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Question of the day

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* The governor at Rivian this week…

* The Question: Caption?

- Posted by Rich Miller   52 Comments      


60-30-1

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* Proponents of SB1852, the Sterigenics bill, described it as the toughest ethylene oxide regulation in the nation. Business groups claimed it was the toughest in the world. But the biz folks may have been blowing a bit of smoke

Yet industry documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune show the state’s business community privately concluded the regulations are less stringent than they had feared.

Shortly after lawmakers close to the Pritzker administration unveiled their legislation during the spring, one of the state’s top business lobbyists assured colleagues it contained the “least concerning language to date,” according to notes from an April 30 meeting.

Donovan Griffith, director of governmental affairs at the Illinois Manufacturers Association, stressed that Pritzker and lawmakers had backed away from earlier versions fiercely opposed by business interests, according to a summary by another industry official at the meeting. Griffith’s presentation noted lawmakers had dropped plans to reconsider permits allowing companies to emit ethylene oxide. They also had scrapped what opponents considered “arbitrary emissions limits.”

The measure later approved unanimously by legislators and signed into law by Pritzker is largely identical to the draft Griffith described, a Tribune review found. Discovery of the lobbyist’s behind-the-scenes assessment comes as community groups demand a more aggressive response to elevated cancer risks faced by more than 67,000 Illinoisans living near facilities that use ethylene oxide.

Even so, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois both registered in opposition to the final bill. The Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Illinois Environmental Council both filed witness slips in support.

Laws are never perfect and some are ridiculously weak. But bills won’t become laws without clearing two chambers and getting signed by the governor. And that means compromise.

With that being said, there’s an old saying about how there’s an inverse relationship to what a bill actually accomplishes and how many votes it gets. Bills with unanimous support often do little. That bill passed without a single dissenting vote.

- Posted by Rich Miller   2 Comments      


At least three grand jury subpoenas issued so far in Quincy veterans home probe

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* WBEZ

A downstate grand jury has issued at least two more subpoenas to government agencies in the criminal investigation into the state’s mishandling of deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at an Illinois veterans’ home, WBEZ has learned.

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which oversees the Quincy home, and the Adams County Health Department both received criminal subpoenas from the grand jury in August, signaling the probe which began a year ago is not only active, but also may be intensifying.

But Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office, which is investigating the outbreaks, asked a judge to order that the agencies keep the documents secret because their disclosure “would greatly impede the investigation.”

Downstate Adams County is where the state-run Quincy veterans’ home is located. That’s where 14 residents’ deaths and dozens of illnesses have been linked to multiple Legionnaires’ outbreaks since 2015.

The grand jury had previously subpoenaed the Illinois Department of Public Health.

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      


State per pupil spending jumps from 45th to 24th after reform

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* Doug Finke on a new report on school funding

Advance Illinois President Robin Steans said Illinois recently ranked 45th in the country for the amount of money the state spent per pupil on K-12 education.

“We fixed the formula and the state has been putting $350 million into the formula each of the last three years,” she said at a meeting at the City Club in Chicago. “That has bumped us up in a very short period of time to 24th in the country. That is a huge move in a very short period of time.” […]

The direct effect of that influx of money can be measured by the fact that before the formula was changed, 170 districts had less than 60 cents on the dollar of what they needed to adequately educate their students. Now the number has been cut to 34. […]

Despite progress on the funding front, the report underscored areas where education in Illinois is lagging. Steans said the state has a “significant” teacher shortage and the said the state ranks 45th in support for higher education when it ranked 19th just a decade ago. That creates affordability problems, which hurts enrollment.

The impasse just about killed off higher education in this state.

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


ILGOP has another weak quarter, while Madigan’s legal bills continue piling up

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* Tribune

With the departure of former Gov. Bruce Rauner from the state’s political scene, the Illinois Republican Party is turning to grassroots fundraising to try to help make up for at least some of the loss of its biggest benefactor.

Tim Schneider, Rauner’s handpicked chairman of the state GOP, announced the formation of the “Lincoln Legion” with membership through recurring contributions ranging from $10 to $25 a month in exchange for “exclusive invites” to Republican events.

“For too long, ready and willing donors from the grassroots have been neglected,” Schneider said in an email to Republicans. “Not anymore. It’s time for a legion of patriotic Illinoisans to rise up and save our state.”

From the time Rauner announced his candidacy for governor in June 2014, he and his largely self-funded campaign directly gave the state GOP more than $36.8 million. That’s nearly two-thirds of the $58 million the state GOP collected over the same time period.

That story was published a couple of days ago. Since then, the ILGOP reported raising a little over $8,000 in individual contributions during the third quarter, including only $555 in small contributions. The party’s total quarterly take was just $36,405. Yeesh. It had $106,369.28 in the bank at the end of September.

By contrast, the Democratic Party of Illinois reported raising $334,030 in the third quarter and had $819,289 in the bank.

* Speaker Madigan’s campaign fund had over $7.1 million in the bank after raising a little over a million dollars in the bank. But his legal fees are still piling up. Madigan spent $360,582 on lawyers in the third quarter (ten times the amount the ILGOP reported raising during the same quarter, FWIW). He’s spent more than $814,000 on lawyers since the first of the year and almost $1.5 million since the first of 2018.

* Other money stuff…

* Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten builds up war chest of more than $1.4 million in advance of GOP challenge from Jeanne Ives: Federal Election Commission campaign reports showed Ives, who announced her candidacy in mid-July, raised $340,298 through September. After spending $117,500, she said she had about $222,796 on hand.

* With nearly $1.2 million in the bank, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood has a healthy fundraising lead over potential Republican challengers: The top fundraiser among Republicans trying to win the right to challenge Underwood in November 2020 was state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove. Oberweis, unsuccessful in previous bids for Congress and the U.S. Senate, raised $329,493 and reported $551,578 in cash on hand. … Ted Gradel, an investor from Naperville who entered the contest in April, reported $496,000 in cash on hand to start October. Gradel raised nearly $264,000, including a $100,000 loan to his campaign. He had nearly $290,000 at the beginning of July and spent only $57,000 from July through October. Republican state Sen. Sue Rezin of Morris, who announced her candidacy for the GOP nomination in early July, reported raising more than $245,000 through September, including making a $100,000 loan to her campaign. She reported more than $226,000 to start October.

* Primary challenger Marie Newman outraises Rep. Dan Lipinski by nearly 2 to 1 in last quarter: Newman, seeking a primary rematch against Lipinski after losing her March 2018 bid against the Southwest Side and south suburban lawmaker by 2.2 percentage points, reported raising $351,326 in the three-month period. Lipinski reported raising $177,741. Still, the seven-term congressman from Western Springs held a slight advantage over Newman in terms of cash available to start October. Lipinski had $693,088 to Newman’s $514,237 in cash on hand. A third Democratic candidate, activist and former broadcaster Rush Darwish of Chicago, raised $272,779 in the three-month period including a $62,000 loan to his campaign. He reported $318,113 in cash on hand to start this month.

* In the 13th Congressional District, Congressman Rodney Davis reports $905,657 and Democratic primary challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan has $721,805.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Two problems taken care of, several to go

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* One

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s zoning rules for recreational marijuana sales in Chicago passed the City Council Wednesday morning in spite of concerns by African American aldermen that minorities won’t get a fair shake to get in on the lucrative business starting next year.

The zoning ordinance laying out where marijuana dispensaries would be allowed and prohibited throughout the city passed full City Council by a 40-10 vote.

This should never have been an issue in the first place. But, all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

The city council is a unicameral, officially non-partisan legislature and the mayor is the presiding officer. That’s one reason why mayors so often get their way. But it’s also why some mayors sometimes don’t quite fully get the far more complicated dynamics of the Illinois Statehouse, where there’s a bicameral legislature, each with two competing political parties and presiding officers who are not the governor.

* Two

The Chicago Park District and its employees reached a tentative contract agreement, averting what would have been the first strike for workers and would have shuttered facilities across the city, according to union officials.

The agreement reached late Tuesday and made public Wednesday means hundreds of Park District employees will not walk off the job this week even if the Chicago Teachers Union and support staff for public schools decide to strike. The Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents about 80% of Park District employees across the city, didn’t initially release details of the new contract.

That’ll be a big relief to parents if the CTU strikes.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


Sen. Landek’s township campaign committee listed in Lyons warrant

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* Yesterday…



* Another legislator pulled in?

The federal search warrant used at the Lyons village hall also showed the FBI’s interest in the Lyons Township Democratic Organization. The group’s leader is Steve Landek, who’s also the mayor of Bridgeview and a state senator. He did not return calls seeking comment.

…Adding… Tribune

Meanwhile, Landek, chairman of the Democratic Organization of Lyons Township and also the mayor of Bridgeview, said Wednesday that federal authorities have not contacted him in his capacity as a legislator, mayor or local party leader.

* The Sun-Times took a look at the unredacted Lyons and McCook search warrants and compared them to the Sen. Martin Sandoval search warrant. This is only a tiny taste of the full story, so go read the whole thing

The Lyons records, released Tuesday night, mention Buckle Down Brewery, the Drake Oak Brook Resort and the Democratic Organization of Lyons Township.

Getty is listed as the agent for The Drake Oak Brook Resort LLC, according to Illinois Secretary of State records. He also holds annual fundraisers at the resort. […]

The Sandoval and McCook records also mention Bill Helm, who until recently was a high-ranking Chicago Department of Aviation official at the center of a lawsuit accusing him and other officials of injecting politics into the workplace at O’Hare Airport.

The Lyons and Sandoval records mention John Harris, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s convicted one-time chief of staff, as well as the politically connected red-light camera company SafeSpeed, LLC. They also mention asphalt magnate Michael Vondra.

Documents in McCook and Lyons mention Presidio Capital, whose “principal office” appears to be a postal box at a Hinsdale UPS store. It’s a development company run by Burr Ridge resident Omar Maani that’s built affordable housing in Cicero and Summit using taxpayer money funneled through the county government.

Maani is a SafeSpeed investor. The Sun-Times has twice reported on rumors that he is cooperating with the feds.

* I wondered the same thing last week when I was looking into Krneta. Turns out, you can ask Google Maps to blur the image of your house…


* More on Krneta

Among Krneta’s recent jobs was the 2018 renovation of the Alta Grill restaurant inside the McCook Athletic & Exposition Center facility, also known as The Max, records show.

Over the past decade, Krneta has donated tens of thousands of dollars to local politicians including Tobolski, Getty and state Senate President John Cullerton, campaign records show.

Krneta was convicted earlier this year of misdemeanor battery stemming from an incident at Tobolski’s August 2018 golf outing and fundraiser at the Gleneagles Country Club in Lemont, Cook County court records show.

A former manager at the Alta Grill accused Krneta of fondling her from behind and attempting to take her phone out of her back pocket, according to the court records. When she protested, Krneta allegedly grabbed the victim by the throat at the event and said, “I’m untouchable. I always get what I want,” the records show.

Quite the guy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      


Amanda Kass’ take on the pension consolidation task force report

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* From my latest newspaper column

The [governor’s local first responder pension consolidation task force] estimated the costs of these changes at between $14 million and $19 million a year over five years. The estimated investment gains from consolidation are between $164 million and $500 million per year over five years.

But this is Illinois, and if I’ve learned anything in this job, it’s that estimated costs are almost always too low and estimated returns are almost always too high. I’ll believe those projections when I see them.

* Amanda Kass dug into the task force report and found it was a pretty light on details. As always when it comes to this particular Kass, you should read the whole thing. But here’s part of one section

Consolidating assets has implications for actuarial assumptions, and assumptions play a vital role in determining a pension fund’s finances and municipalities’ annual payments. According to the Task Force, one of the benefits of consolidation is that it would, “Enhance uniformity in setting investment and other actuarial assumptions.” The report is thin on details about this aspect of consolidation, and it’s important to learn more about it to understand how municipalities will be impacted in both the short-term and long-term.

In determining the long-term finances of the pension systems, actuaries use an investment rate assumption. Right now each of the 600+ public safety funds have their own investment rate assumption, and the assumption rates vary from around 5% up to 8%. Moving to a single investment rate assumption will mean some funds’ assumptions will be lowered, while others will be increased.

Changing the investment rate assumption has an immediate and direct impact on unfunded liabilities. Increasing the assumption will decrease unfunded liabilities, while reducing the assumption increases unfunded liabilities. The Chicago Tribune highlighted that the biggest driver behind increases in Chicago’s unfunded pension liabilities in recent years has been actuarial assumption changes. Since municipalities’ annual pension payments are linked to the unfunded liabilities reducing the investment rate assumption increases the required contribution (and vice-versa). When the Teachers’ Retirement System lowered its investment rate assumption the state’s required pension contribution for one year increased by hundreds of millions of dollars. Lowering the investment rate assumption a quarter of a percentage point (from 6.75% to 6.5%) was estimated to increase municipalities’ contributions for representative public safety funds by between 16% and 22%

* There’s also this

One issue is that there are transition costs to consolidating the assets. While the report acknowledges transition costs, no estimate was included. A 2012 report also evaluated the possibility of consolidating the public safety funds’ assets. That report discusses transition costs, and includes more detailed cost and saving estimates. Importantly, transition costs are immediate expenses, while savings occur over the long term. The analysis from 2012 found that under the most likely scenario, “it would take 11 years to break even and begin realizing any cost savings in excess of transition costs” from consolidating the assets of all public safety pension funds.

That 2012 report is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Heidner claims Gaming Board was fully informed about his business ties

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* From the recent blockbuster Tribune story on video gaming magnate Rick Heidner

In 2012, the Gaming Board granted Heidner’s Gold Rush a license to operate video gambling machines. Two board members recently told the Tribune that Heidner’s ties to the Suspenzis would have been an obvious red flag, but they had no recollection of being informed of the real estate deals by the agency’s investigators.

“If that was brought to the board’s attention, it would have been a definite no,” said Maribeth Vander Weele, who served on the Gaming Board when Gold Rush’s license was approved without dissent.

“It certainly would have been a big factor,” said former Judge Aaron Jaffe, who was Gaming Board chairman at the time. “But I don’t recall hearing anything like that.”

Heidner had hoped to become a racino owner, but the Tribune story and Gov. Pritzker’s decision not to sell state land to make it happen put the kibosh on the whole thing.

* Heidner’s testimony to the Racing Board yesterday disputed that the Gaming Board was in the dark about his business ties

He also swore that the Gaming Board knew of his relationships with Parkway Bank Chairman Rocco Suspenzi and convicted felon Dominic Buttitta, and had no problem with the ties when it awarded him a video gambling license in 2012. Heidner also acknowledged that he remains in business with the people “in question.”

“My video gaming license was approved (in 2012) after a 24-month intensive investigation. All my business relationships were disclosed to investigators, and the relationships in question were explicitly discussed with multiple (Illinois Gaming Board) agents and investigators. As these business relationships were ongoing, they had been disclosed and further discussed at each annual review of my licenses over the last seven years,” Heidner testified. “I have no affiliation with the mafia at all.”

What investigators knew about Heidner at the time remains secret because Illinois gambling statutes exempt gaming license applications from open records laws.

This can be resolved by opening up Heidner’s Gaming Board file. Let’s see who’s telling the truth.

To be clear, I’m not saying at all that Heidner should get a pass on the racino or on his video gaming license renewal that comes up next year. But if what he told the Racing Board yesterday was accurate, then some former Gaming Board members and perhaps some current board employees need to be held accountable.

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      


Tribune source: “Pramaggiore is one focus of the ongoing federal probe”

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* Crain’s on yesterday’s abrupt retirement of Exelon Utilities CEO Anne Pramaggiore

A Sept. 23 federal search warrant identified, but did not name, four separate Exelon officials in a request for items “related to” them “and/or any issue supported by any of those businesses or individuals, including but not limited to rate increases.”

Exelon and ComEd disclosed Oct. 9 that they were a focus of the Sandoval probe and that Exelon had established a special committee made up of independent directors to oversee compliance with the federal investigation. Two days later, the search warrant was made public.

A short time before, on Oct. 4, ComEd disclosed in a Securities & Exchange Commission filing that Fidel Marquez, senior vice president at ComEd in charge of government affairs, had retired Oct. 2.

The terse wording in Exelon’s press release didn’t give a reason for Pramaggiore’s retirement. A spokesman declined to comment on whether it had anything to do with the probe.

The official retirement date for Marquez may have been October 2, but word has been going around for a while that he left weeks ago. His Statehouse lobbying credentials were canceled on September 30th.

* Tribune

In addition, the Illinois Senate was served with a search warrant late last month. The lengthy list of things authorities searched for included “items related to ComEd, Exelon, any employee, officer or representative of any of those businesses, Exelon Official A, Exelon Official B, Exelon Official C, Exelon Official D, and/or any issue supported by any of those businesses or individuals, including, but not limited to, rate increases.”

A source with knowledge of the investigation told the Tribune that Pramaggiore is one focus of the ongoing federal probe.

On Tuesday, Pramaggiore declined an interview request through a spokesman at a crisis communications firm. ComEd spokeswoman Jean Medina said she could not comment about Pramaggiore’s retirement beyond what was in a news release.

Pramaggiore was no bit player

She is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and serves on the Board of Directors for Motorola Solutions, Inc., Babcock and Wilcox Enterprises, the National Safety Council, and several civic and community organizations.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


A missed opportunity

Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

* The mayor has to stop doing this

Political insiders say Gov. J.B. Pritzker was completely blindsided by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new proposal for a publicly-owned city and state Chicago casino and first read details of her plan in the newspaper.

“This strikes me as a uniquely amateur view of how governing functions,” one insider said.

I mean, doesn’t she already have enough on her plate? The CTU is about to strike, which is going to really complicate her relationships with elected Democrats. The Black Caucus is threatening to hold up the city’s legalized cannabis rollout. She has to unveil and then pass a very difficult budget soon.

I’m pretty sure the governor and his team want to be an ally. And yet, this stuff keeps happening.

* More

State Sen. Terry Link, a key sponsor of the gambling bill, said he warned the mayor this fall during negotiations that the governor was not on board with a city-and-state-owned Chicago casino.

“I told them, ‘The governor is still opposed, so why do you keep bringing this in? Let’s focus on some different ways that we are working on. Let’s focus on that.’ And now the mayor comes out and makes this statement,” Link said. “I can’t figure it out.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      


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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

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« NEWER POSTS PREVIOUS POSTS »
* Durbin has $3.8 million vs. all GOP candidates' $140K
* Get the word out about this state law
* Tribune: Grand jury investigation began in early 2017
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* Unsolicited advice
* Underfunded pensions have "been a problem forever" here
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