Veto Session Preview

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Veto Session Preview

Posted:

Monday, October 23, 2017 6:28 PM EDT
Updated:

Monday, October 23, 2017 6:28 PM EDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill (WAND)- Lawmakers will be back in town Tuesday for what is expected to be an interesting veto session. 

“Normally during a veto session you will be dealing with line item and reduction vetoes and will have a fight over the Governor taking an x amount of money out of a program, this time around we aren’t doing that because we dealt with the total budget through an override”  said Kent Redfield, Political Science Professor Emeritus at UIS.

Another aspect that could set up for an interesting veto session, is the Republicans frustration with the governor for signing two controversial bills, a bill allowing for taxpayer funded abortions, and the Trust Act, which conservatives say makes Illinois a “sanctuary state”. 

“It is a Democrat/Republican thing but it’s even more complicated because you have a number of Republicans that are very angry at the governor over him signing Medicaid funding for abortions and another bill with having to do with immigration so people are watching whether or not the dynamic will be different.” said Redfield. 

Here are some issues that are expected to come up:

  • HB3649- The Debt Transparency Act. This bill is backed by Comptroller Susana Mendoza, and would require all state agencies to submit monthly reports of their bills. Editorial boards across the state, including at the Herald & Review, have come out strong against the governor for vetoing this bill. 
  • HB302- Unclaimed Life Insurance. This bill backed by Treasurer Michael Frerichs would make it easier for families to get unclaimed life insurance benefits after a death in the family. Treasurer Frerichs is pushing hard for an override of this legislation. “Let’s make it the law of the land that life insurance companies have to find their policy holders who have died and notify their beneficiaries this is common sense it’s what everyone would expect would happen when they buy a life insurance policy” he said. 
  • HB2462- Equal Pay Bill. This bill which passed with bipartisan support aims at closing the pay gap between men and women by banning employers from asking job applicants about their previous salaries. 
  • SB1905- Right to Work zone. This bill which is strong support from unions statewide, bans local communities from establishing Right to Work zones within their community. Political experts say members with heavy union presence in their districts could vote to override, since they are uncertain about funding from the Governor.
  • SB321- Auditing of MCO’s. This bill would require the Medicaid Managed Care contract procurement process to be transparent, and audited by the Auditor General. 

New issues are also expected to come into play during veto session. 

“People are curious if we are going to see a capital bill for instance. Which people would love to be spending money on roads and bridges in their districts but the question is always how do you fund it?” said Redfield. “We know there is certain items on the agenda because of vetoes but it is really up to the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate to decide are we going to expand the agenda and get into some other issues. Either because we are serious about passing them or because we want to make a statement.” 

A hearing scheduled Tuesday afternoon will tackle gun control in the state. Three bills were filed in response to the Las Vegas massacre. HB4107, would ban assault weapons, assault weapon attachments and .50 caliber rifles and cartridges. It would also make it illegal for anyone to own those 300 days after the bill goes into effect. HB4112, would make bump stocks illegal. Finally, HB4117, would ban trigger modification devices and require a FOID card to purchase pre-packaged explosives. 

Lawmakers are in session Tuesday at noon.

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Veto Session Preview

EDITORIAL: Lawmakers’ pension ‘sweetener’ leaves sour taste

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Illinois has crushing government pension debt partly because a steady stream of “sweeteners” has been added over the years to boost benefits for select groups of people, while adding no revenue to pay for them.

But we’re not sure we’ve seen a slicker sweetener than the one reported by Tim Novak in Sunday’s Sun-Times. In that case, two legislators 16 years ago co-sponsored a pension sweetener that ultimately benefitted . . . themselves.

EDITORIAL

The bill by now-retired state Rep. Edward “Eddie” Acevedo and current state Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz let them double dip by getting credits toward Chicago police pensions for every day they served in the Illinois Senate or House — even while they were getting credits toward legislative pensions for those same exact days.

Their bill, which was a simple tweak to an earlier law, technically also will benefit any future Chicago cops who also serve in the Legislature. But so far the benefits have gone into just two pockets: those of Acevedo and Munoz.

Ordinary citizens who don’t get to tweak laws to their benefit can only shake their heads in amazement — as they shake their wallets for money to help Illinois dig out from under its huge mound of unfunded pension obligations. The state’s unfunded pensions are well north of $100 billion, and just on Monday Chicago taxpayers found out they’re about to get hit with yet another property tax increase for police and fire pensions in 2020.

It’s long past time for lawmakers to start focusing on ensuring pensions are properly funded instead of figuring out how to raid them for just a little bit more.

Acevedo and Munoz both worked for the Chicago Police Department, but neither was there for the 10 years needed to qualify for a pension because they took leaves of absence to serve in the Legislature. Neither appears to have particularly distinguished himself while working for the police department. They were investigated by the department’s internal affairs bureau, which recommended firing both of them. Instead, Acevedo got a reprimand and Munoz got a 10-day suspension.

Neither Acevedo nor Munoz pocketed a huge windfall with their pension change. Acevedo gets $4,572 more per year from his police pension, which will be on top of his state pension of more than $64,000 a year once he starts collecting the state pension. Munoz gets an extra $6,802 a year, which also will be on on top of his state pension of more than $64,000 a year.

Those extra dollars come from people who in all likelihood will never see sweeteners like that in their retirement funds.

Sixteen years ago, Acevedo and Munoz were enterprising in taking care of their own futures. Too bad they didn’t put their skills toward figuring out a solution to the pension mess for everyone else.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

EDITORIAL: Lawmakers’ pension ‘sweetener’ leaves sour taste

Chicago’s incentive bid is sensible. Now, does Springfield want Amazon in Illinois?

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All the numbers involved in Amazon’s search for a new second headquarters city are eye-popping. The Seattle-based company, planning to hire as many as 50,000 people at high salaries, is getting offers of government incentives worth big bucks from eager bidders.

That’s big bucks as in billions.

Scores of cities submitted bid packages last week, most choosing not to divulge financial details. On Monday, we saw the outlines of Chicago’s offer: more than $2 billion in incentives, including $1.32 billion in state tax credits; $450 million in infrastructure improvements; $250 million in education, workforce development and city economic development funds; and $60 million in city and Cook County property tax breaks.

First, allow us to blow off some steam: We don’t like the incentive game because it’s a taxpayer-funded giveaway in hopes of a future economic payoff. Once upon a time employers made investment decisions based on business reasons. Today governments want to sweep those employers off their feet with lavish offers.

OK, back to reality: The game exists, so in some circumstances it can be in Illinois’ interest to participate. That’s true if the incentives are reasonable and tied to certifiable job creation and retention. The more incentive money invested in mass transit and other infrastructure to benefit all residents, the better. Taking a principled stand against all incentives in order to watch good jobs fly by to other states doesn’t make sense. We hope someday Illinois has such an extraordinary business environment that employers won’t need to be bribed — oops, we mean incentivized — to come. That time isn’t now.

Amazon is the big fish Chicago should try to lure. The company will spend an estimated $5 billion to build its headquarters, and the 50,000 jobs, many in software engineering, will have an average salary above $100,000. World Business Chicago says Amazon’s HQ2 would generate $341 billion in total spending for ongoing operations over 17 years, including $71 billion in salaries, and supporting an additional 37,500 jobs in the region annually.

How does the $2 billion offer for Amazon stack up? Illinois recently lost out on a big manufacturing project: Foxconn picked Wisconsin as the site of an LCD panel plant with up to 13,000 jobs, in exchange for incentives worth $3 billion. Michigan bid $3.8 billion, but the Wisconsin offer was more valuable because most of the incentives come in the form of refundable tax credits that could be paid in cash, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Michigan’s offer was slanted heavily toward credits that reduce tax bills but can’t be converted to cash.

Compared to Wisconsin’s cash-rich offer, the $2 billion offer to Amazon from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner — depending on how all the details shake out — seems reasonable. We’re still choking on the concept of Illinois giving money to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest guys, but some poker games are worth the high stakes. As we’ve said previously, If another city wants to outbid Chicago, so be it. We want Chicago to win this contest on its overall merits: This city has the location, educated labor force and quality of life Amazon seeks.

There is one other crucial factor: Emanuel needs to convince Bezos that Amazon won’t be hobbled by the state’s public debts and political dysfunction. USA Today synthesized an assessment several handicappers have raised: “While Chicago’s got much of what Amazon wants, its state economy is a mess.” It’d be easy for Bezos and his lieutenants to wonder if Illinois, with the worst credit rating of any state, can be trusted to fulfill its end of any deal.

That puts the onus on Springfield lawmakers, starting with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, to make clear they want Amazon in Illinois. Foxconn rejected Illinois. So did Toyota and Mazda, which are searching for a factory site. It’s one thing for Illinois to lose out in the competition to offer the most incentives. It’s another to be bypassed because the state is seen as a lousy, risky place to do business.

The General Assembly begins its veto session Tuesday. What will Madigan, Cullerton and other elected officials do, and what will they say, to make Amazon want to look closely at Chicago’s bid?

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

Chicago’s incentive bid is sensible. Now, does Springfield want Amazon in Illinois?

EDITORIAL: Banning ‘bump stocks’ would make us safer

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After a gunman killed 58 people and wounded more than 540 using “bump stocks” that essentially turned his firearms into machine guns, some Republican members of Congress said they would support a ban on bump stocks.

EDITORIAL

Now, though, congressional Republicans are backing away from such a ban. Because Congress appears unlikely to act, many state lawmakers around the country are taking up the issue. In Illinois, state Rep. Martin Moylan, D-Des Plaines, has introduced a bill that would ban bump stocks, along with assault weapons, large-capacity magazines and large-caliber rifles. It’s an idea the Legislature should get behind.

Bump stocks have no legitimate purpose and deserve no defense from lawmakers, even in districts where hunting is popular. By using them, Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock was able to kill and wound more people than he could have with weapons that were only semiautomatic. The only function of bump stocks is to quickly kill as many people as possible.

Critics of a ban point out that getting rid of bump stocks would have no effect on the many types of gun crimes that don’t involve firing from semiautomatic or automatic weapons. But that’s not a reason not to do it. Why not try to save as many lives as possible from the next mass-murdering gunman?

A bill with a broader sweep that also will come up in the Legislature’s veto session, which starts Tuesday, would require state licensing of gun shops, similar to a law on the books in Chicago. By reining in the few gun shops that are a source for many of the weapons that turn up on crime scenes, that bill would help reduce the day-to-day gunfire on the streets of Chicago. It also deserves to become law.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

EDITORIAL: Banning ‘bump stocks’ would make us safer

Cook County officials spar over budget cuts in wake of pop tax repeal

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Faced with having to make $200 million in spending cuts after repealing the soda pop tax this month, Cook County officials on Monday warned of consequences and pointed fingers at each other.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presented 10 percent in cuts from the relatively small portion of county spending over which she has direct oversight, but her office warned of dire consequences that would come from eliminating 48 positions, 34 of them through layoffs and reducing grant funding. That would result in fewer mental health screenings for Cook County Jail detainees, put the medical examiner’s accreditation at risk and open the county to risk of cyberattacks, chief of staff John Keller said.

“There is a point at which streamlining our staff becomes a euphemism for gutting our essential government services,” Keller told commissioners during the first day of budget hearings.

In memos to Commissioner John Daley, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee that’s holding the hearings, several other countywide elected officials warned of budget-cutting consequences. Assessor Joe Berrios said he’d eliminate 42 currently vacant jobs. County Clerk David Orr and Inspector General Patrick Blanchard said they’d have to combine position cuts with unpaid furlough days for workers, and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said she’d have to stop prosecuting certain types of criminal cases.

Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of the Health and Hospitals System, said the cuts would lead to the closure of Oak Forest Health Center in the south suburbs and the elimination of a fund that provides tuberculosis vaccinations. And Sheriff Tom Dart offered up a set of changes to areas not under his direct control — among other steps that still wouldn’t allow the two biggest-spending county agencies to achieve the 10 percent in cuts Daley had requested.

Dart’s recommendations included getting rid of the Forest Preserve District police force and letting his officers take over their work, as well as closing branch courts under the jurisdiction of Chief Circuit Court Judge Timothy Evans . He also suggested the closure of jail divisions and furloughing employees, areas he does control.

Board of (Tax) Review commissioners, meanwhile, contended they shouldn’t have to make any cuts, while Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough recommended new service fees that would have to be authorized by state government. Only Treasurer Maria Pappas bucked the trend of resisting change or offering the bare-minimum 10 percent cut. She proposed slashing 25 percent from her $1.3 million budget — which accounts for a small fraction of the $5.4 billion total county budget.

But several commissioners pushed back at what one has described a “sky-is-falling” mentality on the part of the administration and elected officials, contending the cuts give them a chance to start remaking county government.

“We have an opportunity to do something that county government has not done in quite some time, that’s look to make meaningful cuts in non-critical areas,” said Commissioner Sean Morrison, a Palos Park Republican who was the lead sponsor of the pop tax repeal. He also took issue with the lack of a comprehensive set of proposed cuts from Preckwinkle. She put out her 2018 budget plan about a week early, when the pop tax had no expiration date, saying it was balanced and would be up to commissioners to put in back in balance if they voted for repeal.

“You know everything is, system-wide,” Morrison told Preckwinkle’s top budget officials. “My colleagues are going to need the direction from you.”

In response, Budget Director Tanya Anthony said, “The next step is to work with commissioners on amendments, and we’re happy to avail ourselves of that process.” Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki added, “This is a starting process, and will be working collaboratively with the board.”

Commissioner Deborah Sims, a Chicago Democrat who voted for repeal, came to Preckwinkle’s defense. “We asked for this, so now we’ve got it, so now we’re the ones that have to deal with it,” she said.

Despite all the uncertainty, it was clear that commissioners weren’t in the mood to entertain raising taxes after facing the wrath of residents over the pop tax.

“As elected representatives, we must acknowledge these concerns and seek solutions that address this — Cook County’s budget issues — without further burdening the residents of this county with increased taxes,” Daley said.

hdardick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ReporterHal

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Cook County officials spar over budget cuts in wake of pop tax repeal

Gov. Rauner goes hog wild kick-starting re-election bid

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Is Harley-ridin’ Gov. Bruce Rauner “smoke and lightnin’?”

Or smoke and mirrors?

Rauner rides his 2008 Ultra Classic Harley Davidson across the state in an online campaign video to announce his re-election bid.

Wearing a long-sleeved black hoodie, a leather vest full of badges, shades, biker boots and a helmet, the Republican governor kick starts his bid for a second term.

Rauner’s voice-over is the chief audio, but the “heavy metal thunder” of Steppenwolf’s biker anthem “Born to Be Wild” would seem equally appropriate.

Gov. Bruce Rauner. Screen grab from campaign video.

The governor is not riding solo in using motorcycles to project an image in campaign ads.

And he joins a long list of Republican politicians who are Harley riders, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Is it a metaphor for rebelliousness or independence? A symbol of conservatism? There are various interpretations. And Rauner has always touted himself as a political outsider, a “rebel” of sorts.

But is he a real rider? Or a weekend wannabe?

VIDEO

“I know his bike. He’s a rider,” said Dan Harper, of A.B.A.T.E. Illinois, which stands for A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education. Harper, who has ridden with Rauner, said the governor also passes some biker muster because before he became governor he regularly went to Sturgis, South Dakota, for the famous annual biker rally.

“He was going there almost every year,” Harper said.

Harper, who serves as a legislative coordinator for the motorcycle education and advocacy group, said the governor most recently rode in the DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run, hosted by the DuPage and Kane county chapters on Oct. 8.

The video in which Gov. Bruce Rauner officially announces his re-election bid is narrated by the governor, who continues to slam House Speaker Michael Madigan accompanied by footage the leather-clad Republican riding his Harley Davidson through Illinois. | Screenshot

“In my opinion, he’s a biker,” Harper said, adding it’s a great source of stress relief for a man with a lot on his shoulders.

The Ultra Classic is among Harley’s best-sellers and it’s used for normal daily riding, or longer trips, according to Larry Bozek of Chi-Town Harley Davidson. The video features a peek at Rauner’s mileage —30,000 — which Bozek called “pretty good.” Bozek said the average Ultra Classic rider puts about 5,000 to 6,000 miles on the bike a year.

“The guy’s got protection on, and he’s just enjoying his day riding,” Bozek said of the video.

Brian Gaines, political science professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, said there’s a strong association of independence when it comes to Harley Davidsons. He said the timing is perfect to “plant the association of an independent,” in light of the backlash over House Bill 40, the abortion bill the governor signed, angering his conservative base.

Bikes aside, Gaines called the video “rather well done” in terms of visual appeal and music. But Gaines said Rauner has his work cut out for him in trying to unify Republicans, and also finding a way to win over independents as he did in 2014.

“For now, while his general-election opponent is not determined, and his primary path isn’t yet blocked, tagging himself a ‘fighter’ and projecting an aura of loner who won’t back down is probably playing his weak hand not too badly,” Gaines said.

Others questioned the effectiveness of the video, since it’s only being featured online, for now.

“I don’t know how many people are going to see it,” said Collin Corbett, a Republican consultant. “It’s about two minutes. Most online ads are between 15 and 30 seconds. This has got to be an opening sell to what is a much, much larger strategy. Because this really can’t be it.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner on his Harley. Screen grab from campaign video.

Corbett said the motorcycle image is another continuation of the Rauner campaign portraying the multi-millionaire businessman as a “normal guy.”

“I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’re going to see him on a motorcycle, or we’ll see him in that famous Carhartt jacket. And you might see him out hunting a few more times than usual between now and March 20th,” Corbett said. “What we’re learning nowadays and some had to learn the hard way is that voters can see through fake and so, when it comes to something where you’re trying to show Rauner as somebody on a motorcycle, or somebody who hunts, then it’s got to be real because voters see through that.”

He called showing Rauner’s real habits a “tried and true” primary strategy.

At least one of Rauner’s Democratic scoffed at Rauner’s motorcycle message.

“Bruce Rauner’s motorcycle must have taken a wrong turn if took him three years to ‘choose’ to fight for this state,” J.B. Pritzker’s campaign manager Anne Caprara said in a statement. “It’s time for Rauner to go, and at least we know he already has his transportation.”

Gov. Rauner goes hog wild kick-starting re-election bid

DOUBEK: Huge buyouts sock it to taxpayers

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A top public official in Illinois underperforms or, sometimes, even gets caught misbehaving and what do we do? Too often, the answer has been to give them a six-figure, padded landing. It’s time to stop that nonsense once and for all.

OPINION

The Better Government Association recently took a look at hefty public severance deals and found no fewer than nine instances of public bodies granting severance packages to top-level executives that added up to more than $5 million of taxpayer money.

In a few cases, university administrators misbehaved and were removed from their posts, but they still were granted paid sabbaticals or tenured positions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. And if we’re allowing a former administrator to keep a tenured teaching position, we’re giving that person a job and a pension for life that will keep costing us.

  • Michael Hogan, a former University of Illinois president at Urbana-Champaign, resigned after it was discovered his chief of staff posed as a member of the university’s legislative body to try to influence a debate. He was paid $67,500 to end his contract. He also got a one-year paid sabbatical worth $285,000 and a teaching post with an annual salary of $285,000.
  • Richard Herman, a former chancellor at the U. of I., resigned in the midst of an admissions scandal eight years ago. He got a sabbatical worth $244,000 and a job as special assistant to the interim president with a salary of $395,000.
  • Just four years ago, former chancellor Phyllis Wise, of the U. of I., resigned as documents were released suggesting she hid information from the public, likely violating the state’s Freedom of Information Act. But she got a $365,000 sabbatical and a tenured teaching post with a salary of nearly $300,000. She left earlier this year for a Colorado job.

The good news is that state lawmakers have passed laws limiting severance packages and boosting transparency for these sorts of deals at public universities and community colleges. HB3593 and SB2159 limited severance to a year’s salary, limited contracts to four years and required public notice before a contract was extended or amended. That’s great, but it applies only to certain positions in certain public institutions and there’s no specific restriction on sabbaticals and teaching positions.

Neither of those bills covers severance deals for other government jobs like village managers or county executives, or top jobs at special agencies like Metra or the water reclamation district.

No one suggested former Metra CEO Alex Clifford had done anything wrong, but he resigned and had his contract bought out, got a promise of making up any salary difference between his current job and his next one, moving expenses, and payment for pension and medical coverage contributions for a grand total that was valued at more than $650,000. There was uproar at the time, but it’s since faded away.

This is taxpayer money. Why not stop the golden parachutes at all levels once and for all?

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a suburban Democrat who worked on previous legislation after a severance controversy at the College of DuPage, said he hears the argument that buyouts need to be generous  to attract top talent who could go elsewhere, but he calls that “foolish.”

He said he understands some executives might lose their jobs simply because they don’t get along with a new mayor or president or board majority, and those jobs deserve “at least a minimal amount of protection,” perhaps a year’s salary that the public is aware of before it’s granted.

“There’s no need for these huge buyouts at the end,” Cullerton said. “That’s your money and my money.”

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat who is vice chair of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee and sponsor of the law just enacted that restricts payouts for college presidents and chancellors, agrees more can be done.

“I think we put some speed bumps in place, some pretty high ones,” Cunningham said of the law that applies to top college executives. “I think the same model we’ve put in place for universities and colleges can also be applied anywhere where they enter into contractual employment agreements. I think that’s worth looking at.”

“When a severance payment is made, something went wrong,” Cunningham said. “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to fork over a ton of money.”

California passed a law restricting school superintendents’ severance to 12 months’ pay. Florida went even further, passing a law that limits severance for any public “officer, agent, employee, or contractor” to no more than five months’ salary.

Let’s follow Florida’s lead. Let’s stop all the eye-popping, six-figure severances, paid sabbaticals, tenured positions and other giveaways, too.

If you’re leading or managing a government, you should be paid well and competitively. If you’re being asked to leave, then no more gilded parachutes. It’s time to end the cushy landings.

Madeleine Doubek is policy & civic engagement director of the Better Government Association.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

DOUBEK: Huge buyouts sock it to taxpayers