Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Civil unions passes as House has a big day

By Jamey Dunn

Same-sex couples are one step closer to having the option of civil unions.

The Illinois House passed Senate Bill 1716, which would give gay and lesbian couples access to the same rights as married couples in Illinois. Legislators also considered other hot-button issues today, including legalizing medical cannabis and repealing the death penalty.

“This legislation is a fair, moderate center. It does not change the definition of marriage. It provides basic legal rights to our citizens. It’s a matter of fairness. It’s a matter of respect. It’s a matter of equality,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, the sponsor of the civil unions bill.

The measure would grant same-sex couples rights such as the ability to be involved in their partners’ health and end-of-life decisions, hospital visitation, state tax benefits and protection under domestic violence laws.

Rep. Ron Stephens, a Greenville Republican, said Harris equated granting same-sex couples civil unions to the righting of an ethical wrong. “Many of us sincerely believe that that’s not true,” Stevens said.

However, not all Republicans agreed.

“I’m in my seventh decade of life," said Rep. Bill Black, a Republican from Danville. "People my age have difficulty with this. Younger people do not. For many of us in public life this is an issue that quite frankly, if we can speak honestly, we wish it would go away. It isn’t going to go away. ”
Black, who is leaving the General Assembly on December 22, then called on members of his side of the aisle to support the bill and follow in the footsteps of former Illinois U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen when he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Some opponents say the bill is just same-sex marriage by another name, and others say it is a foot-in-the-door to seek approval for same-sex marriage.

“If this should ever pass, the next bill will be legalizing marriage between … members of the same sex, and I just think that’s wrong. … Just call me an old-fashioned traditionalist,” Stevens said.

Harris said as much as he would support legalizing same-sex marriage, that is not what this bill does. He said he realizes there is not support for a marriage bill and that is why he is advocating for civil unions at this time. “Illinois law specifically prohibits same-sex couples from being married. That’s in statute. … That will always be the law in this state until this General Assembly sitting in this room at some point in the future casts its votes to change that law.”

Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been lobbying lawmakers to support the bill, stood by Harris on the House floor for part of the debate. After the vote, Quinn said he hopes the Senate will take up the bill tomorrow.

"Whatever it takes. We really want to make sure that we enact this important civil rights law."

Death penalty abolition
A House committee approved a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Illinois.

The state has not used the death penalty since former Gov. George Ryan called for a moratorium in 2000 after several death row inmates were exonerated. He cleared Illinois’ death row in 2003 when he pardoned four inmates and commuted more than 150 sentences to life without parole.

Those in favor of the repeal say the lengthy appeals process associated with death sentences is a waste of the state’s resources, especially during a budget crisis. Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, says the state cannot afford the $20 million a year it spends on prosecutions and the appeals process in capital punishment cases.
SB 3539 requires that the money from the capital litigation fund, which was established to help defendants build their case when prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, would go to fund support for homicide victim’s families and police training.

Opponents say the issue has nothing to do with financial woes and say pitching the repeal as way to save money is a red herring. “The fact of the matter is, this is not a cost issue. It’s a question that [legislators have] to decide: Are there certain crimes that are just so horrific, that have such an affect on the community, that the death penalty is the only appropriate sentence? I submit to you that that is the case. There are some crimes that just cry out for it,” said Robert Berlin, chief of the criminal bureau under the DuPage County state’s attorney.

“After study, reforms and dialogue, we still have not fixed this system, nor have we ended it. It’s time to end state-sponsored homicide in Illinois. It’s not a deterrent. It risks executing the innocent,” said Maywood Democratic Rep. Karen Yarbrough, the sponsor of the bill.

Schroeder said the moratorium is convenient for politicians, who can support the death penalty while knowing that no inmates will be executed as long as it is in place. He said that is unfair to others involved, such as victims and those sentenced to death.

Cathy Crino, whose sister was murdered in Texas in 1995, said the death of her sister’s murderer, who committed suicide, was not a comfort to her, and the state can offer better options to help victims’ families. “The void doesn’t go away. The death of the perpetrator is never going to fill that void. … I can tell you there is no closure. You just learn to live with it, and it doesn’t end for you. And the death penalty drags victims’ families through between 13 and 15 years of court proceeding after court proceeding after court proceeding. That re-traumatizes them. … What would help victims are broad-based services that help people deal with the trauma of this kind of loss.”

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, called on legislators to slow the process and hold hearings throughout the state on the issue.

Opponents of the repeal echoed Reboletti’s concern that it is being pushed through the General Assembly without an adequate amount of debate. They say recent reforms have gone far to rehabilitate a damaged system.

“The reforms that were put in place years ago are working,” Berlin said. “The defendants who are now on death row since those reforms have been put in place truly are the worst of the worst. … and they’re there because of horrendous crimes that they have committed.”

He added: “The fact of the matter is, this is not a cost issue. It’s a question that [legislators have] to decide. Are there certain crimes that are just so horrific, that have such an affect on the community, that the death penalty is the only appropriate sentence? I submit to you that that is the case. There are some crimes that just cry out for it.”

Medical marijuana
A measure that would allow residents with chronic or debilitating illnesses to gain access to medical marijuana failed today to gain the votes needed to move on to the governor’s desk.

Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, the sponsor of SB 1381, said people who are in pain should be able to consult with their doctors and consider the drug as a treatment option.

Under the bill, residents seeking the drug for medical treatment would have to be approved and registered with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

A registered patient would not be allowed to posses more than two ounces of dried cannabis and six marijuana plants—only three of which could be mature plants. A primary caregiver could be licensed along with a patient, but the same limit would apply, so if a patient were not well enough to grow plants, the caregiver could do it. However, they could not between the two of them have more plants or usable cannabis than the above limits.

Lang said that under the legislation, which passed in the Senate last year, licenses could be issued by IDPH for dispensaries that would sell plants.

Opponents said the bill is a precursor to fully legalizing the drug in Illinois.

“This … goes way beyond medical use, medical treatment. This is about the legalization of marijuana. … We’re sending the wrong message to our children,” said Rep. David Reis, a Willow Hill Republican.

Republicans raised concerns about how employers would deal with a worker who is eligible to use medical marijuana and might be intoxicated at the workplace.

While no employer is allowed to bar an employee from using medical cannabis, Lang said the rules a business currently has about being under the influence of a substance on the job would apply. Lang used the example that a forklift driver who is now barred from operating machinery while on a prescription pain medicine would also not be allowed to drive a forklift while under the influence of marijuana.

Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat who will not return to the House for the new session in January, said he had not planned to attend session this week but returned weigh in on some of the controversial issues up for a vote today.

“This is about people who are in debilitating pain, people that have minimal quality of life, people that are terminally ill looking for compassion, not a high — looking for relief, not a cheap high,” Fritchey said.

Both he and Lang believe a majority of House members support the measure in principle but that many are afraid that voting for the bill could hurt their chances when they are up for reelection. “Like the sponsor of the bill, I have talked to a number of people that said they support this bill wholeheartedly but they're afraid of the political fallout from voters.”

The bill needed 60 votes to pass. When voting was open, the “yes” votes climbed to as high as 56, finally setting at 53 “yes” votes, 50 “no” votes and one “present” vote.

“I thought I had close to 60 [votes], and I had lost a couple of people who were going to be yes and decided that it wasn’t going to get the 60 and just took their vote off the board. I lost a couple of people who didn’t tell me the truth. I lost a couple of people to cowardice,” Lang said.

Lang used a procedural move to hold the bill for a possible future vote. “I’m not ready to pass this today or tomorrow. I’ll have to take my chances in January, and if I don’t get to 60 votes then, I’ll have to start over [in the new legislative session].”

Police and firefighter pension reform
When the legislature passed pension reform for most government employees during the regular session, the pensions for police and firefighters were not included in the measure. Negotiations fell apart at the end of session, but they have picked back up this week. The House passed SB3538, which would make changes to the retirement benefits for law enforcement officers and firefighters hired after January 1.

The retirement age would move from 50 to 55, and 30 years on the job would be required to claim full benefits, though workers could receive a portion of benefits at age 50 if they had worked for at least 10 years. The maximum salary used to calculate pensions would be $106,800, and eight of the last 10 years of the employee’s service would be used to determine benefits.

Local municipalities have been lobbying for changes to the police and fire pension systems because they are responsible for most of the funding.

“[These changes] start addressing the most serious problem that affects all of our municipalities across the state,” said Orland Park Democratic Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the sponsor of the bill.


The Illinois House also approved plans for a so-called clean coal plant slated for construction in Taylorville. Under SB 2485, utilities Commonwealth Edison and Ameren would have to buy power from the plant.

Opponents say higher energy costs resulting from the plant could hurt the job market in the state. Supporters of the plan say the power generated by the new technology, which is intended to reduce carbon emissions, would cost more. But, they say it would probably be a negligible increase of less than $2 a year to households.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Senators weigh Medicaid and workers' comp reforms

By Jamey Dunn

Senate committees took their first rounds of testimony today on two reform issues that seem to be perpetually up for debate in the Illinois Statehouse. They face a tight deadline to propose solutions to lawmakers.

Workers' compensation and Medicaid reforms are high on the list of things Republican leaders say they want to see addressed before they would consider putting votes on a plan to borrow $4 billion to make the state’s required employee pension payment for this fiscal year or support an income tax increase.

Julie Hamos, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, laid out some proposed short-term reforms to Medicaid. She said Illinois should raise the bar for verification of eligibility for Medicaid. Hamos said that now, patients only have to prove they have been residents in the state for one month and show one pay stub to show that they qualify for Medicaid assistance. She added that to receive the elevated federal match that came along with the federal stimulus package, the state cannot change the requirements for assistance, but it should do more to confirm that applicants meet them.

She also suggested that the department combat waste and fraud by tracking improper or fraudulent use by patients. In some cases, people may be seeking the wrong kind of treatment, or they may be gaining access to care in an inefficient way.

Hamos wants the state to have the power to recoup revenues sapped by fraud by taking offenders to civil court. She also suggested pushing some of the cost for those eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare to the federal program, shifting to electronic health records and focusing on measurable goals while setting budgets.

“The issue is whether or not [we] are going to be able to forge a consensus. … Whether or not the Democrat leaders, who have been resistant to Medicaid change for the better part of the last decade, are now going to sign on to some of these proposals,” said Dale Righter, a co-chair of the committee.

Righter, a Mattoon Republican, added, “The nice thing about the short timeline we were given: We don’t have to wait very long to find out whether or not they are serious.”

During the committee hearing addressing the workers' compensation system, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said there “are only two things” that she thinks “matter.”

“What we need to do is to lower the cost of workers' comp insurance [in Illinois]. It’s one of the highest in the nation. ... That’s a huge concern. But the other primary concern is we need to make sure workers' comp does what it supposed to do, and that’s protect injured workers.”

Radogno said if lawmakers could find ways to lower the cost to businesses and still protect workers, such reforms would bring more jobs to Illinois.

Mark Flannery, a corporate lawyer for Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc., said permanent disability awards and the “any cause” standard for payment — if the employer is partially responsible for an employee’s need for medical care the employer must pay — drive up costs for Illinois businesses. He also said employers should have a say in where employees receive medical treatment.

Flannery used the case of a worker needing knee surgery as an example of what he says are elevated costs in Illinois. “In Illinois, the disability award [in this case] is four to five times higher than what the medical profession under the [American Medical Association] guides judges the disability to be.”

Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), said that in the desire to make Illinois more business friendly, lawmakers should not lose sight of what is fair for workers

“Working families deserve to be protected under strong Illinois workers’ compensation law. Those who are injured on the job deserve quality accessible health care from the best physicians and surgeons in the state. They deserve rehabilitation and post-surgery care. And if they cannot return to work, they deserve extended benefits to protect themselves and, most importantly, their families,” Carrigan said.

He added that reform should be achieved through a so-called agreed bill process, which would involve labor and business groups signing off on compromise legislation before the General Assembly votes on it. That is how changes to the workers' compensation system have been made in the past in Illinois.

Both the Special Committee on Medicaid Reform and the Special Committee on Workers' Compensation Reform are scheduled to give their final recommendations to the Senate on January 3.

Smokers may get to light up in casinos

By Jamey Dunn

Legislators are considering two bills that would carve out exemptions in the state’s smoking ban for casinos in an attempt to recoup lost gaming revenue.

The House Executive Committee today approved House Bill 1850, which would allow smoking in specific ventilated rooms built inside casinos. The same committee approved HB1846 earlier in the veto session. That legislation would allow smoking inside casinos that are in direct competition with gambling facilities in states without a ban. If neighboring states passed a ban, the nearby Illinois casinos would lose their exemption from the smoking ban.

Rep. Andre Thapedi, the sponsor of the bill to allow smoking rooms in casinos, said he is trying to bring in money at a time when the state is facing a daunting financial crisis. Thapedi, a Chicago Democrat, said the state is losing $200 million a year from gaming revenues because gamblers are going to states that allow smoking. “I’m a nonsmoker. I’m also asthmatic. But I can count. And in my short time here, I know that we are $13.5 billion in debt. I’ve identified $200 million in lost revenue, and I’m trying to seize that revenue.”

Opponents say smoking and secondhand smoke cost the state billions because of health care expenses and lost productivity. They say discouraging smoking would actually do more to help Illinois’ bottom line.

Kathy Drea, public policy director for the American Lung Association of Illinois, said her organization has tested the air inside the East St. Louis Casino Queen, which claimed to have state-of-the-art air filtration systems. She said the air quality was still dangerous both times her group ran tests and only became safe after the smoking ban. She said workers should not be subjected to secondhand smoke inside the proposed smoking rooms, which has been proven to be dangerous and often deadly. Drea added that the quality of the casino itself has a lot more to do with its success than whether its patrons can smoke.

Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican who cast the only vote against the bill, was critical of offering an exemption to casino owners who claim their business is damaged by barring smoking but continuing the ban on bars and restaurants, whose owners make the same claim.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jerry Stermer back with Quinn

By Jamey Dunn

After resigning in the midst of an ethics controversy during election season, Gov. Pat Quinn’s former chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, is once again working in the Quinn administration.

Stermer sent campaign-related e-mails from his state account. He reported the incidents to the Office of the Executive Inspector General.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Inspector General James Wright was removed from his position the day Quinn was briefed on the report his office made on Stermer’s violations.

Quinn claimed his replacement of Wright, who was appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the report were not connected. “Ricardo Meza was appointed by Governor Quinn to head the Office of the Executive Inspector General on August 15, 2010 after a lengthy search process, which began in the Summer of 2009. Ricardo Meza replaced an Inspector General appointed by the previous administration whose term expired in 2008. The replacement was not in response to this or any other specific OEIG report, and these events are in no way connected,” a statement from the governor’s office said.

Quinn said it was Stermer’s decision to leave and he had no plans to fire him. From statement from the governor’s office on Stermer’s return: “Jerry Stermer will serve as a senior advisor to Governor Quinn starting on Monday, November 29. He will advise Governor Quinn on a variety of subject areas where he has had a lifetime of experience, including human services, health care and the state budget. He will be a Governor’s Office employee and will be paid $125,000 annually.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ryan continues bid for freedom

A federal judge heard arguments to today about whether former Gov. George Ryan should be freed from prison.

Ryan was convicted on corruption charges in 2006 and has been incarcerated in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., since 2007. He is due for release in 2013.

Ryan’s lawyers argued
that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision rolling back a category of fraud would apply to Ryan’s mail fraud and racketeering convictions. They argue that the time Ryan has served so far is fair punishment for other convictions, such as tax violations and lying to federal agents.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer did not reach a decision on the case today and said she plans to issue a written statement.

Friday, November 19, 2010

This week's CapitolView

Panelists Kevin McDermott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Benjamin Yount, Illinois Statehouse News and Dave Dahl, Illinois Radio Network. Join moderator Jamey Dunn from Illinois Issues magazine to discuss what did, and didn't, happen during the week's veto session.
A production of WSEC-TV/PBS Springfield

Tune in on-air Friday/7:30pm & Sunday/noon, or online Friday after 12:00pm:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Little action in first week of veto session

By Jamey Dunn

In their first week back after the general elections, Illinois lawmakers did not take up many of the issues statehouse watchers expected to be on the table for the veto legislative session.

Legislators were lobbied this week by activists asking for the repeal of the death penalty, local government officials asking for reforms to the pension system for police and firefighters, mayors asking for casinos to combat unemployment, anti-gambling groups hoping to fight the spread of casinos and slot machines and citizens asking for civil unions rights for same-sex couples, to name a few.

However, the General Assembly failed to act on any of these hot-button issues.

The House rejected two of governor Quinn’s amendatory vetoes with no debate. His changes to House Bill 5206 would create a citizen’s initiative program, which would allow voters to propose ethics legislation. The original bill, which was preserved in Quinn’s changes, allowed county officials to more easily purge deceased voters from their rolls. Rep. Dan Brady, a Republican from and the sponsor of the bill, said he did not oppose Quinn’s changed in theory, but he was concerned they might bog the bill down or make it unconstitutional.

The House also overrode Quinn’s changes to a controversial measure, which would seal state employee evaluations from the public. He wanted evaluations public expect for law enforcement, citing safety and security concerns.

A Senate committee heard testimony on a gaming expansion bill, and a House committee did the same on police and firefighter pension reform. But neither took a vote.

Speaker Michael Madigan made positive statements about civil unions to reporters and characterized passing the measure as an “appropriate” thing to do. But the bill did not come up for a vote or debate.

Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno formed two bipartisan legislative committees to research Medicaid and workers' compensation reforms, two issues Radogno has said she wants to see addressed before Republicans will vote in favor of borrowing or a tax increase. The groups are scheduled to present their findings to the Senate by January 3. Cullerton dropped a $4 billion borrowing plan to pay the state’s pension payment for this fiscal year from the schedule of a committee hearing, saying he would not move the bill without Republican support.

Cullerton also introduced HB 5057 that would boot over 700 appointed officials who have remained at their positions after the expiration of their terms. New nominations would have to be approved by the Senate, and those who were removed would be eligible for nomination again.

“This is not in any way passing judgment on those serving in these positions. Rather, it is an effort to return to the important system of checks and balances in the Illinois Constitution,” Cullerton said.
Many of the positions that would be affected by the bill are unpaid posts and some are vacant. However, some include members of the governor’s cabinet.

Cullerton expects lawmakers to take up the bill when they return to session after the Thanksgiving holiday. The Illinois House is scheduled to return November 29 and the Senate November 30.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Illinois Senate talks gaming expansion

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois lawmakers rejected some changes made to bills by Gov. Pat Quinn and discussed a major gambling expansion on the first day of veto session.

The Illinois Senate is considering legislation to allow slot machines at horse racing tracks and new casinos in Chicago, the northern Illinois communities of Park City, Ford Heights and Rockford and the central Illinois town of Danville.

The Senate Gaming committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 3970 this afternoon. Sen. Terry Link, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the committee, said he expects a committee vote on the measure soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The debate comes on the heels of a recent report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which found that Illinois gambling revenues are at a 10-year low.

Opponents of the bill say it would do little to help struggling horse tracks but would instead start a push to eliminate horse racing in favor of the cheaper and more profitable slots machines. “It will transform six race tracks into land-based casinos that will do gambling that is very different than the gambling that they currently have going on,” said Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, an anti-gambling organization.

Critics say slot machines and video poker are more dangerous in terms of addiction because of the fast-paced nature of the games, which give players nearly constant psychological encouragement to continue playing.

Current casino owners say new locations would cut into their profits by stealing some of their customer base. However, Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said that new casinos would not put any current facilities out of business, and it would be unfair to discourage competition.

Charles Griffin, mayor of Ford Heights, told the committee that his town needs the jobs and revenue a casino could bring. Griffin said his town is one of the poorest in the nation,and lacks adequate basic services, such as well-maintained sewer systems and a police force. Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer also encouraged the committee to approve the legislation, saying his community needs to replace manufacturing jobs it has lost in recent years.

Veto votes

Meanwhile, the House overrode some of Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory vetoes with little debate. Legislators rejected Quinn’s changes to House Bill 5154, which would seal public employee evaluations from the public. Quinn said the evaluations should be open, with the exception of law enforcement personnel for security and safety reasons.

House members also overruled Quinn’s addition to HB 5206, which would allow citizens to present ethics legislation to the General Assembly if they can gather 100,000 petition signatures. HB 5206 originally was meant to allow county officials to electronically purge the names of deceased voters from voting rolls.

If the Senate approves the House’s overrides — which requires a 36-vote super majority — the bills will become law as originally passed.

Innocence Project awarded $687,000 grant

By Maureen McKinney

The Downstate Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield has received a $687,000 federal grant to work on cases where DNA testing might clear the accused.

The project, founded in 2001, has provided investigation and research help in efforts that helped lead to the exoneration of three wrongfully convicted Illinoisans. The project has identified about 30 cases to further investigate whether DNA testing could lead to exoneration, says Larry Golden, the Innocence Project's director. “The grant gives us the resources to go into these past cases.”

The Bloodsworth Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice pays for evaluation of cases, DNA laboratory tests, investigation and legal representation in post-conviction DNA testing motions. UIS’ project was one of four -- and the largest -- to receive a Bloodsworth Grant this year, Golden said. Specifically, UIS’ project will use the money to pay for testing; evaluating cases to determine which should be pursued further; providing legal assistance, including a lawyer, who would serve as project coordinator; and buying the time of Bill Clutter, the project’s director of investigations.

Students from the Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois law schools will work to narrow down which cases should be pursued further, Golden says.

In 1997, according to the project, Illinois became one of the first states in the country to adopt legislation giving convicted individuals access to DNA testing. A decade later, the state legislature allowed for DNA retesting, recognizing improvements in test methods.

Golden, who has worked pro bono as project’s director since he retired from UIS in 2004, says he estimates that in-kind contributions to the project are worth $200,000 to $250,000 and that the project has operated with $50,000 in “hard money.”

His greatest fear, he says, is that the grant money will dissuade future funders.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Substance abuse programs see late payments increase by $12 million

By Jamey Dunn

The amount of overdue payments the state owes to providers of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs increased by $12 million in the span of a month.

According to the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA), the state owed $34 million at the beginning of October, and it now owes $46 million — in some cases, on bills that are seven months overdue.

Sarah Howe, spokesperson for the IADDA, said providers throughout the state are in danger of soon being unable to pay employees. “The next payroll out, the one after that, they are potentially going to have to miss it.”

Howe said that many providers have stopped offering essential services, such as detox programs, sending individuals seeking help to local emergency rooms. She said specialized substance abuse treatment providers are more equipped to handle such procedures, and sending those in need to hospitals costs taxpayers more and clogs up emergency medical treatment facilities. “I cannot think of a provider that hasn’t had to do something as far as curtailing services,” Howe said.

She added that residents whose lives are not touched by addiction might not realize how much of an impact the state’s late payments have on treatment providers because treatment centers in their area may still be open.

However, Howe said they have likely cut offerings, such as residential care, and are running long waiting lists for treatment. ‘When someone comes and says they are ready for treatment today, you need to take them today. … When you have those moments, you really want to seize upon them.”

Instead, Howe said, “[getting inpatient treatment] could take six to eight weeks. That’s a whole different ball game.”

Howe added, “You may be driving by a provider that still has the lights on, but what’s behind that front door is less than what was there a year or two years ago.”

Wind power brings jobs to Chicago

By Jamey Dunn

A new report by the Environmental Law and Policy center found that wind power means job growth for Illinois, predominantly in the Chicago area.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center found that more than 100 businesses in Illinois are involved in the supply chain of the wind industry. About 60 of them are in or near Chicago. The city is home to 13 corporate headquarters of American and international wind energy companies.

“A major wind power project creates a lot of jobs. Everything from electric workers to construction workers to people who lay the concrete pads,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the ELPC. Learner said there is also potential for growth for financial and accounting firms, as well as Illinois’ stagnant manufacturing sector.

Learner added, “What we are seeing are old-line manufacturing firms retooling to make wind power components that are part of the clean energy economy future.”

Jerry Roper, president and chief executive officer of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said federal stimulus funds helped to jump-start the wind sector in Illinois.

Ashley Craig, and environmental business expert for the ELPC, said public money helps, but it doesn’t beat out a friendly policy climate for stimulation growth. “More than the federal subsidy money, I think the thing that has positively impacted the business the most is the policy decisions, and that’s consistent, really, with any business innovation that our country has experienced — everything from the Internet from the car industry to air travel. You don’t launch a large industry like this without federal and state support, and that doesn’t have to come in the form of money. Policy is just as important.”

Learner said the Illinois Renewable Electricity Standard, which requires utilities to purchase 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, has been key to the growth of wind power in the state. Of the 25 percent, 75 percent of the energy must come from wind power. The report also attributes growth to sales tax breaks on materials used to build wind energy projects, tax-free bonds to help spread out initial investment costs, and a consistent system for wind farm property tax assessments across the state

Sen. Mike Jacobs, chair of the Senate energy committee, said alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, may not yet be consistent enough to rely upon, and lawmakers should be judicious when considering tax breaks or subsidies. He is concerned about asking consumers, especially in a down economy, to pay more for power. Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat, said it is a constant balancing act to keep old power sources thriving while still encouraging development of renewable energy.

“Everybody is really interested in jobs. … I just don’t think weakening incumbent utilities who provide us cheaper power is a good trade-off for us,” Jacobs said.

Roper said it will take more than government support to make the state a leader in wind power. He said the business sector also needs to focus on the potential of wind energy in Illinois. “Illinois can own a big part of what they’re calling … green jobs in America. [Wind energy] is probably the best definition of green jobs, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s something that needs to be touted out there in the marketplace.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Illinois lags on solar jobs

By Jamey Dunn

A new study found Illinois is not keeping up with some neighboring states on job creation in the solar power industry.

The study to take stock of jobs created by the expansion of solar power across the country was conducted by the Solar Foundation, a non-profit group that funds solar research; Green LMI , which specializes in predicting the future of labor markets; and Cornell University .

According to the report, as of August 2010, more than 93,000 people nationwide work in solar power, and half of companies in that field expect to hire new employees in the next year. Those jobs include manufacturing, installation and sales. There are solar companies in every state, but the industry is mainly concentrated in the western and northeastern parts of the country. California leads the nation with 30 percent of all solar related businesses and more than 36,000 solar jobs.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio all made it into the report’s top 20 states for solar job creation, but Illinois did not.

According to the research, Illinois has about 530 solar-related jobs with a projected growth to nearly 700 jobs by 2011. That compares with Indiana — ranked 10th in the country for solar employment and growth — with more than 1,600 jobs and projected growth to more than 1,800 by 2011.

Environment Illinois says the General Assembly can take steps to help Illinois catch up with its neighbors in the solar sector. Miranda Carter, a field associate with Environment Illinois, said a few key changes could help the state keep pace.

One plan is to allow larger solar operations to sell extra power that they create back to utilities. Now, smaller operations, such as private residences and small business, can generate power with solar panels or a wind turbine and sell back what they don’t use under a policy called net metering. Carter said larger operations, including warehouses and big-box stores, such as Walmart, need to be included in the policy.

Carter said 16 other states allow those larger energy producers to sell their surplus power. “Illinois will lose business to those states unless we change the law. Illinois is home to many flat-roofed industrial and commercial space that is ideal for solar installation, but these companies will not proceed unless they get the full worth of the energy they produce.”

She said reworking the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE) would also help to expand solar power in Illinois. Such programs allow homeowners nationwide to get municipal bonds to make their homes more energy efficient or install alternative energy improvements, such as solar panels. They pay off the loan with their future energy savings. “The price or upfront cost is what is so difficult for people,” Carter said.

However, Sen. Mike Jacobs, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, said solar power needs to be more reliable before the state starts setting such policies or subsidizing it. “I am still waiting for that big new idea that’s really going to get this off the ground."

Jacobs, a Democrat from East Moline, added, “Really I just think that we need to make sure that we take care of our current employers before we go chasing new ones.”

Jacobs said he is concerned about the expense, which could be associated with expanding net metering and PACE in Illinois. “Both of those put their hands in the pocket of consumers,” said Jacobs. “We may be behind a little on solar, but I don’t view that as a bad thing. Frankly it is very expensive to the customer. And somebody’s got to pay for this.”

Check back tomorrow for a report on Illinois job creation and development in the wind power sector.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Income tax talk heats up

By Jamey Dunn

As Gov. Pat Quinn gears up to lobby the legislature for an income tax increase during the upcoming veto session, former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar said Quinn’s election victory could make the job easier.

Quinn called on Republican and Democratic leadership in the General Assembly today to support his 1 percentage point increase in the income tax, which he says will be used to support education. He said he plans to start calling legislators about the plan this week and will be in Springfield when legislative session starts up again next week.

“I would say to all the legislative leaders of both parties and both houses that it’s high time that we work on that issue. The message of this election is: We have to fund our schools, and we have to do it in a proper way. And we’re going to keep that message going as long as necessary to make sure legislators keep their eye on the ball. … I am confident that reality will set in and the right thing to do will set in,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference.

When the Illinois Senate was back in legislative session last week, Senate President John Cullerton reiterated his stance that it is up to the Illinois House to take up the tax issue because Democrats in his chamber passed a tax increase last year. He added that if the House passes a different tax increase, his members would consider it. During the same conversation with reporters, Cullerton said the Senate plans to consider a gambling expansion during veto session as a way to increase state revenues.

While Quinn did not say he would veto a gaming expansion bill, he said he was not excited about the idea. “You can’t gamble your way into prosperity in Illinois. … There’s no quick shortcut to prosperity. … I’m not enthused at all about gambling. Never have been.”

Quinn has made similar statements about gambling in the past, but he did approve legalizing video poker machines in some bars and restaurants across the state as a way to fund a capital construction bill.

Quinn has said that his election is a mandate from voters for a tax increase. While Edgar did not go so far as to agree with Quinn’s mandate claim, he said Quinn’s election should make approving a tax increase more “palatable” for legislators.

“Being for the income tax increase is not suicide in Illinois politics. Contrary to what all the pundits and everybody had thought for years. … You can be for an income tax, and you can be reelected,” Edgar said.

However, Edgar said an income tax increase should not be the only focus of debate because cuts are also necessary to address the state’s growing deficit.

“In many ways, those cuts are going to be probably more difficult to get agreement on than a tax increase. … I just hope that the debate doesn’t just continue to center on a tax increase, that we don’t ignore what I think is probably the more important of the two — and I think is going to be the more difficult — and that’s, ‘Where can we cut spending?’”

Edgar said if Quinn can come up with a comprehensive long-term plan that involves cuts along with an income tax increase, he would be willing to support it.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Recall will be easier said than done

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution this week that would allow for the recall of a sitting governor, so long as he or she has spent at least six months in office. Some say, however, that the hoops voters would have to jump through make the amendment relatively useless.

To pass, the amendment needed support from 60 percent of those who voted on Tuesday. It received the backing 66 percent, or more than 2 million votes.

If voters want to remove a governor from office, they first must file an affidavit with signatures from 20 lawmakers from the Illinois House and 10 from the Illinois Senate. The signing members must be evenly split from both parties. If the State Board of Elections approves the request, voters would get 150 days to circulate petitions and gather signatures from enough people to equal 15 percent of the turnout for the last gubernatorial election.

For example, if the threshold was based on the turnout in this week’s election - 3.6 million - voters would have to get more than 525,000 signatures. Petitions must also have at least 100 signatures each from 25 counties in the state. (The American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois recently questioned the constitutionality of that requirement.) Once the petitions are turned in, the Board of Elections has 100 days to approve them.

If the board finds the signatures valid and gives the go-ahead, a special election would be held to ask voters if they want to remove the governor from office. Candidates who wanted to replace the governor would also appear on the ballot. So if voters approve the recall, the special election will also serve as a primary election. If the governor is recalled, the lieutenant governor will fill in until another election is held within 60 days to choose a replacement.

Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, described that process as a “screwy Rube Goldberg device.” He said the requirements voters would have to meet to unseat a governor makes the notion of recall power “largely symbolic.” However, he said it is difficult to strike a balance between making the requirements realistic for voters to reach, while still making it difficult enough that a governor would not be unseated unless there was true public outrage.

Emily Miller, who researched Illinois’ recall amendment for the Better Government Association, described the amendment as a “hybrid” between recall and impeachment because legislators must sign off to initiate the process. “Illinois is unique in that [among states that have recall], and it is that way because, frankly, it is another way to retain power in the Illinois legislature,” Miller said.

The sponsor of the bill in the House, Rep. Jack Franks, said he did not initially plan on including the requirement that legislators sign off. But it became a part of the bill through compromise with Gov. Pat Quinn. Franks, a Marengo Democrat, wanted recall to apply to all constitutional officers, but that was dropped from the final version, as well.

Franks said recall is rarely used in the state’s that have it, and he hopes Illinois won’t need it. He likened it to a "nuclear deterrent" against bad behavior from a governor. But if voters feel strongly enough to use it, he said they should be able to successfully remove a governor. “I trust the voters. … People have to have a passion for them to stand up and do a recall.”

While Franks did not include the legislature in his original plan, he says he thinks it is a good idea because voters can hold lawmakers accountable by asking them to sign on to a recall movement.

Brady concedes

By Jamey Dunn

Republican Sen. Bill Brady conceded the governor's race to Gov. Pat Quinn this afternoon.

Late Tuesday night, the two were in a dead heat. On Wednesday, Brady said he wanted to wait until the State Board of Elections certified the results, which could take as long as 30 days.

But Quinn's lead continued to grow, reaching more than 19,000 votes, and the Associated Press called the race in his favor yesterday afternoon.

“After days of counting ballots and looking at potential outcomes, we came to the conclusion that Gov. Quinn won this race. He worked hard for it. And you can’t take away his effort in this endeavor,” Brady said at a Bloomington news conference.

Brady would not venture a guess as to what went wrong in his campaign, noting that recent polls had showed him with a slight lead. “We’ll leave it to the pundits to decide what happened.”

Brady said the debate he and Quinn had throughout the campaign about the best ways to solve the state's financial woes "moved Illinois forward." He said he plans to work with Quinn but remains committed to opposing an income tax increase. Brady said he and Quinn plan to meet soon to share a meal at Manny's Deli in Chicago.

Quinn reacted to Brady's concession at a Chicago news conference this afternoon, calling Brady "gracious." He called for Illinois voters and lawmakers of all political stripes to come together and confirmed he will sit down for a meal with Brady. “We may have differences — strong differences on policy issues — but we are all Americans and all Illinoisans.”

As for many polls calling the race incorrectly, Quinn said: “The people call the shots, not the experts and not the pollsters and not the insiders.”

Quinn also reiterated his call for new revenue for education.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Senate again skips pension borrowing vote

By Jamey Dunn

Although the Illinois Senate returned today to discuss a $4 billion pension borrowing plan, legislators failed to take a vote on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said she saw no reason for the Senate to be in legislative session today because the situation surrounding the bill had not changed. She said she thought it was a waste of money to bring lawmakers back to Springfield. “I think it’s unfortunate that we’re here.”

Some Republicans supported a similar borrowing plan last fiscal year to make the state’s required pension payment, but Radogno said they will not consider backing it again this year until they see evidence of cuts and reforms to the budgeting process.

Senate President John Cullerton said the face-to-face negotiation that can come out of bringing the chamber together was a positive aspect of having a session day. He also reiterated the need for bipartisan support on the bill.

Cullerton said he wants to work in coming weeks with Republicans to pinpoint some cuts that can be agreed on, and he hopes to pass the borrowing during the legislature's veto session, which begins November 16.

In the meantime, state pension systems are selling off assets to make benefit payments. Steve Zahn, a lobbyist for the State University Retirement System (SURS), said SURS and the Illinois State Board of Investment, which make up about 40 percent of the state retirement system, would have to sell off an estimated $2.3 billion in assets if the state cannot find a way to make its payment.

Democrats stay low key about state wins

By Jamey Dunn

President Obama said at a Washington, D.C., news conference yesterday that a new Republican majority in the U.S. Congress means: “No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here.” But that does not seem to be the case in Illinois.

After speculation that the Illinois House could come under Republican control, it remains in the Democrats hands. The Associated Press this evening called Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn as the winner of the governor’s race. However, Bill Brady said today that he plans to wait for all the votes to be counted before he decides on concession.

While Republicans did not gain a majority in the House, they did unseat some long-time incumbents, such as Rep. Michael Smith, a 16 year veteran of the General Assembly from Canton; Rep. Jay Hoffman, who hails from Collinsville and has spent 20 years in the legislature; and Rep. Robert Flider;,who is from Mt. Zion and held his seat for eight years. Grayslake Sen. Michael Bond and Carlinville Sen. Deanna Demuzio were the only Democrats to lose their seats in the Senate.

But control of both the legislative chambers and the governor’s office will give Democrats almost all the cards when it comes to redrawing legislative districts. Republicans may be able to use votes on issues such as a tax increase or borrowing as leverage in the redistricting process.

Quinn also has to sign off on the map, and there are no guarantees that he will play ball with the legislative leaders. Even though Democrats appear to hold all the power on the remap, the issue will likely hang over any big votes that come up.

Senate President John Cullerton dodged a question about Democrats having the power to draw a partisan map, saying: “I think that’s kind of insider stuff. I think most people just care about the economy, and they care about what we’re going to do for our budget deficit.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said she is not concerned that the Democrats in her chamber will treat Republicans unfairly during the redistricting process. While her party did not gain as many seats as her projection last week of three to five, Radogno framed the election results as a victory. “It’s a win because we have more seats than we had before the election.”

She added that taking away the Democrats’ veto-proof supermajority gives her party more leverage.

Radogno also commented on Democrats keeping power at the state level while Republicans took control of the Illinois’ congressional delegation, gaining four seats with a fifth race still undecided. Republican Mark Kirk also won the close race against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias for Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

“The fact is, it is curious that there seems to be a lot of hopscotching between parties when you look at how the Statehouse did versus how [the U.S.] Congress did. That’s an interesting phenomenon. … I think there’s going to be a lot of analyzing of numbers going forward and looking to see why it came out the way it did,” she said.

Sen. John Sullivan, a Democrat from Rushville, said Senate Democrats are disappointed with the loss of two races. “It could have been worse. We had six seats that were competitive races. In theory, we could have lost all six of them, but we didn’t.”

However, he painted the results more as a wake-up call than a win. “It’s a tough environment out there. People are dissatisfied both at the state and federal level. The economy is still just barely chugging along,” Sullivan said. “I think that [this election] has sent a message to all of us here in Springfield — and I’m sure in Washington as well — that our focus needs to be on creating jobs. The economy is driving so much of the discussion that’s taking place right now."

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

No concession means confusion

By Jamey Dunn

With neither candidate conceding in the governor’s race, Illinois legislators will return to Springfield tomorrow under a cloud of uncertainty.

Gov. Pat Quinn led Republican opponent Sen. Bill Brady by more than 16,000 votes this evening (numbers in the link will change as results are updated). Brady, who won the Republican primary by fewer than 200 votes, said that he wants to see the process through until a winner is certified by the Illinois State Board of Elections. The board has until December 3 to certify the results, though it could announce an official winner before then.

“Having been through this process before, I know the importance of making sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted. I believe we will win,” Brady said at a Bloomington news conference.

However, Quinn has said he is confident he won the race. “The Quinn [and Lt. Gov. nominee Sheila] Simon campaign wants every vote to be counted. We want to make sure the voice of every voter in the state of Illinois is duly counted and heard,” Mica Matsoff, a Quinn campaign spokesperson said in a written statement. “The ballots left to be counted appear mostly to come from Cook County, where the governor held a large margin over Senator Brady. We expect to hold our lead and may increase it. We do not see a path to victory for Bill Brady.”

Longtime Statehouse observers say it would be premature for Brady to concede early in such a close race, with absentee and military ballots still uncounted. “I think he owes it to himself and to his supporters to have all the votes be counted. … There are a lot of votes that have yet to be counted,” said Ron Michaelson, who was executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections from 1976 to 2003. Michaelson added that if it becomes clear Brady is not the winner, he should step aside and not “hold out just to hold out.”

Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, said he doesn’t expect Brady to hold on until the certification deadline if votes start to stack up for Quinn. “I suspect that if the numbers continue to grow that we can expect a concession out of Brady over the next couple of days.”

Mike Lawrence, longtime journalist and former spokesman for then-Gov. Jim Edgar, was sympathetic to how hard it can be to give up on a close race. “He’s worked for this thing for eight years, and it’s hard to let go. … I can’t fault him at all.”

Meanwhile. the Illinois Senate is scheduled to return tomorrow — at Quinn’s request — to vote on $4 billion in borrowing so the state can make its required pension payment.

As for how the unsettled governor's race may affect the borrowing vote — and possibly the veto session — Lawrence said it might be hard to gauge. “One of the things I have learned through the years is that it is very difficult to predict what the legislature will do or not do.”

However, he added, “Quinn’s going to be somewhat distracted, and I think the members of the legislature will be as well.”

Lawrence, who is also a former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, pointed to the 1982 governor’s race, when Republican candidate Jim Thompson led Adlai Stevenson III by a little more than 5,000 votes. Stevenson asked for a recount, which was denied by the Illinois Supreme Court and led to a rewrite of the law. “The people in the Statehouse did not focus on the state’s fiscal problems until the question of who was going to be governor was resolved,” Lawrence said. He thinks the legislature will not be interested in considering budget issues beyond pension borrowing until they know the winner of the race.

Redfield said that time is running out for the General Assembly to continue stalling on the budget crisis. “They’ve got to start taking some tough votes in order to do some of the short-term and long-term things that they need to do.’

He said he thinks the legislative leaders know something has to be done about the state’s budget woes. “[House Speaker Michael] Madigan and [Senate President John] Cullerton are very smart people, and they know that there’s a limit to how often you can finesse this situation. … They know that the state has to be in a lot better shape two years from now, when their members run for reelection.”

Cullerton spokesperson John Patterson said that regardless of the outcome of the race, Quinn is governor and continues to be governor through the coming session days.

Both Democratic leaders lost some seats to Republicans but hung onto control of their chambers. According to Sarah Wojcicki, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Republicans had claimed seven House seats with two races still unresolved as of this afternoon. Patterson said Democrats lost two seats with one race still to be decided. This means Cullerton has lost his super-majority and the ability to borrow without Republican votes. However, he repeatedly stated before the election that Democrats had no intention of passing pension borrowing on their own.

The Senate is scheduled to return to Springfield tomorrow at 1 p.m. Check back for information on the session, as well as more election analysis.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election coverage

Since we have a small staff and little means to travel, I will be watching results roll in from my home computer, just as many of our readers will be. But I am looking forward to bringing you analysis in the coming days and weeks on what the results could mean for pension borrowing, the veto session, the possibility of an income tax increase, budget cuts and the future of Illinois.

For elections returns and analysis throughout tonight, go to:

The Capitol Fax Blog

The Chicago Tribune's Election Center

Chicago Sun-Times: Election 2010

The Daily Herald

Central and southern Illinois readers, check out:

The State-Journal Register's The Dome

Lee Enterprises' election site

I will be following along and tweeting on the Illinois Issues Statehouse Bureau's Twitter account (username: capitolbureau). If any other sites prove incredibly useful, I will add them to this list.

Enjoy election night and don't forget to check back in the coming days for blogs examining and analyzing the results.

- Jamey Dunn

Candidates set to break spending records

By Jamey Dunn

As Democrats and Republicans battle it out in close races across the state, they are expected to break records for raising and spending campaign cash.

The candidates vying for governor likely will have spent more combined cash than any other gubernatorial race in Illinois history, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).

The watchdog group projects spending by Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger, Sen. Bill Brady, will add up to about $30 million. The current record for the main party candidates is $23.7 million, set in 2006 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and current Republican candidate for comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Spending by independent candidate for governor Scott Lee Cohen, Libertarian Lex Green and the Green Party’s Rich Whitney would bring the total spending for the race up to a projected $33 million.

Blagojevich was the big spender in the 2006 race, shelling out $16.6 million, and holds the spending record for a single candidate in an Illinois general election. Brady may break that record this year. The ICPR estimates that his spending could reach $17 million. However, Brady’s final spending totals will not be available until the campaign files an expenditure report in January.

Brady brought in $6.5 million from the Illinois Committee of the Republican Governors Association. David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said he was expecting Republicans to make a strong spending effort in this election even before Brady was the nominee because they saw an opportunity to grab power in one branch of Illinois government. “The Republicans were going to make a very serious run at that office, just because they had to have the governor’s office to have a voice in lawmaking.”

He said a year ago, he never would have projected that Republicans could gain control of one of the chambers of the General Assembly, but that now seems possible, as well.

Candidates for the General Assembly are also breaking cash records. The number of races in which candidates raised more than $1 million is up to 15 and has broken the record of 11 in 2006. In the 2008 general election, only six races hit the $1 million mark.

The ICPR estimates that the race between Democratic Sen. Deanna Demuzio and Republican Sam McCann, both of Carlinville, for the 49th District Senate seat will set a new record for spending in an Illinois Senate race. The two are projected to spend more than $2.6 million. The current record is $2.3 million.

Demuzio has raised $1.7 million, with $1 million coming from Senate President John Cullerton. McCann has $818,000, with more than half coming from Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

Democrat Mike Smith and Republican Michael Unes are poised to break the more than $1.6 million spending record for a two-candidate Illinois House race with more than $1.8 million raised between them.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Kilbride’s bid to be retained for another 10-year term is the most expensive retention race in Illinois history and the second most expensive ever in the nation. Kilbride raised more than $3.2 million, while those trying to knock him off the bench — primarily JUSTPAC, the political committee for the Illinois Civil Justice League — have raised almost $700,000.

Candidates in the 25 state legislative races the ICPR characterizes as “in play” raised $24.8 million. More than 65 percent of that, or $16.7 million, came from legislative leaders or political parties.

“I think it explains why the leaders were so reluctant to limit their own giving [during recent pushes for campaign finance reform],” Morrison said.

He added that rank-and-file legislators have little motivation to change a system where, for the most part, political parties and legislative leaders hold the purse strings because that is what got them elected. “They may have decided to run for election because they care about taxes or jobs or whatever, but the one thing they share is, they know how to circulate petitions, knock on doors and win elections.”

Monday, November 01, 2010

Election day: Close races, big spenders and unhappy voters

By Jamey Dunn

As the candidates at the top of the ticket fly throughout the state trying to energize voters the day before the election, polls show Republicans have a slight edge in two close races.

A poll of likely Illinois voters released today by Public Policy Polling has U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk leading the race for U.S. Senate with 46 points to Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias’ 42 points. The same poll shows Gov. Pat Quinn, with 40 points, trailing Republican Sen. Bill Brady, who has 45 points. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3.4 percent.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders are pouring money into General Assembly races. The Illinois Campaign for Political reform released a list today of 14 legislative races — seven from each chamber — where both candidates combined reported more than $1 million in campaign funds.

Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit campaign contribution database connected to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the total number of races with more than $1 million in funds will likely be closer to 16 when all is said and done. “Republicans are seeing opportunity. Democrats are playing defense,” Redfield said.

He added that in recent years, Republicans have had to spend more to fight for suburban districts. But with Democrats — who have a demographic advantage in Illinois — facing high levels of voter frustration and apathy, Republicans have more money to target downstate districts.

As for the possibility of a Republican-controlled Illinois House, Redfield said: “I would be surprised, but I wouldn’t be shocked. … If the Democrats stay home, and the Republicans go to the polls, you could get something like 1994 [when Republicans took control of the House.]”

Redfield said almost half of Brady’s campaign cash has come from national Republican groups. He says close races for Senate and the governor’s office in a state that is typically Democratic might have compelled national Republican organizations to spend more this time around. “Nationally, Republicans have not spent a lot of money in Illinois [in the past] because there really wasn’t much point.”

There has been heightened involvement from national parties in governor’s races across the country, due in part to the fact that states will soon be redrawing legislative districts. “If you get a Republican governor, then that’s a stopper in terms of redistricting in Illinois,” Redfield said. Even if the General Assembly stays in Democrats’ hands, a Republican governor could refuse to sign off on any map they create.

A race thousands of miles away may also affect Illinois. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is battling in a close contest for his seat. If he loses and the Democrats hang on to the Senate, there is a good chance that U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin would take over as leader for his party. Durbin said he has no plans to challenge Reid if he wins reelection.

“I have no idea what anyone else is doing, but I told Harry Reid, gave him my word, I would do nothing in any way whatsoever to angle for his position,” Durbin said. He’s the majority leader. He’s going to be reelected as the majority leader.”

Redfield said that even though it seems Democratic voters in Illinois are disaffected, Illinois Democrats would still be power players in Washington, D.C. “We [would] have the Senate majority leader and the president from Illinois. That would be interesting.”

The economic downturn and a campaign season of negative ads and divisive rhetoric highlighting the state’s and the country’s ills will do little to inspire voters, according to Redfield. “If people were depressed before about the economy after this election cycle, they are even more depressed. … Where are you going to cast a positive vote tomorrow night?”

That outlook is reflected in the Public Policy poll, which says that no matter who voters choose as their next U.S. senator and governor, they will likely not be satisfied. More respondents had an unfavorable opinion than a favorable one of Kirk, Giannoulias and Brady. More than half of respondents did not approve of Quinn’s performance as governor.

Besides picking candidates, voters will also have to decide if they want to add recall power to the Illinois Constitution. If more than 60 percent of people who cast their ballots approve the amendment, voters — with the backing of 30 legislators from both chambers and both parties — would have the power to recall a sitting governor.