Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Protecting Homes Before Studios

Once again, my posting has slowed as the result of a busy schedule, holiday, etc. And I'm not sure that the next 5-7 days will be much more productive on the blogging front.

I have been wanting to weigh in on the Governor's education proposal, but I figured that it has been getting enough coverage and discussion as is. But before I get back to other work however, I do want to touch on one aspect of this issue.

Over the past couple of days, many of my constituents have been receiving reassessment notices for their homes. And three years after getting increases of 40-100%, they are once again getting increases of...40-100%. Same home, same neighborhood, absurd taxes. By example, when we moved into our home about nine years ago, the property taxes were about $3800. With the latest reassessment, we will be looking at a tax bill of about $20,000.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that while about half of our tax bill goes to the Chicago Board of Education, the public school two blocks from my house is one of the worst-performing in the area, graduating just 8 kids last year. What's wrong with this picture? A lot.

The point of this is that while the Governor proposes to pump billions more into our school system, and while he aggressively worked to give tax relief to film producers who shoot in Illinois, many of his neighbors are being faced with having to sell their homes because of our overreliance on property taxes in the funding of school. His proposal does nothing to address this issue, although in his defense I guess, he never claimed that it did.

But this issue has been around long before the near ten years ago since I joined the General Assembly, and long before my predecessor, the Governor, joined the House before that. It has not gone away, nor will it, until something is done to address it head on. Given the propensity of elected officials to think in terms of election cycles rather than real world timeframes, I am dubious that any meaningful reforms are on the horizon.

The exception to this would be the convening of a Constitutional Convention a couple of years from now, something which I think would be in the best interest of the State on a number of fronts.

There is arguably no more pressing issue in my area than that of property taxes, and I believe that I echo the thoughts of a number of my surrounding colleagues in saying that, given this fact as well as the numerous other questions surrounding the proposal, it will be exceedingly difficult (impossible?) to get many of us to support this measure. Couple that with the reported upon concerns of Downstate Democrats about the proposal, and this is looking a lot like a non-starter.

I will be keeping tabs here, but may not post for the next week, but thanks as always for checking in.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Don't Forget About Us

Today's Chicago Defender has a piece today on the future repercussions of Meeks' threatened thrid-party candidacy.

Though Meeks has dropped out of the race after brokering a deal with Blagojevich that will mean a new comprehensive school funding plan – to be announced on Tuesday - the decision to challenge a Democratic ally may be an example of an effective way to get attention for African American issues...

The Black state lawmaker’s threat to run against the governor, who needs Black votes to retain office, was a “bold tactical move to hold white Democrats accountable,” said Rogers.

Meeks told reporters Friday that polling data showed his candidacy would take more votes from Republican Judy Barr Topinka than the governor. The widespread fear, however, was that a bid by Meeks would siphon off votes from Blagojevich and benefit the Republican candidate.

“The Black vote has become all too predictable and because of that politicians on both sides feel the Black vote can be ignored,” said Rogers.

Read the rest of the article, it raises some interesting thoughts and closes with this:
Changes to school funding may be an important immediate payoff, but there may also be a longer term benefit to Meeks’ challenge of Blagojevich, Rogers said.

“You’re changing the equation. The issue is whether Blacks will come out in support of Democrats and that’s where the strategic power of African Americans lies, if the Republican Party made real overtures, it would be sensible to trade on that,” he said.

Cold Cash

It wasn't in a shoebox, but Paul Powell would have been proud.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agents searched the Capitol Hill office of a Louisiana congressman under investigation on bribery charges Sunday, while newly released court papers said agents found $90,000 in cash last year in his Washington home.

In a 95-page affidavit used to obtain a warrant for the office search, investigators stated that an August 2005 search of Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's home turned up the cash sum in a freezer.

Hey, at least it takes the attention away from Illinois.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Has the Governor Seen the Light?

UPDATE - Apparently the answer is 'Deal". Meeks is out.

Even on vacation, Rich Miller is on top of Illinois happenings. He just recently broke the story for his subscribers that there may be a deal between the Governor and Senator Meeks on the issue of education funding that would generate major new revenue for Illinois schools.

Without any inside knowledge to the discussions, I would think that the only viable potential source of a long-term revenue stream sufficient to generate those types of dollars would be the previously discussed privatization of the toll roads. This would allow the Governor to infuse sufficient dollars into the schools to stave off the Meeks bid without sacrificing his no tax increase pledge.

A question that remains in my mind though is what, if anything, is planned to address the issue of funding inequity between districts as well as the oft-discussed over-reliance on property taxes. Intelligent people have differed, and will continue to differ, on whether the schools need more money, but I would think that there is some consensus that the state needs to pick up its share of whatever monies are going into schools.

If local governments (eg. Cook County) are not somehow compelled to translate a massive new infusion of state money into some form of relief for property owners, there is still going to be a lot of work that needs to be done.

In any event, I commend Sen. Meeks for putting his words into action.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Worth a Thousand Words

Comments about our two candidates for Governor got decidedly vicious late this afternoon, so this post exists no more. A few people had to ruin some good-natured fun for everybody else.


Okay, I'm kind of swamped today, but in Rich's absence, I'll try to give you folks something to do with your time. A quick State, County, and City rundown would include:

In the Fawell Said it Was Okay Department, news breaks of hiring lists.

In the Make Up Your Mind Department, Stroger now expected to stay on the ballot.

In the This Can't Be Good for the Defense Department, City Personnel Director tells her tale.

Tee off on the level of government of your choice.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Taxing Les' Patience (and Property)

Today's guest blogger is Les Kniskern. Les is a constituent of mine from the Greater Rockwell neighborhood, not far from the Governor's residence. Les has been actively involved in community issues for some time now. Most recently, he has been engaged in efforts to mitigate the negative business impact from the station closures that have accompanied the CTA Brown Line Expansion Project.

His other passion has been the issue of skyrocketing property taxes and the underlying issue of how we assess properties in Cook County. Les is not a 'special interest', nor is he an 'insider'. His story and experience is that of many of my constituents, and he was interested in sharing them with readers here.

While there are various points that I would love to expound upon, and may at a later date, for today, I will try to stay on the sidelines for this post, and let those of you that choose to do so, debate the issue amongst yourselves or with Les.

For a related story, you can read Ben Joravsky's article in this week's Chicago Reader.

Without further delay, I give you Les Kniskern:

I’m tempted to post the phrase “7% solution” and let the comments fly, but since Rep. John Fritchey has graciously invited me to post as a guest blogger, let me share thoughts from a homeowner’s perspective.

My wife and I formed a partnership with another couple to purchase a Chicago two-flat as our residence. An innovative plan to combine resources, share expenses, and truly the only way we could afford a down payment given our moderate salaries from the non-profit sector.

As first-time homeowners we never anticipated a 59% assessment increase in 2003, only one year after our purchase. This was not a rehab, we’re still hoping for the day when we can afford new windows – but the broken sewer line took precedence this year.

Our dear neighbors, elderly sisters who still resonate with the accents of their home country, worry with me over the fence as we discuss how to care for different plants in our garden. “What,” Otillia asks, “are we to do? How can we pay our taxes and keep our home?” Their home of 17 years, and 63% assessment increases.

Other neighbors, who’ve battled gang influence, cleaned up graffiti, and planted corner gardens to make this a neighborhood to be proud of, are no longer fearful of losing their possessions to crime, but of losing their homes to taxes.

There seems to be a perception that increased property values are a boon to the homeowner. Appreciation means more money in your pocket, right? Take the money and run. Yet, this boon is only offered to the investor who flips a commodity, or the seller who moves from location to location.

At the crux of the assessment debate is the homeowner whose interest lies not in profit, but in the home. Individuals seeking a residence with stability, a community in which to live, neighbors on which to rely. In order to build such a place, a commitment must be made to its residents. To make a stable community, and ultimately a better State of Illinois, you must lay a foundation of property owners who are invested in where they live. Invested not only monetarily but invested in the responsibility of taking care of their homes and their neighborhood, invested in the non-tangibles of a strong community.

Escalating assessments and out-of-control property tax increases threaten this type of homeowner.

The property tax debate must not be looked at as an “us” vs. “them” proposition, but rather as a delicate eco-system comprised of property owners, commercial interests, and political gain.

For a run-of-the-mill homeowner, understanding these complexities can be hard. Even more difficult is that the State of Illinois cannot take away the protection put in place by the assessment cap without causing great damage to our neighborhoods.

The “7% solution” is a misnomer, whereas it should have been called the “7% bridge,” to a more permanent solution.

Driving Traffic to the Blog

So I think that it's great that they now have these informational signs to give drivers ideas about things to do while they're stuck in traffic. And it's also great to have friends in the department that programs the signs. This has been evident recently to anybody driving through the Dan Ryan construction:

Ok, before anybody runs off to the IG or the press, I'm KIDDING!! This actually came from a site that Eric Zorn has referenced a couple of times called Just shows you what you can do if you get bored enough.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rest in Peace Baby

Whenever Lou Jones called me 'baby', which was 95% of the time, I knew that all was good. It was when I would hear her say, "Fritchey, I need to speak with you", that I knew she was about business. But while business for other people might be trying to help get a deal done, business for Lou was about helping people in need.

Lou was as solid as they come, and to the extent that I have seen some comments to the contrary, I can only presume that the writers of those comments just didn't know Lou. For a poignant article about Lou, read Rich Miller's tribute in the Daily Southtown today.

Knowing that there would be crowds later in the day, I went to pay my respects to Lou early this morning at the Metropolitan Apostolic Church. The church was serene, just the Deacon, myself and a couple others were there at the time. I chatted briefly with the Deacon, who told me how much Lou meant to the community, something I already knew, but still enjoyed hearing.

And I have to say that, as I knelt down in front of her, Lou looked simultaneously resplendent and at peace. Just as she should.

Are You There Rod? It's Me, James

If you're at all a political junkie, you can't help but me fascinated by the potential candidacy of State Sen. Rev. James Meeks. When he first discussed the concept with me some time ago, I thought it made for interesting conjecture, but was far from convinced that it would go anywhere.

But to know Rev. Meeks is to know his passion, and his intelligence. And one of the things that about which he is passionate is the manner by which we fund our schools. I have seen him speak to audiences of every stripe, from his congregation to business leaders, and he has an uncanny knack for relating to people. Almost as if you crossed a preacher with a politician. Uh, never mind.

Many people initially wrote off Meeks' talk as one of political extortion. What they missed was that Meeks' acknowledged as much. He wants to improve how we fund our schools, and if the Governor were to present a plan with which Meeks agreed, Meeks was quick to say that he would relent from the threatened run. About a week ago, Meeks presented an education plan to the Governor's office. As of Saturday, he said that he had heard nothing in response to the submission. Meeks is not one to be taken lightly, and I can't believe that ignoring him is a good game plan either. If you listen to the man now, he sounds like a man that is going to be in this race.

Meeks has put forth May 20 as the day that he will announce his slate (maybe with Republican St. Clair County Board member Steve Reeb as a running mate), which is still different than a drop dead date for committing to the race. The conventional thinking is that if he does declare and file, the rest of the ticket would then withdraw, but who knows what will ultimately happen.

Should he run, everybody can argue about the impact that it will have on the race, but one thing is for sure, it will forever change the course of Illinois politics, forcing people across the state to rethink how they vote, why they vote, and who they vote for. Couple this with the potential of having the 'Protect Marriage' initiative on the ballot, throw in any fallout from the Ryan verdict, Sorich trial, and pending investigations, and you have what could be the most interesting Statewide election in a long while.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

In the Air

In the random thought department, I just wanted to mention two ad campaigns out there right now which are both pretty good in their own ways. The first that comes to mind are the new Secretary of State ads for the organ donor program. Both the radio and television ads use Bob Marley's 'Wait in Vain' as the background music. The TV ads are very well done, very effective, and a far cry from the program ads of the past done by any elected officials.

I have to admit that the other ad is the radio spot by Tony Peraica. I don't know that it will get him anywhere, but he's got a surprisingly good jingle and a good message to boot. It stands out from all those cookie cutter 'couple talking' or neighbors talking' ads that tout or decry some candidate.

It's still a little unnerving to be listening to political ads in May though. I think that it leads to one of two things: People not paying attention to you now. Or people numbly tuning you out down the stretch. But that's for the consultants to debate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Making Lemonade From Lemons

From a Channel 7 story, the Governor gets big credit for having a sense of humor:
- Governor Rod Blagojevich could have been snippy. He could have been terse. Instead, he had some fun with a group of College Republicans who came out to his appearance at the University of Illinois yesterday.

The group wore blue T-shirts emblazoned with an anti-Blagojevich slogan ("Blagojevich sucks") to protest a decision that could put some of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission's student loan portfolio up for sale.

The governor announced the program and touted its potential to provide student aid to more students. Then he looked at the College Republicans and said he wanted a T-shirt. In Blagojevich's words, "I promise you if I get a blue one like that, I'll wear it when I go out jogging."

The College Republicans quickly handed up a blue T-shirt and posed for pictures with the governor.

Now You See Him...

According to the Quincy Pundit, Rep. Art Tenhouse is hanging it up come July in order to go lobby on CPA issues. While we may often disagree on legislative matters, we also tried to work together when we could. I have a lot of respect for Art as a legislator and all-around nice guy. I wish him all the best.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

We'll Miss You Lou

Not that there's ever a good time to get news like this, but it was very depressing to be in the car this morning and hear of the passing of State Rep. Lovana Jones on the morning news. Lou was a strong woman who was always ready with a quick smile and laugh, yet who would not shy away from fighting for those issues in which she believed. And if you ever got on Lou's bad side even once, you knew that you never wanted to be there again:) She will be missed.

MAP Quest

Despite having been at the blogging for a while now, I still get impressed by the sheer volume of quality information that is being put out by people from all corners. Pick a subject, you'll find people writing about it.

In that vein, but much closer to home, I came across an interesting article, apparently written by a U of I student, which does a workmanlike job of laying out the state's MAP and new MAP Plus programs, and detailing the legislative/political positioning of various House members during the process. (The wrong photo of Kevin McCarthy is an amusing sidebar.)

The author appears to have a conservative bent, which somewhat skews the piece, but hey, that's the beauty of the blogosphere. The article does a credible job of looking at the subject and is worth a read.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Just happened to notice that my previous post was number 200 since the inception of this blog last Fall. While it's been more work than I envisioned going into it, and while it has had it's relative highs and lows, I think that it has been a very worthwhile venture to date and hope that it helps set the stage for other electeds to jump into the realm as well.

Over the last several months, I've tried to take on a variety of topics, political and otherwise. And though my personality dictates that I wind up doing a lot of self-editing, I have worked to share my insights from a relatively unique perspective in an open, and hopefully, thought-provoking manner.

Thanks for reading, (even those of you that disagree with my positions), and as always, feel free to share your topic ideas or thoughts with me.

Risky Bet

So Dave McKinney from the Sun-Times today writes about the ongoing battle between Illinois casino owners and the horse racing industry folks. The genesis of the article is legislation passed in the closing moments of session that will take a percentage of the boat profits and transfer the money to the tracks.
Stung by a legislative loss to the horse racing industry, Illinois' casinos are contemplating legal action to block a plan to shift $36 million annually from four Chicago area casinos to racetracks and horsemen.

Gov. Blagojevich is expected to sign legislation he helped pass to take 3 percent of revenues from the state's top-grossing casinos in the next two years and give it to the racing industry, which has donated roughly $250,000 to him.

Now setting aside the fact that I have had bills on issues like campaign finance reform that I can't get called ONCE over a period of YEARS, and this bill gets called in the House THREE times in a MONTH (allowing sufficient pressure to be applied to certain members in order for them to have an epiphany that their previous 'no' votes were somehow misguided), I just think that this is a bad bill.

Let me make a couple of things clear. I have a lot of respect for the horse racing industry and consider a number of their representatives to be friends. I have not been a proponent of increased casino gaming in the past (I voted against the Rosemont bill). That having been said, this is still just a shaky way for us to do business.

And while I think that the casino owners are serious about their threats of legal actions, I have no way of knowing what the courts would do with this issue. But common sense should dictate that it is wrong to tax one segment of an industry in order to enhance the bottom line of another segment of the same industry. You don't tax Starbuck's because Dunkin Donuts is having a hard time making a go of it.

Time, and maybe the courts, will decide the fate of this issue. But this may wind up being on of those votes (remember the quickly struck down SBC bill a little while back?) that comes back to haunt some people in the future.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Oh Brother!

Even though one part of me is not surprised, just when you think you've seen it all, the Shaw brothers decide to prove you wrong.

Please tell me that I'm not the only one that thinks that this is over the top by anybody's measure.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Good Thing Happened to a Good Guy

A quick note of congrats to Ryan Hermes, who was just promoted yesterday to Springfield Bureau Chief for Illinois Radio Network. Ryan is a good reporter, a nice guy, and a class act. Good job Ryan.

More Important Than Politics

So arguably the nicest moment of this session occurred about an hour ago when State Rep. Milt Patterson returned to the House floor for the first time since suffering a stroke a couple of months ago. Milt looks reassuringly good, and seemed as happy to be back as we all were to have him back.

By coincidence, two days ago I received the following in an e-mail regarding how to identify if somebody has had a stroke. I think that it has valuable information in it, and is worth a read.
During a BBQ, a friend stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics) and just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes. They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food - while she appeared a bit shaken up, Ingrid went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening. Ingrid's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00pm, Ingrid passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ. Had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke, perhaps Ingrid would be with us today. Some don't die. They end up in a helpless, hopeless condition instead. It only takes a minute to read this...
A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough.
Thank God for the sense to remember the "3" steps, STR. Read and Learn! Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

S * Ask the individual to SMILE.
T * Ask the person to TALK to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (i.e. . . It is sunny out today).
R * Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

NOTE: Another 'sign' of a stroke is this: Ask the person to 'stick' out their tongue. If the tongue is 'crooked', if it goes to one side or the other that is also an indication of a stroke. If he or she has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call 911 immediately!! and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Don't Look Behind the Curtain

So it's 7:30p.m., I'm looking through the latest supplemental calendar and I come across HB4572, which has had its deadline for passage extended. This is an interesting bill that deals with some of the secrecy issues that have been raised by Ethics Commission Chairman Scott Turow and others, although it still leaves a lot of issues unresolved. At the end of this post is a summary of what's in the bill.

But before you read the summary, keep the following in mind, which I would imagine is going to become an issue. At a minimum, it makes for an interesting sidebar.

According to the analysis, one proponent has stepped out in favor of the bill - the Executive Inspector General of the Treasurer’s Office. At the same time, only one entity has come out against the bill - the Executive Inspector General of the Governor’s Office. Go figure.

On to the bill, HB4572:

(i) Allows an Inspector General to disclose the name of a confidential source to employees of the Inspector General or Ethics Commission who need the information for proper performance of their employment functions;

(ii) Allows a law enforcement agency, an ultimate jurisdictional authority, an Ethics Commission, or another Inspector General who received information from an Inspector General to disclose the information to their employees who need the information for proper performance of their employment functions;

(iii) Allows the subject of an Inspector General file or report to request, in writing, a copy of the report and gives the ultimate jurisdictional authority discretion to release a redacted copy of the file or report;

(iv) Makes it a Class A misdemeanor to intentionally disclose the name of an individual providing information or reporting alleged misconduct (except to employees of the Inspector General or Ethics Commission); and

(v) Makes it a Class A misdemeanor to disclose information contained in an Inspector General report if the person disclosing is an employee of an entity receiving information from a report in order to perform their job or the person who was the subject of an investigation who received a redacted copy (with an exception for disclosing information to a personal attorney or union representative).

Monday, May 01, 2006

It's Hard Out Here for a Senior

Maybe my earlier statements of resuming regular blogging were a bit premature. It's just been a real busy time. In any event, while there's a break in the action here on the floor, I happened to notice the following article which may have a lot of people rethinking their retirement plans:
WASHINGTON -- The trustees for the government's two biggest benefit programs said Monday that the trust fund for Social Security will be depleted in 2040, a year earlier than expected, while Medicare will exhaust its trust fund just 12 years from now.

The annual report showed deterioration in the financial condition of both programs although the problems in Medicare were depicted as far more serious because of the skyrocketing costs for health care...

They stated that the projected long-term growth rates for both Social Security and Medicare are not "sustainable under current financing arrangements."...

While the depletion of the reserves built up over past years is projected to occur in just 12 years for Medicare and 34 years for Social Security, both programs will face financing issues much sooner at the point that the amount paid out each year exceeds the amount the government collects to fund them.

For Medicare, that occurred for the year of 2004. However, the program is projected to be in the black again this year before crossing over to paying out more than it takes in permanently in 2006 and the years following that.

For Social Security, the point at which the program will pay out more in benefits than it takes in will occur in 2017, the trustees projected, the same as in last year's report."
In light of the foregoing, I have to admit that I'm not too sure what to make of this statement in the article:
But Democrats charged that the administration was using the trustees reports to try to create an air of crisis to make radical changes to the two benefit programs.

"There is no crisis," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. "There remains plenty of time to mend rather than end Medicare."
Whether it's pensions or Social Security, when the time comes to pay the piper, it's not going to be pretty.