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Full text for Articles for Yesterday, Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 21 Articles


Attorney General candidate stops in Chester
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Randolph County Herald Tribune
Candidates--Statewide (12)
The March primary election is three months to the day away, but candidates are already drawing up their battle plans.

Illinois Attorney General candidate Erika Harold, a Republican, made a stop in Chester on Tuesday for a meet and greet lunch that included many of Randolph County's Republican candidates for the upcoming election.

Harold, a 2002 Miss Illinois winner as well as being crowned Miss America in 2003, is running in a wide-open field after incumbent Lisa Madigan announced in September that she would not seek a fifth term as the state's top prosecutor.

Harold also was previously a Republican candidate for the 13th Congressional District seat in 2014, losing to Rodney L. Davis.

"I decided to run for attorney general because I thought the people of our state deserve an attorney general who exercises independent judgement, who will address public corruption and who will enforce the law," Harold said during an interview with the Herald Tribune after the lunch. "I expect this to be an exciting race. There are eight Democrats and so, people are paying a lot of attention to this race."

Among the Democratic field is former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who served from 2009 to 2015. Harold has an easier route to the November general election in only facing one other Republican in DuPage County Board member Gary Grasso.

"People are also paying attention because the attorney general has the ability to affect people's lives in a very positive way," Harold said. "And since it's clear that there will be a change, people are excited about seeing what type of changes might be instituted within that office."

Harold is currently an attorney in private practice with the Meyer Capel law firm in Champaign. She earned her juris doctor degree from Harvard University in 2007 after getting her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Illinois in 2001.

"I was accepted to Harvard Law School and was not in a position to pay for it," Harold said. "And so I picked an unconventional path and entered the Miss America pageant as a means of paying for it.

"I was crowned Miss America 2003 and as a result of winning that pageant, I was able to graduate debt free from Harvard Law School."

Harold noted that the platform of Miss America allowed her to be an advocate for children who had been victimized in school. Harold's platform during the pageant was "Preventing Youth Violence and Bullying: Protect Yourself, Respect Yourself."

"That stemmed from my own experience being a victim of harassment and ultimately having to leave my high school," said Harold, who is of Greek, German and English heritage on her father's side and both Native American and African-American on her mother's. "As Miss America, I was able to advocate for policies that would require schools to protect students from harassment."

Harold was asked her reason for making a stop in Chester.

"It's very important to me as a candidate for attorney general to cover every community within this state," she said. "To be able to introduce myself and to hear from the residents of those communities about the concerns that are the most important to them."

She was further asked what the common concerns were that she is hearing from people.

"People are very concerned about public corruption," she said. "People are concerned about over-regulation, people are concerned about how difficult it is to do business here within Illinois and those are issues that we plan to address."

Illinois State Senator Andy Manar
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Commentary  |   WTAX 1240 Morning Newswatch
Hospitals, Health Facilities Planning Board (48) Manar, Andy--State Senate, 48
Joey McLaughlin talks with Illinois State Senator Andy Manar about what he learned on his recent hospital listening tour. http://wtax.com/podcasts/illinois-state-senator-andy-manar-13/

Illinois lawmakers keep leash on their sexual harassment watchdog
Belleville News Democrat
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Editorial  |   By The Editorial Board
Candidates--Statewide (12) , Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Sexual Harassment (96) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
The Republican woman who wants to be the next Illinois Attorney General was campaigning in the area recently, and she had some interesting things to say about government corruption, sexual harassment and the office’s potential for helping change the statehouse culture.

It was an interesting juxtaposition, as news emerged that our state lawmakers allow themselves veto power on sexual harassment investigations of their peers.

Erika Harold was both sexually and racially harassed when she was a young teen. She wants to use the bully pulpit of the AG’s office to lead on the issue and lend its legal power to groups of Illinoisans when needed.

She overcame the bullying, with a vengeance. She was Phi Beta Kappa at U of I, is a Harvard Law graduate and was Miss America 2003.

But she said others don’t always overcome. Some don’t survive, period.

Which brings us to Illinois lawmakers who ignored sexual harassment until #MeToo exploded. It took the public shaming of an open letter initially signed by 160 people for them to move on getting an investigator to look at 27 sexual harassment complaints that languished for three years.

The former inspector general smacked around Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for his meddling in hiring at Chicago’s public transit system. As the inspector left, he gave lawmakers a laundry list of reforms. They responded by leaving the job vacant for three years and the sexual harassment complaints piled up.

They just named former Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie B. Porter as the new inspector general. She was known as a corruption fighter, including tackling part of the Rod Blagojevich prosecution.
But the state lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission must first let their new watchdog off the leash. She is the only inspector general in state government who first must ask permission to do her job. No investigations start without a vote of the commission.

You cannot clean corruption when under the control of the potentially corrupt or those protecting their self-interest or power.

Otherwise, Illinois would have a truly independent inspector general. And term limits. And independent legislative district mapping. And campaign finance limits. And a balanced budget. And fully-funded pensions.

Families blame state in veterans home Legionnaires' outbreak
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Veterans (95)
Eleven families are suing the state for negligence saying a fatal Legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2015 and continued problems at a western Illinois veterans' home were preventable.

The families, who spoke to Chicago's WBEZ , are seeking changes to the state-run Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, where the outbreak two years ago killed 12 and sickened dozens more. Despite pledges from Gov. Bruce Rauner to fix the problem, about half a dozen new Legionnaires' cases since then.

"When's it going to stop?" said Jana Casper, a daughter of World War II veteran Gerald Kuhn, who died in the 2015 outbreak. "How many more people are going to have to die before they can get to the bottom of what's causing it?"

Rauner, a Republican who took office in 2015, said in a Wednesday statement that his administration is "deeply concerned" and has taken critical steps, including following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

"We are committed to ensuring the residents get the care and treatment they deserve in a safe living environment," Rauner said.

The bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease grow in warm water and are often present in water supplies. The veterans home underwent a nearly $5 million rehabilitation of its water treatment plant after the 2015 outbreak.

Experts have praised those changes, but still call the continued problems with Legionella bacteria "troubling" and "unusual." Several people contracted Legionnaires last year.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did commend Illinois' action plan, officials found the home's plumbing system still poses a "potential risk" for the disease and "completely eradicating Legionella is very challenging."

Meanwhile, both Democratic U.S. senators from Illinois called for a review of leadership at the facility. Sen. Dick Durbin wants the facility closed until the water system is safe, something Secretary of State Jesse White echoed Wednesday.

"As a veteran, I find it especially frustrating that people who served our country should have to deal with this outrageous situation," White said in a statement.

Calls for further investigation and independent audits grew on Wednesday, both from Rauner's GOP challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives, and Democratic rivals in the March primary.

New law aimed at combatting fraudulent opioid prescriptions
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Drugs (32)

Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed legislation aimed at combatting fraudulent opioid prescriptions by requiring drug prescribers to use a database containing patient prescription histories.

The measure Rauner signed Wednesday requires prescribers with an Illinois Controlled Substance License to register for and use the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program. The database lets physicians check if patients have previously requested controlled substances. Rauner's office says the effort will cut down on patients obtaining opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti is chair of the Governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention Task Force. She said the law gives prescribers "the tools they need to ensure patients aren't manipulating the system to support their addiction."

The Illinois Department of Human Services will maintain the database. Physicians who don't comply may be subject to state disciplinary action. The new law takes effect Jan. 1.

— Associated Press

SIU board mulls restructuring plan, tuition hike
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   by K. JANIS ESCH
Education--Higher (37)
CARBONDALE — At a standing-room-only work session Wednesday, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s new chancellor presented his controversial academic reorganization plan to the SIU Board of Trustees, eliciting an apparent mix of skepticism and support.

In the Student Center’s jam-packed Mississippi Room, SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno argued that his plan to eliminate the university’s 42 departments will allow for more interdisciplinary work and elevate the status of the university.

Montemagno pointed to the precipitous decline in SIUC’s enrollment and said next year’s freshman enrollment is projected to sink below 1,000 students.

“Things aren’t getting better. And it’s quite scary,” he said. “You’ll hear a lot of discussion about how we need to discuss this more, how changes are happening too fast, how they’re ill-conceived. What I want to point you to is some work that’s been done in this university for a very, very long time.”

Citing university committee reports from 2012 and 2013 that also recommended reorganization to eliminate redundancies in programming, Montemagno disputed the notion that “this is some quick, harebrained scheme that’s being rammed down the throat when in fact it’s been studied for at least seven years.”

The chancellor sketched out the structure of the proposed reorganization, which would trim the university’s eight academic colleges down to five. Those colleges would contain 15 schools, which would house programs.

Proposed new programs include: cybersecurity, bioinformatics, natural language processing, ecology, neurosciences, biochemistry and molecular biology, forensics, chemical and biochemical engineering, material science, robotics and automation, gerontology and rural health, landscape architecture, and fisheries and wildlife management.

He highlighted his new criteria for the university’s core curriculum, which would include communication skills, cultural competency, multidisciplinary foundation, leadership skills and emotional intelligence.

e said his staff is working to improve student life by bringing major concerts back to the university and expanding activities for students.

“The soul of the SIU experience was removed over the past five or six years. You talk to any alumni, they’ll tell you the place is not the same as it was before,” Montemagno said.

A key element of Montemagno’s plan is the elimination of department chairs, which he contends would save about $2.3 million in administrative costs.

Trustee Shirley Portwood was critical of the plan. She pushed back against the idea that senior faculty members with teaching duties would accept the responsibility of leading programs without being compensated as department chairs. Montemagno said faculty members would serve in those roles because “they’re part of the community.”

“I see a lot of theoretical language. I don’t see much evidence of how it’s going to work and be successful,” Portwood said.

When Student Trustee Sam Beard said that Faculty Association, the Graduate and Professional Student Council, the Undergraduate Student Council had all passed resolutions opposing the unilateral elimination of departments, Montemagno said the FA and GPSC were not unanimous in their disapproval. He said the restructuring would not impact students.

oard chair Randal Thomas said it would take some time to review the hefty documents pertaining to the plan.

“This is our really first read, and we have our homework to do,” Thomas said.

“I have a real concern about SIU moving forward with an organizational structure that is totally different from any university in the country. … There’s no evidence that it’s the structure of the university that’s the problem,” Portwood said, prompting applause from the audience.

Trustee Joel Sambursky said he respectfully disagreed.

“We don’t have evidence that suggests what we’re currently doing is working, and we studied these challenges for many years, and we as a board made a decision to enact change, to pursue change,” Sambursky said.

The chancellor hopes to implement the changes July 1, 2018.

Tuition hikes
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Judy Marshall, SIU’s executive director of finance, proposed a 2 percent tuition hike for undergraduate students for the next academic year and an 8.5 percent increase for graduate students and School of Law students.

Marshall presented several scenarios for tuition increases and said her office recommended the 2 percent hike for domestic undergraduates, about a $200 increase per academic year for a student who takes 30 credit hours. She said that percentage is just below the current inflation rate and would cover expected increases in operating costs “while maintaining affordability for a Carnegie-ranked research university.”

Marshall noted that holding tuition flat does not necessarily have a positive bump on enrollment.

“During the last eight academic years, we’ve actually had two years where we did not increase tuition at all. The impact on enrollment of no increase was not actually positive or predictable,” Marshall said.

She proposed an 8.5 percent increase for graduate students, both in-state and non-residents, and for in-state students attending the School of Law. The non-Illinois resident tuition rate for the School of Law will be 1.5 times the in-state rate.

Marshall said she was not recommending any increase in undergraduates’ mandatory fees, except for the optional student health insurance, which is purchased through an outside vendor.
Committee meetings will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, followed by the board’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Cook County ballot question on legalizing weed blazes ahead
Chicago Sun Times
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Rachel Hinton
Drugs (32)

Cook County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously voted to move marijuana legalization talks to the voters, meaning they will see an advisory question on the March ballot.

John Fritchey, D-Chicago, is the chief sponsor and creator of the referendum item. He called it a “logical progression on moving conversations forward on legalizing marijuana.”

“We have to let our constituents be heard and this is a non-binding step in that direction,” Fritchey said. “I’m very confident that if voters are given the chance to voice their opinions, they’ll show support for this issue.”

Fritchey has been a staunch advocate for legalization in the county. Marijuana works differently than alcohol, tobacco or opiods, he says. Easing access to it “can be one of the easiest things we can do to ease the opiod crisis” because the drug can be used for chronic pain.

The non-binding measure, he says, is more about creating stepping stones to criminal justice reforms and “unclogging” the criminal justice system than bringing in revenue for the state — in Illinois, penalties vary, but for possession someone may face a minimum $100 fine for less than 10 grams or a Class B misdemeanor for more than 10 grams.

In October, Fritchey called on the Illinois General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 2353 that would establish a path forward for marijuana “legalization, regulation and taxation.” Fritchey was also involved in legislation that passed in 2013.

Though there are still many obstacles in the way of complete legalization, Fritchey says he believes it has a real chance of happening.

“A few election cycles ago calling for a decriminalization of marijuana could be a political career ender,” Fritchey said. “I think some of the change is people realizing the sky isn’t going to fall.”

Commissioners on Wednesday also voted to strengthen their anti-sexual harassment measures and for $1.6 million in additional funding for transportation projects in the county.

Lobbyist retires with integrity intact — honest
Chicago Sun Times
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Mark Brown
Lobbyists (12a)

The lobbying profession has never enjoyed a particularly good reputation.

Then there’s Dick Lockhart, who is retiring at the end of this month at age 93.

Lockhart is the dean of Illinois lobbyists. He has practiced his craft in the hurly-burly of state government since 1958.

And yet his reputation is impeccable.


In fact, most would say it’s Lockhart’s reputation for honesty and integrity that was responsible for his success and longevity in a scene too often dominated by power and money.

Lockhart made credibility his trademark, something that wouldn’t evaporate with the changing of legislative leaders or governors.

“Credibility is a non-renewable resource: once gone, it is gone,” states the first principle of Lockhart Logic, a brief compendium of his Statehouse insights.

“You have to earn credibility. It doesn’t just happen. They don’t hand it to you,” Lockhart told me Tuesday from his Loop office, the memorabilia-filled walls stripped bare in preparation for his departure.

Lockhart earned credibility by giving legislators all the important facts about an issue, even information that might cut against his position.

Way back in 1978, the Sun-Times surveyed legislators and members of the executive branch to pick the top 10 lobbyists in Illinois.

Lockhart made the list. None of the others in the top 10 are still plying the trade. One went to prison. A couple more probably should have.

I was the Sun-Times’ intern in Springfield at the time, and I still remember a quote from one unnamed legislative leader who said Lockhart was “generally on the side of the angels.”

That was a reference to Lockhart’s hodgepodge of clients, which included a mental health advocacy group that stuck with him his entire career. Lockhart rarely represented any of the powerhouse organizations at the center of the state’s political wars.

Although he came to Springfield as a liberal Chicago Democrat with roots in the Independent Voters of Illinois, Lockhart became known as a lobbyist who favored neither side of the aisle.

Even this past week, his social calendar included a fundraiser for state Sen. Andy Manar, a fast-rising Downstate Democrat, and a reception honoring former Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

“He is probably the most honest guy I ever met,” lobbyist Dave Winters, a former Republican state representative from the Rockford area, told me last week.

The setting was a reception at Lockhart’s townhouse in Dearborn Park. Lockhart hosts an after-party every year following the annual holiday luncheon for the Illinois Third House, an association of lobbyists.

The place was packed with old friends wanting to give Lockhart a proper sendoff.

“The House will come to order. Members should be at their desks,” former state Rep. Joseph Lyons, a Chicago Democrat, announced to quiet the room as if back on the rostrum in Springfield.

Lockhart thanked everyone for coming and warned there won’t be another party when he turns 94 next month.

“We share values. We share our history. We share each other’s situation,” he said.

Their shared situation includes the drive to Springfield that Lockhart says he won’t miss.

“What’s the definition of capital punishment?” Lockhart asks with typical cornball humor. “Having to spend the weekend in Springfield.”

Lockhart’s energy and work ethic also explain his longevity: he’s in Springfield every session day, reads every piece of legislation and never uses the elevators inside the Capitol Building, taking the stairs instead.

Lockhart’s son, David, told me his father took him aside when he was younger to tell him: “You might hear some bad things about lobbyists, but you’re never going to hear anything bad about me.”

And he never has.

“His work is his life, his hobby, his passion,” said the younger Lockhart, 56.

Dick Lockhart, who was a POW during World War II, said he’s only quitting now because his hearing and eyesight have slipped. He plans to travel more and write a lobbying handbook for average citizens.

After all, that’s another fundamental of Lockhart Logic: “Constituents make the best lobbyists.”

Pritzker and Quinn win top ballot spots in gov, AG races
Chicago Sun Times
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Tina Sfondeles
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Former Gov. Pat Quinn and billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker will take the top ballot spots in the March primary in heated races for attorney general and governor, thanks to a lottery conducted Wednesday in Springfield.

Top ballot placement is most helpful in races with a long list of candidates. Seven are vying for the party nomination in the Democratic gubernatorial contest, and eight in the attorney general’s race.

In the race for governor, Pritzker takes the first spot, followed by businessman Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston. Corrections officer Terry Getz, Madison County Schools Supt. Bob Daiber, former CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall, a Burr Ridge doctor, round out the list.

Getz is expected to be removed from the ballot by the State Board of Elections because he didn’t meet the signature requirement and didn’t have a running mate. In a Dec. 1 Facebook post, Getz wrote that “a write in selection may still be possible.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner will be listed first on the Republican primary ballot since he filed his nominating petitions on Nov. 27. His challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, filed on Dec. 4, the last day to do so.

In the Illinois attorney general’s race, Quinn secured the first ballot spot. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, state Rep. Scott Drury, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, secured the next spots, followed by Chicago Park District Board President Jesse Ruiz, former chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability Sharon Fairley and Aaron Goldstein, who served as one of former Gov. Blagojevich’s defense attorneys.

A top spot may help bolster Quinn, who is already banking on some name recognition in the crowded race to succeed Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Raoul garnered the Cook County Democratic Party’s endorsement last month, but he’ll be positioned fifth on the ballot.

The lottery was conducted with an old set of Illinois Lottery numbers being pulled at random from a wooden box.

While it’s hard to prove how much the No. 1 spot could add to vote totals, candidates tend to try to arrive in Springfield before 8 a.m. on the first day of filing — this year on Nov. 27 — to ensure they are included in the lottery for the top ballot spot.

“I know that a lot of people do put a lot of time and energy into obtaining that first ballot position, so I would have to assume that there is something to it,” Brent Davis, the state’s director of election operations said after the drawing.

But since everyone who is in line at 8 a.m. on the first day gets a chance, he stressed “there’s technically no point” in being first in line except one thing: “bragging rights.”

Morning Spin
Chicago Tribune
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been mostly quiet as Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios has been under fire following a Chicago Tribune-ProPublica Illinois investigation.

In June, the investigation showed how Berrios' office had produced inaccurate residential property tax assessment that burdened poorer homeowners. Last week, the investigation revealed Berrios' office failed to properly value commercial and industrial properties, forcing homeowners to pay more in property taxes than they would have otherwise. (You can read the whole series here.)

The fallout led Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to call for a review of the fundamentally flawed system, the county's inspector general to investigate and fellow Democrats to endorse challenger Fritz Kaegi in the March Democratic primary.

Democratic governor candidate Chris Kennedy and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner recently called on Berrios to resign. On Tuesday, Emanuel suggested Rauner should focus on his own shortcomings, but the mayor did not wade into the controversy on the assessment system and declined to say whether Berrios should resign.

That changed Wednesday when Emanuel was asked, given the news organizations' investigation, if he had concerns about whether the county's assessment system was fair, especially at a time when Emanuel's administration at City Hall and CPS has raised property taxes by $1.2 billion to pay for pensions and fund the school district. 

"I know your paper has done a series of investigatory pieces," Emanuel said in a brief response. "I think there needs to be a look at it to make sure there is fairness across the system."

The mayor did not say what form such a review should take, nor did he mention Preckwinkle's effort on that front. Emanuel did, however, point to his own efforts in Springfield to secure an increase in the homeowners exemption, which he said shows City Hall was "very respectful of our homeowners."

The mayor also was asked if he would send more city attorneys to challenge the assessment appeals filed on behalf of major commercial property owners, some filed by law firms owned by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Ald. Ed Burke, since lower tax bills granted in such appeals leave homeowners with a heavier burden. 

"I'm not going to speak to that at this point," said Emanuel, dodging the question. "I appreciate that."

At the end of his news conference Wednesday, Emanuel was asked whether he would be endorsing Berrios. He did not answer the question. (Bill Ruthhart)


What's on tap

*Mayor Emanuel will join the City Clerk in launching the Chicago Municipal ID pilot program and later give introductory remarks at "A Conversation with Greg Kot and Mavis Staples."

*Gov. Bruce Rauner will be in southern Illinois, visiting businesses and farmers in Fairfield, Carmi and Ridgway.


From the notebook 

*Pritzker gives campaign more money: Billionaire Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker is up to $42.2 million in self-funding his campaign after his latest $7 million deposit was reported to the State Board of Elections.

Pritzker has made six contributions of $7 million each to his campaign — in April, June, August, October, last month and now Dec. 6, records show.

An heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, entrepreneur and investor, Pritzker broke the self-funding record for a Democratic candidate in Illinois with his Nov. 3 donation. That topped the $28.6 million that Blair Hull put into his failed 2004 Democratic primary bid for the U.S. Senate.

Rauner put $27.6 million of his wealth into his 2014 victory over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. In December, he gave his re-election bid $50 million(Rick Pearson)

*Billionaire wins lottery: Pritzker won the top spot on the March 20 Democratic primary ballot for governor after a lottery drawing the State Board of Elections held Wednesday.

Candidates who were in line to turn in petition signatures at 8 a.m. on the first day of filing last month were in the lottery to have their names listed first when ballots are printed.

As a result of the drawing at the elections board offices in Springfield, the ballot order in the Democratic primary for governor is: Pritzker, Kennedy, Daniel Biss, Terry Getz, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall. Pritzker, Kennedy and Biss were the only opening day 8 a.m. filers.

The lottery results also gave former Gov. Pat Quinn the top ballot spot in the crowded primary for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

As a result, the ballot order is Quinn, Renato Mariotti, Scott Drury, Nancy Rotering, Kwame Raoul, Jesse Ruiz, Sharon Fairley and Aaron Goldstein. Ruiz, Fairley and Goldstein filed on the last possible day, entering them in a separate lottery for the last ballot spot. (Rick Pearson)

*Gutierrez endorses Berrios: Days after two African-American congressmen endorsed asset manager Fritz Kaegi in the Democratic primary for Cook County assessor, the state’s only Latino congressman is backing Berrios.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago called Berrios “a good friend and brother” and dismissed Kaegi as “a Wall Street Republican who has dedicated his career to profiting off the backs of working families.”

That’s in keeping with the Berrios campaign’s attempt to portray Kaegi as out of sync with county voters. The Kaegi camp, however, maintains he is a “lifelong progressive Democrat.”

The Gutierrez endorsement comes three days after two black congressmen — U.S. Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson — endorsed Kaegi.

They pointed to a ProPublica-Tribune investigation that concluded Berrios’ property tax assessments favored owners of more expensive homes and commercial properties at the expense of owners of less-costly homes and business properties.

Gutierrez’s endorsement puts him at odds with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Chicago Democrat whom Gutierrez has endorsed to replace him in Congress.

Kaegi also has been endorsed by a host of self-styled progressive Democrats, including Garcia. Also running in the March Democratic primary is property tax consultant Andrea Raila. (Hal Dardick)

*Preckwinkle sticks with Berrios: And County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a longtime Berrios ally, said she continues to support his re-election bid.

“I think the voters will have an opportunity in March, and we’ll see what they decide,” she said.

Her comments came after the board's four Republican commissioners, along with Democrat Richard Boykin of Oak Park, introduced competing resolutions to call Berrios before a committee for an update on the progress of a study of the assessment system that Preckwinkle announced in July.

“I don’t have any concerns about delays in the report getting done,” Preckwinkle said Wednesday. (Hal Dardick)

*South Dakota governor: "Don’t become Illinois": The Republican governor of South Dakota responded to criticism from Iowa’s largest newspaper with a warning to the Hawkeye State: "Don’t become like Illinois."

In an op-ed, Gov. Dennis Daugaard took offense to a Des Moines Register editorial that said a state Republican-backed tax plan would “turn Iowa into South Dakota.”

Daugaard lauded former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now the U.S. ambassador to China, and his successor, Gov. Kim Reynolds, who “understand the importance of sound fiscal management."

“I’m sure that is why Iowa, like South Dakota, enjoys a AAA bond rating,” Daugaard wrote. “I’d be less concerned about following South Dakota’s example, and more concerned about suggestions to emulate the high-tax, high-borrowing example of your neighbor to the east, Illinois.” (Rick Pearson) 

*Quick spins: Democratic attorney general candidate and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering has picked up the endorsement of Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston. ... Kelly Mazeski of Barrington Hills, a Democratic candidate for Congress in the west and northwest suburban 6th District seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, has received the backing of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association.


What we're writing

*Illinois' home health care industry rife with fraud, tainted by unscrupulous physicians.

*Anatomy of Medicare fraud.

*Cook County voters will be asked in a so-called "reeferendum" whether they favor legalizing marijuana.

*Aldermen approve $31 million settlement for Englewood Four after airing differences.

*CTA OKs 25-cent fare hikes.

*Roskam praises Republican tax compromise as Democrats push back hard.

*Alderman calls plan for 80-story tower, two others in Lakeshore East "rejected."

*Laquan McDonald reporter won't be required to testify at Chicago cop's hearing, judge says.

*Aldermen want Chicago airport security to be designated "police" again.

*End of an era for CPS science fair at Museum of Science and Industry.

*Illinois video gambling parlors must split profits with terminal operators, judge rules.


What we're reading

*13 deaths in 3 years at an Illinois veterans home.

*Cook County jury rules against doctor, awards family of Gizzell Ford $48 million.

*Billy Goat Tavern gets new beers.


Follow the money

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.


Beyond Chicago

*Republican compromise tax plan would expand cuts for the wealthy.

*Fed raises interest rates.

*What the Alabama Senate result means.

*Deputy AG defends Mueller.

Chancellor proposes third revision of university reorganization
Daily Egyptian SIUC
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   By Amelia Blakely
Education--Higher (37)
During a special Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno presented his third revision of the university’s reorganization.

Altogether the reorganization will move eight colleges into five colleges, and 42 departments into 20 schools.

The plan includes: The college of social sciences, humanities, media and arts; the college of science, technology, transportation, engineering, and mathematics, the college of medicine, the college of law, the college of education, the college of health and human services, the college of business and analysis, and the college of agricultural and life sciences.

Montemagno said a degree from the university used to be a distinct and comprehensive four-year educational degree.

Currently, Montemagno said the university provides a basic degree that makes it hard to attract students.

“We have to bring that value back,” Montemagno said.

Chancellor Montemagno projected next year’s freshman class enrollment number will again, decrease from a current 1,319 freshman to 918 new freshman.

“Things aren’t getting better,” Montemagno said. “It’s quite scary.”

In contrast to the speed Montemagno wishes to implement these changes he said that the reorganization alone will not increase enrollment.

To increase student enrollment, Montemagno a combination of changes to the university will need to take place, including the reorganization and revitalizing student activities and life on campus.

After his presentation, student trustee, Sam Beard, asked what Montemagno’s response was to the three major student constituency bodies opposing the proposed elimination of all departments and department chairs.

Montemagno said the removal of departments will not affect students. He said the administrative duties held currently by department chairs would be passed down to a faculty member who accepts the responsibilities.

The only difference from this change is there will be no administrative position, Montemagno said. However, the administrative duties will still be executed.

This change requires faculty to own their program, rather work for their program.

“When you own your program, it’s like owning your own business,” Montemagno said. “You do a lot more to ensure the success of your business.”

Montemagno said the goal of this change to have faculty own their academic programs to enhance shared governance from the administration level to the classroom.

Montemagno’s defense of the proposed elimination of departments and department chairs when questioned caused confusion to some of the faculty members in the meeting.

David Johnson, president of the Faculty Association, called the reorganization chaotic and confusing.

Prior the meeting, Johnson said he was under the impression a school director would take on the department chair role. As stated before, a faculty member would absorb responsibilities.

“The chancellor showed today he is not entirely clear himself how the workload is going to be readjusted,” Johnson said. “He appears to be confused about how his school model is going to work. If he is confused, there’s no wonder the rest of us are confused.”

Johnson said department chairs are like managers, and their role and responsibilities are vastly different from that of a faculty member. For example, administrators make decisions that faculty don’t have the authority to do so.

“He’s not clear who’s going to do this work, with what type of authority, and what kind of time to do it,” Johnson said.

Additionally, vice-chancellor Judy Marshall proposed tuition increases for the academic year of 2018-2019.

Out of three scenarios presented, Marshall proposed the two percent increase in undergraduate tuition rates.

Marshall said this year undergraduate tuition raised by almost four percent, equaling to $315 dollars per credit hour for new freshman and undergraduate transfer students.

According to state tuition laws, the university is required to charge undergraduates the same tuition rate given when first enrolled.

Governor candidate Ives: 'Every school district should be a unit district'
Daily Herald
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Marni Pyke
Education Funding (36a)

Small school districts with big budgets are sucking up taxes across Illinois and should be consolidated, Republican candidate for governor and state Rep. Jeanne Ives said Wednesday.


"First thing, every school district should be a unit district," Ives of Wheaton told the Daily Herald editorial board. "No more high school districts, no more elementary districts."


Ives is challenging Gov. Bruce Rauner in the March 20 Republican primary election, while seven Democrats are vying for their party's nomination.


Consolidating school districts would cut expenses and reduce property taxes as well as benefit students, Ives said.


"Florida's got one school district per county," she said. "In Illinois, we've got 852 (districts in 102 counties). This is where you get your savings."


For example, Ives suggested, Glenbard High School District 87 serving northeast DuPage County communities could absorb elementary school districts that feed into it.


She also cited the example of Winfield School District 34, which has two schools, saying it could merge with the much-larger Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, which also serves part of Winfield.


"(Those two schools) could easily be absorbed in District 200," Ives said. "Get rid of that school district. Done."

Consolidating school districts, state Rep. Jeanne Ives stressed, wouldn't necessarily mean losing local traditions. "It doesn't mean give up the school's mascot. It means the administration and all that goes up to the (larger) school district level," she said.

 Consolidating school districts, state Rep. Jeanne Ives stressed, wouldn't necessarily mean losing local traditions. "It doesn't mean give up the school's mascot. It means the administration and all that goes up to the (larger) school district level," she said. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Such reforms, she stressed, wouldn't necessarily mean losing local control or traditions.


"It doesn't mean give up the school's mascot. It means the administration and all that goes up to the (larger) school district level."


However, Ives also said some large school districts are unwieldy.


"Elgin (Area Unit District 46) and Chicago (Public Schools) are too big, actually. They need to be downsized," she said.


"At the same time, you cannot have 'zombie schools.' You can't have 140 kids in a high school and think that you're going to have a good result and have the resources to provide for them."


Earlier in 2017, Rauner signed legislation to make consolidating units of government easier.


Jeanne Ives, while saying she believes in consolidating school districts, says that's not the case with all districts. "Elgin (Area Unit District 46) and Chicago (Public Schools) are too big, actually. They need to be downsized," she said.

 Jeanne Ives, while saying she believes in consolidating school districts, says that's not the case with all districts. "Elgin (Area Unit District 46) and Chicago (Public Schools) are too big, actually. They need to be downsized," she said. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Over the years, districts in St. Charles and Geneva, Wood Dale and Bensenville, and Mount Prospect and Elk Grove Township, to name a few, have faced possible mergers.


District 34 Superintendent Matt Rich said the district had looked at consolidation previously and conducted feasibility studies. He said the district already cooperates with West Chicago High School District 94, Benjamin Elementary District 25 and West Chicago Elementary District 33


"It's not a new idea," Rich said. "Every study has remarked on how well we've used our resources together and that it would be disadvantageous to do this. You would need to ask High School District 94 what it would do if it no longer had us as part of their tax base."

A broken records unit AG no help when government hides
Illinois Times
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Bruce Rushton
Attorney General (6) , Secretary of State (80)

Seven months after Secretary of State Jesse White, right, refused to release the personnel file of an employee who embezzled six figures from Southern Illinois University, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, left, still hasn’t done anything about it.

Remember Candace Wanzo?


She’s the secretary of state employee who was escorted from her office last May and remains both under investigation and on the payroll at the rate of $7,278 per month while she sits at home.


It’s not clear what prompted Wanzo to be sent home on paid leave last spring, but the inspector general’s office has launched a probe. Inspectors general don’t move at the speed of light, or even tortoises. If history is any guide, any findings won’t be made public until after Secretary of State Jesse White faces voters next spring in the Democratic primary. Indeed, it’s a long shot that, absent criminal charges, we’ll know what got Wanzo in trouble before next year’s general election. But what Wanzo did isn’t the most important question.

How did Wanzo land a job, given that she’d pleaded guilty in 1991 to embezzling more than $233,000 while working as a cashier at Southern Illinois University? What did the secretary of state know when he hired her in 1999, and when did he know it?


At McDonald’s, they ask job applicants if they’ve ever been in trouble with the law. It would be nice if voters could know whether White asked the same of Wanzo before putting her on the payroll. It would also be good if voters could know what, if any, steps White took to check Wanzo’s background before hiring her. Heck, it would be nice to know what qualifications Wanzo had that merited giving her a state job. It also would be good to know what, if anything, happened to Wanzo, or her supervisors, when the auditor general in 2004 found that she’d been using a state car to commute between her home near St. Louis and her Springfield office.


None of this is the public’s business, according to White’s staff. We can’t talk about personnel matters, a spokesman said last spring when asked whether White knew about Wanzo’s criminal past when he gave her a job. And so Illinois Times asked for a copy of Wanzo’s personnel file. That’s none of your business, either, White’s staff said.


White’s refusal to disclose Wanzo’s personnel file is curious. We’ve gotten such files from the Department of Corrections, Central Management Services, Springfield School District 186 and lots of other public agencies, but this marked the first time since the Freedom of Information Act was supposedly fixed in 2010 that we’ve been denied a personnel file of a government employee in Illinois. And so we sought help from Attorney General Lisa “The Enabler” Madigan, who is supposed to pry loose public records.


We filed a formal request on June 2. More than two months later, we asked why this was taking so long. A spokeswoman said that White’s office had come up with an excuse that the AG hadn’t heard before. “(W)e are conducting a detailed review of the issue,” the spokeswoman wrote in an Aug. 18 email. On Oct. 25, we asked again: When can we expect an answer? We got promises that someone would contact us with an update, but no one did. We’re still waiting.


Salaries alone in the public access counselor’s office, which Madigan created to shake loose public records, are costing taxpayers more than $1.1 million a year. Lawyers fresh out of law school are being paid nearly $60,000 a year to issue rulings, when rulings are issued at all (the PAC last year issued just 15 rulings that weren’t advisory). By contrast, fresh lawyers in the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office, which gets results, start out at $40,000.


Agencies that ignore Madigan’s orders to produce records suffer no consequences, and so there’s no reason to believe that White, even if told that Wanzo’s personnel file is a public record, would actually turn it over. Like White, Madigan is a Democrat. We’re just sayin’.


Some agencies don’t bother responding to queries from the public access counselor’s office when someone complains. Still, Madigan defends a bureaucracy that gives paper tigers a bad name. “I created a public access counselor in my office to give people the ability to receive information they are entitled to and shine a light on government,” Madigan recently told the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper.


The excuse always has been the same: We’re behind on our work because we get so many requests for help, and both the public and government agencies are still learning about the law. Sisyphus had excuses, too, but the bottom line is this: The public access counselor’s office isn’t working.


Don’t bet on change. We emailed the eight candidates for attorney general asking for opinions of FOIA and the public access counselor’s office. We got three responses, all from Democrats. Pat Quinn and Nancy Rotering praised FOIA and the public access counselor’s office. Rotering said more resources are needed. Without giving specifics, Quinn said that stronger penalties are needed.


Writing that Madigan is slow to act, Renato Mariotti cited the case of Laquan McDonald, whose killing was captured by a Chicago police video. Police refused to cooperate with Madigan after the Wall Street Journal asked for help in the spring of 2015. Months after the Journal contacted the attorney general, her office issued an advisory opinion, saying that the video should be made public. One day later, a judge forced the issue, ruling in an unrelated lawsuit that the video must be released. In short, going to Madigan proved a waste of time.


“Ultimately, the attorney general’s office issued an advisory opinion that the tape should be released, but it was a miscarriage of justice that it took as long as it did,” Mariotti writes in an email. He also said that he would review the work of the public access counselor and propose legislative fixes to improve FOIA compliance. “I believe the public counselor’s office can be more efficient with the resources it is given and will analyze current staffing levels to determine how to further increase the office’s efficiency.”

It’s hard to argue with that.


Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com

In spite of tax hike, ratings agency eyes change that could junk Illinois
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   By Cole Lauterbach
Bonds, Bonding, Borrowing, Debt, Credit Rating , Taxes, income (86) Harris, David--State House, 53
Illinois could be on the fast track to a junk credit rating, despite lawmakers assuring that a tax hike in July would keep the state from the infamous designation.

“If we don’t get this done we will become the first state in the history of the United States of America to be in junk bond status,” state Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, said this summer. He and several other Republicans joined Democrats in overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a budget that included a $5 billion income and corporate tax hike.

“The credit ratings agencies have said that with no budget in place for [fiscal year] ‘18, they’re gonna downgrade us to junk,” said Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, who also voted in favor of the override.

It might happen anyway.

Moody’s Investor’s Services announced this week that they’re thinking about weighing pension debt more heavily when they rate states for credit worthiness. Considering Illinois is one grade away from a junk-bond status, financial watchdog Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski predicts the change would mean Illinois is placed firmly into speculative status.

“Illinoisans may be stuck with not only a $5 billion tax hike, but we may end up being junk anyway,” he said.

The designation, Dabrowski said, would not only mean that Illinois would have to pay higher interest rates than it already does to borrow money, but it will also serve as a negative message to businesses and individuals considering setting roots in the state.

Moody’s estimates Illinois has $250 billion in public pension debt. Its request for comments states that the changes would not immediately lead to governments being put on notice of downgrade, but Dabrowski doubts that it would be long before they take another look at Illinois’ finances through this new lens.

McCaleb: Lawmaker wants taxpayer-funded conferences to end
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Commentary  |   By Dan McCaleb
Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Local Government (60) Skillicorn, Allen--State House, 66
A former village trustee, state Rep. Allen Skillicorn says he knows all too well the kind of training that municipal staff and elected officials get each year at the Illinois Municipal League's annual conference in Chicago.

It's not the kind of training that can be viewed as beneficial to taxpayers.

“I have known the IML. I have seen their publications and actually attended their conference a few years ago,” Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said. “When I attended, it was just more of the status quo on how not to do things. To hear more from Springfield lobbyists, not the people they represent. I see them as anti-taxpayers.”

Local taxpayers spent tens of thousands of dollars to allow their elected officials and public employees to attend a three-day conference held at the upscale Hilton Chicago hotel in late September.

In separate reports last week, the Illinois News Network and the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald detailed the high cost to local taxpayers that attendance at IML's three-day conference in Chicago is.

Registration is $310 a person. A single night’s stay at the upscale Chicago Hilton, where it was held, cost $298. For these two expenses alone, taxpayers were on the hook for $1,204 for just a single conference attendee who spent the three nights.

That cost doesn’t include travel, meals and other expenses that city officials billed to taxpayers.

INN and The Daily Herald learned that many attendees had the nerve to charge taxpayers $52.50 a day for valet parking, for example.

Some municipalities sent a dozen people or more, racking up costs of more than $17,000 in the most egregious example uncovered by INN.

And the Daily Herald reported that staff and elected officials from suburban Addison charged taxpayers $566 for a dinner that included $77 in alcoholic beverages.

Many of these same cities have fiscal problems comparable to the state's and have raised their tax levies year after year.

The Illinois Municipal League is a taxpayer-funded organization that provides educational and lobbying support to the state's cities and villages.  But as I wrote last week, oftentimes that lobbying support works against taxpayers' best interests. The organization often fights legislation that would make local governments more open and accountable to taxpayers, for example.

Each year, IML hosts an annual conference in Chicago. Some communities – five of the 24 that INN investigated – decide not to attend because they couldn't justify the expense.

Officials from many of the communities that continue to attend justified the expenses and the conference itself, arguing the networking and the training that staffers and elected officials receive there can be invaluable.

Skillicorn, a first-term legislator who previously was elected to two terms on the East Dundee Village Board, disagrees.

“They’re not focused on relieving unfunded mandates. They’re not focused on helping municipalities fight prevailing wage, things that can really benefit taxpayers,” he said of the IML. “They’re really ineffective in finding us more tools to help us do our jobs more efficiently.”

Instead, he said, the conference focuses on maintaining the status quo – one that has contributed to rising pension and other costs and overly burdensome taxes.

In the wake of the news reports, Skillicorn is calling on elected officials from one village in his district, Lake in the Hills – which is about 5 miles from a Metra station on the Union Pacific Northwest line – to reimburse taxpayers for their conference expenses.

"Attending a municipal conference is not unusual for the village administrator, but sending nine people at a cost of $11,071.50 certainly is unusual and excessive," Skillicorn said in a statement, pointing out that the largest expenses – by far – were the hotel stays and valet parking.

"Both Village President Russ Ruzanski and Trustee David McPhee charged $1,052.10 each for three nights in the Hilton Hotel and valet parking," he said. "A few seconds on Airbnb can find many rooms within a few blocks for less than $100 per night, some as low as $63 a night. Lake In The Hills is only 50 miles away with regular Metra train service."

Skillicorn also is taking it a step further. He wants the Illinois Municipal League to end its annual conference.

These cities and villages "pay attorneys to do the exact same thing that IML is doing," he said. "So this [conference] is a duplicated charge. It is about networking for bureaucrats, not serving the needs for taxpayers,” he said.

Keep in mind that cities and villages aren't the only local governments in Illinois that send staff and elected officials to such conferences. School districts, townships, park districts and others have similar associations with similar annual events.

Add it all up and the costs to taxpayers will reach the millions.

"The idea of charging taxpayers for this is inappropriate," Skillicorn said. "This is money that should go to providing services and keeping taxes lower."


Paul Evans would be big improvement over Vincent Lopinot
Madison County Record
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Editorial  |   by The Madison County Record
Candidates--Judicial (27b) , Courts (27) , Legal System (27) , Metro East (65)
Four years ago, in the course of a single year, Katherine O’Malley, daughter of former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael O’Malley, was charged with felony drug possession, shoplifting, and 14 traffic violations, but fined only $1,000 after pleading guilty to shoplifting, improper lane usage, and a seatbelt violation.

An anonymous judge expunged the record of her felony drug case, another judge vacated her fines, and a third dismissed one ticket and reduced the other charge. That third judge was Vincent Lopinot.

Never offered any explanation for the indulgent treatment of O’Malley, the citizens of St. Clair County could hardly be blamed for concluding that there are two systems of justice in these parts – a lenient one for the well-connected, a stern one for everyone else.

In 2015, Lopinot decided that it was proper for Macoupin County residents to sue a Macoupin County pig farm in St. Clair County Court, even though Macoupin County Court was the obvious and appropriate venue. Fifth District appellate judges remanded the case back to Lopinot for an explanation of his bizarre jurisdictional decision. When that explanation didn't satisfy, they overturned him.

Illinois has more than its share of problems, and judges playing favorites and making up their own rules as they go along is one of them. If you're not part of the solution, as the saying goes, then you're part of the problem, and Lopinot has clearly not been part of the solution. Maybe his replacement will be.

Lopinot will step down from the Twentieth Judicial Circuit next December and St. Clair County Associate Judge John O’Gara, Democrat, will face off against O'Fallon attorney Paul Evans, Republican, in the November 6 general election to replace him.

Another Democrat judge seems unlikely to fix problems created by previous Democrat judges. Evans, on the other hand, promises to change the status quo and address the public’s “frustration and concern about the headlines that have been coming out of the Belleville courthouse for several years.”

He could be part of the solution.

Gauen: Logic lost in competing priorities among Illinois governments
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Commentary  |   By Pat Gauen
Local Government (60) , Taxes, property (87)
It is a fix-up year at the Gauen mansion, addressing neglect and making improvements in a prioritized way.

First came replacement of an exhausted old heating and air-conditioning system that long threatened — depending upon the season — to leave us freezing or sweltering. We made sure we could afford it before moving down the list to new gutters, which came ahead of interior painting.

We didn’t accomplish quite everything. A new deck would have been nice, but the one we have is too decent to rate a high spot on the money-limited list. Wife Karen and I were comfortable in knowing that everything we did was more important than everything we didn’t. It’s just common sense.

If we ran our house the way Americans run their layers of government, the project could be much different. Each taxing body acts upon its own priorities, irrespective of the big picture.

So the Gauen Outdoor Authority, flush with cash, might have gone ahead with deck construction while the Gauen Environmental Department, depleted of funds by last year’s HVAC repairs, could only cross its fingers and hope to get through a couple more seasons.

Across my home state of Illinois, there are almost 7,000 local agencies with the power to collect property taxes. Depending upon where you own land in Metro East, you will pay takes to your county, township and schools, plus perhaps municipalities and special districts providing fire protection, sewers, sanitation, libraries and even streetlights.

This is grass-roots government at its best — and its worst. Each is locally responsive, but only to its own mandate. You don’t see one throttle back its spending to benefit another. So a community in desperate need of a new firetruck the city cannot afford may end up with a new wing on the library without anyone balancing one need against the other.

There is just as much lack of coordination with the income taxes collected by the federal and state governments, and sales taxes available for a widening array of purposes.

One sales tax proposal, to benefit Madison County schools, has arisen from the dead of the spring election and helps illustrate what I call the tax priority disconnect.

By a tiny margin (50.3 percent to 49.7), voters in April rejected a one percent sales tax that would have raised about $22 million a year to be allocated by enrollment among the school districts. (An identical measure in St. Clair County was defeated more decisively.)

I’m bringing this up now because a majority of Madison County school superintendents recently voiced support for trying again in the March primary. Boards of education representing at least half the county’s students would have to vote by January to move ahead.

Last time, all but Collinsville and Edwardsville supported the tax. They both are commercial centers and might in effect end up sharing some of their new revenue with districts having fewer sales to tax. (Despite their opposition, both districts still would have been taxed, and received disbursements, had the measure passed county-wide.)

The new money would have to be used narrowly, on the likes of land or buildings or property tax relief — not salaries or operating expenses. Districts probably would do well to emphasize the tax relief part.

All this sets the stage for a really good example of the disconnect. A little awkwardly for me, it’s in Highland, where I live.

Not long ago, the city council decided to raise some money by adding a one-half percent sales tax on purchases made in certain business areas. No referendum was required, or held.

More recently, the board of education (disclaimer: It employs my wife) voted in favor of putting the sales tax increase for schools back on the ballot. This would need approval in a referendum.

The city and schools both provide good services. Both surely need more money. (Me too; remember the deck?). But for we who have a finite appetite for tax paying, which has the greater need? Lacking coordinated efforts by my elected officials, I have no idea.

I hope it’s not the school system, since it must go hat-in-hand to voters who may feel that the sales tax increase they already got was enough.

Moreover, the national political landscape has changed since April. Still-unresolved income tax changes proposed by congressional Republicans might end federal deductions for local sales taxes, which could cause some voters to recoil.

My wife, a lifelong educator, has always lamented that students and parents must hold fundraisers to buy things that might logically be part of a better-funded school budget. Her simple shorthand for the disconnect: “I never see them hold a bake sale for the Air Force to buy more bombers.”

Governor candidates want action on Legionnaire’s outbreak at veterans home
State Journal Register
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Candidates--Statewide (12) , Veterans (95)

Illinois gubernatorial candidates pounced Wednesday after a report aired on public radio about ongoing deaths at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy from outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease.

The story produced by Chicago’s WBEZ and aired statewide documented repeated outbreaks of the disease which resulted in 13 deaths since 2015. Another 61 residents and staff fell ill from the disease. The story raised questions about how the crisis has been handled by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration since he has been in office.

Democrat J.B. Pritzker held a news conference in Chicago where he called for an independent investigation into problems at the facility and whether the Rauner administration has appropriately addressed them.

“The obligation we have to these heroes and their families is sacred, and to have that obligation so thoroughly neglected is an unconscionable moral failing,” Pritzker said in a statement that accompanied the news conference. “These are real lives lost and families destroyed because of the failures at the highest levels of our state government. When a governor does not take charge, people die.”

Pritzker said veterans should be moved out of the Quincy facility for their safety and work should be completed as soon as possible on a new veterans facility in Chicago. Construction of the Chicago home was delayed because of the state’s budget problems.

Democrat Chris Kennedy also called for an independent investigation to ensure there were no repeat occurrences.

“I am hopeful that Governor Rauner will join the call for an independent audit into why this happened and how we can ensure it will never happen again,” Kennedy said.

Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said Rauner has “failed (veterans) by neglecting to address the outbreak of a wholly preventable disease in the Illinois Veterans Home. We need an immediate investigation into Rauner’s negligence and we must bring justice to these veterans and their families who are suffering as a result.”

Rauner’s Republican challenger, Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, called the report “sickening” and “another betrayal at the hand of Benedict Rauner.”

“Managing state agencies is one of the critical jobs of the Executive Office,” Ives said in a statement. “If he can’t manage a 200-acre veterans home with 250 residents, how can he manage the state?”

Rauner issued his own statement saying that the administration worked with the Centers for Disease Control and followed its recommendations when the first outbreak occurred early in his term. That included a new water management plant to control the bacteria that can be spread through contaminated water vapor.

“The CDC in its most recent report said the remediation is ‘aligned with the best practices identified in the CDC’s water management tool kit,’” Rauner said.

A 2015 Legionnaire’s outbreak killed 12 people and sickened many others. Another person died during an additional outbreak this past fall. Eleven families have sued the state.

WBEZ’s story included comments from Springfield resident Steve French, whose parents, Dolores and Richard lived the veterans home. After hearing about the outbreak in 2015, French said he called the facility to check on his parents and was told they were OK. The next day he received a call from the home informing him that Dolores had died and had been dead for at least two days, the story said. The coroner suspected Legionnaires’ contributed to the death.

Richard French tested negative for the disease, but Steve French promptly moved his father out of the home. Richard French died four months later.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Doug Finke: 788-1527, doug.finke@sj-r.com, twitter.com/dougfinkeSJR.

Pritzker foundation gave $50 million in 3 years
State Journal Register
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Bernard Schoenburg
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Just like GOP BRUCE RAUNER, Democratic governor candidate J.B. PRITZKER has had a family foundation making contributions to various organizations.

And they have something in common — both give to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where First Lady DIANA RAUNER is president.

From 2013 to 2015, the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Foundation, named for the candidate and his wife, gave more than $4.2 million to the Ounce, an organization dedicated to early childhood education.

In the same period, the Rauner Family Foundation gave $600,000 to the organization.

Pritzker, a billionaire, is worth more than Rauner, who is at least a several-hundred millionaire. And the activity of their foundations reflects the holdings. The Rauner foundation made donations of more than $7.8 million from 2013 to 2015, tax records show. In the same period, the Pritzkers’ foundation gave away more than $50 million.

“J.B. and M.K. are proud to have supported numerous charities throughout Illinois and the United States,” said Pritzker campaign spokeswoman GALIA SLAYEN, “particularly those that focus on early childhood education, mental health, and expanding the availability of health care.”

Pritzker was a backer of HILLARY CLINTON for president in 2016, and in the previous three years, the Pritzker foundation gave more than $7.6 million to The Clinton Foundation. That group works in areas including global health, climate change, economic development, and empowering girls and women.

The Pritzkers also gave more than $12 million to educational institutions, including more than $5 million to the University of Chicago; more than $580,000 to Harvard; more than $2 million to Latin School of Chicago — a private junior kindergarten through high school institution — and $1.3 million to Duke University.

There’s a total of more than $785,000 to Holocaust museums in Washington, D.C., and Skokie.

There’s also more than $2.8 million to medical facilities, including more than $1.9 million to Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s foundation; $400,000 to what was the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab); and $119,000 to Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago.

Among some other donations (see a full list here), the Pritzkers gave:

— $900,000 to Center for American Progress, a “nonpartisan policy institute” that wants to improve lives through “bold, progressive ideas.” Among board members are former U.S. Sen. TOM DASCHLE, D-South Dakota; JOHN PODESTA, who was chief of staff to President BILL CLINTON and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign; and TOM STEYER, the billionaire who has been running ads advocating the impeachment of President DONALD TRUMP.

— $60,000 to the Better Government Association. “He helped us revitalize the BGA with small personal and foundation grants between 2009 and 2014” with perhaps a couple hundred thousand dollars, but hasn’t contributed since due to “changing foundation priorities,” said ANDY SHAW, president and CEO of the group.

— More than $2.7 million to the Jewish United Fund of Chicago, whose work includes a variety of social services for Jews and others in need, as well Jewish community building, advocating for Israel, and supporting Jewish life on campuses and elsewhere.

— Nearly $3.4 million to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

— More than $390,000 to the Erikson Institute in Chicago, which helped bring a program, created with designers of an organization called Calm Classroom, to Chicago Public Schools to better meet needs of children dealing with high levels of trauma and toxic stress, according to the Pritzker campaign.

— $5,000 to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.

When Pritzker released three years of form 1040 state and federal cover sheets in late November, they showed income of $14.95 million in 2016, $9.97 million in 2015 and $3.14 million in 2014. His campaign also said that between 2014 and 2016, trusts benefiting Pritzker paid an additional $24.95 million in Illinois taxes and $128.97 million in federal taxes. There was not more detail on those trusts.

Tax returns of the foundation for 2013 through 2015 show that some income to the foundation includes $1.33 million from the Colson Trust, based in Chicago; nearly $88.4 million from Cheyenne Trust, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and nearly $21.97 million from Moreau Trust, also in Sioux Falls.

South Dakota allows what have been called “dynasty trusts” that avoid the federal estate tax, but the Pritzker campaign said J.B. Pritzker has no such trusts, and all trusts for his benefit have a rule against perpetuities.

According to the Pritzker campaign, M.K. and TONY PRITZKER — the candidate’s brother — as well as JANET FROETSCHER, who is paid by the foundation and is its president, are on its board. J.B. Pritzker stepped down when he decided to run for governor.

Under the Dome Podcast: “Objection! (to nominating petitions), Pritzker endorsements
State Journal Register
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Staff report
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Candidates have turned in their nominating petitions for the March 20 primary. Now, some of those petitions are being objected to. We talk about who might get kicked off the ballot.

Plus, Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker picked up some more high-profile endorsements last week. Is he going to run away with his party’s nomination?

And we also talk about the property tax assessments process in Chicago and how it is playing into the increasingly contentious race for Illinois governor.

All this and more on this week’s episode of Under the Dome.

Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe to the Under the Dome Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher to get new episodes delivered to your mobile device. Please also rate and review us.

Video gambling profits must be split with operators
State Journal Register
Thursday, December 14, 2017  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Gambling, Gaming

— A judge has ruled that Illinois video gambling parlors must continue to evenly split their profits with companies that operate the terminals.


The Chicago Tribune reports Cook County Judge Neil H. Cohen ruled this month that splitting profits equally prevents terminal operators from offering incentives to gambling establishments.


The two companies that own the Dotty’s Cafe, Stella’s Place and Shelby’s gambling parlor chains in April sued the Illinois Gaming Board and several terminal operators, arguing that gambling parlors and the terminal operators should be able to negotiate their own profit-sharing deals.


Additionally, Laredo Hospitality Ventures and Illinois Cafe & Services Co. argued that retail establishments should be able to buy, install and maintain their own machines. An attorney representing Laredo and Illinois Cafe say the companies plan to appeal.