Thursday, May 31, 2007

The clock’s ticking, but the hands aren’t moving

BY BETHANY CARSON AND DEANESE WILLIAMS-HARRIS
About two hours before the midnight deadline for the regularly scheduled spring session, Republicans called a caucus just as the Senate was about to vote on a multi-billion proposal to create four Chicago-area casinos. Stay tuned.

About three hours before the midnight deadline, the House left for the night without acting on a legislative motion filed to stall the budget that won approval last night. The budget is just sitting there as a leveraging point for downstate lawmakers who don’t want to adjourn for the summer without addressing high electricity rates.

The House inaction spoiled Senate plans to vote on that minimum-growth budget in committee tonight. With no budget to vote on, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, committee chairman and Evanston Democrat, couldn’t help cracking a few jokes about presenting and debating a bill that didn’t exist in his chamber yet. “This is all conceptual,” he said motioning his hands around an imaginary ball.

On a more serious note, Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat and budget negotiator, said the House budget is a “great start,” but it’s not balanced. And he’s disappointed the Democratic-controlled House, Senate and governor’s office missed opportunities — such as leasing the Illinois Lottery or expanding gaming — to make a dent in the drastically under-funded state employee pension system while also bolstering education and health care funding. “What this is lacking is a real revenue stream to pay for the needs of this state,” Trotter said. “I’m always disappointed that we weren’t able to finish the work when we felt that it was supposed to be done. But we also know that by constitution, we have 30 more days to get that job done.” They have all of June before the next state budget kicks in July 1.

Gaming is the answer for some Senate Democrats. “We have to have revenue before we can start putting a budget together,” said Sen. James Clayborne of Belleville earlier Thursday night. He’s sponsoring the legislation to create the new casinos that’s about to be voted on in his chamber, and although he said he expects the expansion of gaming to be difficult for some legislators to vote on, he said, “When we call it, we will have the votes to pass the bill.”

As for the electricity rates that caused the House budget to stall in the first place, Democratic Rep. John Bradley of Marion said it’s a good sign because it shows lawmakers aren’t leaving for the summer without addressing the sky-high rates. After the House finished business about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, he showed up at the Capitol at 7 a.m. for more negotiations with Ameren Illinois and ComEd utilities and a group of lawmakers from both chambers. Then again, they’ve been negotiating since last September.

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Overtime

Plan to work into June, said House Speaker Michael Madigan at 7:20 p.m., less than five hours before the constitutional deadline to wrap up the regular spring session. He just told lawmakers that the House would work Friday, leave for an early weekend and pick up Tuesday, June 5. Gov. Rod Blagojevich could still call a special session any minute given that neither chamber has advanced a state budget to his desk. I had an idea lawmakers conceded to an overtime session because no one seemed pressured by a deadline Thursday. While late committees are scheduled and could bring up gaming, shoulders are shrugging about what could happen before the midnight deadline. We’ll keep you posted.

Video competition?
The telecommunications measure allowing cable and phone companies to compete in providing video services slid through the House Thursday night without the controversy that held it in limbo all session. Months of negotiations paid off for Rep. James Brosnahan, the Evergreen Park Democrat whose measure won unanimous support with two lawmakers voting present.

The proposal would allow phone companies, AT&T and Verizon being two of the major forces, to get Illinois Commerce Commission approval to offer video services anywhere throughout the state without having to go to each individual municipality as cable companies have to do right now.

The bill started with lots of opposition from the cable industry, municipalities, public access channels and consumer advocate groups that feared loss of local control, erosion of customer service standards and “cherry picking” in affluent communities rather than offering the video services to low-income areas. Stalled for months in a House committee, the bill was rewritten by the Illinois attorney general’s office. It now requires the video service providers to extend a certain percentage of their services to low-income communities within three years of earning the so-called statewide video franchise. It also empowers local governments to decide where the video provider could construct rather large utility boxes around neighborhoods, a former point of contention. And the state attorney general would have the power to enforce consumer protection standards and investigate violations.

At risk of sounding too good to be true, Brosnahan said on the House floor that the measure would lay the policy needed to spur competition that would drive down prices. And AT&T has committed to investing $750 million and creating 2,000 union jobs in spreading its video services around the state.

One of the concerns left unaddressed, according to lawmakers who spoke on the floor, was that constituents needed to know that even if Brosnahan’s bill became law, it wouldn’t guarantee competition or availability of the high-tech video services in their areas. If approved by the Senate as expected and if signed by the governor, the plan would be immediately effective and sunset six years later. That would allow the General Assembly could reevaluate if the policy succeeded in creating competition, Brosnahan said. We’ll include more reaction from the cable industry as we get it.

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Time for Pigeons to Fly Away?

Now, some people might look at this picture of two pigeons and think that it is of pigeons on a grate.

And, it is.

But, with the Illinois General Assembly moving to wrap up its session this last day of May so the Republicans won’t gain more power, one might think of the grate as the bottom of a cage that the Democrats are building around my proposed state bird.

Such a cage would keep the pigeon from flying to another state.

Will the birds be killed, plucked and served for dinner?

Of is some more dire ending in store for them?

Posted first on McHenry County Blog.

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A Matter of Life and Death

Eric Zorn, capital punishment opponent and blog-father at your Chicago Tribune, presents the hard facts about life-without-parole sentences to death penalty opponents in today's column:

If you want to wage a fight against the death penalty that has any chance of success, you have to accept life-without-parole sentences as the trade-off.

But if you want to fight for earned release or other formal programs to reduce life sentences, you have to accept the death penalty, at least for the foreseeable future.

It's your choice, activists, but you've got to make it.
I agree whole-heartedly with EZ's dichotomy. And for that reason, I believe there is an equity argument to be made for life-without-parole sentences.

First, we know that people in Illinois have been wrongly convicted of murder.

Some of those wrongly convicted persons have been wrongly sentenced to life-without-parole and some have been sentenced to the death penalty.

In the case of the unjust l-w-p, the worst-case injustice is that a person wrongly convicted of murder must face the prospect of never again being free. This is unjust and inhumane and under any other circumstances, I would find it intolerable.

But it pales in comparison to the case of an unjust conviction coupled with the death penalty. In this case, the person wrongly convicted is put to death by the state. Game over.

The wrongly convicted l-w-p prisoner can hold out hope that new evidence -- or new technology that can illuminate old evidence -- will emerge that will exonorate him or her. The wrongly convicted prisoner who is put to death will never get an opportunity to clear his or her name, never get an opportunity to walk free, never get an opportunity to breath.

Both unjust outcomes are bad.

But one is much, much worse.

Illinois citizens concerned with maximizing the justice in our criminal justice system should work to eliminate the worse -- infinitely worse -- outcome.

-- SCAM

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Posible site issues with a Dolton casino.

Rich had a post about the Dolton Casino....

OneMan grew up in Dolton, from birth to my 18th birthday the area that would most likely get a casino was about 2 miles from my house.

However there is a real problem, first 142nd street (the most likely access route from the Bishop Ford) is not a full interchange. So getting to 142nd from the south is a bit of a challenge.

Secondly, there is a 4 track railroad line between 142nd and the river, this track has a lot of rail traffic (there are two rail yards at least partially in town). So at the best, it is going to get in the way of road traffic or will require a bridge over it.

If you look at this map you can get an idea of what is area near the river in Dolton looks like, I am fairly sure that the space to the west of the marina is at least in part a landfill, I am not 100% sure about that but I seem to recall that. That small lake you see may now be in private hands.

So you have a railroad to deal with as well as some other serious infrastructure stuff to get any site in Dolton to be easy to access from the Bishop Ford.

Also it's a river used for shipping so unless you buy the marina (now likely the most valuable real estate in town) you will likely have to build your own since I doubt you could put a boat in the river and leave enough space for barge traffic.

OneMan

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What's left?

The news Wednesday night seemed to be when the House approved a limited-growth budget that mirrors this year’s fiscal budget with some changes, but that’s predictable. It was approved along partisan lines with one Democrat, Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, voting against it. And earlier in the night, a Senate committee approved a three-year freeze on electricity rates and approved four new casinos as a revenue source for education, construction projects and higher education.

But as the night got weirder, it became clear the real story was whether the two chambers would come together to agree on all this “major” legislation bouncing around the Capitol.

By 9:30 p.m., the Sen. Debbie Halvorson said the full Senate has enough votes to approve the three-year rate freeze that’s already been approved by the House. If it gained approval by the full Senate Thursday, it would land on the governor’s desk. But, Halvorson pointed out in debate, there’s no guarantee it would actually spell relief for Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison customers. “You know how easy it will be to go back home and say, ‘I voted for a freeze. You may never see anything, but I voted for that freeze,’” Halvorson said. “I’m not sure if I can sleep at night if I go home and say, ‘I voted for a freeze, but now they’re going to get a temporary restraining order. They’re going to get an injunction. You’re not going to get a freeze ever.’ How can I sleep at night knowing full well that our responsibility is to maintain our promise?”

In the House, floor action lasted until 1:15 a.m. Democrats approved a) $300 million in revenue by ending some corporate tax breaks, b) a supplemental budget to finally clear a four-year waiting list of school construction projects and implement the second year of a federal program to reimburse hospitals caring for Medicaid patients and c) the so-called “7 percent” rule to relieve Cook County property taxpayers.

What’s left for the House to do before adjourning this week? The House plans to advance a telecommunications bill I mentioned May 29. It would allow AT&T and Verizon telephone giants to compete with cable companies in the race to provide high-tech video services anywhere in the state. Stem cell research still hasn’t been addressed. And a group of lawmakers from both chambers is still trying to relieve constituents’ electricity rates. They joined heads late, and I mean late, Wednesday night. We’ll wait to find out if they agreed on similar language that has a chance in both chambers or if they’re efforts are going to fizzle once again.

Until we can get more details and reaction Thursday, here’s a simple breakdown of the limited-growth budget approved by the House:
A few highlights
- The minimum amount spent per student increases by $387, which is an 8 percent increase over FY07 and puts the minimum at $5,721 per student.
- Early childhood education would receive $30 million.
- Each school district would receive at least as much as it did in FY07.
- State universities would get a 2 percent increase.
“While it may not be as much as some had hoped for, it’s certainly a healthy increase,” said Rep. Gary Hannig, the Litchfield Democrat sponsoring the budget proposal. “It’s certainly something that will allow our K-through-12 institutions to move forward.” He later added, ‘We’ve seen the difficulty we’ve had this year in trying to find additional revenues. I would argue that this is the best that we can do at this revenue level.”

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Identity Theft?

In the midst of all of the end of session activity whirling around right now, I happened to come across what strikes me as a very important story that has appeared to slip under the radar screen.
The state's professional-regulation department is notifying roughly 300,000 licensees and applicants that a computer server with some of their personal data was breached early this year, a spokeswoman for the agency said Friday. (Emphasis added)
Potentially at risk for identity theft are banking and real estate professionals whose licensing information - including addresses, tax numbers and Social Security numbers - were kept on the storage server, said Sue Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Making a bad situation worse is this:
Hofer said investigators have determined that the breach "looks like criminal conduct." She said the hacking appears to have come from a source outside state government.
Department officials notified the Illinois State Police and FBI after they determined on May 3 that the computerized information had been compromised, probably in January, Hofer said.

She said authorities initially asked Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration not to tell licensees about the breach so that the investigation would not be compromised. The administration also did not immediately inform members of the General Assembly at the request of authorities, Hofer said.
State law is somewhat open-ended about how soon a public or private body must notify individuals when their personal data has been stolen, said Deborah Hagan, the chief of consumer protection for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The law allows investigators to delay disclosure, she said.
"I think there has to be a balance in terms of getting this information out to affected persons as quickly as possible - versus not interfering with an investigation which may result in catching the perpetrator," Hagan said.If you ask me, that balance should be tilted in favor of protecting the 300,000 licensees potentially affected by the incident, which include mortgage brokers, pawn shop operators and real-estate agents.
I'm in no way saying that the Department acted improperly, provided that the statement that they held back the information was at the request of the authorities. But there are 300,000 Illinoisans right now that might not be sleeping too easily.

To read or post comments, visit Open House

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Doomed from the start?

BY DEANESE WILLIAMS-HARRIS AND BETHANY CARSON
House Speaker Michael Madigan is expected to answer the governor’s call by introducing his own budget tonight. It’s a limited-growth budget proposal that includes closing corporate loopholes to the tune of $300 million dollars, said Chicago Democratic Rep. Jay Hoffman after House Democrats finished their caucus Wednesday afternoon. “There’s many more that should be on the table,” he said. “But this is a start.”

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said on the House floor no business groups voiced opposition to the closing of the selected tax breaks, including state income tax exemptions for corporations engaged in real estate investment trusts (she cited Wal-Mart). And car rental companies that don’t pay sales taxes on cars that they buy and then rent would no longer get that exemption. The measure hasn’t been called for a final vote, yet.

Madigan’s limited-growth budget also would rely on natural revenue growth, estimated to be less than $800 million.

Not everyone is happy. “There’s a consensus about $300 million [in revenue], and there’s consensus about $800 million in spending,” said Rep. Robert Molaro, another Chicago Democrat. “Consensus. I didn’t say 60 votes.”

Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Chicago Democrat and head of the Black Caucus, said he would vote against the budget on the House floor. He wasn’t happy that the RTA and the CTA aren’t slated to receive much-needed money in Madigan’s short-term budget. Molaro said legislators would have to return in the summer to do more work.

Legislators are certain the budget bill will be called tonight. They’re not so sure it will be approved.

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Power politics

In the midst of all the budget talk, high electricity rates finally emerged in legislative action Wednesday. The House advanced last-minute changes to legislation this morning. The Senate is expected to move a different measure tonight. Whether either chamber is interested in working to approve the same language in the same piece of legislation is yet to be seen.

Under the House measure, not only would consumers pay cheaper electricity rates and get a refund for the higher ones they’ve been paying since January, the state also would create a new Illinois Power Authority to buy electricity and eventually generate its own. A House committee advanced the proposal along partisan lines. The same House committee approved an earlier version of the measure that I wrote about May 25 (scroll down). But Rep. George Scully, a Flossmoor Democrat, changed the bill to do a lot more. Here’s a recap of what’s already been approved:
- Roll back electricity rates to their 2006 levels for one year (consumers would see a credit on their monthly bills);
- Refund customers for the higher rates they’ve paid since January (consumers would get a check in the mail from the utilities);
- Tax power generators to reimburse utilities for the mandated refunds;
- Prohibit utilities from shutting off the power of delinquent payers until March 2008;
- Change condos to be charged residential rates rather than more expensive commercial rates.

Here’s what Scully’s changes would add:
- The tax on power generators would expire once all the refunds and the new efficiency initiatives were paid for (the initiatives would aim to reduce the amount of power in demand at "peak" times when electricity is most expensive);
- Separate electric utilities from their parent companies and prevent utilities from joining regional transmission organizations that are federally regulated;
- Abolish the current Illinois Commerce Commission and appoint five new members with specific qualifications to avoid conflicts of interest with the electric industry;
- Create the Illinois Power Authority to procure the cheapest possible power and eventually generate its own power using Illinois coal;
- Require utilities to disclose whether they’re behind advertising campaigns and prohibit utilities from passing those advertising costs on to consumers.

Utilities obviously hate the plan. Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark had the most colorful interpretation, saying the legislation is “blatantly unconstitutional,” “socializes the electricity industry,” and the equivalent of “going to Los Vegas and throwing dice.” More specifically, he said the Illinois Power Authority would buy and sell power but have no responsibility for the outcome, leaving utilities to deal with customers if something goes wrong or if rates are sky high.

A Midwest Generation representative added this assessment, saying it would take the industry a long, long time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. “In two days, we’re being asked to turn this industry on its head,” said Becky Lauer of Midwest Generation, adding the measure would ruin competition and incentives to keep costs down, risking unreliable power supplies for customers. Ultimately, she said consumers would pay the price.

Rep. Karolyn Krause, a Mount Prospect Republican, said this doesn’t give immediate rate relief and will be tied up in lawsuits for more delayed relief.

Scully could call the legislation any time, but he said he feels no pressure to get it on the House floor before Republicans gain legislative power after May 31, the constitutional deadline. “I don’t see [Thursday] as a deadline at all,” he said. “I think we’ll go into overtime.” He said he’d rather that the House approve the measure on its merits than on party lines. Yet, Republicans have repeatedly voted against his bill.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, filed a lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court against AmerenIP and AmerenCIPS for allegedly deceiving customers shortly before a 10-year rate freeze came off the books January 2. According to a release, Madigan said the Ameren Illinois companies enticed customers to sign up for all-electric services by promising a discount, but they knew months before that they would end the discount as soon as the electricity rate freeze was lifted. “Ameren IP and AmerenCIPS took unfair advantage of their customers,” Madigan said in the release. “Many of these families invested in all-electric power or installed new electric appliances as part of home construction or remodeling because they were looking at the long-term savings that the all-electric discount program would provide. Now their investment means nothing but additional hardship and incredible additional expense.”

Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris responded in an e-mail: “AmerenIP and AmerenCIPS have not been formally served with the lawsuit. We understand the nature of the allegations which are under review and take them very seriously. The Ameren Illinois utilities expect to prevail in this lawsuit because the companies have not improperly promoted all-electric rates.”

“The rates that are in effect are lawful and have been approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission. The power prices associated with these rates were not known until the September 2006 auction, and the delivery service components of the rates were not known until November 2006. Ameren Illinois utilities’ rates now are approximately at the national average. The change in rates comes after a 10-year rate freeze and a legislatively mandated rate reduction.”

Later tonight, we’ll follow the Senate’s action on a different electricity rate freeze bill. Who knows if any electricity legislation will land on the governor’s desk any time soon.

Also later tonight, we’ll follow House action to find out whether House Speaker Michael Madigan moves a no-growth budget that would propose a short-term solution. If so, lawmakers would have to come up with a longer-term revenue and spending plan during an expected overtime or special session.

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Rep. Dave Leitch has something he'd like to say ... although no one is sure who he's speaking FOR exactly

The Illinois House voted 98-15 yersterday to ban the state's five pension systems from making any future investments in companies that do business in Sudan.

State Rep. David Leitch stood up after the vote and complained that he was not given an opportunity to speak in opposition to the measure.

Perhaps he has a point.

But I recall the last time I head him speak. It was at last week's meeting of the Peoria City Council. Leitch stood up and urged the council to help guarantee a $6 million loan that National City Bank was wanting to make to Firefly Energy.

Dave Leitch is a vice president of National City Bank.

I kept wanting one of the council members to loook Leitch in the eye and ask him, in fron of God and the public access television cameras, whether he was speaking as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives or as an employee of the bank that would financially benefit from this loan. That never happened, because that's not how the game is played, in Illinois or in City Hall. And if any did, there's a good chance that Leitch's former employee, the Peoria Journal Star, would have printed an editorial lecturing that council member about the necessity of intergovernmental cooperation.

So, perhaps it's just as well Leitch wasn't allowed to speak before the Sudan investment bill was approved. I doubt that any of his colleagues would have been so crass as to ask if he was speaking as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives or as an employee of a financial institution.



Cross posted to Peoria Pundit.

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Michigan Speaker: Ask voters to replace flat income tax with progressive income tax

Good news out of Michigan that might inspire our elected officials here: the Speaker of the Michigan House is pushing for a constitutional amendment to replace that state's flat income tax (currently set at 3.9%) with a graduated or progressive income tax where higher incomes are taxed at a higher rate and lower incomes are taxed at a lower rate.

This article in the Livingston Press and Argus explains the dynamic:


Top House Democrats also made clear that they want to go to Michigan voters in November 2008 to ask for a constitutional change to dump the state's flat-rate personal income tax, now at 3.9%, in favor of a graduated income tax with higher rates for taxpayers who earn more.

House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, said he and Senate Republicans were negotiating to raise the personal income tax, expand the state's sales tax to include entertainment, such as tickets to concerts and games, or combine both tax options.

Dillon gave 50-50 odds that the House would vote on the tax increase this week, as he and fellow Democrats continued to woo Republicans, partly by showing a willingness to support new laws designed to rein in government costs.

[snip]

Dillon said a graduated income tax should give lower-income taxpayers a tax cut. "It's progressive. Those who have the means can pay," he said.

Michigan's constitution prohibits a graduated tax, and voters have rejected attempts to adopt one several times. Putting it on the ballot requires a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. Most states have a graduated tax.

Senate Republicans would consider a graduated tax only if a solution to the current budget deficit could be found without a tax increase, said Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

We should put on the November 2008 ballot a constitutional amendment that asks the voters whether we should continue to outlaw a progressive income tax.

Bills to do so are HJRCA 23 (Will Davis and Barbara Flynn Currie) and SJRCA 7 (Martin Sandoval and Michael Frerichs).

Thanks to the Citizens for Tax Justice newsletter for the tip on Michigan.

Cross-posted on djwinfo where I've also posted the median family income of each Legislative District and listed them from poorest to wealthiest.

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RTA Wants To Double Suburban County Sales Tax

It’s “Hold on to you hats” or more appropriately “pocket book” time in Springfield.

The latest to want to filch some of our money is the Regional Transportation Authority.

It only wants to double our current one-quarter of cent on every dollar sales tax.

Eric Krol and John Patterson of the Daily Herald raise the alarm that CTA-centric Chicago papers won’t. The Daily Herald’s story is headlined,

Why suburban residents could be bailing out CTA

They report the picking of suburban Cook and collar county pockets could be “$280 million a year.”

Although it is always possible that Downstate Republicans will cut a deal with Chicago Democrats to take money out of suburban pockets, there probably would be a resurrection of the 1974 coalition of suburban Republicans and Democrats.

Even if that happens, however, guess who the Daily Herald reporters say would ride to the rescue.

That’s right.

Governor Rod Blagojevich.

"I don't support sales tax increases on people and that's consistent with where I've been for the last four years," Blagojevich told the Daily Herald when asked about the RTA plan.

On May 5th, Dennis Byrne, a reporter who covered the RTA fight for the Chicago Daily News wrote an insightful Chicago Tribune column.

It was entitled,

Transit ‘reform,’ yet again
He points out that “duplicate, contracting and administrative functions didn’t end” with the RTA’s creation.
“Mass transit was underfunded, thanks in part to the reluctance to charge riders what they should be paying (more than what they are now), generous CTA labor contracts and high CTA absenteeism, among other systemic problems…

“There is no one willing to crack down on the CTA—the main source of the RTA’s problems—because no one dares take on the city’s power, meaning Richard M. Daley’s power.

“…will a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature really be willing to step over the line and crack down on the CTA, especially in light of Daley’s landslide re-election?

“Or will the legislature again just reshuffle the organization chart to make it look like something has happened, while continuing business as usual?”
He has many more details, of course.

And, this was posted first on McHenry County Blog.

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Poll Shows Fitzgerald Has Strong Voter Support

Alberto Gonzales may not give Patrick Fitzgerald high job approval ratings, but the people who pay his salary sure do.

We asked the voters of Illinois if they approve or disapprove of the job Patrick Fitzgerald is doing as U.S. Attorney. Let's start with one number -- 73.7%.

That's the number of people in Illinois who had an opinion about the job Patrick Fitzgerald was doing. When was the last time that 73.7% of voters in Illinois had an opinion of the job their U.S. Attorney was doing?

So what do the numbers show? 62.4% of Illinois voters approve of the job Patrick Fitzgerald is doing while only 11.4% disapprove of the job he is doing. Here's the breakdown:

31.2% Strongly Approve
31.2% Somewhat Approve
7.2% Somewhat Disapprove
4.2% Strongly Disapprove
26.2% Couldn't Offer an Opinion

His highest approval came from non-Chicago, Cook County voters at 73.6% approve and 9.1% disapprove. The collar counties were second at 67.6% approve and 7.2% disapprove. Read the crosstabs here.

And here's the irony. His highest approval comes from Democrats.

65.2% - 11.2% Democrats
58.5% - 11.9% Republicans
62.1% - 10.7% Independents

The bottom line? Illinois voters support the job Patrick Fitzgerald is doing by a very wide and very strong margin.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Illinois Internet Poker?

OneMan looks at the gaming bill

Page 30

1 (230 ILCS 5/3.24 new)2 Sec. 3.24. Electronic poker. "Electronic poker" means 3 poker by use of electronic aids, including via the Internet or 4 by other electronic means. "Electronic poker" does not include 5 slot machines.

Will someone explain to me how this would be allowed under federal law? If the feds can regulate interstate and extrastate gaming how can Illinois do this unless it is limited to state residents or locations within Illinois.

More at OneMan's Thoughts

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Leader Cross and hanging tough on Taxes

An ILGOP Press Release,

"Two weeks ago, Republicans stood together and helped defeat Rod Blagojevich's massive tax and spending plan. Leader Tom Cross and his caucus are continuing the fight by opposing any new taxes in the budget - this includes fighting any hidden taxes against Illinois families and business.

Rod Blagojevich has done nothing but borrow and spend during his time as Governor and it's about time for Democrats in Springfield to live within their means.

By standing up against new taxes, Leader Tom Cross and his caucus send a message that Republicans are ready to move Illinois forward with an agenda for reform that puts an end to Governor Blagojevich's business as usual."
Agenda for reform, an agenda for revolution to drive the grafters away is what's needed but hooray for Cross for not providing any GOP cover for the mess in Springfield.

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Teacher Compensation: Illinois Ranks 3rd in Nation

via Cinny Agnew

When adjusted for cost of living, pension contribution, and experience, teacher compensation in Illinois ranks 3rd in the nation

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Two days to go

Democrats have Wednesday and Thursday to agree on a state budget before Republicans gain more legislative power, but it doesn’t look good. Democratic leaders aren’t changing their tunes. I’d have to check my tape, but it’s almost as if they all repeated Monday’s speeches after breaking from budget negotiations. The only thing that changed is that Gov. Rod Blagojevich sent his Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix to give a speech to the media, and she repeated, and I mean repeated multiple times, the governor’s finger-pointing: House Democrats need to propose their own budget or risk pushing the legislature into overtime session and empowering Republicans who want to cut social services.

Republicans want a state budget that doesn’t rely on tax increases and that avoids spending more than last year, but House Minority Leader Tom Cross said his caucus isn’t interested in cutting services. “We believe the best way out of here, if we ever have an opportunity to be at the table, is you live within your means and you don’t raise taxes,” he said shortly after the Democratic leaders left the budget meeting in the governor’s Statehouse office.

House Speaker Michael Madigan came out of the budget meeting to say he didn’t get answers about his concerns, and his caucus still prioritizes new money for education and school and road construction. And, as before, he said closing corporate loopholes and limited gaming expansion has more support in the House. But we could find out which tax breaks the House Dems are willing to close after their Wednesday morning caucus. The only other glimpse of compromise is that Madigan said he’s not ruling anything out in regards to health care, which the governor demands in a state budget. But, Madigan closed with, “Obviously there’s two different views as to how much money might be available to pay for the budget.”

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. did his best to dodge reporters’ questions by heading straight from the governor’s office to the elevator, but he had time to slip in one dig of the House speaker: “There’s no votes in my caucus for [only expanding positions at existing casinos], so we don’t have anything. I wish the speaker had brought in a proposal. We did last week, but all he brings in is surveys.”

If Democrats can’t agree and Republicans do get a say, there will be a lot of pressure for lawmakers to scale back their wish lists and expand gaming positions within existing casinos to pay for a construction bill. Cross is ready to go with the House GOP proposal, which has Madigan’s approval. “In the past, all of these bills have gotten too heavy, they’ve gotten weighted down, people have wanted too much,” Cross said. “This is a bill we think can pass both chambers, and I would hope that the governor would sign it.”

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Stay tuned on cable bill

A measure posing AT&T against local cable and telephone companies could come to light soon in a House committee, where it’s been stalled for more than a month. The House Telecommunications Committee met Tuesday morning but recessed to “the call of the chair,” allowing sponsor Rep. James Brosnahan, an Evergreen Park Democrat, to reconvene the committee as soon as the compromise language is ready to go. He said he hopes that would happen in the next two days.

Then again, the urgency of state budget negotiations between Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the top Democratic leaders could delay Brosnahan’s proposal into the fall veto session, says Gary Mack, lobbyist for the Cable Television and Communications Association that opposes the measure.

The proposal would basically allow such telephone companies as AT&T and Verizon to compete with cable providers that have enjoyed a monopoly in providing high-tech video services. AT&T wants to change the way video providers get authorization to build a video franchise using broadband, fiber optics and Internet protocol technology to supply those services. AT&T can do that right now, but it would have to do the same as cable companies and go through individual municipalities to get approval to provide the service. Brosnahan’s measure would allow providers to get a statewide video franchise through the Illinois Commerce Commission instead. But the original language in his measure limits the commission’s power to approving or denying applications to provide the service, so it stops short of giving the commission the ability to regulate what happens after that, says Jim Zolnierek of the commerce commission.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants the commission to have more regulatory power. Her office joins other opponents — cable providers, public access channels and consumer advocates — in arguing that the legislation opens the door for a deregulated industry and doesn’t adequately protect local control, public access channels or customer service standards.

Supporters say the proposal would boost competition and benefit consumers by giving them more choice. Stay tuned. A revised telecom bill could drop back into committee at any time.

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Josh Hancock and Illinois Senate Bill 1296

by Ed Murnane

There was a convergence of news stories last week - extending into this week - that has to make reasonable and honest people wonder and speculate. That should include Illinois legislators.

The two stories intertwine - not perfectly - but enough to prompt comparison, or at least analysis.

One is the oft-heard (in these quarters) description of Illinois Senate Bill 1296 that allows plaintiffs (and their attorneys) in personal injury cases to go after the defendant with the most resources, rather than the defendant with the most responsibility.

If the defendant with most responsibility, but least resources, settles before trial, he/she is out of the equation when a jury assigns fault and compensation. The plaintiffs' attorneys -- the trial lawyers -- decide who will be "remaining" in the case when it goes to trial as the proposed law states (from the synopsis):

"Provides that the apportionment of fault under the joint liability Section only applies to the parties still remaining in the case at the time that a final determination is made by the trier of fact and does not apply to the defendants or third party defendants that have been dismissed for any reason, including settlement.
That verbiage is from the Illinois General Assembly description of SB 1296. You can find that description here, on the Illinois General Assembly web site.

We won't get into a lengthy description of SB 1296 -- we've written a lot about it but you should read this commentary by the president of the Illinois Association of Defense Counsel, Steve Puiszis, in response to an advertisement by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, the drafters and proponents of SB 1296:
"Even more disturbing is that Senate Bill 1296 allows the truth-seeking process in a courtroom to be manipulated by not allowing the jury to consider the fault of the drunken driver simply because he settled with the injured party.

"The fairness of our system of justice is called into question when one party can preclude another from obtaining a fair apportionment of fault between all parties who may have been involved in an accident. Senate Bill 1296 will actually require responsible citizens, businesses and local units of government in Illinois to foot the bill for damages caused by those persons who have no insurance or assets. That is why groups like the Illinois Chamber of Commerce have called it one of the most onerous bills considered by the General Assembly this session.

"Senate Bill 1296 is bad public policy and should not be passed into law."
Puiszis refers to a "drunken driver," using an example of the way the trial lawyers' proposed law would apply.

In fact, the "drunken driver" has been used on both sides of the argument, and that's where the convergence occurs.

This was the headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last Friday:
Hancock's Family Sues Shannon's, Others
The story referred to St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock who died in an automobile accident characterized by authorities as a drunk driving incident. Hancock had a blood alcohol content of 0.157, almost twice the legal limit.

Any sudden, unexpected death is tragic and it becomes even more so when it affects so many people, the Cardinal fans, for example, who become members of the family ... members of the "Cardinal Nation."

But we wonder if Josh Hancock's grieving father in Mississippi really intended to blame Justin Tolar of Collinsville, Illinois, for a share in his son's death. Tolar's car had broken down and was the reason a tow truck was present.

Or did he really think that Jacob E. Hargrove, the tow truck driver who stopped to help Tolar, had something to do with his son's death?

Or is it more likely that Josh Hancock's father, Dean Hancock of Tupelo, Mississippi, was encouraged by the St. Louis lawfirm of Newman Bronson & Wallis, who filed the suit in the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit, City of St. Louis, Missouri Circuit Court?

Newman Bronson & Wallis is a prominent St. Louis personal injury trial lawyer firm. Their website introduces them this way:
"We are experienced trial lawyers who are committed to the aggressive and passionate representation of injured victims and their families. We believe that if you or a family member have been injured by the negligence, wrongful act, or fault of someone else, you and your family are entitled to experienced and high quality legal representation."
News media around the U.S. -- and internationally, too -- have been harshly critical of Josh Hancock's family and father for the lawsuit. I had intended to include a few negative -- some outwardly hostile -- reactions but there have been so many that it would take too long to select the best.
But I have a feeling that Josh Hancock's father and family are not to blame.
I'd guess that the decision to sue Mike Shannon's restaurant, the manager of Shannon's restaurant, the driver of the stalled car, the tow truck operator, and whomever else came from the personal injury trial lawyers who wanted to make sure that ever possible defendant was listed before the suit was filed.

According to the lawsuit, Newman Bronson & Wallis is partnered with a Mississippi firm, Clayton O'Donnell Walsh & Davis, also a firm that does personal injury work in a state that has been more hostile to fairness than Missouri, perhaps on a level plain with Illinois.

It's not hard to imagine the Mississippi firm and the Missouri firm (we haven't taken the time (but might) to see if they've worked together before) comparing notes, figuring out WHOM can be sued so that when settlements are finished, WHO has the most money to pay the plaintiff and, of course, the plaintiff's attorneys.

Here are a few questions that come to mind, and should be asked:
Is this lawsuit going to bring Hancock back? Or is it just about the money?

Would they have sued the driver of the broken down car if he was killed in the accident caused by Josh Hancock?

Are they going to sue the person Hancock was talking to on the cellphone at the time of the accident - or is that next?

Are the going to sue the Chicago Cubs players who may have caused him mental anguish in the game Saturday?

Are they going to sue the Cardinals' players who probably knew about his drinking habits but apparently did nothing, or not enough, to help him?
Trial lawyers in Illinois are certain to be watching this case. Some of them need only look across the Mississippi River.

Legislators in Illinois ought to be looking at this case too -- not as one that will have an impact on Illinois law, but as one that reveals the extent to which the trial lawyers in all states -- including Illinois -- will go to search out sources of settlement/award money.

The "drunk driver" scenario that's been portrayed in connection with SB 1296 can happen -- it does happen. The Hancock case -- the accident actually took place in Illinois -- is an example of how the personal injury trial lawyers in Missouri, in Mississippi, and in Illinois, will work to manipulate the system.

Here's The Hancock Lawsuit.

Here's the Steve Puiszis Commentary.

Here's the St. Louis Post Dispatch Story On Hancock Suit.

Cross-posted from the Illinois Justice Blog.

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New State Bird

As our Illinois state representatives and senators return to Springfield this supposedly last week of the spring session, I have a nomination for a new state bird:

The Pigeon

This pigeon was found fat, dumb and happy on top of a building in a Springfield alley, where its cheap photographer was saving a $2 parking fee during the Old Capitol Art Fair earlier this month.

Don’t you think the pigeon is more representative of Illinois that the Cardinal?

See also new state seal.

You can bet there is more at McHenry County Blog.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first commemorated after the Civil War as a way to honor fallen Union soldiers. After World War I it was expanded to honor all men and women who died in a US war or military action. It was originally observed on May 30, but since becoming a federal holiday, is now always observed on the last Monday in May, effectively creating a national three-day weekend.

2007_5_flag_in_wind.jpgFor many, today marks the unofficial start of summer. Along with picnics and the Indianapolis 500, today is also a day to honor those who gave their lives for our country. Most government offices are closed today, as are many businesses. There is no mail today, and if you are the academic type (or have little ones) schools are closed as well. With flags flying at half-staff and politicians giving speeches, there is also a national moment of remembrance, held at 3PM Eastern time.

Chicagoist always feels a little conflicted at this time of year. We remember our grandfather, who fought in World War II, enlisting at the age of 17, and serving through the European occupation. Although he never really spoke of his time in the military, the significance of the American opposition to global fascism and the fight against genocide was impressed upon us at an early age. At the same time, however, we often find ourselves wondering what he really fought for. We'd like to believe that grandpa was a thoughtful man - a fellow disposed to reflection and reason on the experiences he had in his long life. Certainly we get at least a portion of our progressive tendencies from the Bulgarian steelworker and union leader that opposed the Korean War and Vietnam. In fact, we are certain that his silence on his war experiences was more about his desire to not glorify war, rather than some deeper, more traumatic experience.

As we head out to enjoy a day free of the worries of work and filled with friends and sunshine, we are cognizant of the images in the media of American families at tributes and gravestones, mourning the loss of yet more loved ones in recent conflict. We hope that we live to see the day when Memorial Day will truly be just that - a day not just to commemorate fallen countrymen, but also the end of war and conflict. Perhaps one day our grandchildren will look up at as and ask us why there was ever such a thing as war, why there was ever a need to fight and die in the name of one's country.

To comment on this post, please click here.

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Gov: It's your turn, House Democrats

Is a state budget possible by May 31? That’s still a mystery, but the ball may be in the House Speaker Michael Madigan’s court. His Democratic caucus spent nearly three hours meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday evening, but members don’t feel any closer to an agreement than they did last week.

“I’m not as optimistic walking out of caucus as I was walking into caucus,” said Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat. “There’s a large difference between where the governor would like to see this be and where we believe is realistic for us to get. It’s not to say that either one of those positions is wrong, but they are not close to each other.”

Specifically, the governor isn’t budging from his proposal to expand state-subsidized health insurance for adults, but House Democrats are skeptical that the state can or should cover a new demographic when it’s unknown whether lawmakers could approve a revenue source that would support the life of the program. Some members also said the state could take on a smaller health-care expansion by filling in some gaps of Blagojevich’s first-term All Kids program.

“There’s a willingness to do some things in health care, and we may be just a little bit off in terms of that, but I think most the members think the spending is probably too high,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Marlow Colvin of the governor’s Illinois Covered plan. “[The governor] did challenge the Democrats in the House to put a plan on the table that we could support. I will say that’s something we have not yet done, and I guess we have to as House Democrats think about a funding solution that we can all support.”

Discussed as revenue ideas were the closing of “corporate loopholes” (a.k.a. getting rid of some tax breaks) and adding an alternative minimum tax on businesses, which could generate up to $2.4 billion, according to Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat who met with other members of the Latino and Black caucuses in the governor’s office earlier Monday. They talked about ways to raise money for school construction and to increase the minimum amount spent per student.

As we said last week, the governor still opposes an income and sales tax increase that gained early support from the Black and Latino caucus members, but Blagojevich said again Monday night that he supports Senate President Emil Jones’ gaming proposal to add four new casinos in the Chicago area. But neither House Republicans nor some Democrats want four new casinos.

The one thing Blagojevich and House Democrats agree on is that they still want to approve a state budget before May 31 so they don't empower Republicans, who advocate for a no-growth budget. But logistically, a state budget would be hard to craft and approve in three days.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think it looks very good for the adjournment date this Thursday,” Colvin said. “Unless he’s playing a great game of chicken, but right now, it looks unlikely.”

Side note Electricity rates were not discussed.

Legislative roundup
BY DEANESE WILLIAMS-HARRIS
As we start the last week of regular spring session, here’s a legislative roundup of recent floor action.

Teen driving safety
New driving curfews would be set at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends if the governor signs a measure on his desk that was called for by Secretary of State Jesse White. Exemptions would be made for emergency situations and for school or job activities. Teens also would be required to carry a driver’s permit for nine months instead of six months and be restricted to one unrelated passenger in the car. Those caught street racing would be in danger of losing their licenses and their cars. If approved by the governor, the new rules will go into effect next July.

Under a separate measure approved by both chambers, teens younger than 19 wouldn’t be allowed to drive and talk on a cell phone at the same time other than in cases of emergencies. The measure now moves to the governor’s desk.

Horsemeat ban
The governor signed a measure banning slaughter of horses for human consumption in the state. Selling horsemeat for food is illegal in the United States; however, it was shipped and sold overseas for dining. The nation’s last slaughtering plant, which is in DeKalb, will have to close its doors or switch to another farm animal. But lawmakers were considering exceptions to the law as late as the end of May. One measure would allow the slaughtering of horses to make animal feed.

Breast exams
Doctors would have to conduct regular breast exams, and insurance companies would have to pay for them under a measure approved by both chambers. If the governor signs, women between 20 and 39 would receive the required exam every three years. Women older than 40 would receive an exam every year. The exam would have to last six to 10 minutes.

Mortgage fraud
Victims of mortgage fraud and identity theft would have more time to file a complaint against people they accuse of scamming them out of home equity and using their identities. Both chambers approved an earlier version of the measure; however, it’s since changed to make the legislation immediately effective, and scam artists would be on the hook for seven years instead of three. The House must approve the measure before it goes to the governor.

Criminal code
The state’s criminal code would shrink by one-third under a measure approved by the Senate. For the first time in 40 years, redundant and unconstitutional language would be eliminated from the code. If approved by the House and signed by the governor, supporters say the measure would ease the backlog of cases in the state’s judicial system.

Dining with dogs
Dog owners would be able to take their furry friends to outdoor seating areas at restaurants if the governor signs a measure approved by both chambers.

Ban on some ammunition clips
A proposed ban on ammunition clips that shoot off more than 10 rounds won approval by a House committee. Supporters say the ban would ease the emotional and social costs of losing innocent victims of gun violence, while opponents say it would worsen economic loses when gun manufacturers move to other states. The emotional issue has continued to come up in Illinois since a 1994 federal ban on assault weapons and the high-capacity magazine clips expired. Such opponents as the National Rifle Association and downstate lawmakers trying to protect sport say the legislation is too broad and would ban some firearms without stopping plotted crimes like those at Virginia Tech this spring.

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Felony Charges for Fake High School Bomb, for Handing Out Pamphlets

I’m still trying to figure out how proposed punishments fit high school crimes.

Saturday, the Northwest Herald reported that a St. Charles North High School boy was arrested for felony disorderly conduct.

“About 11:30 a.m., a teacher found a box that was ticking and had protruding wires in a courtyard on the south side of the school grounds,” the article reads.

The Kane County bomb squad was called.

Now, that sounds like a felony.

Just as making a bathroom wall threat at Crystal Lake Central High School sounds like a felony, even though three teens at Winnebago High School were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct for making a similar threat.

Handing out pamphlets, even ones you and I might consider hateful ones, does not sound like a felony hate crime. (See comments by Champaign County blogger John Bambenek.)

The girl with the hate crime felony charge will be in court Tuesday.

And, then there is Cary-Grove High School student Allen Lee, whom McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi decided did not merit misdemeanor disorderly conduct prosecution for threatening creative writing class essay that disturbed his teacher.

The Chicago Tribune's Dennis Bryne also weighs in on the subject referencing the ACLU-abetted Nazi march in Skokie.

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Todd Stroger: All but Tony P will be confident?

Tony Peraica comments over at IR on Zorn's column on Peraica's proposed vote of no confidence in Stroger. Zorn wrote

Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica announced Thursday that he will call for a vote of "no confidence" in Board President Todd Stroger at the next board meeting.

The motion makes sense. Stroger's brazen continuation of crony politics has broken faith with those who believed the reform platitudes he issued during his successful campaign against Peraica last fall.

It won't pass, of course. It probably won't even get a second. Cooler heads on the board realize there's no advantage in firing at Stroger now, when he's so capable of repeatedly shooting himself in the foot.
Periaca responded back,
Zorn may be correct that I won't get a second ... and that's a shame, especially from my fellow Republican commissioners. These are the same Republican commissioners, after all, who wouldn't even support my resolution opposing Blagojevich's devastating "Gross Receipts Tax" proposal.

Well, if I have to go it alone again, I'm prepared to do it. But my fellow commissioners better realize their failure to support this resolution clearly shows that they support the failed Stroger administration - rather than the taxpayers and residents they purport to represent.
If the Illinois GOP can't pick up Stroger as poster child of much of what's wrong with Illinois politics, maybe the party should just fold it up now. Is there a way state GOP can excommunicate the GOP county members who can't line up here?

Also, Periaca blogging on the County's contract with Siemens,
Although it's been almost seven years since Siemens Medical Solutions and Faustech pulled a fast one on Cook County officials to get a huge radiology contract, county leaders seem reluctant to get to the bottom of just how they were fooled - or at least reluctant to talk publicly about it.

In fact, it was only after another contractor, GE Medical Systems, sued that the scam came to light.

And, even though two federal judges ruled the contract was a scam and overturned the deal in 2001, Cook County didn't put its inspector general on the case until 2005, just after subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's office began arriving.

Even today, county leaders decline to say what their investigation turned up.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mellisa Bean's "Kerry-esque" War Votes Draw Primary and General Election Opponents with the Same Last Name - Scheurer

Last night as I was listening to reactions to the Defense appropriations bill votes, I sent 2006 8th congressional district candidate for Congress Bill Scheurer an email asking if he had put out a press release.

Come to find out, he and his wife Randi have, complete with snappy new logo for he "Honk for Peace" web site. It follows:

In a series of Kerry-esque moves, IL-8th Congressional District Democratic Incumbent Melissa Bean has now “voted for” the surge in Iraq, after she “voted against” it.

This week, Bean joined a small minority of Democrats, and all but two Republicans, in voting to give the Bush administration another “blank check” for the war -- which includes, and fully funds, the escalation of hostilities -- having previously joined a solid Democratic majority in a symbolic vote opposing this same surge.

In the words of Sue Udry, Legislative Coordinator for the national coalition United for Peace & Justice,

"People have been dismayed to realize that Democrats and Republicans who have opposed the escalation of the number of troops in Iraq will still fund that escalation. Those who have decried the president's mismanagement of the war, are now willing to fund that mismanagement, with absolutely no accountability."
Bean also voted against another Democratic measure earlier this month that called for a binding timetable to end the war and bring our troops home.

This constant capitulation on the war has led the Scheurer family of Lake County to prepare another electoral challenge to Bean in 2008, only this time with a twist.

In 2006, Bill Scheurer ran as the independent Moderate Party candidate in the general election, getting over 5% of the vote and earning that party a guaranteed ballot slot for 2008. He intends to run again as an independent in the November 2008 election.

However, this time, his wife Randi Scheurer, a strong antiwar activist herself and a key force in her husband’s 2006 campaign, plans to run in the Democratic primary.

“I want to give Democratic voters a chance for something better,” she says. “If they are against the war, now they have a candidate to choose instead of the incumbent.”

The couple will spend Saturday May 26, with their Military Families Speak Out group attending the “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit at Grant Park in Chicago. Their son is an Iraq War veteran, and their daughter was a Captain in the U.S. Army.

This stirring, silent memorial displays a pair of combat boots for every American soldier who died in the war, numbering nearly 3,500 sets of boots by now.

Interested people can reach both campaigns at the www.honk4peace.org website.

= = = = =

Honk for Peace demonstrators are seen on Route 31 last fall in McHenry. Photograph supplied by the Bill Scheurer campaign.

Told you there would be stuff of interest on McHenry County Blog this weekend. You can even see what Randi Scheurer looks like.

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Lying Gambling Sponsors

The Sun-Times reports Saturday that Senate President Emil Jones snuck a section in the bill to expand gambling to four new Illinois cities, including Chicago, as I read the article.

Dave McKinney reports,

"it would divert 2 percent of revenues from the four casinos to Chicago State University, potentially handing the school a $40 million windfall that would double its take from the state…

"In committee, Jones initially said Chicago State wasn't in the legislation."
When Senate Republicans pointed him to the specific section, Emil backed down

Boy, does that remind me of the original riverboat gambling bill.

There was Rockford’s State Rep. Zeke Giorgi presenting the bill.

It was night and I had finished my work for Central Management Services and was playing GOP House staffer.

The casino bill arrived. It was a long bill, just like today's 218-page one.

I started reading it.

Before I could finish, the debate began.

State Rep. Margie Parcells took the floor to oppose the bill.

She asked Zeke about the promised $500 betting limit per cruise that was supposed to be in the bill.

As Zeke always did when he wanted to confuse people, he mumbled something about it’s being in the bill.

“Ask him what page,” I suggested to Margie.

She did, as I kept searching for the language.

Neither Zeke nor his staff could come up with a page or a section, but Zeke continued to insist that the $500 limit on losses each time a person went on a riverboat cruise was in the bill.

It wasn’t.

Zeke lied.

Just as Emil Jones lied about Chicago State University’s big payday should this year’s huge expansion of gambling be enacted.

No House Republican voted for the original gambling bill.

Now the GOP has been co-opted, dare I suggest, by campaign contributions from gambling interests.

There is more than one lesson in the how gambling has taken center stage in Illinois politics.

Lie and buy come to mind for starters.

And, of course, there is more at McHenry County Blog this weekend. You can even find out two who are running against Melissa Bean in the primary and the general election.

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"Valid university business" and "The ass that goes pow"

Today's ST on the audit of Chicago State University.

Two ''leadership seminars'' on Caribbean cruises for the university president, just a year apart. Two plane tickets upgraded to first class for an extra $1,500. A $995 meal tab covering $139 worth of alcohol and a 28 percent tip.
[***]
Robyn Wheeler, spokeswoman for the 6,600-student school, refused to answer specific questions about Daniel's travel, the audit, or the $10,000 in family travel perks.

''The substance of the transactions represent valid university business,'' Wheeler said.

And then this gem on Michelle "The ass that goes pow!" L’amour playing the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health's 3rd Annual Spring Affair.

Burlesque joints had a gritty realism that seems lost in a do gooder's venue. This is too fake. Shame on Miss L'amour.

Only in Illinois...

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Ex-School Board Pres Wants Tax Hike

I really had a hard time believing this comment from former Carpentersville School District 300 Board President Mary Fioretti, which I found posted under a letter to the editor from the Huntley teachers union president in the Northwest Herald:

mary fioretti wrote on May 25, 2007 6:35 AM:

" The legislature, as it always does, tears apart a bill to "fit" their desires. So it's a big guess on what they would glean out of HB750. If it's a 2% increase in income tax multiply that by what you make each year. An income tax credit is available in the legislation for certain income levels."
Let’s see.

We have a three percent income tax on individuals right now.

A 2% increase would make the rate 3.06%.

Think that’s what Fioretti really means?

Or might she mean a two-percentage point income tax increase, which would, of course, be almost a 67% increase in income tax.

The comment above was right below this one:
mary fioretti wrote on May 25, 2007 6:33 AM:

"Dave, to your statements. This is not at all difficult to understand. Just like in any profession or owning a home, you have to acquire basic understanding. Don't let people make you crazy it's about the forumula. Look at the dollar portion of your school tax bill. Multiply that by 20% then do another calculation of 25%. That will be your potential abatement. Remember, not everyone owns a home."
Too bad that Fioretti and her allies at Advance 300 don't understand how to do a cost-benefit study. If the state income tax is increased, this area will not be among the "winners."


I know you will find it hard to believe, but there are lots of articles on McHenry County Blog this weekend.

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He spoke!

BY BETHANY CARSON AND DEANESE WILLIAMS-HARRIS
Not about the subpoenas received by his campaign, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich did address the media outside of his Statehouse office about budget negotiations (it's rare, if at all). While the governor said he’s not giving up on his gross receipts tax, the majority of the legislature has. And while he’s accepting gaming as a revenue idea, he’s not accepting a budget without health care.

“Like anything else, if you’re willing to compromise, you’ve got to [accept some] things that you’re really not in love with,” he said in his nearly three minute appearance. “The idea of more gaming is not something that I like, but I’m prepared to accept it if it means every citizen in our state can get access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care.”

He said he and Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and House Speaker Michael Madigan have made progress. They do seem to be in the same page, but they’re not exactly agreeing on vexing details about where new revenue would go. Still, he said they want to adjourn by the May 31 constitutional deadline. “I feel good about the fact that Senate President Jones, House Speaker Madigan and I agreed [with] one another that we’re going to work in good faith and provide our best efforts to try and finish the budget on time, be willing to compromise and make adjustments so we don’t empower the Republican minority and allow [House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson] to cut programs that help people.”

Cross and the House Republicans proposed their own, no-growth budget that doesn't include four new casinos currently being pushed by Democrats. They draw the line at selling 6,000 new positions to existing casinos, a proposal introduced earlier this session. The revenue would be used for a capital program for roads and mass transit, school construction and higher education.

Cross said it’s time for the state to live within its means and use the nearly $1 billion in natural revenue growth to pay compounding state obligations. He proposed fully funding the state pensions out of those funds, eliminating the need to borrow more money. More than $200 million would put into education, and per pupil spending would be raised by $250.

The GOP budget also wouldn't fund $60 million in what Cross called "Democrat pork projects" for the 2008 fiscal year. He couldn't pinpoint the special projects but said some were tacked onto the budget of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

If Senate Democrats had their way, four new casinos would be built around Chicago. Their plan would generate $2.1 billion in the first year and $1.4 billion each year after. Early childhood education, road and school construction projects, depressed areas needing economic development and a fund for horseracing workers would get the money, although the language is fluid and expected to change. An item to give $40 million to Chicago State University, for instance, didn’t bode well with Republicans, and even Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein of Chicago suggested divvying the money to all state universities. Chicago State University has close ties to the Senate president, whom it calls a “patron saint” (scroll down to the last line of the document).

Right before they left town for the weekend, the Senate easily approved the authority to distribute $1.2 billion, part of which will enact the delayed second year of a federal program that reimburses hospitals for caring for Medicaid patients (we wrote about it in our April 26 blog). The extra spending also will give money to families of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

Both chambers will return for session Monday afternoon.

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AP: Senate Democrats advance massive gambling expansion proposal

The AP:

Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with a massive gambling expansion proposal that they acknowledge is a work in progress toward a budget agreement.

A Senate committee today voted 8 to 5 along partisan lines for the plan designed to raise two billion dollars next year.

It would authorize four new casinos, including a 4,000 slot land-based casino in Chicago, and allow all casinos to have at least 2,000 slots.
I thought this was Topinka's plan.
Republican governor candidate Judy Baar Topinka unveiled a four-year revenue plan for the state Wednesday that hinges upon the controversial creation of a land-based Chicago casino to help raise billions of dollars for public schools and property-tax relief.

After criticizing Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for "four years of gimmicks" to manage the state budget, Topinka turned to the politically volatile issue of gambling to anchor what she called her $15 billion "budget recovery plan."

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Going after the big guys

Customers would get a rebate and pay cheaper electricity rates under a proposal approved along party lines in a House Committee late Thursday night. A $2 billion tax on power generators would allow utilities to start doling out reimbursements in January, a full year after most Illinois customers were hit with higher utility bills. Last January, a decade-long rate freeze was lifted. Under the measure, electricity rates would be rolled back and frozen at their 1997 levels for one year.

The major power companies subject to the tax — mainlny Exelon Generation, Ameren Generation, Midwest Generation, Dynegy and Dominion — predictably opposed the idea and threatened financial disaster. They also said Thursday night that the tax would be passed on to consumers (they would be taxed on their capacity for producing electricity, not on the actual amount of electricity they produced).

“Are you trying to run out … profitable business in Illinois?” asked Rep. Dave Winters, a Shirland Republican. “Because that’s what the message of this bill is, is you’re trying to destroy jobs, destroy industry that needs electricity. And believe me, if this goes through, you might as well shut the doors, blow up the bridges because nobody’s going to want to live in Illinois if there’s no power available. And this will do it.” He pointed out that the measure has no sunset, and his Republican peers on the committee didn’t like that the measure fails to specify what the state could do with the revenue once customers received their rebates.

The House sponsor, Democratic Rep. George Scully of Flossmoor, said he knows this would only yield a short-term solution, but it would buy time for lawmakers to come up with a longer-term idea for procuring power (read: getting rid of the Illinois Commerce Commission’s auction process that set electricity prices for distribution companies this year). Scully said, again, he doesn’t believe the power companies’ threats. “The hyperbole that the sky was going to fall that I heard tonight was over the top. The only thing that didn’t really disturb me is I’ve heard the same thing so many times before. That’s the exact same rhetoric. I don’t believe it this time. I didn’t believe the last time.”

Other changes in the measure include prohibiting utilities from shutting off power until March 2008, and condominiums would be charged residential rates rather than commercial rates they’ve been paying since January. Scully said he could call the bill today, Friday, but he hasn’t talked to anyone in the Senate about whether it has a chance in that chamber. The Citizens Utility Board executive director, David Kolata, said one good sign is that Sen. James Clayborne, a Bellville Democrat, first proposed a similar idea in his chamber. (Clayborne later said he sponsored the bill to tax power generators as a way to get them to the bargaining table, not because he thought it would solve any problems.) It’s also the chamber that hijacked Sen. Gary Forby’s original proposal to freeze rates for the Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison utilities. Only Ameren was left in the one-year rate freeze measure approved by the Senate.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Michael Madigan surveyed his members about offering property tax relief for Cook County residents and about which income-tax breaks they’d end for businesses. Members received a list of some 20 “corporate loophole” ideas they would close to raise revenue. Next to the possibilities were the names of groups that would be against it.

We’ll blog again later today about legislative action, including whether the Senate acts on the governor’s Illinois Covered insurance program and the gaming proposal that we talked about yesterday that would create up to four new casinos in the Chicago area.

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An Unnamed Public Official

Chicagoist woke up to the headline "Feds subpoena governor's campaign fund records" in the Tribune. Oh no, we thought, this can't be good for ol' G-Rod. For a governor that has seen friends indicted, had a public feud with his father in-law that has resulted in charges of gross misconduct and confirmation by prosecutors that they are looking close and hard at very real accusations of wrong doing, this news certainly can't bode well.

At the heart of the subpoenas is the question of whether or not top aides and advisors traded state business and jobs for political support, part of an investigation US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has been conducting for over a year now. While Blagojevich has not been directly accused of any wrongdoing, he has refused to answer questions regarding the ongoing investigation, often deflecting the constant questions that seem follow him around with a blanket "we do things right."

On top of the subpoenas for campaign records, federal prosecutors have also subpoenaed hiring records, looking hard at charges of "pay-to-play" that surfaced early in Blago's first term. With his already crippled budget proposal being publicly ripped, and his poll numbers in the toilet, we have to wonder what Blago is thinking right now. What's left of his administration has become fodder for cocktail hour jokes and speculation ("If Obama wins the presidency, who does Blaogjevich pick to replace him?") With Tony Rezko already under indictment, and state hiring practices under intense scrutiny, all that's left is for Fitz to connect the dots and follow the lines to the top. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about all the indictments and investigations of late is seeing these pols go donw not for money, but for power. .

It's been said that even if you are acquitted, being put on trial in federal court usually means you did something wrong; the only issue is whether or not they can make the charges stick. About the only irony left in this state is the fact that it took a corrupt president, hell-bent on erasing the 22 electoral votes of a generally blue state, to put a dent in the crooked politics of a midwestern prairie state that was all but built on back-room deals. Let's hope that each step the feds take closer to a pol in Chicago, they get closer to the truth. We imagine that Daley's sweating a little harder on the fifth floor right now.

To comment on this post, please click here.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Blagojevich signs anti-horse slaughter bill

On the day I called him "Gov. Do Nothing," Illinois' reclusive governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, did something. He signed a bill banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

That effectively ends horse-slaughtering in the United States. Belgian firm Cavel operated a horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb, Illinois, the last such meat processing plant in the country. Two Texas slaughterhouses closed earlier this year.

The meat from those plants was shipped overseas.

It's hard to believe, but one of my most active posts on Marathon Pundit was my first horse slaughter entry.

To comment on this or other Marathon Pundit posts, please click here.

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Periaca in the Kitchen

I'm a convert. Tony P. doesn't need to convince me of a thing. What I love about this is he broadcasts from his kitchen.

All from Join Periaca dot com.

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Tony Peraica: Stroger's 'Friends and Family' Hiring Plan

It's got a nice beat and easy to dance too. Just sad it's so true.

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Pam Althoff on ERA

Pam Althoff 's ERA Answer

An opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, which Democrats are still trying to pass even though the deadline has long since passed, wrote McHenry County Republican State Senator Pam Althoff.

Here’s Althoff’s answer:
Thank you for contacting my office regarding the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA as it is commonly referenced. I always appreciate hearing comments and concerns from my constituents.

ERA proposals have been circulating in the state of Illinois since, well, since I was in college back in 1972. Since that time misinformation, misconceptions and untruths have become the accepted “norm”. According to some of the finest legal minds in the nation ERA alone would not legalize same sex marriage, require women to register for the Selective Service or cause many of the other untruths that have come to be associated with it. Additionally, the ERA will not cause a wife or widow to lose their social security benefits. Existing federal law prohibits this possibility.

While I understand your concerns I respectfully request you continue to research the ERA proposal and its implications.

If you have any other questions, or need further guidance as to where to turn to obtain more information, please do not hesitate to call my office at 815/455-6330 or email at palthoff@mc.net.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this important issue.

Warm regards,

Senator Pamela J. Althoff
Back in the 1970’s I read the equal rights language in the Illinois State Constitution and compared it with the words in the federal Equal Rights Amendment. I could not see a substantive difference.

I sent a survey to every registered household in my five-county legislative district about ERA. A majority supported it, leading to my “Yes” vote.

Subsequently, I figured out that there was an implementation clause. It says that Federal judges will interpret the constitutional amendment.

With my distrust of the federal government, including the judicial system, I have no idea how I could have missed this “little” thing.

I would respectfully suggest that neither Senator Althoff nor I really have any idea what rulings federal judges will rule should the Equal Rights Amendment be ratified and become part of the United States Constitution.

We surely know some state judges have handed down some really flaky rulings, e.g., forcing homosexual and lesbian “marriage” in Massachusetts.

More at McHenry County Blog, even on Memorial Day Weekend.

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New boats?

While House Speaker Michael Madigan has said he would consider expanding gaming to generate money for road and school construction, the Senate is working on two significant gaming measures potentially for education, construction projects and health care. Sen. James Clayborne, a Belleville Democrat, says he’s in negotiations to draft legislation that could create three or four new casinos in the Chicago area, although he didn’t know whether they would be land-based or riverboats. “I think that we should look long-term to make the industry competitive, and we should consider all options,” he said Thursday morning. “So that’s still being worked out.”

Clayborne also said negotiations include discussion about such ways to help racetracks remain competitive by allowing slot machines or charging boats “impact fees” that would offset some racetrack losses.

His proposals resemble a measure introduced by Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, that also would create four new casinos and add slot machines at racetracks. But Madigan announced Wednesday that the House would need Republican support to approve an expansion of gaming, which is significant because the chamber’s Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said again Thursday he doesn’t want to add new casinos. At the start of this session, he led House Republicans in proposing a $5 billion capital plan ($3 billion for roads and mass transit, $1.5 billion for schools and $500 million for higher education) paid for by allowing existing casinos to add gambling positions.

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. wouldn’t say, however, how he felt about new casinos when he walked out of budget negotiations in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office today. All he said was, “I’ve been here long enough to know that nothing’s ever dead,” referring to the governor’s gross receipts tax. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rauch said the governor is willing to consider gaming as a way to help advance his priorities: health care, education and making businesses pay “their fair share.”

Meanwhile, Clayborne also is revising a second measure that would exempt all Illinois casinos from the statewide smoking ban for five years. He recently tried to exempt only casinos operating near state borders as a way to help East St. Louis. He said the city estimates it would lose $2 million in revenue because people wouldn’t be able to smoke in its casinos. He expanded the scope to heighten the chance of his measure winning approval. “We’re looking to exempt all the boats because obviously we need the support of those legislators from [districts with casinos].”

Success in taming gang violence?
BY DEANESE WILLIAMS-HARRIS
A program aimed at decreasing gang violence is working wonders in some areas of the state but not others. State legislators discussed potential problems hindering the success of the CeaseFire project during a House committee Thursday. Under the program, ex-offenders and community activists are deployed into communities to mediate problems that may lead to gang violence.

Rep. Annazette Collins cited workers not getting paid on time and some getting fired in her district representing the East and West Garfield neighborhoods of Chicago. Program director Dr. Gary Slutkin has yet to look into those allegations, he said. Rep. La Shawn Ford said outreach workers in the Chicago Austin neighborhood don’t have a chance to work with probation and parole officers to help other ex-offenders stay out of prison.

Other lawmakers were very pleased with the difference the program has made in their districts. Rep. Robert Flider, a Mount Zion Democrat, spoke highly of the project and the work of outreach worker Brandy Brown, who turned her life around as an ex-offender. She works with school principals, church pastors, social agencies, probation officers and law enforcement to create strategies to prevent gang violence in Decatur. “I walk the streets from 7 a.m. to midnight helping ex-offenders, gang members and children stay out of jail,” she said.

A few legislators asked to work with the director to assimilate some of the things that are being done in Flider’s district. Rep. Esther Golar, who represents Chicago’s Englewood area, was interested in some of the Decatur strategies as she described recent gang violence as being “explosive.”

Statewide, the program since 2004 has mediated more than 900 gang conflicts and saved between $100 to $200 million that would have been spent on medical care for shooting victims and on incarcerating offenders.

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