Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fire Away

SouthernIllinoisRepublican has been extremely patient in waiting for me to do a thread about gun issues. Well SIR, here it is. Let me start in broader concepts. A lot of this issue has to do with how it is framed. If I go downstate and talk about 'gun control', the conversation is going to go nowhere. But if I talk about 'gun safety', it sets a different tone, and rightly so.

With very limited (Chicago, etc.) exceptions, we have a right to gun ownership in this state. But with rights come responsibilities. When I talk with gun owners about the responsibilities that come with the rights of gun ownership, they nod approvingly. I've talked with hunters and asked them if they need armor piercing bullets-they say no. I ask them if they need to buy 5-10 guns a month-they say no. I ask them if it is important to keep guns away from criminals, they obviously nod accordingly.

So where's the issue?

The issue results from the collision that occurs when an irrational fear of the slippery slope crosses paths with an anti-gun lobby that at times may try to overreach. Like most contentious issues, there is often a lot of common-sense room in the middle. But zealots on both sides tend to demonize those that try to find refuge in this zone.

The overwhelming number of gun owners nationally are not members of the NRA. They like to hunt, might want a gun for protection, but are just fine with other restrictions that don't impact these fundamental wants.

And most people that are sick and tired of urban gun violence are fine with hunters being able to do their thing.

But bills repeatedly get filed, by proponents on both sides of the debate that are intended more for political posturing or leveraging than they are for making any meaningful alteration to the landscape of gun legislation in our state.

So there you have my very amorphous thoughts on this very contentious issue. I'll try to jump into the debate when I can, but things are kind of hectic, even as I type this from the House floor. More importantly, I committed to setting up a thread on this issue and here it is.

Show Me the Money

At the request of a reader, consider this to be an open post on the topic of potential new revenue streams. Be it for education funding reform, or simply to offset the increasing burden of pension payment obligations, it is pretty clear that additional revenues will be needed in excess of any savings that can be realized from additional cost-cutting and efficiencies that can (and should) be implemented.

The one-time moves are pretty well tapped out, booking future savings today can only go so far, so...how do we go about generating additional revenues? And does that job get easier if the funds are dedicated for specific purposes? Does the public believe those representations in any event?

You asked for it. Have at it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Just Shut Up!

No additional comments needed about this story from the Tribune.
The judge presiding over the federal corruption trial of former Gov. George Ryan confirmed in open court this morning she has slapped a gag order on everyone involved in the case for the remainder of the trial.

Referring to a story in this weekend's Sun-Times about a juror being dismissed from the case, U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer said she was "most disappointed the court's orders were violated."

Pallmeyer said that the story's assertion the juror was dismissed because of "personality conflicts" are "false, baseless and needlessly disruptive."

When the jury entered court, the judge made the following statement: "We have lost one of our jurors. This juror was dismissed for personal reasons and it had nothing to do with the merits of this case."

The gag order issued Sunday by Pallmeyer bars lawyers, defendants and their families from making any comments to the news media.

A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

At every level of government, this problem is getting nothing but worse. From the latest issue of Crain's comes another story about major pension shortfalls:
Cook County and city of Chicago governments have $14.4 billion in unfunded liabilities in their collective pension plans, according to a report to be released Monday by the Civic Federation, a tax policy group. Plans covering most city and county workers had assets covering 72% or less of their liabilities at the end of 2004, according to the report — well under the 90% figure considered desirable in the private sector.
I have said before that the pension issue is a sword of Damacles hanging over governments throughout our state. I think that in the past, government pension funding practices were arcane enough to escape the attention of the public. But those days are over, and the public is aware of, and understands, the problem.

Without significant intervention, sooner rather than later, pension obligations are going to put the ability to provide basic services at risk. And if elected officials don't act to correct the problem, it may well put some of them out of office.

THIS JUST IN - But wait, there's more...from today's Crain's comes this bit about the CTA pensions going down the tubes...
A retirement plan that pays health benefits to 11,000 Chicago Transit Authority retirees and their dependents is likely to be insolvent in 10 months, according to the plan's actuary.

A report delivered Thursday to the board of the $1.2-billion Retirement Plan for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Employees projects that, without a cash infusion or benefit cuts, the health portion of the fund will likely be unable to pay its retirees' health care bills by next January. The larger pension portion of the fund appears to have the resources to pay full benefits until at least 2011.

As late as 1995, the retirement plan was at least 85% funded. But that gave the CTA and unions an excuse in negotiations to shift money from the plan to wages and salaries. Since then, the fund's ratio of assets to liabilities had declined to 39% as of Jan. 1, 2005.
I had been given a heads up that this issue was coming down the tracks (so to speak), but I suspect that this is worse than anybody expected. Read the whole article.

But Not Often

Monday is the first day of early voting. It will be very interesting to see what candidates, organizations or constituencies will be the beneificiaries of this new process. But to the extent that it increases turnout, I think that it is a positive for everybody.

Voters in Chicago and the rest of Cook County can find their locations here.

Voters in DuPage County can find their locations here.

Voters in Lake County can find their locations here.

Voters in Sangamon County can find their locations here.

Everybody else is on their own to find out. But find out. And vote.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Conventional Thinking

In the wake of the Governor's unexpected (in my mind) statement not to increase taxes last week, I have had a number of discussions as to the impact of his statement on the issue of education funding reform. Simply put, if you adhere to the belief that any reduction in our overreliance on property taxes in the funding of our schools will most likely come via a tax swap, then the Governor's statement pretty well amounts to a kiss of death for any flavor of that plan.

In just the last week, impromptu floor debate has broken out by members of both parties declaring that the time to fix education funding is well past due.

Similarly, the Governor's position will lead to some fascinating, and potentially untenable, budget discussions in the upcoming years. Ralph Martire weighed in on the subject in Saturday's Sun-Times. In his column arguing against a no new tax pledge by any candidate, he states:

In this proposed budget, at least $2.9 billion -- more than 10 percent -- of all projected spending for public services is scheduled to be financed with debt. Meanwhile, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability projects that revenue growth for fiscal 2007 will be $860 million. That falls short of what's needed just to cover the inflationary cost of maintaining the current level of public services. This continues a longstanding trend of revenue underperformance by the state's fiscal system, first identified by Professor Fred Giertz in the late 1980s...

A no-tax pledge means policymakers won't even consider raising the revenue needed to fund our priorities responsibly. Effectively, the pledge leaves room for only two solutions: continue borrowing against the future or cut spending on services. But borrowing is irresponsible, and cutting spending isn't defensible. Illinois, the eighth richest and fifth most populous state, nonetheless ranks just 41st in spending. It also devotes well more than 90 percent of its budget to education, health care, human services and public safety. Do most voters really want a low-spending state like Illinois to disinvest in these essential services?

Working off of Martire's analysis, I think that it will be exceedingly difficult to find the support for any new borrowing plans, and it will be just as hard for a Democratic administration to cut into spending for programs that benefit many of the party's key constituencies.

Now the Governor may have intentionally (or unintentionally) left himself a little wiggle room when he said words to the effect of "I will not raise taxes on the hard-working people of Illinois". But I can't really imagine putting us at a further disadvantage when it comes to interstate competition for retaining and attracting business.

What may also be looming is a groundswell for the calling of the next Constitutional Convention in 2008. Given a decades-old reluctance of elected officials to take sigificant action toward addressing our school funding situation, a Con Con may wind up being the only practical way to make any significant reforms in our tax structure, school funding mechanisms, as well as a host of other items. I believe that it would also have the additional benefit of focusing public attention onto what is going on in Springfield and get the public engaged into the issues that affect them on a daily basis.

So feel free to weigh in on your thoughts on the no tax pledge or on the prospect of a Constitutional Convention.

UPDATE: The Lee Newspaper Group has a related article on the education funding 'debate' among gubernatorial candidates. Check it out to get a quick sense of where the candidates stand on this issue.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hot Stuff

Politics aside, if you are a music fan, consider this your early warning to get yourself down to Grant Park, August 4-6.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have committed to headlining Lollapalooza, and let me tell you that that is a show well worth seeing.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

So I think that it's great that almost everybody is finally jumping on the ethics bandwagon. And maybe I'm being too proprietary, but it would be refreshing if they didn't all act like they invented the concept. Two days ago, you couldn't pick up a newspaper without reading about Judy Baar Topinka's 'ethics proposal. Funny thing is the proposal looks awfully similar to an initiative of Comptroller Dan Hynes that I introduced last year.

House Bill 4073 (Fritchey-Black) is the bill that would end pay to play in Illinois. The bill has the support of good government groups from around the state and has bipartisan support in both chambers. Not only should it be embraced by every candidate for Governor (and our current Governor), it should have been passed already. But that's a story for another day.

I have also recently filed legislation to impose improved revolving door restrictions on executive branch and legislative branch officers and employees. I think that the bill number is HB5765, but it's not on the system yet.

Anyway, the point of my venting is that it borders on being disingenuous for all of the candidates to talk about their 'great revelations' on how to fix the system. If they want to yell and scream that the pending bills should be passed, fine by me. But don't act like you reinvented the wheel.

I Got Nuttin' to Say

So not surprisingly, former Gov. George Ryan will not testify in his corruption trial. There are two ways to read this - his attorney Dan Webb feels that they are in a solid enough position to win an acquittal that he doesn't need to put his client on the stand; or his attorney feels that the case is a toss-up and that nothing good will come out of giving the prosecutors an open season on his client on the witness stand.

Given Ryan's volatile temper, I think that this was a wise, if not inevitable, move on Webb's part. This also means that we are now that much closer to judgment day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Show Time

I don't have much time, so in a nutshell, here goes. I think that the slide presentation actually worked very well in getting enabling the Governor to get his points across. I found it very interesting that he touted the state's pension funding and status, which shows that he is not going to concede this issue in the election. Given some independent findings which have been less than favorable as to the state of our pension funding, I'm not sure how this is going to play out.

His relationship with the Republicans was almost mutually mocking, not sure how good that looks for either side. I think that he would be better served showing more gravitas, but that's a style issue, and I think he is very comfortable with how he is handling himself, so who am I to judge?

I hear that some commercials (60 second spots?) are going up tomorrow touting the budget, etc. I would assume that means that a formal re-election announcement is right around the corner.

Gotta run.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Power Point and Vikings

It's 5:30p.m. and I'm writing this one from the House floor. They just got done finishing the set-up for the Budget Address tomorrow. In addition to the usual teleprompters, they have installed what is essentially a mini-jumbotron (your oxymoron for the day) above the podium up in the Speaker's Gallery.

Apparently the Governor is going to accompany his address with a PowerPoint presentation. I think that it's an innovative idea, but I hope that he uses it for graphs and such that will attempt to bolster his proposals, and not for photos or 'funny' gimmicks that could wind up backfiring on him. Guess we'll find out tomorrow.

On a completely unrelated note, Minority Leader Tom Cross was scheduled to present his tort reform bill concerning venue in my committee tomorrow, which I thought would make for an interesting debate and vote. But they have now amended every tort reform measure out there, from venue to damage caps, into the bill (HB4979), which I think is likely to turn tomorrow's hearing into a tort reform Valhalla. And that my friends, is your Norse mythological reference for the day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Uh Oh

And while we're on the subject of fixing our education problems in Illinois, this article appears in today's State Journal-Register that does not bode well for our educational future:
If you thought that education levels and income in Illinois would rise over the next 15 years, as they have pretty steadily until now, you may be in for a shock. According to a recent report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, if current policies continue unchanged, the Illinois work force of 2020 is going to be less educated than today’s work force, and as a result the state’s per capita income will not just stagnate - it will actually drop.
This is today's wake-up call. Go read the whole article. Education problems do not run in sync with campaign cycles and cannot be treated as if they do. Something needs to be done - soon.

Education Cage Match

So I got a phone call from the Daily Southtown's Kristen McQuery last week which resulted in this item in her Sunday column regarding inaction on school funding reform. In her column, she pulls no punches in expressing her frustration with disparity between talk and activity in Springfield:
Identifying the dilemma of inequity and actually doing something about it are vastly different issues in Springfield. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of elected officials marching through newspaper editorial board meetings year after year, scratching their heads about the problem.
Kristen and I both agreed that we don't know what the exact solution to the funding issue might be, and I think we both agree that a special session might be the best way to figure it out.

In the 'be careful what you ask for' category, I think that a special session in which we don't leave until there's a substantive resolution might be the only answer. Kind of like an education funding cage match - 177 legislators walk in, 1 solution comes out.

This post isn't even about advocating a specific solution, but it is about saying that something needs to be done. While decades of blue ribbon committees and task forces have resulted in a plethora of ideas, they sure haven't resulted in a fix of the problem.

And before you comment, you might want to read about what is happening in Texas on this same issue, where even the Governor and Lt. Governor can't get on the same page.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Political Party

I just wanted to say thanks to the 200+ people that attended the ChicagoPAC event that we hosted this past Friday night in downtown Chicago. The event attracted folks from all over the City for an informal evening of socializing and mingling with various elected officials and candidates.

Among the political folks in attendance were:

Hon. William Marovitz
Ald. Manny Flores
Hon. Terry O'Brien
Rep. Toni Berrios

State Treasurer Candidate Alexi Giannoulias

Water Rec. Candidates: Frank Avila Jr., Dean Maragos, Committeeman Barrett Pedersen, Debra Shore, and Bogie Stefanski

Judicial Candidates Siobbhan Murphy and Leo Lastre

Aldermanic Candidate Brendan Reilly

I think that everybody had a good time, made some new acquaintances and got a little better sense of what ChicagoPAC is going to be about. I'm looking forward to the next event and to the future of our City.

Don't Try This at Home

I don't know, maybe he saw Wedding Crashers one too many times:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and injured a man during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

Harry Whittington, 78, was "alert and doing fine" after Cheney sprayed Whittington with shotgun pellets on Saturday at the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas, said property owner Katharine Armstrong.

Armstrong said Cheney turned to shoot a bird and accidentally hit Whittington. She said Whittington was taken to Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital by ambulance.

Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said the vice president was with Whittington, a lawyer from Austin, Texas, and his wife at the hospital on Sunday afternoon.

Bad Rap

Doug Finke, my favorite political curmudgeon, (and I mean that in a good way Doug) (but seriously, after nine years in the House, I've never seen the guy smile), had a column full of dryly hilarious observations today. But my favorite tidbit was the following:
Blagojevich did an AIDS awareness event in Chicago that featured rap artists Twista and the Speed Knot Mobsters. Naturally, this led people to apply various hip-hop names to our governor.

Our favorite: Notorious R.O.D.

So today's light-hearted question is this: What appropriate rap moniker would you give our Governor? And in the spirit of equal time, what names would you give to any of the other candidates for the office?

Friday, February 10, 2006


Crain's has an article about the unpleasant surprise soon to be lurking in people's mailboxes. It discusses the fact that New Jersey has a power auction very similar to the one recently approved for Illinois to commence in 2007.

And in what it calls "an ominous sign for Illinois electricity rates", it notes that "New Jersey power bills will rise more than 13% this year under a new system that lets power generators bid for the right to provide electricity to the state’s utilities."

Excerpts from the article (emphasis added):

If the results here are similar to New Jersey’s, the hit to local electricity bills could be far higher given that the price of power established in the New Jersey auction was 57% higher than last year’s.

ComEd has pledged to hold annual increases to single digits for three years beginning in 2007 when a nine-year state-mandated freeze on its rates expires. If the prices it charges consumers are below its cost to generators, ComEd insists it should collect the difference, with interest, after the three years.

“The results in New Jersey are really what we expected to see,” a ComEd spokeswoman said.

A ComEd critic concurred with that assessment of the differences between the markets, but warned that the New Jersey results still portend sharply higher prices here.

“The New Jersey auction is a glimpse into the future,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “This is not good news for Illinois consumers. Residents and business customers are in for sticker shock.”

The part that I italicized is what really caught my attention. So ComEd agrees to a freeze, but has a safety net that protects it's baseline cost, plus interest? Looks like a good deal for ComEd, not so sure about it's customers.

Mail Call

I think that e-mail has created a great channel for more direct communications between elected officials and their constituents. It's fast, easy, informal, etc. And I think that because of that, more constituents are willing to use it to share their thoughts with their elected officials.

Many groups have also used the tool to enable their supporters to contact legislators with boilerplate letters on cetain issues. And while those letters may not have the same personal impact, they are a good way of sensing awareness and support on a piece of legislation.

All of that being said, I just want to send out a big Friday morning thank you to Mr. Steven Biedrom for sending me ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE (1,353) copies of the same e-mail message.

I either feel bad for him for this computer glitch (although not as bas as I felt for me having to go through my inbox), or simply awed that his passion about the three-tier liquor distribution system is strong enough that he hit the Send button ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE (1,353) times.

It would have been nice if Mr. Biedrom's messages had come from an e-mail address that was accepting replies, so that I could have answered his letter ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE (1,353) times.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Light at the End of the Tunnel

It looks like, after about five months, the long-lasting trial of former Governor George Ryan may actually be coming to a close. In discussing scheduling issues, Webb again declined to show his hand about calling his client to the stand to testify. But in so doing, he inferred that the witness list may be getting shorter. From CBS-2:

(AP) CHICAGO George Ryan may take the witness stand in his own defense as early as next week, the former governor's defense attorney told his racketeering and fraud trial Thursday.

"I will make the decision at the time," defense attorney Dan K. Webb told U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, leaving himself the option of keeping Ryan off the witness stand.

Webb also said as the trial headed toward the end of its 19th week that if Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner take the witness stand, they would be the final defense witnesses.

Pallmeyer told jurors that the long trial is coming to an end and that she would not be drawing up a work schedule for the month of March because one might not be needed.

If Ryan were convicted, he might face a stiffer sentence if prosecutors could prove to Pallmeyer that he lied under oath while on the stand.
The issue of character witnesses also continues to play itself out.* The defense would like to score some points as the result of Ryan's death penalty work, but the prosecution has been quick to remind them that character witnesses are a two-way street.
Prosecutors said Wednesday that if Ryan's defense team uses their character witnesses to slip in testimony about the death penalty, the government should be able to tell jurors about the November 1994 Wisconsin expressway disaster that killed six children.
*Don't be surprised if at least one sitting legislator takes the stand in this case. (No, not me. I said what I had to say on this issue here.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Swinging in Illinois

After a while, it's easy to become somewhat numbed to the same banter going back and forth between the same local prognosticators of Illinois politics. So in the interest of expanding horizons, I decided to check out various out of state takes on Illinois politics.

Suffice it to say that I was surprised to find the following on a very pro-Democratic site. While somewhat hedging its bets, the Swing State Project expresses concern and disappointment about the latest poll numbers in the Illinois Governor's race.

IL-Gov: Yikes! Blago Looking Weak

Posted by DavidNYC

A new poll from Rasmussen (likely voters, no trendlines):

Blagojevich: 37
Topinka: 48
(MoE: ±4.5%)
Judy Baar Topinka is the GOP's strongest candidate, but she still has to weather a primary before she takes on incumbent Dem Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Nonetheless, this poll looks very bad for Blago. Of course, it's just one survey and we don't have trendlines, so I'm not about to start wigging out. But given how devastated the IL GOP is, it's sad to think that this seat might be in any danger at all. (Empasis added)

I'm curious to see how concern about this race, and the impact that it might have on other races, affects those in D.C. and elsewhere and whether it motivates them to get involved. If the Republicans retake the Mansion in November, Illinois, by all accounts a Blue State, suddenly becomes a swing state, and that has a host of implications indeed.

The Republicans may use it to signal to their supporters that there is 'blood in the water' in Illinois and that their party is back in play in Illinois years sooner than anybody thought that they would be. Or the Governor could try to use it to his advantage by trying to appeal to Democrats around the country to rally to his (and ostensibly) their aid, while at the same time (albeit in a less than optimal situation) increasing his national visibility. It's going to be an interesting countdown to November.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Getting Pumped Up

And now, for something completely different:

I just happened to come across this article online a little bit ago about the impact on oil prices arising from the Iranian nuclear issue and thought that it made for an interesting read. Below is an excerpt. The whole thing isn't that long at all if you're in the mood to read the rest of it.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Not a drop of oil from Iran reaches the nation's gas pumps. But escalating tensions about Iran's nuclear program are already being felt in oil and gas prices in the United States.

That's because even though the United States has banned oil imports from Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution, some 4 million barrels of Iranian crude are shipped around the world each day, accounting for about 5 percent of global supply. That has an effect on prices everywhere, no matter how much or how little Iranian oil reaches U.S. refineries.And the growing dispute over Iran's nuclear program is one key reason oil prices have jumped since late December back near $65 a barrel.

Some experts say oil would be closer to $60 a barrel absent worries about possible broader sanctions against Iran, and at least one analyst says oil could shoot to more than $130 a barrel, if Iranian oil stopped flowing altogether.


So I can't help but find it interesting that on the same day that the Tribune runs their editorial slamming our pension situation (see my last post), as I write this, the House Republicans are in the midst of a pre-planned coordinated lambasting of the Democrats on the same topic. All of their microphones have a big number "50" taped to them, symbolizing a new study that they are touting which says that Illinois is dead last in funding of pension obligations.

I think that I have previously made my feelings clear on this issue, so I'm not taking issue with the content of their comments, other than the fact that much of this problem also lays at the feet of their party predecessors as well.

I just thought the timing of the two events was curious. Okay, they're done now, back to business.

UPDATE: Okay, a member of Republican Leadership, who I trust unequivocally, just told me that while the general issue had been previously discussed with the paper, the timing of today's events was in fact coincidental. I've become so cynical in old age. Sigh.

The Debt's Come Due

Reminding elected officials and the public alike that this is an issue that is not going to go away, today's Chicago Tribune editorial torches the state of our pension obligations.

The main aim of the Trib editorial seems to be to undo the Governor's proposed, and as of yet unfunded, capital plan. But they also take a pretty solid shot at great-sounding, but unfunded, new programs. And they do it pretty bluntly and effectively, namely by setting out hard numbers that say that, well, we're broke. Here is the thrust of the editorial:
Last June, the state's five pension systems had $58 billion in assets but $97 billion in accrued liabilities. That 60 percent funding ratio is one of the worst in the nation for state systems.

The liabilities will keep growing quickly. Even after all the borrowing and raiding, the state has to come up with $1.37 billion for pension funds in the next year, according to a bipartisan legislative panel that monitors state finances. That's $437 million more than this year. And that difference is about half of all the new revenue the state expects to rake in next year.

That doesn't leave a lot for new spending on schools, universities, health care, child welfare, law enforcement, prisons and everything else.

It gets much worse. In 2008, the state has to put $1.98 billion into the pensions. In 2010 that soars to $3.4 billion. And it keeps going up from there.

So no one--not the governor, not his opponents, not the 177 members of the House and Senate--should be allowed to talk about flashy new ideas that cost money. They don't have the money. It's going to be soaked up by the pensions.

It's not much fun for politicians to talk about all the money that has to go to promises already made. They'd much rather talk about new promises. But they can't talk about new promises--like a $3.2 billion deal for roads and bridges and schools--until they have a real way to pay for the old promises. And right now they do not.

The governor has skated on the fiscal edge, avoiding calamity by payroll-slashing ... and a lot of borrowing. Since he took office in 2003, the state's general obligation debt has jumped from $7.6 billion to $20.3 billion. Debt service now costs taxpayers $1.6 billion annually, double the pre-Blagojevich tab.

So lawmakers need to be honest as they debate Blagojevich's new building plan in coming weeks. With the pension noose tightening, the state can't afford to take on more debt, even for worthy goals. Borrowing costs money, and the state is going to need every penny it can squeeze--and then some--to keep its pension-fund-payment schedule.

The problem will not go away. This is serious.
What should also be considered serious for myself and other legislators is that the public is pretty tuned into this issue. For a number of reasons, there is a previously unseen awareness of our pension problems by the voters. In fact, other than property tax and education funding issues (which are actually related to the pension problem as well), I have more constituents talk to me about the pension issue than anything else.

When programs that people around the state care about can't be funded because of exponentially growing pension obligations, the awareness level will be further heightened.

Before the partisan attacks start, we should all admit that this problem is a long-term creation of Republicans and Democrats alike, so there are no real clean hands here.

We are presently leaving it to our kids and grandkids to pay our piper, and that's not right. Something real needs to be done to address this problem. And whoever takes the lead in getting it done will be seen as a hero. And rightfully so. Ideas anyone?

(Note- yes, I voted for the pension bill, yes I think that it was a bad vote, yes I apologized for it, yes I recognize that the apology doesn't change the bad vote that I cast - so let's talk about the bigger issue here).

Friday Night Fun-raiser

  • Working late on a Friday evening: Frustrating
  • Cab home during rush hour: $7 plus tip.
  • Drinks with friends, elected officials and candidates: Priceless.

Actually, for one night, it’s FREE!*

THIS Friday, February 10th

5:00pm - 7:00pm

City Saloon
151 West Ohio Street

In advance of the March 21st Primary, ChicagoPAC invites civic-minded individuals from around the Chicagoland area to a FREE evening of food, drinks, & relaxation.

Come join the numerous Statewide, County and local elected officials and candidates planning on attending this event, and enjoy an evening of conversation - not speeches.

*TO ATTEND, just RSVP by e-mailing your name and address to chicagopac@gmail.com by noon on February 10th and your name will be placed on the guest list.

Questions? Contact Aviva@fritchey.com

Founded by State Rep. John Fritchey, ChicagoPAC supports candidates committed to good government and pragmatic ideals to improve communities and opportunities for individuals, families, and businesses in every neighborhood across our great city.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Problem With Politics

Here's something I probably shouldn't start, but here goes. There are a couple of different ways to look at the legislative process: 1) You can respect people's differences and work to advance your beliefs while they work to meet their goals. This means that sometimes you come out ahead, sometimes they do, and sometimes you meet in the middle; or 2) You can constantly lash out at your opponents, hurling invectives in a scorched-earth strategy, and alienate people on both sides along the way.

I've tried to follow the first path. Judging by one of her comments on her post on the General Assmbly's "uberliberals", Jill Stanek unapologetically opts for door number two. Jill started her post with Nazi-esque cartoon (which she at least realized was not the best way to win friends and influence people, and has since been taken down). But in one of her comments, she says the following about the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, an issue on which I worked long and hard with Rep. Brandon Phelps, as well as representatives from both sides of the choice issue (many of whom had never sat down together at the table before). While addressing an issue that had all kinds of major repercussions, we reached a compromise solution with which all groups were comfortable and which was seen as a major accomplishment.

At least that's my view of it. Here, in her own words, is Ms. Stanek's (For the record, although Jill and I rarely agree, I have in the past told her personally that I respected her passion. Maybe that's why I'm all the more troubled by this issue.) :
Born Alive 2005 caused a huge panic among IL GA liberals.

At first they dismissed it, as they had four prior years. Planned Parenthood came out against it, and the IL Med Society refused to endorse it. This put liberals in a bind when Born Alive began gaining steam.

The reason Born Alive 2005 got traction was because: 1) it was finally worded identically to the federal version, which passed unanimously in the US Senate; 2) pro-lifers were better organized and bolder.

Rep. Fritchey brokered a "compromise" that helped Planned Parenthood and IMS save face and gave pro-abort legislators a way to vote for Born Alive after they had come out against it.

The compromise was comprised of two unnecesary (sic) amendments stating Born Alive would not intrude on Roe v. Wade, and Born Alive would not intrude on accepted medical practices.

The amendments were unncessary because they were redundant. I didn't want them included, because we had the votes without them. I wanted to force uberliberals to vote against the bill. Go ahead, make my day. But I was overruled. And that is how Born Alive 2005 got through. (Emphasis added)
Here are the first problems that I have with her comments: First off, whether you liked the amendment or not, nobody on either side of the bill argued that it was redundant. Secondly, I can almost assure you that, without the amendment, that bill was not getting to the Governor's desk, let alone getting signed.

But the biggest problem I have is with this statement: I wanted to force uberliberals to vote against the bill. When you become more obsessed with political posturing or the destruction of 'your enemies' than you are about advancing your issues, you are devoid the very spirit upon which our system is predicated.

People will always, and in good faith, disagree about very substantive issues. And they have words for those people who want to quell dissent by simply eliminating their opposition, but I won't bandy them about here. During my years in the House, I think that I have become a better legislator by recognizing that among both friends and enemies alike, the level of respect that you receive will be commensurate with the amount that you give.

When passion and commitment turn to contempt and disrespect, nobody wins.

Gettin' Paid

In the 'You Could Have Seen This One Coming From a Mile Away Dept.', I was informed on Friday that the State has been sued by at least one payday lender. Followers of Illinois politics will recall the cat and mouse game that has been payday regulation in this state. A couple years ago, a rule was passed regulating the 30 day loans that were proliferating around the state. In response, the industry, deciding that profits beat good faith, went to 31 day loans.

Last year, after years of industry stonewalling that would have been impressive if it wasn't so offensive, we passed a very good, and fair, comprehensive regulatory bill covering the industry.

I don't have the time to get into the myriad components of the new law, but one provision calls for certain loans to be put into a database. According to Crain's:
State regulators last week fined Illinois Title Loans, with 55 locations throughout Illinois, for failing to comply with the state's new payday lending reform law. The company must pay $27,500 a day until it registers its loans with a state database, as required beginning Feb. 1. A company spokeswoman declines comment. (Emphasis added)
What the Crain's article did not mention, they may not have known at the time, is that the fine has resulted in a lawsuit being brought against the State seeking to enjoin enforcement of the Act. My understanding of the jist of the suit is a claim that the Department is attempting to act outside the scope of the Act by requiring certain loans to be recorded into the database. This could just mean that the industry found a new way to structure their products so as to skirt the regulation of the Department. I haven't yet seen the suit, but I will say that it is a safe bet that this will not sit well with the countless groups and legislators and constitutional officers who toiled to get this law passed.

Lobbyists, start your engines.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Here We Go Again

I think that many people, myself included, thought that after the Infamous Med Mal Crusades of 2005, the Legislature was going to take at least a short breather before taking on more 'tort reform' battles. Think again.

In advance of a Senate Republican press conference, the Senate Dems have let a slew of Republican measures out of the Rules Committee, and there a rumblings that at least one measure (likely a venue reform measure) will emerge from the House Rules committee as well.

Conventional wisdom was that Democratic Leadership had placated the unrest in Southern Illinois by sheparding through the med mal bill, and that not much more would be done this election year. As news of these latest developments spread through the Capitol, various theories were bandied about as to what the latest end game is in these developments.

Groups on both sides are donning their battle armor, and it looks like the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by my Senator, John Cullerton, and the House Civil Judiciary Committee, which I chair, are about to heat up again.


While it's still unknown, (although unlikely), whether there will be any debates between Governor Blagojevich and challenger Edwin Eisendrath, it is a certainty that the one planned by Channel 7 and the League of Women Voters will NOT be going forward. The debate was cancelled today after the Governor failed to respond to the invitation by the deadline.

"By canceling the debate, what we have done is a great disservice to the citizens of Illinois, because they don't have the opportunity to see Governor Rod Blagojevich and Ed Eisendrath talking about the issues," said Carol Maier, League of Women Voters of Illinois.

The deadline for agreeing to debate on ABC7 the night of March 7 was Tuesday. But Governor Blagojevich never signed on, claiming to be too busy running the state, preparing a budget and trying to get the state legislature to approve a host of new programs.

"We want to do a lot of different things. It takes a lot of work and effort, and my focus is exclusively on my job," said Blagojevich.

Interestingly, I was at a press conference with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn last Saturday at which he was asked about his thoughts on debates between Blagojevich and Eisendrath. Always the populist, Quinn said that he thought that debates were good for the public, and that every incumbent should participate in at least one debate. I guess he and the Governor can agree to disagree on that one.

Serious Stuff

Lately I've been busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, and have fallen behind in both blogging and keeping up with the news. But here's a story that caught my attention that I didn't see anywhere else if it was even covered by other outlets.

Channel 2's Mike Flannery reports that 3rd Congressional District candidate John Sullivan is intimating that something is amiss in the current Congressman's voting history. From the Channel 2 website:
At the center of the dispute is a series of strange statements by Lipinski regarding whether and how he voted while he lived out of state teaching college.

“Once I moved to Tennessee, I did not vote in Illinois,” Lipinski said on a past “Public Affairs” show hosted by Jeff Berkowitz.

That is not what documents show, however, provided by the Chicago Board of Election.

Commissioners show that somebody cast an absentee ballot in Dan Lipinski's name in five of the six elections conducted between 1998 and 2002.
Go read the rest of it. Since I have zero knowledge about this specific case, I'm not weighing in one way or the other. But it's potentially a pretty serious charge. It will be interesting to see if this story has any legs.

P.S. - Thanks to Eric Zorn, who had the decency to privately point out an egregious verbiage error that I made in this post (since corrected) as opposed to exposing me to public ridicule. It's the U of M kinship in action.