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Feds recorded McClain phone calls

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* By Ray Long and Jason Meisner at the Tribune

Federal authorities recorded phone calls of one of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s closest confidants as part of the burgeoning investigation into ComEd’s lobbying practices, two sources with knowledge of the probe told the Chicago Tribune.

Recordings of phone conversations involving Michael McClain, who lobbied for ComEd and parent company Exelon before retiring in 2016, are part of the expansive probe that has rocked the Springfield political establishment over the past several months, the sources said. […]

It is unknown if the FBI listened in on any calls between McClain and Madigan, who is famously cautious about what he says in public and over the phone.

But McClain, 71, whose friendship with Madigan dates to when they both served in the House in the 1970s, is widely viewed as one of the few people in Springfield who would have candid conversations about legislative and political strategies with the speaker. Before he retired, McClain often could be found camped out in front of the speaker’s third-floor Capitol office.

He was also a frequent MJM dinner companion. But, as I’ve said before, Madigan is a lot like Paulie Cicero

Paulie hated phones. He wouldn’t have one in his house. He used to get all his calls second hand, then you’d have to call the people back from an outside phone. There were guys, that’s all they did all day long was take care of Paulie’s phone calls.

Then again, they got Paulie in the end.

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      


Lightfoot leaves Springfield with no promises

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* From Jordan Abudayyeh at 5:45 pm…

The governor and mayor had another productive meeting and conversation this afternoon, and he remains committed to encouraging members of the General Assembly to support the mayor’s priorities.

* Tribune

Mayor Lori Lightfoot headed to Springfield on Tuesday looking for help on legislation aimed at eventually shoring up Chicago’s troubled finances — a sweetened casino tax structure and the power to hike taxes on expensive real estate deals.

She was leaving Springfield without a deal in place on either.

Lightfoot stressed the urgency of getting a casino deal done this week to help ease the concerns of bond ratings agencies and provide certainty for future budget years.

* Sun-Times

Meanwhile, the casino bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, said state Sen. Terry Link, is no longer involved in negotiations.

Link, D-Vernon Hills, had been a key player in gambling talks. Sources have told the Sun-Times that Link wore a wire in the investigation that ended with bribery charges against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo. Link denies any involvement, and he has not been charged.

“I haven’t talked to Sen. Link since the bill signing. No, he hasn’t [been involved],” Rita said. “I’ve talked with some of the senators, and I asked who was going to be the Senate sponsor, and we’re still waiting on that. But we have been negotiating with the Senate and staff. I’ve had talks with Senate President [John] Cullerton too.”

Rita said there were a number of questions from lawmakers in the south and north suburbs — areas where new casinos are proposed — about where the Chicago location would go. And negotiations aren’t just focused on restructuring the 33 percent tax rate. Rita said a change in fees is also in play, should the tax rate be adjusted.

“We’re getting close, but you know there’s other outlying issues that we need to address that [Lightfoot has] seen in caucus here that have been around,” Rita said. “So it’s not all just about the tax rates … and what it’s going to impact on the city of Chicago in the state, but there’s other issues that we’re faced with that we’re trying to work through.”

* From Jordan Abudayyeh at 8 pm…

The governor has said from the outset that it’s important for all parties to get the Chicago casino right, including maximizing the opportunities for jobs for residents and revenue to address our financial obligations, and if the city’s gaming legislation reaches his desk, he will sign the bill. Over the past several days, staff from the city, both the House and the Senate and the governor’s office have discussed the contours of a proposal, and there has been broad agreement from the parties. Our understanding is that legislators will be filing a bill shortly, and the governor would encourage lawmakers to support it.

* Related…

* Chicago Mayor Pleads Case in Springfield on Casino, Budget: Lightfoot told reporters after meeting with House Democrats that talks are continuing and said legislation to fix the casino problem would come “shortly.” She didn’t say whether that meant before Thursday’s adjournment of the fall session.

* Chicago mayor pleads case in Springfield on casino, budget

* Mayor Lightfoot Tells State Lawmakers City Needs Casino To Fill Budget Hole

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


Question of the day

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* What single piece of legislation would you like to see approved this week? Make sure to explain your answer. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


Get ready for 2020 shenanigans, campers

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Last week

[Illinois Board of Elections spokesperson Matt Dietrich] says that the Illinois State Board of Elections is also taking a leading role in combatting foreign disinformation campaigns. He says the board is working with Facebook and Twitter to thwart false messaging. For instance, he says targeted Facebook messages falsely stated that voters could vote by text message, or that Democrats and Republicans could vote on different days, all to suppress the vote.

“If we catch misinformation about the election, about the time of the polls, or telling people they can vote by text, we can quickly alert Facebook and have that post taken down,” Dietrich says. “Where it gets harder is what we saw in 2016, where you have groups putting out messages on Facebook saying things like, ‘Don’t show up.’ Those are harder for us to police because then you’re getting into a First Amendment issue.”

But as we shall see the misinformation goes way beyond that, and these campaigns may or may not all be foreign influenced.

* USA Today

As the final votes trickled in during last week’s Kentucky gubernatorial election, a network of automated Twitter accounts suddenly sprang into action.

They spread misinformation about the election being rigged, according to the CEO of a company that tracks political misinformation on social media.

Gideon Blocq, the founder and CEO of VineSight, told The Courier Journal his company witnessed thousands of accounts with “bot-like” automated behavior spreading misinformation about the race, including a screenshot of a tweet by one account claiming to have destroyed ballots with votes for incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

“Immediately at the end of the counting of the votes, these stories started popping up in parallel, all about the election being rigged,” Blocq said.

One of the tweets spreading the furthest came from user @Overlordkraken1, which tweeted at 8:39 p.m. he had “just shredded a box of Republican mail in ballots,” adding “Bye bye Bevin.” The tweet listed the user’s location as Louisville, though it misspelled the word. […]

While the suspended account was likely a real person just “trolling” with the shredding tweet, Blocq said “thousands” of bot accounts spread the screenshot in parallel with other tweets alleging that the election was rigged, showing “this is not a small operation… it is not just one person doing this.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Lightfoot corrects aldermen who say she’s proposing a property tax increase

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Earlier today…


* The mayor was asked about this today in Springfield

I heard that there was noise made this morning by Ray Lopez and Ald. Rosa claiming that our new proposal has a $65 million property tax increase, which is not correct. The property tax increase was actually voted upon by the prior city council and this is just incrementing what they’ve already done. This budget does not contain anything anywhere close to that.

* Greg Hinz explains

Mayor Lori Lightfoot today rolled out a “Plan B” package comprised mostly of spending cuts that will be implemented in the event the Illinois General Assembly does not pass her proposed $50 million hike in the real-estate transfer tax.

On the list: a hiring slowdown, cuts in health spending and Fire Department overtime and increased savings from low interest rates in city debt.

And in the middle of that, city Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett conceded that the year-to-year proposed hike in the city’s much-watched property tax actually will be $65 million, not the previously advertised $18 million. […]

Bennett said $33 million of that [increased property tax revenue in the budget] already had been approved by the City Council many months ago to pay for a capital works bond issue, so the money is not “new.” And the city always gets a property tax bump from new construction, in this case $15 million. Add that all up and you get roughly $65 million.

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      


Police poison pill puts Pritzker pension consolidation bill in jeopardy

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Hannah Meisel with the scoop

The Illinois Municipal League told its members Tuesday morning it may no longer be in support of a bill that would partially consolidate 649 downstate and suburban police and firefighter pension funds — a bill it helped to write — because of a provision inserted into the bill on Monday.

An amendment to SB 1300 filed Monday reflects an agreement made with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police late Friday, which should have sealed the deal on the bill — one Gov. JB Pritzker indicated was his number one priority for Veto Session.

But in a memo sent to its members Tuesday morning, the Illinois Municipal League said the amendment, filed by State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) would make it easier for police officers and firefighters to claim disability, which could add extra burdens to municipalities’ budgets if it were abused.

The amendment includes a provision that league officials said would change the longstanding practice of allowing municipalities to intervene if it believes a police officer or firefighter’s claim for permanent disability and pension payouts is invalid or deficient.

Instead, league officials said the new language introduced Monday would not allow for any review by the municipality, and the exclusive power to grant disability claims would lie with the local pension boards.

* From an IML press release…

SB 1300 has now strayed from solely addressing pension investment reforms and seriously jeopardizes IML’s ability to work in good faith with other involved entities. […]

At this critical point in the process, IML is actively seeking to correct the overreaches put forward in the new proposed legislation. If IML is unable to refocus the General Assembly on the primary issue of protecting taxpayer funds through the elimination of duplicative fund administration and burdensome, costly mandates, all of which would be addressed through common sense solutions involving consolidation, it is unknown how things will end this week or if a beneficial resolution will develop.

I’m told a lot of mayors are hopping mad about this. I’m also told to expect a response soon from the governor’s office, which negotiated the language with the coppers.

…Adding… Rep. Hoffman says he wasn’t in the meeting when the language was changed and said he’s trying to fix the problem today.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Meh

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Sun-Times

Democratic House hopeful Abe Matthew is dropping his primary bid to unseat Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and endorsing Marie Newman on Tuesday.

That leaves Lipinski, from Western Springs, facing two rivals for the 3rd Congressional District seat: Newman, from LaGrange, and Rush Darwish, from Palos Hills, who runs a photo and video production company. […]

Matthew had been struggling in fundraising. In the third quarter, he reported raising $5,126 with $57,724 cash on hand compared to Lipinski, raising $177,741 with $693,088 cash on hand; Newman, raising $351,326 with $514,237 cash on hand; and Darwish, raising $272,779 with $318,113 cash on hand.

Yes, it does help Newman somewhat, but Matthew wasn’t going to be much of a factor anyway.

* From Darwish…

Our campaign is happy to have the field winnowed to the three candidates capable of spreading their message to the voters of the 3rd District. We have been and continue to be the only campaign focused on providing Medicare for all who want it while allowing a choice to keep private health insurance. From the beginning, this campaign has been about focusing on the people of the District, and not the special interests which benefit the politically connected and powerful. This campaign is not about them, it’s about us!

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      


It’s just a bill

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* From Restore Justice…

Hello Rich -

I’m the communications manager for a criminal justice reform organization focused on youth who receive extreme sentences. Tomorrow at 9 a.m. the Judiciary-Criminal Law Committee is holding a hearing about HB1615, which would amend Illinois’s felony-murder statutue. Illinois has one of the broadest laws in the country.

It was used in Lake County this summer. My co-worker served decades for a felony-murder conviction. (He received a life sentence but SCOTUS rulings overturned that.)

HB 1615 (Rep. Slaughter, with an identical Senate bill from Sen. Peters) would bring Illinois into line with the majority of states that have felony-murder statutues. In most states, you can only be charged with deaths you or your co-defendants cause, not deaths caused by third-parties. (You can still be charged with the underlying crimes.)

We have a press release about the hearing here. We have info about the law and the history of felony-murder laws here.

Thank you,

Alissa Rivera

* Hannah Meisel

Proponents of pension consolidation argue that pooling investments will lead to larger returns. The Pritzker administration claims that during the next five years, the two consolidated pension funds could net additional investment returns between $820 million to $2.5 billion. That would be significant, as the 649 funds had a combined $11 billion in unfunded pension liabilities as of the 2017 fiscal year, according to a report published by the Commission for Government Forecasting and Accountability this summer.

The additional investment returns would be achieved by making riskier investments, as larger pools of money are able to absorb greater risk. Currently, the smallest of Illinois’ public safety pension funds have investment strategies as modest as certificate of deposit funds in a bank.

But greater risk comes with greater volatility. Though the laws that govern Illinois’ police and fire funds demand what’s known as “pension smoothing” — a way to spread out increases in actuarial demand for pension funding, in most cases in Illinois over five years — it won’t prevent extreme volatility from affecting individual municipalities’ budgets.

Amanda Kass, the associate director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told The Daily Line Monday that pension smoothing “won’t negate [investment volatility] completely.”

Kass said the big picture of higher investment returns is likely to come true, but it could have some unintended consequences.

“While [increased returns on investment] might be true in the aggregate if you’re looking at a 20-year time period, it comes at the expense of greater volatility,” Kass said.

* Shaw Media

Several bills were introduced during the first week of the veto session in Springfield to institute a statewide ban on flavored nicotine products, which many see as deliberate attempts to market to minors.

State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), whose district includes La Salle County, filed legislations aimed at reducing underage individuals’ access to vapor products.

Senate Bill 2288 prohibits the sale of tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and alternative nicotine products within 100 feet of a school. Retailers who violate this provision would be subject to penalties.

“The alarming trend of teenagers using vapor products should scare any parent wanting to ensure the safety of their children,” Rezin said in a press statement. “While this bill alone won’t end this epidemic, the goal is to make it more difficult for children to get their hands on these products, reducing the likelihood of them getting hooked.”

* There’s also a retirement party for Michael tonight from 5:30 to 7:30 at Saputo’s…


* Comeback of the week…


- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      


Caption contest!

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* She’s in town…


- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      


Sen. Martinez joins Ald. Reboyras in lawsuit threat over Arroyo seat

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* This is silly and I’ll explain why after you read the release. From Ald. Ariel Reboyras and Sen. Iris Martinez, who doesn’t live in the district…

REBOYRAS AND MARTINEZ STAND UP TO THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY MACHINE

Springfield – Ever since Luis Arroyo resigned his position as State Representative, the old-time Party Machine has advanced a plan to deprive our supermajority Latino district of a replacement of our choosing. Insiders are creating chaos and demanding that the law be violated in an effort to secure the appointment of David Feller, a non-Latino Cook County bureaucrat, to the position.

The scheme is being advanced by State Senator Martwick, who represents just a few Latinos, and by Party staff, who report directly to Chairwoman Preckwinkle. In furtherance of the strategy, even Speaker Madigan has threatened to defy the will of Latino voters and remove any candidate our supermajority Latino district selects to fill Arroyo’s seat.

This scheme is absolutely unethical, and the Speakers’ threat is against the law. We know these are strong allegations, but this corrupt program must be stopped.

Under State law, Party bylaws, and longstanding custom and practice, when an official leaves office before an election, committeepersons from the district fill the vacancy. In this case, voters from the 36th Ward will be represented by a proxy, not Arroyo. He will not be involved; he will not pick his replacement. Despite these safeguards, the Party Machine is demanding that votes from the 36th Ward should be rejected. This illegal distortion of the process is intended to skew the vote to result in appointment of the non-Latino insider, David Feller.

As leaders in the Latino community, we are standing up for the voters of the 3rd District, not Arroyo. We are committed to following the law and to giving our community a voice. We are conducting an open and transparent process to select a new State Representative. We are prepared to bring a federal case to protect Latinos in the 3rd District from any scheme that nullifies their votes.

Yes, Martwick is backing Feller. But as I told subscribers this morning, others are supporting Chicago public schools teacher Nydia Carranza. She’s also backed by the CTU.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


All’s well that ends well

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* GateHouse media

Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Alexi Bladel of Rockford will complete her reign as queen without any restrictions after her dispute with the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs was settled this week, according to state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, who advocated for Bladel.

“I am pleased to share that Alexi Bladel will be permitted to complete her reign as Miss Illinois County Fair Queen without any restrictions after a positive discussion with the members of the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (IAAF) over the past week. I would like to thank the IAAF for their determination to reach a solution to Alexi’s status that is acceptable to both sides,” Sosnowski said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

“I would also like to thank my colleagues, state Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, and state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, for coming together in a bipartisan way to join me in advocating for Alexi. She will be permitted to participate in the January 2020 pageant to crown the next queen. We applaud Alexi’s commitment to serve our country as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

* McKinley Park News

The U.S. flag flies once again at the veterans memorial on Western Boulevard at West 35th Street, thanks to the efforts of William McKinley American Legion Post 231 and Illinois 2nd District State Representative Theresa Mah. A Veterans Day ceremony on Monday, November 11, commemorated the service of U.S. armed forces members and raised the flag at the site, accompanied by the Pledge of Allegiance and a rifle salute.

The flag pole had been in disrepair for many years when American Legion Post members approached Mah last year about fixing it, she said. “No one was able to help them get it done,” Mah said.

An online search led Mah to the required flag pole part, which she then purchased. After checking with the Illinois Department of Transportation about access, “I enlisted the help of my friends from Operating Engineers Local 150, who brought a cherry picker truck,” she said.

* Southern Illinoisan

After five years of planning, fundraising and hard work, officials gathered last week to officially dedicate the Shawnee Veterans Memorial Wall.

Charles Burdick described the years-long efforts that brought the wall to fruition as an “outstanding patriotic endeavor” by numerous people. The memorial was established to honor past, present and future veterans within the boundaries of Shawnee Unit School District 84. The school district is roughly 40 miles long, spanning from just north of Grand Tower on the northern edge to East Cape Girardeau on the southern end.

There are already hundreds of names on the memorial wall, with plans in place to update it with more annually.

On Friday, several hundred students, community members and public officials gathered in Wolf Lake for a Veterans Day ceremony that included the dedication of the wall located on the grounds of Shawnee High School. U.S. Rep. Mike Bost and state Reps. Patrick Windhorst and Terri Bryant were among those in attendance.

* Press release…

Following a $230 million investment in the Illinois Veterans’ Home through the historic bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for teams interested in working on the project. Applications are due on December 11.

“I’m committed to ensuring that our nation’s heroes get the best care possible, and rebuilding the Quincy Veterans’ Home is a major step forward to ensure they’re being treated with dignity,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “As the work of rebuilding continues, I look forward to seeing the progress of this state-of-the-art facility and regularly updating the community.”

“The Illinois Veterans’ Home at Quincy is the oldest and largest in the state and currently provides housing for 315 veterans. We look forward to receiving proposals and taking the next step to make this project a reality,” says Capital Development Board Executive Director Jim Underwood.

“Our veterans’ homes are proud to provide the highest quality of care for Illinois veterans,” said IDVA Director Linda Chapa LaVia. “We are excited that this investment by Governor Pritzker and the General Assembly will enable us to set a new bar for what that quality of care looks like.”

…Adding… Lake Forester

On Nov. 11, veterans joined citizens and elected officials in the village’s annual Veteran’s Day ceremony. But this year’s commemoration relied on a group of determined Lake Forest High School students who organized the observance, not wanting to see a Lake Bluff ritual come to an end.

The 25-student Lake Bluff Veterans Day Ceremony Student Committee was led by its president, Lake Forest High School senior Mark Smirnov. He moved with his parents to Lake Bluff when he was 8 and said he wanted to do something for his adopted community.

“I’ve made a home here,” Smirnov said. “Although I wasn’t born here, Lake Bluff is my hometown. It is my senior year and I want to make it a memorable one as much as possible in my hometown.”

In years past, Lake Bluff American Legion Post 510 ran the event, but it merged with Lake Forest Post 264 last year due to declining membership. The Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day observances were left to the village with assistance provided by the Lake Bluff Historical Society, according to Village President Kathy O’Hara.

* But this story conflicts with the headline

Iraq War veteran and Democratic Senator and Tammy Duckworth spent her Veterans Day across the border to be with veterans who have been deported to Mexico under the Trump administration.

Duckworth, who lost both of her legs in 2004 while serving in Iraq, said she had wanted to spend the day in Tijuana to honor the service of veterans who have been turned away from the U.S. despite serving for the country.

In a statement following her visit to The Bunker, a shelter for veterans who have been deported from the U.S., Duckworth said she was both “ashamed of and heartbroken by how our nation is treating the deported veterans I met with.”

“They are Americans all but on paper, many of whom enlisted after then-President George W. Bush signed an executive order fast-tracking citizenship for those willing to serve—but who, because of things like lost paperwork, fell through the cracks, never officially became citizens,” she said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      


Rate the new Defend American Democracy ad

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Bernie

The national nature of the race in the 13th Congressional District was on display last week as U.S. Rep. RODNEY DAVIS, R-Taylorville, was among GOP House members across the country whose districts were targeted by ads featuring veterans saying President DONALD TRUMP must be held accountable.

“I took an oath, so I put our country first,” says KYLE BIBBY, a former Marine Corps infantry captain from New Jersey who served in Afghanistan, in the ad that’s been playing in the Springfield-Champaign-Decatur market.

He then shows a picture of Davis and says: “Now we need him to stop putting politics ahead of our country, and hold the president accountable for risking our national security and abusing his office to benefit himself. Tell Congressman Davis to keep his oath (and) put country over politics, because no one is above the law.”

The group paying for the ad is Defend American Democracy, and its website indicates that households in the districts of 14 GOP House members are seeing the ads. The group says spending for the ad campaign nationwide is a seven-figure sum, so it’s at least $1 million. And, according to a news release, the people from the group will visit five House districts, with the 13th the only one in Illinois. […]

“This political ad makes it pretty clear that this impeachment has been about politics all along,” [Davis spokesperson Ashley Phelps] said. “I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that every Republican seat where this ad is running is rated a potential pickup by Democrats. Congressman Davis joined bipartisan opposition to this impeachment inquiry, which didn’t happen in either Clinton or Nixon impeachments, because there’s no proof of a crime and he’s focused on issues that can improve the lives of the people he represents, not playing politics.”

More here.

According to Comcast, the group has purchased about $24K in cable ads which started November 7th and will run through November 13th. I don’t have broadcast numbers, if any. I saw the ad on ESPN during the football game last night.

* Rate it

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      


Ban these sweepstakes machines

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* There is a lot going on in Mark Brown’s latest column. I wrote about some of it in today’s subscriber-only edition, but here’s another angle

In the closing days of the spring legislative session, as it became apparent state lawmakers were going to approve a major gambling expansion, the leading proponent of so-called sweepstakes machines began desperately hiring lobbyists in a last-ditch effort to avoid getting left on the sidelines.

Among those who agreed to advocate for legalization of the gambling devices was Frank Bass, a Statehouse veteran who got his lobbying start nearly two decades earlier as a legislative liaison for Cook County government. […]

That’s a long windup to get to my main point, which is that Bass never registered to lobby on behalf of Collage or the sweepstakes folks.

Neither did former state Sen. Annazette Collins of Chicago, who sources tell me also was lobbying in support of the sweepstakes machines in those final days of May but has never officially disclosed it.

I wouldn’t have known anything about their involvement if I hadn’t been poking around.

A third end-of-session sweepstakes lobbyist, Frank McNeil, a former state official and Springfield alderman, did register for Collage, but not until Oct. 29 — after I started making calls.

First, we find out that a sweepstakes machine company owner and Luis Arroyo bribed a state Senator who was wearing a wire. And now this.

Legislators should be up in arms about this unsavory industry. We’ve known about problems with sweepstakes for a while now. Here’s a WBEZ story from last year

A WBEZ investigation found some bars that were deemed unfit for video gambling have simply installed sweepstakes machines instead.

In Streator, a small city about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, you can gamble at sweepstakes machines in a tavern that was denied a license for video slot machines because state inspectors allegedly had uncovered multiple incidents of illegal sports gambling at that bar, records show. […]

The Illinois Gaming Board has maintained for years that sweepstakes machines are illegal. But efforts to crack down on them have encountered legal roadblocks in the past year.

The murky laws have allowed more and more businesses to offer the machines to their customers, officials said, even in some seemingly unlikely places.

On Chicago’s Northwest Side, the Bubbleland coin laundromat at Elston and Kimball has three sweepstakes machines in a corner near the entrance. One of those machines issued a receipt to a reporter who placed a bet and won. The laundromat attendant took the receipt, disappeared behind a door, and quickly returned with cash winnings.

House GOP Leader Jim Durkin and the House Democrats’ gaming point person Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) both filed bills to outlaw the machines. Both bills went nowhere. The Senate Dems’ gaming point person Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) also wanted the machines outlawed. Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) has a new bill to ban the machines. One of its hyphenated co-sponsors is Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago).

* Usually, I’m not in favor of banning stuff. Regulations are almost always preferable, in my mind, to outright bans. But this industry has gone out of its way to bring heat upon itself. And nobody should want to sit at the table with them to hash out a regulatory bill. So, I mean, how much more evidence do we need here?

Ban ‘em. This should be a no-brainer.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Fight continues over aircraft maintenance tax forgiveness plan

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Cole Lauterbach at the Center Square

Illinois lawmakers face a political test of wills this week when they are expected to be asked to vote for an otherwise popular bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has vowed to veto.

Should it be enacted, private jet maintenance companies in Illinois would be forgiven sales tax tabs from the last five years and would have an exemption extended to 2024. It passed nearly unanimously in the House in October, but faces an uncertain fate in the Senate now that Pritzker has pledged to veto it.

“This bill would forgive $50 million of taxes that are owed by people who are in this private jet industry,” he said last week. “I just don’t think it’s right, given the state of our finances in the state of Illinois.”

He was responding to a question regarding a WCIA Channel 3 report that labeled the companies as “luxury jet manufacturers” getting a tax break. Other than Chicago-based Boeing, Illinois is not home to any private jet manufacturers. The legislation would affect aviation facilities whose mechanics perform routine maintenance on smaller jets to meet government standards. […]

The issue arose when companies learned that an exemption was allowed to sunset along with many others in 2014. Industry representatives estimate the amount of owed tax revenue to be nearly $50 million and would require the companies to pay about $8 million annually over the next four years.

Many companies said they were unaware that the exemption had been allowed to expire. They didn’t charge their clients and facing tax bills that supporters say could put the local aviation companies at a disadvantage to other states that offer the same exemption.

Even Illinois’ own agencies were, as of March of this year, under the impression that the tax exemption was still in place. The Legislative Research Unit’s 2019 Tax Handbook said companies that offer “(m)aterials and components incorporated into or upon an aircraft as part of its modification, completion, repair, or maintenance” are completely exempt from Illinois’ occupational sales tax.

That quote from LRU’s handbook is correct. But nobody in their right mind would rely solely on LRU for their tax obligations. And LRU is the only agency listed, so it’s likely not “agencies.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      


Um, no

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Let’s once again go back to the Illinois statute book

A monetary contribution to a political committee is deemed to have been received on the date the contribution was deposited in a bank, financial institution or other repository of funds for the committee.

Emphasis added.

* With that in mind

In her final days as state senator, Toi Hutchinson collected $9,000 from special interests, though it’s unclear why.

Last weekend, Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, resigned after serving a decade as state senator for the 40th District, which includes Kankakee County. She now is working in the Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration coordinating the state’s efforts for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Hutchinson announced her resignation about three weeks before she collected the campaign money, which is listed on the state Board of Elections website.

On Oct. 19, she received $5,000 from the Illinois Laborers Legislative Committee, $2,000 from the Illinois Bank Political Action Committee and $1,000 each from MillerCoors and Comcast, according to her report.

Under state law, candidates must report their donations of $1,000 or more within five business days.

* I checked in with former Sen. Hutchinson’s campaign treasurer…

The amount was about $9,800, and it was posted before Senator Hutchinson resigned. Most of the donations were from August and then remainders from her golf outing, which was on September 9. Because we aren’t in campaign mode we weren’t regularly checking the P.O. Box.

The plan is to settle accounts and close down shop. She is not taking any more donations and will spend down according to what’s allowable by state law.

The reporter apparently didn’t understand the law, so he didn’t call around to see when the contributions were actually made or received. He looked at the deposit dates (plus up to five business days) and wrongly assumed those were receipt dates, although he told me he checked in with the State Board of Elections and blamed them for giving him bad info. The Laborers told me they sent their check around the time of her September 9th golf outing in Olympia Fields.

* I reached out to the reporter over the weekend to give him a heads up and he deleted the “Under state law, candidates must report their donations of $1,000 or more within five business days” line from his story. But the rest of the piece is still wrong.

We can debate the merits of the law as it stands. Some committees are so small that requiring immediate disclosure would be way too onerous. Larger committees could and perhaps should have more stringent reporting requirements. But a simpler and still effective fix would be to require all campaigns to note the date on the checks in their online filings. Nobody can credibly complain that such a rule would be too much to deal with.

We all make mistakes, but, for now, the law is what it is and it’s up to people who do this for a living to know what it says.

* Meanwhile

The politically connected son of a onetime powerful lawmaker was tapped to fill out the remaining term of Toi Hutchison, the Olympia Fields state senator who was named “cannabis czar” to oversee the Jan. 1 rollout of legalized recreational marijuana in the state. Democratic party bosses tapped Patrick Joyce, 57, of Essex — the son of the late former state Sen. Jerome Joyce — who beat out three women competing for the job

From the K3 paper

The other candidates were Chicago Heights City Clerk Lori Wilcox, Momence’s Marta Perales and Monica Gordon, executive director of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation.

At a public meeting at Kankakee Community College, all four candidates spoke before the committee and took questions. Then the committee members, including Kankakee County Democratic Chairman John Willard, deliberated in private for 40 minutes before announcing their choice.

During questioning, Perales and Gordon pledged to run in the Democratic primary in March regardless of who the committee picked. Wilcox said afterward she had not decided yet.

Joyce promised to build relationships with residents in the northern part of the 40th Senate District. His father, Jerry, a 17-year state senator, died in June.

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


Welcome to Springfield, mayor. Let’s see what you’ve got

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* Tribune

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is heading to Springfield on Tuesday in hopes of eking out a deal to make a proposed Chicago casino more attractive to potential developers by reducing the cut that would go to the city and state.

Lightfoot will arrive as the legislature reconvenes for its last three scheduled days this year. When legislators began the six-day fall session last month, they were facing two requests from City Hall: fix the casino tax structure and give Chicago permission to implement a graduated tax on high-price real estate transfers.

But spokeswoman Anel Ruiz said Monday that Lightfoot’s day trip to the Capitol “is primarily focused on the casino.” Negotiations with lawmakers continued over the weekend and “we’re moving forward, which is a good sign,” said Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat who is the House point person on gambling legislation.

The real estate transfer tax plan appears stalled for now. It has no legislative sponsor and faces pushback from a group of Chicago Democratic lawmakers who are demanding a large percentage of the revenues be directed to relieving homelessness in the city — an idea the mayor has so far rejected.

* Sun-Times

The mayor’s office did not provide further details about Lightfoot’s Springfield visit besides providing a statement touting the real estate transfer tax as a “progressive and fair revenue priority.” […]

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office on Monday also did not have information about the mayor’s visit and did not answer questions about whether they were given a heads up. […]

Lightfoot has previously denied claims that she has left Pritzker in the dark. But in June, the governor learned of the mayor’s plan to try to get the state to take over the city’s pension funds via the media. The governor promptly nixed that plan.

Procedurally, it’s not the end of the world if Lightfoot does not get her preferred casino plan and the real estate transfer tax passed this week. But it may be a bad look politically if she can’t produce either win, and it will once again spark talk of a much dreaded property tax hike for Chicagoans.

The city has two pension funds that are around 3-4 years from insolvency. She needs that casino money ASAP.

* Speaking of Springfield

But a Springfield insider close to the gambling talks said there’s a perception among some legislators that Lightfoot’s office — while dealing with a teacher strike, a massive budget deficit and turnover at the top of the police department — hasn’t put in the necessary legwork to land a deal.

”You need the mayor’s office to be the shuttle diplomat between the Senate Dems, House Dems and governor’s office, and that doesn’t seem to be happening,” the insider said. “There seems to be a will but not a way.”

A mayoral source called that claim “nonsense.”

“Our staff and the mayor herself have been talking with Senate and House leadership and [the] Governor’s staff non-stop for weeks on this. Legislators have come in for briefings. The fifth floor is working the roll call aggressively,” the source said. “This narrative is absurd and willfully dishonest.”

I already addressed this topic with subscribers, so I’ll just leave it at that. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe the narrative is absurd or dishonest.

* Meanwhile, this claim by BGA President David Greising is inaccurate

To make her 2020 Chicago budget plan work, Mayor Lori Lightfoot still needs Springfield’s help on at least two key elements—a new tax on home sales and changes to a bill that would enable Chicago to build a casino.

Casino revenue is not included in Lightfoot’s FY20 budget plan. I posted the rest of Greising’s column late Friday afternoon, wherein Lightfoot said she wasn’t supporting a constitutional amendment to reduce pension benefits because Gov. Pritzker opposed it. Her staff later walked that back, as they have done time and time again, after Pritzker’s office claimed that the mayor has told the governor she opposes a constitutional amendment.

* Related…

* Lightfoot heading to Springfield to push casino plan - A political deal on a Chicago gambling facility may be within reach, but the mayor’s separate bid to raise $50 million by boosting the real estate transfer tax appears stalled

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Huge layoffs at News-Gazette

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* WCIA TV

Some of you may have been surprised when you didn’t find your Monday paper this morning. You aren’t alone. News-Gazette announced yesterday they will no longer be delivering on Mondays, but that’s not the only change.

We now know there were around 34 people laid off from the Champaign location. Sources say that breaks down as 19 in editorial, 12 in circulation, one in finance, one in digital services, and one weekly editor. In an article Sunday, the Executive Vice President of Champaign Multi Media Group Paul Barrett said taking away the Monday paper was to reduce cost and get the paper back on its footing.

Champaign Multi Media group bought the paper at the end of August. As part of that process, the paper also filed for bankruptcy. […]

A carrier from the News-Gazette location in Danville who was let go said everyone else at that location was too. That’s 15 people.

From what I’ve been told, they’ve closed the Danville bureau. Also, they’re down to just a tiny number of reporters overall.

* Happy talk from the media group’s president

A new day is dawning in the newspaper industry, and the new owners of News-Gazette Media — Champaign Multi Media Group — will bring fresh ideas, improved technology and a sharp focus to a great media market.

“Champaign-Urbana is the most exciting market in the state of Illinois. With a thriving business community, first-class university and an undercurrent of entrepreneurial success, Champaign-Urbana will benefit from strong, innovative media leadership,” said Paul Barrett, executive vice president and publisher of Champaign Multi Media Group. “We will leverage the largest commercial website in the state outside of Chicago for our advertisers, bringing our formula for success in other markets to this region.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


It’s a start, but it’s only a start

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Bribery is a Class 2 felony in Illinois. It’s also a federal offense, punishable by up to ten years in prison. Neither of those laws stopped former Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) from allegedly attempting to bribe a state senator who turned out to be an FBI mole.

Arroyo’s alleged bribe was made on behalf of his lobbying client. As a registered lobbyist in the City of Chicago, Arroyo was required to disclose the name of his client and how much he was making every quarter and which city agency or agencies he was lobbying. Those disclosures didn’t stop him from allegedly making that bribe.

The reason I bring up these obvious points is I keep hearing Statehouse lobbyists make them while complaining that Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others want to punish lobbyists for Arroyo’s sins. Pritzker and others have publicly floated a plan to force Statehouse lobbyists to disclose how much their clients pay them.

I’m also now hearing talk from the governor’s office about forcing lobbyists to disclose their actual lobbying activity. As mentioned above, Chicago already requires this. If the Illinois proposal winds up mirroring the city’s ordinance, lobbyists would have to report which agencies they lobbied (including the legislature) on specific bills. But they could be required to file much more detailed reports, like Cook County does.

Lobbyists are always handy scapegoats during ethics crises. They’re probably the only Illinois profession more unpopular than being in the state legislature. Deflection is the order of the day in times such as these.

Defensiveness by any targeted group is also to be expected when change is in the air. Right now, not-for-profit organizations that lobby Chicago agencies and the City Council don’t have to register with the city. That will change in January, and some lobbyists with small groups are furious. But not-for-profits have had to register at the state level for a very long time, and I don’t think I’ve heard one complaint.

It’s also no secret that the governor isn’t a big fan of the lobbying culture in Springfield. He didn’t rely on their money to get himself elected. His top staff members are proud of this independence, to the point of disdain for elements of the lobbying corps. Using the sweeping federal probe as an excuse to crack down on lobsters is no real surprise in this context.

Some lobbyists I’ve spoken with point to what they call the hypocrisy of the governor’s disclosure argument. Pritzker signed a bill into law this summer that barred employers from asking potential employees about their salary history. “We are declaring that one’s history should not dictate one’s future,” the governor said at the time.

By that logic, wouldn’t this new disclosure also harm women and people of color who lobby or are looking for clients, the lobbyists ask. I dunno. I mean, it’s not like the state no longer publishes its employees’ salaries online.

Another argument I’ve been hearing a lot is that lobbyists worry the shake-down artists in the General Assembly will use their newly required income disclosures to squeeze more campaign contributions from them. In response, just about every lobbyist I’ve talked to in recent days wants all Springfield fundraisers banned during session months.

Fundraisers are currently banned on session days. Session weeks typically run from Tuesday through Thursday. So, legislators get around the ban by routinely hosting fundraisers on Monday nights. House Speaker Michael Madigan holds the biggest such Monday evening fundraiser of the year out at Lake Springfield.

No less than eight fundraisers for 15 legislators, plus the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, were scheduled for the Monday before the start of the fall veto session’s second week on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Lobbyists complain that they’re often handing legislators campaign checks the night before crucial committee hearings or floor votes. Some legislators do take offense at no-shows to their fundraisers, but contributing to campaigns also makes people queasy even if there is absolutely no quid pro quo arrangement.

Years ago, when the session fundraiser ban was passed with the Monday night loophole, several large organizations announced they would boycott those fundraisers in protest. But visibly standing up to the culture can have consequences for individuals.

An honest debate should take place about the merits of Chicago’s lobbying disclosure ordinance. Have any city lobbyists been harmed by disclosing their fees or their activities? If so, they should come forward and be heard.

Whatever the case, this is a beginning, not an end. Plenty of other ideas also need to be addressed.

I’ll have more on this topic later this morning.

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

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*** LIVE COVERAGE ***

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

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*** UPDATED x1 *** Madigan to Arroyo: Don’t even try naming your replacement

Monday, Nov 11, 2019

[Reader comments are now open on this post.]

* Background is here if you need it. From House Speaker Michael Madigan…

Today, I wrote to the Democratic committee members responsible for filling the vacancy in the 3rd Representative District, and asked them to conduct their process without the participation of the 36th Ward. Any process that includes the participation of the 36th Ward – whether by direct vote or by proxy – would call the legitimacy of the appointment into question, and the qualifications of their candidate would be challenged by the full Illinois House of Representatives.

Sample letter

As Speaker of the House, I am asking the committeemen responsible for filling the vacancy in the 3rd Representative District to do so without the participation of the 36th Ward. Any involvement by the 36th Ward – whether a direct vote or a vote by proxy – would cause the candidate’s qualifications to be challenged by the full Illinois House of Representatives.

…Adding… From a House Dem operative…

The Illinois constitution leaves it to each house if there’s a question of qualifications. Article X of the House rules dictates the process. Basically the challenge would be whether the vacancy in office was properly filled. That would lead to a hearing at which questions such as “did any person making an appointment receive anything in exchange for the appointment.”

From Article X

5. Initiating Qualifications Challenges.

(a) Qualifications challenges may be brought only by a registered voter of the representative district of the representative challenged or by a member of the House.

(b) Qualifications challenges must be brought within 90 days after the day the challenged member takes his or her oath of office as a member of the House, or within 90 days after the day the petitioner first learns of the information on which the challenge is based, whichever occurs later.

(c) A qualifications challenge shall be brought by filing a petition of qualifications challenge with the Clerk, and by serving a copy of the petition on the respondent member of the House. The petition must be accompanied by proof of personal service upon the respondent member and must be verified by affidavit swearing to the truth of the allegations or based upon information and belief. A petition of qualifications challenge shall set forth the grounds on which the respondent member is alleged to be constitutionally unqualified, or on which his or her appointment to the House is claimed to be legally improper, the qualifications of the petitioner to bring the challenge, and a prayer for relief. […]

In conducting inquiries, investigations, and recounts in election contests and qualifications challenges, the committee has the power to send for and compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books, papers, ballots, documents, and records by subpoena signed by the Chairperson of the committee as provided by law and subject to Rule 4(c)(9). In conducting proceedings in election contests and qualifications challenges, the Chairperson of the committee and the Chairperson of any subcommittee may administer oaths to witnesses, as provided by law, and for this purpose a subcommittee is deemed to be a committee of the House.

But even if the challenge fails, the House could still vote to expel the member.

…Adding… Governor’s office…

Rep. Arroyo’s effort to influence the choice of his successor is unacceptable, given the charges against him. Any engagement by the current 36th Ward committeeman would taint a successor, and I call on the House of Representatives not to seat the person who is selected if the 36th Ward committeeman participates. The people of Illinois deserve and demand a higher standard of ethics, and I intend to pursue comprehensive ethics reform in Springfield.

*** UPDATE *** This is mainly bluster…

Dear Speaker Madigan:

Today I received your correspondence directing the 3rd Representative District (“District”) Committeepersons to deprive the voters of the 36th Ward a voice in the selection of a new legislator to replace Luis Arroyo in the House of Representatives (“House”). Like all Committeepersons of the District, I agree that Luis Arroyo should not select his own replacement in the House. I strongly disagree with you that the process for filling the vacancy should be done without the consideration, acknowledgment, and accounting of the voters of the 36th Ward.

The District is a supermajority Latino district. I am appalled that you as the Chair of the Illinois Democratic Party and a representative of a supermajority Latino district would suggest an illegal and discriminatory effort to disenfranchise Latino voters.

Any plan, scheme, or effort to exclude the voters of the largest portion of the District runs afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act. If you move forward with a qualification challenge under Article X of the Rules of the House, voters of the District will have no choice but to seek redress in federal court.

As the second-highest weighted vote in the District, I will be forced to sue you officially and personally for intentional discrimination against Latinos.

Sincerely,

Ariel Reboyras
Committeeperson, 30th Ward

I highly doubt anyone would have standing to sue over the enforcement of a House rule, but whatevs. The committeepersons could refuse to show up for Arroyo’s meeting, but Reboyras has said he fully intends to participate.

Reboyras knew about the Arroyo committeepersons meeeting the day before Arroyo announced it, which has made several folks believe he and Arroyo have a candidate in mind. Stay tuned.

…Adding… Sun-Times

Cook County Democratic Party Chair Toni Preckwinkle on Monday said the party’s executive committee “is not in a position” to take any other action against Arroyo, except to formally ask him to resign as a committeeman. The party doesn’t have legal means to force him out unless he is convicted of a felony.

Preckwinkle also implored the other committeemen and committeewomen in the 3rd District to “lead by example” and pick his replacement without him.

She also had a tip for Arroyo: “I would suggest Arroyo do the right thing and not call into question the selection process,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.

Translation: “Luis, you’re gonna ruin it for the rest of us.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      


PREVIOUS POSTS »
* Feds recorded McClain phone calls
* Lightfoot leaves Springfield with no promises
* Question of the day
* Get ready for 2020 shenanigans, campers
* Lightfoot corrects aldermen who say she's proposing a property tax increase
* Police poison pill puts Pritzker pension consolidation bill in jeopardy
* Meh
* It's just a bill
* Caption contest!
* Sen. Martinez joins Ald. Reboyras in lawsuit threat over Arroyo seat
* All's well that ends well
* Rate the new Defend American Democracy ad
* Ban these sweepstakes machines
* Fight continues over aircraft maintenance tax forgiveness plan
* Um, no
* Welcome to Springfield, mayor. Let's see what you've got
* Huge layoffs at News-Gazette
* It's a start, but it's only a start
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* *** UPDATED x1 *** Madigan to Arroyo: Don't even try naming your replacement
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