Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Juvenile justice reform

Steven Guerra, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for social services, helped kick off the first conference of its kind in Illinois Wednesday morning in Springfield. He spoke at the 1st Annual Collaborative Juvenile Justice Conference, where he said juvenile justice is a “life and death” situation for him, that he was one of the “street kids” once shot at three times but, luckily, unharmed.

“I am one of the kids that actually, you guys caught,” he told hundreds of juvenile justice officials at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center. “Were it not for you, certainly like a lot of my friends, I would have been caught up in what we now know is a cradle prison pipeline.”

His comments mirror the results of a report also released Wednesday that says Illinois falls below national standards in helping kids stay out of the juvenile justice system. That’s partially because the kids often lack adequate legal representation and, in 70 percent of the cases, agree to plea bargains (or plead guilty) rather than take the time to fully consider how the case should proceed. The study was released by the Children and Family Justice Center of the Northwestern Law School and the National Juvenile Defender Center. (Here’s the executive summary.)

The three-day conference where Guerra spoke focuses on the condition of Illinois’s system, including the status of the relatively new state Department of Juvenile Justice and such other alternative youth programs as Redeploy Illinois.

The conference did not paint a rosy picture, but did offer a road map for collaboration. A harsh analysis of state and national systems was spelled out by featured speaker Bart Lubow, a director with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. It’s an advocacy group started by the founder of UPS shipping services that studies policies and funds programs to help disadvantaged families and kids.

Lubow called the existing national juvenile justice system “the country’s most underachieving and disappointing reform agenda to date.” He said what went wrong was that “we have created a segregated system of justice that primarily serves kids of color or kids who are too poor to buy their way out of it.”

He cited research to demonstrate that states can get kids out of detention centers and into the court system where they are more likely to have successful outcomes, and states can reform their justice systems by shifting the focus away from detention and towards intervention at a much lower cost than it’s doing now. But the trick, he said, is to stop throwing money at new programs in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of the system. He said change has to start with the adults running those systems, and that includes refocusing how officials view the children they’re supposed to help.

“We unfortunately have viewed them for far too long through a lens that is distorted by race, class and place bias. That is, by being biased towards the places where kids come from,” Lubow said. “We talk all the time in juvenile justice about a dysfunctional neighborhoods and dysfunctional families. Dysfunctional is a code word. What we refuse to do, what we have been unable to do because of the distortions in our lenses is to, in fact, recognize the strengths and … redirect our resources to building upon the assets that exist in those communities and within those families.”

The conference touched on a wider array of topics and trends, available from the Juvenile Justice Initiative.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I'm sorry to say blogging will be light until later this week. My hard drive crashed again. I hope to catch up soon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Get ready, early birds

The Illinois State Board of Elections expects to receive double the number of petition paper filings Monday than it would normally receive in an election year. It’s happening about six weeks earlier than normal, too.

For the first time in Illinois, Democratic candidates for president, delegates and alternate delegates to the Democratic National Nominating Convention will file their petitions the same day as candidates for federal, state and county offices. The Illinois General Assembly also moved the primary election from March 18 to February 5 to aid a presidential bid of Illinois’ “favorite son,” U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Petition filings start at 8 a.m. Monday, but candidates are expected to line up early in an attempt to be the first candidate listed on the ’08 ballot. The filing period ends November 5. We’ll have more Monday.

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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Video competition: Phone vs. Cable

The phone giant AT&T officially can compete with cable companies on a statewide level to offer high-tech video services to customers. But that doesn’t guarantee the company will build out those services in all areas of the state any time soon. See Crain’s Chicago Business story here.

This comes after the Illinois General Assembly approved changes to state law in May. The new state law allows such phone companies as AT&T and Verizon to offer video services anywhere in the state without having to go through each individual municipality as cable companies previously had to do.

Three of four members on the Illinois Commerce Commission, a state panel, voted Wednesday to approve AT&T’s application to provide the video services (the fourth commissioner was absent). But the law stops short of giving the commission the ability to regulate what happens after the application is approved, says Beth Bosch, commission spokeswoman.

The measure originally sparked controversy but was rewritten with consumer protections that allowed the bill to win near-unanimous support in the Illinois House and Senate. Among the biggest changes is the requirement for video service providers to extend a certain percentage of their services to low-income neighborhoods within three years of earning the so-called statewide video franchise.

The new law expires in six years, meaning the General Assembly will have five years to evaluate whether it actually creates competition as touted. The law does bring Illinois in line with Indiana, which approved a statewide video franchise in March 2006.

For more background, check out my previous telecom blogs, and for a lot more context and potential outlook, see my May 2006 article, “A playbook for competition.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Comptroller: "Follow the money"

The public, the media and anyone with Internet access has a new tool to search for connections between people who donate money to political campaigns and people who win state contracts. Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes’ office designed a new Web site, called Open Book, which combines records from his office with records from the State Board of Elections’ office. That allows people to search state contractors side by side with campaign contributors.

Hynes said at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday that he also hopes the new search engine will apply more pressure on lawmakers, particularly Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones Jr., to advance ethics legislation drafted by Hynes. Known as House Bill 1, the measure would ban and criminalize so-called pay-to-play politics (a.k.a. granting state contracts in exchange for political campaign contributions). It gained unanimous support in the House and lined up 46 sponsors in the Senate, but it’s never been called for a vote.

“In the absence of a statutory ban on contributions from those who have state contracts, what we can do is create more transparency, more awareness, better information for watchdog groups, the media, citizens, so that people know who’s doing what,” Hynes said. “And perhaps that information will create pressure to enact the right legislation that will prohibit it, or, as one of my colleagues said, shame people out of not awarding contracts to contributors or getting contributions from contractors.”

A search takes a few seconds and starts with entering a person’s name or business in the blank. The database comes up two columns, one for state contracts and one for political contributions. It also lists the person’s or company’s address and how much was donated to any political campaign in each fiscal year back to 1999. It does this by tapping into the comptroller’s accounting records of contract information and into campaign disclosure reports filed twice a year with the State Board of Elections. Previously, matching contractors with campaign donors required multiple searches on the separate Web sites of each state agency.

“Open Book creates a one-stop shop where you plug in one name, one field and get all of those answers at once,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Chicago-based Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which started one of the first searchable, online databases for campaign contributions with Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project for campaign finance research based at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “It’s a really terrific system that I think has the potential of unleashing thousands of ants all over the state to crawl over the problem with pay-to-play contracting,” Morrison said. The Chicago-based watchdog group the Better Government Association also came to support the unveiling of the site.

Redfield added that more disclosure is important to prevent conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived, from eating away at public confidence in the system. He says the costs of corruption include turning people away from participating in government and wasting tax dollars to curry political favors.

Then Redfield pointed directly to the governor, who has said in the past that he favors more sweeping ethics reform than the measure urged by Hynes. The governor’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Rausch, said Blagojevich supports anything that increases transparency to state government, in terms of the comptroller’s new Web site. But as far as supporting the ethics reform measure backed by Hynes, Blagojevich is holding out for a measure that he deems more comprehensive.

In response to Hynes’ statement that House Bill 1 could be the first step with more legislation following, Rausch said, “Why not do it right the first time? Why set the bar low? It’s taken many, many, many years to pass the first round of ethics reform in 2003. We shouldn’t squander the opportunity to do something sweeping and across the board now.”

Redfield says the governor still could do more. “The governor could do what the comptroller has done through executive order this afternoon. It should not be sufficient for the governor’s spokesman to say, ‘Well, we’re in favor of broad reform.’ These are the sorts of things that should be in law, that can be done by executive order.”

Hynes and the other constitutional officers issued executive orders to ban campaign contributions from people holding state contracts that are worth more than $10,000, as in Hynes' case. Secretary of State Jesse White said his office also prohibits campaign contributions from his own employees and the employees’ families.

For more background on previous attempts to reform state ethics laws, check out an April 2005 column by Pat Guinane, former Statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Issues.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tax news and something fun (updated)

The Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois' board of trustees voted to provide “qualified support” to SB 572, Rep. Julie Hamos’s measure to give a much-needed boost to Chicago-area transit and to give some more money for operating costs of downstate public transit systems. I’ll try to post the association’s position statement as soon as it’s available.

Here's the federation's statement supporting Hamos' legislation:
• "TFI supports the pension, healthcare, and governance reforms in the bill. TFI has taken the position that reforms to spending, such as spending on pensions and healthcare, should be prerequisites to any increases in revenue. TFI believes that the reforms agreed to between the Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) and the relevant unions to, among other things, increase contribution rates and increase the retirement age to 65 are positive steps to reining in costs. TFI believes these reforms are an example of the types of reforms the State should undertake in the future to reduce its own cost structure."

• "TFI supports the sales tax increases in the bill as reasonable, targeted increases to fund transit needs. Given that transit use is regional to a particular area, TFI believes an increase in the sales taxes in Chicagoland is a reasonable revenue source since it will be targeted primarily on the taxpayers of the area that is serviced by the Regional Transportation Authority (“RTA”)."

• "TFI previously worked with the Illinois Association of Realtors (“IAR”) to obtain the referendum requirement for home rule municipalities. The provision in SB 572 grants an exception to the requirement for the limited instance of this particular tax imposition in Chicago. While TFI is concerned about this exception, we acknowledge and support the fact that the bill does not rescind the overall requirement for home rule municipalities to seek voter approval of the imposition or increase of real estate transfer taxes."

• "TFI also believes that reasonable fare increases designed to reflect the growth in operational costs should be part of any future fiscal considerations of the RTA and its service boards."

Tax climate
The national Tax Federation also released its 2008 State Business Tax Climate Index, which is supposed to rank states based on how “business friendly” they are. The news release says the index “measures how well a state's tax system encourages investment by maintaining a broad tax base and low rates.” It considers the corporate tax, individual income tax, sales tax, unemployment tax and property tax.

Illinois places 28th overall. Here’s Illinois’ rankings in the sub-groups:
Corporate income tax: 29th
Individual income tax: 12th
Sales tax: 32nd
Unemployment insurance tax: 42
And property tax: 40

The report says Illinois, along with Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan and Colorado, are in the top 12 for the individual property tax because each state uses a single, low rate. Watch for my November column about Chicago's property tax system.

Illinois placed 27th overall last year and 29th in 2006. That’s down from placing 19th in 2003, the first year the group published the report.

“Good state tax systems levy low, flat rates on the broadest bases possible, and they treat all taxpayers the same,” the federation says. “Variation in the tax treatment of different industries favors on economic activity or decision over another. The more riddled a tax system is with these politically motivated preferences the less likely it is that business decisions will be made in response to market forces.”

Here’s the executive summary of the background paper, and here’s the full background paper. You can access the full report here.

By the way, this is the same group that said Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s failed gross receipts tax idea was the “largest single-year state tax increase this decade.” I mention that in my May feature about the state’s business climate. Watch for more analysis by Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, next month.

Something fun
You may be interested to see which presidential candidates align with your views. WQAD News Channel 8 linked to this 11-question survey, which is not scientific, developed by Minnesota Public Radio. It’s here. It's quick and easy, but the site says it's not meant to pick your candidate for you. It's designed to inform the public about the candidates' stances on a variety of issues.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"There's always next year"

The state is starting to look a lot like the Chicago Cubs in dropping the ball and saying it’ll get the job done next year. The Illinois General Assembly finished its annual fall session Friday without addressing two of the big-ticket items that have divided the legislative leaders and the governor all session: capital construction projects and mass transit subsidies. House Speaker Michael Madigan said he’d give his members seven days’ notice before calling them back to Springfield to act on some leftover business from the regular spring session, which, by the way, still hasn’t ended. It was supposed to end in May. Here’s what they did do during the six days of so-called veto session:

Budget overrides The Senate restored $7.9 million of the $470 million cut out of the state budget by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in August. Senate President Emil Jones Jr. said Thursday that the move was to restore dollars that were “inadvertently cut out of the budget.” The move restored the original funding levels for the offices of the attorney general, the auditor general and such other legislative bodies as the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and the legislative research and information bureaus, as well as the Illinois courts. Budget negotiator and Chicago Democratic Sen. Donne Trotter said the Senate can come back and approve more overrides or a supplemental budget bill when the state’s revenue forecasts improve. (See the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability’s monthly report that says sales tax revenue has declined and the latest comparative study that says Illinois has lagged behind most other states in economic growth.)

Property taxes The Senate president was the lone “no” vote when the his chamber overwhelmingly agreed with the House to override the governor’s changes to the so-called 7 percent solution. The program, which started in 2004, caps the taxable amount of residential properties’ assessed values, which started skyrocketing in 2000. As approved by both chambers, this session’s legislation extended the assessment caps another three years and raised the homeowner's exemption, on a sliding scale, to as much as $33,000 from an earlier high of $20,000. The governor used an amendatory veto to change the legislation by extending the homeowners’ exemption limit up to $40,000 and by making the 7 percent rule permanent. Because both chambers overrode the governor’s action, the original legislation immediately became law. Taxpayers can expect to receive their tax bills by November 1. The county can expect to receive payments by December 1. However, such lawmakers as Sen. Terry Link, the Waukegan Democrat who sponsored the legislation, favor making the program permanent. But he and others agreed to override the governor’s changes because a) if they didn’t agree with the House, then the measure would have died, and b) some questioned the constitutionality of the governor’s use of an amendatory veto to make such sweeping changes. Link says he’ll pursue legislation that would make the 7 percent solution permanent.

Moment of silence Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican, passionately spoke against the House and Senate approving a mandatory moment of silence to start each school day. “At least in that moment of silence, they can pray that the General Assembly finally sends them the money that they need,” Black said, referring to schools waiting for their belated state aid payments caught up in a political battle between Madigan and Jones, who is aligned with the governor. The moment of silence may be required, but there aren't any penalties for disobeying the rule. It’s immediately effective.

What’s next? There is no schedule for lawmakers to come back to the Capitol, but the House does have a public hearing scheduled for October 17 in Chicago to discuss the gaming-for-capital bill approved by the Senate. It would create three new casinos to pay for road and school construction projects and some mass transit subsidies, but it has been labeled as too aggressive by some House Republicans and by the speaker. It may well be next year before the legislative leaders set aside their differences and agree on capital and mass transit plans.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Relationships 101

Rep. Tom Cross, the Republican leader in his chamber, had the quote of the day from the House floor before lawmakers finished their first week of the annual fall session.

“Perhaps, at least at the higher level, we’ve had an inability to communicate to get the budget done, to take care of capital, to take care of RTA, to take care of gaming. And I have a suggestion,” he said.

He cited psychologist and author Kate Wachs, who’s been interviewed by such media entities as the Chicago Tribune and Oprah Winfrey.

“She’s a nationally acclaimed relationship expert, and she’s written a book, Relationships for Dummies,” Cross said. “And she has a very good chapter on good communication, the bolts. One of the things she talks about is finding compromises that work for you and your partners. And I thought maybe she could come to a leaders’ meeting.”

Lawmakers return to the Capitol Wednesday, October 10 for three more scheduled days of the fall session. What do we have to look forward to? Lots or little, depending on whether the legislative leaders decide to hold off on major actions until the House holds committees on gaming and mass transit later in October. Until then, we wonder:
- Will Senate President Emil Jones decide to do the same as the House and let his members vote to override some of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s $460 million in budget cuts?
- Will Jones decide to act on the House version of a property tax assessment cap that phases out in three years or continue to side with the governor and advance language to make the cap permanent?
- Will House Speaker Michael Madigan allow budget implementation bills to be processed so schools can get their delayed state aid payments by November?
- And will the governor make a public appearance in the Capitol before the scheduled last day of the fall session, October 12?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A few surprises

The first day of the Illinois General Assembly’s annual fall session played out as expected Tuesday. The only surprise came with the news that Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, a Crete Democrat, announced she’s running for Congress to replace Rep. Jerry Weller, a Morris Republican. He announced his retirement in September shortly after the Chicago Tribune and other news reports said he failed to fully disclose land holdings in Nicaragua, potentially violating federal ethics rules. Weller said that didn’t play into his decision. It was simply to spend more time with his family.

Halvorson’s announcement is key because she was previously mentioned as a potential contender for the Senate president’s position whenever the current president, Emil Jones Jr., retires. Jones seems to be supportive of Halvorson’s Congressional bid. “It’d be a tremendous loss, but she’d be a great congresswoman,” he said Tuesday.

During a break from the veto session, Halvorson said she opted not to pursue the Senate leadership position because, “It’s not about me. And it’s not about titles. And I found over the weekend it’s about people and about where you can make the biggest impact. And that’s why I’ve chosen to move on to where I believe the issues are much bigger and my help is needed.”

She attended a women’s leadership conference in Washington D.C. over the weekend and said that helped her realize that she could make the biggest difference in such issues as health care and troop levels in Iraq. While in D.C., she also met with current speaker of the U.S. House, Nancy Pelosi, and members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Halvorson said the committee assured her that the 11th District race was an important one and that they would be working with her to snag the seat from Republicans. The district covers 11 counties of the southern suburbs of Chicago and parts of north central Illinois and has leaned Republican, but it could be vulnerable to political change as the demographics shift.

“It’s a very large district, but anybody who knows me knows what a fighter I am and what a campaigner,” Halvorson said. “I love a good fight, a good challenge, and I can’t wait to get out there.”

(Former intern Deanese Williams-Harris featured Halvorson in a March article about the senator’s push for young women to receive a vaccine for HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease that can lead to ovarian cancer.)

One potential contender for Weller’s seat mentioned was state Sen. Christine Radogno, a GOP budget negotiator who failed to win the state treasurer’s race last year. But the Lemont Republican said Tuesday that she decided not to run. “One, I like what I’m doing here. Two, I don’t live in that district, and while that’s not a legal requirement, I think that voters deserve to be represented by someone who does live in the district. It’s a different type of district than I have right now. It’s a rural district, 11 counties, as opposed to a more suburban district than I have right now.”

Here’s the not-so-surprising news:
• An overwhelming majority of House members voted to override most of the governor’s budget cuts. But the overrides are unlikely to have a favorable future in the Senate.
• Latino legislators representing the southwest side of Chicago still want the Senate to override the budget cuts, too, to help relieve severely overcrowded schools. Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat and Latino Caucus member, says there would be enough votes in his chamber if the Senate president would allow a vote to override the governor’s budget cuts.
• However, Jones said this afternoon his stance has not changed and that he does not intend to call the overrides for a vote in his chamber.
• Mass transit advocates still want a long-term funding source to aid the Chicago area’s public transportation systems, but that’s still intertwined in the ongoing debate about whether to add new casinos. A House Gaming Committee hearing isn't scheduled until October 17 in Chicago.
• And the Senate advanced another version of a measure to limit increases to Cook County property tax assessments to 7 percent, the so-called 7 percent rule. This one is supposed to be identical to the governor’s announcement that he wanted to increase the homestead exemption from $20,000 to $40,000 and make the so-called 7 percent rule permanent. That version is unlikely to win over House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has supported phasing out the 7 percent cap over three years.
• Also, the Senate voted to override a governor’s veto and support the original measure that would establish a uniform speed limit of 65 miles per hour for all vehicles traveling on four-lane highways separated by a median. Essentially, it would allow trucks to drive the same speed as cars. The House would also have to override the veto in order for the uniform speed limit to become law.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Can he do that?

The House gathered more anecdotal evidence Monday to argue that Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s $470 million in budget cuts hurt the very people he says he wants to help through health care, education and social services. The six-hour hearing didn’t result in a vote. It simply laid the groundwork for the chamber’s expected override the budget cuts Tuesday, but the Senate is not expected to follow suit.

Monday’s House’s committee of the entire chamber is just one more example of a tit-for-tat battle with the governor’s office to see who can make the other entity seem more heartless during this record budget stalemate.

Bigger picture: The core question remains. The governor says he cut nearly $500 million of so-called pork and unnecessary spending to pay for the expansion of health care programs, and the administration’s press releases suggest a simple shift in state dollars. During the hearing, the governor’s office e-mailed a statement by Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix. “Some projects in the budget are worthwhile, and we are interested in seeing some funded — but not at the expense of health care for families and mammograms for women.”

But funding of the programs is not that clear cut. The state’s general revenue fund is a different pot of money than Medicaid dollars for subsidized health care programs. It’s unclear whether the governor would or could transfer money from one pot to the other.

Abby Ottenhoff, the governor’s spokeswoman, responded in an e-mail with this: “The governor has increased the pool of available revenue to cover any additional cost by cutting other less critical spending from the budget." She didn’t respond to a follow-up question requesting clarification about how the governor was increasing the “pool of available revenue” if he’s simply spending down Medicaid dollars.

The House committee, by the way, had just 79 of 118 members present. And much of the testimony repeated what had been said during the past month of public hearings across the state. The larger issue during the next two weeks of the annual fall session will remain a capital budget to fund road and school construction projects and, potentially, mass transit subsidies. Then again, all of those issues could intertwine if a promise to restore the governor’s budget cuts is held out as an incentive for House members to side with the capital program crafted by the governor’s office and Senate President Emil Jones Jr. That plan as approved by the Senate is so far unacceptable to the House.