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Full text for Articles for Yesterday, Monday, July 16, 2018 - 20 Articles


School-funding formula change is proof of meaningful reform
Champaign News Gazette
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Ralph Martire
Education Funding (36a)

Political discourse in the nation generally and our state specifically appears to have hit an all-time low.


In the Beltway, we have a president who regularly engages in character assassination against those who oppose — or even question — him. This in turn has led some of his most strident adversaries to suggest countering the president by adopting similar tactics.


Not to be outdone, most of the television campaign ads aired in the current Illinois gubernatorial race have taken the word "negative" to new highs, or lows, depending on your perspective. Sigh. All this negativity and character assassination make it harder for needed reforms to become law.


Which is a shame — because when politicians put aside sniping and toxicity to pass meaningful legislation, they actually help build a better future for everyone. For proof, look no further than Springfield and the historic change to Illinois' school-funding formula — the Evidence Based Funding for Student Success Act — that passed on a bipartisan basis last summer.


Why was this legislation historic? Well, because overnight, it transformed Illinois' school-funding formula from the worst in America — as in least fair in distribution and most inadequate in total investment — to the best. The reason for this transformation is simple: the measure ties the dollar amount taxpayers invest in schools to the cost of funding those educational practices, which the research demonstrates actually improves student achievement over time.


Contrast that to Illinois' old "foundation formula," which was never tied to any actual costs of educating students. Indeed, under that flawed, prior law, a minimum expenditure per pupil — known as the "foundation level," was simply set at a dollar amount decision makers felt the state could afford. Given Illinois' woeful fiscal condition, it's no wonder that approach led to an inadequate investment in public education.


Worse, under the old formula, the problems associated with having an inadequate level of overall school funding were compounded by a distribution model that was inequitable in application. Part of this inequity was driven by utilization of a foundation level of school funding per pupil that was the same for all districts across Illinois — irrespective of the different needs of students in widely diverse communities.


The new measure changes all that by identifying a unique amount of resources each school-district needs — called its "Adequacy Target" — to implement the evidence-based educational practices that enhance student achievement, taking into account the specific demographic profile of the student population that school district serves.


This ensures that, when fully funded, the new formula will generate an adequate total investment in public education overall, that will be distributed to all districts equitably. Hence, additional resources will automatically flow to districts with significant low-income, special-needs or English-learner populations, based on the evidence of what's necessary.


As it stands now, the new act is not fully funded. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the evidence shows some $7 billion more must be invested in K-12 education. Recognizing that it may take years to reach full funding, the act was designed to ensure any new investments being made in the interim actually reach the schools furthest away from their respective Adequacy Targets.


Now, the really good news: After one year of implementation, the act is working exactly as intended. For instance, $395.6 million in new funding for education was distributed in the legislation's first year. Of that amount, $113.4 million — or almost 30 percent, went to the

5 percent of school districts that were furthest away from having adequate resources based on the evidence.


In fact, the distribution of new funding under the act has very closely tracked concentration of low-income and English learner students, focusing new money where it's most needed. Which means the act isn't just some feel-good construct passed for political gain — but rather real proof that elected officials can accomplish meaningful reform that actually serves the public interest, when they put partisanship aside.


Ralph Martire is executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank, and the Arthur Rubloff professor of public policy at Roosevelt University. Reach him at rmartire@ctbaonline.org.

Rauner OKs bill so families can cite mental issues to take guns from loved ones
Chicago Sun Times
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Alexandra Arriaga
Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46)

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday signed a bill that allows families and law enforcement agencies to take guns away from a loved one by citing mental illness.


The measure creates a “Lethal Violence Order of Protection,” similar to an order of protection in domestic violence cases. Among other things, it allows an immediate family member of a law enforcement official to petition the court for an order of protection. The court also would be allowed to restrain an individual from purchasing or possessing a firearm for one year.

It was opposed by the National Rifle Association, in part because of concerns about curtailing the due-process rights of gun owners.


The process is “rigorous, there has to be a judge … proof,” Rauner said Monday at the Thompson Center as he signed the bill.


“We want to protect gun owners rights but for those deemed to be dangerous, not let them have guns.”


This is a developing story. Check for details.

First black lawmaker to lead Illinois Democratic Party: 'People of color are becoming more engaged'
Chicago Tribune
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Rick Pearson
Candidates--Statewide (12)

State Rep. Christian Mitchell, the new interim executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, says his selection represents an evolution of the political organization.

“To me, my hope is that my elevation to this role talks about the changing face of the Democratic Party,” Mitchell, the first African-American to hold the post, said Sunday on WGN-AM 720.

Mitchell said the Democratic Party is “becoming younger. It’s becoming more tech savvy. People of color are becoming more engaged and so I hope that I’m a foot in the door for that — that sort of changing guard and style of leadership.”

A special panel picked Mitchell last week to serve as interim executive director of the party organization through the November election. He replaces longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan’s former Chief of Staff Tim Mapes, who was ousted after being accused of harassment.

Mitchell led a protest of Democrats and allied groups in Rosemont on Friday outside an appearance of Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“What you saw at that demonstration was the beginning of making sure we are as active as possible in organizing the energy out there to push back on what Gov. Rauner’s done to our state, what Donald Trump is doing to our country,” Mitchell said.


Guns can be removed from those deemed dangerous under law Rauner signed today
Chicago Tribune
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Robert McCoppin
Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46)

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Monday a measure allowing police to take away guns from those judged in court to pose a threat.


Rauner said at a news conference he was “proud” to sign the violence-prevention measure, noting it was supported by law enforcement and calling it “a very important step forward to increase safety for the people of our state.”


The so-called “red flag” bill will allow family members or police to seek an order of protection to confiscate guns from those deemed “an immediate and present danger” to themselves or others.


The Firearms Restraining Order Act is among two proposals approved by the General Assembly this year that attempt to take tools traditionally used against domestic violence and apply them to prevent gun violence. Another measure would allow schools, houses of worship and workplaces, rather than just individuals, to petition a judge for a no-contact order against someone viewed as a threat.


Lawmakers approved the measures largely in response to recent mass shootings at a high school in Parkland, Fla., and at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Md.


The red flag initiative, similar to measures passed recently in several other states, was backed by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.


Illinois House approves plan allowing six-month suspension of gun rights for people showing 'red flags' »


It will allow family members or police to ask a judge to temporarily remove firearms from someone who has displayed threatening or dangerous behavior.

“This is something we think will ultimately save lives,” Executive Director Colleen Daley said. She emphasized that the council negotiated with gun rights organizations, police and domestic violence groups to craft legislation that would be met with wide acceptance.


State Rep. Kathleen Willis, a Democrat from Addison who sponsored the measure, sees it as a way to help prevent both mass shootings and suicides. She said the bill allows families to try to head off problems based on red flags of erratic behavior, before violence occurs. After four years of working on passing the bill, Willis said she was “thrilled” that the governor would sign it.


Both pieces of legislation passed by large margins but have raised some concerns among gun rights advocates, lawyers and domestic violence activists as to how the measures will work in practice.


Gun rights lobbyists said there is a risk the laws could be used maliciously to take someone’s guns unfairly or damage their reputation. And domestic violence groups expressed fear that attempting to confiscate guns from someone who’s unstable might prompt a dangerous outburst by that person.


The sponsor of the no-contact order bill, state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Republican from Crystal Lake, said the idea came as a reaction to shootings at Parkland and Northern Illinois University and out of her participation in the governor’s working group on public safety.


The law would allow a representative of a school, workplace or house of worship to seek a no-contact order to prohibit a person from entering the building if that person has exhibited threatening behavior.


Wheeler said she consulted a Lake County judge for suggestions on shootings that might be prevented by keeping dangerous people away from schools and other targeted sites. The measure got bipartisan support and passed unanimously in both chambers. Wheeler said the governor’s office indicated he would sign it in late July or early August.


The governor’s office has not commented on whether he will sign the measure.


Attorney Lori Levin described the no-contact order as “an interesting idea that may be necessary.” But she raised concern about whether restricting someone’s access to a place of worship could be challenged as a freedom of religion violation.


Using laws traditionally aimed at domestic violence can be problematic, warned Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her group supports the new bill for no-contact orders, citing an example of business co-owners who she said are being stalked and harassed by a former employee. But the coalition has concerns about the new proposal for orders of protection.


Smith gave a hypothetical example of a mother who gets an order of protection to take guns away from her son because he’s doing drugs and acting irrationally. She said the concern is that when police try to confiscate his guns, he could lash out angrily, creating a potentially dangerous situation.


“I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but I don’t think an order of protection is the way to go about it,” Smith said. She suggested that other measures aimed at gun control would be more effective.


An order of protection cannot by itself prevent violence, she said, but when someone shows up at 3 a.m. threatening a victim at home, it depends on police and the justice system to enforce it. And victims must be aware of the enforcement of court orders ahead of time so they can protect themselves, she said. The bill does contain a provision asking that police give advance notice to anyone in an “intimate” relationship with the subject of the order.


On the other side of the issue, the Illinois State Rifle Association initially opposed the new order of protection bill but negotiated limits on the proposal that allowed the group to drop its opposition.


Sponsors agreed to shorten the period of gun removal from one year to six months, to provide an avenue to appeal such orders and to allow prosecutors to lodge perjury charges against anyone making false accusations. To appease gun owners’ concerns that a false accusation could haunt them, the law also provides that if the petition to take the guns is denied, the court file will be expunged, and if the order is granted, it will be sealed after three years.


The hearing and order to do so may be done ex parte, or without notice to the person who is the subject of the hearing, but the subject can petition for a hearing within two weeks. The measure serves an important goal to help to prevent suicide and has provisions to ensure due process, rifle association Executive Director Richard Pearson said, though he still worries it may be misused.


“I’m concerned that people will use this maliciously,” Pearson said. “You’ve got to be extraordinarily careful with these rights. You need a way for (those accused) to get out if they did nothing.”

Ultimately, the laws will fall on police to enforce. If a judge finds a person is a threat, the judge will issue a search warrant allowing police to seize the person’s firearms and firearm owner’s identification card.


Local police already have the right to ask the state to revoke firearm owners’ identification cards. This new proposed law would only suspend someone’s FOID card, and it would be automatically reinstated after six months unless the court finds grounds to renew the suspension.


In determining whether someone poses a danger, a judge may consider the following factors: unlawful or reckless use, display or brandishing of a firearm; history of use of force or threatened force; prior felony arrests; abuse of controlled substances or alcohol; a recent threat or act of violence; a violation of a domestic violence emergency order of protection; or a pattern of violent acts or threats.


The petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the person poses a danger to himself or herself or to someone else by having a firearm.


The person whose guns are taken may petition to give them to a friend with a firearm owner’s ID card. That person must swear not to give the firearms back without authorization.


The Illinois State Police declined comment. In a report the agency issued about the proposed legislation, state police noted that if the new law causes a lot of FOID card suspensions, the agency may have to hire additional analysts for about $100,000 a year each to process the paperwork.

Morning Spin
Chicago Tribune
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker reported a $100,000 donation from a prominent attorney who supported Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 2014 campaign.

Pritzker this weekend reported receiving the money from James Sprayregen, a restructuring and bankruptcy attorney at Kirkland & Ellis. Records show Sprayregen gave a total of $20,000 to Rauner in 2013 and 2014. He’s also given $80,800 to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel since 2010.

Sprayregen’s check to Pritzker was among $238,880 that the campaign of the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune reported over the weekend.

Another of Pritzker’s donors was James Star, president and CEO of Longview Asset Management, with $77,000.

The checks he reported this weekend are relatively rare for his campaign in that they didn’t come from his own bank account. He’s given his campaign more than $100 million so far. (Rick Pearson)

What’s on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel has no events scheduled.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner will hold a Thompson Center event to act on legislation that would let police in Illinois take away guns from those judged in court to pose a threat.

*Second quarter campaign finance reports are due at midnight for state candidates. They’ve been flowing in already. Click refresh here to watch.

From the notebook

*Mitchell says Dems moving in new direction: State Rep. Christian Mitchell, the new interim executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, says his selection represents an evolution of the political organization.

“To me, my hope is that my elevation to this role talks about the changing face of the Democratic Party,” Mitchell, the first African American to hold the post, said on WGN-AM 720.

Mitchell said the Democratic Party is “becoming younger. It’s becoming more tech savvy. People of color are becoming more engaged and so I hope that I’m a foot in the door for that — that sort of changing guard and style of leadership.”

Mitchell led a protest of Democrats and allied groups in Rosemont on Friday outside an appearance of Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner used the event to endorse the Trump White House.

“What you saw at that demonstration was the beginning of making sure we are as active as possible in organizing the energy out there to push back on what Gov. Rauner’s done to our state, what Donald Trump is doing to our country,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was named Tuesday by a special panel to serve as interim executive director of the party organization through the November election. He replaces Tim Mapes, who was ousted after harassment allegations surfaced against him. (Rick Pearson)

*Brown just a regular person: Mayoral candidate and Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown disputes any involvement in a long-running corruption investigation into her office.

“I had nothing to do with giving anyone jobs. You can look at my finances and tell that I didn’t take any money from anyone because I’m just like a regular everyday person managing from day to day,” Brown said Sunday on WGN-AM 720.

Brown’s latest campaign finance report shows she had only $2,571 in cash on hand entering July, while reporting $45,255 in campaign debts, largely to herself.

Brown has never been charged in the investigation. Elected as circuit clerk in 2000, she said she has been a “proven vote-getter” even despite the ethical clouds surrounding her office. (Rick Pearson)

*On the “Sunday Spin”: Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson’s guests were Brown; Zach Koutsky, political director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881 on the fair workweek proposal; and Chicago state Rep. Christian Mitchell, the new interim executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois. The “Sunday Spin” airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on WGN AM-720. Listen to the full show here.

What we’re writing

*Who was in Asia with Emanuel? Campaign donors, lobbyists, developers, business heavyweights.

*Durbin: More work needed to make sure Russian hack of voter database “never happens again.”

*Rauner embraces Trump White House in Rosemont, calls Pence among the “greatest leaders in American history.”

*Illinois elections board “very likely” named in Mueller indictment of Russian hackers, officials say.

*Southern Illinois University president is out amid swirling controversy.

*Longtime Illinois GOP strategist John McGovern, known for “impeccable ethics” and “good political gut,” dies at 48.

*Woman berated for Puerto Rican flag shirt hopes her experience “shines a light on what’s going on with racism.”

What we’re reading

*Man fatally shot by police identified; police release body camera footage of incident

*Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's corruption trial now set to begin in January.

*Cleanup of Pence family gas stations cost Indiana more than $20 million.

*Michael Che at the Vic: “Uncle Grumpy” gives a blunt, funny toast to Chicago.

Follow the money

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

Beyond Chicago

*“Maybe he’ll be a friend.” Trump to meet with Putin.

*Gowdy against impeaching Rosenstein.

*Stolen papers reveal Iran weapons research.

*France wins World Cup.

Rauner’s ‘toilet’ attack on Pritzker is a real loo-loo
Chicago Tribune
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Column  |   Eric Zorn
Rauner, Bruce

Welcome to “Potty Talk,” a forum in which I will attempt to answer questions about the recent spate of “Go Flush Yourself, J.B. Pritzker” attack ads from supporters of Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The incumbent Republican and political action committees aligned with him have been airing TV commercials against his Democratic challenger in the November election by calling attention to the significant property tax break Pritzker received on a Gold Coast mansion he’d purchased next door to his own much-larger mansion based on his claim that the second house was uninhabitable.

Part of that claim was that the toilets in the second mansion were not hooked up. Though this story was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times in May 2017 and came up during the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Rauner and his backers have given it new and greater prominence not only by airing the commercials but also by sending campaign personnel to Pritzker campaign events with commodes, by putting up posters reading “Where in the world are J.B. Pritzker’s toilets?” and by selling $25 “Pritzker Plumbing, Inc.” T-shirts at a website dedicated to this story.

Q. It’s a brilliantly simple political attack — an easy-to-tell story designed to provoke indignation and contempt, with the comedy bonus of toilets. But is it true?

A. It’s true that contractors working for Pritzker disconnected the toilets and removed other fixtures from the second, unoccupied house.

It’s true that this was one of the reasons the office of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios reduced its assessed value in 2016 to about $1.1 million from $6.25 million.

And it’s true that when applied retroactively, this reduction saved Pritzker approximately $230,000.

Q. What’s not true?

A. It’s not true that Pritzker destroyed or removed any porcelain thrones — some of the commercials inaccurately show an actor playing Pritzker taking a sledgehammer to one toilet and tossing a bomb into another.

READ MORE: Records: Mansion used in Rauner's 'Porcelain Prince' ad got its own tax reduction »

It’s not true that disconnecting the toilets was either necessary or sufficient to obtain an assessment reduction. Berrios’ spokesman Tom Shaer said by email that “a home can have working plumbing but still be uninhabitable” and if unconnected toilets “had been the only situation in the (second) home, the assessor’s office would have taken a much, much less favorable view of vacancy claim.”

And it’s not true that such a reduction is evidence of a “rigged” tax system or that Pritzker was “corrupt” when he applied for and received the reduction, as commercials have alleged.

Q. Why does Pritzker say he disconnected the toilets?

A. He has said that it was part of an overall renovation project that stopped at one point but has since been restarted. And photographs on file at the assessor’s office show evidence of significant construction in the vacant home, including ripped-up walls and floors, and missing kitchen appliances. Shaer described it as “a major gut rehab” and added “the characterization of the renovation of this Pritzker property as being only or primarily ‘disconnecting toilets’ is grossly inaccurate.”

Q. Is it unusual for property owners to have their assessments lowered on property that’s temporarily uninhabitable during repairs, renovations or construction?

A. No. Such reductions are common, and they’re meant to incentivize owners to upgrade or fix structures. Shaer described them as “a mutual investment in the property. The owner puts up all the cash (for rehab or construction), and the county simply foregoes full taxation during the renovation period in order to receive greater revenue, permanently, after improvement of the property is complete.”

Q. Did Berrios, then chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, do a special favor for Pritzker, then the favorite candidate for governor of Democratic insiders, when he dramatically lowered the assessment?

A. The cynics with their dancing eyebrows are saying yes. “Pritzker’s insider scheme to dodge taxes is shocking,” keened the spokesman for the Illinois GOP.

But Berrios, who lost his primary and is no longer party chair, is saying no.

“The analyst deciding the vacancy/uninhabitable issue for this property had no idea it was a Pritzker-owned property,” said Shaer. “He had never seen the name Pritzker connected to any property he worked on. For this property, the name on the (appeal) paperwork was Thomas Muenster, manager of a Pritzker-owned trust.”

Q. Since Pritzker angled for a break in his property taxes, is it hypocritical of him to campaign for graduated state income tax rates, as Rauner’s commercials allege?

A. Hypocrisy in public policy is wanting or seeking a benefit for yourself that you would not grant to others. Pritzker’s aims — to pay the lowest taxes the law allows while promoting a rate system that would dramatically boost his own income taxes — may seem inconsistent, but they’re not hypocritical.

Q. What has Pritzker said about these allegations?

A. Not much. When asked about the toilets in primary debates, he brushed off the reduction as the result of a routine assessment appeal and pivoted to but-what-about questions regarding his opponents and to the necessity of making property taxes more fair and accurate. At one point he bleated, “I certainly have discovered the flaws in the system.”

Q. What flaws?

A. Good question, given the consensus that it benefits society when owners rehab homes and is therefore sensible for government to provide tax incentives. But Pritzker’s campaign didn’t offer an answer when I sent over a list of questions about l’affaire toilette earlier this week.

The campaign also didn’t explain why Pritzker bought a house next door to the huge house he already owned or why the rehab stopped and started. Fourteen months after this story broke, several weeks into a barrage of related attacks from Rauner, Pritzker still doesn’t have a strong rebuttal.

Q. But won’t voters see the ads as juvenile and the accusation as trivial?

A. Rauner and his backers clearly don’t think so. We’re at the point in the campaign cycle when candidates try to define their opponents to voters who are just starting to pay attention. And if Pritzker is counting on busy people to independently seek out the truth behind the slogans and cutesy accusations in these relentless TV commercials, he risks sending his candidacy right down the drain.


Twitter @EricZorn

How could Blago and Rudd get same sentence?
Daily Herald
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Judith Reed
Blagojevich, Rod

After reading Tuesday's Daily Herald regarding the guilty verdict of Donnie Rudd for killing his wife, I am totally baffled by our judicial system. Mr. Rudd's sentence was a minimum of 14 years. When I read the "14 year sentence" it jarred my memory -- didn't our former governor Rod Blagojevich receive the same sentence for intent to sell Obama's senate seat?

I don't understand the vast disparity in the crimes leading to the same verdict. There is something drastically wrong with our laws when someone can kill another human being and get the same sentence as someone who was trying make an illegal profit selling a senate seat.

Judith Reed

Mt. Prospect

New Illinois program to offer retirement savings plan
Effingham Daily News
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |  
Treasurer (92)

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A new state program will automatically deduct money from the paychecks of about 1.2 million Illinois residents for retirement savings.

The move could reduce the use of food stamps, Medicaid and other publicly funded social programs, said Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs. Illinois Secure Choice is being phased in more than three years after becoming law, The Daily Herald reported.

The state-sponsored retirement program works with certain businesses with 25 or more employees. The businesses will be connected with a financial firm that will provide ways for workers to build retirement savings with after-tax cash deducted from each paycheck for a Roth individual retirement account.

Workers will be eligible for automatic enrollment, 5 percent of gross pay being deducted and placed in a retirement fund. Enrollees will be able to switch savings rates and retirement funds or can opt out of the program.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes it, calling it a "poor substitute" for typical employer-provided retirement plans.

Eight businesses have volunteered to be in the Secure Choice pilot program, Frerichs said. All companies with 25 or more workers must be part of the program or contract directly with firms that handle employee retirement accounts by November 2019.

Illinois is the second state in the U.S. to participate in such an initiative.

Elections board says voters should have confidence in election security, despite claims of Russian hack
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop
Election Issues (not candidates) (39)
After 12 Russians were charged with hacking efforts designed to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election, Illinois officials said voters should have confidence in the state system despite the breach.

Friday U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced an indictment of Russian hackers for breaking into the servers of political organizations and politicians.

“Including state boards of elections, secretaries of state and companies that provide software to administer elections,” Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein said federal agencies are working with elections boards throughout the country “and those efforts preceded this indictment and they are going to post date this indictment so we have continued to share any relevant intelligence with all of our partners.”

Illinois State Board of Elections Public Information Officer Matt Dietrich is confident Rosenstein is talking about Illinois’ board of election, but he said the hack in 2016 was not connected to the 108 independent local-level election jurisdictions and no votes were changed.

Those federal efforts include more federal funding for elections security. Illinois got $13 million. That will bring about what Illinois Dietrich said is an important cybersecurity staff member who “knows our system specifically and how we deal with our local election authorities, that is a major, a very important thing for us.”

Illinois elections officials are also setting up a cyber navigator system for all the elections districts. Dietrich urged for confidence in the system.

“There’s no certainty but we believe the cyber navigator program is an important step toward bringing all of those jurisdictions under one umbrella of cybersecurity,” Dietrich said.

A hack in 2016 exposed information of 76,000 Illinois voters. While state officials suspected Russians were perpetrators, Dietrich said this is the first indication that was the case, though they have yet to hear from the feds that Friday’s indictment is directly linked to the Illinois hack.

Illinois governor signs gun-violence restraining order law
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   By Benjamin Yount
Governor (44) , Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46) Willis, Kathleen--State House, 77
Illinois lawmakers say the state's newest gun control law could stop a mentally ill or violent person from going on a shooting rampage. 

After a central Illinois man shot four people at a Nashville, Tenn., Waffle House in April, a lot of neighbors and police officers said they had feared the day was coming. 

Travis Reinking, the suspect in the shooting, had a history of mental health problems and had his guns confiscated by the Illinois State Police. 

A new law, signed Monday by Gov. Bruce Rauner, will make it easier for family members or local law enforcement agencies to take guns away from people who are a threat to themselves or others.

"There has to be a judge, there has to be proof of the issue," the governor said. "It can't just be some accusation. There has to be real proof of danger."

The governor said there are two ways that families or police departments can go about asking a judge to take someone's guns. 

"There is a two-week period, and then there is a six-month period," Rauner said. 

State Rep. Kathleen Willis said that people always see the warning signs after a tragedy. She wants to let people use those as proof to get guns out of a dangerous person's hands. 

"Many of these are red flags," Willis said. "We're seeing issues like there is a Facebook post that says you're going to end it all. You have a Facebook post with a gun that says you're going to shoot-up a school."

Lawmakers said the idea is to allow the people closest to someone to alert authorities before a tragedy occurs. 

Willis said in addition to a temporary order allowing a judge to seize someone's guns, the new law also revokes someone's FOID card so they can't buy new guns. 

Some gun rights groups however don't like the plan, they fear it will be too easy for a judge to simply take someone's guns away. 

Rauner said the new law, which was HB2354, is just part of his gun control platform. The governor on Monday said that he also signed a new law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for all gun sales and vetoed a plan from the legislature to issue state licenses for gun shops in Illinois.

Political in-fighting, sluggish growth seen as serious concerns for Illinois' credit rating
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   By Cole Lauterbach
Bonds, Bonding, Borrowing, Debt, Credit Rating , Budget--State (8) , Economy (34)
Of the forty-six states whose budgets started this month, Illinois and four others are on a credit agency’s “watch list” due to potential instability. Uniquely, analysts say Illinois’ instability is largely due to its politicians.

Credit agency Fitch’s annual budget update lists Illinois as a “state to watch” as a signal to potential bond buyers that its ability to pay off debt could change in the next twelve months. Connecticut, Louisiana and Kentucky were also listed as states whose fiscal futures could change.

Fitch analyst Eric Kim said Illinois is in a rare situation where potential fiscal instability stems from its politicians fighting amongst themselves.

“It’s fairly uncommon to have political disputes become so entrenched and deep that they would have an effect on credit quality,” he said.

In addition to the political situation, said says Illinois’ economy has not improved at the same rate as other states and the nation as a whole. This could lead to shortfalls.

“The growth has not been on par with the rest of the nation,” he said. “It’s been something we’ve been monitoring closely.”

Fitch had similar criticisms of the fiscal year 2019 budget that others have publicized regarding optimistic assumptions of one-time revenue sources. The sale of the James R. Thompson Center, for instance, was listed as an expected revenue source as it’s been for the past couple years yet there have been no indications of a sale moving forward.

Another significant question Fitch’s report addressed is the looming judgement against the state regarding step increases, or automatic raises, suspended by Rauner in 2015. The Illinois Labor Relations Board ordered the state Tuesday to pay the step increases, with interest, to the employees at an estimated cost of $412 million.

The Fitch report did give the state its due for finally passing a spending plan before deadline.

“Despite the implementation risks, enacting an on-time budget with bipartisan support allows the state to enter the new year with a clear fiscal plan and provides clarity for the state's key fiscal partners, including municipal governments, school districts and public higher education institutions,” the report said.

As of April, Fitch rated Illinois as “BBB-,” a lower rating than any other state. Connecticut, Louisiana and Kentucky were also listed as states whose fiscal futures could change in the coming months.

State Man killed by Chicago police ran away, reached for waist
Joliet Herald News
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |  
Chicago (16) , Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46) , Police (28)

CHICAGO – A man killed by Chicago police had a gun in a holster at his hip and was shot multiple times as he ran away, spun around and reached toward his waist, according to footage released Sunday from an officer’s body-worn camera.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said it’s the quickest he has ever ordered such video released and that he hoped to dispel rumors that Harith Augustus, 37, was unarmed. He also hoped that making the 30-second clip public before a planned protest would prevent another violent confrontation between residents and officers.

Protesters angry about the killing Saturday took to the streets in a city that’s struggled with police shootings, especially against black men and other minorities. Some threw rocks and bottles at officers – including ones filled with urine – and police pulled people to the ground and hit them with batons.

“The community needs some answers and they need them now,” Johnson told reporters Sunday. “We can’t have another night like last night.”

He said Augustus’ family was in favor of releasing the video for the same reason.

Four protesters were arrested in the clash, and some police officers suffered minor injuries. Two squad cars also were damaged.

The video, which lacks sound, shows four officers approaching Augustus outside a store on the city’s South Side. An officer points to Augustus’ waist and he backs away. Three officers try to grab his arms and he tries to get away, backing into a police cruiser as his shirt flies up and shows the gun.

The footage pauses and zooms in on the weapon, which police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said was done to ensure a semi-automatic handgun in its holster and two bullet magazines tucked into Augustus’ waist could be seen clearly.

Augustus then runs away and into the street as a police SUV drives up. He spins and darts between the SUV and the police cruiser as he reaches toward his waist.

Augustus did not fire his weapon and the footage does not show him pulling the gun out of its holster, although he does appear to try to grab something at his waist, Guglielmi said. Police also released a 50-second slow-motion clip showing Augustus reaching toward his waist. It’s not clear if he was going for the weapon.

Augustus died of multiple gunshots wounds, medical examiners said. He wasn’t a known gang member and had no recent arrest history, Guglielmi said.

Johnson said Augustus had a valid firearm owners’ identification card but detectives have found no documentation that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

A resident of the area, Gloria Rainge, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Augustus, known in the Grand Crossing neighborhood as “Snoop,” worked at a barbershop and had a 5-year-old daughter.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called the shooting a tragedy and said in a statement that it’s a blessing Augustus didn’t bring the girl with him Saturday, as he’s known to do.

Officers patrolling on foot tried to question the man over a “bulge around his waistband” that suggested he was armed, patrol chief Fred Waller has told reporters.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates officer-involved shootings, said it was analyzing the video and asking anyone who may have captured cellphone footage to share it with the agency.

It was at least the third time in the last two weeks that a Chicago police officer shot someone.

Chicago has a troubled history of police shootings. The city erupted in protest in 2015 after the release of a video showing a white police officer shoot a black 17-year-old, Laquan McDonald, 16 times a year earlier.

The officer, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with murder. McDonald’s death led to the ouster of the police chief and a series of reforms meant to prevent future police abuses and to hold officers accountable.

Jackson referenced the case as he called for video into Augustus’ shooting to be released.

Meet David Cooke, who took on Frank Mautino’s campaign funds
LaSalle News Tribune
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |  
Auditor General (21)

They met once — briefly.

David Cooke was serving on the Streator High School Board when they launched a multi-million dollar capital improvement. State Rep. Frank Mautino showed up to turn a ceremonial shovel. Cooke and Mautino probably shook hands, said hello and posed for pictures. That was it.

There was no smart remark or slight. When Cooke later went after Mautino, he wasn’t looking for payback. It’s just that one day the 58-year-old Streator retiree picked up a news story about years of Mautino spending records that went MIA and he simply didn’t like what he read.

“I don’t like Illinois politics — don’t get me wrong — but the real reason (I acted) is this: It’s just clearly illegal what he did,” Cooke said.

One of Cooke’s longtime friends remains a bit surprised that Cooke would become the face of an anti-corruption probe that hasn’t gone away yet. Earl Woeltje, a Streator dentist, knew Cooke to be a voracious reader — Cooke’s living room book shelf includes David McCullough books about John Adams and the American Revolution — but even he was taken aback learning Cooke pored over the Illinois Compiled Statutes and studied the section about campaign contributions.

“You read the what?” Woeltje asked, incredulous. “What does your wife think about this?”

Cooke, he remembered, waved that off. “Ah, she’s used to me.”

The irony in Cooke challenging Mautino over fuel receipts is Cooke happened to be pumping gas when he morphed into a political animal. Back in the 1980s, the Dwight native was an itinerant business major (he never finished a degree) working as a gas jockey so he could read in between filling tanks.

Young David Cooke had been a good student — chiefly in math and history — but wasn’t into books until his later years. He was, however, a lifelong newshound who, as a boy, had clipped news stories about sporting events, prize fights and the space program, all saved to scrapbooks. Sports were a lifelong passion and he was in Cleveland when the Cubs finally broke the curse.

As a gas jockey, the topic that caught his eye was the election of Ronald Reagan, of whom the more Cooke read the more he liked. Over the next whirlwind few months, Cooke would become a union worker, first-time Christian (“I’m a Bible-believing Protestant”) and homeowner who took a dim view of the early ‘80s economy.

“My first mortgage was 12½ percent, fixed,” he recalled, “and I was glad to get it.”

Reagan may have turned him into a fiscal conservative, but Cooke became an activist on his own. He quit college to take a job at Exelon, where he gravitated to “health physics” — that is, radiation protection — at the nuclear plant. Calculating air samples made him into “a numbers man” but also a petitioner who aired grievances with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“If I think there’s something wrong, I’m not afraid to stand up for it and do the right thing,” he said. “Everyone should be willing to do that.”

(The prolific letter-writer does not, however, remember ever writing to Mautino when the Spring Valley Democrat served in the statehouse.)

‘A Bulldog’

It was inevitable that Cooke would at some point seek public office and the occasion happened in the 1990s when then-Gov. George Ryan announced capital grants for needy communities and schools. Streator High School was desperate for an upgrade — the oldest part of the school was built in the Great Depression — and Cooke believed, then and now, the district would be foolish to pass on 75-percent state reimbursement.

Cooke ran for a seat on the school board as a write-in, helped secure the funding and sought the remainder in bonds. He also turned a deaf ear to the naysayers, figuring they’d eventually come around.

One of the skeptics was Steve Biroschik, who’d served on the Streator High board before Cooke and then rejoined. Biroschik hadn’t liked the project’s price tag but would later approve of the results. He also came to like Cooke, despite their divergent personalities. Where Biroschik is “shoot-from-the-hip,” Cooke was guarded and “deliberative.”

“Sometimes he balances me out,” Biroschik said. “I’m more of a hothead, he’s more realistic. We never really had any arguments. We had a few disagreements, but it was professional.

“But when it came to a position, he was a bulldog.”

Taking on Mautino

Cooke’s opinion of Mautino, meanwhile, was deteriorating steadily. The Reagan conservative watched with mounting disapproval as Illinois sunk ever more deeply into the red and leveled most of the blame at Democratic leadership, of which Mautino was a ranking member.

He was vacationing at his winter home in Amelia Island, Florida when he read published reports of Mautino’s missing or incomplete fuel, food and auto repair receipts and then went line by line through the online records. Cooke had willingly paid his union dues at Exelon and harbored no illusions about how lawmakers used their political combinations; but that money, he said, wasn’t for filling the Mautino family cars with gas.

Cooke was more indignant over the missing records.

“The law is crystal clear on what is required,” he said. “So the claim that, ‘Everyone is doing it,’ or, ‘We don’t know,’ is not credible.”

(Mautino has been silent throughout the campaign dispute and, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed for this story, as well.)

Cooke decided he’d be the one to attach his name to a formal complaint and force the hands of the Elections Board. Woeltje may have been surprised at Cooke’s involvement but he was less surprised when Cooke researched the law and drafted a formal complaint without an attorney.

“Dave is one of the most learned men I know,” he said. “He reads and reads and reads. He’s very scholarly.”

The attorney Cooke later retained thought so, too.

“For someone who’s not a lawyer, he did a pretty good job of putting it down in writing,” said Jeffrey Schwab of the Liberty Justice Center in Chicago. “We were happy to jump in and help him. I’ve had a good feeling about him the whole time.”

Cooke and Schwab didn’t get the results they wanted. Last week, the Board of Elections issued an inconclusive ruling, even after an appeals court ruled in Cooke’s favor and sent it back. As of Friday, Cooke said he hadn’t decided yet whether he’d pursue the matter any further.

To hear Biroschik tell it, Mautino shouldn’t breathe any sigh of relief.

“I don’t think he is going to drop it,” Biroschik said. “In my experience, it’s not in his nature.”

If Cooke does see the case through, it will be from afar. His Streator house is up for sale and he plans to move to Amelia Island for good, drawn as much by tennis weather as paying roughly a quarter in property taxes.

Cooke said he’s been gratified by the public response. While a few disapproving comments have been leveled at him online, everyone who’s approached him in person has been congratulatory.

“I get people asking me, ‘Are you that Dave Cooke?’” he said. “They thank me for what I did. And they’ll make certain comments about Mr. Mautino. But people are just thanking me for taking the time and doing it. I appreciate that. I really do.”

And what would he say to Frank Mautino if they crossed paths?

“I don’t want to comment on that,” Cooke said firmly. “I have very strong feelings on that. I’m not going to comment until the case is over with.”

A youth movement is beginning among Illinois Dems
Quad City Times
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Rich Miller
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Right up front, let’s just stipulate that the recent appointment of state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) as the Democratic Party of Illinois’ interim executive director will not usher in an immediate sea-change.


First, this is a temporary, part-time gig. Rep. Mitchell told me he has no interest in staying on after the election and will continue with his part-time law schooling through the fall campaign.


Second, House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the state party’s chairman, has already installed Mary Morrissey as the state party’s Chief Operating Officer. Among other things, Morrissey ran Madigan’s Chicago political operation before moving over to Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s campaign and government staffs. She is smart, capable, knows just about everybody in the business and is a nuts and bolts person who Mitchell said will handle the day-to-day functioning of the party. She’ll likely keep an eye on Mitchell for Madigan.


Third, Madigan promoted Emily Wurth, the party’s former operations manager, to Chief Financial Officer. Wurth is a highly capable former House Issues (campaign) staffer who moved up to DPI five years ago. She’ll be one more set of eyes on Mitchell.


Fourth, Madigan has installed his most trusted attorney, Mike Kasper, as treasurer of the state party.


And, finally, as the duly elected state party chairman, Madigan can likely veto anything Mitchell wants to do.


All that having been said, this Mitchell appointment is an important move by the all-female committee tasked with naming Tim Mapes’ replacement. Mapes had to resign as Madigan’s chief of staff and state party executive director after being accused of sexual harassment.


Think of this move as a foot in the door for the next generation.


For the first time, the state party will have a young African-American standing right out front. A calcified, overly white, constantly under fire and very unpopular state party leadership has simply become a drag on every Democrat. Mitchell is a normally pleasant fellow,

but he’s an amateur boxer who isn’t afraid to verbally punch you hard in the nose. So, an attack on Democrats by the Republicans can be met with a quick and stinging response from its new and fresh public face. Even though Mitchell wasn’t Madigan’s choice, the House Speaker is smart enough to know this can be an advantage he’s never had before.


An early supporter of JB Pritzker, Mitchell has unofficially advised the campaign for months. He reportedly helped the candidate deal with the uproar after the Tribune published a story about those now-infamous FBI surveillance tapes on which Pritzker said some highly unkind things about various African-American politicians to Rod Blagojevich in an effort to convince the governor to appoint Jesse White to the US Senate. The Pritzker folks have always been impressed by Mitchell and that’s a big reason why they actively engineered his appointment. Madigan simply could not stand in the way of his party’s nominee, who, as of this writing, has poured $5.7 million into Democratic coffers since late May with more to come. Mitchell is basically Pritzker’s guy at DPI.


Rep. Mitchell is also a close political ally and personal friend of Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who has fought several public and private battles with Speaker Madigan over the past several months on #MeToo issues. And according to numerous sources Mitchell has privately advised Alaina Hampton, who is suing Madigan’s political operation after making her own sexual harassment allegations. Both women heartily endorsed Mitchell’s ascension. That might give Madigan some heartburn, but the party most definitely needs a bridge to the other side after the recent debacles. Mitchell has a lot of allies in the state’s #MeToo movement, and all seemed quite pleased last week.


Mitchell hasn’t spoken publicly against Madigan. That could be seen as a sign of weakness or even obsequiousness by outsiders, but others know better. Attack Madigan and his members and allies will always rush to his defense. Blagojevich found that out the hard way, so did Pat Quinn and, of course, so did Bruce Rauner. Mitchell, on the other hand, is one of the smoothest guys I know and he’s a person of his word, which are big reasons why he’s been able to work with so many different Statehouse types, including Madigan.


The Mitchell appointment isn’t the beginning of the end for Madigan by any means. The big guy holds too many cards. It might, however, be the end of the beginning. After endless months of wrenching turmoil, the Pritzker campaign is finally exerting its will on the party chairman. Expect that to continue if Pritzker is elected this November.

Madigan asks court to declare ‘sanctuary state’ law in compliance with feds
Radio Station
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   By Illinois Radio Network
Attorney General (6) , Immigration (99a)

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois’ attorney general is asking the courts to rule that a controversial Illinois law about immigration policies complies with federal law.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, saying the DOJ is improperly withholding $6.5 million in law enforcement grants from Illinois.

“Byrne JAG funds allow Illinois law enforcement officers to respond to pressing community needs using data-driven, results-oriented techniques,” Madigan said. “They promote partnerships between federal, State, and local agencies to address shared enforcement responsibilities.”

“DOJ is withholding funding for these critical programs as punishment for Illinois’ policies that encourage cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities,” a statement from Madigan’s office said.

Republican state Representative Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said the TRUST Act passed mainly by Democrats and enacted by Governor Bruce Rauner last year is not in bounds.

The measure requires a criminal warrant to be issued for local or state law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officials.

“Deportation is going to be a civil procedure and there is not warrant issued by a judge for that, so effectively this is trying to stand in between the process of actually deporting people and law enforcement,” Skillicorn said.

Skillicorn says prohibiting law enforcement from working to address illegal immigration is what makes Illinois less safe.

“(The TRUST Act is) not good for Illinois’ safety,” Skillicorn said. “And there’s already been examples where Illinois citizens who have been hurt by people who are willfully breaking the law and there is no recourse now and we cannot enforce the law and justice is not served.”

Madigan claims the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently declared the DOJ’s position of withholding such grants because of local or state immigration measures is unlawful.

“So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement last year. “These policies … encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law.”

Durbin not confident Illinois election systems are secure
State Journal Register
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Brenden Moore
Election Issues (not candidates) (39)

In wake of the indictment of 12 Russian agents for allegedly hacking into state election voting systems during the 2016 presidential election, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said he is not confident Illinois’ systems are secure heading into the 2018 midterm elections.


Durbin, speaking with reporters outside his Springfield home Sunday afternoon, said he has received assurances from Illinois Board of Elections officials that the state is taking steps to prevent future attacks. But, he said, Congress is not devoting enough resources to help states tackle the problem.


“I hope they’re right,” Durbin said. “But we know that the Russians and others are working night and day to break into all systems. And so I can’t say with any confidence that our election process is going to be intact, secure and I don’t believe we put enough resources into investigating what happened two years ago and making certain that it never happens again.”


At a Statehouse news conference on Friday, BOE spokesman Matt Dietrich said that while the indictment did not mention Illinois by name, state officials assume that its reference to the 2016 hacking of a state elections website refers to Illinois. The indictment merely refers to “SBOE 1” as the state elections board hacked by the Russians.


“We think it’s very likely that we are SBOE 1,” Dietrich said. “We have not received any confirmation from the Department of Justice on that. But based on the circumstances described in the indictment, we think it’s pretty likely that that’s us.”


Since the incident was discovered by BOE staff in July 2016, Dietrich said new firewall hardware and software has been installed at the Board of Elections. The board also has staff now who are focused solely on cyber security issues. The new state budget also contains $13.2 million in federal funding for improvements to voting systems.

At the congressional level, Durbin said lawmakers are taking steps to prevent voter systems from being penetrated again, but that it “just doesn’t reflect a serious undertaking to protect our systems.”


Durbin said “denial” of Russia’s role in the 2016 election by the Trump administration has been a roadblock. He said that efforts to maintain the integrity of the country’s voting systems should be a separate issue from whether hacking helped Trump win.


“I don’t connect the two,” Durbin said. “Let’s keep our election system intact and secure so that people have confidence in the outcome.”

Gov. Rauner signs two gun control bills
State Journal Register
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46) , Rauner, Bruce

Gov. Bruce Rauner Monday signed into law the so-called “red flag” bill that allows guns to be taken away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.


At a bill signing ceremony in Chicago, Rauner said he also signed a bill that requires a 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of all guns. Before now, only handguns required a 72-hour waiting period.


Rauner also said he will veto a bill that requires gun dealers to be certified by the state because it imposes a hardship on small business. The bill has not yet been sent to the governor.


Surrounded by lawmakers from both parties and law enforcement officers, Rauner signed the bill that got strong bi-partisan support in the General Assembly even though the National Rifle Association said at the last minute that it opposed the bill.


The new law, House Bill 2354, allows either an immediate family member or a law enforcement officials to go to court if they fear a person with access to guns is likely to do something violent. If the court determines the person poses a threat to himself or others, it can order that the person’s guns be removed the law enforcement.


The bill was one of several debated in the General Assembly this year in the wake of mass shootings at schools and last year in Las Vegas. Rauner said lawmakers still haven’t finished addressing the issue. He said a ban on bump stocks – which allow weapons to be fired much faster – should be passed. He also said lawmakers should approve money for schools to hire resource officers and mental health professionals to deal with potential gun violence in schools.


This story will be updated.

Jeff Keicher to finish Bob Pritchard’s term in Illinois House
State Journal Register
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Legislature (56)

Republican Jeff Keicher will be sworn in as the newest Illinois state representative, replacing Bob Pritchard.


Keicher of Sycamore was selected by the Republican Party chairs of Boone, DeKalb and Kane counties to serve out the remainder of Pritchard’s term, which expires in January. The swearing-in ceremony is set for Tuesday.


Pritchard of Hinckley left his seat this month to join the Northern Illinois University board. He announced last year his plans to retire. He’s been a House member since 2003.


Keicher, a businessman, says he’ll decline the part-time salary of at least $67,000, pension and health care from the state. He said he doesn’t want to contribute to the state’s issues.


Keicher will face Democrat Paul Stoddard, a soon-to-be retired Northern Illinois University geology professor, in the November election.

New Illinois program to offer retirement savings plan
State Journal Register
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Retirement (70)

A new state program will automatically deduct money from the paychecks of about 1.2 million Illinois residents for retirement savings.


The move could reduce the use of food stamps, Medicaid and other publicly funded social programs, said Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs. Illinois Secure Choice is being phased in more than three years after becoming law, The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reported.


The state-sponsored retirement program works with certain businesses with 25 or more employees. The businesses will be connected with a financial firm that will provide ways for workers to build retirement savings with after-tax cash deducted from each paycheck for a Roth individual retirement account.


Workers will be eligible for automatic enrollment, 5 percent of gross pay being deducted and placed in a retirement fund. Enrollees will be able to switch savings rates and retirement funds or can opt out of the program.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes it, calling it a “poor substitute” for typical employer-provided retirement plans.


Eight businesses have volunteered to be in the Secure Choice pilot program, Frerichs said. All companies with 25 or more workers must be part of the program or contract directly with firms that handle employee retirement accounts by November 2019.


Illinois is the second state in the U.S. to participate in such an initiative.

State agency director Mays has spent $66K on travel
State Journal Register
Monday, July 16, 2018  |   Column  |   Bernard Schoenburg

The head of Illinois Department of Employment Security’s tab includes frequent Chicago stays


Jeff Mays, a former state representative appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to run the Illinois Department of Employment Security, has spent more than $66,000 in travel in 3 1/2 years -- including spending more than 245 nights in Chicago and suburban hotels.


That amount is more than double what some other state department directors have spent on travel, according to state records.


Mays, 66, of Quincy, is paid $142,339 annually and was among directors named when Rauner took office in January 2015. He served in the House from 1981 to 1990 and took the job after leaving a post as president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, a policy-oriented voluntary association of chief executive officers of more than 60 of Illinois’ leading businesses. He also resigned as vice president of the Quincy School Board to take the job.


Travel vouchers for Mays show that in addition to frequent trips to Chicago, sometimes on Amtrak from Quincy, he also has had meetings with staff or national professional conferences, in cities ranging from Marion and Champaign to Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and Charleston, South Carolina.


Records from the state comptroller’s office showed that Mays’ travel expenses included just under $10,500 in 2015, more than $21,400 in 2016, about $19,100 in 2017, and more than $15,400 so far in 2018.


The total of more than $66,000 is more than double that of the next-highest among a sampling of other directors, although some have not served for Rauner’s full term.

The next-highest travel expense total was former state Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, who heads the Department of Natural Resources. Rosenthal, who also was appointed in January 2015, has spent about $28,900 since then on travel, comptroller’s records showed.


State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said that as a lawmaker worried about state spending, he questions Mays’ travel and stays in Chicago.


“That sounds like an excessive amount of money, especially for someone who is in charge of the employment security office, which is helping to take care of people who are transitioning and trying find jobs in this state,” McSweeney said. “Maybe he should just move to Chicago and work out of that office if that’s where he thinks he needs to be. Or maybe he should just work out of his Springfield office and drive up for day trips.


“That’s one of the problems with these travel expenses,” McSweeney added. “There should be very senior approval required for travel, certainly for any conferences.”


In the case of the Chicago trips, McSweeney added, Mays should “not make taxpayers suffer for his commuting expenses. I think of my constituents who are out working multiple jobs to pay their property taxes, and to support their families, and this is just a complete waste of money.”


Bob Gough, spokesman for Mays’ agency, said that Mays is based in Springfield.


“IDES has 36 offices around the state, including a large operation and hundreds of employees in Chicago,” Gough said. “Director Mays is the first downstate IDES director since the early 1990s. He is usually in Chicago two days a week -- never exceeding the state rate for a room -- and visits most of the office locations at least once a year. As a matter of fact, he was in Champaign Thursday.”


Gough also said Mays was chairman of the unemployment insurance committee for the National Associaton of State Workforce Agencies until earlier this year, and remains on the NASWA board of directors. Mays will be traveling to Washington next week on association business, Gough said.


Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Rauner, said in a statement that, “The Rauner administration has worked diligently to bring state of Illinois jobs back to our capital city that were shifted to Chicago in the previous administrations. The directors of state agencies frequently spend time in both Springfield and Chicago to oversee their operations. Director Mays is headquartered in Springfield -- but visits IDES offices across the state.”


Gough said the agency has more than 1,100 employees spread among its offices, including 446 in the Chicago central office.


State travel control board rules encourage agency employees to consider if travel is essential -- versus means of communication such as telephone or videoconferencing -- and to consider money-saving options such as mass transit or Amtrak.


The state also has a list of more than 300 preferred hotels with discounted lodging rates, which vary depending on location and agreement. Some in Chicago area have a $130 base rate, while the base rate at several Springfield hotels is $70. Employees who can’t get a room at a preferred hotel have to show they tried to do so.


The job of the Department of Employment Security is to link job seekers with employers, administer unemployment insurance, provide re-employment services and produce and analyze labor market information.


Mays’ travel voucher for the week of March 12-18 this spring had him spending seven nights in Chicago hotels. All seven nights -- four at Hotel Chicago Downtown and three at The Ritz-Carlton -- had a base prices of $130, which went to $152 with addition of taxes. That week, he spent $120 on cabs, got $168 in per diem payments, and the total for the week was $1,203. The reason for the trip listed was “Senior staff meetings,” which was listed on many of the vouchers.


At the low end of Chicago hotel prices obtained by Mays were three nights in February 2017, booked using Hotwire, at the Holiday Inn Chicago-Mart Plaza River North for $80 per night.


On the high end was a one-night stay in September 2016 at the Chicago South Loop Hotel. The Hotwire price was $285 plus $81 in taxes, or $366. The voucher states: “Checked 5 preferred hotels, none available, this was the cheapest I could find.”