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Top Cop Back In Springfield To Seek Crackdown On Repeat Gun Offenders
Other
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   CBS
Chicago Mayor (16) , Emanuel, Rahm , Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46)

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was in Springfield on Thursday, hoping to convince state lawmakers to approve longer prison sentences for repeat gun offenders.

Johnson will testify before an Illinois House committee at 11 a.m. to support legislation aimed at cracking down on gun violence in Chicago.

The superintendent testified on the legislation in March, when it came before an Illinois Senate committee.

Johnson said, all too often, violent criminals in Chicago are given a slap on the wrist for gun violations, when they should be locked up for a long time.

Under current state law, offenders charged with unlawful use or possession of a weapon by a felon face 3 to 14 years in prison. State Sen. Antonio Munoz and Sen. Kwame Raoul have proposed legislation that would recommend repeat offenders get 7 to 14 years instead.

In March, Johnson said police need the tougher punishments to help them stop violent crime in Chicago.

“If an individual shows a repeated willingness to pick up a gun and use it illegally, those individuals need to pay a price,” he said.

The superintendent said about 1,500 people in Chicago are responsible for most of the violent crime, and the proposed legislation would target that group.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, without the tougher sentences, the Illinois criminal justice system will continue to have a “revolving door” for habitual gun offenders.

“I support absolute tough, certain sentencing for repeat gun offenders,” he said. “I don’t understand what it takes. The repeat part is your first signal they don’t belong on the streets terrorizing kids and families.”

Some critics are concerned that removing a judges discretion, could lead to widespread incarceration of nonviolent Young people.

A proposed House amendment to the legislation would create a pilot program for non-violent offenders charged with gun crimes. The program would focus on rehabilitating first-time offenders and keeping them out of pirson.

It’s also meant to ease concerns of some inner-city lawmakers who have said the legislation utterly fails to crack down on gun dealers and

suppliers.

The Senate approved the legislation by a 35-9 vote in April.

The House amendment has not yet received a vote. If approved in the House, the Senate would have to sign off on those changes before the legislation could go to the governor’s desk.


Illinois governor’s race could be most expensive in U.S. history
Belleville News Democrat
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Compiled by Joseph Bustos
Candidates--Statewide (12) , Governor (44)
As candidates already have raised more than $81 million for their campaigns, the race for Illinois governor has seen enough money to exceed the average cost of a gubernatorial election, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

The amount of money could make the race the most expensive gubernatorial election in U.S. history, the political watchdog group said.

There is still 19 months until Election Day in November 2018.

The primary election is about 10 months away.

The $81 million figure includes a $50 million contribution from Gov. Bruce Rauner to his own committee, as well as last week’s $20 million contribution from Ken Griffin to the Republican governor’s campaign, according to the group, which analyzes data reported to State Board of Elections.

Any donation of at least $1,000 has to be reported immediately to the State Board of Elections. Lesser amounts can be listed in a candidate’s quarterly report.

Chicago billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, who is running for the Democratic nomination, has reported $7.2 million in contributions so far according to the latest available figures. All of the money is from himself.

Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy has put $250,000 into his own campaign, which has reported $1.2 million in donations so far, according to the State Board of Elections.

Illinois’ most expensive gubernatorial race was in 2014, when primary and general election candidates spent nearly $112 million.

Gov. Pat Quinn spent $31 million in the election, Rauner spent about $65 million, and nearly $12 million was spent by outside groups in 2014. In 2010, about $58 million was spent on the gubernatorial election.

“Recent trends in Illinois shows that the state’s gubernatorial campaigns are becoming increasingly expensive,” the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said in a news release. “Illinois faces the possibility of having two self-funded candidates running for governor in 2018, which could result in a historically expensive race.”

In 2010, the California gubernatorial race cost about $280 million. At this point in that election cycle, only $17 million had been raised.

The 2002 New York gubernatorial race cost about $147 million.

Florida’s 2014 gubernatorial race cost an estimated $115 million, the campaign reform group said.


Money raised by 2018 Illinois Gubernatorial Candidates, as of May 22.

Candidate          Money raised

Bruce Rauner      $70,989,598

J.B. Pritzker          $7,200,000

Daniel Biss           $1,696,361

Chris Kennedy     $1,239,397

Ameya Pawar          $295,351

Robert Daiber            $49,410

Alexander Paterakis    $5,000

Total                   $81,475,117

Source: Illinois Campaign for Politcal Reform

Rodney Davis statement on CBO’s analysis of GOP health care law
Belleville News Democrat
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   BND
Candidates--Federal (13) , Obamacare, Affordable Care Act
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, issued a statement on Wednesday about the American Health Care Act, the Republican health plan that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated Wednesday would cause 23 million Americans to lose health insurance over 10 years:

“Twenty-nine million people currently do not have insurance coverage under Obamacare even though they are mandated by law — more people would rather pay a fine than purchase costly health insurance.

“This is not surprising considering premiums have risen by 108 percent in Illinois since 2013. It’s not enough to just offer people coverage, it needs to be insurance people can actually afford to buy and afford to use.

“The CBO score confirms that this bill will lower the premiums in the individual market but we want to go further by also expanding group coverage, something the CBO cannot take into account because of this bill’s limitations. We have more work to do to reform our broken health care system but the American Health Care Act is a good start to lowering costs.”

Unit 5 eyes budget issues from lax state payments
Bloomington Pantagraph
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Julia Evelsizer
Education Funding (36a) Barickman, Jason--State Senate, 53

NORMAL — State Sen. Jason Barickman told the McLean County Unit 5 board Wednesday night that one of the reasons the district hasn't gotten all the state money it expects is because the current system favors the Chicago school system.

“We’ve gone 694 days without a complete budget from the state,” said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel. “The state has an obligation to fund schools and we have obligation to provide top-quality education.”

Beyond the ongoing budget impasse, the state also needs to reform how it allocates school funding so each district gets its fair share, regardless of geography or local tax base, Barickman said.   

"The education community has strong beliefs that the current formula produces inequitable funding and unintended consequences," he said. "There's a sincere effort to fix that."

Before Barickman spoke during the meeting at Normal Community West High School, Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman presented an amended budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year that shows a $5.5 million collective deficit in the transportation and education funds.

The state owes Unit 5 $8.1 million in categorical payments for those two operating funds for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Categorical payments are earmarked for specific functions.

The state is supposed to make four payments each year. Unit 5 received one makeup payment this year for last year's funding obligation, but it has received no payments this fiscal year for those funds.

“We have done a good job of controlling the things we can control. If not for the lack of state payments, we wouldn’t be in this deficit,” said Hickman.

In a letter presented to the board, Hickman said, “There comes a time when school districts can stretch no further and I fear we have reached that point. The missing payments will significantly erode our current fund balances which are already too low."

Hickman added that if the state fails to pass a budget for K-12 education and make timely payments, “difficult decisions will need to be made.”

Barickman said that because of a fixed block grant, Chicago Public Schools receive 30 percent to 40 percent of mandated categorical dollars, which is higher than that system's share of the state's students.

“That’s an inappropriate use of state money," he said. "Some legislators want to continue that practice and I want to get rid of it. If we get rid of the block grant, the mandated categoricals (for other Illinois districts) would be fully funded."

Barickman said lawmakers from both parties in Springfield are “fighting over” ways to secure a fair funding formula that works for all districts.

Board member Mike Trask said "it’s disheartening" to see important decisions being held up by partisan disagreements.

“My daughter is a special needs student who uses those services in the education fund every day. She doesn’t know what a Republican or Democrat is. You’re drawing lines in the sand and we need to erase the sand,” said Trask.


Illinois Republicans go on the attack after Democrats' tax hike vote
Chicago Tribune
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Rick Pearson and Monique Garcia
Budget--State (8) , Legislature (56) , Taxes, income (86)
A day after Illinois Senate Democrats approved a massive tax hike and budget package, Republicans responded Wednesday with heated political warnings aimed at Speaker Michael Madigan and House lawmakers, as well as Democratic candidates for governor.

Harris said another "threshold decision" centers on the Senate's proposed income tax hike that would raise the rate for individuals from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. The income tax hike would be retroactive to Jan. 1 and would result in an even larger chunk being withheld from paychecks for the rest of the year.

"I don't know what our caucus will say when they understand how do you collect six months of income tax in the first month of a new budget year," Harris said.

On the House floor Wednesday, Democratic state Rep. Jay Hoffman of Swansea, called on Rauner to come to the bargaining table. While House Democrats maintain Rauner should not make other items a prerequisite to a budget, Madigan named Hoffman and several other loyalists to negotiate with Rauner over his wish list.

Hoffman lamented that the administration has not made efforts to jump-start those talks, saying an attempt to schedule a meeting last week with Rauner's chief of staff was canceled.

"You know, it makes me so angry, I feel like throwing my papers in the air, punching them, and running for Congress," Hoffman said. That was a reference to Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, whose rants over gun regulations and pension changes as a state lawmaker were used in attack ads as he sought higher office.

Hoffman did run for Congress in 1996 and lost by about 1,300 votes to Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville.

Taking a swipe at political ads in which Rauner calls for Democrats to end their "duct tape solutions" to the state's problems, Hoffman said of the governor, "It's time to put your duct tape away, it's time to stop the political games, it's time to roll up the sleeves of your plaid shirt and sit down and negotiate with us and do the people's business."

House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs dismissed Hoffman's comments as "theater," saying "he's a little off in his facts."

Durkin noted the Democrats' long control over the legislature and contended they have for years failed to do the hard work necessary to address the state's financial problems.

"Quite frankly, you guys couldn't balance a budget out of a wet paper bag," Durkin said.

rap30@aol.com


The Pritzker property tax 'Oops!' — An embarrassing twist in the race for Illinois governor
Chicago Tribune
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Candidates--Statewide (12) , Taxes, property (87)

Manipulating the property tax appeal process here is pure Chicago Way. It is government-approved, nonpartisan, graft-driven corruption delivered through back channels, not envelopes of cash (unless you count the fat campaign donations to certain politicians). It is negotiated through phone calls, often involving clouted attorneys. Some paper shuffling, a few knowing smiles and ... You deserve a break today!

It's how the wealthy catch favors (did we mention campaign donations?) and how some elected officials get rich themselves. It's how loyalty is groomed.

Yet the property tax racket also can be a trick bag for candidates and elected officials. Why? It's tough to be a credible voice for the little guy when you've indulged in the spoils of the big guys. Which is why a property tax saga — nothing illegal, so it's not a scandal — is embarrassing a 2018 candidate for governor of Illinois.

The Sun-Times recently explained how a generous property tax break got awarded to J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire Democratic governor hopeful who has demonized the wealthy Gov. Bruce Rauner as privileged and out of touch.

On the campaign trail, Pritzker has been trying to appeal to progressive voters who favor tax-the-rich policies to keep governments well-fed. Theme: Make the rich guys pay more! And in a May 13 appearance in Oak Park, Pritzker reportedly told the crowd that he opposes Rauner's long fight to freeze property taxes.

Except, oops. Pritzker has managed to save nearly $230,000 on his own property taxes through a peculiar special designation from the highly political Cook County assessor's office. The primary election campaign ads from other Democrats running for governor, or the general election campaign ads from Rauner, practically write themselves: J.B. Pritzker won big savings on his property taxes — but he wants yours to keep rising!

It's not just that Pritzker won a reduced assessment of his own Gold Coast mansion (12,500 square feet). Several years ago he bought the mansion next door (6,387 square feet). He then allowed Mansion Two to fall into disrepair — and got a property tax break there too.

On the campaign trail, Pritzker has been trying to appeal to progressive voters who favor tax-the-rich policies to keep governments well-fed. Theme: Make the rich guys pay more! And in a May 13 appearance in Oak Park, Pritzker reportedly told the crowd that he opposes Rauner's long fight to freeze property taxes.

Except, oops. Pritzker has managed to save nearly $230,000 on his own property taxes through a peculiar special designation from the highly political Cook County assessor's office. The primary election campaign ads from other Democrats running for governor, or the general election campaign ads from Rauner, practically write themselves: J.B. Pritzker won big savings on his property taxes — but he wants yours to keep rising!

It's not just that Pritzker won a reduced assessment of his own Gold Coast mansion (12,500 square feet). Several years ago he bought the mansion next door (6,387 square feet). He then allowed Mansion Two to fall into disrepair — and got a property tax break there too.


Bill aims to help you get what you’re owed
Freeport Journal Standard
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editor
Insurance (53) , Rauner, Bruce , Treasurer (92) Stadelman, Steve--State Senate, 34
A few thousand dollars can make a big difference in the life of someone who has lost a loved one. That’s why you buy life insurance. You want to insure that the people you leave behind have some money to pay the bills. Some of us do a poor job of communicating what our policies are and what company to contact in case of an untimely death. If your loved ones don’t know a policy exists, they don’t know how to get the money they are owed. We don’t expect insurance companies to hire private investigators to track down beneficiaries, but a little due diligence in finding someone who is owed money should not be too much to ask. That’s what House Bill 302 is about. It expands on a bill passed last year by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Like last year’s legislation, HB 302 is being championed by Treasurer Mike Frerichs. It would require insurance companies to look as far back as 1996 to identify and pay beneficiaries of policies no longer in effect. The measure passed in the House 68-47 on April 25 and is now under consideration in the Senate, where Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, is one of many co-sponsors. In Illinois, unpaid life insurance benefits are considered unclaimed property, and returning unclaimed property to owners is among the duties of the Illinois state treasurer. Illinois holds unclaimed property in perpetuity until the items or funds are claimed by the owner or heirs. Treasurer’s office press secretary Greg Rivara said there are 237,485 unclaimed life insurance policies statewide worth $255,373,680. That’s a lot of families who could be better off if they had that cash. A lot of local people would benefit. In Boone County, there are 243 unclaimed policies worth $595,190; Winnebago, 3,139 policies worth $3,994,287; Ogle, 353 policies worth $366.889; Stephenson, 544 policies worth $746,576; Jo Daviess, 151 policies worth $214,399. It will cost the insurance industry some money to find people, but it’s the right thing to do. If you think you are owed money from a life insurance policy, a lost dividend check or an unclaimed rebate check from a retailer, go to the treasurer’s website, illinoistreasurer. gov/ICASH. There is more than $2 billion in unclaimed property. The treasurer’s office has paid out more than $220 million in the past two years. The best solution is to not put your family in a position where it’s guessing about what policies you have. Make sure your loved ones know about your finances. Gather important information such as life insurance policies and let your family know where to find it. A bank safety deposit box would be a good place. But for those who don’t take those steps, HB 302 could help you get the money that was meant for you. If you think you are owed money from a life insurance policy, a lost dividend check or an unclaimed rebate check from a retailer, go to the treasurer’s website, illinoistreasurer.gov/ ICASH. There is more than $2 billion in unclaimed property.

Plan proposes governor, lieutenant governor share resources
Jacksonville Journal-Courier
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Nick Draper
Governor (44) , Lt. Governor (59) McCann, Sam--State Senate, 50
For years, there have been on-and-off efforts to abolish the role of lieutenant governor in Illinois.

While supporters say the savings from such a move would be significant, detractors have maintained the office has its own important focus and its absence could also create problems in the event a governor was unable to complete a term.

Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, believes he has a way to appease both sides. He has introduced legislation that, if approved by voters as a constitutional amendment, would streamline the offices instead of scrapping one for the other.

Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 15 would ask voters during next year’s election whether the lieutenant governor and governor’s operations and staff should be merged and have a single appropriated budget.

“All along, I did not like the idea of doing away with the office,” McCann said. “I’ve been thinking for a long time about how to achieve the efficiency we want and how to achieve the savings and how to keep the lieutenant governor’s office at the same time. The legislation is what I finally arrived at.”

The governor and lieutenant governor are elected as a pair, but each office has its own staff and budget appropriated by the General Assembly. McCann’s proposal would merge the offices’ resources.

In this way, McCann said, the governor and lieutenant governor would be able to work more closely on projects while saving taxpayers money.

Although related ideas have been shot down in the past, McCann said he feels hopeful about the idea because it doesn’t remove the position — which has been a major sticking point before.

“Right now, there’s some duplication of efforts and services,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any need for a lieutenant governor to have 25 to 30 to 50 staffers.”

He said conversations about the idea with others have been positive.

“There’s no need for a whole other staff to take care of what the governor and the lieutenant governor should be working together on,” McCann said.

Nick Draper can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1223, or on Twitter @nick_draper.


JJC dual credit program can help students get ahead
Joliet Herald News
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Letter to Editor  |  
Education--Higher (37)

One of the things I love about serving as Joliet Junior College’s president is the continuous opportunity to share how, over generations, JJC has positively shaped the lives of thousands of students.

In our quest to make JJC the first choice for traditional students, returning adult students and local businesses and organizations, we also work diligently to make JJC the first choice for high school students – and their parents – through our dual credit program.

If you haven’t heard of this kind of program before, it is essentially this: JJC’s dual credit program allows our district high school students the opportunity to earn college credits while also completing high school course requirements. They take dual credit courses as part of the regular high school day and these courses are then transferable to many four-year colleges or universities.

The best part? They are free. Yes, it’s true: high school students can get ahead by earning free college credits in many general education and career courses through JJC’s dual credit partnership with their high school.

Within JJC’s seven-county district, there are 29 high schools and the majority offer dual credit opportunities. High school students enrolled in JJC’s dual credit program are considered JJC students, and therefore receive direct access to our college resources and activities on campus.

Equally important is the fact that dual credit enrollment helps prepare students for the transition to college by engaging them in college-level work and developing pathways to degree attainment. These relationships we have with our high school partners also help to align curriculum, a critical necessity in ensuring students are successful.

I encourage you to explore our dual credit program, particularly in an age where higher education costs across the country continue to skyrocket. Popular dual credit courses include English 101 and 102, Statistics, and Calculus with Analytic Geometry, as well as various social science, history and fine arts courses like the Exploration of American Music.

Career courses are offered at select locations as well, including Automotive Fundamentals, Applied Food Service Sanitation, criminal justice and welding courses, to name a few.

This year, I’m thrilled to announce that we will launch a new offer for our dual credit students who are graduating seniors. It’s called the Scholar Dollar program, and if those students choose to attend JJC to continue their college education, they are eligible to receive $100 to apply toward their costs to attend. These funds, supported by the JJC Foundation, will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and we are excited to support these students in a new way.

For parents who are interested in learning about our dual credit program, please contact Amy Kittle, who is JJC’s manager of dual credit partnerships. She can be reached at aluck@jjc.edu or (815) 280-7708.

Thank you for continuing to support JJC and for making us your first choice.


Legislative hearing takes up Illinois child welfare agency
Joliet Herald News
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |  
Child welfare (30) , Children, Teens (19) Flowers, Mary--State House, 31

SPRINGFIELD – Investigators with Illinois’ child welfare agency face overwhelming caseloads and feel pressured to quickly wrap up abuse investigations, according to testimony provided during a legislative hearing.

A panel of experts and lawmakers spoke Tuesday about issues at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The hearing came after the newspaper highlighted four cases in which children died of beatings or starvations soon after the department closed investigations of mistreatment at their homes.

The department’s director, George Sheldon, said the newspaper’s reports propelled him to request the agency’s general counsel to review whether Illinois laws should be changed to allow the department to keep records of past unproven abuse allegations. The agency currently expunges and shreds files if it determines there is no credible evidence of abuse or neglect.

The department’s attorney said officials also will look over some cases in Will County after the death of Sema’j Crosby. The toddler died last month in her Joliet Township home shortly after the agency closed neglect investigations.

During Tuesday’s hearing, recent failed investigations were detailed by Danielle Gomez, a supervising attorney for the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office.

She said the agency didn’t interview key witnesses or gather critical evidence in some cases.

Gomez said the agency’s investigators told her staff they were “overwhelmed” by caseloads.

“They are sometimes in tears about the things they are unable to do, about the pressures on their caseloads,” Gomez said.

Sheldon defended the agency throughout the hearing, but said botched investigations sometimes led to children being harmed.

In such cases, he said, his workers didn’t effectively communicate with each other or with outside agencies and private contractors.

“We’ve got to do a better job of coordination,” Sheldon said.

Heidi Dalenberg, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and cooperating counsel in a consent decree governing the department, said the agency isn’t conducting extensive investigations to ensure a child is safe.

“It is this kind of flailing about that is not helpful,” Dalenberg said.

Rep. Mary Flowers, a Democrat from Chicago, said she also was troubled by the newspaper’s account of the department’s new program, Blue Star, which offers overtime pay to Cook County investigators who can boost the percentage of cases they close within 14 days.

“Enough is enough,” Flowers said. “Our families are suffering.”

Flowers said the hearing is the first of several she plans to have through at least the summer.


Mendota board approves return trip to annual state convention
LaSalle News Tribune
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |  
Budget--State (8) , Education Funding (36a)

MENDOTA — Members of the Mendota Grade School board of education will return to the Illinois Association of School Boards conference in Chicago later this year.

Board president Sean Pappas said the conference offers many opportunities for professional training. The conference has cost the district nearly $10,000 in the past for hotel rooms, food including more than $500 at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab restaurant, cabs, parking and conference registration fees.

All board members and the superintendent are eligible to attend the three-day conference in November.

Superintendent’s report: The state owes the district $613,703 right now said superintendent Kristen School in her report to the board.

She said she does not expect any of that money to be paid during the current fiscal year.

She also noted the district budget is currently in the black, but that’s only temporary. With the lack of state funding and anticipated expenses, the budget will be back in the red. The district will issue $2 million in working cash bonds as soon as next week in order to plug the hole in the budget deficit.


No disaster declaration, but tornado victims can get relief
LaSalle News Tribune
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |  
Natural disasters (42)

OTTAWA — Naplate and Ottawa residents affected by the Feb. 28 tornado have a chance at some relief. The North Central Illinois Council of Governments is looking for people to apply for a Community Development Block Grant and receive some federal aid.

“We’re just trying to get the word out,” said NCICG executive director Kevin Lindeman. The grant would apply to uninsured or underinsured single-family home owners, Lindeman said. Rental properties do not qualify. Homes that are damaged or destroyed could qualify, he said.

He said about 10 people showed up to the informational meeting Tuesday evening at Central Intermediate School in Ottawa.

The council has a survey homeowners can complete to see if they qualify. The process also involves an estimate of the damage at the property, Lindeman said. It is a 100-percent grant, meaning no match is required. The money comes through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“It’s federal money, so it won’t get impacted by the state budget,” he said.

Right now, the council is trying to find everyone who might qualify to come and fill out the paperwork.

There’s no finite pot of money, Lindeman said, and people won’t be competing with their neighbors for the aid.

“We want to get everyone in,” he said.

There is a deadline, however. Lindeman said they wanted to get the application in within about 60 days.

“There’s a process to this,” he said. “The sooner were get people in to fill out the forms, the better.”


Illinois' public pensions in some ways mirror Madoff's Ponzi scheme
Madison County Record
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Letter to Editor  |   Dan McCaleb - Illinois News Network (IPI-owned)
Pensions (70)
To the Editor:

HBO debuted its original movie on Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff over the weekend. Based on Henriques' book "The Wizard of Lies," the film (and book) tells the chilling tale of Madoff's fraudulent investment scheme in which more than 2,200 people lost almost $20 billion in retirement savings.

That is a lot of victims losing a lot of money.

But it's peanuts compared to what public pensioners – in Illinois and elsewhere – stand to lose if drastic reform measures aren't taken soon. More on this in a moment.

A Ponzi scheme is a form of fraud in which early investors see quality returns, not because their money was invested wisely as the investors are led to believe, but because new investors fund the payouts. The cycle perpetuates itself – more and more new investors are needed to continue to fund previous investors' returns at an unbeknownst higher risk to themselves – until it inevitably collapses.

In Madoff’s case, the collapse occurred in 2008, after almost 30 years, when the housing bubble burst and the economy was sent into the Great Recession. Simplistically, far fewer new investors could be found, and prior investors, many hurting because of the turn in the economy, asked for their full investments back.

Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts of fraud. His victims suffered untold losses.

What’s the point of my Madoff history lesson?

A strong case can be made that public pensions – including in Illinois – are eerily similar to a Ponzi scheme, and that a similar collapse might be inevitable. That would mean an untold number of new victims that would make the Madoff case seem relatively minor by comparison.

The difference between a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme and the public pension crisis is that government is complicit in the latter, and that dedicated public servants, state retirees and taxpayers are the ones at risk.

I think we all can agree that taxpayers and state workers who have spent their careers serving Illinois residents, teachers included, don’t deserve that.

Doubt that will happen in Illinois or with other public pension systems in the U.S.? Let’s start with Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory in the eastern Caribbean declared a form of bankruptcy (after Congressional approval) earlier this month because of massive debt that included $50 billion in underfunded pensions. In a story headlined "In Puerto Rico, pension fund works like a Ponzi scheme," the New York Times reported the following:

"Puerto Rico, where the money to pay teachers’ pensions is expected to run out next year, has become a particularly extreme example of a problem facing states including Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: As teachers’ pension costs keep rising, young teachers are being squeezed — sometimes hard. One study found that more than three-fourths of all American teachers hired at age 25 will end up paying more into pension plans than they ever get back."

For pensioners in Puerto Rico, where a recovery plan is still being devised, it could mean pennies of the dollar of what they were promised.

For current and future pensioners in Illinois and elsewhere, a similar fate awaits if drastic reforms don't happen.

Illinois' five state pension funds are now underfunded by more than $130 billion, worst in the nation. At that deficit, the pension funds have in hand just about 37 cents of every dollar they will owe to current and future pensioners.

But it actually could be much worse than that.

Money set aside to fund pensions – from taxpayers and public employees – is invested to grow the dollar pool. But most pension systems have over-estimated the rate of returns on these investments. As recently as 2014, Illinois' Teachers Retirement System projected an inflated 8 percent annual return rate. That projection was dropped to 7.5 percent three years ago. Just last year, Illinois' State Employees Retirement System downgraded its rate of return estimate to 7 percent. Each of these downgrades cost Illinois taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually because the taxpayers are legally required to make up the difference.

Illinois House begins review of Senate Democrats’ budget plan
State Journal Register
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Budget--State (8) Demmer, Tom--State House, 90 , Durkin, Jim--State House, 82 , Harris, Gregory--State House, 13

Illinois House Democratic budget negotiators said Wednesday they’ve begun a review of the Senate’s newly approved tax-and-spending plan to determine if it meets their criteria for passing a budget, something Illinois hasn’t had for nearly two years.

At the same time, the state Republican Party has begun placing recorded phone calls to voters around the state and to districts of specific House Democrats criticizing the plan for the higher taxes it includes and because it is not tied to a property tax freeze.

Although the House Democrats have begun reviewing the plan, their top budget negotiator, Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, said there is not yet a timetable for the chamber to take it up, despite the fact that the spring legislative session is scheduled to end in less than a week. He said House committees first plan to hold hearings.

“As soon as we can gather the information and put it into a good, publicly explainable form, we’ll be having some hearings so people can come in and hear the details, not just the top-line numbers,” Harris said. “We’ll explain what is in and what is out.”

Harris said the House Democrats’ budget working group has begun a review of the plan.

“We’re going today to a deeper dive to compare exactly where they are with where we were the last time we had a budget and then compare them to House Democratic priorities,” Harris said.

Harris said those priorities include having a balanced budget that includes both tax increases and spending cuts. It also means having a way to pay down the more than $14 billion in old bills, fully funding pension payments, fully funding state employee group health insurance and increasing funding for K-12 education through a revised formula intended to direct more state aid to the neediest districts.

“We need to also look at their revenue package and evaluate whether that is something the House can support or not,” Harris said. “These budgets are 7,000 lines long. What the public sees is usually three or four little columns with the summary in them. Buried in those 7,000 lines are a lot of details.”

Savings concerns

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said he, too, needs to examine the spending plan passed by the Senate Democrats in more detail. However, he said he’s concerned the Democrats are overestimating some of the savings they expect to achieve. He cited in particular the $1.2 billion the Democrats assume they’ll save from pension changes.

Harris, the ranking Republican on the House Revenue Committee, also said he has concerns about the scaled-down version of placing the sales tax on some services that’s included in the Democrats’ revenue plan.

“I thought what they did on the sales tax was not helpful,” Harris said. “The sales tax is the second-largest revenue source in Illinois. The objective in changing the sales tax is to broaden the base and lower the rate. That certainly was not done in this bill.”

Harris said that House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs has instructed GOP budget experts to work with Democrats on budget issues.

“We’re going to do that as much as possible,” Harris said. “We’ll see where it goes. We’re talking.”

“We’re trying to get an indication of whether the Senate proposal is the one we should be focusing on or whether the House Democrats are going to come up with their own spending plan as has been rumored,” said Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon.

‘Tax hike alert’

As the House began work to review the Senate budget/revenue plan, the state GOP started making recorded phone calls criticizing it. Two versions are being made. One is going to voters in 19 House districts represented by Democrats that the Republicans want to unseat. They include Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur.

The call opens saying it is a “tax hike alert.”

“Last night, with little debate, Senate Democrats in Springfield passed one of the largest tax hikes in state history,” the call says. “Their plan will raise the income tax on every Illinoisan by 32 percent.”

It also criticizes the plan for extending the sales tax to some services while not doing anything to control property taxes. It then says the local representative can stop the higher taxes and urges the call recipient to call the representative and “tell him to vote against the Madigan tax hike before it is too late.”

The other message does not name a representative, but says the tax hike is “part of a scheme pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Democrat candidates for governor like Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker.”

The message says the Senate plan will raise taxes without reforms, like property tax relief, something Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has said must be part of any budget he’ll sign. The message doesn’t specifically mention it, but Rauner also wants workers’ compensation changes that he says will help create jobs.

-- Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.


Lawmakers hear about high caseloads, pressure at DCFS
State Journal Register
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Associated Press
DCFS (30)

Investigators with Illinois’ child welfare agency face overwhelming caseloads and feel pressured to quickly wrap up abuse investigations, according to testimony provided during a legislative hearing.

A panel of experts and lawmakers spoke Tuesday about issues at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Chicago Tribune reported. The hearing came after the newspaper highlighted four cases in which children died of beatings or starvation soon after the department closed investigations of mistreatment at their homes.

The department’s director, George Sheldon, said the newspaper’s reports propelled him to request the agency’s general counsel to review whether Illinois laws should be changed to allow the department to keep records of past unproven abuse allegations. The agency currently expunges and shreds files if it determines there is no credible evidence of abuse or neglect.

The department’s attorney said officials will also look over some cases in Will County following the death of Semaj Crosby. The toddler died last month in her Joliet Township home shortly after the agency closed neglect investigations.

During Tuesday’s hearing, recent failed investigations were detailed by Danielle Gomez, a supervising attorney for the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office. She said the agency didn’t interview key witnesses or gather critical evidence in some cases.

Gomez said the agency’s investigators told her staff they were “overwhelmed” by caseloads.

“They are sometimes in tears about the things they are unable to do, about the pressures on their caseloads,” Gomez said.

Sheldon defended the agency throughout the hearing, but said botched investigations sometimes led to children being harmed. In such cases, he said, his workers didn’t effectively communicate with each other or with outside agencies and private contractors.

“We’ve got to do a better job of coordination,” Sheldon said.

Heidi Dalenberg, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and cooperating counsel in a consent decree governing the department, said the agency isn’t conducting extensive investigations to ensure a child is safe.

“It is this kind of flailing about that is not helpful,” Dalenberg said.

Rep. Mary Flowers, a Democrat from Chicago, said she also was troubled by the newspaper’s account of the department’s new program, Blue Star, which offers overtime pay to Cook County investigators who can boost the percentage of cases they close within 14 days.

“Enough is enough,” Flowers said. “Our families are suffering.”

Flowers said the hearing is the first of several she plans to have through at least the summer.


Senate Democrats take action; situation still tense
State Journal Register
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Column  |   Bernard Schoenburg
Budget--State (8) , Legislature (56) , Taxes, income (86) Brady, Bill--State Senate, 44 , Cullerton, John--State Senate, 6 , Currie, Barbara Flynn--State House, 25 , Manar, Andy--State Senate, 48

Illinois Senate Democrats this week took the political risk to vote for budget measures, including an increase in the income tax and an expansion of the sales tax to some services because they said the time finally came to act.

Republicans — who put no votes on the bills passed Tuesday — said negotiations were close and tweaks were needed.

Does this make the Democrats political targets?

“I’ve come to the determination that there’s always going to be criticism ... no matter what we do,” said Sen. ANDY MANAR, D-Bunker Hill. “That comes with the turf of being an elected official. ... I don’t lead with the idea that I’m here for self-preservation. I’m here to weigh the pros and cons of every issue ... and then be accountable for the decision that I make to voters. ... Our budget protects education. It protects health care. The governor has proposed devastating cuts to higher education. We protect higher education. ... And we live within the governor’s spending limits that he put in his own budget in February.”

That spending amount is $37.3 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Even before the Senate passed a plan to raise an estimated additional $5.4 billion annually, with the personal income tax going from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, Rauner issued a statement and took to Facebook live to advocate for property tax relief.

And in an interview Wednesday with the Illinois News Network — an independent project of the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute — Rauner called the Senate action “a massive mistake. ... The Democrats have been on a mission to just raise taxes without any significant reforms for years.” He said the “biggest failing” was the lack of property tax relief.

Property taxes go to local governments, not the state, but Rauner has been pushing for a freeze.

But, Manar said earlier, “It’s always a changing demand from the governor. We could have passed a property tax freeze bill yesterday, and it would have been something else today.”

In his two-year-plus quest to get pro-business changes he has collectively called his Turnaround Agenda, Rauner has said he’s flexible. “As we’ve said many times,” the governor said in his Feb. 15 budget address, “there is no one single bullet, no single ‘must have,’ for our administration. But for the future of our state, change must be real, not just a newspaper headline.”

ELENI DEMETRZIS, spokeswoman for the governor, said Wednesday that while Rauner “has previously said that there is not any single ‘must do,’” now that the Senate passed an income tax increase and broadened the sales tax, “it is appropriate for the governor to make clear that if that is the path chosen by the General Assembly, there must also be property tax relief for Illinois families and businesses.”

Rauner has been running campaign-style ads for weeks, and put out a fundraising letter that included the statement: “Illinois taxpayers deserve a balanced budget WITHOUT any tax increases.”

Senate President JOHN CULLERTON, D-Chicago, said after the Senate votes this week that the fundraising letter is “inconsistent” with Rauner’s own proposed budget. Rauner has said revenue and cuts are needed, and his budget proposal said a $4.6 billion gap would be filled by grand bargain negotiations. He was referring to the effort announced earlier this year by Senate Democrats and Republicans to fashion a grand bargain that initially did not include the governor’s office or House in negotiations. The idea was to pass a package of legislation to ultimately help end the two-year budget impasse.

Asked about that mailer in a WTTW-TV interview last month, Rauner said no tax increase would be “the first choice,” but he would go along with Democrats “only if we have structural changes to grow new jobs.”

While the governor says Democrats want no significant reform, Manar said that in the Senate, “we passed procurement reform, we’ve passed local government consolidation, we’ve passed school funding reform. We’ve done any number of things that the governor has demanded of us.”

Rauner and Republicans often have different views, however, of what’s needed in each measure.

And as for the timing of budget votes this week, Manar said, “This idea ... that we have all the time in the world, I think, is ignoring the reality that we face today, which has been 692 days of carnage without a budget.”

Sen. BILL BRADY, R-Bloomington, who has been in the middle of budget negotiations, said he remains for “parity,” between a temporary tax increase and a property tax freeze, with a spending cap.

“Our goal with the spending cap is that within four our five years, the temporary revenues can really fall off because the job growth through the reforms and the spending cap would allow revenues to meet expenditures,” Brady said.

And he wants the property tax freeze because he said it would mean $500 million to $700 million of savings in the first year for “the people we represent,” with more in subsequent years.

According to Brady, Cullerton had said he thought the freeze and workers’ compensation changes could be achieved, and Brady “made it very clear” to Cullerton that those things were needed. Brady thinks the Senate should have passed an agreed property tax freeze bill, a workers’ compensation reform bill, and then a budget. And, he said, Rauner “hasn’t moved the goalposts. If he’s done anything, he’s lessened what he’s wanted.”

JOHN PATTERSON, spokesman for Cullerton, noted the Senate is still is session, and Democrats put a lot of work into workers’ comp and property tax issues.

“We’ve been trying to get agreement on all of these things,” Patterson said. “There’s still time.”

How will it all fare in the House?

“I think we’ll take a careful look at it,” said House Majority Leader BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE, D-Chicago. “My guess is that there will be some changes just because that’s the nature of the beast.”

About a property tax freeze, she said, “I don’t think that’s going to be a high priority for at least some of the members of the budget working group. .. The reason property taxes are high in Illinois is because the state doesn’t do an adequate job of funding public education.” She said the governor needs to work on that — and he often says that’s what he’s been doing.

May 31 is the last day a budget can pass for the next fiscal year with a simple majority.

Things are clearly still tense.

Wonderful life

Condolences to JEFF DIXON of Chicago on the loss of his wife of 37 years, STACY, who succumbed at home on Sunday after a four-year battle with colon cancer. She was 59.

Jeff Dixon — son of JODY and late U.S. Sen. ALAN DIXON of Belleville — met his wife in a communications class at Eastern Illinois University in 1978. They were married in 1979, after they graduated. They later formed the public relations and government affairs firm Dixon and Company.

“Stacy was the love of my life, my best friend and partner, both in business and life,” Dixon said. “We had a wonderful life together, bringing two beautiful daughters in the world, and one granddaughter.”

Arrangements are being handled by Donnellan Funeral Home in Chicago.

— Contact Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.


Senate OKs bill allowing AT&T to shift resources from older technology
State Journal Register
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Article  |   Brian Robbins State Capitol Bureau
Legislature (56) , Technology (98)

Legislation that would allow telephone giant AT&T to direct its resources away from landlines and into newer technology passed the Senate Wednesday.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, passed easily by a vote of 57-2 now goes to the House.

The legislation would allow the phone company to free itself from a legal obligation to provide landline service in areas with old technology. AT&T has said almost 90 percent of its customers have gotten rid of landlines in favor of wireless technology or internet-based communication.

Cunningham said a compromise was reached with the bill’s critics who had concerns that residents wouldn’t be notified in a timely matter.

“The bill has a number of safeguards to ensure individuals do not lose their voice communication,” Cunningham said. “There were many (things) that we added to the bill based on suggestions from opponents. We’ve expanded the notification so people who use this technology will get four notices separate from their bill.”

AT&T has said in the past that focusing on newer technology would help it save money and enhance services for its customers. The investment would be better placed in new technologies that are creating jobs and connecting people to work, home, school and public safety, the company argued.

Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, said the focus on newer technology would help safe lives.

“That’s why I believe that we need to update the state’s communication law and attract more investment into these modern technologies,” Hastings said. “Every group of first-responders is relying on high-speed internet to help protect the public and improve their own safety. The power of these networks enables real-time information sharing that helps keep people safe.”

Here’s how the Senate voted on Senate Bill 1381:

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/votehistory/100/senate/10000SB1381_05242017_001000T.pdf

-- Contact Brian Robbins: 782-3095, brian.robbins@sj-r.com, twitter.com/brianrobbins9.


Sounding the Alarm: Unacceptable
State Journal Register
Thursday, May 25, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Budget--State (8)

Editor’s note: Illinois is the only state in America without a budget, a failure that digs it deeper into debt each day. But the lack of a budget is not the only serious problem that requires action from the state’s elected leaders. This is the final day of “Sounding the Alarm,” an eight-day editorial page special report exploring those problems. Read more at the “Sounding the Alarm” website.

Unacceptable.

That one word perfectly sums up the pain, dysfunction and instability Capitol politicians have inflicted on Illinois by their failure to provide a permanent balanced state budget for two years.

As the state’s credit ratings have been repeatedly downgraded, as residents sought greener pastures elsewhere, as community colleges and universities have been gutted, as businesses closed up shop and as social service agencies turned away the most vulnerable residents ... elected officials have failed to do their job and show political courage to make the necessary painful decisions.

Who they blame is determined by whether a D or R follows their name. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is to blame. No, it’s Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Don’t forget the decades of politicians who made terrible financial decisions based on what would get them re-elected, not what was fiscally prudent.

The finger-pointing has gone on for far too long.

The state’s fiscal problems have created a crisis throughout Illinois — except in the state Capitol. Maybe the dome deflects the misery that permeates the rest of Illinois. But it can no longer shield elected officials from accepting the blame each member of the House and Senate, and the governor, bears for the atrocious state of the state.

The stack of unpaid bills tops $14 billion. The 2016 fiscal year ended last June with a budgetary deficit of $9.6 billion; we shudder to think of what it will be at the end of next month. The five state-funded pension systems are short about $130 billion. Each new financial report paints an even bleaker picture.

Every sign of progress has been marred by partisan politics. A budget was approved Tuesday by the Senate — with no Republican support. Even if the House concurs, Rauner likely will veto a measure only supported by Democrats. A bipartisan compromise is needed for Illinois to persevere.

The lack of a budget has not directly inconvenienced most residents, so it has been easy to ignore. But the impasse affects us all. In order for the state to pay off its unpaid bills, shore up the pension systems and eliminate its deficit, it would cost every Illinoisan roughly $12,000 each.

Here’s how you calculate your share of the bill:

* If every one of the state’s 12.8 million residents kicked in $1,094, we could pay off the $14 billion in unpaid bills.

* The unfunded pension liability is an estimated $130 billion, due over the next 30 years. If we wanted to ensure today that it will be solvent, each resident would need to contribute $10,156 so state retirees will get their retirement benefits.

* Don’t forget the $9.6 billion structural budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2016; add in $750 more per person.

The ugly truth is, we are all going to pay for it somehow. And because politicians have abdicated their most basic duty for two years, the necessary cuts will be deeper and tax hikes will be higher than they should be.

Are you seething yet?

Good. Now get informed on issues, and encourage others to do the same. There’s a reason that millions get spent on relentlessly nasty political ads — they work. They sway the casual voter who doesn’t care enough to dig for facts, or they leave others too disgusted by the spectacle and negativity to participate. Elections shouldn’t be decided by who can throw the most cash at attack ads. It’s up to all of us to keep that from being the determinant.

Next, get involved. Pick up your phone and call your state representative, senator and the governor’s office. Tell them how they have made it an embarrassment to be from Illinois. Share your anger that the significant issues that need attention — school funding reform, creating a thriving economy and building public universities into centers of innovation, to name a few — have been ignored.

A year ago we declared “Enough.” The day after, the governor and lawmakers passed a six-month stopgap spending plan that did not provide lasting stability. That’s not good enough.

It’s time to demand that Governor Rauner and our lawmakers do what is right. It’s time for the budget to come first. To not do so will cement their legacy with one word that encapsulates the sorry condition of our state.

Unacceptable.

***

Time to take action

For the past week, the editorial board of The State Journal-Register has published opinion pieces that have outlined the sorry state of Illinois.

If you don’t depend on the state for health care, social services or for business, it can be easy to ignore the budget impasse. But it’s reached the point where that cannot continue: The gridlock will endure unless residents become engaged in the political process.

We devoted so much space and energy to this series for one purpose: To sound the alarm on how dire the situation is and how much worse the costs will become the longer Illinois does not have a permanent spending plan. Starting Friday, we’ll publish op-eds from five statewide organizations with their own takes on what politicians should be focusing on.

We want you to be informed. We want you to ask questions and demand better when a politician’s answer is to blame the other party.

More importantly, we want you to take action.

Here’s how to contact the governor, House and Senate leaders and your local senators and representatives. We encourage you to reach out to any and all of these politicians to express your frustration.

We have even included a “postcard” that you can copy and paste into an email and send to the politicians who represent you.

Illinois’ current fiscal state is unacceptable. It’s time we demand our elected officials did something about it.

* Gov. Bruce Rauner

Office of the Governor, 207 State House, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-0244

* House Speaker Michael Madigan

300 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-5350

* Senate President John Cullerton

Senator 6th District, 327 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-2728
john@senatorcullerton.com

* Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno

Senator 41st District, 309G Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-9407
christine@senatorradogno.com

* House Minority Leader Jim Durkin

316 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-0494
Durkin@ILHouseGOP.org

* Sen. Andy Manar

Senator 48th District, 119A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-0228
http://senatorandymanar.com/constituent-services/e-mail-the-senator

* Sen. Sam McCann

Senator 50th District, 307 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-8206
SenatorMcCann@gmail.com

* Rep. Avery Bourne

227-N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-8071
bourne@ilhousegop.org

* Rep. Tim Butler

1128-E Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-0053
butler@ilhousegop.org

* Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer

201-N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-1840
davidsmeyer@ilhousegop.org

* Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez

E-1 Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, 217-782-0044
Sjimenez@ilhousegop.org

***

Dear _____________:

The lack of a state budget for nearly two years has made it embarrassing to be from Illinois.

The self-created crisis by politicians has caused a huge deficit that is accompanied by an even larger stack of unpaid bills. It has harmed the most vulnerable of the state’s residents, crippled our higher education system and caused businesses to hesitate to plan for the future.

I’m tired of our politicians putting their party first. Please work in a bipartisan manner to pass a permanent balanced state budget for Illinois.

To not do so is unacceptable.

Sincerely,