Friday, October 30, 2009

Veto session wrap-up and goodbye

By Bethany Jaeger
This will be my last post as Illinois Issues Statehouse bureau chief. I am moving on to the private sector to be a management consultant with a Springfield-based firm. Thank you for reading and and for sharing a string of unbelievable experiences with me during the past four years.

That said, the legislature completed its annual fall veto session and won't be back until January 12. After that week, it's not scheduled to be back until early February. Read a summary of substantive measures below.

Campaign finance
SB 1466 Individuals, businesses, unions, associations and political committees would be limited in the amount of money they could donate to candidates each election cycle, under a measure approved by both chambers along partisan lines. Legislative leaders and political parties, however, are only limited in the amount they can contribute to candidates in primary elections, not general elections. While reform advocates considered the limits on top political party officials as a compromise and a starting point, Republicans denounced the bill as “business as usual” by consolidating political power in the hands of the few.

In addition to contribution limits, which would be applied on a graduated scale depending on the entity donating and on the candidate’s race, the reform package also aims to improve transparency and enforcement. Candidates would have to report contributions and expenditures four times a year, as opposed to the current twice a year. Donations of $1,000 or more would have to be reported within two to five business days year round. The Illinois State Board of Elections would gain new ability to conduct random audits and investigate potential violations. A task force would study the effectiveness of the implementation of the new law, as well as the feasibility of public funding of political campaigns. Read more details in last night's post.

Recall amendment
HJRCA 31 As part of the fallout from the impeachment of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, voters will be asked on the November ballot whether to change the state Constitution to give them the power to remove a sitting governor. Placing the referendum on the ballot required legislative approval, which was received in August. At least 60 percent of voters in the 2010 general election would have to vote “yes” to amend the Constitution. If approved, then individuals seeking to remove a governor in the future would have to gather a certain number of signatures (15 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election) before voters could be asked whether to remove the sitting governor. Also, 20 House members and 10 Senate members from both political parties would have to sign off on a recall proposal from citizens.

MAP grant funding
SB 1180 Gov. Pat Quinn restored $205 million to Monetary Award Program, which offers financial aid to nearly 138,000 low-income college students. As part of more than $2 billion in budget cuts this fiscal year, Quinn initially did not fully fund the so-called MAP grants to cover an entire school year. The administration authorized spending for only one semester, creating panic among higher education students who relied on the grants. Quinn toured the state to pressure the legislature to approve restoring the funding, and the General Assembly complied in October. However, neither the governor nor the legislature approved a way to pay for the $205 million needed. Quinn said he would seek new revenue sources after January, when fewer votes would be necessary for approval. The move comes on the heels of an updated projection that the state will collect nearly $900 million less than anticipated.

Legislative pay raises
SB 2090 Legislators last spring approved a measure that would change the way legislators get pay raises and would require them to take four unpaid furlough days, as well as forfeit their annual cost-of-living raises this fiscal year. Quinn changed the measure to permanently end automatic cost-of-living raises. The Senate overrode the governor’s change. If the House does the same, the original changes would take effect. If the House does not agree to override the governor’s changes, the entire bill would die so that none of the changes would take effect.

Cemetery oversight
SB 1471 All cemetery owners, managers and employees, including those who are hired to trim trees or maintain cemetery grounds, would have to register with the state and carry identification cards to prove their clearance to work on site. Owners, managers and all employees who had direct contact with customers also would have to go a step further by becoming licensed by the state and subjecting themselves to criminal background checks. The bill is in response to regulatory gaps exposed during in the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal last summer (see Illinois Issues, September 2009, page 13). Bodies buried in the historic African-American cemetery in Alsip were moved and dumped into a mass grave in an alleged scheme to resell gravesites. The bill would consolidate all regulatory oversight to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and require cemetery maps, plats and burial records to be maintained and publicly available. Family burial grounds, inactive cemeteries and cemeteries smaller than 2 acres would be exempt to the new rules.

Cook County governance
HB 4625 Cook County Board members would need fewer votes to override a board president’s veto. If signed into law by the governor, overriding the Cook County Board president would require a three-fifths majority rather than a four-fifths majority, or 11 out of 17 votes rather than 14 votes. It would be effective immediately, contrary to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s wishes that it would be effective after his current term ends in December 2010.

HB 4624 An effort to repeal Cook County’s penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase failed during veto session. Board President Todd Stroger enacted the sales tax hike from 0.75 percent to 1.75 percent in February 2008. Estimated to generate about $400 million for county coffers, the tax has been criticized for making Chicago’s total sales tax rate one of the highest in the nation. County board members have repeatedly tried to repeal the tax increase over Stroger’s veto but have failed to meet the four-fifths majority required.

Free rides for seniors
SB 941 All senior citizens, regardless of income, will continue to receive free ridees on mass transit systems throughout the state. An attempt to roll back the program started by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, failed to advance in the Senate. The bill would have ended the free rides for seniors age 65 and older other than for those who are low-income and qualify for the state’s Circuit Breaker program, and it would have reportedly saved $37 million for cash-strapped transit agencies in the Chicago area.

Governor’s budget address
HB 1409 Legislators denied the governor from moving his annual budget address to March, which he requested to give more time for his new budget director, David Vaught, to assess the state’s fiscal status. The governor must propose a budget in February, unless the legislature changes the date.

GOP leadership
SB 600 The Illinois Republican Party will not have to change the way it elects its State Central Committee members, which are internally elected. A measure to change the system to allowing the public to elect committee members failed to gain the supermajority of votes needed in the House. Fewer votes would be needed if the issue came up again after this month.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One more step in campaign finance reform

By Bethany Jaeger
The Illinois General Assembly has been here before. Lawmakers are on the verge of making history by approving legislation aimed at limiting the amount of money flowing into political campaigns and reducing outside influence on the lawmaking process.

They approved a previous version of so-called campaign finance limits in House Bill 7, but in a rare event, the governor and all four legislative leaders agreed to veto the measure and start over.

The difference this time around is that reform advocates are on board. Unfortunately for Republicans, that leaves them without leverage in demanding stricter limits on the amount legislative leaders and statewide political parties can give to their chosen candidates.

Change Illinois, a broad coalition of 50 organizations of all stripes, believes Senate Bill 1466 represents “a significant step forward on the long road to reform,” said George Ranney, co-chair of Change Illinois and president and chief executive officer of Chicago Metropolis 2020.

Negotiations, particularly in the past week, have been “hard-fought, frank and full,” according to Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Change Illinois negotiator. The group wanted more. “I don’t think it is any secret that we had hoped to apply [limits on legislative leaders] in both the general and in the primary,” she said. “However, that was not the result of our negotiations.” She later added: “We tried as hard as we possibly could. We have been through some very thorough, very loud, very long negotiations. We could not bring them to this point.”

Capping contributions from political parties and legislative leaders in primary elections would still represent meaningful reform, according to Canary, because that’s where the election cycle starts, where independent newcomers have a chance to enter the process. And candidates would have to report more frequently the amount of money raised and spent. That could allow the public to better “follow the money,” or detect quid pro quo if large campaign donations flowed to politicians just as they were about to act on major legislation. The State Board of Elections also would gain new power to track, audit and penalize campaign finance violations.

Canary said the reform group intends to continue in the next legislative session to try to push for further reforms that include limits on political parties and legislative leaders in general elections.

Republicans disagreed that limiting the amounts legislative leaders and political parties in the primaries would be enough.

“Nothing changes — nothing — when it comes to money, except one thing: Everybody that’s not a leader is limited,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross. “The power, the money and control stays vested in four people,” he added, citing the top four legislative leaders of each political party.

The GOP Caucus cited numbers to suggest the limits on party leaders during primary elections are largely symbolic, given that parties tend to spend much less in primaries than they do in general elections. In the 2008 election cycle, for instance, the GOP said the State Republican Party gave $410,000 to candidates in the primary but $2.7 million in the general election. Democrats contributed $108,000 in the primary and $4.1 million in the general.

“Sadly, Change Illinois was either worn down or bought out, but their acceptance of the bill that gives even more power to the most powerful man in Illinois politics today is at the very least unfortunate,” Rep. Suzanne Bassi, a Palatine Republican, said during floor debate.

“There’s one person that can stop this now,” Cross said, citing Gov. Pat Quinn.

During the debate on SB 1466, the governor’s office said this in an e-mail: “We think it’s moving in a good direction.”

Approved by the House 66-49 late Thursday night, the bill is slated for Senate debate Friday, the last day of the legislature’s fall veto session. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to Springfield until January.

If approved by the Senate and enacted by the governor, the new rules would:
  • Require candidates to report contributions and expenditures four times a year, as opposed to the current twice a year. Donations of $1,000 or more would have to be reported within two business days throughout the entire year.
  • Allow the Illinois State Board of Elections to conduct random audits, to investigate alleged violations of contribution limits or reporting requirements and to waive fees if the mistakes were found to be inadvertent.
  • Form a task force to study the effectiveness of the implementation of the new law, as well as the public funding of political campaigns.

Per election cycle limits
Individuals can give up to:
  • $5,000 to any candidate
  • $10,000 to any political party or legislative caucus committee
  • $10,000 to any political action committee

Businesses, unions and associations can give up to:
  • $10,000 to any candidate
  • $20,000 to any political party or legislative caucus committee
  • $20,000 to any political action committee

Candidates can give up to:
  • $50,000 to any candidate
  • $50,000 to any political action committee
  • Unlimited contributions to any political party or legislative caucus committee, except a $50,000 limit to a committee participating in primary elections

Political party and legislative caucus committees during primary elections:
The aggregate amount between state, county, township and city political committees cannot exceed:
  • $200,000 to statewide candidates
  • $125,000 to any state Senate candidate
  • $75,000 to any state House candidate
  • Between $50,000 - $125,000 to candidates for local and judicial offices
  • $20,000 to political action committees
  • Unlimited contributions to candidates during general elections

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cemetery bill aims to end hodge-podge regulations

By Bethany Jaeger

All cemetery owners, managers and employees, including those hired to trim trees or maintain cemetery grounds, would have to register with the state and carry identification cards to prove their clearance to work on site, according to newly proposed legislation. In an attempt to clarify the hodge-podge regulation exposed in the Burr Oak cemetery scandal last summer, owners, managers and all employees who had direct contact with customers would have to go a step further by becoming licensed by the state and subjecting themselves to criminal background checks.

Senate Bill 1471, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, follows recommendations of the Cemetery Oversight Task Force commissioned by Gov. Pat Quinn after media reports exposed a scandal in the historic African-American cemetery in Alsip. Bodies were moved and dumped into a mass grave in an alleged scheme to resell gravesites (see Illinois Issues, September 2009, page 13).

While there’s widespread agreement that the state needs to respond to the Burr Oak tragedy with new regulations, some officials of nonprofit, religious, municipal and fraternal cemeteries argue that they should be exempt from the new licensing and registration rules. They currently are exempt.

Roman Szabelski, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was appointed by the court to oversee Burr Oak Cemetery after the scandal broke. “I think this bill is overkill,” he said to an Illinois House Committee Wednesday morning. He added that the licensing and registration rules would pass costs on to consumers and would be cumbersome with inadequate time to comply. He added that a new cemetery database would risk the misuse of information about the deceased and their burial plots.

Szabelski and Robert Gilligan of the Catholic Conference of Illinois indicated they could sign on to regulatory reforms if nonprofit cemeteries were made “partially exempt,” meaning they would not have to become licensed by the state but would have to submit to investigations if someone filed a complaint against them.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin added after the committee hearing that the bill as written could limit municipalities in providing sewer services, community service workers and maintenance crews, which sometimes use inmates from the corrections department, given the added registration costs and background checks. He described the bill as “killing a gnat with a nuclear bomb.”

Madigan indicated during the committee hearing that he would be open to discussing concerns about whether certain cemeteries would be exempt from the new licensing and registration rules. The bill would exempt family burial grounds, inactive cemeteries and cemeteries smaller than 2 acres.

All regulatory oversight would be consolidated under the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Some oversight, including over the pre-need funeral trust industry, now is under the state comptroller’s purview, but a discrepancy has arisen about whether that office has the regulatory teeth needed to address negligent cemetery owners and whether Comptroller Dan Hynes could have done anything to prevent the Burr Oak tragedy.

Here are some other highlights of the legislation:

  • Owners would have to maintain cemetery maps and burial records, including information about the deceased and required parcel identification numbers, which would be open to public inspection.
  • The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation would have to create a burial database; within 72 hours of a burial, a cemetery manager must send the burial record to the state database.
  • The department would be able to investigate all cemetery-related activity, audit financial records and penalize noncompliance.
  • Family burial grounds, inactive cemeteries that haven’t performed burials within the past decade and cemeteries smaller than 2 acres would be exempt from the new rules. Cemeteries that performed fewer than 25 burials in the past two years wouldn’t have to register, but they would have to submit to investigation if someone filed a complaint with the state.
  • The Illinois Department of Natural Resources would be able to develop a program to clean up abandoned or neglected cemeteries.
  • Relatives of the deceased whose bodies were dismembered or whose remains were desecrated would be compensated for reburial costs and “psychological care.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back to borrowing

By Bethany Jaeger
Gov. Pat Quinn could propose borrowing roughly $1 billion for the third time since May to keep the state operating through the winter. Tax revenues have slowed, while spending pressures have not. Those pressures include unpaid bills, employee health insurance and financial aid grants for low-income college students.

While short-term borrowing is relatively normal to help the state get through the slow revenue season, the state already borrowed $1 billion in May and an additional $1.25 billion in August. That money, as well as any new short-term borrowing, needs to be repaid by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2010.

That’s on top of a $3.7 billion backlog of unpaid bills, according to the state comptroller’s office.

The legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability recently projected that state tax revenues could come in $900 million less than anticipated.

Although Quinn has had to cut more than $2 billion in spending this fiscal year, he and the legislature recently restored $200 million to fund second semester grants of the Monetary Award Program for low-income college students. But they did not identify a way to pay for the additional spending.

After meeting with legislative leaders behind closed doors in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Quinn said he could propose borrowing $900 million to ease the cash-flow problem. “We have to have that just to have liquidity for the months of November and December, January and February,” he said. “That’s historically been a time when state government’s finances — the cash that’s in the till — is the lowest.”

Of the $900 million, some $250 million would potentially be dedicated to pay Medicaid bills and to ensure Illinois continues to qualify for an enhanced federal Medicaid reimbursement rate offered through the federal stimulus program.

The state treasurer and comptroller have to sign off on short-term borrowing plans. It does not need legislative approval. According to Carol Knowles, Comptroller Dan Hynes’ spokeswoman, the comptroller’s office has not received a borrowing proposal from the governor's office.

Hynes, who is running against Quinn in the Democratic primary for governor next February, said in his latest quarterly report that the state carried over a record $3.8 billion in overdue bills from the previous fiscal year at the same time tax revenues took a nosedive. He described the fiscal situation as “grim, and getting worse.”

Democrats have proposed various versions of an income tax increase in the past few months, but they have failed to win approval without Republican support. Fewer votes, a simple majority, would be needed once the legislature convenes its spring session in January.

After meeting with other legislative leaders and the governor, Senate President John Cullerton said: “Nobody wants to vote for tax increases. All you can do is borrow.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan also said there’s close to “no other choice” and that it would push the underlying problem down the road. “This has been done year after year after year,” he said of the short-term borrowing, but he added, “This is a higher amount of money.”

House Minority Leader Tom Cross said the problem has evolved for a number of years. "There’s a real strain on our budget that I’m not sure is going to be able to be met next year,” he said. His spokeswoman, Sara Wojcicki, said Cross also sought clarification about the governor’s priorities. “All this borrowing is something that needs to be carefully scrutinized,” she said. “We want to know how exactly it’s going to be spent, what bills are going to be paid down, why, in that order.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno added, “I do think there’s a good faith effort to manage, but the overall message here is we still need to look at the spending side of things. And it seems to be more focused on the borrowing.”

The leaders’ meeting kicks off the last week of the legislature’s annual fall veto session. While they and the governor previously vowed to work together to propose new campaign finance reforms during this veto session, they said they did not discuss campaign finance during the closed-door meeting. Democratic leaders met separately with reform advocates, again, behind closed doors.

Wojcicki said Republicans have been kept out of the loop since the end of September. “It seems sort of like an oxymoron: Landmark reform and closed-door meetings without us.”

We’ll keep you posted on new versions of campaign finance legislation throughout the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quinn seeks a full term as governor in 2010

By Bethany Jaeger
At this time last year, Rod Blagojevich was governor and battling with the state legislature to restore funding to human services and to state parks and historic sites. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors continued to indict members of Blagojevich’s inner circle in an ongoing investigation into political corruption, which foreshadowed his impeachment and removal from office. At the same time, Pat Quinn was lieutenant governor, urging voters to approve a referendum to call another constitutional convention to rewrite the state charter.

It’s been nine months since Quinn replaced Blagojevich in the executive office. In that time, he’s had to lead Illinois through a bruised public confidence in government, a nationwide recession and a state budget deficit that once was projected at $12.4 billion.

Last spring, he urged legislators to approve a two-year flat income tax increase from 3 percent to 4.5 percent for all income levels, minus a personal exemption for low-income families, to stave off deeper cuts to state programs.

But while stopping in Springfield today as part of a nine-city tour officially launching his bid for a full term as governor in 2010, Quinn did not mention the need for an income tax increase. He, instead, laid out a platform of reviving the economy by creating jobs through public works projects, investing in “green” jobs by developing alternative energy sources, increasing investments in education, leveraging state assets to help small businesses access capital and promoting Illinois trade and tourism.

He did not offer specifics, such as whether the initiatives would be funded through existing programs or through new spending programs.

When asked by reporters at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport whether he had or would change his tax hike proposal, Quinn said: “The time to do that, I think, will be next year after the primary because there’s not going to be a General Assembly session until then, unless there’s an emergency. And I don’t think the votes are there today for that, so we just have to keep working on it.”

His opponent in the Democratic primary is three-term state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who announced his bid in September. Hynes issued a statement today criticizing Quinn’s “passing remark” on the state’s budget deficit.

“I, too, support jobs and better education, but until we have a plan to pay our bills, balance our budget and emerge from the fiscal hole that is threatening the future of Illinois, these campaign promises ring hollow,” Hynes said in the statement.

Hynes has proposed that after a series of cost-saving initiatives in his first year in office, he would pursue a graduated income tax increase. According to his campaign, the increased rate would primarily affect taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year. Changing the income tax structure from a flat rate to a graduated rate, however, would require changing the state Constitution. That would require the state legislature to approve placing the question on the general election ballot in November 2010 for the constitutional amendment to take effect in 2011.

Neither Quinn’s nor Hynes’ income tax proposal would take effect and generate revenue soon enough to save the next fiscal year’s budget.

Quinn said in Springfield today: “I didn’t create the deficit. I inherited it. But I think I’m the person to repair the damage, working with people. ... I think I’ve shown over the time I’ve been governor that we’ve been able to stabilize the government, restore the honor and integrity to the office of governor. You have to have a governor that people trust and know is an honest person, and I think I am.”

He pointed to his involvement in enacting a $31 billion capital construction program, revamping the state’s public access laws, reforming the state’s procurement and contracting rules and state ethics laws for lobbyists and passing a referendum to allow voters to recall sitting governors to the 2010 ballot.

While he said it’s an honor to be the governor of Illinois, he added that it’s also a public trust. “And I want to assure the people of Illinois that my heart is ever at your service.

For more background on Quinn, read Illinois Issues February issue.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Operation Board Games gets another witness

By Bethany Jaeger
Alonzo “Lon” Monk is cooperating in the ongoing investigation into extensive political corruption in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office and political campaign. Monk pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to one count of wire fraud.

That’s just one of 19 counts leveled on participants in “Blagojevich Enterprise," which the feds allege primarily existed to “exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for the financial and political benefit of Blagojevich,” as well as his family members and friends. According to Monk’s plea, he received about seven to nine payments of $10,000 from Tony Rezko as “a gift, not a loan.” Monk joins list of witnesses in the governor’s June 2010 trial, so far including:
  • John Harris, another former chief of staff who in July pleaded guilty to tax fraud.
  • Rezko, who pleaded guilty in June 2008 and already is serving a prison sentence.
  • **The late Christopher Kelly, who would have been a key witness, apparently committed suicide days after pleading guilty to other charges in September.
Monk’s plea agreement is here.

Monk, of Park Ridge, was Blagojevich’s former law school roommate, his general counsel when in Congress, his first chief of staff when he became governor in 2003, his campaign manager in his 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial bids and, most recently, a lobbyist. One of Monk's clients included a horse racetrack owner, reportedly John Johnston.

Monk’s guilty plea pertains to a scheme in November to December 2008 to pressure Johnston to raise $100,000 for Blagojevich’s political campaign (see Count 11 of the April indictment).

Part of the scheme allegedly was caught on secret FBI recordings. One brief conversation, according to the federal transcripts, was between Monk and Johnston about supporting Blagojevich’s campaign in return for the governor’s signature on a bill to subsidize the horse racing industry. The recording was played during Blagojevich’s impeachment trial in the Senate last January.

Monk, who was a lobbyist at the time of the recordings, was heard in another cell phone conversation with Blagojevich, telling the governor to call Johnston directly. “It’s better if you do it just from a pressure point of view,” Monk was heard saying to Blagojevich.

The scheme allegedly was under time constraints, as Blagojevich wanted the money before the end of the year, when a new state law — the so-called pay-to-play ban — would ban him from collecting political donations from contractors who do significant amounts of business with the state.

Monk’s plea also confirms conversations and actions taken to enrich themselves and Blagojevich’s campaign fund. For instance, before Blagojevich became governor in 2002, the plea says, Monk planned with Blagojevich, Rezko and Kelly to use the governor’s office and Monk’s chief of staff office for financial gain, dividing the proceeds among them. One scheme allegedly included a 2003 pension deal that refinanced $10 billion in pension obligation bonds, issuing all $10 billion at once so a particular investment firm would benefit and donate more money to the governor’s campaign. It also allegedly included pressuring engineering firms to contribute to Blagojevich’s campaign in return for state capital projects and pressuring Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago for a contribution in exchange for a state grant, according to the plea.

The feds also say that once convicted felon Stuart Levine had been confronted by the FBI in 2004 for rigging various state boards, the focus shifted to making money through Rezko’s real estate development, involving Blagojevich’s wife, Patricia, in marketing efforts.

One count of wire fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of $250,000, although Monk’s plea agreement recommends a sentence between two and four years.

Blagojevich’s trial is scheduled to start June 2, 2010.

UIUC chancellor Herman resigns

By Bethany Jaeger
Fallout from the University of Illinois’ clout-heavy admissions process has reached another administrator. Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Richard Herman today announced his resignation, effective October 26.

His resignation comes about a month after the Faculty/Student Senate voted 98-55 to urge the board to replace Herman and President B. Joseph White. White already submitted his resignation, which takes effect December 31.

According to a university news release, Herman will serve as special assistant to the interim president of the university until June 30, 2010. He will remain on faculty as a mathematics professor and continue to work with the campus’ Illinois Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Initiative, which he created to increase the number of math, science, technology and engineering teachers and bolster student recruitment in those subjects.

After one year of sabbatical leave to prepare for teaching again, he’ll move to the College of Education and hold an appointment as a visiting professor at the Chicago campus.

He’s worked in higher education for 40 years. Before joining the University of Illinois, he was dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Maryland and chair of the Mathematics Department at Pennsylvania State University. Upon arriving in Urbana in 1998, he became provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. He was named interim chancellor in June 2004 and chancellor in May 2005.

In a letter to the university’s board of trustees, he wrote, “I have enjoyed every minute, in fact, every nanosecond.”

An interim chancellor will not be named because the board of trustees continues to search for a university president to replace White. Former university President Stanley Ikenberry was selected by the revamped board of trustees to serve as interim president until a search committee finds a permanent replacement. Ikenberry already is working with the university to help ease the transition.

White will remain a professor of business administration at the Urbana campus.

The Chicago Tribune in June exposed the board of trustees’ meddling in the university’s admissions process, favoring about 800 clout-heavy students — known as “Category I” — sponsored by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, lawmakers, university donors and trustees.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MAP grant funding up in the air

By Bethany Jaeger
Antonio Boyzo is one semester away from graduating from the University of Illinois Chicago. Having worked his way up from earning a general equivalency diploma and transferring from a community college to UIC, as well as earning U.S. citizenship in August, he feared Thursday morning that it would all disappear. He feared he would be one of about 137,000 low-income college students in Illinois who wouldn’t be able to afford tuition for the rest of the school year because state funding for the Monetary Award Program had been cut in half.

By midday, the legislature approved Senate Bill 1180 to restore $205 million to fund the second semester of the grant program; however, it did not approve a way to pay for it. The move comes on the heels of an updated — but ominous — projection that the state’s revenues will fall nearly $900 million less than anticipated.

To help pay for the second semester of MAP grants, Gov. Pat Quinn said he proposed to legislative leaders the idea of borrowing from dedicated state funds and repaying the money when revenue flowed back into the state, something called inter-fund borrowing. “It allows [states] to do more fiscal management during an extremely tough time, and that’s what we want to do,” he said outside his Statehouse office Thursday.

The push for major sources of new revenue, he said, will restart after January, when revenue proposals would need only a simple majority of votes rather than the three-fifths supermajority needed now.

The legislature returns Friday for the third day of the six-day fall veto session.

Power to recall governors "up to the people"

By Bethany Jaeger
When voters head to the polls November 2, 2010, they’ll vote on who they want to represent them in the General Assembly, who they want as governor and constitutional officers and whether they want the ability to recall a governor.

The ability to recall a sitting governor would require changing the state Constitution, which would require at least 60 percent of voters in the 2010 general election to vote “yes.”

The version approved Thursday by the Illinois Senate 56-1, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 31, would only apply to governors. Previous versions proposed much broader powers to recall all elected officials, including county board chairs and judges. That proposal passed the House last spring but stalled in the Senate.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he has supported recall proposals for 33 years and described Thursday’s version as “the ultimate ethics measure.”

“The very best way to ensure the governor does the right thing all the time is to have in our Constitution the power of recall with respect to the office of governor,” he said.

Some legislators warned, however, that the fear of being recalled by unhappy voters or by organizations with narrow interests would make governors only do what is popular at the time, not what is in the best interest of the state in the long-run.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said the recall provision is going down a dangerous path. “I often believe we do things or fail to do things because we are afraid of the shadow of our next election,” he said to his peers during floor debate. “But when you do this, when you put something like this in [the Constitution], that shadow is upon you at all times.” However, he ended up voting in favor of putting the question before voters.

Quinn said allowing voters to decide what is in their Constitution is a fundamental part of democracy, and he intends to support the referendum. “If the conduct of the chief executive betrays the public trust, they don’t carry out the will of the people in a very significant way, voters should not be subjected to having to wait years and years until the next election to review their performance.”

Here is some more background about the proposal from a previous blog post:
  • A governor must be in office for 6 months before the recall process is started.
  • 20 House members and 10 Senate members from both parties would have to sign off on an initial recall proposal from citizens.
  • Once legislators approved the measure to put the question on the ballot, individuals seeking to remove the governor would have 150 days to round up the signatures to put the question of whether to remove the governor before voters. They would need a number of signatures equal to 15 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. For instance, Rep. Jack Franks said the number of signatures currently needed would be 750,000 based off of the 2006 election.
  • There must be at least 25 different counties with 100 signatures each.
  • This version of the bill would only apply to the governor’s position, and it contains new safeguards intended to prevent abuse of the power. These new aspects came under fire from House Republicans.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Campaign finance "redo" in limbo

By Bethany Jaeger
Two months ago, Democratic and Republican legislators stood next to Gov. Pat Quinn and agreed to start over on drafting a bill that would — for the first time in Illinois — limit the amount of money individuals and political organizations could donate to political campaigns. They vowed to present a new version during this month's legislative veto session. But the bill introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday has been called a step backward by reform advocates.

Madigan's bill, Senate Bill 1466 (amendment 2), was still “under review” at the end of Wednesday’s legislative session, the first of six days scheduled over the next two weeks. SB 1466 still would limit donations to $5,000 from individuals, $10,000 from corporations, labor organizations and associations, and $50,000 from political action committees or other candidates. The limits also would apply to the election cycle rather than the calendar year, one change from last spring’s House Bill 7 (background here).

Reform advocates oppose Madigan’s version primarily for one reason: It would continue to allow unlimited financial support to candidates from statewide political parties and legislative caucuses.

“Not having a limit on the party caucus and the legislative leaders is not a consistent with meaningful reform,” said Peter Bensinger, co-chairman of the Change Illinois reform coalition. “It restricts everybody else but the leaders. We don’t think it’s going to restore public trust.”

Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert with the University of Illinois at Springfield and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, echoed statements by Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein. He said Madigan’s version goes backward from last spring’s version in HB 7. According to Redfield, Madigan last year gave $1.6 million to the Democratic Party of Illinois, of which he also chairs. Under HB 7, the speaker would only have been able to give $90,000 to the Democratic Party of Illinois. The current bill would allow unlimited transfers. “We’re going back to the way it is,” Redfield said.

Bensinger added that it also could discourage individuals from challenging existing officeholders (his testimony is here). While all candidates would be able to collect limited amounts from individuals and organizations, newcomers would be at a disadvantage, compared with incumbents who had unlimited financial support from party leaders. “The balance of power becomes more entrenched in Springfield in the hands of the few rather than getting the control of the electorate in the districts,” he said.

When testifying to a House committee Wednesday morning, Madigan said the intent was to “limit money flowing into the campaign system and reduce influence of outside groups and lobbyists.” And he defended the role of political parties by saying they’re not a special interest promoting a cause.

“The entire basis for existence for a political party is to promote candidates running under its banner. Their fate in an election is inherently intertwined with that of their candidate. Thus, there is really no meaningful distinction between a party spending on behalf of its candidates and expenditures made by the candidates themselves.”

The speaker added that his version “would place Illinois squarely in the mainstream of campaign finance reform” because 25 states allow political parties to make unlimited contributions to their candidates in general elections. And two of those states have some limits during primary elections. “One half of America provides unlimited contributions in the general election,” he said. See a National Conference of State Legislatures chart here.

The bill is currently on hold, with some technical errors that could create a loophole for reporting requirements, said Cynthia Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

The bill also is in limbo because it lacks Republican support, which is necessary to satisfy the three-fifths supermajority of votes needed during the veto session (because, as currently written, part of the bill would take effect in 2010, while other parts would take effect in 2011).

“I don’t think you’ll see a lot of support,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross said after a lengthy meeting behind closed doors with the governor and all four legislative leaders. “I think people see it for what it is: It’s not a bill that regulates us. You’ve got a lot of power invested in the leaders of the four caucuses, including ours. And we just don’t see any movement in that area. That’s disappointing.”

Fewer votes will be needed once the legislature’s spring session starts in January.

Rather than accept the bill now and work on limiting contributions from party leaders later, Bensinger said: “That’s the question: Will someone ever come back to the piece later? I don’t think Illinois should take halfway step measures. This is like a house without a roof.”

Like HB 7, Madigan’s version still would:
  • Require candidates to report contributions and expenditures four times a year, as opposed to the current twice a year. Donations of $1,000 or more would have to be reported within two business days throughout the entire year.
  • Allow the Illinois State Board of Elections to conduct random audits, to investigate alleged violations of contribution limits or reporting requirements and to waive fees if the mistakes were found to be inadvertent.
  • Form a task force to study and make recommendations on a public financing system for judicial elections.

Friday, October 02, 2009

No Games for Chicago

By Bethany Jaeger
Chicago’s quest to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games is over. The Windy City was eliminated in the first round of voting of the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen this morning. Other cities in the running were Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo. Tokyo was eliminated in the second round of voting. Rio won the final vote.

Read about the positives and negatives of a Chicago Olympics in Illinois Issues magazine’s “Going for the gold.” Some saw a lucrative opportunity, while others saw long-term fiscal and social costs. The activist group No Games Chicago said tax dollars would be better spent on affordable housing, school construction and mass transit in underserved areas of the city. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police expressed concerns about public safety after the city’s long string of gun violence.

Chicago’s bid has been led by Mayor Richard Daley and Patrick Ryan, Chicago 2016 chairman and chief executive officer and a former Fortune 500 insurance executive. They were joined in Copenhagen for a last-minute pitch by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Oprah Winfrey and Olympic athletes.

The loss means a state law enacted in April won’t be needed. It would have offered a $250 million guarantee if the Games’ budget went overboard.

October issue: Jerry Stermer, "Voice for the man"

Get a glimpse of who helps shape Gov. Pat Quinn's agenda and style in the October edition of Illinois Issues magazine. Maureen McKinney profiles Jerry Stermer in the "Voice for the man."

Read the third and final installment of a three-part series on the plight of nonprofits in Illinois. Crystal Yednak writes, "Joining forces: To prepare for an uncertain future, nonprofits collaborate rather than compete."

And if you want to read about the anticipated effects of this year's state budget banking on delaying payments to certain Medicaid providers, read my feature, "Pay delay."

As always, our columnist Charlie Wheeler gives valuable context and analysis about what legislators and the governor have done by booting the tough choices into next year.

I also provide analysis about how "small budget cuts hit home in a big way." Case in point: grant-funded programs for people with disabilities and college students are in limbo.

And executive editor Dana Heupel gives the national context to Illinois' budget woes in his monthly column.

Our print readers also can read two guest essays: the first by Brent Never, who adds to the picture of how nonprofits are at the mercy of the state; the second by Jack Van Der Slik, who analyzes why politicians shrink from raising taxes as long as they can. Also available in print-only are more articles about campaign finance, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, a lawsuit over Chicago's parking meters, the closure of Howe Developmental Center, the attack of the waterhemp weed and other Illinois issues.