Monday, February 28, 2011

FutureGen picks a carbon storage site

By Jamey Dunn

Morgan County was chosen as the underground carbon storage site for a revamped version of the FutureGen “clean coal” project.

Kenneth Humphreys, chief executive officer for the Future Gen Alliance, the group of investors and administrators of the project, announced today that the site in western Illinois beat the other finalist sites in Douglas, Christian and Fayette counties.

The FutureGen project originally called for a high tech coal power plant to be built near Mattoon in Coles County, and carbon produced by the plant was to be stored underground in the surrounding area. The site was chosen in 2007, but as costs rose, the new plant was scrapped. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced “FutureGen 2.0” last summer, which called for the retrofitting of an existing out-of-commission Ameren plant in Meredosia. (For more on the back story of the project, see Illinois Issues, October 2010.) The carbon from the plant would be pumped through a subterranean pipeline to be stored underground in an area with the proper geological conditions. Mattoon dropped out of the plan after it was announced that it would only serve as a carbon storage site, and about 30 other Illinois communities expressed interest in taking its place, according to Humphreys.

Since both the new storage site and the power plant are in Morgan County, Humphreys said fewer miles of pipeline would be needed to pump carbon dioxide to the area where it will be sequestered, and the project would cost less. About 32 miles of pipeline would be needed, and the site would take an estimated 39 million tons of carbon from the plant over the next 30 years. The geological conditions in Morgan County are similar to the original site in Coles County — a permeable layer sandstone and a several-hundred-feet-thick layer of shale, which will act as a cap over the stored carbon. “When the final numbers get crunched, I think everyone is going to be much more comfortable [with the new site].” He said the retrofitting to the plant along with the pipeline and storage facility would cost $1.3 billion. The federal government is slated to provide $1 billion for the project.

"FutureGen 2.0 will ensure that Illinois continues to lead the nation and world in the development of clean energy, and today’s announcement represents a major step towards completing this historic project,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a written statement.

Humphreys admitting that “there’s always a possibility” that something could go wrong with the plans to use the Morgan County site, such as an unforeseen environmental problem or administrative issue with getting the proper permits, but he is optimistic about the site. FutureGen has had several false starts and hit bureaucratic snags in the past, but Humphreys said he is “optimistic” about the new proposal. The Christian and Douglas county locations will serve as alternates in case the Morgan site does not pan out.

Humphreys said there has been some local opposition, but the alliance has made compromises, such as agreeing to move the site away from the village of Alexander. He says alliance members plan to continue talks with local officials and residents. “We believe that there is a path forward with the stakeholders,” he said. According to the alliance, fieldwork on the sequestration site will begin this summer. Humphreys said the “major heavy construction” on the site and the power plant is scheduled to start in the spring of 2013.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Addiction treatment in limbo

By Jamey Dunn

Addiction treatment providers have some sense of relief now that members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration say they plan to scale back reductions to human services’ funding, but they continue to operate in a state of limbo until they get the specifics on the cuts.

Kelly Kraft, spokesperson for Quinn’s Office of Management and Budget, said human services would take a hit of about $100 million, as opposed to the $208 million that substance abuse treatment and prevention providers say the Department of Human services told them to prepare for last week. “On the surface, that’s a positive development, clearly,” said Sara Moscato Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Alcohol and Drug and Dependence Association [IADDA]. “However, there was not one detail given about where that $100 million would come from.”

Kraft said the reductions are not new. She says the cuts came when Quinn gave the Department of Human Services a $3.6 billion lump sum this year — which was a reduction from the $3.9 billion it got last year. “When everyone says these are new cuts, it really was something that was announced a while ago.” Kraft said added demand prevented the department from spreading the cuts throughout the current fiscal year, but now the reductions have to be made. She said the administration had hoped that the economy might pick up, creating more revenue to defer some cuts. But instead, it remains sluggish.

Even though the income tax increase passed in January has brought in about $3 billion in new revenue, Kraft says it’s not enough to address the state’s fiscal crisis and plug the hole in Human Services. “Three billion dollars in additional revenue definitely helps, but we also have $6 billion in overdue bills [to providers, contractors and schools],” she said. “The list of bills that the state owes goes on and on.”

Kraft added that the state also owes $1.1 billion because it did not make the full payment on the group health insurance plan for state workers last year, as well as failing to dole out corporate income tax returns. Altogether, Quinn Budget Director David Vaught estimated in a briefing on the fiscal year 2012 budget that the state actually owes $9 billion to $10 billion.

But Howe says the administration's plan is counter intuitive. “Because the economy is so bad, the demand for services is grater … and because the demand for services is greater, they are now going to need to cut more? ... Why, then would you turn around and say to your citizens, ‘We know you really need this, but we may have to cut?’” Addiction treatment providers say cuts to their programs will only shift costs to other areas such as corrections and health care.

Kraft said the state spends about 45 percent of its general revenue funds on human services, and while cutting is a difficult process, some reductions must be made. She said that those assembling the budget look at five considerations when deciding where to cut. They first ask whether a cut to a program would hurt the state’s ability to bring in federal dollars and whether it is required by law or a court order. They look at data and try to determine how effective a program is and how many people it helps. They also try to project how proposed cuts would affect “life and health and safety” in the state. “We value the commitment of all these providers. They serve Illinois' most vulnerable citizens,” Kraft said. “It’s a difficult balancing act.

Howe said the administration indicated that the cuts would likely still be targeted at addiction treatment. Kraft said the department is still working to determine where the cuts will be and plans to start notifying providers in about two weeks. “That’s a long time, considering in the past week our providers, have really begun a painful process of shutting down,” Howe said. Providers are afraid to take on new clients, she said, because they are concerned they may have to discharge them when the cuts are spelled out. “It is kind of an operate-at-your-own-risk. … There is obviously some ethics involved in taking somebody in and making sure that when you release them, that they’re ready.”

Howe said no matter what happens in two weeks, Quinn’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year still calls for cutting state funds to all addiction treatment that is not backed by federal Medicaid matching dollars. IADDA estimates that about 80 percent of the more than 69,000 people currently receiving treatment for addiction in the state are not covered by Medicaid. “You’re willing to review this now, [but] you’re still willing to put the system out of business come July 1,” Howe said.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Human services cuts to be only half as deep

By Jamey Dunn

Cuts in state funding that addiction treatment and prevention providers were bracing for will now be reduced by half, according to Gov. Pat Quinn’s budgeting office.

Kelly Kraft, a spokesperson for Quinn’s Office of Management and Budget, said the cuts to human services would total about $100 million instead of the $208 million that providers said the Illinois Department of Human Services told them would take place by March 15.

Substance abuse treatment providers predicted mass layoffs and the shutdown of residential treatment programs if the $208 million slash to the state budget became a reality.

Kraft said the cuts are not new but represent reductions made when the department was given a lump sum under the current fiscal year's budget. However, she said, heightened demands meant the department was not able to find cuts earlier in the year. “The realities have set in, and reductions have to be made,” she said.

Kraft said Quinn’s administration has gotten some backlash over the proposed cuts and wants to have an open dialogue with providers. “We’ve listened to a lot of people. We’ve received a lot of calls and e-mails.”

She said that the department would notify social services providers about the specific reductions in about two weeks. She said she it had not yet been determined which areas the cuts would focus on.

Check back tomorrow for more on what the members of the administration are weighing as they make decisions about human services cuts, as well as reactions from providers.

Bill would limit penalty for some sex offenders

By Lauren N. Johnson

Some individuals convicted of criminal sexual abuse would have the chance to avoid being placed on the sex offender registry, under a measure that would give discretion to Illinois courts in certain cases.

House Bill 1139, sponsored by Rep. Robert Pritchard, addresses so-called “Romeo and Juliet” cases, where two teens have sexual contact, and one is under the legal age of consent. The measure, which a House committee approved today, would also allow an offender not more than four years older than the victim to petition to be excluded from the sex offender registry if the victim consented and is at least 14 years old.

“I think the original intent of the registry was to protect children, and I believe it’s gone far and beyond that,” said Tonia Maloney, president of Illinois Voices for Reform.

In Illinois, child sex offenders are prohibited from residing near schools or loitering near school-related facilities that house anyone under 18 years old. They must also register with the state when they change their residence.

“We’re trying to find a way that we can turn this around and let these guys have another shot. Like [Rep. Pritchard] said, they did break the law, but it was consensual,” said Maloney.

Pritchard, a Hinckley Republican, said the bill is for youths who did violate the law of sexual consent and must live with the consequences of their errors. But after they have paid their debt, he said, they should not bear the restrictions meant to protect society from predators

Justin Raxter, a teen convicted of sexual abuse at the age of 18, said he wanted his life back, after his then-15-year-old ex-girlfriend pressed criminal charges. “Ever since then, my life has just been a wreck. It kind of seems like I really don’t have a life anymore.” Raxter said he was dating the girl for over a year, and the couple was having consensual sex.

Raxter, who said he would have to be on the list for 10 years, added, “It doesn’t feel good at all to be compared to somebody who is out there raping little children.” He added, “Even though I only have to register for 10 years, I’ll be considered a sex offender for the rest of my life.”

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican and former prosecutor, said taking away discretion from the prosecutor in Romeo and Juliet cases may lighten the severity of some crimes or result in inequitable sentences. “A judge in DeKalb County might have a much different view than a judge in Coles County,” Reboletti said.

Pritchard said, “[This bill] is a movement, if you will, that would allow these individuals to regain some semblance of a life and opportunity to deal with their children in school.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Addiction treatment cuts could mean closed doors

By Jamey Dunn

UPDATE February 24: Gov. Pat Quinn took questions from reporters in Chicago yesterday on the cuts. See below. Providers of addiction treatment in Illinois say they have stopped taking new patients, and some plan to end programs, such as residential care and detox, as early as Friday.

Eric Foster, chief operating officer for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA), said members of the Quinn administration told treatment providers Friday that the governor plans to cut all state funds for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs not backed by federal Medicaid dollars. According to IADDA, the budget reductions, which they say would come by March 15, would cut off treatment to 55,000 of the 69,000 people currently in the system and result in the layoffs of more than 5,000 workers. Quinn is also proposed substantial cuts to drug and alcohol dependency treatment and prevention programs in his budget for next fiscal year.

Foster said Michelle Saddler, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, confirmed the plan to cut and said that providers would get new contracts spelling out the cuts last Tuesday, but he said the department never followed up with the information.

“Secretary Saddler’s verbal notification immediately triggered a shutdown of intakes, closing the doors to new clients, closures of other addiction prevention and treatment services across the state, and shutdowns of programs serving Illinois’ neediest citizens,” Foster said.

Foster accused Quinn of playing politics with funding to human services — referring to Quinn’s 2009 push for an income tax increase, which at the time he said could prevent draconian cuts to social service providers. “Gov. Quinn promised to save human services if the state passed an income tax increase. We think the governor’s pledge to protect the most vulnerable in Illinois has been a cruel hoax.”

Foster added that addiction treatment and prevention programs have already taken cuts in recent years. He said that in fiscal year 2007, the state served 98,000 people under such programs.

Bruce Suardini, chief operating officer of Prairie Center Health Systems, which has facilities in Urbana, Champaign and Danville, said that organization is “in the midst” of closing its Champaign and Urbana operations, which include a detox center for those dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal. He said that after the facility closes, “there will be no medical detox for any citizens in central Illinois.” He added that the center would lay off 51 of 85 staff members on Friday.

Suardini said his clients walked out of treatment this week because of their frustration over the budget cuts. “Our people walked out of detox and walked out of residential yesterday. We are closing our operations in those services by Friday.”

He added: “We are still awaiting our letters [from the Department of Human Services.] This is the second time that we have disproportionately taken a cut in the budget. … We don’t have much left ... to be able to offer hope to the people that are trying to seek services.”

Bruce Carter, executive director of the Wells Center in Jacksonville, said his treatment center has also stopped admitting new clients and has told people on its waiting list that they would not accept them. Carter said the center plans to close its residential treatment and detox programs by March 22. He said he would have to lay off 40 of his 47-member staff by the end of March.

Kent Holsopple, administrator of the Springfield office for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, which provides addiction treatment for people who are in the state’s criminal justice system or corrections system, said he has clients who have been sentenced to treatment that are waiting in jail because TASC cannot take them. “We talk about it being a cut. It would essentially eliminate community-based treatment centers.”

Allen Sandusky, president and chief executive officer of the South Suburban Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, said overdue payments from the state leave his organization little wiggle room in its budget. “Since the state currently owes us $1.9 million of our $3.2 million contract, we do not have the financial resources nor the cash resources to really handle any short-term emergencies.” He said he would have to lay off 90 of his 105-person staff to make up for the cuts.

Foster said because providers have not yet received new contracts from the Department of Human Services, he hopes there is still room for negotiation.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jim Watson have introduced a nonbinding resolution urging the governor not to make the cuts. “Instead of coming after human services dollars all the time — this is a fire drill that this sector of government is consistently being run through all the time — we need to take a look at balancing our systems for a more cost-effective way of delivering services. Putting people in prison is clearly not the answer. We should be doing just the opposite.”

Lawmakers can do little more than pass a resolution because they signed over budgeting powers to Quinn when they passed him a lump sum budget for the current fiscal year, leaving it up to the governor to make cuts. The General Assembly approved extending Quinn’s special budgeting powers until the current fiscal year ends in June.

Feigenholtz said she was unsure if extending those powers, a move that she voted to support, was allowing Quinn to make the cuts to addiction treatment and prevention. She said she thinks Quinn simply “ran out of money.” She said she hopes legislators will never pass a lump sum budget again.

Inquires to Quinn’s budgeting office and the Department of Human Services about the cuts and Quinn’s budgeting powers were not returned.

UPDATE: “We have to have an ongoing dialogue about how to get through this fiscal year,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference.

Quinn said the General Assembly left the difficult budgeting decisions up to him when they passed the lump-sum budget. “I really believe in dialogue and listening to all of those who have points of view on this. We’ll get through this fiscal year and on to the next one.”

He added that some human service providers could see cuts, but he would not confirm the reports of drastic reductions planned for next month. “Some of them may have economies that we have to make. This is hard and difficult. … I don’t want to harm one area of important life in Illinois, like human services. But at the same time, I[‘ve] got to maintain education and public safety.”

Monday, February 21, 2011


Host Jamey Dunn (Illinois Issues magazine) with Andrew Thomason (Illinois Statehouse News), Patrick Yeagle (Illinois Times) and Chris Wetterich (Springfield State Journal-Register. This week, the panel reviews the governor's budget speech- including the school consolidation proposal, elimination of legislative scholarships, Medicaid reform and more. A production of WSEC-TV/PBS Springfield. Search CapitolView on Facebook to find the show's page.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some education cuts will take time

By Jamey Dunn

Some close to education say that realizing savings through Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed cuts could be a long uphill climb.

While Quinn proposed an increase to general state aid for schools as part of the budget plan he outlined to legislators yesterday, he also pitched some controversial cuts to education. Quinn called for the creation of a commission to reduce the number of school districts in the state. Illinois has 868 school districts. Quinn says $100 million could be saved under a consolidation plan.

“Illinois has one of the largest number of school districts in the nation,” said Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the State Board of Education. Vanover said he thinks Quinn’s commission will work on proposals to reduce that number by combining districts with “an eye to 300 districts.” He said the agency backs the idea of consolidation and has been researching the issue. However, he said the way the state tackles what is typically viewed as a local issue may vary by region. “There are going to be different dynamics in different parts of the state.”

David Vaught, Quinn’s budget director, said school district consolidation is a “long term” process but one that can be accomplished, over time, “without damaging or hurting what goes on in the classroom whatsoever.”

“Right now, the way the statutes are, local governments have to initiate or approve [district consolidation.] I think the idea would be, at least based on what I heard yesterday, some type of legislation that would allow for a mechanism for it to be forced by the state,” said Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican.

Eddy, who is also superintendent of Hutsonville School District 1, said :“This is a very emotional issue, and one that’s been studied and studied and studied. And we’ve never really moved very far because of Illinois being such a local control state.”

He added that studies show that many smaller school districts spend less and get better student achievement results. “The purpose and the foundation for why we’re doing it is just backwards to what the data and the results show.”

Quinn also proposed a $95 million cut to transportation funds for schools. The state cut the money it gives local districts to bus students to and from school by $146 million for the current fiscal year, according to a budget analysis by House Democratic staff members.

Vaught said spending on early childhood programs, state funds to help low-income students attend college and general state aid to schools won out over transportation funding. “Is it a state responsibility to make sure the kids get to school? Or is that a local district responsibility a parental responsibility to get the kids to school? This is not the highest priority when you weigh objectives and priorities against one to the other. And so, we see a cut here. … We think the districts and the parents can handle that on their own.”

Eddy added, “At a time when we are talking about making larger geographic districts, we won't have transportation money. … They are kind of in conflict.”

The plan also calls for cutting all funding for regional superintendents. Quinn says that would save $13 million, which he says should be spent in the classroom.

“We don’t think that extra administrative layer adds much. … Those are local elected officials. If the locals elect them, they can pay for them,” said Vaught.

Eddy said regional education offices provide many functions, such as professional development for teachers, safety checks on schools and criminal background checks on employees. “Who’s going to do that? $14 million — can you do it cheaper from a higher level?” Eddy said that the offices add an important layer of oversight by making sure schools fulfill their safety and certification requirements.

David Comerford, a spokesperson for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said his organization is still looking into Quinn’s consolidation proposal, as well as the plan to cut funding to regional education offices. He said since Illinois will not receive federal stimulus finds for education in the next fiscal year, Quinn had far less to work with. “In the overall financial picture, there was a good deal of federal dollars that went away that he had to try and fill,” he said. “We appreciate that [Quinn} tried as best he could to fill that.”

Comerford said the transportation cuts and other reductions would be difficult for schools to bear. “People who are calling for cuts — you’re getting them. There are significant cuts being made here.”

Inquiries to Quinn’s office on how he plans to implement consolidation and cut funding to regional education offices were not returned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Legislative leaders take issue with Quinn's numbers

By Jamey Dunn and Lauren N. Johnson

Gov. Pat Quinn emphasized the need for economic development and avoiding large education cuts in his budget address today. However, his proposal contains deep cuts to some social services and health care and hinges on a borrowing plan that Republicans say they will not support.

Quinn focused on the need to cut the budget in his speech to lawmakers. According to his staff, there are no new programs in his proposal, which they say cuts spending by nearly $1 billion. However, he did propose spending increases in existing programs. All state spending in the proposal totals $52.7 billion. Republicans claim that figure represents a $1.7 billion increase from last year’s spending. However, Quinn’s staff insists that last year, the state did not make some required payments in full and did not pay the required $4 billion pension fund payment from general revenue funds. So, they say, last year’s numbers do not represent a realistic budget.

“Our commitment to taxpayers is simple: We will only use tax dollars to provide necessary state services,” Quinn said in his address. “All unnecessary state spending will be eliminated.”

The governor’s plan includes a jump in general state aid funding to schools from $4.6 billion to $4.86 billion. This increase would bring the foundation level — the funding the state gives schools per student each year — up to $6,267 from $6,119. But Quinn also called for eliminating all state dollars spent on regional superintendents’ offices. He said the almost $14 million in savings from that cut should go toward schools. His plan also cuts $95 million from state support for transportation costs spent on busing students to schools. Quinn also called for consolidating school districts, a plan that he said would realize $100 million in future savings. He did not explain how the consolidations would be accomplished, but he did say he plans to create a commission to took into the matter.

The governor called for a $25 million increase in the Monetary Award Program, which provides college scholarships to students in economic need, and an end to scholarships doled out by legislators. “College scholarships paid for by the taxpayers of Illinois should go only to those that have true financial need for them,” Quinn said.

Quinn proposed cutting the rates that health care providers are paid to treat Medicaid patients, a move he said could save $550 million in the first year. In recent years, providers have claimed that the rates they are paid to provide health care, coupled with the state’s slow payment of bills, has caused providers to opt not to treat Medicaid patients. In some cases, that has led to Medicaid patients having trouble finding treatment close to home. “Making such deep cuts will pose serious challenges to many financially fragile hospitals, which are already struggling to survive. With hospitals being squeezed between higher costs – for labor, new technology and medical liability – and inadequate revenues during the current economic downturn, their ability to continue to perform the critical role of serving their patients and their communities will be seriously jeopardized by Medicaid rate reductions,” Danny Chun, a spokesperson for the Illinois Hospital Association, said in a written statement.

State funding for addiction treatment and prevention services that are not covered under Medicaid—which brings in federal matching funds—was cut completely. According to Sara Moscato Howe, a spokesperson for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, the proposed $53 million in cuts to substance abuse programs would mean almost 19,000 people would lose access to treatment. Howe said about 80 percent of those in state-funded addiction treatment today are not eligible for Medicaid. “We have a lot of the working poor … so they’re stuck in the middle.”

Howe added that Illinois could lose federal funding for those programs if it does not chip in because the state is required to meet certain “effort of maintenance” standards to get the federal dollars that Quinn has written into his budget.

The plan also calls for cuts to mental health services not backed by Medicaid dollars, as well as eliminating programs that help seniors pay for medication and costs associated with owning a home.

“This is my 50th year of lobbying on behalf of persons with disabilities in Illinois, and I have never witnessed a proposed human service budget that would be more devastating to the health and welfare of this vulnerable population,” Don Moss, coordinator for the Illinois Human Services Coalition, said in a written statement. “There is no segment of human service needs that is left unscathed by the draconian cuts put forth by the governor.”

Quinn emphasized economic development and cooperation with the business sector. He touted his recent efforts to bring more business to the state, called for reforms to the workers’ compensation system and announced the creation of an Illinois Innovation Council — aimed at promoting economic growth. He also called for $1.4 billion in new capital construction spending to catch up on maintenance at universities and state facilities that has been put off in recent years because of budget constraints.

“I’m glad we got his attention,” said Jeff Mays, president of Illinois Business Roundtable. Mays said Quinn has become more proactive about concerns the business community has raised in the last month. He said it is a good start, but he hopes to see more policy changes directed at the needs of Illinois businesses.

Quinn renewed a call for $8.75 billion in borrowing to pay overdue bills, which he said are six to eight months late, owed to vendors, social services providers and schools. He called on Republicans, who shot down that proposal yesterday, to present alternative proposals. “Billions of dollars of existing bills will not go away by magic. … If you do not agree with our debt restructuring plan, tell us which [programs] you would eliminate to pay $8.7 billion in overdue bills today.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, said although well delivered, she thought Quinn's address did not offer much information about what she called key factors of the budget. “The concepts he talked about — needing to cut, needing to pay bills, needing to focus on job development — are all on target. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear a lot about the numbers,” Radogno said.

Radogno and Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said Quinn’s numbers do not add up. They say he would spend more than the expected revenues for the next fiscal year, and they are concerned that he plans to use some of the money from the proposed borrowing to fund his budget. “The governor's estimated revenues in [Fiscal Year] 12 are $1.45 billion less than his proposed spending. At first glance, the governor’s budget appears to rely on debt restructuring that has not been secured. I am among those with questions about how the governor plans to use these dollars if they are approved. I urge the governor to provide the details needed to advance his proposal,” Cullerton said in a written statement. He canceled a scheduled news conference after the governor’s address because he said he still has questions about the proposal and needs more information from Quinn.

Radogno accused Quinn of doing a “sloppy” job of explaining where the borrowing dollars would go. “Borrowing has been proposed to pay bills, yet the budget document itself demonstrates that some of that borrowing is used in order to prop up the level of spending that can’t be sustained with the revenue that’s coming in aside from the borrowing.”

A spokesperson for Quinn’s budget office said all the money from the borrowing plan would go toward paying off the old bills.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said on the PBS television program "Illinois Lawmakers" that he thinks Republicans will come around to a borrowing plan, but it will probably be smaller. The Chicago Democrat said in early negotiations, lawmakers were discussing borrowing about $6.2 billion. Like Radogno and Cullerton, Madigan took issue with Quinn’s numbers. He said Quinn was counting on $720 million from two plans — one that would cut state payments to the fund for corporate income tax refunds and another that would split state tax practices from a federal plan — which have not been approved by legislators. Madigan said that under new budget reforms, Quinn cannot base his budget on money the state doesn’t have. “That will be the first point of difference with the governor and the legislature.” He pointed out that the governor’s proposal is just the beginning of the budgeting process, and any disputes could potentially be worked out through negotiations.

Madigan, Cross and Radogno all said changes to pension benefits for state workers, as well as charging some retired state workers more for their health care coverage, should be on the table. They say they are not proposing taking away any pension benefits employees have already earned, but they are open to changing future benefits for current employees. Cullerton agreed that some retired workers should pay more for insurance. However, he maintained his stance that any changes to pension benefits for current employees would be unconstitutional.

Madigan said of the budgeting process that was kicked off today: “There is going to be a whole series of tough decisions to be made on issues, such as unemployment insurance workers’ compensation, support for health insurance programs for retired teachers … all of that in addition to working our way through a budget making process where we acknowledge that we owe $6 [billion] to $8 billion in unpaid bills.” (For more on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and the associated budget problems for Illinois, see Illinois Issues, November 2010.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quinn's budget plan relies on borrowing

By Jamey Dunn with Lauren N. Johnson contributing

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget does not include a plan to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid bills outside of a borrowing proposal Republicans shot down earlier today.

Near the end of the previous legislative session, Democrats proposed $8.75 billion in borrowing to pay down the state’s growing stack of unpaid bills to vendors, social service providers and schools. Revenues from the recent income tax increase were earmarked to repay the borrowed funds over the next 14 years, but the plan did not receive the needed support. At the time, some Republicans said they were willing to work out a compromise version of the bill in the new legislative session.

The same plan was introduced this session as Senate Bill 3, and Senate Republicans voiced their opposition today. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said Senate Republicans made their opposition to the proposed $8.75 billion borrowing plan—referred to by Quinn as a “debt restructuring” plan—clear to the governor. She said if, in fact, Quinn forms his budget address around the plan, it would show the Republican caucus his resistance “to work together and come up with a plan.”

However, members of Quinn’s staff say that the plan is necessary to build a responsible budget for the next fiscal year. “We spent the first half of this year paying [fiscal year 2010] bills. If we don’t do debt restructuring, we’ll be doing the same thing next year,” said Jack Lavin, Quinn’s chief of staff.

Lavin said the backlog of unpaid bills to vendors has narrowed the pool of contractors that the state can choose from because some businesses cannot afford to wait for the late payments. He said the result has been a 6 to 10 percent increase in procurement costs, which he estimated at $700 million. “[Republicans] are saying we can’t afford to pay the interest [on the borrowing plan]. We can’t afford not to. … We can’t afford to have these procurement costs go up. We can’t afford to continue to have these big deficits — have vendors who can’t pay their employees stop serving the state, so we have less vendors to choose from, [so] procurement continues to go up.”

He said some Republicans are “out playing politics and using rhetoric, but we need to sit down and look at the numbers and look at what fiscal stability means.”

Lavin added: “It’s a prerequisite. We have to have a debt restructuring in order to have fiscal stability and to keep our economy moving forward.”

He said Quinn still plans to work with Republicans to figure out a way to pay off the backlog. “We’re waiting for Republicans to give us a counter offer. … They have not done that. They simply say no. We’ve asked them to stop playing rope-a-dope and give us a counter proposal.”

Lavin said he thinks the Republicans are working on their own proposal, but he said they likely want to hear Quinn’s budget address before they present it. He said Republicans could identify more cuts to free up funds for paying off old bills.

“We are fundamentally changing the way we spend taxpayer dollars by mandating that decisions be based on performance and impact rather than politics or habit. … It’s a lean budget that focuses the burden across all areas of state budget,” Quinn spokesperson Mica Matsoff said of the governor’s budget proposal, which he will present to the General Assembly at noon tomorrow.

House, Senate bills could reinstate death penalty

By Lauren N. Johnson

Two Republican lawmakers today urged Gov. Pat Quinn to veto legislation that would abolish Illinois’ death penalty.

Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Addison and Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale proposed legislation that could reinstate the death penalty in Illinois if Quinn signs the abolition bill into law.

House Bill 1520, sponsored by Reboletti, would place a referendum on the 2012 general election ballot asking Illinois voters if they are favor of capital punishment. Reboletti said the public had little to no input in the voting process that he said was rushed through the lame-duck legislative session in January. While the death penalty cannot be abolished or reinstated through a voter referendum, Reboletti said he would respect the choice of voters. The only way the public could directly decide whether Illinois has the death penalty would be through a constitutional amendment passed by the legislature and approved by voters.

“Gov. Quinn has always been an advocate of letting the people's voice be heard through referendums throughout his four decades of service to this state, so we are hopeful that he would be supportive of this measure,” Reboletti said.

Dillard introduced Senate Bill 2276 to reduce eligibility for the death penalty to what he called the “worst of the worst” of crimes, a group of criminals he defined as killers of police officers and correctional guards, heinous child murderers and serial murderers.

“Some of my colleagues on the other side were forced to take [Senate Bill 3539] or leave it. The death penalty to me is not a ‘take it or leave it’ situation; it’s to be used very judicially in limited circumstances,” Dillard said.

Dillard also introduced Senate Bill 2277, which calls for creation of a panel – prosecutors, state’s attorneys from Cook County and downstate Illinois, a representative from the attorney general’s office and a retired judge – intended to guarantee that Illinois' judicial system would use more discretion in applying the death penalty.

Quinn has until March 18 to take action on the bill, according to his office. If he fails to act, the measure automatically becomes law.

Human services bracing for cuts

By Jamey Dunn and Lauren N. Johnson

Human service providers fear that they will be targeted for deep cuts when Gov. Pat Quinn presents his budget tomorrow.

Quinn has warned that despite the recent income tax increase, it will be a “lean year” for state government. Since the governor ran in the general election on a proposed income tax increase for education, those working in human services say they will likely bear the brunt of cuts aimed at closing the state’s gaping budget hole.

“There’s probably no doubt of that because there is no other large post of money other than education to tap into to deal with the crisis,” said Don Moss, coordinator for the Illinois Human Services Coalition.

Social service providers testified on the impact of substantial cuts during this fiscal year and potential cuts during the next before a Senate committee today. No similar hearings were held today focusing on any area of government that represents a large amount of spending, such as education or health care.

“It’s seems like whenever there is a budget shortfall, the first place they look [to cut] is in the human services budget,” said Chicago Democratic Sen. Mattie Hunter. “I think that the message that’s being thrown out there is that you’re nobody. That you’re providing a nobody service … or that you’re just a waste of time.”

Hunter said drastic cuts to human services would likely push costs to other areas, such as corrections, as crime rates and other problems increase because of an eroding social safety net. Providers agreed and added that potential for cuts are limited by law and their contracts with the state.

“Our missions urge us to create better lives for those who need and depend on our support, while our businesses are being crushed under the weight of pressures that currently exist. We cannot raise prices like other business because our rates are set in contract or statute. We cannot lay off staff like other industries because our staffing powers are set in rules. And we cannot discharge individuals because it is prohibited in our contracts,” said Janet Stover, executive director of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. “If the community support network is not preserved … we will have to revert back to dependence on institutions, on prisons, on other costly settings that don’t serve people well, and they don’t serve the state well.”

Moss said services for people with developmental disabilities could be relatively safe from budget slashing. “It was confirmed to me today that they will be the last to be cut.” However, he says funding for programs for the mentally ill and addiction treatment will probably be hit hard because spending on many of those programs is not matched by federal Medicaid dollars.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans say they can only back a budget proposal that includes cuts and roundly rejected Quinn’s plan to borrow $8.75 billion to pay down the state’s mounting pile of overdue bills to social service providers, vendors and schools.

“We have new revenue coming in based on the income tax increase,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. “If we reduce the spending, we can use that additional revenue to begin to pay those bills off.”

She added,” We don’t have to pay it off 100 percent in one day. Even bringing people current to say within 90 days, which would be a huge improvement, is less of a hill to climb.”

Radogno said to address the backlog, legislators will have to make difficult choices, including cuts. Republicans compared recent budgets to shell games, saying that Quinn made shifts in the current budget but did not follow through on the cuts that he promised. “We are repeating the pattern of spending, borrowing, having a crisis, needing to raise taxes. We’ve got to stop that,” Radogno said.

Moss said the Republican rejection of the borrowing plan is an added blow to human services because many providers are waiting for payments from the state. “What happened today was shutting off the only possibly safety net that [social service providers] had. … The delayed payments are almost as bad as the cuts in recent years. … The payrolls can’t be met. We’re losing good staff.”

Moss acknowledged that there is still time to work out a compromised borrowing plan in the coming months of budget negotiations and said providers will continue to heavily lobby the governor. But he said, as of now, negotiations seem to have shut down. “Suddenly the door slammed shut.”

During the last legislative session, Senate Democrats could pass a borrowing plan, which requires a three-fifths majority, without Republican support, but now they lack the numbers. So the proposal has become a potential bargaining chip for other reforms, such as changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system. “This is the only way they can flex their muscles, when the three-fifths vote is needed,” Moss said. “They’re pushing the only way they can.”

He added: “We’re going to keep trying. We’ve seen over the years many things go down in flames and then somehow rise out of the ashes again.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Free ride for all seniors program is over

By Jamey Dunn

A program backed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, which was also a popular target of legislators looking to cut the budget, was limited today.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 3788, which ends the free-rides-for-seniors program as it existed under Blagojevich. Under the new law, all seniors will pay half-price to use mass transit. To receive free rides, seniors must have income levels that qualify for state assistance programs, such as a state pharmaceutical aid program. One person making $27,610 or less will still be eligible for a free ride. Members of a two-person household earning less than $36,635 and any households of three or more that earn less than $45,657 will also still be able to ride for free.

“This reform sets the standard we must meet for state programs by reducing costs while also ensuring transportation services for our most dependent seniors,” Quinn said in a written statement. “To start off a week that will highlight important budget reforms, we’re taking important steps to ensure our state transit programs are fiscally responsible but also accessible to the riders who depend on them.”

A proposal to limit the program gained traction last spring but then stalled. Legislators brought the issue up again in the January lame-duck session, and the bill passed with little debate and no organized opposition. “It’s about time,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, who has been pushing to roll the program back, said when the bill passed.

Controversial appointee gets new job

By Jamey Dunn

A member of Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration whose appointment has been a continued point of controversy was named to a different office today.

Jonathon Monken, who has served as acting director of the Illinois State Police, was named director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

A former U.S. Army captain and decorated war veteran, Monken led more than 100 combat missions in Iraq as a tank platoon leader without losing any soldiers under his command.

After Quinn named Monken, then 29, to direct the Illinois State Police in 2009, some legislators balked at his lack of law enforcement experience. His appointment has remained in limbo, and he was on a list of appointees held over from the last General Assembly that Senate President John Cullerton asked Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to stop paying. That request arose during a dispute between Quinn and the Senate about whether such employees had a legal right to their positions.

“I salute and thank Jon Monken for his service to the Illinois State Police, which he has led with honor and distinction – most recently during a major winter storm,”Quinn said in a written statement. “His strong leadership on the battlefield and in keeping Illinoisans safe makes him perfectly suited for preparing our state for disasters and helping us recover from their aftermath.”

Patrick Keen deputy director for the division of administration for the Illinois State Police, was tapped to take Monken’s place as interim director. Joseph Klinger, current interim Emergency Management Agency director, will return to his previous job as the agency’s assistant director. Monken will have to go through the standard appointment process and be approved by the Senate for the new position.

Comptroller and treasurer backing a merger

By Jamey Dunn

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka are making good on a campaign proposal by pushing for the consolidation of their two offices.

Both constitutional officers are backing an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would combining the two offices into one — headed by the so-called comptroller of the treasury. Currently the treasurer is responsible for the state’s investments while the comptroller handles day-to-day finances, such as paying the bills.

“What you have now are two incumbent constitutional officers that stand together to say we believe these two offices should be made into one.” Rutherford said of himself and Topinka at a Chicago news conference today. Topinka was not at the event because she was required to report for jury duty today.

Rutherford said the merger would save the state about $12 million annually. He said $4 million would result from reducing staffing levels and the lowered costs of consolidating physical facilities, such as renting less office space. He says about 50 staff positions of about 450 positions in both offices would be eliminated through the merger. Rutherford said $8 million in savings would come from better management of the state’s money and investments, which he says would occur if the offices were combined.

Rutherford said framers of the 1970 Illinois Constitution created separate offices to ensure a higher level of oversight and try to prevent any cooking of the books. Rutherford said that the presence of the auditor general, a position also created under the 1970 constitution, in addition to new computer technology that can make record keeping and auditing easier, guarantee a strong level of oversight.

Republicans and Democrats back the proposal. “I think even more than the savings it is the statement that is being made. You have two political officeholders essentially agreeing that they’re going to give up some power,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican.

Corruption that occurred when there was a single financial officer in Illinois led to the creation of separate offices. One of the most notable of such cases is the story of former Gov. Lennington “Len” Small, who served as treasurer from 1905 to 1907 and again from 1917 to 1919. Small escaped a criminal conviction but was found liable by a civil court for more than $600,000 gained from graft while he was treasurer. According to the book The Illinois Governors: Mostly Good and Competent, after each of Small’s terms as treasurer laws were passed in attempts to reform practices in the office.

"Caesar had his Brutus, Jesus Christ had his Judas Iscariot, the United States had its Benedict Arnold and Jefferson Davis, and Illinois has Len Small. And if the Judas of Illinois had the courage of the Judas of Jesus, he would return the 30 pieces of silver, get a rope and hang himself, and remove the withering blight which will remain upon this state as long as he is Governor of Illinois,” Rep. J. Bert Miller said of Small when addressing the General Assembly according to a 1927 report from Time magazine.

The recent ethical track record of some of Illinois’ constitutional officers — former Secretary of State and Gov. George Ryan is currently serving prison time for a conviction on corruption charges, while former Gov. Rod Blagojevich will soon embark on another corruption trial after being convicted of a felony — may give some legislators pause when considering consolidation. The fact that lawmakers often make the jump to a constitutional office and sometimes use it as a springboard to another higher office may also factor into the decision to pare down the number. Rutherford and Topinka both served in the state legislature before their current positions. Topinka gave up her job as state treasurer to challenge Blagojevich for the governor’s office in 2006.

The concept of merging the offices is not new. However, supporters of the amendment say that the gaping budget deficit has brought a new focus on cutting government redundancy and finding savings whenever possible.

“I’ve sponsored this bill in the past. It’s passed the state Senate … and it’s been hung up in the House. … I’m confident this time we will make this change and save the state $12 million … and then have one-stop shopping for our state’s fiscal management,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale.

Since the proposal is a constitutional amendment, it will require support of three fifths of members of both the House and the Senate. Voters would have to approve the plan on the 2012 ballot. If the proposal clears all the necessary thresholds to change the Constitution, voters would be selecting a comptroller of the treasury in 2014.

“One of thing I have noted during this heavy political campaign season is there are far too many commercials on TV, and at least if we consolidate theses two offices, we can reduce the number of political commercials,” Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, the sponsor of the legislation, joked at a Chicago news conference. “It’s just a make-sense measure that I think should be able to garner bipartisan support.”

The amendment is scheduled for consideration in the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday.

Advocates to Quinn: Sign death penalty bill

By Lauren N. Johnson

As the clock ticks down on Gov. Pat Quinn’s time to make a decision, advocates of repealing Illinois’ death penalty today urged him to sign the abolition measure that legislators approved in January.

Members of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated death row inmates, continue to push for elimination of the death penalty in Illinois as well as in other states.

Four states – New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Maryland – have abolished the death penalty within the past year.

According to a spokesperson for Quinn, he is reviewing the bill and has until March 18 to take action. He can sign the measure into law or veto it and send it back to the legislature to take up during the fall veto session. Quinn has 60 days to make up his mind about legislation after the General Assembly sends it to his desk. If he does not act on the bill, it will automatically become law.

“There’s always going to be wrongful convictions. We see it in cases where guys are doing life without parole that are released after 30 years with DNA. At least they are alive to prove their innocence,” said Randy Steidl, secretary of the group, who was wrongfully convicted of a double murder in downstate Paris, Ill., in 1987.

Steidl added, “On death row, you have a procedural clock and there are certain procedures and hurdles that you have to go through to prove your innocence, and if you cannot meet that burden, that clock stops and you are executed.”

Delbert Tibbs said he was also wrongfully sentenced to death row and spent three years in Florida’s death row system. Tibbs said he recommends that those currently on Illinois’ death row not be executed and should be sentenced to different punishments fitting their individual crimes.

“It is literally less expensive, both morally and in the material realm, to mete out another kind of punishment rather than that of killing people,” said Tibbs, highlighting the financial benefits of using other alternatives to the death penalty.

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Addison Republican, and Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, plan to hold a news conference tomorrow on their legislation to reinstate the death penalty if Quinn signs the abolition bill. Check back for coverage of the event.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Minimum wage increase proposed

By Lauren N. Johnson

Workers earning minimum wage in Illinois could see an increase in their paychecks under a proposal to raise the state's minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10.65 per hour by 2014.

Senate Bill 1565
, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, would also raise minimum wage to $10.65 for tipped workers – individuals who provide services, such as waitresses, car wash workers and nail salon employees. They currently receive $4.95 per hour.

“As we go forward, I want to make sure that minimum wage workers are not ignored and not forgotten,” said Lightford. “Their issues and rights need to be a part of the discussion. The bill will help to keep this important issue on the table as members of the General Assembly work to keep Illinois competitive and fair for business and for workers.”

Under the bill, the minimum wage would increase to $8.90 this year, $9.50 in 2012, $10.15 in 2013 and $10.65 in 2014.

“People who have to work for a living ought to make a living wage,” said Madeline Talbott, lead coordinator of Action Now, a grassroots coalition of Illinois community and labor organizations that advocates the rights of working families.

Talbot said 17 other states require employers to pay more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. She said that in a statewide poll conducted in January, 71 percent of Illinois voters in all regions of the state supported an increase to $10.50 by 2013. Kiley and Co., a Boston-based public polling and research firm, conducted the poll for Action Now.

In 2007, former Gov. Blagojevich signed into law a similar plan to increase wages for hourly workers over a period of three years, bringing the rate to $8.25 per hour last July. Darby Anderson, vice president of Addus Healthcare’s Home and Community Services, said since that increase in wages, the group has seen a 20 percent reduction in turnover of their employees – home aides who service elderly and disabled persons.

Members of the business community opposed to the increase said it would stop economic recovery in the state after the national recession. “Illinois policy makers must understand their actions, like significantly raising the minimum wage and imposing higher income taxes, do impact our economic viability,” Kim Clarke Maisch, Illinois state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a written statement.

However, Ron Baiman, director of budget and policy analysis for the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability, said a wage increase would not cause Illinois businesses to flee the state because those that would be impacted by the increase serve local markets in retail and health care and cannot “pick up and leave.”

Rob Karr, senior vice president of government and member relations for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said an increase at this time would be a “recipe for disaster.” Karr said the proposed increase would be yet another blow to businesses, citing Illinois’ high workers’ compensation costs and the recent income tax increase.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Appointment process under fire

By Jamey Dunn

UPDATE February 10, 2011: Senate Bill 1 passed in the Senate this morning. Executive appointees who have overstayed their appointed terms may soon find themselves booted from their positions.

Senate Bill 1, proposed by Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno, was approved by a Senate committee today with unanimous support.

If the both chambers of the legislature approve the measure, all paid appointees who are serving beyond their terms and so-called acting appointees would be out of their jobs. Those who are not paid would lose their positions after 30 days. The governor could reappoint anyone he chooses.

Temporary appointments made while the legislature is in recess would only last until the next time the Senate is in session. The bill would also end the practice of allowing so-called acting appointees to serve for months without going through the formal confirmation process. Appointments made under the “acting” category would last only 30 days. After that, the governor would have to nominate the individual for the position, and he or she would have to be approved by the Senate to remain in the job.

Cullerton said the measure “mirrors the Constitution,” and he hopes to pass the bill through the legislature as soon as possible.

The Senate also changed its rules to require that executive appointments be numbered and entered into the General Assembly’s website, so they can be tracked in the same way as legislation.

A spokesperson for Gov. Pat Quinn said the governor "applauds" Cullerton for trying to make the executive appointment process more transparent.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Tax amnesty program collects more than expected

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois’ amnesty program for delinquent taxpayers brought in more money than expected.

The state’s amnesty period spanned from October 1 to November 8 and gave those owing back taxes a chance to pay them without penalty. Anyone owing back taxes that could have been paid of during the amnesty period is now subject to doubled penalties.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget had estimated that the amnesty program would add $250 million to the state's general revenue fund, but the final total was $314 million. The state brought in $717 million total, but the rest of the money will go to local governments and the fund used to pay income tax refunds.

“This program’s success is good news as we work to stabilize state finances and to maintain vital public services,” Quinn said in a written statement. “This much-needed revenue will help our state to meet its obligations and is another important step towards making Illinois fiscally sound.”

To bring in the $314 million during the amnesty period, the state approached individuals and businesses facing future audits and gave them the chance to pay any taxes they owed, said Sue Hofer, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Revenue. While they will still have to endure the audits, those who paid can now avoid penalty fees.

Hofer said that money likely would have been collected over the next two years, but she said the intent of the amnesty plan was to bring it in sooner to help offset the dip in revenues caused by the recession.

Most of the money, $252 million, came from corporate income taxes owed by more than 5,000 businesses. Almost 60,000 individuals paid a total of $20 million in overdue income taxes. The remainder came from collections of overdue sales and excise taxes.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Ruling could mean bumpy road for construction plans

By Jamey Dunn

An appellate court ruling that found the legislation that creates the state’s capital construction plan unconstitutional could send lawmakers scrambling to approve a new capital plan and bring future state borrowing under added scrutiny.

The Illinois Supreme Court granted the state's request that the effects of the lower courts ruling be put on hold until the higher court makes a decision. So, for now, all the projects and increased taxes and licensing fees used to pay for the borrowing are on hold.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the appellate ruling that the bill violated the Illinois Constitution's “single subject” rule, which requires that one piece of legislation can cover only one topic, lawmakers will have to pass the components of the capital plan in separate bills.

While some legislators have said the solution will be as easy as breaking up the components into separate bills and passing them, experts agree that finding the needed support could be challenging in a new legislature with a new political climate. “You can’t go back and recreate the moment,” said Kent Redfield an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “I don’t think it’s a done deal.”

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said new Republican lawmakers in both chambers could present a problem to those who want to see a similar plan passed again. “Even though this is a capital bill … you still are going to ask people to vote on video poker, which is controversial, [and] to raise liquor taxes. Any kind of revenue thing is more difficult in the environment.”

He added that the recent income tax increase could be a factor because it has focused public attention — and frustration — on taxes.

“Some of those Republicans [who supported the bill when it passed] are no longer in the legislature. … We’ve had a 2010 election in which the Tea Party movement has dominated the Republican Party. The Republican Party is solidly anti-tax. I don’t think any Republican … in the legislature would find it very easy to vote for any tax increase right now.”

Redfield said Republicans considering the primary elections they face next year — when they could be running from different legislative districts after the state finishes redistricting, with new challengers from their own party — might be hesitant to vote for higher taxes or the controversial video poker expansion.

He added that because video poker expansion has still not been implemented and many municipalities have opted out of having the machines, some legislators might not be inclined to vote for it this time around. “Video poker kind of got less attractive after it was passed.”

Yepsen predicted that the Supreme Court will reject the appellate court’s opinion, which he said came as a surprise. He said the court's granting the states request for a hold may indicate how the court will rule. “If they were really upset about it, why did they put a hold on it? Why did they grant this stay?”

Yepsen and Redfield both think that legislators would likely have to find some new revenue sources if the plan is tossed out. Redfield said that lawmakers do not have a lot of options, and the final plan would likely be a combination of increased sales taxes, fees and some form of gaming expansion.

Yepsen said no matter how the Supreme Court rules, any Illinois plan that involves borrowing will come under some added scrutiny in the future. “It could cause some heartburn when the state wants to borrow.”

He said borrowers—and their lawyers want a sense of certainty and to be sure that legislation is drafted in a legal way. “These are important things to get right because you are going to go borrow money for this.”

This means the proposed plan to borrow $8.75 billion to pay down the state's backlog of bills, as well as other borrowing proposals, could be the subject of added scrutiny in the coming months of legislative session.

Redfield and Yepsen agreed that the bill did not contain any so-called logrolling — putting one issue in a bill to attract votes for another. But Yepsen said this scenario would probably make legislators more cautious when drafting bills, at least in the near future. “This is likely to give the jitters at least for a few years.”

This week's CapitolView

CapitolView WSEC-TV/PBS Springfield: Host Bernie Schoenburg (Springfield State Journal-Register) is joined by Bob Gough ( and Scott Reeder (Illinois Statehouse News). Topics include the politics of snow, New Jersey's business development efforts in Illinois, ongoing budget issues and civil union legislation.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Illinois celebrates Reagan's birthday

By Lauren N. Johnson

The Illinois Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission will host a series of events throughout the state this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Illinois native and former president's birth.

“We’re excited about the events. [Illinois] is the place he came back to time after time. During the eight years that he was president, he made 25 speeches in Chicago alone. That tells you he thought a lot about our state,” said Ann Lewis, vice chairman of the commission,

During his time in Illinois, Reagan studied economics at Eureka College, where he played football and swam competitively, in addition to other extra-curricular activities. Prior to college, Reagan rescued 77 swimmers over seven summers as a lifeguard in Dixon.

“[Reagan] brought the concept of family, faith, hard work and optimism with a can-do attitude,” said Lewis. She added, “It’s a Midwestern concept, and he brought that to the White House.”

A centennial gala is scheduled at 6 p.m. on February 4 in Deer Grove. The event will feature former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as keynote speaker. A number of other public figures, including former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, plan to attend.

During the day, there will be a book signing with Gingrich and the premiere of the film “Rendezvous with Destiny,” a documentary on Reagan's terms as the 40th president of the United States. Earlier this week, Ronald Reagan Jr., Reagan's son, held a signing of his book, “My Father at 100.”

On February 6, Reagan’s birth date, there will be a number of birthday parties in Illinois, as well as a Sunday church service in Dixon.

Lewis said by the end of 2011, about 50 events to celebrate the centennial will have been held in Dixon, Tampico — Reagan’s birthplace — Sterling and others. Lewis said the events occurring this year will bring tourism and dollars to areas that have high unemployment in the state.

According to event organizers, tickets for remain available to the public, and the centennial events this weekend are taking place as scheduled regardless of the recent inclement weather

For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Supreme Court grants stay on capital plan ruling

Illinois state capital construction projects, and all the mechanisms used to fund the borrowing to pay for them, will continue as planned for now.

The Illinois Supreme Court granted the state's request to put a hold on the effects of a lower court decision that ruled the capital bill unconstitutional. That means projects will go on, and the state will continue to collect the higher taxes and fees that were included in the legislation until the Illinois Supreme Court rules on the case.

An appellate court ruled the bill violated the Illinois Constitution's "single-subject rule," which requires that one piece of legislation can deal only with issues under one topic. If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court, legislators could still pass all the components of the plan in new separate bills.(For more details on the appellate court ruling. see this previous post.)