Thursday, May 10, 2007

Zip, zero, zilch

By Deanese Williams-Harris
Not a single representative voted to support Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed gross receipts tax, the crux of his spending plans for next year. Signs saying, “No means no, Governor,” were taped to the desks as the House voted on a nonbinding resolution asking whether members were for or against the tax plan. Zero voted in support, 107 voted against and seven voted present.

A silent observer was Sen. James Meeks, the Chicago Democrat co-sponsoring an alternative tax plan, HB 750, with Rep. David Miller, a Lynwood Democrat. It would swap higher income taxes and sales taxes for lower property taxes. Miller said the vote was a sign that members are willing to look at a different revenue source to fund education and to meet the state’s current obligations. “The GRT concept has been defeated today,” he said. “We need to look at an alternative plan, and I believe that plan is 750.”

As Blagojevich said Thursday, however, he would veto any increase in income or sales taxes as called for in 750. Miller didn’t seem too concerned because he said lawmakers could override the governor’s veto if they gained enough votes.

Before the House took the vote, Blagojevich issued a statement urging them to vote against the GRT resolution. “Considering that this meaningful dialogue was initiated just 24 hours ago, it would be premature to conclude the discussion today and ask members to make a decision before they have an opportunity to get answers to their questions and offer their ideas,” Blagojevich said. “So we are asking all members to vote ‘no’ to send a clear message that this issue is too important for a rush to judgment on a non-binding resolution.”

Abby Ottenhoff, a governor’s spokeswoman, said she wasn’t surprised by today’s outcome. “It isn’t a true reflection of what the long-term outcome will be,” she said. Regarding the questions House members asked during Wednesday’s special committee on the GRT, Ottenhoff said the governor’s office expects to have written answers ready in a few days.

Feds tag another kickback
By Bethany Carson
Former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak was indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly scheming with one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointees, Chicago businessman Stuart Levine. The two allegedly worked in “behind-the-scenes manipulation” to pad their own pockets at the expense of the Chicago Medical School, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office.

Levine already pleaded guilty last fall and is working with the feds in an ongoing investigation called “Operation Board Games.” The governor’s chief fund-raiser, Tony Rezko, also was indicted and pleaded not guilty in the same investigation. You can read more in my October 2006 blogs and about Operation Board Games here.

Vrdolyak’s indictment says he worked with Levine between 2002 and 2006 to steer a contract involving property owned by the Chicago Medical School, where Levine sat on the board of trustees. The alleged scheme was that Vrdolyak, an attorney, would solicit a certain Chicago real estate company, Smithfield Properties Development, to turn the medical school’s property into condominiums. And Levine would use his political influence on the medical school board to ensure the job was given to Smithfield. The deal would result in a $1.5 million payment to Vrdolyak once the condos were finished, and Vrdolyak would give a chunk to Levine. They never got their money, the prosecutor’s office says, because the condos aren’t finished and the investigation got in the way.

If convicted, Vrdolyak would face a maximum 20 years in prison for each count of mail fraud and wire fraud and another 10 years for one count of bribery. He was charged with four counts total. He’ll be arraigned in Chicago at a later date.

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