Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quinn plans to appeal order to pay lawmakers

By Jamey Dunn

A judge has ordered the state to cut lawmakers' checks after Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto pen to cut off their pay. UPDATE Friday September 27: Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen denied Quinn's request that lawmakers hold off from getting paid during Quinn's appeal of his ruling. Quinn is appealing Cohen's ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court and plans to go to an appellate court to seek a stay to block lawmakers' pay after Cohen denied the move today. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka started processing checks yesterday, so some legislators, who use direct deposit, may already have the money in the bank. UPDATE: Quinn's appeal of the stay was denied by the appellate court. 

Quinn cut out the money for legislators' pay because they failed to pass pension reform legislation before a deadline he set in July. “Admittedly, this is a drastic measure, but I think it’s absolutely necessary to get a wake-up call to the members of the General Assembly that the people of Illinois are tired of excuses. They’re impatient with the fact that the taxpayers pay when the General Assembly doesn’t do its pension reform job,” Quinn said when he vetoed the pay. He also stopped taking his own paychecks and vowed to do so until pensions changes reach his desk.

But Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen ruled today that Quinn violated the state’s Constitution when he changed lawmakers’ pay during their terms in office. The legislative article of the Constitution states that “changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.” Quinn said he intends to appeal the ruling. Quinn’s lawyers argued that the provision was intended to keep lawmakers from increasing their own salaries, and as long as he was reducing them, he was constitutionally exercising his line-item veto power. Cohen did not agree. He looked to the common meaning of change as defined by Merriam Webster’s and the New Oxford American Dictionary, which describes change as “to make or become different.” The governor asked the court to consider the intent of the framers of the 1970 Constitution, but Cohen declined to do that because, he writes in his opinion, there is no “doubt as to the common meaning of changes.”

Cohen ordered state Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka to issue lawmakers’ paychecks, including interest for the time they have gone without pay. Topinka said she disagreed with Quinn’s move when he made the veto. However, she said that until there was a court ruling or the General Assembly voted to override the veto, she did not have a legal way to pay lawmakers. Topinka said today that she will begin the process immediately. “In light of today's court ruling, I have instructed my staff to begin processing salary payments for Illinois lawmakers. I have consistently said action was required by the General Assembly or the court to authorize restoration of those payments. That has now occurred, and the comptroller's office will comply. Processing of paychecks for August, September and October begins today,” she said in a written statement.

Democratic legislative leaders House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton brought the lawsuit against Quinn. “Today, the circuit court vindicated the Illinois Constitution as Judge Cohen ruled to protect and preserve the separation of powers. Now that the governor’s actions have been answered by a court, I trust that we can put aside all distractions and focus on the goal of pension reform,” Cullerton said today in a written statement. “Pension reform remains our top priority. Even while this case was pending, the legislature never stopped working on this issue. I applaud the progress of the pension conference committee as its members shape a pension plan that maximizes our savings and upholds a fundamental standard of fairness.” A spokesperson for Madigan said in an email that the speaker does not plan to comment until the issue is resolved.

Quinn said in a written statement after the ruling that he would appeal. “I respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision,” he said. “On behalf of Illinois taxpayers, I intend to appeal the decision and seek a court stay that would prevent any legislative paychecks from being issued until this case is considered by a higher court.” His statement went on to say: “However, this case is about far more than just the governor’s constitutional authority to suspend the appropriations for legislative paychecks The reason I suspended legislative paychecks in the first place – and refused to accept my own – is because Illinois taxpayers can’t afford an endless cycle of promises, excuses, delays and inertia on the most critical challenge of our time. ... I will not accept a paycheck until a comprehensive pension reform bill is on my desk, and neither should legislators. Nobody in Springfield should get paid until the pension reform job gets done.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said that an appeal from Quinn would be a waste of time and money. “It will be unfortunate if the decision is appealed and a further waste of taxpayer dollars. Pension reform discussions are moving along with committed legislators meeting regularly, negotiating and working toward a compromise. Illinois desperately needs pension reform. Yet another legal maneuver is a distraction we don’t need.”

Northbrook Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who has been a key player on the pension issue in the House, has said before that she thinks Quinn’s veto was counterproductive. She said that some lawmakers might fear that a vote on pension reform could look more like a vote to get their paychecks than one to address the troubled retirement systems for state employees. Nekritz said today that the conference committee, which has been working through the summer to try to craft a bill that can pass in both chambers, has done its best to ignore the pay issue. “It didn’t really impact our timeline or our work schedule or our negotiations.” Some Republicans are reportedly unhappy with the framework that the committee is considering, and Nekritz said she has decided to stop trying to predict when the group will have a finished product. “We’re still at the table. We’re still negotiating.” And she said that as long as that is the case, she is hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Illinois' Obamacare rates to be lower than expected

By Jamey Dunn

A week before consumers can begin to purchase insurance through an online exchange, Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration released some information on the rates they will pay.

The rates are 25 percent lower than previous estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and generally equal to or less than rates released by other states. “All health insurance plans offered through the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace are designed to meet the needs of individuals, families and small business owners across the state,” Quinn said in a prepared statement. “I am happy to say that starting in October, Illinois residents will be able to select a plan that is affordable and meets the health care needs of their families. The number and quality of affordable health plans that will be offered through the Illinois Marketplace is impressive.”

The state’s online insurance marketplace is scheduled to become active on October 1. Residents and small business have until December 15 to purchase coverage that will kick in on January 1. The plans offer a base level of coverage for 10 service categories, including ambulatory care and prescriptions. The plans that will be offered are then giving a metal ranking, with bronze being the lowest cost plans. Under such bronze plans, consumers would likely pay lower premiums but would have more out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments. Under the higher-premium gold and platinum plans, patients would likely pay less out of pocket. The rates in Illinois will vary across the state. A 25-year-old non-smoker in Peoria would pay $128 a month for the basic bronze plan. That some plan would cost $120 in Chicago, $109 in Rock Island, $147 in Springfield and $173 in Carbondale. A Quinn spokesman said that population density plays a role in the rates. The same coverage would cost $146 in Denver and $167 in Seattle. Costs go up with age, and tobacco users will pay more. A 55-year-old smoker living in Carbondale that springs for silver level coverage could pay up to $652.

Americans who make between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 to $45,960 for individuals — will be eligible for federal subsidies that will cut their monthly premiums. Illinois residents who fall below that income level for subsides will be eligible for Medicaid. Those residents can begin to enroll in Medicaid on October 1, and coverage will begin on January 1. “Today’s announcement by the State of Illinois confirms what many have been saying for years: Obamacare will lower health care costs for millions of families,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a prepared statement. “Beginning on October 1, families across the state will be able to pick a health care plan that suits their needs. Dozens of plans will be available. Low-income and working families will be eligible for subsidies to help them cover the costs.” Durbin called on Illinois House Republicans to oppose efforts by their party to defund the Affordable Care Act.

While the rates are lower than expected, opponents argue that if consumers want less costly plans with more limited benefits than what will be offered in the exchange, they should be able to buy them. “The level of choice for the patient and for the consumer is really limited,” said Naomi Lopez-Bauman, director of health policy for the Illinois Policy Institute. She said that young people, who tend to need less medical care, especially should be able to stick with bare bones coverage that can currently cost them about $60 a month. She said that instead of using a “clunky” system such as Obamacare, the government could encourage citizens to purchase coverage by offering a tax subsidy. “You have a young man who could be spending $60 because that’s what he wants and that’s very affordable to him,” said Lopez-Bauman. “Why not just give him the money to go out and pick what best suits him? If you truly want to provide access and affordable health care for Americans, there are much better ways than what is being done right now.” People younger than 30 would still have the option of buying a so-called catastrophic plan under Obamacare, but Illinois has not released rate information on such plans.

Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care, said that the basic plan offered in the exchange has coverage that people truly need, such as preventative care. “I think the essential health benefit package that’s out there isn’t whistles and bells.” He said that while there are few who will need care in all 10 categories, most people would need many of the services that fall under required coverage areas at some point in their lives. “Will a 32-year-old male that’s uninsured, will he need maternity care? No. Will he need something else? Yes.” Duffett’s group is one of many organizations being paid to get the word out about the insurance exchange and help consumers use it when it comes online.

Duffett added that a large portion of young people would be eligible for subsidies that would help to drive down their insurance costs. He said most young adults would probably find that they are paying less for their coverage than they pay for their current cell phone plan. He said that while there are still more details that consumers will need to know when they make their purchases on the exchange, the rates released today are far from the “rate shock” predicted by opponents a few months ago. “It definitely does show that the folks that will be eligible for the marketplace are going to be able to select a plan that is affordable and is going to meet their needs and their family’s needs.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Durkin steps in as House minority leader

Jim Durkin officially took over as the Illinois House minority leader today.

 House Republicans elected Durkin in August as their new leader after former leader Tom Cross announced he would be stepping down. Cross kicked off his campaign for state treasurer last week. He will continue to serve out his term in the House. “Tom Cross was a good leader. I wish him the best in his future endeavors and thank him for service to our caucus,” Durkin said in a written statement. “It is a privilege to have been selected the new House Republican leader by my peers, and I’m anxious to get to work. Illinois is a great state facing serious challenges. House Republicans have solid ideas on how to solve our fiscal crisis and get residents back to work. Like our neighbors, we want safe schools and neighborhoods, and an end to government corruption. We want to restore pride in Illinois — working together we can get the job done.”

Durkin served in the House from 1995 to 2002. He made a failed bid for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dick Durbin and then returned to the House in 2006. He has also worked as a Cook County state’s attorney and an assistant Illinois attorney general.

Durkin is taking over during a challenging time for the caucus. Republicans in both chambers suffered losses in the 2012 election that gave Democrats veto-proof majorities. Both caucuses have struggled with election fundraising, something Durkin says he plans to address.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Brady picks former suburban mayor as running mate

By Jamey Dunn

Republican state Sen. Bill Brady officially tapped a suburbanite with a conservative pedigree as his running mate in the governor's race this afternoon.

Brady’s choice, Maria Rodriguez, served two terms as mayor of the village of Long Grove in Lake County. She made her debut as a lieutenant governor candidate at an event with Brady today in Chicago. “Maria will bring a fresh perspective, a new ethic and a new energy to Springfield,” Brady said in Chicago. Rodriguez ran for the U.S. House in 2010 but was beaten in the Republican primary by Joe Walsh, who went on to win the seat. Walsh lost his 2012 bid for the House to Democrat Tammy Duckworth. Rodriguez went on to be the executive director for former Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski’s watchdog organization, For the Good of Illinois. Andrzejewski was one of several candidates that Brady defeated in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Hinsdale Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard, who is also running for governor, lost to Brady by fewer than 200 votes in 2010. Brady went on to a narrow loss to Gov. Pat Quinn in the general election.

“We have the infrastructure, the resources and, most of all, that Midwestern heart and work ethic to become a magnet state for business and commerce,” Rodriguez told reporters. “What we don't have is leadership.”

This is the first race under a new law that requires governor hopefuls and lieutenant governor candidates to run together in the primary election. Dillard picked Quincy Republican Rep. Jil Tracy. Treasurer Dan Rutherford, from Chenoa, chose former Republican attorney general candidate Steve Kim, who is from Northbrook. Quinn and Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner have yet to pick their running mates.

In other Republican campaign news, outgoing House Minority Leader Tom Cross plans to formally announce his bid for state treasurer as he travels the state during the next two days to kick off his campaign. Cross will run against Republican DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan. The winner of that primary will face off with Champaign Democratic Sen. Michael Frerichs in the general race.

Daley says his decision to bow out was not about winning or losing

By Jamey Dunn

Bill Daley, who dropped out of the Illinois governor’s race last night, told reporters today it was not because he thought he was going to lose.

“It’s not about the campaign and my ability to win,” Daley said at a Chicago press conference this morning. He said that instead, it was about him deciding that the job might not be the best fit. The former White House chief of staff said he has been asking himself, “‘Is this the right thing for me to do, to the best of my skills over the next number of years, that I feel excited to be doing?’” Daley said it took the experience of campaigning for him to come to his decision. “It’s one thing to be, quite frankly, in the gallery, and it’s another thing to be on the dance floor.”

 Daley, who recently turned 65, said he did not know if he would have the stamina to govern the state for years during such difficult times. “That need for that energy at that stage is probably not going to be there.” Illinois faces high unemployment rates, an almost $100 billion unfunded public pension liability and a state budget that is still on shaky ground. Daley said that whoever wins the governor’s race could address those issues “in a very serious way,” but he said it would take “courage” from the governor and lawmakers. However, he predicts that his former opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn, will not be the victor. When asked why, he said, “I’ve made my opinion of Pat Quinn pretty clear over the last couple of months.” Daley added, “I’ll be proven either a genius or an idiot next year.” Daley said he has no plans to endorse any candidate at this point. When asked if he was being a disloyal member of the Democratic Party by saying that its likely candidate cannot win the general election, he said, “You also have to be a good citizen, and that’s an individual judgment.” Daley said he plans to return to the private sector but does not yet have a job lined up.

Quinn’s campaign said that Daley’s decision to drop out would help Quinn in his goal of defying his former challenger’s prediction. “We respect Bill Daley's decision. A divisive primary would have only helped Republicans who want to take this state backwards and undo the important progress we have made. When Gov. Pat Quinn took the oath of office, Illinois faced a triple crisis due to decades of corruption, fiscal mismanagement and the worst recession since the Great Depression. Under the governor's leadership, Illinois is making a comeback,” said a written statement from the campaign. “We have more work to do. The governor will continue fighting for taxpayers to enact a comprehensive pension reform solution that will strengthen Illinois' economic competitiveness. And when the time comes for voters to make their decision on Nov. 4 next year, we are confident they will recognize the difficult and important work the governor has accomplished on their behalf.”

Quinn still faces long-shot candidate, Tio Hardiman, in the Democratic primary. Hardiman is the former director of the anti-violence group Cease Fire Illinois. After Hardiman was arrested on domestic violence charges last spring, Cease Fire did not renew his contract. Hardiman’s wife opted not to pursue the charges. Hardiman issued a statement upon the news of Daley’s withdraw from the campaign. “For decades the people of Illinois has had to endure failed politics, broken promises and corruption. The condition of the State of Illinois is so bad, that a Lifetime Politician in just 6 weeks had to question his own ambition and drop out. The People of Illinois are strong and determined, they deserve a governor that reflects them, one who is prepared to endure and not weaken.”

But after Daley's change of heart, the Quinn camp must be pretty happy. Attorney General Lisa Madigan was viewed as the greatest potential threat to Quinn’s reelection, but she opted to seek reelection instead of going for the governor’s seat. Now the governor can avoid being bloodied in a tough primary and can hang onto his campaign cash for the general election. Meanwhile the Republican primary remains as crowded as ever. Bloomington Republican Sen. Bill Brady is scheduled to announce his running mate later today.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Attorney general sues company that she says broke into homes

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is suing a company that she says has been locking people out of their homes when they had a legal right to stay.

Foreclosure filings in the Chicago area have dropped to the lowest level since the housing market crashed in 2008. But the fallout from the housing market collapse will likely be felt in Illinois for many years to come as older foreclosures work their way through the system. A lawsuit filed by Madigan this week alleges that one company is violating the rights of people who have fallen behind on their house payments.

Lenders and companies that service loans by collecting borrowers’ payments hire other entities to assist them with taking care of properties after a foreclosure. Safeguard Properties LLC is the largest privately held company that provides those services, which include determining if a property is vacant and boarding up windows on vacant properties. Madigan is suing the Ohio-based company because she says Safeguard has been entering homes that have not yet been foreclosed upon and evicting residents who still have the legal right to occupy their homes. In Illinois, residents are legally allowed to remain in a property until the foreclosure process has been completed. “This case shows the lengths that banks and their service providers will go to abuse and intimidate borrowers in foreclosure,” Madigan said in a prepared statement. “This company was illegally breaking into people’s homes, removing all their possessions and locking them out. It is a homeowner’s worst nightmare.”

According to the complaint from Madigan, Safeguard often hired contractors to do the actual leg-work of finding out if properties were vacant, removing items left behind by former occupants, changing the locks and winterizing them by turning off the water. But Madigan’s complaint says that those contractors were taking such steps while residents were clearly still occupying properties with the legal right to be there.

The complaint describes several incidents. In once case, Safeguard allegedly broke into the home of Mark Fencke, a reserve member of the U.S. Armed Services, who was away at mandatory military training. Fencke had fallen behind on his house payments and was working with his bank to sell the house. Madigan says Safeguard representatives broke into Fencke’s house, damaged his property, had his utility services shut off and changed the locks on the doors. In another case described in the suit, Safeguard broke into the home of a woman who had fallen behind on her house payments. She had not gone into default on her loan, and the home was not even in the foreclosure process. The company changed her locks and shut off her water service. Madigan’s office is seeking an injunction that would bar Safeguard from doing business in the state. She is also seeking a $50,000 for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act and an additional $10,000 for each violation involving residents who are 65 or older.

The complaint says that Safeguard’s policies are a big part of the problem. The company uses contractors in the state that are paid a fee per service. Safeguard stresses that occupancy checks should be done quickly but does not have a set policy for determining if a property is occupied. The company allegedly will not accept an “unknown” status on a property and will not pay contractors if they don’t make a determination. The filing says Safeguard pushes contractors to deem a property vacant after only one visit and without trying to contact possible residents. The document says that “in many cases Safeguard or its subcontractors inaccurately deem a property vacant when the property is, in fact, legally occupied.” The suit says Safeguard representatives leave behind misleading notices that imply that occupants must leave before they are legally required to go. A call and email to Safeguard requesting comment were not returned.

“We have come across a whole range of servicer issues,” said Spencer Cowan, vice president of research at the Chicago-based Woodstock Institute. “We know, for example, that there are servicers who have been very aggressive in trying to get tenants out of the building, and sometimes they have stepped over the line.” The institute focuses primarily on the other end of the spectrum; blight caused when banks do not keep up proper maintenance on foreclosed vacant properties. These buildings can drag down property values and even become dangerous to nearby residents. However, Cowan said he was not at all surprised by the allegations in Madigan’s complaint. “Problems seem to exist at both ends of the spectrum,” he said.

Cowan said a recent court ruling could make it more difficult for Chicago to push back against blight. The decision exempts the Federal Housing Finance Agency from the city’s Vacant Buildings Ordinance. That means that buildings owned by lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which hold more than half of all foreclosed properties, do not have to live up to the maintenance standards in the law. It also means that Chicago and the state have no ability to enforce any maintenance standards on either entity. A news release from the FHFA said of the law: “The ordinance would create risks and liabilities for the [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] at a time when they are already supported by taxpayers, including those in the city of Chicago. Additionally, the ordinance would subject the [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] to the regulation and supervision of the Chicago Department of Buildings instead of FHFA, as Congress intended.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quinn says he will freeze funds for Capitol renovation

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he is cutting off the funding for any future renovation to the state Capitol building.

Quinn told reporters in Chicago that he wants the spending decisions on the renovations reviewed. This comes in the wake extensive media coverage of some of the pricier components in the revamp of the west wing of the building, including copper-plated doors that came with a $670,000 price tag. “The bottom line is, I instructed our budget director to hold up the appropriation for any further renovation work on the state Capitol,” Quinn said today. “There’s some things there that needed to be done — life and safety issues, removing asbestos, making sure that it’s accessible to people who needed an opportunity to come to the Capitol. But the bottom line is, I’ve said right from the start that this was excessive. We don’t need to have the palace of Versailles at our state Capitol.” Quinn said he had no control over the spending decisions made as part of the renovation. However, he did sign off on $250 million for Statehouse renovations as part of the capital construction bill that lawmakers approved in 2009. Quinn touts that plan as one of the major accomplishments during his time in office.

A commission appointed by the legislative leaders oversees the nuts and bolts of the renovation. Quinn laid the blame at the feet of Capitol Architect Richard Alsop III, saying he needs to be “reined by the legislative commission that he reports to.” Alsop did not respond to a request for comment. The west wing renovation, which cost $50 million, is all but completed. The plan was to move on to the north wing of the building next, but Quinn said that he does not plan to make money for that available until the work that has already been completed can be assessed.

As public outrage over the shiny doors at the west entrance of the building has grown, many lawmakers have rushed to denounce the spending. Former Gov. Jim Thompson has been one of the few vocal supporters of the renovation in recent weeks. “Where were they supposed to buy the doors and maidens [statues] and chandeliers?” he asked in an interview with Chicago magazine. “Walmart, Lowe’s?” He noted that the money is part of the capital budget and cannot be spent on other needs, such as education and human services. Thompson said the Statehouse is the most important building in the state and that the attention of leaders would be better focused on pension reform.

Still, many — including Quinn’s political opponents — say they find the expense tough to swallow at a time when the state has been slashing human services and education spending and is billions of dollars behind on its payments to vendors. “Under Governor Quinn, thousands of teachers have been laid off, health care has been cut, yet he somehow approves over $1 million for fancy chandeliers and doors and wastes $5 million a day failing to fix the pension mess,” Bill Daley, Quinn’s challenger in the Democratic primary for governor, said in a prepared statement. Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kirk Dillard called for an audit of the renovation project. “In light of published reports that $700,000 was spent on three pairs of Capitol doors, and nearly $500,000 was spent on four chandeliers and two sculptures, we need to find out whether there's any more excessive spending and try to stop it,” he said in a prepared statement. Dillard voted in favor of the funding for the renovation in 2009 when the capital bill passed.

Dave Blanchette, a spokesman for Quinn and a former spokesman for the Capitol Development Board, said that because the architect only reports to a panel appointed by the legislative leaders on such decisions, there were no red flags to alert Quinn to some of the more extravagant spending choices. “There’s very little that can sound alarm bells about something like this.” He said Quinn has not yet commented on how he might have preferred to see the funds used, only saying that he did not agree with the “excessive flourishes.” He added that not all the money had to spent on the renovation. Blanchette, who has also served as the deputy director of the Abraham Presidential Library and Museum, said the library and museum saved some of its budgeted funds for any contingencies that might pop up after the project was finished. He said the money came in handy when the climate control system did not function properly and had to be replaced.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Quinn names new chief of staff

Ryan Croke will be Gov. Pat Quinn’s new chief of staff.

Croke has served as Quinn’s deputy chief of staff since 2009. In that position, he focused on modernizing government, economic growth and public safety. Prior to that job, he served as a policy adviser to Quinn on matters including technology, education and economic development. In that role, he led a broadband initiative that deployed more than 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable throughout the state.

Ryan Croke
Croke will replace Jack Lavin, who has held the position since 2010. According to Quinn’s office, Lavin is “departing for the private sector.” Lavin, who has spent more than a decade in state government, worked under Quinn when he was state treasurer. “I thank Jack Lavin for his many years of public service and his hard work to restore fiscal stability, integrity and economic prosperity to Illinois,” Quinn said in a written statement. “I’ve known Jack since I was state treasurer, and I will always consider him a friend. He has done an excellent job building a brighter future for all the citizens of this state.”

Jack Lavin
Croke, 30, is from Wheeling. He has a master’s degree in communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He lives in Springfield with his wife, Brook. “Ryan Croke knows Illinois like the back of his hand and has played a critical role in my administration since the day I took office,” Quinn said in a written statement. “Ryan is a strong leader with the right vision and energy to manage the operations of state government and get things done for the people of Illinois.”

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Whitley to retire from Illinois Chamber of Commerce

By Jamey Dunn

Doug Whitley, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, announced today that he plans to retire from the chamber next year.

Whitley once considered a run for governor, but he said his political aspirations are behind him now. He said he had no interest in running for public office. “I am not a candidate for office. I flirted with that four years ago. I never announced. I flirted with it, that is out of my system.”

He became president and CEO of the chamber in 2001. He was a key player in the push for worker’s compensation reform and the battle against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s unpopular gross receipts tax proposal. While Whitley was one of many who helped spur debate over recent changes to worker's compensation rules, the chamber was neutral on the legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn signed in 2011. Whitley drew some heat and union protesters when he invited Republican Gov. Scott Walker to speak at a chamber event in Springfield last year. Walker advocated for and signed legislation limiting worker’s collective bargaining rights in his state. After Illinois' income tax rate increase in 2011, Wisconsin began running an ad campaign encouraging businesses to “Escape to Wisconsin.”

Whitley said he is proudest of his role in “restoring the reputation of the Illinois chamber as the voice for business in our state.” When he stepped into the job, the position had been open for more than a year, and he said the chamber had lost its focus. He is also proud of pushing back against Blagojevich on the receipts tax and a hike in worker’s compensation fees. Before coming to the chamber, Whitley was president of Ameritech Illinois. He also served as the director of the Illinois Department of Revenue under former Gov. Jim Edgar. He was president of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois for 14 years and got his start in the political sphere as a legislative staffer.

Whitley will leave his post at the chamber in June 2014. “It will be good for the Illinois chamber to have a new leader with a fresh perspective when the next gubernatorial administration starts, whether Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected or we have a new governor,” Whitley said. The chamber plans to conduct a nationwide search to find his replacement. Whitley said that the one of the biggest challenges that his replacement will face is “the failure of our elected officials to be laser-focused on the question of unemployment.”

He added, “If we had 700,000 more people working, some of the government’s budget problems would begin to take care of themselves.”

Whitley, an often outspoken observer of Illinois politics, said he will miss providing commentary on the action. He said that he does not plan to resign to a life of leisure, and he hopes to find a new job and remain in Illinois after he leaves the chamber. “I don’t play golf, and I don’t own a hammock,” he said.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Republicans pick running mates and begin to build platforms

By Jamey Dunn

Today is the first day that candidates can begin circulating petitions to get on the ballot, and Republican gubernatorial contenders have started announcing their running mates and are shaping their political platforms.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford announced via Twitter that he chose Steve Kim, the 2010 Republican candidate for attorney general, as his lieutenant governor candidate. This is the first race under a new that law requires candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to pair up and run together during the primary election. If the Rutherford/Kim ticket goes all the way, Kim would be the first Asian-American elected to a statewide office in Illinois. Rutherford plans to hold a news conference on Thursday to announce officially that Kim will join his campaign. On his Twitter page, Rutherford said he would also announce the “unique and substantive” role that Kim would play in his administration. Kim has is a lawyer with a background in business and served as an adviser to former Gov. Jim Edgar.

Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale, made several stops around the state today to showcase Republican state Rep. Jil Tracy as his running mate. However, he first made the announcement on Twitter yesterday. Tracy, a Republican from Quincy, has served in the House since 2006. She is originally from the Carbondale area and holds a law degree from Southern Illinois University. She worked as an assistant attorney general under former Republican Attorney General Jim Ryan. “Rep. Tracy is someone who could easily step in and be a great governor in the governor’s chair in Springfield. She thrives on getting things done for the people of Illinois, and she has the legislative experience to know how things work in Springfield. But like me she’s mature enough to know how things really ought to work in Springfield, and there is a difference,” Dillard said in Springfield today. If elected, Tracy said she hopes to be an ambassador to the business community and “find out how we’re going to create jobs in the private sector for people in Illinois.”

Republican candidate Bruce Rauner rolled out his plan to make changes to the Illinois General Assembly, including imposing term limits on lawmakers. Rauner is backing a constitutional amendment that would reduce the number of senators from 50 to 41 and increasing the House from 118 to 123. According to a news release from Rauner, the change would “make Senate elections more competitive and save the state money.”

The proposal also calls for changing the threshold to override a governor’s veto from a three-fifths majority to a two-thirds majority. Rauner hopes to gather enough signatures to get the amendment on the 2014 general election ballot, and he has created a political action committee to help with his efforts. If he does succeed in collecting the signatures needed, the amendment would also likely undergo a court challenge. The Illinois Constitution does allow for citizen-initiated amendments, but it limits them to the “structural and procedural subjects” of the article that governs the legislature. As state treasurer, current Gov. Pat Quinn tried to push a term limits initiative, but the amendment was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court because it did not meet the standard of affecting both the structure and procedure of the legislative body.

This precedent may by why Rauner’s plan also shakes up the number of members in each chamber. Rauner said he wants the limit for governors, too, but the Constitution does not allow for changes to the executive branch via voter initiative. So term limits for the governor’s office could only be achieved if the General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment and voters approved it during a future general election.

Sticking with the digital trend that Republican candidates seem to be embracing, Rauner released a video via his YouTube channel making the case for his proposal. “Eight years and out for everybody,” he says in the video. “No more of this 30 years in power, making millions of dollars on the side from your law firm or your special deal. No more. Be a public servant: Serve the public and leave.” Dillard today called Rauner’s plan a gimmick designed to “attract attention to himself.” He said reducing the number of senators would leave people in less-populated areas with less representation. “The Senate districts will become so large that one won’t even really have the ability to really even see their senator. And I think it’s a real slap in the face to downstate Illinois.”

Quinn has said he continues to support term limits. However, if he is elected to serve another term as governor, he would exceed the eight-year limit that he once advocated for lawmakers.

There have been no indications yet from Quinn, his Democratic opponent Bill Daley or Bloomington Republican Sen. Bill Brady about their choices for running mates. Current Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is challenging Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. One person who will not have to worry about picking a lieutenant governor candidate is Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul. He was considering a bid for the governor’s office but announced last week that he would not run. Raoul said he wanted to instead focus on his job as a lawmaker and his role as chair of a special committee working to draft legislation to change the public employee pension systems.