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Monday, Jan 27, 2020

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

ILGOP chairman wonders aloud if SoS “glitch” was “done on purpose”

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider was on WJPF today and was asked about the automatic voter registration “glitch” at the secretary of state’s office

When you look at the rhetoric that they espouse every day, the Democrats, they’re always, they’re, they’re asking for illegal immigrants to be able to vote. So, when you see, and these are just non-citizens who got greencard holders and the like who are here legally but were non-citizens who were registered to vote here.

But if you take their rhetoric and you put it together, you wonder if this was really done on purpose or if it was just a so-called glitch as you call it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      

See you Wednesday!

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

[The following is a compensated advertisement.]

* TrackBill is now PolicyEngage

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Pritzker: “The glitch has been fixed”

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Rachel Hinton at the Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said a “glitch” that resulted in non-citizens being registered to vote has been “overcome,” and he sees no reason to pause an automatic registration program as electoral agencies determine how the prohibited voters ended up on the rolls in the first place.

“We’re being very careful at our agencies and how it’s being implemented now, but there’s no reason to have an across-the-board pause, especially when the glitch has been fixed,” Pritzker said at a Monday news conference. “And we’re going to have hearings to make sure we’re ferreting out what went wrong with this glitch.”

At the press event, Pritzker was joined by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and members of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, to talk about election security measures.

Last week, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Democratic Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, demanding answers from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White about how 545 self-identified non-U.S. citizens were mistakenly registered to vote through the state’s new automatic registration system.

* Related…

* Illinois lawmaker raised concerns with automatic voter registration program in 2016: “This legislation is very problematic,” the Hawthorne Hills Republican said. “Under this proposal, non-citizens will be automatically registered to vote and then perhaps later removed from the rolls. If a non-citizen is registered and the state fails to remove that person in a timely fashion, they will get a voter card in the mail and likely believe they can legally vote. And if they do vote, they will be committing a felony.”

* New voting machines will be installed in Chicago and Cook County polling places in time for early voting and the March 17 primary election, officials say: Pritzker said he doesn’t plan to propose a major increase in state funding to help local election jurisdictions pay for new voting equipment in his spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. “I don’t think we need to have a massive appropriation here to focus on all the various counties, but we are working with those counties on upgrades they need to make on their local systems,” he said.

* Barrington High School holds voter registration drive for eligible students: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Wednesday to allow students to be excused for two hours during a school day “to vote in a primary, general, special, or any election in Illinois at which propositions are submitted to a popular vote in Illinois.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Welcome to Springfield!

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Bernie

Quincy Media Inc. has opened a statehouse bureau serving outlets in Quincy, Rockford, Peoria and the Carbondale area.

“Collectively, our television stations in Illinois are the primary news source in 37 counties serving over a million and a half viewers,” said QMI president and CEO Ralph Oakley, in a statement.

For bureau chief Mike Miletich, the new assignment marks a return to Springfield. An Alsip native with a broadcast journalism degree from Illinois State University, Miletich, 25, was an intern with WCIA-TV in Springfield as he earned a master’s in public affairs reporting in 2017 from the University of Illinois Springfield. He comes to the new job from Quincy Media’s stations in Peoria, including WEEK-TV.

QMI has stations in Rockford (WREX), Carbondale (WSIL), Peoria (WEEK) and, of course, Quincy (WGEM).

The lack of adequate Statehouse press room office space was actually an issue during the last Legislative Correspondents Association meeting. Imagine that.

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      

Protected: SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Various updates

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

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- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

$54 million down, billions more to go

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Press release…

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today announced the 39 school districts that are eligible for the fiscal year 2020 Property Tax Relief Grant – a significant increase in eligible districts over the previous year. The grant, part of the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, allows eligible school districts to cut local property taxes and replace that revenue with state funds.

Governor JB Pritzker’s FY 2020 budget appropriated $3.65 million more for the grant than in FY 2019. The FY 2020 grant can serve 11 more districts than it did in FY 2019, when 28 school districts received the grant.

The $53,650,000 grant can replace a total of $57,313,122 in local property taxes, once school districts proceed with the abatement. The districts that are eligible for the grant are those that have the highest tax rates within their organization type (elementary, high school, or unit district) out of all those that applied. Eligible districts must submit an abatement resolution to their county clerks by March 30. ISBE will distribute the grant to each eligible district after receiving the Certification of Abatement Form from the county clerk.

Public Act 101-0017 made changes to the program effective this year to expand eligibility to additional districts and to require tax abatement for two consecutive years for the grant amount to become a permanent part of the school district’s Base Funding Minimum going forward.

Click here for the list of communities.

While important to those individual communities and while it will make a difference, that $53.6 million grant is around 0.2 percent of the total property tax levy of about $30 billion.

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      

Immigrant miscoding causes state to lose millions of federal dollars

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Hannah Meisel at the Daily Line

The state of Illinois has lost out on an estimated $10.7 million in federal matching dollars during the past four fiscal years as a result of “miscoding errors” that marked American citizens or permanent residents as undocumented in the state’s Covering All Kids health insurance program, according to a new audit.

Auditor General Frank Mautino’s office found the state likely lost out on $2.6 million in federal matching dollars in the 2018 fiscal year because of the persistent and widespread errors within the All Kids program, noting this has been an issue since the first time the program was audited a decade ago. […]

All Kids, which offers universal health care to Illinois children regardless of how much their family earned, was expanded a few years later to include undocumented immigrant children. But Illinois’ Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act moved some citizens and documented immigrants to Medicaid, instead of the expanded All Kids program.

Though the participation rate of undocumented immigrant children in All Kids has dropped precipitously in the past decade — from 54,000 in 2009 to 22,000 in 2018 — the new audit found that number inaccurate. In the 2018 fiscal year, Mautino’s office found more than 4,200 All Kids recipients who had been listed as undocumented, but actually had verified social security numbers or alien registration numbers.

It’s a tiny amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but when the budget is this tight every dollar is important. And these findings date back to 2014. Do better, already.

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      

Corruption roundup

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Background is here if you need it. This press release was issued on Friday, but I took the day off…

Today, Bloomingdale Township Supervisor Michael D. Hovde, Jr. called on Robert Czernek, Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner, to resign after federal agents executed a search warrant on the office of the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department Tuesday.

“After the execution of the federal search warrant of the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department relating to alleged financial improprieties at the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department, the current Highway Commissioner must resign immediately.” said Hovde.

Supervisor Hovde further added “the Bloomingdale Township office was not the subject of the federal search warrant which related solely to alleged conduct within the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department and a handful of its vendors. The Bloomingdale Township Supervisor’s Office is housed at a different facility than the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department.”

I’m told this probe isn’t connected to the wider federal corruption investigation.

* Daily Herald

Czernek has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Reached by email Thursday evening, Czernek replied “no comment.”

* Oof

January 23, 2020
Honorable Toni Preckwinkle
President, Board of Commissioners of Cook County
118 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60602
Dear President Preckwinkle,

It is with deep regret that I tender my resignation from the Cook County Board of Ethics, effective February 26, 2020. It has been a great honor to serve on the Board since you first appointed me in March 2016.

When I first began my service, I was honored to be in the company of Margaret Daley, Juliet Sorenson and Executive Director Ranjit Hakim. Later, the Board added two additional members of great integrity, Thomas Szromba and Von Matthews. I believe that we were doing an excellent job of enforcing and strengthening the ethics ordinance of Cook County.

Last Tuesday, I was advised that you have elected to terminate the services of Margaret Daley, the Chairman of the Board of Ethics. You did so without so much as even doing Chairman Daley the courtesy of a phone call. I can only surmise that your action was the result of 1) Chairman Daley’s support of Lori Lightfoot in the past mayoral election, 2) the hard line the Board of Ethics has taken with regard to violations of the ethics ordinance by your friend, Joseph Barrios, and/or 3) the latest recommendations of the Board of Ethics to strengthen the existing ethics ordinance, which, among other things, brings it more in line with the serious effort by the City of Chicago to strengthen its own ordinance.

In light of your action, it is clear that you do not welcome a Board of Ethics that is serious about its duties. As such, it would simply be a waste of my time to continue in my role with the board. As of February 26, 2020 you are free to fill my vacancy with someone more likely to do your bidding.

David Grossman
Member, Cook County Board of Ethics

* Tribune editorial

Party leaders in the General Assembly need to hold themselves — and be held — to a high standard on disclosing outside employment, income and conflicts. That includes the Senate’s minority leader, Republican Bill Brady of Bloomington, who the public learned last year had become a key player in a lucrative video gambling company. The members of his caucus who preen about ethics reform should start with their own leadership. How is it that a high-ranking elected official in Springfield can also be an investor in a state-regulated, multimillion-dollar gambling company?

In the House, Speaker Michael Madigan has never been required to reveal the extent of his law practice, its clients or its income, despite representing high-profile companies seeking property tax reductions. Madigan’s law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, is among the city’s most clout-heavy firms in winning property tax reductions for its clients. Those reductions mean the county’s overall tax burden gets spread to other property owners. Where are the demands for Madigan to separate from his law practice? Where are the calls for more disclosure? House Democrats who huff and puff about the need for ethics reform in government should start with their own leadership.

The same goes for Republican House leader Jim Durkin, also a lawyer, who doesn’t have to disclose the clients his firm serves. Where are the demands for more transparency?

Um, Durkin is the chief sponsor of HB3954, which would require disclosure of clients that could create a conflict of interest

Any other economic interest or relationship of the person or of members of the person’s immediate family (spouse and minor children residing with the person) which could create a conflict of interest for the person in his or her capacity as a member of the General Assembly

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      

Sandoval charged with bribery

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

UPDATE: Click here to read the indictment.

* Hooboy…

* More…

…Adding… Sun-Times

The feds filed the charges against Sandoval on Monday in a two-page, lightly detailed information, a document that typically signals a defendant’s intention to plead guilty. His attorney, Dylan Smith, declined to comment.

No court hearings have been scheduled in Sandoval’s case.

The bribery count against Sandoval alleges that, between 2016 and September 2019, he “corruptly solicited, demanded, agreed to accept and accepted” money for “continued support for the operation of red-light cameras in the State of Illinois, including opposing legislation adverse to the interests of the red-light camera industry.”

Sandoval is also accused of filing a 2017 income tax return that said his total income was $125,905, when he “knew that the total income substantially exceeded that amount.”

…Adding… Arraignment tomorrow…

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* The Tribune has a well-written and pretty thorough session preview

Illinois lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday for a spring session that will be a test of whether Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Democratic-led General Assembly can address issues at the root of the state’s long-running problems with fiscal instability and political corruption.

Remedies for the state’s notoriously high property taxes, soaring public pension debt and weak government ethics laws top the agenda for lawmakers and the second-year governor. All figure to be especially tough tasks in an election year and under the cloud of an ongoing federal corruption probe. Pritzker isn’t on the ballot, but voters in November will decide the fate of his signature initiative: a constitutional amendment that would shift the state to a graduated-rate income tax.

Further complicating the political dynamics are Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s continued push for help from Springfield on a Chicago casino, a new Democratic leader in the state Senate and the ongoing federal probe that has reached into House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle.

Pritzker said in an interview with the Tribune earlier this month that passing a balanced budget is his top priority. He also said he needs to balance his “impatience” to get things done with “a desire to bring everybody along on this journey to fixing the challenges the state faces.”

* The Question: What should be the governor’s State of the State “theme”?

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      

More good news from Rivian

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* The company continues to impress. From Bloomberg

Rivian Automotive Inc., the electric-truck startup backed by Inc. and Ford Motor Co., will provide the “skateboard” platform for a premium, high-performance electric Ford vehicle, its top executive said.

“In Ford’s case, we provide the platform.” Rivian Chief Executive Officer R. J. Scaringe said in an interview on Saturday. “They will provide the top hat, the body and the interior.”

The “skateboard” is the entire platform, including the motor, battery pack, computer systems and wheels. The design is modular and allows for different vehicle body types to be added on top. Rivian is seeking partnerships to scale and grow beyond its own consumer electric vehicle offering.

Ford invested in Rivian in April and announced its intention to build a vehicle using Rivian’s technology. Scaringe declined to comment on the vehicle class or design, and didn’t confirm which party would assemble the final Ford vehicle or give a date for its release.

* Pantagraph

Rivian has invested $29.4 million in its future Normal production facility in recent weeks as work progresses inside and outside the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant to reconfigure for electric vehicle manufacturing later this year.

“2020 is going to be a significant year for Rivian, not only for construction of the vehicle but for the facility as well,” Zach Dietmeier, Rivian plant communications manager, told The Pantagraph.

Among building permits issued in recent weeks for Rivian, 100 N. Rivian Motorway, has been $11.3 million to Lesco Design and Manufacturing Inc., LaGrange, Ky., for construction of a conveyance line for final assembly of the vehicle.

“It’ll be done, hopefully, within the next month of so,” Dietmeier said.

* Engadget

Rivian’s first vehicles are getting a price cut of sorts months before they even roll off the line. Company founder RJ Scaringe told Reuters in a chat that the electric R1T truck and its R1S SUV counterpart would cost less than originally announced. He didn’t provide full pricing, but he indicated that a mid-range R1T with 300 miles of range and an electrochromic glass roof would sell for $69,000, while a comparable R1S would sell for $72,000. The automaker had pegged the starting prices for the R1T and R1S at $61,500 and $65,000 respectively.

It’s not certain what prompted the lower prices, though it might just be a matter of economies of scale. Scaringe told Engadget in 2018 that the initial production would focus on “thousands of units” and ramp up. Rivian has racked up “such a long queue” since then, according to Scaringe. If the company is better-prepared for production, it could meet that demand (and thus reach profitability) that much sooner.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

Pritzker signs bill to cap some out-of-pocket insurance costs for insulin

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Tribune

Illinois became one of the first states in the U.S. to limit the out-of-pocket price of insulin when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a measure on Friday that caps the cost of medication people with diabetes rely on.

Sen. Andy Manar, the downstate Democrat who sponsored the bill that caps the out-of-pocket cost for insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply regardless of how much is needed to fill a patient’s prescription, called it the “biggest step that we can take under Illinois law.” The law takes effect Jan. 1. […]

Illinois’ price cap applies to state-regulated commercial insurance plans but does not touch federally regulated plans. In his push for the state insulin cap, Manar has advocated for similar action at the federal level.

“We should take this and we should celebrate this victory when the governor signs this bill,” Manar said. “And then we should keep going, because we have so much more to do when it comes to the affordability of prescription drugs.”

* Capitol News Illinois

With the signing of SB 667, Illinois became only the third state to cap out-of-pocket insulin prices. The law applies to people who are covered by health plans subject to state regulation. That includes most kinds of private insurance, the state Medicaid plan and the state employees’ health plan.

It does not, however, apply to self-insured plans, which many large companies with thousands of employees offer. Those plans are regulated under federal law.

The law also does not limit what prices insulin manufacturers are allowed to charge for the medication. It controls only how much of an out-of-pocket cost insurers can require patients to pay, essentially shifting a greater share of the cost onto insurance companies.

“I think one thing that we’ve all recognized in this process is there are an awful lot of middlemen that have caused a spike in the price and they need to work out among themselves how they’re going to deal with that change,” Pritzker said.

* Center Square

At the bill signing, state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the actual number of Illinoisans with diabetes who will be benefit wasn’t known.

“That’s an open number,” Manar said. “So, I would describe it as this bill, now the law, is the biggest step we can take under Illinois law. Self-insurance programs are insurance programs that are not covered. Those are federally regulated.”

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Springfield, previously estimated Illinois regulations on insurance only affect 20 percent of the industry.

“So when you see a story that says ‘this kind of coverage is now required, the insurance to cover X, Y and Z in Illinois’ or there’s a restriction placed on something, that only applies to plans that are licensed and regulated by the [Illinois] Department of Insurance,” Demmer said.

Something, as they say, is better than nothing.

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      

A weakened ComEd/Exelon could be a boon to renewable energy companies

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* From Brian Mackey’s interview of Gov. JB Pritzker

Mackey: Clean energy legislation has been tied to demands from the electric utility ComEd and parent company Exelon. Given the federal investigation, is that green energy initiative dead on account of that, or should it be handled separately?

Pritzker: Oh, it is very much alive. Getting Illinois to comply, to move forward in our desire to bring more clean energy, to bring more renewable energy to our state — that’s something that I believe very strongly, and we’re going to be working on during this spring session.

We also have other major utilities that we need to consider. As you know, we produce a lot of nuclear power in the state. We produce a lot of other power, and all of that needs to be taken into consideration as we look to create a more environmentally friendly energy production, and as we try to lower costs for people across the state, and continue to be one of the most attractive states in terms of energy prices. […]

Mackey: When you say nuclear energy, that means Exelon and that means the potential of federal investigators listening in on phone calls. Do you feel confident you can negotiate on that topic with that company?

Pritzker: Well what I know is that you can’t do energy legislation that’s all-encompassing for the state without considering nuclear energy and other forms of production of energy. So we’ve got to consider all of that in the negotiations. And who represents them or that interest is yet to be seen, but important to me that they clean up their act and that if — whatever it is that the federal government discovers — that they act quickly so that we can move forward, because we’ve got to address the energy needs of our state and we’ve got to move toward cleaner energy.

* More from Steve Daniels at Crain’s

That makes newly elected Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, key to whatever happens. Harmon says in an interview that Pritzker’s comments have changed the dynamic in Springfield, making energy legislation at least possible, unlike in the fall when the ComEd-related controversy was raging. “I’m pleased with the governor’s renewed interest,” Harmon says.

But Harmon acknowledges the task will be difficult, given disagreements between many renewable-energy developers and the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, the consumer and environmental groups backing the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, about how best to incentivize more wind and solar projects in Illinois.

“I have long been a supporter of renewables,” he says. “I support the aims of CEJA. We have to reconcile the ingredients of several of these bills.”

He emphasizes that renewable developers need to be confident they can finance their projects, signaling that they will have a stronger-than-usual say in whether something comprehensive can pass in the spring. Instead of CEJA, those developers have pushed for the Path to 100 bill that would boost the monthly ratepayer charge to support more renewable projects in Illinois.

Asked about Exelon, Harmon says the traditionally clout-heavy company’s loss of influence may help. “I have long wanted a truly level playing field in comprehensive energy legislation.”

Emphasis added because the renewable energy producers have been essentially shut out of the CEJA machinations. With ComEd and Exelon politically weakened by the federal probe and Harmon’s ascension to the senate presidency and a governor who has railed against the companies in the recent past, Path to 100 has a much better shot this year.

* From a Path to 100 press release…

An analysis of Illinois Power Agency data shows that wind and solar projects contracted in Illinois between 2017 and 2019 will create nearly $5 billion of private investment as well as more than 14,500 new direct and indirect jobs by the end of 2020. But the industry will lose jobs after 2020 due to a funding cliff in the state’s renewable energy policy.

Data from the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) shows that more than 7,000 small-scale and community solar projects totaling 490 MW are already online or in development across the state (view map of solar projects and businesses here). In addition, the IPA has contracted for renewable energy credits from utility-scale wind and solar projects that are expected to drive the construction of more than 2,500 MW of new large-scale installations by 2021. Illinois uses renewable energy credits to fulfill its statutory requirement of 25% renewable energy by 2025. The current contracts will only allow the state to reach roughly 7% renewable energy by the end of 2020.

The boom in jobs and investment, driven by the IPA’s renewable energy procurements in 2018 and 2019, will support new project construction through 2020. But funding limits in the state’s policy mean the current boom will be followed by a bust. The IPA will not procure energy in 2020 for new commercial solar, community solar or utility-scale wind and solar projects. IPA’s renewable energy procurement plan predicts the impending bust on its first page: “absent legislative changes, RPS budget limitations will constrain the ability of the Agency to conduct additional procurements or expand program capacity…”

Renewable energy and labor groups are advocating during Illinois’ spring legislative session for the passage of the Path to 100 Act, which would expand Illinois’ clean energy programs and prevent a boom-and-bust cycle.

* Meanwhile, some Republicans are turning the cannons around on their fellow comrades…

One of the co-sponsors of that bill is Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican who has not ever been considered a socialist.

* Illinois Review

Downstate lawmaker State Rep. Blaine Wilhour was not happy with Wehrli’s move.

“Fantasy land policies like this are devastating to working class jobs. CEJA is a notch on a far left political agenda and nothing but a feel good political talking point,” he said.

“If we want to stop being minority party in Illinois we have to become leaders and we must present real ideas. Adopting far left ideas into our rhetoric is and will continue to be a losing strategy for the American worker,” Wilhour said. […]

“It is bad for workers, it is bad for consumers, it is bad for job creation and it is not even realistic,” Wilhour said. “It disappoints me that some are willing to sacrifice working class jobs to advance a far left political agenda. There are ways to move toward clean energy without fleecing consumers and forcing workers (mostly in my district and my part of the state) out of head of household jobs. We need common sense leadership not Democrat talking points.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      

Credit where credit is due

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* My weekly newspaper column

Give new Illinois Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) some credit. He’s made a few very solid moves since Jan. 18, when he was elected to his chamber’s top job.

Harmon won a majority vote of his caucus before the full Senate voted. He had at least some support from just about every Democratic faction. Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) is an African-American, but Harmon received several votes from people of color. Downstaters voted for both candidates, as did women. A majority of the “X Caucus,” a loose confederation of more conservative members, went with Harmon, but at least four voted for Lightford. Suburbanites were split and so were Chicagoans.

With the factions all over the place, putting a deal together wasn’t easy. But after several tense and sometimes contentious hours, Harmon emerged victorious.

Hard feelings remain. Some senators apparently just up and lied to Lightford about whom they were supporting. But Lightford will remain majority leader, and her supporters in Senate Democratic leadership were protected. Harmon made peace and he has time to work things out before he has to run again in less than a year.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has denied it, but people close to him were indeed working hard on Lightford’s behalf. The two men have known each other for over two decades, but Harmon endorsed then-Sen. Daniel Biss in the 2018 gubernatorial primary over Pritzker, and things kinda soured after that. The two are ideologically very close, however, so they should be able to work things out, but I’d bet the Senate’s appointment confirmation process, among other things, might get just a wee bit tighter in the near term.

The night he was elected, Harmon sat down with his entire staff. Employees had been fretting about their futures ever since John Cullerton unexpectedly announced in November that he would be resigning soon.

Staff members are people, too, after all. Many have families to support, mortgages and tuition to pay, plus the all-important health insurance. They’d been walking on eggshells ever since Cullerton’s announcement, wondering what their future holds.

Harmon, according to spokesperson John Patterson, told the all-staff meeting “he looks forward to working with everyone and was counting on staff to help him during this transition and heading into what we expect will be another successful and productive session.”

The highly unusual mid-term resignation of a sitting Senate president plopped Harmon into uncharted waters just a week before the General Assembly was scheduled to return from its long winter break. Replacing key staff members in mid-stream would’ve been difficult and perhaps even risky. He needs to get up to speed right away, and he couldn’t do that if he brought in new folks to run the day-to-day operation.

Harmon will eventually have to decide what he wants his staff to look like. But it was a smart, grown-up move to stick with the status quo for a while. The staff Harmon inherited is efficient and capable. There was simply no pressing need to make any major immediate changes.

In some ways, Harmon is old school. He runs one of the few truly active Democratic township organizations in Cook County, and he has indulged in the tradition of working at a powerful law firm while serving. But he’s also the first ever member of “Generation X” to lead a legislative caucus and preside over a chamber here. He loves playing guitar and he attracted the votes of the younger members in his caucus.

Harmon strongly signaled that we’ve entered a new era during an appearance later in the week on Chicago Public Television’s “Chicago Tonight” program.

Harmon has worked at a politically connected Chicago law firm for the past 15 years. He has done bond work for municipalities, and his firm has represented several state agencies. He has said he was as diligent as possible to avoid conflicts of interest, but now that Harmon has the chamber’s top job, it was a sure bet that questions would at least be raised.

So Harmon told Amanda Vinicky during the WTTW interview that he plans to step down from the firm. He’ll avoid any conflicts and he can devote himself full-time to his new role.

This almost never happens in Illinois government. Just the opposite, in fact. When people move to the top of the legislative food chain, they generally ramp up their, um, marketability.

He’s making the right moves so far. We’ll see how he does in the future.

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      

Poll has Lipinski closing in on 50 in four-way race

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Greg Hinz

Here are the top-line totals. They come from a survey of 500 likely Democratic voters conducted Jan. 7-9 by Expedition Strategies, a Virginia-based firm that tends to do a lot of polling in areas with an abundance of working-class voters and whose clients include U.S. Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon, as well as the House Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC. The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 4.38 percent.

Asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, 47 percent backed Lipinski to 25 percent for progressive opponent Newman and 2 and 1 percent each, respectively, for two little-known contenders, Rush Darwish and Charles Hughes. A hefty 26 percent said they didn’t know who they’d support. More on that in a minute.

With “leaners” included—those who, after a bit of a push, say they’re leaning toward a candidate but have not totally decided—Lipinski’s figure rises to 50 percent and Newman’s to 27 percent, with Darwish and Hughes unchanged. But 20 percent still are undecided.

Given that this is the second cycle in which Newman has challenged Lipinski, and given that “undecideds” often break in the end against the incumbent, this race still may be tighter than it might appear. At the same time, a 22-point margin ain’t shabby.

If this poll is accurate and Darwish can get some traction with his early spending, Lipinski might be in the clear. But Darwish’s introductory TV ad was not exactly great, so we’ll see.

* Related…

* Challenger Newman sees gain in Lipinski’s pain — third candidate ‘stunned’ by bad blood: “The machine must go,” Newman said. “They torture families. They bully people. And they’re nasty people. The machine must die, and I am a reformer.”

* Fact-check: Challenger Newman railroads the truth with jab at Lipinski over train crossings

* At Issue: Challenger Newman Hopes To Beat Congressman Lipinski, ‘Machine’

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

Rep. Ammons issues denial, but is investigated over alleged $80 retail theft

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* News-Gazette

Last week, Presiding Judge Tom Difanis appointed the Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor to review Urbana police reports generated about a Jan. 7 incident in which [Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana] allegedly took a Coach purse from the Carle Auxiliary Resale Boutique, 810 W. University Ave., U.

Ammons did not return calls seeking comment, but her husband, Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons, told The News-Gazette on Friday: “This is a non-story and a basic misunderstanding, and that’s all you’re going to get from me.” […]

Capt. Jason Henderson of the Illinois State Police Zone 5 office in Champaign said his office forwarded reports on an investigation done at the request of Urbana police — he declined to say what they investigated — to the appellate prosecutor on Jan. 17.

“They are reviewing a case we investigated for the possibility of prosecution,” said Henderson, adding it “would be inappropriate for us to release any information when it’s in their hands.”


The item, said to be a Coach purse, was worth an estimated $80, according to sources who were present. Those sources also say that wads of paper used to fill purses for display purposes were laying on a floor in a dressing room; the tag from the purse was also found on the floor.

Ammons’ legislative aide, Jenna Sickenius, emailed a statement on behalf of Ammons, calling the incident “a non-story about a simple misunderstanding.” […]

Sources familiar with the incident say investigators are reviewing surveillance footage from inside the store. “Security investigated a report of retail theft from the Carle Auxiliary Retail Boutique captured on video and following protocol, notified Urbana Police,” a spokesperson for Carle Foundation Hospital said in an email. “We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement on its investigation.”

…Adding… Maxwell…

- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      

No refund requested or expected for Lincoln’s hat

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* John O’Connor at the Associated Press

In 2007, Springfield’s gleaming new shrine to Abraham Lincoln was open, but it lacked touchstone pieces to show off, so organizers paid $6.5 million for the most symbolic Lincoln artifact available: one of the 16th president’s stovepipe hats.

A dozen years and as many studies and hand-wringing public statements later, there’s no concrete evidence that the felted beaver-fur hat ever sat atop Lincoln’s 6-foot-4 frame.

Has anyone requested a refund?

No, and it doesn’t appear anyone will soon. The foundation that bought the hat as part of a 1,500-piece, $23 million deal with California collector Louise Taper is not considering action, vice chairman Nick Kalm said. It’s supporting further research directed last week by Ray LaHood, chairman of the newly organized trustees of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. […]

He would not comment on the prospect of renegotiating with Taper, whom The Associated Press was unsuccessful in contacting for comment. Legal experts all but rule out successful court action, and while there’s the possibility of appealing to the seller through moral suasion, few are of a mind to do it.

Another option would be to use the hat to educate the public about blunders like this. Hey, if it drives traffic, go for it. We’re apparently stuck with the thing, so use this lemon to make lemonade.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

Illinois connected, but highly unlikely to blame

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Ben Orner at Capitol News Illinois has the scoop

The luxury helicopter that crashed Sunday morning in California, killing all nine people on board including former NBA star Kobe Bryant, was once owned by the state of Illinois.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter was built in 1991, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft registry. The state of Illinois used it from 2007 to 2015, according to helicopter information database Helis.

Under the direction of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state sold the helicopter along with four other surplus aircraft in 2015 for $2.5 million. Rauner said selling the aircraft “also avoided an additional $1 million in inspections and repairs,” according to an Associated Press story after the sales.

The winning bid for the helicopter was $515,161, placed by user “Jimbagge1,” according to a listing on the state’s online auction website, iBid. Both the aircraft and its two engines had just under 4,000 hours of airframe time when the copter was sold.

* But

The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others that crashed into a rugged hillside outside Los Angeles was flying in foggy conditions considered dangerous enough that local police agencies grounded their choppers. […]

Kurt Deetz, a pilot who used to fly Bryant in the chopper, said the crash was more likely caused by bad weather than engine or mechanical issues.

“The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn’t happen,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

Gaming Board wants feds to return, destroy or sequester leaked files

Monday, Jan 27, 2020

* Mark Maxwell at WCIA

An employee at the Illinois Gaming Board “acted alone and outside the scope” of their duties when they “improperly accessed confidential information on IGB licensees and applicants and disclosed this information without authorization or justification to three federal government entities,” according to a letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

It remains unclear exactly which federal agencies obtained the sensitive information about gambling interests or applicants, but the leak occurred during an ongoing FBI criminal corruption investigation into state legislators, bribery, and sweepstakes operators. […]

The letter states that Gaming Board staff “also contacted the recipients of these records to inform them of the records’ confidentiality, and to request the records be destroyed, returned to the IGB, or sequestered to prevent further unauthorized disclosure.”

I’m thinking their demands won’t be heeded.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

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Monday, Jan 27, 2020

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Monday, Jan 27, 2020

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Friday, Jan 24, 2020

* I have a million things to do before session starts next week, so I need to take off today. I’ll see you soon.

The audio on this video isn’t great, but the energy is amazing

Oh darling I think it’s gonna work out fine

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Campaign update
* ILGOP chairman wonders aloud if SoS "glitch" was "done on purpose"
* See you Wednesday!
* Pritzker: "The glitch has been fixed"
* Welcome to Springfield!
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Various updates
* $54 million down, billions more to go
* Immigrant miscoding causes state to lose millions of federal dollars
* Corruption roundup
* Sandoval charged with bribery
* Question of the day
* More good news from Rivian
* Pritzker signs bill to cap some out-of-pocket insurance costs for insulin
* A weakened ComEd/Exelon could be a boon to renewable energy companies
* Credit where credit is due
* Poll has Lipinski closing in on 50 in four-way race
* Rep. Ammons issues denial, but is investigated over alleged $80 retail theft
* No refund requested or expected for Lincoln's hat
* Illinois connected, but highly unlikely to blame
* Gaming Board wants feds to return, destroy or sequester leaked files
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today's edition of Capitol Fax (use all CAPS in password)
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Campaign updates
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