Monday, September 28, 2009

AFSCME layoffs stopped for now

By Bethany Jaeger
About 500 state employees who anticipated losing their jobs Wednesday are on hold. A southern Illinois judge this morning ordered the administration to refrain from laying off employees pending more negotiations with the state’s largest public employee union.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said it plans to appeal the ruling, leaving one segment of his deficit-reducing plan — and the 2,600 employees who would be laid off — in limbo.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 filed suit in Johnson County, where Vienna Correctional Center would lose positions. It argued that the job cuts would jeopardize public safety and cause harm to its workers if layoffs took place before the administration settled a dispute over the union’s concerns.

Judge Todd Lambert of the First Judicial Circuit Court in Johnson County ruled that AFSCME met its burden of proof. He wrote in his order, “The risk of employees targeted for layoff or laid off far outweighs any damages or other harm the state may suffer by having to delay the layoffs pending arbitration of the pending grievances.”

Lambert also wrote that the union’s grievances “are not frivolous and reflect a genuine dispute between the parties.”

AFSCME argues layoffs would cause irreparable harm if they took effect without completing negotiations about how the process of layoffs would trickle down. The complex process allows senior workers to bump less-experienced workers out of their jobs, starting a domino effect of workers who have options to take other positions or accept reduced pay, for instance. Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31 spokesman, said union members would be forced to make life-altering decisions without knowing all of their options.

“You can’t unscramble the eggs,” Lindall said. “Once employees make these choices, if we subsequently prevailed on our grievance, the state could not easily or at all just go back and restore the status quo.”

AFSCME’s grievances also protest the state’s contracts with private firms that do work that the union says state employees could perform. Lindall cited a $14.5 million contract with a private company that provides temporary clerical workers. Meanwhile, the state plans to lay off state-employed clerical workers in six agencies. “That $14 million contract should be reduced or eliminated and state employees kept on the job," Lindall said.

Quinn’s administration originally proposed that AFSCME members take unpaid days off or forego annual raises to help prevent the need for more layoffs. The union would not agree to concessions, leading Quinn to say he had no choice but to lay off 2,600 employees.

The court order specifically applies to AFSCME members, many of whom work in the Department of Corrections, as well as in the departments of Revenue, Human Services, Healthcare and Family Services and Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

More layoffs were scheduled to take effect October 31 from the Illinois Arts Council and the departments of Natural Resources and Aging, according to Central Management Services, the personnel and procurement agency.

The governor’s office said in a statement that it “carefully followed every step required in the AFSCME contract” and had no choice. “Illinois is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis, and budget reductions must be made, including cuts to the state’s administrative and personnel costs. Our plan includes responsible layoffs that do not jeopardize public safety.”

The administration still is in negotiations with other public employee unions, including the Service Employees International Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Teamsters and the Laborers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The elusive standard of charitable care

By Bethany Jaeger
The Illinois Supreme Court has to decide which standard to use when considering a highly anticipated case about what not-for-profit hospitals have to do to qualify for local property tax exemptions. While the case specifically deals with Provena Covenant Medical Center in Champaign County, the court decision has potential to affect about 160 nonprofit hospitals throughout Illinois.

We previewed the six-year-old case in the September edition of Illinois Issues magazine. Provena filed for a property tax exemption in 2002 based on its status as a charitable organization, but the Illinois Department of Revenue denied the charitable exemption two years later. The hospital later applied for an exemption based on its status as a religious institution. (See a timeline of the case here.)

Both sides presented oral arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court this morning with drastically different beliefs about what should count when considering charitable exemptions and what evidence the court should consider in deference when determining whether Provena qualifies for that property tax exemption.

On one hand, Provena’s lawyer, Patrick Coffey with Locke, Lord, Bissell & Liddell in Chicago, argued that the justices should undertake a brand new review of whether the denial of the hospital’s charitable exemption violates the state Constitution. The state charter gives the General Assembly authority to exempt “property of the state, units of local government and school districts and property used exclusively for agricultural and horticultural societies, and for school, religious, cemetery and charitable purposes.”

On the other hand, the Illinois Department of Revenue, represented by Assistant Attorney General Evan Siegel, argued that the justices should give deference to the lower administrative orders issued by department director Brian Hamer and affirmed by the 4th District Court of Appeals. The thinking is that the Department of Revenue has expertise in property tax matters and was the authoritative body reviewing evidence provided by 15 witnesses and two experts during administrative hearings, so the court should give a high level of respect to the administrative findings when reviewing the case.

Which standard the court chooses affects how it would consider a 2004 recommendation of an administrative law judge. After the administrative hearings, the administrative law judge found that the hospital met the standard for charitable exemption. Hamer, however, disagreed. He had the final administrative opinion to reject the tax exemption. He deemed some of the evidence irrelevant and decided that Provena didn’t qualify for a tax exemption because it dedicated only 0.7 percent of its revenue that year to providing so-called charity care to 302 patients out of 110,000 patients admitted. “I find that the property does not qualify for the charitable institution tax exemption because the evidence is clear that this property is not used exclusively for charitable purposes,” he wrote.

The two sides further disagree about whether a certain percentage of charitable care should be a deciding factor in its tax-exempt status. Coffey argued that the standard for whether not-for-profit hospitals qualify for property tax exemptions should not be whether the hospitals designate a certain percentage of their income to providing free care to needy patients.

“That has never been the requirement, and it shouldn’t be the requirement,” he said to five of seven justices. Justices Thomas Kilbride of Rock Island and Rita Garman of Danville recused themselves and did not participate in the oral arguments.

Instead, Coffey said the determination should be on a case-by-case basis and should count the hospital’s total contribution to the community. “It’s not out of bounds to consider how much free care was given, but they have also gone beyond.” For instance, Provena operates Crisis Nursery, a 24/7 child abuse prevention and support service and provided more than $13.5 million on such “community benefits” in 2002, according to the hospital’s Supreme Court filing.

Siegel, however, argued that the dominant factor when deciding charitable exemptions is the primary use of the property. He refers to a six-point test established by a 1968 Illinois Supreme Court case Methodist Old Peoples Home v. Bernard Korzen. (Read the six criteria for nonprofit institutions in our September issue.)

“It doesn’t matter whether an organization itself … is a charitable organization,” Siegel said. “What matters on that analysis is whether it is using the property for a charitable purpose.” He added that tax exemptions are granted on an annual basis. “Just because you have it for one year doesn’t mean you have it for every year.”

Justice Robert Thomas asked whether the state expected the court to set a minimum requirement of a certain percentage of charitable care. Siegel said no, that the court already determined in 1907 that a hospital must provide a “substantial amount” of free care. “All the court need do in this case on this critical factor is decide that 0.7 percent revenues in a year that only 302 people out of 110,000 admissions obtained free and discounted care is not substantial.”

In addition to the charitable exemption, the two sides differed about whether the religious exemption should be part of the court’s consideration because of a discrepancy in the record.

Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald questioned several times how Hamer could have ruled that Provena did not qualify for a charitable exemption based on its religious affiliation when the administrative law judge never addressed that question. “I’m still puzzled at how the director based his finding upon a statement that wasn’t there.”

“Well, it was mistaken, absolutely,” Siegel responded. “But I believe that he read the [administrative law judge’s] opinion as not giving much weight to the religious exemption.”

Coffey argued that the administrative law judge did not address the religious exemption because she already found that an exemption was warranted as a charitable organization, and Hamer rejected the religious exemption without explanation.

In addition to differing over other details, the two sides predominantly argued that their opponents were trying to change the standard of determining whether hospitals qualify for property tax exemptions.

“Provena [provided] free and reduced care to just 302 patients,” Siegel said. “That’s not a large proportion. The primary use of the property is treatment of patients with insurance. By arguing that 0.7 percent is sufficient, Provena is trying to alter the constitutional standard. And it is for this court, not the legislature, to determine what constitutes a constitutional charitable use.”

Coffey countered that the state is the one trying to base a decision on a standard that has never been used by the court, referring to the use of a certain percentage needed to qualify for a tax exemption. He said a proposal to set a minimum percentage of charitable care should go through the legislative process, not the court system.

It is up to the court to decide which standard to use. Although Justices Kilbride and Garman recused themselves and are not required to disclose their reasons, a majority opinion still requires four justices, according to Joseph Tybor, Illinois Supreme Court spokesman.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plan to release 1,000 prisoners unveiled

By Bethany Jaeger
About 1,000 prisoners who committed non-violent crimes will start being released from the Illinois Department of Corrections “within a couple of weeks” as a way to ease overcrowding and budget constraints, according to a plan announced today by department director Michael Randle.

The announcement came with a $4 million boost from the governor’s office. About $2 million of that is slated for so-called mandatory supervised electronic detention, or releasing non-violent drug offenders early from prison and giving them ankle bracelets and parole officers.

Reducing the average daily population by 1,000 could save the agency about $5 million a year, according to Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the corrections department. At one time, it was rumored that the state could release between 5,000 to 10,000 prisoners, which would have included more categories of prisoners than Randle intends to make eligible.

Randle plans to be stricter than state statute by excluding sex offenders, parole violators, inmates with active protective orders and inmates with a history of domestic violence from being eligible for early release. Since 1993, state law has allowed certain nonviolent offenders to be released within 90 days of their parole dates as long as they served home detention, including wearing electronic monitoring devices.

The concept of early release is supported by the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based prison reform group, as well as Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities. In a statement, president of TASC, Pamela Rodriguez, said: “In our extensive history working with the justice system, we have found that alternatives to incarceration are far more effective ways to reduce crime for the vast majority of non-violent, short-term drug-involved offenders.”

Bill Ryan, a prison reform activist since 1994 and publisher of the prisoner-written newspaper Stateville Speaks, said for my September column for Illinois Issues that he is “definitely in favor” of early release. However, he added, “my concern is that many of the people leaving prison on electronic monitoring will require some sort of supportive services, more than just having an ankle bracelet and a parole officer.”

Dubbed the Illinois Crime Reduction Act of 2009, the other part of the package will dedicate an additional $2 million to community-based services in an attempt to help non-violent drug offenders stay out of jail.

According to the department, the prison population has increased from 18,000 in fiscal year 1986 to nearly 46,000 in fiscal year 2009, much of it attributed to the higher rate of imprisonment for non-violent drug offenders.

Friday’s announcement did not mention layoffs of prison staff, but Smith said 419 prison workers already have received their notices and will be terminated September 30. Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration has said it will have to lay off as many as 1,000 corrections employees because it could not strike an agreement with Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to take furlough days or forgo their annual raises. Some prison workers could be eligible to fill vacancies in other prisons.

The amount of overtime hours worked, however, has been increasing and cost the department $37 million two years ago, according to a recent audit. In 2005, the department employed 13,670 people, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority. In August, Smith said the department employed 10,951.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Super-max prison reforms proposed

By Bethany Jaeger
One of the state’s maximum-security prisons designed to hold the most disruptive and violent offenders has a new set of rules that are intended to give inmates incentives to improve their behavior so they can return to less restrictive facilities.

The new Illinois Department of Corrections director, Michael Randle, issued a 10-step plan for reforming Tamms Correctional Center, which is at the very southwestern tip of the state. It houses an average of 432 men, costing an average of $67,000 each, according to the department. Male prisoners arrive at Tamms if they pose a threat to other inmates, themselves or prison staff. It’s one of six maximum-security prisons in Illinois and is intended for short-term placement until inmates are stable and able to return to the general prison population.

The “supermax” prison has been under scrutiny from human rights advocates and a volunteer group known as Tamms Year Ten for what it deems as prolonged solitary confinement and poor treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

Appointed by Quinn in May to replace former director Roger Walker, Randle was born in Chicago but worked 19 years in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, most recently as assistant director. His first assignment in Illinois was to review Tamms.

His 10-step plan announced today in Chicago includes a full mental health evaluation of all Tamms prisoners within 30 days of their arrival. Clinical staff also will make weekly rounds of all areas throughout the prison, not just the mental health unit, to detect whether inmates’ conditions worsen or if they become suicidal.

Another significant change is the new process for reviewing prisoners who are to be transferred from a lower security prison to Tamms. Hearings will be conducted to allow inmates to rebut information that led them to be placed in Tamms, and they would be able to appeal their placement there. All hearings would be recorded.

Other changes include:
  • Inform each inmate of an estimated time they’ll stay at Tamms and how they can earn privileges and eventually transfer out to a less restrictive prison.
  • Enhance incentives for good behavior, including earning the right to use the telephone or spend more time out of their cells.
  • Begin offering General Educational Development testing.
  • Implement congregate religious services for inmates.
  • Rescind some of the restrictions on printed materials.
  • Develop a plan to allow inmates access to a “step down” program, which would help at-risk inmates transition from Tamms to the general prison population.
  • Plan a media, legislative and public outreach program that includes a visit to Tamms.
  • Reexamine the population of inmates having served extensive time at Tamms to see whether they are eligible to transfer out. Some have been at Tamms since it opened in 1998.

Laurie Jo Reynolds, organizer of the Tamms Year Ten grass-roots campaign, says Randle’s reforms move in the right direction. The establishment of a transfer review hearing, for instance, is significant, she said. “Over half the prisoners who are there were not actually convicted of a crime in an Illinois prison, and many of them did not know the reasons for their placement. So this is a welcome reform.”

But she added that the reforms in general don’t go as far as desired in House Bill 2633, sponsored by Rep. Julie Hamos, an Evanston Democrat. (Hamos put the bill on hold in May because Randle recently took over, and she wanted to see what changes he would make.)

Hamos’ bill, as well as Tamms Year Ten, Amnesty International and other mental health advocates in Illinois, have sought an independent monitoring of mental health diagnosis and treatment of the prisoners.

“Our concern is that there are a lot of mentally ill prisoners there who have not been properly diagnosed or treated, and there’s nothing in the plan that would provide a safeguard for those prisoners,” Reynolds said.

According to Randle, who said he hasn’t considered an independent monitor, all staff are trained in recognizing the symptoms of mental illness or other psychological needs on an as-needed basis. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it’s necessary for us to do that,” he said.

Reynolds said she also hoped to see clear criteria outlining reasons for transferring inmates to Tamms, rather than using the current case-by-case approach. She said she continues to work with other advocates and legislators to consider whether legislation should codify the changes so they remain permanent regardless of whether the administration changes.

Randle said he doesn’t know whether legislation would be needed because the changes are happening now and are intended to be permanent. However, he added: “I think it’s important to point out that a lot of this is contingent on the offenders’ behavior. … If the guys behave appropriately and do the right things, certainly these things will continue. If we begin to have issues that come up as a result of this, then certainly we need to be in a position to take a look at these.”

Reynolds said Quinn did a great thing by appointing Randle. “I feel like he is committed to long-term reforms and to changes, which are beneficial to both public safety and to prisoners and to lowering recidivism,” she said. On the other hand, she added, “this list of 10 things could end up being really superficial or they could end up being profound, depending on how they’re implemented. So we can only look forward to dialogue as we go forward.”

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Chris Kelly pleads guilty to O'Hare scheme - UPDATED UPON HIS DEATH

By Bethany Jaeger
Christopher Kelly, a close adviser and fundraiser for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, died Saturday, September 12, just days before he was to report to federal prison to serve at least eight years for two of three criminal cases against him. He was 51.

Law enforcement officials reportedly were looking into a drug overdose.

Kelly would have been a key figure in the ongoing corruption trial of Blagojevich, scheduled to go to court in June 2010. Kelly was indicted as part of “Blagojevich Enterprise,” an extensive scheme that allegedly began in 2002 to use the governor’s office for private and political gain, including auctioning off the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Kelly was indicted along with the former governor; his brother, Robert Blagojevich; former campaign manager and lobbyist Alonzo Monk; Springfield lobbyist William Cellini; and former chief of staff John Harris. Kelly pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Shortly before his death, however, he pleaded guilty today to two counts of mail fraud in one of three federal indictments against him. But it's unknown whether he was cooperating in the ex-governor's ongoing corruption trial.

Read his plea agreement here. The Burr Ridge resident UPDATED: was supposed to report to jail September 18 and agreed to forfeit $450,000 for a scheme of rigging roofing contracts with two major airlines and using illegal kickbacks for personal use. On top of a three-year prison sentence for a separate tax fraud case, his plea Tuesday calls for a nearly five-year sentence.

Kelly pleaded guilty to rigging bids to steer $8.5 million in inflated contracts for roofing work done on American Airlines and United Airline facilities at O’Hare International Airport between 1998 and 2006. The scheme benefited BCI Commercial Roofing Inc. in Markham, of which he is president and owner.

About $1 million of the kickbacks went to repay gambling debts and a home loan, according to the plea. Some of the kickbacks also went to entities associated with Tony Rezko.

Kelly originally was charged with 11 counts of mail fraud and six counts of money laundering for the scheme.

Friday, September 04, 2009

UI board of trustees complete

By Bethany Jaeger
After months of being under a cloud of an alleged scandal that led seven trustees to resign, the University of Illinois board of trustees now has all positions filled before its first meeting of the school year.

Gov. Pat Quinn appointed five new trustees this morning, filling a total of seven seats that were vacated. Two trustees refused to resign and remain on the board. The board has been under public scrutiny since June, when The Chicago Tribune exposed a clout-heavy admissions process that favored more than 800 students over some more qualified applicants.

The five new trustees, appointed to six-year terms, are all University of Illinois alumni. They include:
  • Karen Hasara of Springfield (Republican) is a former mayor, state legislator (House and Senate, 1980-1993), local mass transit trustee, circuit court clerk, county board member, real estate executive and teacher.
  • Timothy Koritz of Roscoe (Republican) is an anesthesiologist, a former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon and officer in charge of a space shuttle emergency medical response team.
  • Edward McMillan of Greenville (Republican) is an agribusiness executive. He also is a reappointed trustee. Quinn appointed him in March, but he never received Senate confirmation.
  • Pamela Strobel of Winnetka (Democrat) is an Exelon Corp. executive and lawyer.
  • Carlos Tortolero of Berwyn (Democrat) is founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art and a longtime arts advocate.

They join Christopher Kennedy, a Democrat and Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties president, and Orland Park’s Lawrence Oliver II, chief legal counsel for the Boeing Company. He lists himself as an "independent." Quinn appointed them August 26.

Democrats Frances Carroll and James Montgomery remain. Quinn said last week he would not force them to resign because he wanted to avoid a lengthy legal battle over his executive powers to do so. Both were appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Frances’ term is set to expire January 2011, Montgomery’s January 2013.

Former federal Judge Abner Mikva, who led Quinn's special panel to investigate the allegations, said yesterday that the governor handled the situation well. “It would be foolish to waste the resources engaging in a long court fight to remove [Trustee Montgomery] and Trustee Carroll. They didn’t do much while they were on the board, so I don’t think they’ll do much harm if they stay another year or two. It just leaves them with two spots that could be filled by better trustees.”

However, Mikva said he anticipated the board’s and the university’s quick and complete recovery.

New trustee Hasara said she did not think Frances’ and Montgomery’s continued service would be an issue. “It’s what it is,” she said this morning. “And I can only believe that they, like the rest of us, have what’s good for the university at heart. And they will cooperate as all the other board members in trying to solve this problem.”

She does expect the job to be a challenge. “But I don’t want to overestimate that challenge. I think that this looks to me like it’s a wonderful board of very, very competent people. And I feel very confident that this board will be able to get this solved and get it behind us because there are so many important things going on that the campuses of the University of Illinois, and no one wants to see something like this drag out.”

McMillan, whom Quinn appointed in March to fill a vacancy, said he attended only a few trustee meetings before resigning at the recommendation of Quinn’s investigative panel. He said he had no angst when the Tribune’s investigation broke because he had no part in the process and was never mentioned as being involved. He resigned but informed Quinn he would like to continue serving on the board if the governor saw fit.

“I’m pleased the governor has the confidence in me to let me continue,” he said this morning.

Going forward, McMillan said he was pleased to see such a diverse group of trustees from various professions and geographies. While having so many new members without a chairperson is going to pose challenges, he said he expects the first few items of business to include electing a new chair, establishing a new code of conduct and developing new ethics standards for the board. Those could be on top of the state and university ethics rules already in place, he sad.

“The most important thing is the university and making sure the integrity of this university and its global, world-class capability and research and education and outreach is reinforced and sustained,” he said, “so there’s no question going forward of, ‘Do we deserve the reputation that we’ve had in the past, and can we earn it in the future?’ I think we’ve all got to form together as a group and make sure we do that.”

The board has 13 members, including the governor and three students. No more than five can be from the same political party. The board oversees the university’s three campuses in Chicago, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hynes challenges Quinn and his tax plan

By Bethany Jaeger
The Democratic primary election between Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes gained another dynamic Wednesday as Hynes officially announced his candidacy for governor with a proposal to raise the state income tax based on income.

Both political campaigns are staying true to their original slogans that we wrote about during the State Fair. Hynes says Quinn received his job by default after the legislature impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that Quinn has since failed to implement a consistent and calibrated agenda. Quinn, on the other hand, maintains that Hynes, as comptroller, has stood on the sidelines as a “shrinking violet.”

Before today, however, Hynes had not officially announced where he stood on an income tax increase other than saying the legislature and governor should look to cut spending first. On Wednesday, he announced, first in Chicago then in Springfield, a three-step plan that would rely on various cuts and efficiencies this fiscal year and propose a graduated income tax next fiscal year.

Because the state Constitution specifies Illinois’ income tax rate is a “flat” rate applied evenly to individuals, as well as a separate flat rate applied to businesses, changing the tax structure to a graduated rate would require a constitutional amendment. Hynes said he would want the General Assembly to approve a measure to put the question to voters about whether to change the Constitution in the November 2010 election.

The graduated rate, according to Hynes, would range from the current 3 percent on individuals to a new 7.5 percent, which Hynes said would only apply to individuals who make more than $1 million a year. He would not change the corporate rate. If instituted in January 2011, Hynes said the new tax would generate $5.5 billion to help close the budget deficit his second year in office.

Quinn, in his March budget proposal to the General Assembly, proposed raising the individual income tax rate from 3 percent to 4.5 percent and the corporate rate from 4.8 percent to 7.2 percent, but he would keep the rate “flat,” which would not require a constitutional amendment.

“Rather than taking years to enact through a constitutional amendment, it could have been done quickly through an act of the legislature,” said John Kupper, spokesman for the Taxpayers for Quinn campaign.

Quinn also wanted to triple the personal tax exemption, which he said in March would mean that about half of the state’s taxpayers would pay less, while the other half would pay more than they currently do.

Today, Hynes countered that Quinn would levy a 50 percent higher tax rate on all taxpayers, while his proposal would only increase taxes on those making more than $200,000 a year. “Because of the graduated income tax and the way it is designed, you’re actually going to pay more under Pat Quinn’s plan, even if you make a half a million dollars a year,” Hynes said in Springfield. “That is why his plan is not only inequitable and unfair, but really, wrongheaded and backwards.”

Both Quinn and Hynes use similar language — cut spending before seeking higher taxes — (we quoted Quinn as saying it in June, when budget negotiations hit a stalemate). Quinn cut $1 billion in spending already and said he is working toward another $1 billion as part of the final budget agreement for fiscal year 2010 (the current year).

But Hynes says Quinn’s approach to cutting is across-the-board and, therefore, unfair. Instead, one of Hynes’ cost-cutting proposals is to fire half of Blagojevich’s political employees or appointees making more than $70,000 a year. Hynes said his campaign identified 1,600 such employees through state payroll. Firing half of them, or 800 workers, would save $100 million a year, he said, but it would be up to the governor and his agency directors to determine which half to fire.

Other immediate cost-saving measures proposed by Hynes today include reducing discretionary grants, slashing contracts for advertising, consulting and other professional services and closing so-called tax loopholes by expanding the state sales tax to include such “luxury” services as Botox cosmetic injections, car and truck rentals and membership of private clubs. He’d also borrow $1.5 billion to pay down backlogged bills, which he said would leverage enhanced federal reimbursements temporarily available through the federal stimulus package.

Hynes said those would be the prelude to the second year, when he would then increase the income tax, merge the comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices and create two or three more gaming licenses to open new casinos, among other ideas. (See his proposals here.)

Several of his ideas — instituting a graduated income tax structure, building three new casinos, increasing the sales tax on cigarettes by $1, closing corporate tax breaks and prohibiting the state from rolling over unpaid bills into the next fiscal year — have been proposed within the past few years but have all stalled in the legislature.

In a phone interview shortly after the Springfield event, Hynes said legislators who opposed those ideas in the past might look at them in a different light under the current economic and fiscal circumstances. He added that his leadership style would differ. “I’d like to think that I have the ability to persuade lawmakers that this is the correct path. Part of that is leadership. Part of it is having a clear vision and being consistent, not wavering, not waffling and not changing your opinion, your position and your plan every week.”

Kupper of the Quinn campaign dismissed Hynes’ ideas as playing politics. “In a very real sense, this is a proposal that was put together for the benefit of a political campaign and not a serious effort to address the state’s fiscal problems,” he said. “It’s a lot of rehashed proposals that came right out of the political playbook 101. The question is better addressed to Dan Hynes as to how he is going to enact these things, since he’s pretty much been on the sidelines as these budget issues have been debated.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

September issue: Out with the Old — NCLB

Check out the September edition of Illinois Issues magazine.

Find a profile of Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who has taken her party away from the legacy of James 'Pate' Philip, according to writer Kevin McDermott, in "Her own style."

In our cover story, educators and policy groups weigh in as Congress prepares to reauthorize the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. See "Out with the old."

And get a preview of an Illinois Supreme Court case that has potential to clarify what nonprofit hospitals need to do to qualify for property tax exemptions. Read "Charity care" before the case's oral arguments, scheduled for September 23.

In the print edition, only, University of Illinois at Springfield professor Christopher Mooney analyzes Gov. Pat Quinn's "populist" style as he calls attention to direct democracy concepts of recall and citizen initiative in "Let the people speak."

Also in print-only, MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, pens a guest essay about "Wise spending," or a method she says would get infrastructure investment right.

As always, the print edition also includes, among other monthly features, the award-winning column by Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS. This month, he says, "Illinois' budget is the most out-of-whack in recent history."