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Illinois lawmaker files legislation allowing delay of legislator pay after court ruling says politicians must be paid
Other
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Illinois Policy Institute
Comptroller (21) , Legislature (56) McConchie, Dan--State Senate 26
An Illinois lawmaker filed an amendment to legislation March 23 to prioritize other state spending obligations over lawmaker pay, immediately following a ruling from a Cook County judge saying that politicians must be paid even without a state budget.

State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorne Woods, filed an amendment to Senate Bill 989 to allow greater discretion for issuing salary payments to members of the General Assembly. McConchie’s amendment reads that monthly payments to lawmakers and executive branch officers may be delayed if there are insufficient funds in the state’s general revenue fund to pay all other obligations “within 90 days after a voucher requesting payment is submitted to the comptroller.”

This amendment was filed just hours after a Cook County judge ruled that state Comptroller Susana Mendoza must issue paychecks to lawmakers, even without a state budget, a reversal on a March 16 statement that the issue could be solved “by simply passing a budget.”.

Mendoza said in a statement March 23 that she would begin to issue paychecks.

Former Comptroller Leslie Munger started the recent trend of pushing lawmaker paychecks to the back of the line, which resulted in a lawsuit from a group of Democrat lawmakers. State Reps. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Mary Flowers, Silvana Tabares, Lisa Hernandez and then state Rep. Kate Cloonen together filed the suit against Munger in December 2016, citing a 2014 law protecting legislator pay from the appropriations process. House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton pushed that 2014 law through the General Assembly in the final months of former Gov. Pat Quinn’s tenure to guarantee that lawmakers get paid whether or not a budget is in place.

McConchie’s amendment would allow leeway by giving the comptroller’s office discretion on payments.

Illinois lawmakers are the highest paid legislators in the Midwest, and some of the highest paid in the entire country. For what is considered a part-time job, members of the General Assembly earn a baseline salary of about $68,000 a year.

Illinoisans in the private sector don’t enjoy the same perks as lawmakers, with earnings mostly stagnant over the last decade. As Illinoisans struggle with the highest property taxes in the nation and an uncompetitive business climate – intensified by a broken workers’ compensation system and an unmanageably high tax burden – lawmakers would be best served to work on passing a balanced budget with real economic reforms, rather than fighting to prioritize their paychecks ahead of other state spending.

House committee votes against bill that would protect state workers from having their SS numbers shared with unions
Belleville News Democrat
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   by Glenn Minnis
Labor (55) , Unions, labor (55) Hoffman, Jay--State House, 113
Illinois Representative Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) recently voted against a bill aimed at protecting state workers from having their social security numbers automatically shared with union reps.

Hoffman was one of 15 members of the House Labor and Commerce Committee voting against the bill on Feb. 23.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, currently state workers represented by government-worker unions have little control over their personal information, which union officials can now demand access to even if workers have not officially signed on to be represented by the union.

House Bill 660 stood to change all that, before failing to get enough votes to pass out of committee. The bill would have officially made it illegal for the state to pass along information about workers, including their social security numbers, as part of any collective bargaining agreement.

Supporters of the bill had argued that, given the sensitive nature of such personal information as social security numbers, union reps should only be able to acquire them directly from the individuals they are seeking to represent.

Some collective bargaining agreements, such as the one between the state and SEIU, are now interspersed with literature obligating the state to provide the union with the social security numbers of the personal assistants and childcare providers it represents, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

Joining Hoffman in casting "no" votes were Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), John C. D’Amico (D-Chicago), Frances A. Hurley (D-Chicago), Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City), Stephanie A. Kifowit (D-Aurora), Theresa Mah (D-Chicago), Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), Anna Moeller (D-Elgin), Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago), Lawrence Walsh, Jr. (D-Joliet), Emanuel Chris Welch (D-Westchester) and Ann M. Williams (D-Chicago).

Judge orders Belleville school board to review teacher’s firing
Belleville News Democrat
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   By Lexi Cortes
Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) , Sexual assault, Sex Crime (96)
BELLEVILLE

A teacher who was fired because of allegations that he sexually harassed a coworker wants his job back.

Jim Watkins filed a complaint in St. Clair County court in 2016, less than a year after the Harmony-Emge District 175 School Board voted to dismiss him. On Friday, Circuit Judge Robert LeChien decided the board should re-evaluate his dismissal based on at least three factors, including the potential for mediation between the teacher and his accuser.

According to restorativejustice.org, which LeChien cites in his order, that would involve a meeting between the teacher and accuser, facilitated by a trained mediator.

Watkins is alleged to have made sexually-charged comments to a fellow teacher and pulled her top down so he could see her breasts.

Superintendent Pam Leonard said Wednesday the teacher who accused Watkins of sexually harassing her still works at the junior high school.

Watkins taught seventh- and eighth-grade history at Emge Junior High School and coached the girls basketball team until his termination in November 2015. He wants to be reinstated with back pay, with the condition that he undergo classes or counseling.

After the board’s 5-2 vote to fire him, Watkins’ attorneys asked for an impartial hearing, which took place in March 2016. A non-binding ruling was issued by a hearing officer in May 2016 that sided with the board.

Watkins’ attorneys then filed the complaint in court in June 2016, asking a judge to review the board’s decision and the hearing officer’s ruling. Watkins’ attorneys argue in the suit that the board didn’t have proof to support the allegations against Watkins. The board’s attorney argued, in a response to the suit, that it couldn’t trust Watkins to conduct himself in an appropriate manner at school.

The court case has not yet been resolved. LeChien’s order states that Watkins and the board should work to come to a resolution on their own. He ordered that the board consider the harm caused to the accuser and the effect on the school staff and students, as well as Watkins’ “lifetime loyalty to his vocation” as a teacher for 29 years in the district.

If they’re unable to resolve the case, LeChien said the court would make a final ruling. The order doesn’t include a timeline for their mediation.

Watkins is represented by two attorneys: Tom Keefe Jr. and Jason Caraway. Keefe declined to comment on the case Wednesday. Caraway’s office stated that its policy is to not comment on pending litigation.

Leonard, the superintendent, also declined to comment on the case.

Attorney Denise Baker-Seal, who represents the Harmony-Emge Board of Education in the case, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

History of the alleged harassment

According to court records, the school board decided to fire Watkins based on three charges:

▪ No. 1: While at the school, he allegedly told a teacher that she “looked really sexy in (her) low-cut shirt” and attempted to pull down the shirt to look at her breasts. The teacher allegedly said “no” and covered her chest with her hand. Watkins has denied the allegation.

Watkins’ attorneys argued that there were no witnesses and no video footage related to the allegation to prove that he pulled down the teacher’s shirt. The board’s attorney argued that the teacher had nothing to gain by sharing the allegation.

The teacher testified before the hearing officer that she was ridiculed by students who blamed her for Watkins’ suspension before the board voted to fire him.

“I had students putting notes on my door, hitting my door, walking in my classroom, yelling ‘Snitch,’ yelling, ‘Save Mr. Watkins,’” she said during the hearing, according to court documents.

Watkins’ attorneys questioned the teacher about her conduct two hours after Watkins was alleged to have pulled down her shirt. According to a hearing officer’s report, the teacher was seen on surveillance video walking down the hallway with her arm around Watkins and her head on his shoulder. She stated that she was surprised and didn’t realize she had done that until she saw it on video.

Watkins testified that he found the teacher to be “needy and attention-seeking.”

▪ No. 2: Watkins allegedly retaliated against the teacher for refusing his sexual advances by chastising and verbally harassing her. He is alleged to have said to her and to a student as the teacher walked by that she “was mad at him,” “wasn’t talking to him,” “wouldn’t park by him” and that she was “hurting his feelings and making his self-esteem low.”

In his order, LeChein stated that he disagreed with the board’s determination that what Watkins said could be considered retaliation.

▪ No. 3: Watkins is alleged to have made false statements during an investigatory interview when he denied the teacher’s allegations against him.

The board’s evidence included a signed account of the alleged sexual harassment from the teacher, a signed account from the student who recalled the discussion with Watkins about the teacher and interviews with other educators who stated the teacher would come into their classrooms to “escape” Watkins or to avoid “a situation.”

Video footage from hallway surveillance cameras also showed Watkins entering the teacher’s classroom or trying to get her attention on at least eight occasions in the four school days after he is alleged to have sexually harassed her.

Watkins’ attorneys argued in the suit that the board fired Watkins to save $250,000 over five years. During the hearing, Leonard testified that the employee hired to replace Watkins earns about $40,000 less than Watkins had earned each year.

The hearing officer’s report stated that Leonard recommended Watkins be fired because he didn’t provide any evidence when the board had a public forum on the allegations in November 2015, which was before the nature of the allegations had been made public.

The board moved the forum to the school’s gym to accommodate an estimated 700 Watkins supporters, some of whom addressed board members, including current and former district employees and students, as well as parents and grandparents.

What to know
Here is the timeline of events related to Jim Watkins’ firing:

•    Nov. 30, 2015: Jim Watkins is fired from Emge Junior High School

•    March 2-3, 2016: A hearing takes place to determine whether the board of education should uphold Jim Watkins’ termination or overturn it

•    May 6, 2016: An Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer affirms the board of education’s decision to fire Jim Watkins in a non-binding ruling

•    June 8, 2016: Jim Watkins’ attorneys file a complaint in St. Clair County court asking for a review of the board’s decision and the hearing officer’s ruling

•    March 17, 2017: St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChein issues an order in Jim Watkins’ civil case


Illinois judge rules in favor of lawmakers seeking pay
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   AP
Comptroller (21) , Legislature (56)

CHICAGO — A Cook County judge ruled Thursday that Illinois lawmakers must be paid on time despite their failure to pass a budget, which has caused a pileup of more than $12.8 billion worth of unpaid bills.

Last year, then-Comptroller Leslie Munger, an appointee of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, put lawmaker paychecks in line with Illinois' other past-due bills in an effort to make lawmakers feel the pain of the budget stalemate.

Cook County Circuit Judge Rodolfo Garcia ruled current Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza needs to pay up, citing a 2014 law passed after then-Gov. Pat Quinn withheld paychecks over pension reform.

Several Democratic legislators sued Munger, claiming she was in violation of the state constitution through executive-branch interference with the Legislature. They also claimed she and Gov. Rauner were holding up legislators' paychecks for political leverage.

Mendoza said she planned to comply with the order. She also said she would ask her lawyers to appeal the judge's ruling.

"As former Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka did in a 2013 legislator-pay case, I will release the back pay checks to all elected officials consistent with the judge's order," Mendoza said in a statement.

Munger, who is now deputy governor, said the victory by legislators was an example of lawmakers putting their own paychecks ahead of taxpayers, human services and those in need.

"For more than two years, lawmakers have failed to do their job and now believe they should be paid for doing nothing," she said, adding Mendoza should ask for an immediate stay of the ruling pending her appeal.

"The fact the Comptroller didn't immediately request a stay is further proof that the Comptroller, Attorney General and Speaker Madigan are engaged in a coordinated abuse of taxpayers," Munger said.

Munger announced in April she would put legislative pay at the back of the line like other overdue vendor bills until members of the House and Senate and Rauner reached agreement on a full-year state budget, which has been missing from Springfield for two years.

Mendoza defeated Munger in a special election last year, but she kept her predecessor's policy on lawmaker paychecks. Legislators' June paychecks weren't issued until January. Several have been vocal about their disdain over not getting paid in a timely manner amid the state's budget impasse.

The base legislative salary — unchanged in eight years — is $67,836, but most every legislator gets a stipend of $10,327 or more for extra duties.


Vienna prison seeking clothing donations for inmates being released
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Stephanie Esters
Corrections (74)

VIENNA — Darius Saddler has already planned what he'll be wearing April 7: A tan-and-white-striped polo shirt, beige khaki pants, his own jacket and a pair of his own shoes.

The day is significant because it marks the end of his five-year prison sentence: The clothes are significant because they don't mark him as someone recently released from prison — typically outfitted in black sweat pants and a grey top — as he travels home to family in the Chicago area.

His ride home would be more stressful if he had to wear the "prison outs," clothes that Vienna Correctional Center would issue him and others being released.

"I wouldn't feel part of society," he said. "With this (outfit), I feel like I have a little chance. Self-esteem has a a lot to do with our transition (into the larger society)."

"I have one less thing to worry about if I can blend in," Saddler said.  "(The non-prison clothes) give me a chance to help my self-esteem."

Saddler is one of the estimated 20 men released each week from Vienna Correctional Center, who can now benefit from what the state is calling Clothing Closet, an initiative to supply those being released from Department of Corrections custody with clothing that does not point to them as being someone recently released from incarceration.

"If one of them walks out in normal clothing, you can't judge him," Nicole Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois DOC, said.

That not-judging component is huge, three men within days and weeks of their release from prison said Thursday morning during a Clothing Closet open house.

Those eligible to choose the clothes are all within two weeks of release. They include those like Jackie Cambron, who is completing 15 months at Vienna, headed to Chicago after his release.  He plans to travel north wearing a dress jacket and some jeans and a long-sleeve, button-down shirt; a fellow inmate, Donald Ashford, plans to wear a button-down, long-sleeve shirt with an orange stripe and matching pants when his wife picks him up on Wednesday.

The program at Vienna

The Vienna Correctional Center instituted the program a few weeks ago, introduced there by the associate warden of programs, Dylan Luce.

Vienna's Clothing Closet is on a second-floor wing of the facility that is no longer used. Hanging on hangers were rows of men's polo shirts, button-down dress shirts, jackets and coats, hanging on rails on six upturned metal bunk beds. (The prison organizers are looking for donated clothes racks.)

On a wall behind these clothes racks are rows of folded denim jeans; in an area locked away at the back of the room are like-new shoes and dress suits.

The 500-plus items of donated clothes and shoes came from facility staff, churches and other charities throughout Johnson and Saline counties, Luce said. The correctional center also recently partnered with Herrin's House of Hope, whose staff plan to collect men's clothing to give to the facility.

Though there are lots of other clothes in plastic bags near the folded blue jeans and near the back of the room, this inventory will move quickly, Luce said. He'd like to see the program grow so that those leaving the prison can take a week's worth of clothes with them when they leave.

"What's important about this is it gives our offenders a chance to leave with a good sense of pride," Luce said. "For years, they've left in a regular kind of dress uniform that pretty much lets somebody know you're leaving from the Illinois Department of Corrections. What we've done now is start this initiative. We have a lot of guys that do a lot of work to better themselves while they're here, and what we want to do is keep that going upon their release."

That "work" includes the training former inmates have in drywall and construction work, heating and air conditioning and electrical work.

The project is special to John Steve, who shared his own story with the incarcerated men during a Re-Entry Summit at the prison on Thursday. Steve is executive director of Herrin House of Hope.

It was 2011, and Steve said he had just been released from 13 months at the Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center in East St. Louis and was wearing the standard-issue prison "outs" — gray jogging pants and sweatshirt.

He said he felt very self-conscious on the train, as if everyone was looking at him and talking about him.

So distraught, he said he started crying, and police had to escort him off the train.

That is why he wants to lead the Herrin House of Hope in collecting men's clothes to donate to the Clothing Closet.

The Clothing Closet is accepting donations. For more information, call Vienna Correctional Center at 618-658-8371.


Voice of The Southern: Thumbs up to a proper burial, thumbs down to dog thefts
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |   STAFF
Budget--State (8) , Governor (44) , Unions, labor (55)

Thumbs down to 632 days without a state budget. It’s becoming difficult to find something new to say about this astonishing dereliction of duty by our elected officials. It would be one thing if Illinois stepped into this quagmire with healthy financial deserves, but the state was in dire straits when this exercise in fiscal malpractice began. The state is digging itself into a hole that will affect our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s unconscionable to allow this inaction to continue.

Thumbs up to the life of 2nd Lt. Maax C. Hammer and the quiet, solemn ceremony this past week to bury the Flying Tiger. It was more than 75 years ago that Hammer's plane crashed on a familiarization flight in Myanmar — then Burma — in 1941. He was buried in four other places before he landed at his final, familial resting place. An only child of his parents, the 25-year-old was not married and had no children when he died. On Tuesday, at Oakland Cemetery in Carbondale, Hammer was buried in his final resting place between his parents. The ceremony included three A-10 Warthog jets flying in formation, military personnel and supporters. A bonus thumbs up goes to Hammer's distant cousin, Tripp Alyn, who put the ceremony together.

Thumbs down to the suspect or suspects that have been stealing purebred, younger dogs in the region. Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis is investigating at least two complaints in Perry County, as well as alleged dog-theft reports from Randolph, Saline and Washington counties. He also believes the dogs are being taken for resale. Reports say that the suspects — two men, one white, the other black — were seen driving around in a white Dodge truck, initially with some sort of animal control wording on the truck bed, with a dog box on the back, Bareis said. Stealing a dog — probably someone’s pet — is a low blow. Stealing them for resale is even lower. Bareis said anyone with information about the missing dogs is asked to call their local law enforcement office.

Thumbs down to Gov. Bruce Rauner in what appears to be his unilateral dismantling of the state’s workforce — particularly AFSCME members. Several weeks ago it was the employees of the World Shooting Complex that got the ax. This week nurses employed by the state were given their layoff notices. And, the governor also announced this week he’d like to see cameras replace guards at our prisons. Granted, every governor has the right, the duty, to streamline the state’s budget, but at the very least it would be nice if the public were aware of a general plan to trim the payroll.

Thumbs up to Kylie Giebelhausen, a junior forward on the Southern Illinois University women’s basketball team for being named a recipient of the Missouri Valley Conference’s State Farm Good Neighbor Award. According to the MVC, in order to be eligible for the award, student-athletes must be in good academic standing, demonstrate good citizenship through good sportsmanship and significant community service and must participate in a sport during the season of recognition. The Valley recognizes 10 student-athletes three times annually for a total of 30 honorees. Giebelhausen, who has a 3.77 cumulative GPA, does volunteer service with Strong Survivors, the SIH Cancer Institute, Herrin Hospital and St. Francis Animal Shelter.


After Chance encounter, Rauner pushing CPS funding alternative
Chicago Sun Times
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Stefano Esposito
Chicago--Schools (18) , Legislature (56) , Rauner, Bruce

Continuing a public-relations push that began after Chance the Rapper started putting pressure on his office, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday called on Democrats in the General Assembly to get behind a Republican plan that he says would provide much-needed funding for the Chicago Public Schools.

“The people of Illinois want compromise,” Rauner said in a news release distributed at the start of a Friday morning press conference in the Loop. “It’s time to get something done.”

Rauner had been set to approve similar legislation last year — providing it included wide-ranging cost-saving reforms to government pension systems. But the governor said those reforms never took shape, so he vetoed the bill that would have contributed $215 million in state tax dollars to CPS to help pay its pensions and close the school system’s huge budget gap.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS chief Forrest Claypool have been decrying the move, saying Rauner shortchanged Chicago’s students. And CPS product Chance, whose given name is Chancellor Bennett, has put the issue on the national stage by meeting with Rauner earlier this month and donating more than $1 million to the CPS foundation.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, have since made school funding part of a series of “grand bargain” budget bills that have failed to make their way out of their chamber.

So Rauner is advocating lawmakers instead pass a “statewide pension reform plan” introduced by Senators Michael Connelly, R-Naperville, and Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, last week.

“The so-called ‘grand bargain’ is in a holding pattern,” Sen. Connelly said last week. “But that shouldn’t prevent us from moving forward on areas where we agree, including pension reform.”

If discussions on the issue hold true to form, Emanuel’s office, CPS and Democrats in the legislature will be responding to Rauner’s press conference throughout the day on Friday.


As hate crimes increase, Bruce Rauner should do more
Chicago Sun Times
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Betsy Shuman-Moore
Crime (28) , Rauner, Bruce
I have been fighting hate crime in Illinois for more than 25 years, and I have never seen it this bad.

As the director of the Hate Crime Project at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, I can remember when Muslims became targets of a wave of ugly hate crimes after the Sept. 11 attacks. Our lawyers fought back by representing the victims for free in court proceedings. It was not enough to prevent two men on the Near West Side from severely beating Amer Zaveri and Toby Paulose in November 2002. The two American-born young men of Indian descent were ambushed by attackers yelling, “Are you guys Taliban?” as they smashed their heads with beer bottles. A judge awarded Mr. Zaveri and Mr. Paulose more than $1 million in damages, but we know that countless others who were targeted by the hatred and venom following 9-11 either did not report the crimes or were never able to bring a case to court.

OPINION


In response to recent widespread acts of vandalism and bomb threats targeting the Jewish community, Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared two weeks ago at a dinner for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to announce his four-point plan to combat hate crime. Specifically, the governor proposed to increase penalties for hate crimes committed against houses of worship and religious centers, offer hate crime training to state and local law enforcement, and develop online educational resources to supplement state-required teaching about the Holocaust to elementary and high school students.

The governor should be applauded for starting this conversation, but he could go much farther to address the recent epidemic of hate crime.

Today, we are confronting a social crisis that may well go beyond what happened after 9-11. In Illinois, there has been a dramatic surge in hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people of color over the last two years. Hate crimes against Muslims alone increased by 67 percent between 2015 and 2016. The real figures are likely much higher due to under-reporting. This epidemic of hate demands condemnation and purposeful action from our elected officials. Gov. Rauner’s comments last week were a welcome change from the silence that has so far greeted this surge – but there is much more that needs to be done.

First, Rauner must speak out clearly against hate in all its forms, not just against one religion. As the painful lessons of 9-11 taught me, there is no hierarchy of hate.

Second, Rauner should immediately appoint a diverse group of community leaders and advocates to fill the 20 vacant positions on his Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crime. This is a responsibility that the governor has ignored for far too long.

Third, Rauner can ensure that all law enforcement personnel and prosecutors’ offices receive standardized training on how to identify, charge and report hate crimes. Victims are often too fearful of authorities to report these incidents. Even when informed, some law enforcement officials do not properly classify violent incidents as hate crimes, effectively hiding the data from the FBI. For these reasons, we need a more comprehensive approach to tackling hate crime — one that acknowledges all affected populations and encourages swift and accurate response and reporting in Illinois.

Finally, Rauner can play a pivotal role by providing incentives for state law enforcement to submit complete reports on hate crimes. He should take a page from Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who last week introduced legislative efforts to improve reporting and the use of the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Incentivizing reporting helps ensure that law enforcement agencies are collecting and sharing the data that will be most useful in understanding and combating hate crimes.

Of course, Rauner does not bear sole responsibility for speaking out against hate. Other elected leaders across Illinois, such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, should be more vocal and should coordinate their efforts. They could follow Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s example, who convened a diverse group of community representatives for a listening forum before introducing legislation this week to strengthen Illinois’ hate crime laws. Gov. Rauner has taken an important first step by standing publicly against bigotry. It is now time to match those words with action.

Betsy Shuman-Moore is director of the Hate Crime Project for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.


Judge: State lawmakers should get paid, even if there’s no budget
Chicago Sun Times
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Andy Grimm
Comptroller (21) , Legislature (56)

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said Thursday she will start issuing paychecks to state lawmakers, after a Cook County judge ruled that the law requires legislators get their paychecks even if there is no state budget.

Mendoza has followed her Republican predecessor by withholding paychecks for lawmakers, arguing that because approval of a state budget has been stalled for two years, she is free to decide which of the state’s bills get paid. Four Democratic lawmakers filed a lawsuit last year, contending state law passed in 2014 required them to get their annual salaries of $68,000 no matter what.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Mendoza said she was sending out paychecks grudgingly, and was directing the attorney general to file an appeal.

“I have consistently said that my office would continue to place elected officials’ paychecks at the back of the line to get paid unless a judge ordered me to stop,” Mendoza said in a statement issued about an hour after the ruling by Judge Rodolfo Garcia. “A judge so ordered today.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is “reviewing the decision and speaking with the comptroller’s office. We’re aware they are interested in appealing,” said spokeswoman Eileen Boyce.

Former Comptroller Leslie Munger, an appointee of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, had cut off lawmaker pay last spring, claiming that she had discretion to choose which bills should be paid if there was no state budget, court order or other legal instruction on where to be paid. Lawmakers were paid in January, under terms of a stop-gap budget, Assistant Attorney General Brent Stratton said.

Munger’s maneuver was intended to pressure lawmakers to act on a budget, in line with Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda priorities, after what was then a year-long impasse between the governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Legislative seats are considered part-time jobs, though lawmakers receive a base salary of around $68,000, which can rise to more than $100,000 thanks to various additional payments for per diems and committee work.

Munger turned “No budget, no pay” into a campaign slogan in her race against Mendoza. Mendoza’s statement also cited her concern that lawmakers should not be paid ahead of state contractors with invoices among the $12 billion backlog of bills on her desk.

“I have always argued that there is a sound policy reason, given the absence of a balanced state budget, to prioritize payments to the state’s most vulnerable — hospice care; child care; meals on wheels for seniors — ahead of paychecks for elected officials,” she said.

Munger, whom Rauner hired as a deputy governor after her defeat, called on Mendoza to file for a stay of the judge’s ruling, pending appeal.

“Rather than immediately releasing all the back pay, the Comptroller should request independent counsel and ask for an immediate stay of the ruling pending her appeal,” Munger said. “The fact the Comptroller didn’t immediately request a stay is further proof that the Comptroller, Attorney General and Speaker Madigan are engaged in a coordinated abuse of taxpayers.”

Asked why the comptroller did not request a stay that would have stalled payments to lawmakers, Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch referred questions to the attorney general’s office. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not respond to questions about whether Mendoza had asked them to pursue a stay whenever the appeal is filed.

The comptroller released lawmakers’ July paychecks this week, and noted legislators had missed seven checks from August to February. Lawmakers’ monthly base salary is $5,653.

In a statement, Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe called the legislators’ lawsuit “outrageous” and said the ruling was victory for Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner’s nemesis in the budget stalemate.

“Today’s decision by a Cook County judge to pay lawmakers before social service agencies and the vulnerable is a win for Mike Madigan and a loss for taxpayers and all those who want a balanced budget. Madigan’s long-time lawyer, Mike Kasper, led the lawsuit brought by Madigan-backed lawmakers. It’s outrageous that these politicians think they should be paid before the vulnerable, but that’s how the Madigan machine operates.”

At a hearing last week, Garcia had seemed inclined to let the comptroller continue to hold back paychecks, stating that lawmakers could get their paychecks by passing a budget that included their salaries.

But lawyers for the lawmakers submitted a new petition to force Mendoza to release their salaries, citing a law passed in 2014, after then Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka withheld legislative salaries in a bid to force through changes to the state pension system.

“There are certain expenditures that are outside the discretion” allowed the comptroller, Judge Garcia said. “That includes legislator salaries.”


Can budget deal ever get done with Rauner, Madigan at the table?
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Rick Pearson
Budget--State (8)

At the Capitol, the so-called grand bargain proved to be a grand illusion.

Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle haven't done much to knock down speculation that they're on the way out of the legislature.

The over-the-top rhetoric is back in full effect. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has returned to his theme that Democrats lead a "corrupt" conspiracy, one used during his 2014 campaign. Democrats led by House Speaker Michael Madigan have pushed new voices to the forefront as they try to push back, including a new comptroller who appears to relish her attack role.

All of those signs point in the same direction: A historic impasse now in its 21st month could very well continue through the November 2018 election. And perhaps beyond — it remains in serious doubt whether a broad budget agreement can ever get done with Rauner and Madigan at the table, and both could remain in power after voters get their say late next year. Whether state government can last that long without melting down is another question.

Illinois is likely to see "a series of what we've done the last couple of years — temporary patches, stopgaps and fixes, and that's not ideal," said a Rauner confidant who spoke on the condition his name not be used.

Democrats don't trust the governor — the feeling is mutual in Rauner's camp — and the prevailing view in the House is to wait it out instead of approving his economic agenda in return for a tax hike.

"Why pass a tax increase and then give Rauner the power to spend without telling us where he's going to spend?" asked a source close to Madigan who was not authorized to speak publicly about budget negotiations. "If (Rauner) got even a little of what he wanted now, what's to stop him from saying he wouldn't spend until he got even more of what he wanted?"

Deal ... no deal

That even an attempt at a budget breakthrough had to start in the Senate symbolizes the total breakdown between Rauner and Madigan, who stopped engaging in face-to-face talks in early December.

Upon taking office in January 2015, Rauner unveiled a 44-point action plan. Two years later, the evolving wish list he once called his "turnaround agenda" has been peeled back to include only a handful of issues: term limits, a property tax freeze, alterations in workers' compensation, changes in state worker pensions and an effort to take much of the politics out of the redrawing of House and Senate districts.

Those items have been Rauner's prerequisite for approving the higher taxes that would be needed, along with sizable spending cuts, to achieve a balanced state budget. While the governor has repeated his call for what he now terms "structural changes," he also has tried to generically modify his demand by saying "there is no one thing, no two things, no three things that I've ever insisted has to be in any agreement."

Negotiations led by Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno focused on some items on Rauner's wish list. The unfinished package included modest changes in workers' compensation, a property tax freeze, a cap on state spending and changes to public pensions. Other provisions included an attempt to revise state support for public schools and create new casinos, including for Chicago.

Talks broke down when Rauner made it clear that he did not believe the plan contained enough trade-offs for higher taxes. He wanted to see greater efforts to revamp workers' compensation to benefit businesses and opposed creating a permanent income tax increase in exchange for a two-year property tax freeze. Rauner also contended the plan lacked specific spending cuts and that it was structured for the short term and not the future.

Democrats accused Rauner of pulling Senate Republican votes off the grand bargain bills. Rauner's team maintains that it wanted to get to a deal — despite the potential political ramifications of running in 2018 after signing a major tax hike into law — and had been close to one.

"The last thing you want to do is jump on a deal that doesn't help you solve your 2018 (budget) problem but puts you back in the same situation you were in before with both sides in a corner," the Rauner confidant said.

"It came down to three things: workers' comp, parity in (the length of) the income tax and property tax and budget cuts. Cullerton's position is 'This is the deal, take it or leave it' and as far as we're concerned, it's dead and there's nothing more for us to do because we're not going to take a bad deal and neither is the Senate (Republican) caucus," he said.

But Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, a lead negotiator, said "it's hard to figure out" if Rauner truly ever wanted to strike a deal.

"I think he applies this sort-of maybe venture-capitalist approach to deal making where you try to squeeze every bit you can without respect to good faith negotiations that good public policy negotiations require," said Raoul, whose district includes Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. "I think certain tactics that may be very useful in another forum undermine the ability to kind of do things cooperatively in government."

Rhetoric heats up

In recent weeks, many of the themes of Rauner's successful 2014 bid against then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, as well as those used by the Rauner-subsidized GOP legislative campaigns of last year, have resurfaced. Democrats, too, have ramped up the rhetoric from a variety of voices.

That's hardened the partisan lines that block attempts toward compromise.

"Unfortunately in Illinois we don't have so much a democracy as we have a kleptocracy," Rauner said recently on WBEZ-FM 91.5 employing a term often used about Russia to describe a government controlled by those who seek to profit at the expense of the governed.

"Illinois has a level of corruption that's one of the worst in America, and this has been true for decades," the governor said. "We have folks in power and political office who make their money both in their private life and in their public life from their political position. This is wrong."

Rauner's past corruption complaints have been leveled chiefly at Madigan, though Cullerton has been included. Two years ago, Rauner alleged Madigan was making "millions" from his law firm through property tax appeals while Cullerton was making "huge wealth" from his law firm through inside government deals.

Rauner also has resumed his long-standing political efforts to try to demonize Madigan, who has served as speaker for 32 of the past 34 years. The state GOP has sought to tie Democratic candidates for governor to the speaker and hit lawmakers for such ties with a website, bossmadigan.com.

There are indications that both Rauner and Madigan are unpopular with the electorate. But as governor and as a statewide candidate for re-election, Rauner must be out front and in the public eye.

The reclusive Madigan has further removed himself from public scrutiny, and he's only on the ballot in his Southwest Side legislative district. On the few occasions where Madigan would normally take questions from reporters, he has dispatched other House Democrats and avoided the public limelight.

Substituting for Madigan after events such as Rauner's State of the State speech and budget address have been state Rep. Greg Harris, a North Side Democrat who chairs the House committee on human service budgeting, and Skokie Rep. Lou Lang. Both are members of Madigan's leadership team.

Rauner also has spent time publicly criticizing new Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, elevating her profile. Mendoza defeated Rauner's appointed comptroller in a special election last fall and as the state's check writer during the impasse, she has a platform with which to take on the governor.

"I'd like to actually give him some credit for some of the positive things he's accomplished over his last two years in office. So I did ask my staff to put together a thorough list of his accomplishments over the last two years so I could read them to you here today," Mendoza told the City Club of Chicago on March 20.

Then Mendoza pulled out a piece of paper and read from it: "This page intentionally left blank."

She also contended it was "bizarro" for Rauner "to try to accuse everyone else under the sun of conspiring to shut down government."

"If we are headed to a government shutdown, it is a result of the governor's inability or desire, actually, to not do his constitutional obligations of introducing a balanced budget proposal and working with the legislature in good faith," said Mendoza, who called herself "one of the fiercest warriors when I'm fighting for something that I believe in, and I believe in the state of Illinois deeply."

More than anyone else, it has been Rauner, his wealth and his wealthy allies who have helped foster a nonstop political campaign climate in Illinois, seeking to vilify Madigan and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate as part of a long-term effort to erode control. And there's no reason to believe that will change.

Earlier this month, touring an animal feed plant in Quincy, Rauner returned to a favorite line of attack by playing regional politics — at the same time he contended the state needs less partisanship.

"Leadership, good management, is not partisan and solving problems needs to be done, not on a partisan basis, just let's do what's right for the people of Illinois. Let's not have it be partisan politics. Let's not have the Chicago political machine dictating what happens here," Rauner told plant workers.

It's complicated

The efforts to reach a compromise are complicated by political elements central to 2018 and beyond.

Consider the pension issue. Democrats sought to enact changes in public employee pensions and passed a law signed by Quinn in 2013 that the Illinois Supreme Court later struck down. Cullerton has come up with a proposal that he maintains is constitutional in trying to make a dent in the state's unfunded pension liabilities, which now total nearly $130 billion.

But some Democrats are leery of inflaming organized labor, which has become the party's top source of money against Rauner's pocketbook and his efforts to elect Republicans to the General Assembly. Madigan saw firsthand the anger of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who didn't help him in 2014 after the passage of the pension changes.

The latest pension bill tanked in the Senate last month, and the fallout is still being felt at the Capitol, especially among two Senate leaders who gambled on a long-shot grand bargain and lost.

Cullerton, who'll turn 70 shortly before the November 2018 election, could depart as Senate president, although he said last month it's too early to be concerned about whether he serves another term. Some Democrats already are angling as potential replacements, but as such are skittish about angering major party allies such as labor.

Among Senate Republicans, there also is speculation that Radogno will cede her leadership spot amid concerns she got too far out ahead of her caucus and Rauner in trying to negotiate with Cullerton.

Then there's the Madigan factor. Even if the Senate and Rauner agreed on a deal, there was no guarantee that the veteran House speaker who doubles as state Democratic chairman would have signed off.

Madigan largely stayed silent during the Senate bipartisan negotiations, a tactic representing his belief that no package would ultimately be approved and sent to the House.

"I think the Senate Democrats are figuring out that there's not a reason to believe (Rauner) or trust this guy," said the source close to Madigan.

On Rauner's side, there is a wariness about Madigan.

"Even if we got a deal (in the Senate), it's not like that's going to be an easy position to take if you're the governor because you're basically hooking arms and jumping with presumably three caucuses with no assurance that Madigan would ever be for that deal. That's a pretty difficult political calculation," said the source close to the governor.

In looking through the lens of 2018, some Democrats have questioned whether Rauner wanted to enter his re-election campaign having signed a major income-tax hike and other tax increases.

For their part, those in Rauner's camp said they didn't believe approving what would have been the largest tax increase in state history would have been an automatic disqualifier with voters.

The Rauner aide summed up what the re-election messaging would have been: "We did a big tax increase, but you also got a permanent tax relief. For job creators, we did some stuff in tax reform to give you a little bit of room on your taxes but we also did changes in workers' comp … On the budget, we've shown fiscal restraint. We've done a tax increase, but we've also done significant spending cuts."

Raoul and the Madigan confidant both acknowledged that approving a massive tax increase in and of itself would not be politically fatal.

"Does a guy going into re-election want to go in with a $24 billion debt (or a tax increase)?" Raoul asked. "Which is worse? He's already said on the record that he's willing to sign a tax increase … Now you have some business organizations, like the Civic Federation, saying, 'Hey, the tax level that even we're contemplating in the "grand bargain" is not enough.' So, you've got that cover."

At the same time, because Democrats control the legislature and a Republican sits in the governor's chair, there could be the potential for shared blame, muting the political fallout over a tax hike.

"There's a lot of political calculation going on about who would wear the jacket," said the person close to Madigan.

By not raising taxes, Rauner potentially could try to sell voters on a theme that he prevented Madigan and the Chicago Democratic machine from raising taxes to bail out the state's and city's troubled finances.

During an appearance in the western suburbs last week, Rauner alluded to just such a theme when asked how Illinois voters should assess his tenure.

"We've blocked the General Assembly majority, Madigan's Democrats, from even more spending, more deficits. We've blocked a lot of really bad things from happening," Rauner told reporters.

More than just tax increases are part of the political calculus, however. There's also extensive budget cuts — something both sides say are integral to restoring Illinois' financial stability.

Senate Democrats rejected the Rauner administration's call to give the governor extensive budget-cutting powers and mocked his budget director, who told them no list of cuts existed that the governor would unilaterally make. But Democrats also are loath to make cuts.

That leaves both sides unwilling to take the political blame for spending cuts that could prove unpopular with voters.

Republicans and Democrats also privately wonder about the impact of the national political environment in next year's races and how Trump's controversial presidency will affect Rauner and other GOP candidates. It is a significant issue for both sides since Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in all but one of the traditionally Republican-leaning collar counties that can be key in statewide races.

There's also the question of who will become the eventual Democratic nominee for governor. The party looks to be split along progressive versus more establishment lines, with progressive Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar and state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston on one side and wealthy establishment figures such as Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker on the other.

Nominating a wealthy, potentially self-funding candidate would be helpful to Democratic interests looking to use money from union allies to hold their legislative majorities. But going that route also could take away Democratic class-based arguments that Rauner's wealth makes him out of touch to the concerns of average voters. Rauner, a former private equity specialist, already has put $50 million of his own money into his re-election bid, and aides promise that there will be more to come.

What's next?

Even before the 2018 election, there are factors that could force at least some kind of budget deal, albeit temporary or limited in scope.

Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan has indicated she will appeal a lower-court decision rejecting her argument that state workers should not be getting paychecks without a properly passed legislative appropriation. If she wins, it could force the state into a major shutdown because it is unlikely workers would show up without knowing when or if they would be paid.

There's also a court appeal by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the state's largest public employees union, of the Rauner administration's declaration that it was at an "impasse" with the union in talks on a new contract.

AFSCME won a stay of the state Labor Relations Board "impasse" ruling, in effect preventing the Rauner administration from imposing its final contract offer. The union also has received authorization to call a strike in a vote of its members.

If a dramatic work stoppage doesn't occur to force a budget compromise, there is the accelerating collapse of the state's social service network and reluctance of private vendors to do business with state government, which faces an estimated $14.7 billion backlog of bills on June 30.

In addition, Tom Cross, the former Illinois House Republican leader who now chairs the Illinois Board of Higher Education, contends some public universities — already cutting programs and staff — are at a tipping point due to the lack of state funds.

"I think we're now at a point where if we don't see a budget soon — not down the road but now — we're going to start seeing, I think, some very bad examples of accreditation issues, maybe not honoring your bond covenants, and continue to see a (student) out-migration problem," Cross said.

Noting the importance of salaries and business purchases from public universities to regional economies, Cross said, "We need to quit talking about winners and losers. We need to realize we're impacting people's lives on a daily basis."

Winners and losers will emerge from next year's election, however. If Rauner wins a second term and Democrats take advantage of the legislative district boundaries they drew and keep control of the General Assembly, it's questionable what dynamics will change between the governor and the House speaker to get a budget passed.

By that point, Illinois government finances may be beyond a point of no return.

Major bond rating agencies repeatedly have downgraded the state's creditworthiness for borrowing with warnings that without a budget, they could put Illinois into junk-bond status.

"Illinois' fiscal crisis is, in our view, a man-made byproduct of policy ultimatums placed upon the state's budget process," Standard & Poor's analyst Gabe Petek said in a report last month. Petek said the state's "distressed fiscal condition and dysfunctional budget politics now threaten to erode the state's long-term economic growth prospects."

The agency currently rates Illinois two steps above junk and has indicated that even if the Senate compromise had passed, the state's creditworthiness would not be given an upgrade for at least two years.

Already, the market has valued Illinois bonds at or near junk-level status. In November, Illinois sold $480 million of bonds at a 2-percentage-point penalty over an established benchmark for states with strong creditworthiness.

Rauner's budget office projects that without action, the current budget year's $14.7 billion backlog of bills will grow to at least $27.7 billion by July 2019. That's the equivalent of what a 7.3-percentage-point hike in the personal income tax rate hike would generate, with a corresponding increase in the corporate rate.

Last month while speaking to the City Club of Chicago, Cullerton, the Senate president, issued a dire warning if the budget stalemate continues through 2018.

"We're almost two years behind in paying our bills now. The next governor will be paying businesses four years late," the Chicago Democrat said.

"By then, we'll have been downgraded to junk-bond status and no one will lend us money. The new governor will have that hung around his or her neck," Cullerton said. "I don't want to even speculate what the tax rate would need to be to try to dig out of that hole."

rap30@aol.com

Twitter @rap30


Chicago aldermen try to push Rauner to bargain with union
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   John ByrneContact Reporter
Rauner, Bruce , Unions, labor (55)

Chicago aldermen waded into the fight between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state's largest public employee union Thursday, trying to turn the screws on the governor to continue negotiating a contract.

The City Council has no real power to nudge the Rauner administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union toward an agreement in the stalled talks that have been in court for months. And aldermen acknowledged the resolution calling the governor to continue negotiating amounts to an act of shouting from the sidelines.

"We are not blind to the fact we have no power to compel Gov. Rauner to act to do the right thing," said Southwest Side Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th. "But that doesn't mean that we as a city, as a collective, can't continue to fight against the winds that he tries to bring, the winds of disorder and chaos and forced crises that are impacting ... communities that are most vulnerable."

AFSCME is a powerhouse at City Hall, boasting a deep political campaign budget and the ability to turn out members to vote and work for or against candidates. But South Side Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., 21st, said backing the resolution was about standing up to Rauner for people who would suffer from his proposed government cuts, not about currying favor with the union.

"I'm standing here because I believe this is right for our community and the most vulnerable people out there, which are the kids that workers at (the Department of Children and Family Services) protect every day," Brookins said.

The Rauner administration said in a statement that its proposals "are nothing out of the ordinary."

"We continue to invite AFSCME to put aside its unaffordable demands, remember the taxpayers who have to pay state employee salaries and benefits, and work with us to implement common-sense proposals," top Rauner attorney Dennis Murashko said.

The Rauner-AFSCME fight has been winding its way through court.

In a Friday filing to the state Supreme Court, the Rauner administration asked the court to allow him to impose his preferred contract terms in the stalled labor dispute.

It warned that a prolonged legal battle could prevent the administration from setting up a new health insurance system for state employees — a plan designed to reap savings for the state by passing a greater share of the costs of health insurance onto workers.

Briefs in the union's court appeal of an Illinois Labor Relations Board ruling that found Rauner and the union to be at impasse in their contract talks aren't due until June, Rauner's attorneys said. That means the case is likely to drag beyond the state's May 1 deadline to open an enrollment period for state workers' health insurance.

If the two sides are found to be at impasse, the governor could press forward with his preferred terms and put the union in the position of having to accept them or go on strike.

AFSCME announced in February that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favor of going on strike if necessary to resist Rauner's contract terms. The vote was intended to give the union greater leverage in its battle with Rauner.

The City Council resolution passed the Committee on Workforce Development and Audit and will head to the full council next week.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne


Illinois' new license plate is a mashup of indiscernible clip art
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
License plates (80b)

Even the self-deprecating Abraham Lincoln, who often acknowledged his odd-lot physical appearance, might have objected to Illinois' new license plate. The design slices his face in half, then obscures his signature cheekbone with red lettering.

Have you seen it? Or rather, can you make it out?

Secretary of State Jesse White's office says it is reviewing complaints that the new plate, being phased in this year and over the next 10, is confusing and hard to read. White's spokesman Dave Druker told Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin the office is exploring whether the design can be tweaked. The lettering on the left side of the license plate bleeds into Lincoln's beard and dark overcoat, making the first letter of the plate unclear.

To Kamin's thumbs-down review of the cluttered design we would add our "blech."

In addition to Lincoln's half face, the plate includes a pale landscape that resembles whiteout conditions during a blizzard — an outline of Willis Tower, hunks of generic buildings, a windmill that looks more like a sideways mushroom cloud and a tiered wedding cake object that is supposed to be the Capitol.

What happened to simple, connective license plate designs?

Florida, oranges. Arizona, cactus. Colorado, mountains. Georgia, peaches.

And Illinois, Lincoln. Or, if not that, a politician in a jail jumpsuit, a budget dripping red ink or the back end of a U-Haul.

We digress.

In his critiques of the new plate, Kamin has argued that license plates should make artful statements. They should be clean and seductive. They should entice tourists. They are mini-billboards rolling down the highway.

But perhaps fittingly, Illinois' new license plate is a badge of the state's financial distress. To save money, White relied on artists within his office who compose brochures and mailers, not graphic design specialists who would have been expensive to hire.

We applaud and appreciate the effort to save taxpayer money, although somewhere in Illinois there's probably a designer who would have volunteered, then made the classier plate a tab in his or her portfolio.

We're also chagrined. State government is dysfunctional. We still have no budget, no foreseeable fix, no cooperation between political parties. Our reputation no longer is one of prosperity. Illinois lost more residents in 2016 than any state in the nation.

Couldn't Illinois have a license plate that at least projects a mirage of goodness, like the Emerald City backdrop in "The Wizard of Oz?" Maybe even a fairy tale scene that papers over our defects?

We will point out that Illinois' new design is not the worst we've seen. Another state facing similar financial woes and dysfunction features a license plate with an image of the state's shape, colored black. It looks like a smashed insect.

Thanks, New Jersey, for making the Land of Lincoln appear more enticing than the buggy "Garden State." At least we got half of Abe.


Judge: Move state lawmaker pay to front of long line of unpaid bills
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Kim Geiger and Monique GarciaContact Reporter
Budget--State (8) , Comptroller (21) , Legislature (56) , Rauner, Bruce

A Cook County judge on Thursday ruled against the "no budget, no pay" policy backed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, finding that the comptroller can't delay lawmaker paychecks even in the midst of a historic state budget stalemate and Illinois' pile of more than $12.8 billion in unpaid bills.

The ruling immediately became fodder for the ongoing political war in Springfield, with a top Rauner ally raising the idea of a "coordinated abuse of taxpayers" and a Democratic lawmaker saying his colleagues were no longer being held "hostage."

Last year, then-Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger, a Rauner appointee, put lawmaker paychecks in line with Illinois' other past-due bills in an effort to delay their salaries and make officials feel the pain of the budget stalemate. Mendoza continued the policy after defeating Munger in a November special election.

A handful of Democratic lawmakers went to court, asking a judge to compel the comptroller to pay their salaries ahead of other past-due bills. They said state law requires lawmakers to be paid in 12 equal monthly installments.

Judge Rodolfo Garcia on Thursday ruled Mendoza needs to pay up and stop delaying lawmaker paychecks. Mendoza said she planned to comply with the order but also to ask her lawyers to appeal the judge's ruling.

"As former Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka did in a 2013 legislator-pay case, I will release the back pay checks to all elected officials consistent with the judge's order," Mendoza said in a statement.

"I have always argued that there is a sound policy reason, given the absence of a balanced state budget, to prioritize payments to the state's most vulnerable — hospice care, child care, meals on wheels for seniors — ahead of paychecks for elected officials," Mendoza said. "We will confer with the Attorney General and the consulting attorneys we retained from Holland and Knight, who advised us and the former Comptroller on this case, and ask them to appeal the judge's ruling."

That Mendoza made mention of her outside attorneys is a nod to the political pressures surrounding the case. Munger, in her election campaign, made "no budget, no pay" a central slogan. Mendoza also embraced the populist message, indicating that she'd maintain the policy if elected. Democratic lawmakers, not wanting to sue one of their own, went to court days before Munger left office.

The lawmakers hired attorneys Michael Kasper, a Democratic lawyer with long-standing ties to House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Richard Prendergast, who helped successfully sue former Gov. Pat Quinn after he froze legislative pay during a fight over pension legislation more than three years ago.

That gave Rauner an opening to challenge Mendoza to hire her own lawyers for the case rather than rely on Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker's daughter. So Mendoza kept the outside lawyers and made a point of mentioning them Thursday.

Munger, whom Rauner has since hired as a deputy governor, struck back. She echoed a recent Rauner line of attack, accusing Mendoza of being part of a "coordinated abuse of taxpayers" and criticizing her for not asking a judge to put the order on hold pending an appeal.

"Rather than immediately releasing all the back pay, the Comptroller should request independent counsel and ask for an immediate stay of the ruling pending her appeal," Munger said in a statement. "The fact the Comptroller didn't immediately request a stay is further proof that the Comptroller, Attorney General and Speaker Madigan are engaged in a coordinated abuse of taxpayers."

Last week, Judge Garcia heard arguments in the case and said lawmakers had left the comptroller no choice but to delay some payments. The absence of a full state budget, he said, has left the state accumulating more expenses than it has money to pay for.

But the judge appeared persuaded Thursday by a different argument, concluding that the comptroller doesn't have the discretion to delay payments that have been written into the law.

"There may be discretion by a comptroller as to certain expenditures, but as to expenditures that are compelled by Illinois law, that discretion doesn't exist," Garcia said Thursday as he explained the winning argument in court.

The ruling came as lawmakers were issued their July paychecks, according to Mendoza's office. Spokesman Abdon Pallasch said that in response to the ruling, the comptroller on Thursday started processing paychecks to send out all of lawmakers' delayed money.

Democratic Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, of Hillside, one of the lawmakers who brought the lawsuit, said he was "glad the judge got it right.

"It's unfortunate that we had to do this, but we have to stand up for the constitution and make sure that one branch of government can't hold the other branch of government hostage," Welch said. "I can't imagine what would happen if he would have ruled the other way. The precedent that would have set would be unbelievable."

kgeiger@chicagotribune.com

mcgarcia@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kimgeiger

Twitter @moniquegarcia


The wrong way on Illinois DUIs
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
DUI (80a)

In 2015, more than 10,000 people died in this country in crashes involving drunken drivers. One of them was Chicago Ridge police Officer Steven Smith, who was off-duty and riding in a car that was struck head-on by an impaired driver going the wrong way on the Tri-State Tollway. That driver, 22-year-old Sara Lopez, was sentenced to five years in prison for aggravated DUI.

If an Illinois legislator has his way, the next such offender will get a stiffer sentence. Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, has introduced legislation to make wrong-way driving an aggravating factor in determining sentences for motorists impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Illinois has endorsed this step on the grounds that in Illinois, "the punishment doesn't fit the crime for DUIs." Executive Director Sam Canzoneri notes that over the past decade, there have been more than 50 fatalities caused by impaired wrong-way drivers in this state, on top of some 300 injuries.

It's true that no penalty seems adequate for the needless carnage caused by drunken drivers. But the logic behind this proposal is hard to follow.

Under existing law, Lopez could have been imprisoned for as many as 14 years. The judge who presided over her case decided that given everything that was known, the maximum punishment was not appropriate.

Even had he been required to treat her wrong-way travel as an aggravating factor, he might well have imposed the same sentence. In Illinois, anyone convicted of aggravated DUI must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence — meaning Lopez will be locked up for at least four years and three months.

There's also the question of why wrong-way driving should be singled out for more severe penalties. After all, the change wouldn't make drunken drivers more careful. Someone with a sky-high blood alcohol content can't think clearly enough to adjust her route accordingly. Nor is a wrong-way driver's guilt obviously graver than that of a drunken driver who kills someone after rear-ending a vehicle or running another car off the road. Impersonal as it sounds, the driver is at fault regardless, and the victim is deceased regardless.

The Tribune has long favored measures to prevent and punish drunken driving. We supported the 1997 legislation reducing the BAC level for DUI from 0.10 to 0.08. We favor requiring interlock devices on the cars of all first offenders to prevent recidivism. But we don't see how treating wrong-way drivers more severely than other DUI offenders would save lives.

There are better ways to reduce the number of these fatalities. A 2014 report commissioned by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Center for Transportation recommended improving signage, traffic signals and highway design to minimize the chance that drivers will make dangerous errors. It also suggested in-road sensors and video cameras to alert police when someone is going against traffic.

None of these changes, of course, would keep every drunk from entering an exit ramp. But they could prevent some impaired drivers from making such mistakes — and eliminate a lot of wrong-way driving by motorists who are merely elderly, inexperienced or distracted. Reducing highway fatalities is a goal everyone shares. But when it comes to saving lives, this legislation is a blind alley.


Other View: Hoping we get someone in Springfield to turn around
Effingham Daily News
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |  
Attorney General (6) , Budget--State (8) , Rauner, Bruce

Belleville News-Democrat

The programming out of Springfield feels a lot like a television singing contest: Just when you think you are about to see something happen ... they take a commercial break.

You sit there feeling fooled again.

Pieces of the Grand Bargain are actually being voted on and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner stops the music over too many taxes with too little reform. Progress is apparent and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza try to halt state workers' paychecks to force a deal or make Rauner look bad.

So now the state pension reform has been split from the Grand Bargain and combined with $215 million for Chicago teacher pensions. Rauner is pushing it as a way to fix a retirement system that is $130 billion short of the promises made to state workers and to save taxpayers billions. He calls it a foundation upon which lawmakers can work together enough to finally, finally maybe pass a state budget.

Lawmakers have been on Rauner's appointees for offering no proposals for cutting their budgets. Rauner has been on lawmakers for not offering proposed cuts and refusing to give him the authority to make them. Call the 12 reform measures the Dirty Dozen, because a small minority of the 4,700 witnesses at the bill hearings had anything nice to say about them.

So we stand there, singing our hearts out and hoping John or Christine or Mike or Jim pushes the button to make something happen. But first a word from our sponsor, likely trying to sell us a cure for one ailment followed by great discomfort and unpleasant side effects every April 15th for years to come.


Other View: How to close dark money loophole in Illinois political campaigns
Effingham Daily News
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |  
Election Issues (not candidates) (39) Harmon, Don--State Senate, 39 , McCann, Sam--State Senate, 50

Chicago Sun-Times

The "dark money" pouring into Illinois political races needs a lot of sunlight.

Certain political nonprofits that have set themselves up as 501(c)(4)s, 501(c)(5)s or 501(c)(6)s - special categories that were intended for charities - can donate unlimited sums of so-called "dark money" to campaigns without disclosing where they get their cash. They also don't have to disclose how they spend their money. That allows any person or organization with deep pockets to sway government policy without any public scrutiny.

This kind of dark money didn't used to be a problem in Illinois political races, but as campaign laws have been rewritten, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, the floodgates have opened. But we can do something about it.

A bill introduced by state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, with state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, as chief co-sponsor, would effectively require full disclosure of the source of such money. The bill cleared the Senate's Executive Committee last week by a vote of 11-3, and the full Legislature should pass it. The measure is backed by the Better Government Association, the League of Women Voters, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Illinois PIRG. Significantly, it is opposed by two groups that in the past have channeled dark money into elections.

Both Republicans and Democrats benefit from bundles of dark money, which now amount to millions of dollars in an election cycle. Dark money was used against state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, and one of her opponents when Chapa LaVia ran in a four-way race for Aurora mayor on Feb. 28. Dark money from a Democratic group, the Fight Back Fund, provided about a third of the funding for the Safe Roads Amendment, a successful union-backed measure on the ballot last November. Last year, the Illinois Opportunity Project used dark money to back former state Rep. Ken Dunkin, an ally of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and Jason Gonzales, who challenged Rauner foe Michael Madigan in the 22nd Legislative District.

When campaign donations are secret, voters don't know if elected officials are putting the electorate first or simply paying back big donors. That's not healthy for democracy.

A ban on dark money wouldn't limit the flow of ideas in campaigns. Even people who argue campaign donations are a form of free speech should agree those donations should be transparent. If people or organizations want to contribute a large amount of money to influence an election, as is their constitutional right in this post-Citizens United era, at least their names should be disclosed.

It's always good to know who's pulling somebody's strings.


End of the line: Trump’s budget blueprint proposes funding cuts to rail and utility assistance, but benefits veterans
LaSalle News Tribune
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |  
Budget--Federal (9) , President (73) , Trains (77) , Veterans (95)

The Amtrak stop in Mendota sees almost 24,000 riders a year, Daily trains pass through on Illinois routes traveling from Chicago to downstate destinations, as well as Amtrak’s Southwest Chief that travels from Chicago to Los Angeles over a two-day span.

But that long distance route could be in jeopardy after President Donald Trump released his budget blueprint last week.

His proposed budget makes cuts across most departments, but increases spending for defense, homeland security and veterans.

The blueprint is a wish list of what the administration would like to see in the budget, but the constitution requires any budget to begin in the House of Representatives.

The budget deals with $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending, but it will have both positive and negative impacts on residents of the Illinois Valley.

Here are three things to take away from the proposed budget.

No. 1: Cuts to Cross Country Travel

The proposed budget “terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services,” a move that would affect the Southwest Chief that moves through Mendota and Princeton and the California Zephyr that also travels through Princeton. Regional routes, such as those from Chicago to downstate cities, would not be cut.

The Princeton station sees more than 37,000 riders per year.

Amtrak is a corporation in which the federal government is the majority stockholder. The board is appointed by the president, subject to Senate approval, and is run as a for-profit company.

The proposed budget says that long-distance routes “have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.” The proposed budget would instead have Amtrak focus on state-supported routes and the Northeast Corridor, where more people ride Amtrak between New York City and Washington, D.C. than fly planes.

Amtrak runs 15 long-distance routes, and president and chief executive officer Wick Moorman said they are an important part of the Amtrak system.

“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and State-Supported services,” he said in a statement. “Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently - we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 – but these services all require Federal investment.”

No. 2: No more utility assitance

The proposed budget eliminates several community grants, including one used by low- and fixed-income people to pay utilities.

The federal assistance Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Community Services Block Grants would be completely eliminated.

It came as a surprise to Terri Lawrence, president and chief executive officer of the Tri-County Opportunities Council that oversees the programs in North Central Illinois.

“We were not prepared,” Lawrence said.

She said the energy program mostly benefits senior citizens and people with disabilities. She stressed it is not a handout, while the grants can go towards many different programs in the community.

“We don’t just give them money. They go into case management as well,” Lawrence said. The goal is get the people who need the money now on a path to being self-sufficient later. “We really look at the outcomes of the clients being served.”

Tri-Counties stands to lose about $4 million in Federal funds for the energy program – which serves 7,700 people Tri-Counties’s service area in North Central Illinois – and another $710,000 for the community grants if the program is cut from the budget as proposed.

No. 3: More help for veterans

The budget proposal is not just cuts to social service programs. It includes increases in spending for veteran services.

Steven Kreitzer, superintendent of the La Salle County Veterans Assistance Commission, said a lot of the proposed budget would go toward doctors and clinicians, rather than facilities.

Veteran care is controlled by geography, Kreitzer said, and investing in technology and care can improve the experience of veterans in more rural areas.

For instance, rather than hiring a specialist at the La Salle VA Clinic which might not be cost efficient, the budget will invest in telecommunications, allowing someone to see a specialist via video conference from the La Salle offices.

Kreitzer also hopes to see a streamlined Choice program. The program is in place to help veterans who, either live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment, locate a doctor that is either closer or has openings sooner.

“Right now, it’s very systematic,” Kreitzer said. “If you don’t follow the steps, the VA wipes their hands of it and won’t pay for anything.”


One St. Louis-area Republican's shuttle diplomacy in the health-care quicksand
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   By Chuck Raasch
Candidates--Federal (13) , Obamacare, Affordable Care Act
WASHINGTON • Rep. Rodney Davis thought he was about to cast a long-anticipated vote to begin repealing and replacing Obamacare on Thursday.

Instead, he took another trip to the White House, part of the extraordinary and sometimes confusing shuttle diplomacy that was going on inside the Republican Party on health care reform this week.

Davis, R-Taylorville, and Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, are among a small group of Republican vote-counters in the U.S. House on the Republicans' American Health Care Act. They're “whips” in the parlance of what is often called legislative sausage making.

This week, the process was more like a hot dish in which ingredients kept getting added and removed, depending on whether it was moderates or conservatives in the House Republican caucus who were unhappy with the current recipe.

The GOP has the votes to end Obamacare but no cohesive philosophy to replace it with something that won't potentially hurt some of their members at the ballot box in 2018.

The pot finally boiled over late Thursday with the postponement of a vote that Republicans had been promising to have since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, exactly seven years ago to the day.

“We are in the midst of doing what a majority does,” said Davis, trying to put the best spin forward. “Negotiating among members to find out what their priorities are.”

He added, a touch of frustration in his voice:

“Obviously, they are still trying to negotiate to see how many votes we can get on our side. The Democrats have basically held their hands up in the air, saying, ‘We don’t want to help at all,’ even though just a few short months ago former President Clinton called this system a disaster.”

Indeed, before the vote was postponed, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who took an entire year to cobble the votes necessary to pass Obamacare in 2010 while Republicans stood unified in opposition, declared with outward satisfaction that the AHCA vote would be “tattooed” on every Republican’s forehead in 2018 congressional campaigns.

Shortly after the vote was postponed, Davis, a member of the moderate “Tuesday Group” wing of his party, was headed back down Pennsylvania Avenue for another meeting with President Donald Trump to see how the GOP could keep moderates in the ranks while doing enough to get conservatives to come along with them.

It was Davis’s second trip to meet with Trump in three days. Wagner, who was not available for comment after the postponement, has also been in private strategy meetings with Trump. Even if they're successful, moderate Senate Republicans and resistant Democrats would likely force big changes in the bill, anyway.

Trump has embraced the AHCA as his own bill, despite pushback from the right wing of his party. Many in the House Freedom Caucus pushed for concessions in an original bill they say keeps in place too many Obamacare guarantees, including removal of tax credits, minimum-coverage guarantees on things like maternity and mental health care, they say are impediments to a truly free health-care market.

Those concessions produced even more bad news for the GOP, when the Congressional Budget Office predicted just as many people would lose health care while the deficit would be reduced less under the new version of the Republican bill.

Consequently, the shuttling back and forth as Trump and congressional leaders have tried to negotiate compromises that would not drive away too many conservatives or moderates.

“He is a great closer, he gets it, he is 100 percent engaged in helping us pass this bill,” Davis told the Post-Dispatch.

Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign that Obamacare was so broken that repealing it would be easy. Democrats, standing on the sidelines this week, have frequently referenced those claims.

“I don’t think it helps any Republican,” Davis admitted, referring to the postponement. “The American people gave us an opportunity to really live up to our promises we have been making since, I know in my case, since 2012 (the year he was elected to Congress), that we are going to fix a broken system of Obamacare. I don’t think it bodes well.”

Davis's story shows how Republicans are confronting the realities of the wide partisan gaps in the country and, to a degree, the intensity gaps inside their own party. He's more willing to retain some parts of Obamacare than Freedom Caucus detractors because he represents a district very different from more hard-core conservative opponents.

The differences are exacerbated because no two states have had the same experience under Obamacare. Missouri did not expand Medicaid, Illinois did. Where would the GOP repeal and replace leave each state?

“Remember we have a wide variety of Republicans who represent a wide variety of constituents, so they all have got different needs,” Davis said. “Our Medicaid issues in the state of Illinois are much different than the needs and Medicaid issues in the state of Missouri. Se we have to take all that into consideration.”

Trump won Davis’s 13th congressional district over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a narrow 5.5 percentage points in November.

By comparison, in the neighboring district of Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, Trump won by more than 46 points. It's no secret why Shimkus is a firm yes on the GOP plan while Davis, while also a supporter, is among the moderates trying to seek compromise.

Meanwhile, Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, R-N.C., represents a district that went almost 2-1 to Trump. Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats, represents a San Francisco district that voted for Clinton over Trump, 86.7 percent to 8.7 percent. There are virtually no political consequences for either in holding to hard lines, even as Davis tries to seek compromise inside that party.

Nicklaus: States' economic handouts are poorly targeted
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Commentary  |   By David Nicklaus
Economic Development (35) , Economy (34)
When taxpayers subsidize private companies, we’d like to think there’s some rhyme or reason to who gets how much.

There isn’t, according to a new study that provides the most comprehensive look yet at economic development incentives. The author, Timothy Bartik of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, calculates that state and local governments handed out $45 billion of tax breaks in 2015.

That’s a big number. It amounts to 30 percent of all business taxes collected in the states Bartik studied.

Moreover, the money isn’t well-targeted. It doesn’t favor, in any systematic way, industries that pay higher wages, do more research or have other measurable benefits to the community.

Missouri subsidizes eating and drinking places more heavily than motor vehicle manufacturers, if you measure how much of an industry’s taxes are returned as incentives, even though General Motors pays higher wages than Ballpark Village.

Illinois is more generous with handouts, and focuses them better on high-value-added industries such as manufacturing and technology, but it also makes some big sector bets. In 2015 and 2016, according to a separate report by Bloomberg BNA, one-third of the state’s job-creation tax credits went to three Amazon warehouses.

Landing three locations of a growing company was a coup, but Amazon needs Illinois more than Illinois needs Amazon. It can hardly ignore the fifth-most-populous state if it wants to bring same-day delivery within every American’s reach.

Besides, Amazon has displaced thousands of workers at traditional stores. Its disruption of retailing may be inevitable, but the state doesn’t need to help speed it along.

Overall, Bartik finds that use of incentives has no clear connection with economic growth. “A state’s political culture and past practices seem to dictate incentives more than state economic and fiscal conditions,” he writes.

In other words, states hand out money because they’ve always done so, or because a governor wants to generate votes. “There are huge political incentives to incenting jobs, as this allows credit-claiming by political leaders,” Bartik said in an email.

He also says tax credits have “considerable political inertia” once established. Beneficiaries of the goodies hire lobbyists, while taxpayers barely notice their share of the cost.

Missouri is one of the few states that has dialed back subsidies. Its incentives, as a percentage of industry value-added, dropped by nearly half in 2014 when the state replaced its Quality Jobs program with the less expensive Missouri Works.

In 2015, Missouri’s handouts represented 0.8 percent of the value businesses created in the state, and 16 percent of the taxes they generated. Those figures are well below the national averages of 1.4 percent and 30 percent.

The study didn’t include tax-increment financing, which is heavily used here, because of data problems. Among the incentives Bartik did count, Missouri’s seem scattershot. Bars and restaurants got back 31 percent of taxes they paid, versus 16 percent for vehicle and parts manufacturers. Securities firms got incentives equal to 27 percent of their taxes, while electronics manufacturers got 17 percent.

“I think incentives come out of political expediency,” says Joseph Haslag, an economics professor at the University of Missouri.

“They tend to go to fairly large employers … There is some industrial policy going on, and that’s a kind of snake oil.”

Beginning this year, a new accounting standard requires governments to report how much revenue they’ve given away in the name of economic development. We can hope that some eye-popping numbers will make the snake oil harder to sell.

Circus at state Senate
State Journal Register
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Letter to Editor  |   Gary Stritzel
Budget--State (8) , Legislature (56)

A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited the Illinois Senate to witness their early votes on the "Grand Bargain," and my frustrations with these clowns reached a new high.

Upon entering the chamber we were politely told to remove our hats, take no pictures and have no food. That sounded all fine — until the session began. I understood the removal of hats was symbolic, a respect paid to the chamber itself as the Senate was doing the "people's business." However, because of all of the side conversations and near party-like atmosphere on the floor itself, we were unable to hear the business being conducted. The term "called to order" had no meaning whatsoever, and there was no respect from the floor to the people who had come to witness government at work.

As I looked over the railing, we saw senators eating ribs, salads, sandwiches and whatever. To boot, there were plenty of senators and staff taking cellphone pictures on the floor of the chamber.

As I walked away from the building, I told my wife that the short time we had just spent in the Senate was symbolic of the circus Illinois residents have been witnessing. On that day, these yoyos showed no respect to the chamber they serve in, nor to the people they serve. And they have shown no respect to Illinois citizens for the last several years as they pretend to work toward solutions to solve the crisis they created.

What say you, Senate?

Gary Stritzel


Department on Aging: Innovative changes needed for senior care in Illinois
State Journal Register
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Jean Bohnhoff
SeniorCare (81)

For decades, the Illinois Department on Aging has maintained a strong commitment to supporting older adults in their own homes through community-based services. Through its partnership with the aging network, the department has succeeded at diverting many older adults from more costly nursing facility care while supporting their ability to remain independent and improving their overall quality of life.

We've had some success, but we've also learned there are areas where we can do better. While Illinois spends 3.7 times the national average on older adults who are not eligible for Medicaid, we also have many low-need individuals in nursing homes.

These are difficult facts to face: With an aging population that is projected to more than double by 2030, it's incumbent upon us to acknowledge that improvements can and must be made in order to serve seniors in a more effective and cost-efficient way and increase our ability to serve new clients.

Society is changing, advancing. The last 30 years have brought amazing innovations in technology and service delivery. Yet despite all these advancements, we continue to serve our clients the same way we did three decades ago.

Groups such as AARP and the National Association of State Units on Aging (NASUAD) have conducted studies and advocated for the use of more advanced methods and technologies to help care for seniors.

Motivated by a desire to serve an increasing number of older adults and provide a greater menu of services to address unmet needs, IDoA has developed a responsible and proactive solution through the Community Reinvestment Program that bridges modern advancements and senior care.

Seniors in Illinois not eligible for Medicaid currently receiving services through the Community Care Program will be transitioned to the Community Reinvestment Program and have access to the same core services offered under CCP. In addition to these core services, participants will be offered a menu of flexible services to help meet their needs. Services such as medication management, companion services and mental health services and one-time expenses for home modifications and assistive technology may be among the services offered to clients.

The health and security of our older adult population is a fundamental component of the mission of IDoA. All core CCP service providers will still be held to CCP standards and protections; Regional Options Services providers will have standards developed by the local AAAs and outlined in their contracts to ensure the safety and security of all of our clients.

This is not a new concept: States such as Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana utilize a two-tier system to serve both Medicaid and non-Medicaid older adults. Florida — with a population most similar to that of Illinois' older adult population — has successfully kept seniors in their homes by providing services using a similar structure for 20 years. After administering a successful demonstration program which established a framework for providing a larger menu of services with minimal bureaucracy, IDoA was able to blend the successful models used by other states with a variety of innovative flexible services to create CRP.

As society progresses and improves, it's important that older generations are not left behind. If we continue operating the way we have for the last 30 years, we will miss out on countless new and innovative ways to provide a better quality of life for our seniors. We cannot improve services for our clients both today and in the future if we don't make changes in how we deliver those services — CRP allows us the opportunity to make necessary changes in a responsible way that can sustain the projected growth in the older adult population and provide them with the services and supports that will keep them safe, secure and living independently.

— Jean Bohnhoff is the director for the Illinois Department on Aging


Illinois judge rules in favor of lawmakers seeking pay
State Journal Register
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Comptroller (21) , Legislature (56)
A Cook County judge ruled Thursday that Illinois lawmakers must be paid on time despite their failure to pass a budget, which has caused a pileup of more than $12.8 billion worth of unpaid bills.

Last year, then-Comptroller Leslie Munger, an appointee of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, put lawmaker paychecks in line with Illinois' other past-due bills in an effort to make lawmakers feel the pain of the budget stalemate.

Cook County Circuit Judge Rodolfo Garcia ruled current Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza needs to pay up, citing a 2014 law passed after then-Gov. Pat Quinn withheld paychecks over pension reform.

Several Democratic legislators sued Munger, claiming she was in violation of the Illinois Constitution through executive-branch interference with the legislature. They also claimed she and Rauner were holding up legislators' paychecks for political leverage.

Mendoza said she planned to comply with the order. She also said she would ask her lawyers to appeal the judge's ruling.

"As former Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka did in a 2013 legislator-pay case, I will release the back paychecks to all elected officials consistent with the judge's order," Mendoza said in a statement.

Munger, who is now deputy governor, issued a statement saying the victory by legislators was an example of lawmakers putting their own paychecks ahead of taxpayers, human services and those in need.

"For more than two years, lawmakers have failed to do their job and now believe they should be paid for doing nothing," she said, adding that Mendoza should ask for an immediate stay of the ruling pending her appeal.

Munger announced last April that she would put legislative pay at the back of the line like other overdue vendor bills until members of the House and Senate and Rauner reached agreement on a full-year state budget.

Mendoza defeated Munger in a special election last year, but she kept her predecessor's policy on lawmaker paychecks. Legislators' June paychecks weren't issued until January. Several have been vocal about their disdain over not getting paid in a timely manner amid the state's two-year budget impasse.

The base legislative salary — unchanged in eight years — is $67,836, but most every legislator gets a stipend of $10,327 or more for extra duties.


Thumbs Down: To the never-ending Mendoza-Rauner blame game
State Journal Register
Friday, March 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Comptroller (21) , Rauner, Bruce
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza are taking the only sport that matters in Illinois politics — scoring partisan points against an opponent — to a depressingly new low level.
Through cleverly worded soundbites and scathing news releases, the two have been flinging accusations at each other for weeks now. There's a litany of accusations between the two but it boils down to this: Mendoza blames Rauner for causing the state's financial woes due to the record 21-month budget impasse, while the governor alleges the comptroller is collaborating with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to push the state into an even more dire crisis mode.

Their feud showcases the worst aspects of Illinois' partisan politics, and that's what helped get us into this mess in the first place. The most galling part of this fight is both claim to care about the people paying the consequences of the Capitol's inaction. It's eluding us, but perhaps one of them can explain how trading barbs is going to benefit anyone.

The only ones invested in who "wins" this battle are other politicians. Among those who don't care: Anyone affected by the $12.8 billion backlog in unpaid bills, like the social service agencies turning away clients. Or the small businesses and hospitals that provided goods and services months ago but still haven't been paid. Don't forget the universities jacking up tuition and considering shutting their doors for good. And most important of all: The real people affected by the difficult decisions those agencies and organizations have had to make.

Illinois' financial boondoggle was created by many people over decades. Yes, the damage has accelerated during Rauner's term because of the lack of a budget. But he alone does not shoulder that blame: There are 177 other people who play a role in approving an annual spending plan.

We're tired of the blame. There's more than enough work to go around to fix the state's budget problems. It's time for Rauner and Mendoza to put their staffs back to work doing that, rather than trying to win a war of headlines.