Sunday, September 30, 2012

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Poll: Voters say Illinois is corrupt and heading in wrong direction

By Jamey Dunn

According to a new poll, the majority of registered voters in Illinois are unhappy with the direction the state is going, and most surveyed said Illinois is more corrupt than other states.

Respondents to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s annual poll had a rather low opinion of the state. Almost 70 percent said that they thought the state was headed “in the wrong direction,” and 58 percent said that Illinois is more corrupt than other states. More than 75 percent of respondents said that corruption is widespread in the state. Illinois voters also pointed the finger at business. About 62 percent said that they believed that corruption is widespread in Illinois business. Between September 4 and September 10, 1,261 registered voters across the state were surveyed for the institute’s poll. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 2.77 percentage points.

Charles Leonard, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the negative views of the state’s institution are damaging not only to government but also to the private sector. “That just can’t be good for policy or the economy.” More respondents said that Illinois was on a negative trajectory than said that the country was on the wrong path. Still, almost half of respondents said they thought the country is headed in the wrong direction. Leonard said this response is not typical. He said that often in polls, respondents say that their home state is doing at least a little better than the country as a whole.

 Illinois has gotten a bad rap in all of the institute’s recent polls. Since 2008, fewer than one in five voters said that the state was heading in the right direction.

People were more positive about their own towns or areas of the state. About 54 percent of respondents said that things were headed in the right direction in their city or area of the state. More than 80 percent of respondents rated their own quality of life as average or better, and nearly half said that their quality of life was “good” or “excellent.”

While social issues have become political lightning rods during the presidential campaign, this poll indicates that Illinois voters lean to the left. The majority of respondents favor some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, and 43.6 percent supported same-sex marriage. The last time the institute asked the question was in 2010, when 33.6 percent of respondents said they backed same-sex marriage. In the poll released today, about 20 percent said they opposed any legal recognition for same sex relationships. More than 80 percent said abortions should be legal either under all circumstances or under some circumstances, and almost 16 percent said it should be illegal under all circumstances.

Respondents favored several ethics measures. Almost eight in 10 favored term limits for lawmakers. About 78 percent favored limiting the amount of time a lawmaker can serve in leadership roles, such as speaker of the House and president of the Senate. More than 60 percent supported limits on the amount of campaign cash that party leaders can give to candidates.

More than half of respondents said they were “strongly opposed” the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened to door for so-called Super PACs to spend unlimited funds anonymously. However, most respondents were skeptical about the ability of campaign contribution limits to curb corruption and agreed that “money always finds a way to influence politics.” They instead favored the “complete immediate disclosure of all contributions.”

Those surveyed supported more personal disclosure from candidates as well. The majority said it was “very important to know” whether a candidate for the General Assembly is a lobbyist or is related to a lobbyist, is part of an organization that receives funds from the state or has business interests that could benefit from public policy decisions. Almost 70 percent backed a one-year waiting period for former lawmakers before they could become lobbyists.

Leonard said that more drastic ethics measures, such as term limits are unlikely. “It’s probably not realistic that the leaderships would allow the legislature to impose these on itself.” However, he said more disclosure of elected officials' personal finances and businesses interests could go a long way toward repairing the state’s reputation. “It’s my contention that some of these ethical reforms, the legislature could impose on itself relatively painlessly.”

He asked: “Why not say: ‘Hey we heard you. We’re honest. These things won’t hurt us. We aren’t scared.’?”


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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

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Monday, September 24, 2012

New statistics show poverty continues to grow in Illinois

By Jamey Dunn

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that poverty continued to grow in Illinois in 2011.

According to estimates from the census bureau’s American Community Survey, about 1.9 million Illinoisans were living in poverty in 2011. That compares with about 1.7 million living below the poverty line in 2010. Last year, the census bureau considered a family of three with a household income of $17,916 or less to be living in poverty; in 2010 it was $17,374 for three people. In 2011, 15 percent of Illinois residents were living in poverty, which is a jump from 13.8 percent in 2010. The numbers from the census bureau are the most current comprehensive statistics available on poverty. For more on 2010 poverty numbers, see this Illinois Issues Blog post. 

According to the bureau's findings, the median household income in the state has been slipping during the last three years for which figures are available. In 2011, it was $53,234, down from $58,743 in 2008.

Nationally, the poverty rate held relatively steady. It was 15.3 percent in 2010 and increased slightly to 15.9 percent in 2011. About 48.5 million Americans were living in poverty last year.

Of those living in poverty in Illinois last year, 648,592 were children. In 2011, the child poverty rate was 21 percent. That was a significant jump from 2010, when 590,949 children were living in poverty and the rate was 19.4 percent. One out of four children under the age of 5 was living in poverty last year.

“These near-unprecedented poverty levels are not simply the result of the recession and a sluggish recovery. Poverty was on the rise before the recession began as broader shifts in wages, job quality, workforce preparation, inequality and harmful cuts to the safety net disproportionately impacted people at the lower end of the income spectrum,” Amy Rynell, director of the Social IMPACT Research Center at the Heartland Alliance, said of the new poverty stats.

The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty, which includes members of the Heartland Alliance, set the goal of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015, but the new statistics show that the state is losing ground. Extreme poverty is defined as an income that is less than half of the federal poverty level. Almost 100,000 more Illinoisans were living in extreme poverty in 2011 than in 2010. Nationwide, 21.4 million people lived in extreme poverty in 2011.The commission suggests that the state tackle extreme poverty through a series of policy changes, including increasing housing subsidies, increasing the number of families who receive welfare support and increasing access to community college scholarships.


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Sunday, September 23, 2012

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

State council considers required insurance benefits

By Jamey Dunn 

Illinois officials are weighing choices that could determine the future of the insurance market in the state for the near future.

As part of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, Gov. Pat Quinn’s Health Care Reform Implementation Council is working to determine a benchmark for benefits that insurance companies must offer to individuals and small businesses in Illinois. “The benchmark will have an impact on insurance that’s sold both on and off the [online insurance] exchange,” Coleen Burns, special council for health policy for the Illinois Department of Insurance, said at a meeting of the council today.

The council will recommend one plan that will set the standard for benefits offered in 10 service categories, such as prescription drugs, maternity care and laboratory services. These basic required offerings are known as essential health benefits.

The council can choose between several existing plans, such as the three largest state employee health plans or the three largest group plans in the state. Once the council picks one plan to use as a model, other insurers must offer benefits under the 10 categories that are equal to the value of benefits offered in the plan. Illinois must pick a plan as is and cannot add on or subtract benefits. The standards set by the council will kick in in 2014 and last until 2016, when the federal government plans to reassess the required essential benefits.

 Burns said the choice will set a floor for required benefits, but insurance companies can offer more generous plans. “A[n insurance] carrier is at liberty to sell a bronze plan, a silver plan and a platinum plan, but all three plans must meet the benchmark.”

The council is taking public comment and suggestions through September 19, and Quinn must make a recommendation to the federal government by September 30. If the state does not choose a benchmark plan, the feds will choose one for it.

Council members have to weigh several areas of interest when considering what essential benefit requirement to recommend. Members of the committee said they hope to ensure that there are strong benefit levels for mental health and substance abuse treatment, which are two areas they say are often inadequately covered by insurance. “It truly signals that there is greater acceptance and understanding that the treatment of mental health disorders and substance abuse must be a priority,” said Lorrie Rickman Jones, director of the Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health.

Russell Welcherd from Quincy asked that the council pay close attention to the benefits related to treating chronic disease. Welcherd has a genetic disorder that causes emphysema. He receives weekly treatments for his illness. “If a health insurance policy that discourages the proper treatment is imposed, people like me will ultimately suffer.” Welcherd said that without his treatment he would have to make frequent emergency room visits and be placed on oxygen therapy.

Larry Barry, president of the Illinois life Insurance Council, warned Quinn's council members that requiring plans to have overly generous benefits could make the insurance too pricey for many individuals and small businesses. “Now you’ve got a wonderful product, but it’s one that no one can afford.” He also asked state officials to make their decisions in a timely manner and let insurers know what is expected of them, so they can change their offerings accordingly. “We, as the sellers of this product, aren’t going to be able to wait until the last minute.”

For more on the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, see the current Illinois Issues.

To submit a comment to the implementation council, go to


Presidential coattails less of a factor in state legislative races

 By Jamey Dunn

While the presidential election has captured the nation’s attention, Illinois political scientists say that the shifting regional demographics and the state’s new electoral maps will have a much larger impact on down-ticket legislative races in Illinois than the candidates at the top of the ballot.

“[President Barack] Obama will carry Illinois comfortably,” said John Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at the Southern Illinois University. The president won the state with about 62 percent of the vote in 2008. Recent polling suggests that his popularity in Illinois has slipped since but still shows him leading Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a strong margin.

Even many Illinois Republicans admit that it is likely Obama will win his home state in the upcoming general election. "Let's face it: If Mitt Romney would win Illinois, he'd win by a biblical landslide nationwide. But I think Mitt Romney is going to run much better in Illinois than John McCain ran because I don't think Barack Obama is going to do that well in Illinois," former Gov. Jim Edgar told reporters at the Republican National Convention. Edgar said unpopular Democratic leaders such as Obama and Gov. Pat Quinn do not seem to be assets for Illinois Democrats running for state legislative seats.

“Where Obama’s numbers are not good downstate, and where Quinn’s numbers are not good, the Democrats are going to try to make the elections as local as possible,” said Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. “You’re going to see Democrats downstate running away from the national ticket, away from Gov. Quinn.”

In 2008, Obama carried 30 counties that previous Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Al Gore lost. Jackson — who looked at the 2008 results in his 2009 paper entitled, "The Anatomy of President Barack Obama’s General Election Victory in Illinois" — said it is likely that Obama will lose some of that ground this time around. He said an Obama win would likely look more like Quinn’s 2010 gubernatorial victory, with the president taking Democratic strongholds, such as Cook County and other northern counties. Jackson said Obama would also likely pick up a few downstate Democratic-leaning counties, such St. Clair County in the Metro East area near St. Louis.

Republicans predict a similar outcome. “I think you’re going to see a different election in Illinois, and I think you’re going to see a pretty good showing by Romney. Look, [Obama] is going to do very well in the city. We know that. But I don’t think you’re going to see the type of results in the collar counties and downstate that you saw the last time,” Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross said earlier this summer. However, Jackson said that Romney is unlikely to give other Republican candidates much of a boost, either. “I think symbolically, the Republicans will run with Romney. I am not sure he will make that much difference.” Jackson said Illinois Democrats are in danger of their base not feeling pressured to get to the polls because they feel that Obama will have no trouble winning the state. “The Democrats need to guard against that. The need to work pretty hard, not because of Obama but because of the other races [on the ticket].”

Jackson said that the so-called coattail effect of a presidential race is often overestimated in the lead up to the election. “The president rarely has much by way of coattails. I don’t expect strong coattails except on the issue of get-out-the vote drives.” In his 2009 paper, Jackson wrote that Republican might have overestimated the power of Obama’s coattails in 2008. “The Republicans especially fretted publicly over a potential ‘coattail’ effect from the Obama campaign harming the down-ballot Republican candidates’ races. There were predictions of further Republican losses in the Illinois congressional delegation and in the Illinois House and Senate because of the feared Obama electoral tide. Most of that fear proved to be unfounded or at least exaggerated in the end.”

Redfield said that the new legislative districts, which were drawn by Democrats, and changes in demographics will play a much larger role in state legislative races. However, he pointed out that the general election is still a ways off, and the presidential race could end up being more of a factor than expected. “Clearly, we don’t know what things are going to look like two months from now,” he said. “If it’s highly competitive, or even if Romney is pulling ahead [nationally], that’s going to generate enthusiasm.”

 Redfield said Democrats drew districts with an eye toward protecting the downstate incumbents while carving out new districts in the suburbs. “I think the map is defensive downstate and aggressive in the suburbs.” He added: “You could end up with a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate with a smaller percentage of downstate members in the caucus. In fact, I think that’s likely that there will be fewer downstate Democrats after this race.” Redfield said downstate Democrats face tough races, and when they do leave their seats, be it through losses at the polls or retirement, voters would likely replace some of them with Republicans. “Downstate is a problem for Democrats. I mean, there’s absolutely no questions about that.”

He said the potential for fewer downstate Democrats and fewer suburban Republicans could lead to more regional conflicts in the future. “Any time Chicago and the suburbs agree on an issue, downstate [would be] in trouble.”

Jackson said his biggest concern about the results of the presidential election is whether the winner can be effective. If Obama wins, he faces the possibility of pitching his policy ideas to a Republican majority in the U.S. House and maybe a Republican-controlled Senate. Jackson predicts that the national struggle for control of the U.S. Senate will be a nail biter. “I think that is the question. I think it’s so close in so many of the races it kind of depends on who’s got the best ground game.” If Romney wins, he could face a Democrat-controlled Senate. Or if Republicans gain a slim majority in the Senate, they may get a taste of their own medicine if Democrats use the same procedural moves that Republicans have during Obama’s first term to freeze big votes in the chamber.

Jackson says he is “cautiously pessimistic” about the potential for either candidate to achieve much in the way of policy changes after he is sworn in. “I’m looking for gridlock being the most likely outcome again.”


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

"The Unions Own Us" Starring: The Insiders

Above: John Sullivan, John Spring, The Dick and a couple union dudes, one of which is now the chairman of the Adams County Democrat Party

Check here to see how much Sullivan gets from the unions both public and private. It will help explain why Illinois will never see any meaningful pension reform as long as Sullivan and his Chicago Democrat insider pals are in charge.


For the few of you who still read the QHW, remember this

You can expect to see very favorable coverage of John Sullivan from the local dead tree media (see top right column above list of host committee for Sullivan fundraiser featuring outsider John Cullerton ).

Above: Insiders Gov Quinn, John Spring and John Sullivan unveil highway named after local newspaper publisher


Spring and the boys prefer insiders

"I'm disappointed to see Randy Frese bringing in outsiders and failed Cook County politicians to Quincy today ... (more here)


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Saturday, September 08, 2012

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Friday, September 07, 2012

Canada and U.S. renew pact to protect Great Lakes

Asian carp found near Lake Michigan in 2010
By Jamey Dunn

The United States and Canada have signed a renewed agreement to protect the Great Lakes. The new version of the pact, which was updated today for the first time in 25 years, focuses on prevention and addresses new subjects, such as invasive species.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the goal of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters.” The agreement was first signed in 1972 and updated in 1987. “Joint stewardship of the Great Lakes — a treasured natural resource, a critical source of drinking water, essential to transportation, and the foundation for billions of dollars in trade, agriculture, recreation and other sectors — is a cornerstone of the Canada-United States relationship,” Canada’s Minister of the Environment Peter Kent said in a prepared statement. “The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports our shared responsibility to restore and protect this critical resource and builds on 40 years of binational success.”

The agreement focuses on areas that were not subjects of the previous pact, including invasive species, habitat protection and climate change. The deal sets timelines for several goals, including plans to reduce phosphorus, a chemical that is often associated with runoff from agriculture and lawn maintenance, in Lake Erie to combat algae growth. Under the plan, projections will be created to assess the potential effects of climate change on the Great Lakes. The agreement also calls for the development of a plan to quickly identify and respond to the threat of invasive species.

Fears over a mass invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes have sparked debate and litigation among Illinois and its neighboring states. Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 to close Chicago’s navigational locks in an effort to stop the spread of the species. Those in favor of closing the locks say that the fish could do irreparable damage to lake ecosystems as well as the fishing and tourism industries. Opponents said that closing the locks would put an unnecessary burden on shipping and could cause flooding and sanitation concerns.

A recent search for Asian carp DNA conducted by the state of Wisconsin in Lake Michigan turned up no evidence of the fish. A search of Lake Erie by the Ohio and Michigan natural resources departments and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not turn up any Asian carp either, but carp DNA has been found in the lake before.

“I’m pleased that after 25 years, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is being updated to better reflect our scientific understanding and focus resources on the most pressing threats to this natural treasure,” Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force along with Illinois Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, said in a prepared statement. “With its emphasis on prevention of environmental damage, the agreement reflects a more cost-effective use of resources, as preventing damage is generally less costly than cleaning up ruined ecosystems. I am also pleased the agreement focuses on invasive species which are a continuing threat.”

Kirk echoed Levin’s support of updating the agreement to include new concerns while continuing to focus on threats the lakes have faced for years, such as chemical pollution. “I am fully committed to preventing toxic chemicals from poisoning our food supply and invasive species from damaging our ecosystem.”


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Thursday, September 06, 2012

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Judge issues order halting prison closures

An Alexander County judge has issued a restraining order to block Gov. Pat Quinn’s plans to close several state corrections facilities.

 According to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, Judge Charles Cavaness issued the order today in Alexander County Circuit Court.

Quinn had intended to shutter a super-maximum-security prison near Tamms, a women’s prison in Dwight, adult transition centers in Decatur, Carbondale and Chicago and youth prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro, but AFSCME sued to block the closures. The union argued that moving prisoners to other overcrowded facilities would create unsafe working conditions for its members. In his order, Cavaness wrote that the closures "have the potential to make the prisons that remain more dangerous for employees."

An arbitrator ruled Friday that the closures violate the union's contract with the state and ordered Quinn and AFSCME to resolve the issue through ongoing contract negotiations.

Last month, Quinn temporarily stopped layoffs and the transfer of inmates, saying he would hold off on implementing his plan while legal proceedings played out. However, Kelly Kraft, a Quinn spokeswoman, said the administration is not backing down from the closure plan. “We are examining options.” She said Quinn hopes to resolve the matter quickly.


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Monday, September 03, 2012

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