Thursday, October 25, 2007

Unlucky sevens

Former Gov. George Ryan could go to federal prison within seven days — correction: by November 7 — pursuant to a decision by the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Thursday, the full court affirmed that Ryan would not receive a retrial for his federal corruption conviction last April. Ryan requested the full panel of judges review an August ruling by a three-judge panel that determined he should not receive another trial. According to Thursday’s court order, even the three dissenting judges wrote that they agreed “the evidence of the defendants’ guilt was overwhelming.” But they disagreed over whether the management of the jury during the six-month trial harmed the case.

Ryan and his friend, Chicago businessman Larry Warner, were found guilty of using public office for private gain during Ryan’s years as secretary of state (1991 to 1999) and as governor (1999 to 2003). The Kankakee Republican has remained free during the appeals process and could ask to remain free if he takes his case to the last resort: the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back to the Capitol in 7
The Illinois House could vote on controversial mass transit funding just two days before threatened service cuts and fare increases.

Members will return to Springfield to conduct business one week from today. This comes after House Minority Leader Tom Cross met with House Speaker Michael Madigan in Chicago Wednesday to discuss ways to save mass transit from financial turmoil. But the leaders aren’t necessarily on the same page about whether a mass transit plan should rely on revenue from increased taxes, expanded gaming, other sources or all of the above.

The minority leader still prefers alternatives to tax increases. “Tom Cross and a majority of our caucus does not feel that now is the time to be increasing taxes on people, especially in light of what is being proposed by the Cook County board president and the mayor of Chicago,” said David Dring, Cross’ spokesman.

Alternatives include allowing a Chicago casino and the expansion of positions at existing casinos to help mass transit and to pay for a major capital construction plan. Dring said Cross also proposed diverting $300 million of the revenue from the state sales tax on gasoline to aid mass transit, and he’s proposing a menu of items to replace that money, such as increasing fees on auto titles and raising transit fares by 10 percent to 15 percent. “That is something we just thought about because that would be less money you would have to take from the sales tax on gas,” Dring said, adding a 15 percent fare increase would be “much more modest” than the fare increases planned by the Regional Transportation Authority if the agency doesn’t receive long-term state help by November 4.

Madigan, on the other hand, “did not seem to warm up to our idea of the sales tax on gas,” Dring said.

The speaker is open to a Chicago casino to pay for a road and school construction projects but only under certain circumstances, such as whether the revenue would stay in Chicago or be divvyed up all over the state, said Madigan spokesman, Steve Brown. However, the speaker still doesn’t want to rely on gaming legislation to save mass transit. “He has said that he doesn’t plan to hold transit riders hostage to the casino interests or the gambling interests,” Brown said.

In fact, Madigan still plans to push for a plan that would include a small sales tax increase in Chicago for the sake of mass transit. Lawmakers could vote for a second time on that measure next week. It previously fell short of the necessary votes in September.

Lawmakers were told to be prepared to work at the Capitol Thursday, November 1, Friday, November 2 and potentially Monday, November 5. And the governor repeated his statement Wednesday that he would call the General Assembly into another special session in mid-December to address the so-called 7 percent solution to Chicago-area property taxes. See the background here.

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