Monday, July 30, 2007

When Rods Collide

I've said it openly in the past and I'll repeat it now. I actually respect the Governor for his strong desire to hold fast to his no income/sales tax hike pledge. I don't necessarily agree with it. I don't think that he needed to make it. But make it he did, and he has been steadfast in adhering to it.

And since I have criticized him for vacillating on other positions, fairness dictates that I give him credit for sticking to this one.

But the Governor now finds himself in a position where his philosophical mandates may have to yield to practical realities.

Case in point - mass transit funding, a critical issue for riders and non-riders alike. Rep. Hamos and others have been laboring to craft a funding bill that can provide a cash infusion to the RTA while providing for improved accountability and governance. And it appears that a piece of legislation that could stave off route cutbacks and fare increases is but days away.

Good news you say? It looks that way, but there's a catch. A critical part of the funding mechanism rests in a modest hike in the sales tax in those counties in which RTA operates. People benefiting from the RTA (and don't forget that even non-riders benefit) helping fund it. Sounds like a fair idea.

BUT, the Governor has repeatedly said that he will veto any budget sent to him that contains an income or sales tax increase.

AND, in something that I hadn't previously heard, the Governor has now said that if lawmakers override such a veto, he will call them into special session until they rescind the vote. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.

So here's where we find ourselves - it's essentially a Clash of the Two Rods. (Sounds worse than it is, I think). On one hand, you have the Governor that has drawn such a deep line in the sand on the tax hike issue that he might strike oil. On the other hand, you have the Governor who has done more flips during the special session than Nadia Comaneci did in winning 5 gold medals.

Deviating from his no tax hike pledge would be big news but is, in my opinion, legitimately defensible in this case. If there was any issue to justify a local, targeted sales tax increase, mass transit would be it. He would be sacrificing his core beliefs for the greater good. Would he take hits for it? Almost assuredly, but I think that the majority of people, myself included, would support his decision.

But I'm just not sure that he could bring himself to do it. His no-tax stance has become more than just a pledge, it's something that he can point to with a legitimate sense of righteousness. Breaking it would just add fuel to the political climate at a time when what he needs is an extinguisher.

Conversely, holding his ground in this instance would guarantee the ire of a huge proportion of Chicago, Cook and collar county residents. He would likely be seen as grandstanding at the expense of the masses who rely on mass transit. People would be openly cursing the Governor every time they shelled out $3.00 for a ride.

I have no idea how this situation will play out. For all of the challenges that the Governor has faced, it's interesting that this one could be his biggest test to date.

To read or post comments, visit Open House


Chicago ABC Channel 7 Uses State-Paid Video

If anyone ever complains about McHenry County Blog’s willingness to allow others to take photographs for publication--like this one from McHenry County Democrats--please keep the following in mind.

Chicago’s ABC Channel 7 used videotape paid for by you and me on Monday night during its six o’clock broadcast.

The story was about an $82 million subsidy granted an electric generating plant’s investors. The story said the plant would pump emissions underground.

I’ve heard of small Downstate stations running Illinois Information Service video, but this is the first time I have seen it on a Chicago station.

This appears to be the Association Press story that was read while the Governor Rod Blagojevich was seen signing the bill and passing out ceremonial pens.

From McHenry County Blog, where you can read how the comment section of Northwest Herald articles has turned into a place to test campaign themes.


Jury Reform: More Pay And Get People Who Care

Madeline Byrne, as the Associated Press story below describes, was a bit surprised -- and not happy -- when she received her summons to report for jury duty in Sanford, N.C.

Madeline didn't receive her summons as most of us do -- deposited in our mail box. She received hers when a local sheriff handed it to her through an open window in her car.

The AP reports:

The 64-year-old woman was ordered to report for jury duty a little more than an hour later at the Lee County courthouse in Sanford, N.C. When Byrne protested, the sheriff told her: "Be there or you'll be in contempt."

We don't issue a jury summons that way in Illinois but we do have a jury system that needs serious reform, serious tweaking.

One of the most critical reforms is an increase in jury compensation. If Madeline Byrne had been in Illinois, you could understand why she didn't want to be a juror.

While jurors are expected to be compensated, in Illinois they are practically volunteers. Illinois law spells out that jurors be paid between $4 per day and $40 per day. That's right: a juror in Illinois could be summoned to serve for compensation of $4 for a day.

We're not sure if that ridiculous fee is in practice in any Illinois counties but we do know that jurors in the largest county, Cook, receive less than $20 for a full days' service. A juror who can't use public transportation but must drive can not find parking for less than $20 within a reasonable distance of the courthouse.

There are other serious problems with our jury system in Illinois and one of the major obstacles to reform have been -- surprise, surprise -- the people who proclaim they are the "guardians and defenders of the right to trial by jury."

That's right, the plaintiffs' attorneys in Illinois -- represented and directed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and their partner, the Illinois State Bar Association, have been the primary opponents of jury reform in Illinois.

There have been several attempts to improve the "jury problem' in Illinois, including earlier this year, but they have been stymied.

On several occasions, the Illinois Civil Justice League has proposed legislation that would begin correcting the problem. It has been a bipartisan effort with Senate sponsorship provided by Chicago Democrat John Cullerton, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and DuPage County Republican, Kirk Dillard, the Co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this year, SB 1548 was introduced by Senator Dillard. A comprehensive jury reform package that included most elements of a bill passed by the Illinois Senate just two years ago, it was doomed from the start.The reason?

Senate President Emil Jones wanted to reform the jury act too, but only by expanding the eligible jury pool to add low income people.

The bill as introduced would have expanded the jury pool to include Illinois citizens claiming an earned income tax credit.

In response, the Illinois Civil Justice League proposed an amendment that would have expanded the jury lists to include all citizens on the tax rolls. In addition, the ICJL amendment would have included some other jury reforms that had been approved in recent years by the entire Senate. However, the Senate Democrat leadership was not receptive to our proposals and the bill was kept in the Rules Committee, despite the fact that identical language had been passed almost unanimously (58-1) by the Senate only a few years earlier. The ICJL intends to redraft a jury reform proposal for consideration next year and it will include these elements, some of which are new:
    1. Jurors must be registered voters.
    2. Juror must speak English fluently.
    3. Jurors must be fairly compensated, especially in lengthy trials.
    4. Employers must be protected from having too many employees on jury duty at one time.
Current law in many states, including Illinois does not require that a prospective juror be a registered voter. A registered voter gets on the eligibles list, but so do licensed drivers. So will people on the "earned income tax credit list" if Senator Jones and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Don Harmon, have their way.

It just seems logical that if a person is qualified (or wants to be viewed as qualified) to serve on a jury, that person ought to have demonstrated an interest and willingness to participate in the American system of governance, which includes being eligible to vote.

cross-posted by Ed Murmane at Illinois Justice Blog


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Split Personality

I have to hand it to the Governor, almost effortlessly, he continues to defy any semblance of predictability or consistency.

After months of shunning Springfield during the regular session, the Governor declares his intention to encamp in the capitol city,
"seven days a week until the job is done"
or as it turns out, at least until the next Sunday Cubs game, which was about a week or so later.

Then comes his next condemnation of the General Assembly for trying to work around his inaction and refusal to negotiate by passing a temporary budget.
A continuing string of one-month budgets is nothing more than a Republican budget in disguise,” he said last month.
In a way, one had to respect his firm convictions. But now he follows up his passionate stand for Democratic values with this, his latest shot at the General Assembly:

Failure to pass another interim budget will mean that state government shuts down and only emergency public-safety services will continue to operate...If the General Assembly does not finish its work soon, the people of Illinois will pay the price of their inaction.” (emphasis added)

Our inaction? OUR inaction? He spends eight nights of regular session in Springfield, refuses to negotiate with any of the leaders, provides no passable plan for a budget, and decries our inaction. And after slamming his Democratic colleagues for passing a one month budget last month, he now wants one for this month? Is it any wonder we're still in session?

On a brighter note, now that meetings have been taking place with just the four legislative leaders, it appears that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel - and it sure isn't the GRT train. The leaders seem poised to lay the groundwork for a plan that, if approved, could get more accomplished in about a week than we have in the last seven months. Imagine that.

To read or post comments, visit Open House


Predict the Adjournment Date

Take your shot at predicting the date of the adjournment for the Illinois General Assembly.

This is a similar exercise to Rich Miller's QOTD last week, but it uses Inkling's Really Cool (TM) electronic markets technology.

Check it out:


Friday, July 27, 2007

Doubling the RTA Sales Tax

Will any McHenry County legislators vote to double the Regional Transportation Authority tax burden on local residents?

That’s the question I’m asking after reading the latest Daily Herald article by Eric Kroh.

Those voting for it will gain instant “tax hiker” status.

Here is a full-sized bus that pulls out of a subdivision between Crystal Springs Road and Mason Hill Road, takes the McHenry Blacktop to Bull Valley Road, turns right, and goes to Route 31 where it turns right again. This is right before 8 AM.

I have yet to see it stop for a passenger.

That's just the kind of efficiency I want to subsidize more of.

Posted first at McHenry County Blog, where political news continues over the weekend, including the dissent on the $21,000 Oberweis fine, which McHenry County Blog reported six months ago.


An I-Pass Impasse

Artistmac from YouTube talks about his gripes with the Illinois Tollroads and especially the I-Pass.


Will this be worth it?

Gov. Rod Blagojevich called a special session for Saturday morning to discuss another one-month budget, which would prevent the state from shutting down in the politically important month of August. But Senate President Emil Jones Jr. told reporters he’s not interested in a one-month. House Speaker Michael Madigan said the same Thursday. If any action happened this weekend, it most likely would be behind closed doors.

It’s ideal if leaders focus on drafting a state budget that would get us through the entire fiscal year, but a cloud still hangs over the Statehouse budget negotiations. Individual budget items are moving; yet, core disagreements continue. The amount of new money, the method of raising that money and the beneficiaries of that money isn’t worked out yet. Can they hash it out before the existing temporary budget expires July 31?

If not, bad things would start to happen. And it would be worse than if the state had shut down in July, says Kent Redfield, political studies professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “If we’d have shut down in July, people wouldn’t have been able to get into state parks and stuff. But an August shutdown is much, much more serious because of school formulas, the starting of universities and the state fair.”

Public schools expect their first state aid payments in the first half of August, and the Illinois State Fair kicks off August 10. Without state aid payments, schools would be in a bind. And the nine-day State Fair kicks off campaign season for the next elections. The shutdown of public schools and the absence of a state fair would be noticed by the general public, a politically and economically damaging scenario.

But let’s stick with Redfield’s ray of sunshine in another analysis: As frustrating as this session has been since January, it could be a strategy to tame the expectations now rather than let them build each of the governor’s next three years. We can only hope.

Note: Our Public Affairs Reporting intern, Deanese Williams-Harris, finished her internship this week. We wish her the best of luck and thank her for her hard work and dedication.

On another note, I’m taking the weekend off but will be ready for action Monday.


Questioning "Illinois Covered"

Let me start by saying I'm a strong supporter of universal health care. The lack of universal health care is one of the most serious challenges - and serious disgraces - facing our nation.

How big of a problem is it? Well, we all know thanks to the Governor's incessant talking points that 1.4 million Illinoisans lack insurance coverage.

What many folks are unaware of is that health care costs currently eat up 16% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and federal experts estimate that health care costs will consume 18.4% of the U.S. GDP by 2013.

For comparison, the 29 other developed nations in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) spend an average of 8.3 percent of their GDP on health care. Oh yeah, and they live longer on average too.

Those inefficiencies in health care spending sap other consumer spending and constrain our ability to invest in education, infrastructure, and the other resources America needs to compete in the global economy.

Why Illinois Covered Doesn't Work
Clearly, the problem isn't that we aren't spending enough on health care, which is why I have a problem with "Illinois Covered." Illinois Covered does nothing to address the underlying problems that are driving up the cost of health care in Illinois and across the U.S. Instead, it just throws more money at the problem.

And whether "Illinois Covered" raises taxes through a Gross Receipts Tax, a payroll tax, a cigarette tax, or a tax on people who can't do math (aka gambling), it still represents the largest transfer of public dollars to the already profitable private insurance industry in Illinois history.

It's no wonder the insurance companies support Illinois Covered.

So, if throwing more money at these highly profitable insurance companies isn't the answer, what is?

Well, for starters, let's finish the job that we started on HMO reform a few years ago.

Let's ban insurance companies from basing their compensation for utilization review doctors based on the percentage of claims they deny. Rewarding insurance companies for denying coverage doesn't make sense.

Let's implement the same reforms that we implemented a few years ago to end price-gouging by malpractice insurance companies, requiring them to make their rate-setting data available to other companies, requiring rate increases to be approved by the Dept. of Insurance, giving the Dept. of Insurance the authority to order rebates to the folks they insure when price-gouging is discovered, and making sure that the hearings regarding rate-setting are transparent and open to the public.

For the long-term, let's recognize that health care shouldn't be treated as a commodity, like bubblegum for example. Several years ago Illinois enacted the most sweeping reforms of adoption in the country because it recognized that adoption shouldn't be treated like a commodity. Some of those reforms would be well-applied to health insurance, like limiting executive compensation and ultimately banning for-profit companies from engaging in the health insurance business.

The folks in the health insurance business aren't all bad people, but the health insurance industry has become a rigged racket throughout the years. In days of yore, health insurance worked alot like roulette. Everybody put their money on the table, the ball would spin, and when it dropped randomly, insurance companies would pay out claims to some people and pocket the premiums from the rest.

As any actuary worth a grain of salt will tell you, it no longer works that way. Health insurance companies have amassed so much data on us, they know who the ball is going to drop on. They know, but we don't.

To make matters worse, they've become so efficient at limiting, delaying and denying payouts, that just because your number comes up doesn't mean they're going to pay out, at least not in full or any time soon.

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame the insurance companies or folks who work for them, many of who I believe privately wish we'd adopt a better way. It's not their fault that they're the House and the odds are stacked in their favor, its not their fault that they're making big profits because that's what for-profit companies are supposed to do. We're the ones who've chosen to gamble on health care, we're the ones to blame, and we're te ones who have to fix it.

Health Insurance Companies Aside

All the blame for skyrocketing health care costs doesn't lie with the insurance industry.

Medical Information Systems
With all of the advances in medical diagnostic and care technology, the health care industry lags behind every other economic sector when it comes to the application of information technology. That's pretty stupid when you consider just how important getting the right information and getting it fast is to health care.

The answer is electronic medical records, which would create a seamless web connecting insurance companies, doctors and hospitals, while at the same time protecting patient confidentiality and ensuring information was shared on a need-to-know basis only.

According to none other than Newt Gingrich, Electronic Medical Records have the potential to cut $140 million a year in waste from our health care system. At the urging of State Rep. Julie Hamos, Gov. Blagojevich's "Illinois Covered" proposal included an EMR initiative. However, that EMR initiative was a mere task force, and contained no future funding mechanism for funding EMR. That doesn't go far enough in my book, and I'd recommend that any health care proposal include an EMR funding mechanism. One potential revenue source is to seek a waiver from the federal government to use a portion of the state's Medicaid reimbursement to implement EMR at hospitals that have the highest number of Medicaid patients (perhaps requiring matching funding from hospitals on a sliding scale). The cost savings reaped from implementing EMR at those hospitals could then be used to roll out EMR at additional hospitals, and then doctor's clinics, all the way down the line.

Doctor and Nurse Shortages
High labor costs are part of the reason for skyrocketing health care costs, and a shortage of doctors and nurses is partly to blame. Blagojevich and lawmakers should be commended for investing more in nursing training, because increasing the supply of nurses will eventually bring costs down. However, very little is being done to increase the supply of doctors, and the federal government predicts that the U.S. will face a shortage of 85,000 to 200,000 doctors by 2020 unless action is taken soon.

Contrary to claims by the Illinois State Medical Society, the American Medical Association claims that the doctor shortage in Illinois is no worse than the rest of the nation, with 2.6 doctors per 1,000 residents. That's little comfort though, because according to OECD data, the rest of the developed world averages 3.1 doctors per 1,000 residents. The U.S. also has one less nurse and one less hospital bed per 1,000 patients, according to the OECD.

The answer is for Blagojevich and lawmakers to match their commitment to training more nurses with a commitment to training more doctors. Putting insurance companies in their place - a top reason doctors are leaving the profession and new doctors aren't entering - is part of the answer. But increasing scholarships for current college students to encourage them to pursue an M.D., and eventually rethinking our entire education system from high school through college should also be on the table.

Invest more in Public Health
Illinois spending on public health programs is woefully inadequate. Public health programs bring relatively low-cost prevention, early diagnosis and early treatment to the masses which provide astronomical cost savings to the entire health care system, not to mention the cost savings for employers from reduced employee health costs and sick days which reduce productivity. Illinois should ramp up public health spending - doubling it over the next ten years would be a great start. Before everyone faints from sticker shock, the Governor's FY '07 proposed budget for the Illinois Department of Public Health was $397 million. Increasing that budget $40 million a year over the next ten years is more than within reach.

Some Unsolicited Advice for the Governor
The Governor is in desperate political need of some major face-saving. Yet even his latest "Illinois Covered" proposal, with a scaled back budget and less ambitious launch date, is meeting stiff resistance. Part of that resistance comes from those who are loath to launch a new government mandate whose future costs are nearly impossible to predict, creating future obligations for lawmakers down the road. Contrary to the Governor's thinking, the problem isn't that lawmakers don't care about rising health care costs. They do. But they're also concerned about the state's ability to respond to future needs, and locking the state into big, unforeseeable obligations down the road robs the state of the flexibility to respond to future needs.

My unsolicited advice to the Governor: look at these ideas, and bring everyone in your administration back to the drawing board. Take the lawmakers concerns into account and come up with a new plan that comes at health care from a different angle. That doesn't mean you have to give up on "Illinois Covered", you can hold onto that possibility for the future, promising "not to give up the fight," while still making significant progress for Illinoisans and snatching some victory from the jaws of defeat.


Bollywood Friday - Simpsons

In honor of the Simpsons movie coming out today, a rerun of Bollywood in Springfield.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

12-month budget buzz

The Senate moved a 12-month budget out of committee by an 8 to 4 vote along party lines. The budget proposes a 9 percent increase from fiscal year 2007 and relies on the creation of four additional riverboats, the closure of some corporate tax breaks, the sweep of left over money in dedicated funds and the natural revenue growth.

Some of the spending highlights include dropping $600 million into the state’s pension fund, spending $2.3 billion on school and road construction and placing $900 million in a special fund for education. The minimum amount of state aid spent per child would increase by $554, and the budget would authorize the second year of a “hospital assessment program” that would distribute federal dollars to hospitals that care for Medicaid patients.

What the budget doesn’t include is property-tax relief, funding for transit, funding for the governor’s health care initiative, stem cell research or any mechanisms to address the Medicaid spending cycle. The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Donne Trotter, said those are “stand-alone issues” that will be taken up later in separate legislation.

Senate Republicans oppose the budget because it doesn’t say how any of the money for school and road construction would be spent, leaving little assurance that any money would reach their districts. The AFSCME Council 31 union opposes the budget because it doesn’t include money to address what it calls staffing shortages in state prisons and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The Senate did not call the bill for a vote on the floor Thursday night. They’re back in session Friday, as is the House. It’s still unknown whether they’ll be working over the weekend.

The House and the Senate approved the $1 billion electricity rate relief package. It also creates a new, independent state agency to procure power on behalf of the utilities, dismisses lawsuits brought against the utilities and power generators, requires the state to implement more energy efficiency programs and requires the state to use more renewable energy sources.
Bethany Carson contributed to this report.


Power Shift

Historically, whenever Illinois has passed major energy legislation, environmentalists have made good arguments about the impacts of energy production and consumption, worked long and hard to educate legislators, and then ended up with the table scraps from the real deal (studies, task forces, voluntary goals, some new dollars dwarfed by the boatloads sent to coal and nuclear power…..).

Now, the General Assemlby is poised to approve a mandate that 25% of our electricity come from clean, renewable sources like wind by 2025; and to require that utilities plan for helping us customers use less energy.

The environmental benefits of the clean energy pieces of the rate deal are as significant as the shift in the politics of environmental protection in Illinois.

What’s changed? Why are we poised to set off in an entirely new direction on energy policy, instead of throwing more money at the same old, dirty system?

Here’s my take on some of the key factors -

-State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), seeing in January that the rate crisis would make energy one of the session’s top priority issues, introduced the Affordable, Clean Energy Standards Act (ACES). State Representative Deborah Graham (D-Oak Park) carried it in the Illinois House. The rate deal essentially incorporates the ACES goals for renewable energy (but strengthens them), and for major new energy efficiency programs.

-Attorney General Lisa Madigan and her team insisted that targets for renewable energy development and energy conservation be a part of any final deal. Her smart and dedicated team made sure that the deal worked for consumers and for our environment.

-ComEd and Ameren seem to be realizing that green power is good business, and they ended up to committing to reach ambitious, but achievable goals.

-Speaker Madigan and President Jones kept open minds about talks that started on the narrow topic of a rate freeze or refund. Many rank and file members of both parties understood the importance of clean energy as part of a rate solution, and spoke up for it.

-Governor Blagojevich, while not a direct party to the negotiations, did set the bar last fall with his Sustainable Energy Plan. The clean energy components of the rate deal reflect components of that plan, and his Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will have a major role in running the new energy conservation programs.

-THE PEOPLE of Illinois are demanding better energy policies. We have never had more people from all over the state standing up to do their part to solve global warming.

From the back of the pack to setting the pace, these are truly exciting times in Illinois, and the results are good for us all.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Revenue, health care and electricity rates

The House and Senate advanced different pieces of legislation — a cigarette tax and a health care plan in the Senate and an electricity rate relief plan in the House — but there’s no clear indication that these individual pieces could actually converge into the much-delayed state budget. House Democrats spent about three hours in what felt like an end-of-session gathering behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon. And each of the pieces is expected to be heard on the floor in their respective chambers Thursday, but their futures in the opposite chambers are murky. The same goes for their future in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office. As House Speaker Michael Madigan said of the cigarette tax advance in the Senate, “We’ll see.” Here’s a recap of the different measures:

Cigarette tax
Seven days before a possible government shutdown, lawmakers moved a bill out of committee that would generate additional revenue for the state by taxing smokers.

The measure would increase the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. If approved by both chambers and signed by the governor, the proposed tax on cigarettes would generate about $328 million a year.

It’s unclear how the money would actually be spent, but its sponsor, Chicago Democratic Sen. John Cullerton, said that so far, the money would go into the state’s general revenue fund and be intended to fund a road and school construction plan. Cullerton also said legislators have their own wish lists for the money, such as education funding, capital and health care. However, he assured the final decision would be made collectively by the General Assembly.

Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican, wasn’t so quick to jump on the cigarette tax band wagon. He said Democrats would control where the money goes. “What’s happened to the rest of us who serve a quarter of a million people back home is truly disgraceful,” he said, mentioning unfunded projects for school and road construction in Republican districts.

“Somebody’s [going to] have to take a chance,” Cullerton said. “I know one thing. We can’t fund it at all if there’s no new revenue. This is new revenue, and it’s the easiest way I can think of to get support of three-fifths.”

Opponents voiced concern about small businesses losing revenue from people crossing the borders to buy cigarettes. Coincidentally, Indiana increased its cigarette tax by $1.01. In Washington, the U.S. Senate also approved a $1 tax on cigarettes.

The Illinois Department of Revenue said it supports the proposed cigarette tax, straying away from the governor’s campaign pledge not to sign any legislation that would increase sales tax. “This is different than the sales tax,” said Larry Doll, spokesman for the department. “It’s an excise item. It’s different than a general sales tax. A sales tax is applied to all items including necessities. People need food, clothing, what have you, whereas I don’t think you can make the same argument for cigarettes.” Doll also said it’s his understanding that the governor would sign the legislation if it wins approval.

The governor’s office hasn’t confirmed that yet. If approved, the legislation would immediately go into effect.

Revamped health care proposal
Despite a weird afternoon of goofs and misunderstandings, the governor’s scaled-back Illinois Covered health care proposal moved out of a Senate committee with a 7-4 vote along party lines.

The governor wants to pay for the $1.2 billion initiative with a 3 percent payroll tax on businesses that employ at least 10 but that don’t provide comprehensive health benefits to them. The biggest question of the day was how many businesses would actually be subject to the tax. The committee will have to wait for that answer because no one had those numbers on hand.

The $1.2 billion would go into a trust fund, and the General Assembly would be limited to spending 90 percent of the cash per year to curtail overspending.

Some Senators voiced concern that almost 500,000 of the 1.4 million uninsured and underinsured Illinoisans wouldn’t qualify for either of the two health care packages the governor proposed. Eligibility would be modified as the program moves forward, depending on the revenue generated. Sen. Carol Ronen, the measure's sponsor and Blagojevich ally, estimates that 300,000 people will qualify for one of the programs, and 600,000 would qualify for a second option.

Todd Maisch of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce said the payroll assessment tax would “target the most vulnerable employers.” He also called the tax erroneous and excessive. “The major change is funding,” he said. “This is not a scaled back proposal.”

The proposal will most likely be called for a vote in the Senate this week.

Electricity rate relief
The $1 billion in electricity rate relief for Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison customers is one step closer to becoming law. It’s not without controversy, however, as House Republicans aren’t happy that they weren’t part of closed-door negotiations for most of the past month. If Wednesday night’s House committee hearing was any indication, House Republicans could protest by voting “no” or “present” when the legislation reaches the House floor. But it would still have enough votes among Democrats to return to the Senate.

House Speaker Michael Madigan seemed to smile as he welcomed the chance of Republican rejection. “If there’s some member of the legislature who wishes to vote ‘no’ against $1 billion of rate relief, be my guest.” In other words, a Republican “no” vote for rate relief would make prime campaign literature for the Democrats during election season — it’s the equivalent of saying their opponent voted against health care for children or meals for the elderly.

One controversial portion of the deal that’s unsettling to some is that the state would dismiss six lawsuits brought against the utilities and power companies as a result of the September power auction. That includes the case filed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office that alleged the power companies colluded to set electricity prices that robbed customers of an extra $4.3 million.

Rep. Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, was one of the skeptics. “How’s the public protected by not following through and getting to the bottom of each one of these lawsuits instead of just dismissing them with the signing of this letter of understanding and the passage of this legislation? How in good faith can the state of Illinois settle those two cases when you have made serious allegations of manipulation and fraud upon the public?” He was the lone Republican to vote “present” in committee because he said he supported offering rate relief but didn’t like the process of coming to this deal.

Susan Hedman, senior assistant attorney general, justified the dismissal of the lawsuits by saying her office believed rate relief was needed now and that the procurement of power needed to be reformed for the future. “There’s a tradeoff between getting relief up front and waiting. If we do not get reforms in the procurement process now, it would mean that every year that we’re litigating that case, there could be another reverse auction with the danger of the same problems that we observed last time.” She later cut someone off and said, rather bluntly, that without dismissal of the lawsuits, “the deal falls apart.”


Feds Think Fish Heads Mad Cow Disease Threat

If you ever wanted to see the federal government run amuck, the Northwest Herald’s Kevin Craver’s expansion of McHenry County Blog’s Saturday article ought to fill the bill.

Mayo Underwood runs Underwood Gardens, an organic garden supply company, as well as selling heirloom plant seeds.

One of her products is fermented salmon heads. They provide good fertilizer and the product stinks so much it keeps away the critters.

Underwood told me Friday that the fish heads were “a threat to Homeland Security.”

Craver has found something even more stupid.

The United States Agriculture Department thinks the jars might contain mad cow disease.


2,000 customers rely on the product, Underwood told Craver.

After prodding, U.S. Congresswoman Melissa Bean’s staff told Underwood she would have an answer by Monday.

Apparently, it didn’t come.

Posted first on McHenry County Blog, of course.


Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board asks Lisa about Dad

Yesterday in Crains: Madigan asked to rule on dad’s potential conflict

The Tax Appeals Board's Ronald Messina writes Illinois's AG a letter,

In an official — and politically explosive — letter, the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board requested that Ms. Madigan issue a formal opinion on whether her father’s second job as a property-tax appeals lawyer disqualifies him from taking a leadership role in a huge ongoing debate over whether to extend or cut an existing 7% annual limit on tax hikes on residential property in Cook County.
But the letter potentially places Ms. Madigan in an awkward position. If she rules he’s in a conflict, she would be publicly chastising her father. If she rules he’s not, she would open herself up to criticism of pulling a punch to benefit her father.
Guess that's the conflicts you get when your in a family business.


McLean County Pundit: Hastert not running

The pundit says,

Following on the heals of Mike Stokke’s announcement on McLean County Pundit that he would not seek Dennis Hastert’s Congressional seat, sources close to Speaker Hastert’s office (not Mike Stokke) have informed McLean County Pundit that employees have been told to update their resumes and seek other employment. The former Speaker of the House will not seek re-election. Developing . . . .
via Illinois Review

Going to be fun times in both parties in Illinois's 14th district.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Callis Passes Big Test With Skeptical Audience

Ann Callis traveled 300 miles from Madison County to Cook County to appear before an audience that has been highly critical of her courthouse for decades. In a sense, it was a jury sitting in judgment of the judicial system in Madison County and Ann Callis, Chief Judge of the Third Judicial District, was the top witness -- maybe even the defendant.

Callis was the featured speaker at the annual luncheon of the Illinois Civil Justice League, an organization that has been in the forefront in criticizing the Madison County court system and several of its judges for more than a decade.

The fact that Callis was invited to speak -- and that she accepted -- were both signals that times are changing in Madison County.

This was not the first time the Chief Judge has met with the Illinois Civil Justice League to discuss ways of improving the perception, and the reality, of the Madison County Court system. One meeting was held shortly before last November's election when Callis was seeking retention, and four other meetings have been held, including two involving Illinois doctors and hospitals.

Last Thursday's event, however, was not a small meeting with one of two ICJL staff and a handful of officials from the Illinois State Medical Society or the Illinois Hospital Association.

Thursday's audience included leaders of major national civil justice reform groups, including the American Tort Reform Association, the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform and the American Justice Partnership.

Other attendees included more than a dozen representatives of major U.S. corporations who were in Chicago for a meeting of the Civil Justice Reform Group.

The presidents of the Illinois Business Roundtable and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce were there as were the presidents and chairman of the Illinois State Medical Society and ISMIE Mutual.

Callis had moral support -- three colleagues from the Madison County judiciary also attended: Judge Dan Stack and Associate Judges Tom Chapman and Steve Stobbs.

But this was not an easy audience for the Chief Judge of the most talked-about judicial jurisdiction in the United States. This was not an audience of students at Edwardsville High School.

And she passed, with flying colors.

When she described the first change in procedures to be implemented in Madison County -- a procedure to eliminate "judge shopping' in class action cases and close a trial lawyer loophole, the audience responded with applause.

She talked about other changes including requiring arbitration and mediation before trials and she made it clear that she, as Chief Judge, wants to correct the judicial system in Madison County and there was no disagreement from her colleagues in the room. In fact, she said all the changes that have been implemented or proposed (some require Illinois Supreme Court approval) have been agreed to unanimously by the circuit judges in Madison and Bond counties (which make up the Third Circuit).

The impact of the reform of the Madison County judiciary will be felt over a period of time, not overnight. But that period of time may be shorter than anticipated. Already there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of problem lawsuits in Madison County and if trial lawyers, particularly those from out of state and the bottom-feeders, realize the game has changed in Madison County, the positive impact will be felt quickly.

Callis -- and her colleagues -- deserve credit for what is happening. And they need encouragement to keep it going. They'll get both credit and encouragement from Thursday's audience.Judge Ann Callis won a lot of respect from a tough audience last Thursday.

Cross-posted by Ed Murnane at Illinois Justice Blog.


How do you spell relief?

A long awaited plan for electricity rate relief was announced Tuesday by Illinois’ two major utilities. It’s expected to be discussed and possibly voted on in the House Wednesday. The package is the result of months of public hearings and closed-door meetings, but it may not meet some expectations.

Customers around the state could get a lump sum credit in their September bills ranging from about $50 to about $80, which would cover some of their increased costs for the first half of the year. Starting in October, they would get monthly credits that would eventually decrease until they phased out in 2009.

Officials from the utilities — Commonwealth Edison that serves northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois that serves south of I-80 — held separate press conferences in Springfield to say they supported the compromise proposal.

“It is a very expensive deal for, I think, our industry and for the generators in this state, but I think it does strike all of the right balances,” said Frank Clark, ComEd chairman and chief executive officer.

It’s expensive for power generators because they’re footing most of the $1 billion package, which prevents Clark and Scott Cisel, Ameren Illinois president and chief executive officer, from projecting financial bankruptcy like they did for months as the General Assembly threatened to refreeze electricity rates to give customers a break. But in exchange for the power generators paying for the credits, state lawmakers agreed not to reinstate a freeze or levy a tax on power generators, Clark said.

There’s also something for everyone. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Attorney General Lisa Madigan would get their Illinois Power Authority, a new public power agency that would buy power on behalf of the utilities and potentially generate its own power. Gov. Rod Blagojevich also would get some of his environmental policy proposals for energy efficiency and renewable resources. And Senate President Emil Jones Jr. doesn’t have to vote on a rate freeze.

But it’s not a completely rosy picture. There are lots of questions about the pending legislation. State Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican, pointed out on the House floor Tuesday that the monthly credits won’t live up to the hype. “You may see a 70 percent reduction in the increase, but you’re not going to get a 70 percent reduction of your bill,” he yelled. He’s right.

Here’s a chart with examples of Ameren Illinois bills before and after the relief. Regional info can be found here. ComEd customers in October and beyond would get an average monthly credit of about $7 — that’s half of the $14 average increase they were paying over their 2006 monthly bills. “When you hear us talk about $7 a month, I know that’s not overly exciting,” Clark said, “but it’s approximately half of the increase.”

From the industry’s point of view, here’s a few ongoing questions:
- A newly created Illinois Power Authority would buy power on behalf of the Illinois utilities, but it’s unknown how successful the state would be in buying power at a cheaper rate than the utilities.
- It’s also unknown how the state would succeed in building power plants and essentially competing with existing power suppliers.
- It’s also unclear how the proposal would be flexible in allowing utilities and their parent companies to restructure. Further, what are the implications of any restructuring?


Broken Record

There are records you want to break, and those you don't. Tomorrow will bring the longest overtime session in the modern-day history of the state. The previous record was set a whopping 3 years ago. Read into that what you will.

Truth be told, it is essentially anybody's guess as to whether or not we will even have a budget deal by the end of this month. I had a discussion last night about the irony of what has to transpire to make a budget deal a reality.

Essentially our state government, which has understandably been accused of an inability to get things done, would have to reach consensus on most, if not all, of the following major issues in the next week:
Electric rate relief - essentially done

Property tax relief - who the heck knows after yesterday's aldermanic press conference. It will be interesting to see their reaction if the end result is no extension of the 7% bill.

Mass transit funding - likely through a .25 regional sales tax, with enabling legislation to allow Chicago to levy a transfer tax.

Education funding - is a 1% income tax hike in the works to do this? I'm not sure that the votes are there for it.

Gaming expansion - there are probably Republican votes for this if it's to fund capital projects, but these bills tend to die under their own weight, so it's still 50/50

Health care expansion - this is the make-or-break issue for the Governor, but his 'scaled back' plan is still a billion dollar plus program with a lot of skeptics. An interesting question is if the House and Senate can reach agreement on all of the issues but the last one, does that get the job done?

Ethics - Incredibly, the administration is still ducking this one. Passing HB1, which would end 'pay-to-play' politics, passed the House unanimously, and has 45 Senate sponsors, should be a no-brainer. Instead, the Governor, who promised to 'rock the system' years ago, and then didn't lift a finger to pass anything, still says that he doesn't want to pass this bill because 'it doesn't do enough'. And he said it with a straight face.
An interesting question if a deal can't be reached, then what? A one-month budget seems highly unlikely, leaving wide open the 's' word.

A shutdown.

I think that it would be a travesty if there was to be a shutdown. It's wrong to have state employees, their families, and the people of our state, suffer because of political gamesmanship and posturing over issues that should have been dealt with in the Spring.

At a time when the public deserves to have their confidence in state government restored, a shutdown would do just the opposite. It would tarnish the process, hurt the Democratic party, and set the stage for nothing but more problems in the years ahead.

Buckle up, there's a lot of work to do ahead.

To read or post comments, visit Open House


The Trib's 2007 presidential campaign contributions

This is neat but select the option to sort by contribution amount and you'll get a list in ascending order with negative numbers on top.

So what kind of contributions are those?


Jennifer Hunter's Life Long Republican

James R. Ronca writes Jennifer Hunter he really is (was) a life long Republican.

This campaign against you and me is ridiculous and I think evidence of how the Republican Party works. They make an effort to pressure journalists to print what they want and avoid what the Republican Party does not like. No free thinking or free press is allowed. They smear everyone who opposes them from big fish like Joe Wilson to small fries like me.

I am going to have some investigation done into the source and funding for this blog and I will give it to you. Maybe we can get you some information so you can write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the Republican conservative party sneak attacks on free press and free speech.
Jack Kelly writes today he's not convinced.
Jennifer Hunter is married to Chicago Sun-Times publisher John Cruickshank, which explains why Ms. Hunter writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Here is why she should not.

On July 16, Ms. Hunter wrote a column which began: "After watching the top five Democratic candidates for president speak before a trial lawyers' group Sunday, attorney Jim Ronca of Philadelphia, a staunch Republican, became certain of one thing: He is not going to vote for a Republican in the 2008 presidential election."

A suspicious reader checked out Mr. Ronca's political contributions. Mr. Ronca had made 14 since 1994 -- 12 to Democrats. The Democratic candidates received $7,000; the GOP candidates $750.

Mr. Ronca's contribution record was posted on several Web sites, whose readers flooded Ms. Hunter with demands for a correction.

If Ms. Hunter had fessed up, I wouldn't be writing about her. But she responded by attacking Web loggers for doing the research she should have done, and blaming her error on her editor.
I had no idea who Mr. Ronca was and could have cared less what he thought, or when or why he changed his mind. I haven't a clue why Mr. Ronca was news to start with in Hunter's column.

But I sure wonder though what's going on over at the Sun Times.

I get stories about Obama cleaning up centuries of corruption and the Mayor's alleged buddies bombing restaurants. We deserve a little better Journalism than this in Chicago.

A Pulitzer prize in all of this Mr. Ronca? I don't think so.

PS: Patterico's Pontification was the blog that broke the story.

Update: Reverse Spin deconstructs why Hunter gave us yesterday's bizarre column.
Why is Hunter digging in and threatening to enlarge this story when she is so obviously wrong? Maybe because she is reaching the point where her mistakes are becoming an issue—even though she has plenty of cover as wife of the Sun-Times publisher.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Aldermen blast Madigan in tax-cap fight

From Crain's...

The Chicago City Council is jumping into a bitter Springfield political war over property taxes, siding with Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones against Speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Richard M. Daley on the question of how much tax relief should be offered to whom.

At a Monday morning press conference, aldermen released a letter signed by 49 of the 50 council members alleging that tens of thousands of homeowners in their wards will suffer under the “weak” relief plan being pushed by Mr. Madigan. The speaker’s bill “is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt at property tax relief and will result in most homeowners seeing increases as great as 40%” the letter states.

But a spokesman for the speaker suggested that the aldermen “are not fully aware of the facts” and that “rich people” do not need property tax relief.

At issue is Assessor Houlihan’s proposal to renew for another three years a measure that has effectively capped property-tax hikes at 7% a year for most homeowners. The law originally was enacted three years ago because the value of most residential property in Cook County has been rising far more than 7% a year.

But Mr. Madigan has argued that such measures mostly favor owners of large homes and result in higher taxes on other homeowners and businesses.

Under Mr. Madigan’s bill, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate, the full tax relief would apply only to those who have lived in their homes for more than 10 years and have a total household income of less than $75,000 a year.
As an aside to this article mentioned Mayor Daley. I wondered why he isn't getting involved in this budget struggle? He is one of the top dog Democrats in the state. Though maybe there are people out there who are glad he isn't.

Back to this article though...
Mayor Daley had been allied with Assessor Houlihan in the tax squabble, but switched sides several weeks ago amid rumors that Mr. Madigan had promised help on some of the city’s other initiatives in Springfield.

President Jones has not indicated whether he will pass, defeat or amend Mr. Madigan’s bill. Meanwhile, business groups say that any reduction in taxes for homeowners forces up taxes on them, and support only a limited cap.


One of those weeks

Monday’s events could set the tone for an action-packed but odd week at the Capitol. Strange bedfellows flew around the state to announce an electricity rate relief package that took months to unfold, and the governor spent the day in Chicago while busloads of Chicago ministers drove down to Springfield to rally and pray outside of his Statehouse office, as well as the House and the Senate.

First, the strange bedfellows of Senate President Emil Jones Jr., House Speaker Michael Madigan and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan flew around the state Monday announcing a long-awaited deal to relieve electricity rates for Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison customers. Details of the agreement are provided from the House Democrats’ Web site in this press release and this fact sheet. Highlights: In addition to one-time credits, customers’ bills would reflect between 40 percent and 70 percent off of the 2007 rates. The rates going forward would be set by the new Illinois Power Authority, which would scrap the type of auction that set this year’s rates and that was supposed to transition Illinois into a deregulated system. Legislation is expected to move soon.

Second, four busloads of ministers and education advocates tried to storm the Capitol to urge state lawmakers and the governor to increase education funding. When guards calmly told them they couldn’t get onto the floor of each chamber, the group knelt in prayer and then sang spiritual hymns as they walked to the next door. When they approached the governor’s office, they were again greeted by guards and then by the governor’s chief of staff, John Harris. Their momentum deflated when Harris told them the governor wasn’t even in the Capitol, that he was in Chicago signing the statewide smoking ban. The ministers were invited to a meeting with all legislative leaders and the governor in the Capitol Tuesday, but most of them returned to their busses.

Earlier, the ministers held a Statehouse press conference and said lawmakers have a “moral obligation” to increase education funding. They stressed they weren’t in town for anyone’s agenda other than the children’s and that they were in Springfield to urge the governor to stand by his promise to put more money into education. (Blagojevich and Jones proposed $1.5 billion for education.)

“We’ve had the governor to our churches on several occasions, singing, what’s his favorite song, ‘Precious Lord, take my hand,’” Rev. Roosevelt Watkins of Bethlehem Star Church in Chicago said. “I think that if there’s no budget, absolutely, he’ll get a different reception. Not only him, but we’ll have Emil Jones, who we have a lot of lines with. All of them, they all will get a different reception.”

But Rep. Arthur Turner, a Chicago Democrat, said the group is the first of many to stressing the need for more education funding, but they’re just starting to realize the complexity of weighing all the budgetary needs. “If you’ve got funding in the schools and the CTA busses aren’t running on a school day, you’re still no better off than you were before,” he said after speaking with the ministers.

Third, AFSCME Council 31, which represents about 40,000 state employees, sent a letter Friday urging the leaders and the governor to avoid a government shutdown, preferably with a 12-month budget or at least with another one-month budget.

Fourth, the governor signed the statewide smoking ban in Chicago Monday. It bans smoking in restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, hospitals, nursing homes, sports arenas, casinos and other places January 1, 2008.

More action gets under way Tuesday.
Deanese Williams-Harris contributed to this report.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Someone has figured it all out....

From OpenLine in the Beacon News (the column people call in with opinions)

Dissension refreshing
I kind of like what's going on down in Springfield. I like the dissension in the ranks amongst the Democratic Party because it shows that they're each individual thinkers and they have their disagreements, unlike the Republican Party that is run like a communist dictatorship in that no one is allowed to disagree with the party. If anyone disagrees with the party, their campaign funds are cut off and they are summarily thrown out of the party. That's the way it works nationally, anyway. Is that what you want? You want a communist dictatorship running the country?

Dude, if the Communists worked like Illinois Republicans Communism would have died out in 1918...



Saturday, July 21, 2007

Will Rod Grow?

Tom Roeser wrote a piece on July 16th in which he detailed the acceptance of Republicans by the Georgetown crowd. He referred to it as “Standing Tall in Georgetown.”

When a Republican got mature enough in Washington, he abandoned the reasons that got him elected to please the media and political elite, he was “Standing Tall in Georgetown.”

Political novelist and New York Times Washington Bureau newsman Allan Drury came up with the term.

What’s it mean? Here’s what Roeser says,

”Georgetown in Drury’s 1959 novel (‘Advise and Consent’) is the same Georgetown as exists today, the home of culturally literate, guilt-ridden and politically correct affluent white liberals who formulate much of the media agenda.

“If you are a repentant conservative and embrace liberal dogma supposedly heedless of what it will do to your career… because you are an idealist… you will
(a) stand tall in Georgetown and be invited to its cocktail soirees and

(b) thereupon get a huge bunch of favorable media attention in the main journals that excite liberals: the ‘Washington Post,’ ‘New York Times,’ ‘Christian Science Monitor’ and powerful media interests in the east.
“That will enable you to catapult to the topmost stature overnight…being depicted as one who has 'grown'…has become ‘mature through sobering events.’

“The intriguing thing is that while STIG gets adulatory coverage for its protagonists in the short-run, thus far all of them have failed to score with the subliminal object: the presidency.”
So, the question I raise today is whether Governor Rod Blagojevich will be tempted by House Speaker Mike Madigan’s challenge to endorse a state income tax hike?

Will he mature enough to become a real tax hiking Democrat? (Not that I concede that he hasn’t hiked lots of taxes already.)

What should the Illinois counterpart of “Standing Tall in Georgetown” be?

Do the media biggies live on the North Shore? In Downtown Chicago condos?

I couldn’t have cared less before starting this story.

I don’t think being praised by John Kass’ “Bipartisan Combine” quite fits.

Maybe someone can come up with a better description for the change in media attitude that Blagojevich’s breaking of his promise not to raise income or sales taxes would bring about.

And, what would be Rod's Reward?

Perhaps an end to cartoonists' ridiculing him.

= = = = =
The article with Mike Madigan's pitch for an income tax hike comes from July 19th's Chicago Sun-Times. The clown depiction of Governor Rod Blagojevich with his $600 hairdoo was drawn by Springfield's State Journal-Register cartoonist Chris Britt and re-printed in the Chicago Tribune, which, like the Northwest Herald, does not have its own cartoonist, on July 18th.

And, of course, there is more on McHenry County Blog.


Saturday Morning L0Lz: Aaron Patterson

When I think of the Red Liner's attempts to bring down the King, I often imagine a fish flopping around at the bottom of a boat with a big hook in it's mouth. Sure, it's going to squawk, make a lot of noise, and crap all over the interior of your brand new Ranger, but it's all just a gigantic act of futility.

Speaking of futility, their recent attempts to vanquish da mare by bringing up ancient history will most certainly be an exercise in such. I trust that you all remember Aaron Patterson, convicted murderer and leader of the extraordinarily brutal Apache Rangers street gang. Aaron, as you'll recall, was one of those folks wrongfully pardoned George Ryan.

After being pardoned, Patterson swore that he would conduct an investigation into police corruption and Find The Real Killers (TM). In order to accomplish this noble task, Patterson needed 2 things: a felonious amount of drugs and several blow back operated, fully automatic MAC-10 machine pistols. Obviously, these purchasing habits attracted the federal government (whom - duh - are in on it with Da Mare) who then conspired to lock him back up, which brings us to present time at Patterson's second sentencing, where he had to be "dragged kicking and screaming" from court at the prospect of being 'wrongfully' convicted...........again.

One post child for Boutique Citizens down. Not even the rabidly Daley hating Chicago MSM is covering much of Patterson's latest story, simply because this myth about him being set up by the police is just too much BS - even for them.

Thankfully, neither the Red Liners nor Patterson are terribly smart. The Red Liners, short a respectable citizen to champion their cause, instead selected a thug - a career criminal who couldn't 'leave the game' if he wanted to. Patterson, whom should have taken his free pass on a double homicide and disappeared, stuck around to continue his life of criminal behavior only to be stuck in the clink again.

For more humor associated with the wasted criminal life of Aaron Patterson, now resident of a federal pen., enjoy the following links: "Patterson gears up and gets political, fighting, as anyone would, against the broken and corrupt system that screwed him over so hard, and reaching back to help those still stuck within it’s horrific grip."

"Hip Hop War Report": "Aaron Patterson has survived police torture and years spent on death row for a crime he didn’t commit and he came out swinging against a corrupt and racist criminal justice system. By targeting him, the Chicago Police Department and the U.S. Justice Department are trying to tell victims of police and prosecutorial misconduct to suffer in silence."


Friday, July 20, 2007

D2 Day

Cross posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

Today’s the day for campaign finance disclosure. The usual suspects have or will be filing at the State Board of Elections and ICPR and the Sunshine Project will start work standardizing the names, coding the donors and analyzing the receipts. In the meantime, here’s a summary of three new PACs that were active this Spring.

The First CD Victory PAC (Local ID # 13868) was formed on January 24, 2007 with Congressman Bobby Rush as Chair and Chicago man-about-town Elzie Higginbottom as Treasurer. Before the February elections it raised 43 donations totaling $118K (averaging $2.7K) and gave that money mostly to Aldermanic candidates in the First Congressional District, which Rush represents. Then something happened to the committee. Rush left as Chair, Higginbottom as took over, and the fund really started raising money. After the February 27 elections, the PAC raised another 75 donations totaling $544K (averaging $7.2K). Donors included a who’s who of Connected Chicago, along with a few big box retailers. And, as was widely noted at the time, the PAC started giving to Aldermanic candidates who were (1) in run-offs, regardless of which Congressional District they lived in, and (2) were perceived as being friendly to the Mayor. The funded ended the reporting period with $19K.

ActBlue Illinois (State ID #9277) is a Massachusetts-based in Massachusetts and formed late last year that raises money “To support all Democrats running for state legislative or statewide offices.” It looks like it’s taking a page from U.S. Senator Barack Obama and others who have focused on Internet fundraising on a national scale; but this one seeks to funnel that money into state legislative races. The PAC reported just under $24K in receipts, including about $7K in non-itemized receipts (ie, from donors who gave less than the $150 disclosure threshold). Of its itemized receipts, about half (52%) came from in-state while the rest came from Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, California – you get the idea. It’s an interesting idea in fundraising. Most of the money raised went to one candidate – Daniel Biss, a challenger for a House seat (and what didn’t go to Biss went to processing fees, not other candidates). The PAC ended the period with about $4K on hand.

Citizens for Tax Fairness, Healthcare & Education (State ID #9366) was formed earlier this year to “To advocate for and contribute to the public debate on tax fairness, healthcare and education.” They broadcast a bunch of TV spots ($800K worth, including a few radio ads) in support of Gov. Blagojevich’s proposed Gross Receipts Tax, but didn’t give to any candidates. Their receipts came from four PACs: the IEA ($400K), the IFT ($200K), the Illinois Hospital Assn ($250K), and Planned Parenthood Votes Illinois ($5K. And no, that’s not a typo, just a difference of scale). The Committee listed a PO Box for an address, but if there was ever any doubt who they were affiliated with, one donor listed an address matching the same street and suite number as Friends of Rod Blagojevich. The PAC ended the period with about $19K available.

That’s just three of the over 3,000 committees that should be filing by today. Go look at the State Board of Elections website to see what else is available. And check back to ICPR’s website for an updated Sunshine Database in a few weeks.


Fish Heads Threat To Homeland Security

Mayo Underwood runs a certified organic, heirloom seed, plant and supply firm called Underwood Gardens. It’s located east of Woodstock, Illinois.

After 15 years old in business, Underwood has run afoul of the Homeland Security Department.

She was giving a talk in Fairbury (near Bloomington) to a group of organic farmers about two weeks ago. They had expected her to bring down cases of concentrated liquid plant food made from wild Canadian salmon heads.

They didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when she told them that the shipment had been held up in Customs in Detroit “as a threat to homeland security.”

That’s strange because she received a half a pallet load of the stinky stuff, called Salmon Plant Food, in April.

No problem then.

“Something changed between April and June,” when she made another order, Underwood said.

The Canadian manufacturing company, Envirem, submitted every piece of documentation that the U.S. Department of Agriculture requested “immediately.”

“OK, we’ve done everything they requested. Now, we have to wait for the USDA to approve,” the firm’s President Colin Murray told Underwood.

She contacted State Senator Pam Althoff and her assistant, county board member Tina Hill, suggested contacting Congresswoman Melissa Bean.

Underwood did that July 5th.

A letter dated July 9th came back from Bean’s office asking “to allow 30 to 60 days for a response.”

“I called and my caseworker is Susan Giannone, who said that’s the standard and there’s nothing more they can do.

“Then on my answering machine I had a response from them saying it takes 60-90 days to get a response,” she continued.

“So, I called back, 30 to 60, 60 to 90, asking which was correct and saying these are farmers waiting for it now and this doesn’t help and I would have to tell the farmers what Melissa Bean’s office was telling me.”

D“At that, she said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’”

“Ten minutes later she called back and said, ‘You might have an answer in ten days.’

“And, Monday will be ten days.

“In the meanwhile, I contacted Dick Durbin, Don Manzullo and Barack Obama. I only did those Wednesday and Thursday and haven’t heard back yet.

“I’ll take help from anybody.”

The embargoed product “is one of the major weapons in an organic farmers arsenal,” Underwood said. “It not only boosts plant health and production, it also deters pests—deer, rabbit and cucumber beetles. Most mammals do not like the smell.”

= = = = =
The photographs were supplied by Underwood. The heirloom flowers grown by Underwood include, from top to bottom, Amaranth Joseph's Coat, Bee Balm Close and Dwarf Bees Close. A number of the "farmers are growers for the Chicago restaurateur Rick Bayless. They supply him with organic heirloom tomatoes and unusual edibles like the amaranth and bean flowers below, lily buds, etc.," Underwood says.

Much, much more on McHenry County Blog this weekend, including possible successors to retiring State Rep. Pat Lindner.


Former corrections chief and contractors indicted

Donald Snyder Jr., former director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, was indicted on federal charges of receiving about $50,000 in illegal kickbacks from two lobbyists who represented health-care companies holding large contracts with the state. The indictments stem from a federal investigation, “Operation Safe Road,” that led to the corruption conviction of former Gov. George Ryan. The former governor appointed Snyder, of Pittsfield, to his post that ran from 1999 to 2003.

“As a top state official, Mr. Snyder was bound by various rules governing his acceptance of gifts or favors of any kind,” said U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in a press release. “He was forbidden from receiving cash kickbacks from anyone, much less from lobbyists representing companies doing millions of dollars in business with IDOC.”

Lobbyist John Robinson of Barrington Hills in northern Illinois represented an Illinois-based company that held a multi-million dollar contract with the state to provide health-care services for Illinois inmates. He also is the former Cook County undersheriff. Between 1996 and 2003, he allegedly arranged a contract with the health-care company to receive $2,500 a month in addition to 5 percent of the company’s income from contracts with the Department of Corrections. The indictment says Robinson expected to get an increased payment of $4,500 a month as soon as the health-care company’s state contract exceeded $4 million.

Larry Sims of Pleasant Plains in central Illinois, represented a Pennsylvania health-care company that also held multi-million dollar contracts with the corrections department. He allegedly co-schemed with Snyder and Robinson to file false statements with the state to hide the illegal payments to Snyder.

Snyder and Robinson were each charged with five counts of mail fraud, one carrying a maximum sentence of one year in prison and four others carrying up to 20 years in prison. Sims was charged with one count of perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury during the investigation, an offense carrying a maximum punishment of five years in prison. The indictment also seeks $50,000 from Snyder. If convicted, all three also could have to pay a $250,000 fine on each count.


Budget negotiation update


Today’s leaders’ meeting focused on spending instead of ways to generate new revenue. There also was talk that electric rate relief may be around the corner.

As far as the budget, there seems to be no visible movement. “Reports that there’s a deal and so forth, that’s erroneous,” Senate President Emil Jones Jr. said.

However, Deputy Governor Shelia Nix said progress has been made, and that next week should be a key week in getting the budget wrapped up by the end of the month.

Sen. Jones said, “The governor had his revenue proposal to drive the budget, and that’s been rejected by the House. We the Senate Democrats put forth our revenue proposal to fund education, to take care of the capital needs of state of Illinois, the House rejected that,”

He also said, “Now perhaps the House will come forth with its revenue measure and maybe the speaker will go ahead and push the income tax.”

In other news, electric rate relief proposal may be in the final stages of completion.

Jones, along with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Attorney General Lisa Madigan has scheduled a fly-around trip to discuss details of a statewide electric rate relief package. “It’s being put together,” Jones said. “It’s not complete as of yet.” However, he did say “the deal is pretty, pretty close.”

The group intends to release the details on Monday said Jones. The trip will begin in Peoria, then to Decatur, Cahokia and end in Marion.

Both chambers will be out for the weekend, the first time since the special sessions began. They’re scheduled to get back to work Monday afternoon.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

George Ryan's Corrections Director Indicted for $50,000 in Kickbacks

First a disclaimer: I worked closely with Don Synder, a former county sheriff, when he was Director of the Department of Corrections under former Governor George Ryan. He was the most responsive Director that I worked with on the Prison Reform Committee. One of the men charged along with Synder is John J. Robinson of Barrington Hills.

What follows is the press release from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald:


CHICAGO – A former Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), who allegedly received approximately $50,000 in illegal kickbacks, and two lobbyists accused of paying him the kickbacks while representing vendors that had multi-million-dollar contracts with the state prison agency, were indicted today on federal charges. The defendants, Donald N. Snyder, Jr., who was IDOC director from 1999 until early 2003, and lobbyists John J. Robinson, a former Undersheriff of Cook County, and Larry E. Sims were charged in a six-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Snyder, 52, of downstate Pittsfield, Il., allegedly received the kickbacks while he served in the state cabinet during the administration of former Gov. George Ryan. Today’s indictment stems from an investigation that grew out of the Operation Safe Road probe of corruption during Ryan’s terms as Governor and, earlier, Secretary of State. Snyder, who was appointed by Ryan, had approval authority over the award of millions of dollars in contracts to vendors, including health care providers, who provided inmate health care services in IDOC institutions.

Robinson, 59, of Barrington Hills, who was Undersheriff of Cook County from 1991 until 2001, also worked between 1996 and 2003 as a paid consultant/ lobbyist for several vendors and/or institutions seeking to promote and develop their business with IDOC. Robinson formed J. Patrick Noll (JPN), which developed and promoted correctional business on behalf of clients, including Vendor A, an Illinois health care company that was awarded millions of dollars in contracts to provide health care services at Illinois prisons during Snyder’s tenure at IDOC. Under a 1996 contract with Vendor A, JPN was initially paid $2,500 a month, plus five percent of Vendor A’s income from Illinois corrections contracts, with a provision that the monthly retainer would rise to $4,500 a month when Vendor A’s Illinois prisons contracts exceeded $4 million, the indictment states.

Sims, 58, of Pleasant Plains, Il., near Springfield, was a lobbyist for several vendors, including Vendor B, a Pennsylvania health care company that was trying to promote and develop its corrections business and was awarded millions of dollars in contracts to provide healthcare services to IDOC inmates during Snyder’s tenure.

Snyder and Robinson were each charged with five counts of mail fraud, and Sims was charged with one count of perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury during the investigation. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $50,000 from Snyder. All three defendants will be arraigned at a later date in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

“As a top state official, Mr. Snyder was bound by various rules governing his acceptance of gifts or favors of any kind. He was forbidden from receiving cash kickbacks from anyone, much less from lobbyists representing companies doing millions of dollars in business with IDOC,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “The indictment alleges that he brazenly violated the duty he owed to the state and its citizens to perform his job honestly.”

Mr. Fitzgerald announced the charges with Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Thomas P. Brady, Postal Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Alvin Patton, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division; and Michelle McVicker, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, all in Chicago.

According to the indictment, Robinson and Sims were involved in separate kickback deals with Snyder, but in both instances – in consideration for the cash payments – Snyder allegedly gave each of them information and assistance on issues and concerns they raised on behalf of their various vendor clients. To conceal the scheme, Snyder allegedly filed false Statements of Economic Interest with the state, failing to disclose the cash payments he received from Robinson and Sims, and Sims allegedly filed false lobbyist registration statements, failing to disclose any of the money he paid to Snyder. All three allegedly lied to federal agents investigating whether Robinson and Sims had given anything of value to Snyder.

Regarding the payments by Sims to Snyder, the indictment alleges that in late 1999 or early 2000, Snyder and Sims discussed the compensation that Sims received from Vendor B, and Sims agreed to pay Snyder a portion of the monthly fee that Sims received from that client. Beginning in early 2000 and continuing until approximately the end of 2002, Sims gave cash to Snyder each month, totaling approximately $30,000, after Sims received his monthly fee from Vendor B.

Regarding the payments by Robinson to Snyder, the indictment alleges that in late 1999 or early 2000, Snyder agreed to accept cash derived from the consulting or lobbying fees that Robinson earned from their representation of one or more vendors doing business with IDOC. From early 2000 until December 2002, Robinson allegedly paid kickbacks to Snyder totaling approximately $20,000, which amounted to about one-fourth of the monthly fees that Robinson’s company, JPN, received from Vendor A. Robinson paid Snyder periodically when they met at various corrections-related meetings or events, the indictment alleges.

The perjury count against Sims alleges that on May 5, 2005, he lied when he testified before a grand jury that he never gave Snyder any cash gifts, and that he could not remember if he ever gave Snyder any gifts at all other than a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt on one occasion. Sims, in fact, had given Snyder cash kickbacks derived from lobbying fees that Sims received from Vendor B.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel Levin and Laurie Barsella.

If convicted, Snyder and Robinson each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison on one count of mail fraud and 20 years in prison on each of the other four counts of mail fraud, and Sims faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted of perjury. All three defendants also face a maximum fine of $250,000 on each count. The Court, however, would determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


Monahan Money

Cross-posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

Today the US Attorney for Northern Illinois announced an indictment against Aidan Monahan, of Monahan Landscape Company. The indictment, which alleges that Monahan fraudulently obtained landscaping contracts with the Chicago Public Schools that should have been set aside for minorities and women, is available here (PDF), and the press release is here (PDF).

Monahan and his company have given generously to politicians in the Chicagoland area: over $200K according to the State Board of Elections website, mostly between 1999 and 2003. He appears to have made no donations since 2005. The allegations in today's indictment focus on activities from 2003-2006.

Top recipients include:

Democratic Party of Illinois - $108K (between '99-'02)
Friends of Michael J Madigan - $27K ('99)
Citizens for Lisa Madigan - $25K ('02)
Statesman of the Year (IUOE Local 150) - $23,125 ('99-'05)
33rd Ward RDO - $10.9K ('00-'02) (not including $200 to Citizens for Richard Mell in '99)
Friends of [Chgo Ald.] Patrick J. Levar - $5.5K ('00-'02) (not including $750 to 45th Ward RDO in '99)
Friends of Blagojevich - $5K ('02)
Richard M Daley Campaign Committee - $1.5K ('03)
Citizens for [Former Chgo Ald. Arenda] Troutman - $1.5K ('02)
Citizens for [Former Cook Sheriff] Michael F. Sheahan - $250 ('01)


Ex-Aldermen snubbed

Yesterday should have been a joyous occasion in the Englewood neighborhood because the new Kennedy-King College (a two year college that's part of the City Colleges of Chicago) was recently finished and there was to have been a ribbon cutting ceremony. Then I wake up this morning and find that the joyous occasion was disrupted by two ousted Alderman, Arenda Troutman, who many of you know was not only ousted in the first round in February but was indicted on corruption charges in federal court and there's Shirley Coleman, who was ousted in the runoffs in April.

Now unless you believe either the mayor or Montel Gayles director of the Public Building Commision, who were quoted in articles from the Sun-Times and the Tribune as saying that Troutman and Coleman were invited to the Kennedy-King ribbon cutting ceremony...

"We believe we sent you an invitation," he said to Coleman and Troutman as he stood on the stage near them. "Whether we sent it or not from my heart I apologize for you not receiving one, but we would not be here today if it wasn't for the work these two aldermen put forth. With no hard feelings and no regret, I am glad they are here. I am glad that they are here to share with us the success of this day. Now with that said, let's move on with our program."
"I would never, never ever slight any elected official or former elected official. They were invited," Daley said.
If this was true then why did Coleman and Troutman arrive at this ceremony in a huff? If Mayor Daley did snub the pair what could possibly be the reason for it?

That's when I saw this story at Clout City...

But Shirley Coleman? The mayor's people didn't invite her to yesterday's ceremony either, and she was one of Daley's most loyal council supporters. She provided one of the three flip-flop votes he needed to kill the big-box living-wage ordinance, and it probably cost her last April's election to Joann Thompson, who was backed by the unions.

Although, come to think of it, Coleman also voted against the Olympics, a desperate, last-ditch move to stave off defeat by showing she wasn't a complete Daley puppet. Maybe that's why the mayor snubbed her at yesterday's ceremony. He has a very long memory.

Any way you look at it, this should be a lesson for other loyalists thinking about the mayor's TIFs, taxes, and Olympics. Vote against him, even once, and you're exiled.

I wrote about this story minus the Clout City article this morning I said that while I'm not a regular reader of John Kass' columns from the Tribune, there was one thing I have gotten from them. That is when Daley has no use for you he eventually turns on you. Clout City might have clinched it for me.


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