led to a $12.4 billion backlog for state taxpayers,” said House.

I’m told the pic they provided isn’t even the right car, but the purchasing order is here. As you can see, the purchase was made on behalf of the Illinois State Police’s Executive Protection Unit for “increased mobility for secure transport of public officials.” So, yeah, it’s a fund “earmarked for State Troopers,” but protecting executives is part of their job.

I’ve asked the State Police if the governor’s office was involved in the purchasing decision, but haven’t heard back yet.

*** UPDATE ***  From the ISP…

The ISP continuously reviews the status of its Fleet, and makes purchases based upon vehicle conditions, mileage and usage. The ISP’s Statewide Fleet Section Supervisor or one of his staff works with the fleet coordinators for each work unit to ensure we have the correct specifications for a vehicle purchase when we order a vehicle for ISP work units. The ISP Fleet Section did not discuss this vehicle purchase with the Governor’s Office.

- Posted by Rich Miller   56 Comments      

It’s just a bill

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Newspaper publishes blockbuster investigative story, legislators hold a hearing, newspaper publishes another story

State lawmakers pressed Wednesday for stronger regulation of pharmacists’ hours and workload as a way to protect consumers from harmful errors, but pharmacy lobbyists largely did not budge.

In the first public showdown since a Tribune investigation in December found 52 percent of 255 tested pharmacies failed to warn patients about dangerous drug interactions, top pharmacy representatives said safety improvements already in the works will give Illinois some of the nation’s toughest restrictions.

At the center of a sometimes contentious hearing was legislation sponsored by Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, that calls for limiting the number of hours pharmacists work each day, restricting how many prescriptions they fill per hour and adding meal break requirements for pharmacists she said are so overloaded that consumers are in jeopardy.

Pharmacists must juggle calls, track down doctors on questionable prescriptions, deal with multiple insurance issues, supervise technicians and even empty the trash on days when they may work a dozen hours and dispense 300 orders, Flowers said. […]

What became clear to Flowers and pharmacy lobbyists is that more hearings and negotiations are likely to take place before she puts her legislation up for a vote.

And then they’ll get another story.

* Legislator introduces a bill to bring back legislative scholarship, attracts precisely zero co-sponsors, editorial board blasts the entire General Assembly

They say it’s hard to separate a boy from his dog. It’s even harder to separate a politician from his perks.

Is the Illinois General Assembly really a legislative body? Or just a parody of one?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell, and HB 279 represents Exhibit A for that proposition.

* Columnist who pushed to change Illinois’ state song to a Cheap Trick tune upset by silly bills

State lawmakers need something to do.

Maybe hand them orange vests and garbage bags, and let them collect litter along the roadside. Give them some sort of busy work. Otherwise, they’ll keep proposing silly bills.

Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, wants to boost the speed limit from 70 to 75 mph on most interstates outside of Chicago. For you lead-foots, maybe that sounds good. But there’s a downside: faster speed limits would help residents flee Illinois faster. As it is, pretty soon, we’ll be able to drive as fast as we want, as there’ll be almost no one or no cars left.

* Related…

* Obama could be a highway star — but should it be I-55 or I-294?

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      

*** UPDATED x3 - Rauner response - 81 percent vote to authorize strike *** AFSCME strike vote authorization result announcement

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* The event starts at 10:30. Click here to watch our live coverage post. You can click here for what’s being billed as a live video feed that I wasn’t able to embed here. WTAX is also promising live coverage, so click here for that.

*** UPDATE 1 ***  AFSCME says 81 percent voted to authorize a strike. Its press release is here.

*** UPDATE 2 *** AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch won’t tell reporters how many state workers actually cast ballots. However, a spokesman told me that right around 80 percent of eligible voters turned out.

*** UPDATE 3 *** From the governor’s office…

The Rauner Administration released the following statement in response to AFSCME’s strike authorization vote. The following is attributable to General Counsel Dennis Murashko:

“The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state’s hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday. It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership’s ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal.

AFSCME leaders would rather strike than work 40 hours a week before earning overtime. They want to earn overtime after working just 37.5 hours per week.

AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow volunteers like Boy Scout troops to lend a helping hand inside government. They want to ban the use of volunteers.

AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow state employees to be paid based on merit. They want to stick to paying people based on seniority, regardless of whether they’re doing a good job.

And while hard working families across the state face skyrocketing health insurance premiums, AFSCME leaders want to strike to force higher taxes to subsidize their health care plans that are far more generous than taxpayers have.

Put simply, AFSCME leaders will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike.

If AFSCME chooses to strike, we will use every resource to ensure services continue to be available to the people of Illinois. We continue to encourage AFSCME to work with us in implementing a contract that is similar to those ratified by 20 other unions.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   235 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 - Purvis responds *** Madigan forms another education funding task force

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Press release…

Speaker Michael J. Madigan is forming a bipartisan House task force to continue working on an equitable education funding formula and address questions a state commission recently left unanswered.

“The question of how Illinois funds our public schools is one that affects every community in our state,” Madigan said. “As such, the entire process for making formula changes – from crafting an overall outline for reform, to working through the specific details – needs to be carefully considered by legislators from across the state. This task force will continue House Democrats’ commitment to vetting these decisions and making sure all voices are heard.”

Madigan has appointed Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, as well as Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia, Fred Crespo, William Davis, Marcus Evans, Laura Fine, Jay Hoffman, Rita Mayfield, Emily McAsey, Michelle Mussman, Elgie Sims and Justin Slaughter to form an education funding reform task force along with House Republicans. The task force will continue the work of the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, address unanswered questions in the commission’s final report, and continue to craft equitable school funding reform legislation.

House Democrats serving on the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission recently noted that aspects of the Commission’s final report failed to clearly reflect the group’s discussions. Amongst other concerns, the report did not properly recognize that Illinois’ current school funding system is broken, in large part, because of overreliance on property taxes and underfunding from the state. Illinois’ property tax dollars account for 67 percent of all education spending, while the nationwide average is 45 percent. Without reform that acknowledges this overreliance on property taxes, the current education funding system will continue to be regressive compared to states with less property tax reliance.

“House Democrats played a leading role on the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, and successfully pushed the Commission to meet more frequently,” Currie said. “While the Commission did not accomplish everything it set out to do, it did show that a bipartisan group of lawmakers can work toward consensus on major issues. There are questions that remain unanswered and points that still need clarification. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively on this important and complex issue.

The best way to start making this idea into reality is by crafting an actual piece of legislation. That isn’t directly addressed by Madigan’s press release, however.

*** UPDATE ***  Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis…

We hope this new education reform task force is not an attempt to delay the positive work and progress of the Illinois School Funding Commission. As was discussed throughout the commission process, the goal was for the framework report to lead to a bill that could pass both chambers and be signed by Governor Rauner. Through bicameral and bipartisan discussions, we stand ready to work together in fixing our state’s broken school funding formula.

Except they can’t even agree who’s gonna write the bill.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

Can Rauner’s 25 percent prisoner reduction goal be met?

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* From the Kearney Courier

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent can be achieved, but only if extensive changes are made to the criminal justice system, according to two members of a state commission that issued recommendations on prison reform.

Retired 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Elizabeth Robb and Andrew Leipold, law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, were panelists Wednesday for a forum sponsored by the McLean County League of Women Voters and the Central Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Both served as members of Rauner’s commission to develop proposals to cut the state’s prison numbers by 25 percent by 2025. […]

Robb cited current drug laws with enhanced penalties as one of the areas recommended for change by the commission. The add-ons for selling drugs near schools and parks disproportionately affect African Americans in urban areas and “are not effective and not a deterrent,” said Robb.

Commission members also reviewed the reasons people are sent to prison and explored alternatives to incarceration, including a law that has added 700 people to the inmate population for stealing vehicles.

“We can make a cut in the prison population by changing that law,” said Robb.


- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      

Fisking Rauner

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Pantagraph

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday he understands the frustration of Illinois residents tired of living without a state budget.

“It’s frustrating we don’t have a budget. … When I started this job, I was 6-8 and had a full head of hair. It’s hard,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not patient, but I am extremely persistent. … I’m going to stay persistent.” […]

He said his requirements to approve a budget remain the same: “I’m not going to sign an unbalanced budget,” and “I won’t sign off on any new taxes unless we get major structural changes” in government regulations as called for in his agenda.

Just to be clear, he won’t sign an unbalanced budget, but he’ll propose three of them in a row.

* More

“I ran for governor because all of my fellow business builders were leaving Illinois,” he said. “The number one state people are going is Indiana. C’mon. It ain’t for the weather. … Our problems are all self-inflicted. Our government is a bureaucratic nightmare, and we’re going to change it.”

Notice that he said “my fellow business builders” and not his current favorite phrase “job creators.” Why? Well, maybe because when he was asked during a campaign debate to detail some jobs he created he couldn’t.

- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 - Backpedal begins *** Pritzker urges unusual “protest”

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Ummm…

Kind of unclear on the actual concept, don’t you think?

*** UPDATE ***  Pritzker was called out by a progressive legislator and is back-pedaling…

I’m told that Pritzker was trying to parody the right with his original tweet. Meh. That stuff should be left to the professionals.

- Posted by Rich Miller   103 Comments      

Rauner dodges reporters

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Brian Mackey

In the week since his budget address, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has done little to promote his plan or defend it from attacks by Democrats.

That’s a significant departure from last year. Back then, Rauner toured the state, highlighting his call for greater funding of public schools. This year, he took a ski vacation in Utah.

On Wednesday, Rauner made a brief speech at an education conference in Springfield. Afterward, he refused to answer questions from reporters.

The ski trip was reportedly to celebrate his birthday, but Rauner would not say which — until an aide told him, “You can answer how old you are.”

He’s 61. Wikipedia lists his age as 60, so there was some confusion.

* Mackey was not as kind on Twitter yesterday…

A bit harsh.

* Monique Garcia

Rauner spoke at three separate events across the state, starting his morning in Chicago, where he addressed the Illinois State Board of Education. The governor’s official schedule listed him as not doing a media availability at that stop, but indicated he would field questions from the media at later events in Bloomington and Springfield.

That didn’t happen. Press aides cited a change in plans due to the governor’s busy schedule. Reporters asked some questions anyway as Rauner entered and exited a gathering of school administrators at a Springfield convention center.

“How are you and CK getting along?” Rauner asked a Chicago Tribune reporter, referring to his spokeswoman Catherine Kelly. […]

Rauner also riled up lawmakers by posting a campaign video shortly after his speech touting “a grand bargain” to end the budget. That’s the same term the Senate has adopted for its plan, and some felt the governor was trying to take credit for work done by lawmakers.

On Wednesday, Rauner did not answer when asked if he felt his speech ultimately would help or hurt the Senate’s efforts to strike a budget deal, nor did he respond when asked what feedback he has received from lawmakers. The governor also remained silent when asked about criticism of the campaign video.

He has an event scheduled at his office today at 11:30, an hour after AFSCME announces its strike authorization vote results, so he is expected to talk to the media today.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

*** LIVE *** House session coverage

Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

* Follow along with ScribbleLive

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Thursday, Feb 23, 2017

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