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?

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

Claypool seeks $2.5 million more for CPS consultants

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool now is asking to spend up to $28 million on consultants for the broke district, including his longtime associates who’ve seen their billings increase even as district spending on consultants dropped.

The $2.5 million increase Claypool will put before the Board of Education on Wednesday is needed “to continue key organizational process improvement, cost efficiency and governance strategies” performed by companies including three consulting firms with close ties to him and to the tight circle of aides he brought to CPS from other public agencies.

Sources told the Sun-Times that school board members had been asked to consider a larger addition of $8.5 million during closed-door briefings held earlier this month. Top Claypool aides Andrell Holloway, who oversees audits, and Ronald DeNard, head of finance, made those asks, according to briefing documents.

CPS did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Crowe Horwath LLP, KPMG LLP and UCG Associates have seen their billings skyrocket from next to nothing since Claypool took the helm of CPS in 2015, in the wake of a contracting scandal that has imprisoned the former CEO. The firms have performed such professional services as IT projects, the “financial transformation of Diverse Learning Initiatives” or changes to special education spending, and a variety of audits.

Holloway used to work at KPMG before Claypool hired him at the Chicago Transit Authority; DeNard considers UCG’s chief financial officer a friend who’s “definitely ride or die,” and at least three Crowe Horwath consultants — who moved into offices at CPS — had worked with Claypool and donated to his political campaigns.

The proposal the school board will consider asks for up to $1 million more toward a comprehensive annual financial report CPS needs for bond sales that fall under DeNard’s purview, and up to $700,000 more to continue Holloway’s schools audits.

It also seeks $800,000 for “software architecture technical expertise” for the GoCPS universal enrollment website championed by chief education officer Janice Jackson.

The board has authorized some 43 companies to perform professional services work and it’s not yet clear which of them will benefit from this latest extension.

Invoices reviewed by the Sun-Times show that Crowe Horwath has previously prepared the district’s CAFR, and Crowe and KPMG have handled school audits. Some of their associates have been paid upwards of $300 an hour for work at CPS; Crowe’s top rate is $350 an hour.

This is the third time district officials asked to raise the spending ceiling on its professional services work that started as $14 million on November 1, 2015, and was supposed to last until October 31, 2018. An $11.5 million extension was approved a year ago, though Gail Ward abstained.

The Chicago Teachers Union renewed its calls for Claypool’s ouster.

“The CPS CEO is using the district as his personal patronage machine while the exposes pile up at the expense of our most vulnerable students — like those who rely on special education services,” staff coordinator Jackson Potter said. “We raised the alarm about Forrest Claypool when more than 98 percent of members voting in a CTU ‘no confidence’ referendum registered their complete lack of faith in him. Had the mayor followed our lead, we would now have more resources for classrooms and special education services that are currently going into the deep pockets of Claypool’s cronies.”

Claypool seeks $2.5 million more for CPS consultants

Chicago’s Amazon bid includes $2.25 billion incentive package

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The Chicago area’s bid for Amazon’s second North American headquarters includes $2.25 billion worth of incentives — and even more if the company chooses the Thompson Center or the old Michael Reese Hospital site where the city and state could provide free land.

The $2 billion incentive package includes:

  • Roughly $1.4 billion in state EDGE tax credits. The newly-revised program provides a 50 percent tax break for every job they create in Illinois.
  • $60 million in property tax breaks through the county and state programs known as Class 7B and 7C.
  • $450 million in site-specific infrastructure improvements that would come from the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the CTA and other agencies.
  • $250 million worth of in investments in education, workforce development and “Neighborhood Opportunity Funds” to make certain that all Chicagoans can qualify for the 50,000 high-end Amazon jobs and that businesses that spring up or move here to support Amazon locate in Chicago neighborhoods.
  • Free land worth $100 million, if Amazon chooses to the old Michael Reese Hospital site purchased by former Mayor Richard M. Daley as the site for an Olympics Chicago didn’t get and even more if Amazon chooses the Thompson Center that the state has been trying desperately to sell.

The incentive package pales by comparison to the $9 billion that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered in hopes of luring Amazon to Newark.

But sources close to the negotiations view the package as a good-faith effort to lure the motherlode of all economic development projects and a far cry from the “corporate welfare” that so many critics and gubernatorial candidates have decried.

Almost as significant as the incentive package itself is the fact that Gov. Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the four legislative leaders all worked together to craft the incentive package. They’re all on the same page.

“The message to Amazon is, `We’re serious. We want this. We’re all together on this. But we’re gonna do it in a way that’s good for all of us,’ “ said a source familiar with the bid.

“We’re hoping Amazon will appreciate that we want to make this good for people. It’s a fair assessment of the value they bring. It’s not a corporate giveaway. We’re hoping they appreciate that and the idea that corporate giveaways are not really in their best interest. It’s got to be good for everybody.”

The source stressed that Chicagoans and neighborhood businesses — not Amazon — would be the beneficiaries of the $250 million in investments in education, workforce development and “Neighborhood Opportunity Funds.”

The money would come from City Colleges funding, Workforce Development programs and Neighborhood Opportunity Funds. That’s the share-the-wealth fund Emanuel created to help rebuild long-neglected Chicago neighborhoods with contributions from developers allowed to build bigger and taller buildings in a broader downtown area.

“That money is ensure that everyone participates. It’s so people can get educated to work there and you don’t have to come from MIT to qualify. It’s also designed to make sure that businesses that support Amazon can locate in Chicago neighborhoods,” the source said.

Last week, Emanuel and Rauner disclosed that the Chicago area bid gives Amazon ten sites from which to choose.

They include a Downtown Gateway District that includes Willis Tower and the Old Main Post Office; a River District where Tribune Media wants to build 15 office and residential towers; Lincoln Yards that includes the old Finkl Steel plant among 100 acres along the Chicago River; the Burnham Lakefront that includes the old Michael Reese Hospital site; the 78, a 62-acre site at Roosevelt and Clark once owned by convicted felon Tony Rezko where Rauner dreams of building an innovation center led by the University of Illinois; the Illinois Medical District; a City Center campus that includes the Thompson Center; the Illinois Medical District and the fast-growing and transformed Fulton Market District.

Suburban sites include the Oakbrook headquarters of McDonald’s and the former Motorola Solutions campus in Schaumburg.

The Thompson Center was included in the bid, even though Emanuel and Rauner have yet to reach agreement on Rauner’s demand for “maximum zoning” on the site and the thorny issue of who will be stuck with the $100 million tab to rebuild the busy CTA station there.

“They wouldn’t have put it in there if they didn’t think they could reach agreement. Obviously, they think they can agree,” said the source familiar with the bid.

“The message here is we’re all working together. We’re cooperating. This is literally the first time that all of these people have put aside their differences and agreed that this is bigger than all of us and to tell Amazon, `We want you. We’re serious. We can play. But, we’re also determined to do something that’s good for taxpayers where everybody benefits.”

Chicago’s Amazon bid includes $2.25 billion incentive package

Selle: Pop tax defeat in Cook County should embolden timid voters

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That loud sound you hear is the grinding and gnashing by elected officials across Illinois since Cook County residents chalked up a victory on behalf of taxpayers everywhere.

The Cook County’s controversial “sweetened” beverage tax was repealed after a taxpayer revolt the size few have ever witnessed in the Land of Lincoln. Usually, citizens just accept new taxes, suck it up and merely gripe about how expensive it is to live in Illinois.

But this time, normally timorous taxpayers stood their ground and said they weren’t going to take it anymore. The Cook County tax rebellion should be a cautionary tale for public bodies across the region.

Perhaps it was the blatant falsehood that the pop tax was enacted for health reasons. Or maybe Cook County residents have suffered long enough with what political scientists call “tax fatigue,” paying some of the highest taxes in the state.

Cook County taxes may be high, but of course the Illinois county with the highest property taxes is Lake County, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Lake County property taxes — with a median of nearly $7,000 annually — rank 21st highest in the U.S., and tops in the Midwest.

That ranking doesn’t consider the other various taxes we pay to make it through a normal day. In comparison, Cook County residents face a median of about $4,500 annually to live in their homes.

On the other hand, they have all sorts of growing add-on taxes. Like a wheel tax on vehicles, a 10.25 percent sales tax — one of the highest in the U.S. — and other levies. For a few months, they had that “sweetened” beverage tax.

While prodded by the beverage industry — which Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unsuccessfully tried to label “Big Soda,” like big government is the little guy — potential voters did the one thing that scares elected officials: They started writing, emailing, faxing and calling their county commissioners to express dissatisfaction with the pop tax. They started shopping in neighboring counties.

It wasn’t only pop drinkers from tony North Shore communities. Nope, consumers from across Cook County pummeled their commissioners into repealing the tax. And they didn’t care that urging officials to renege on the tax means there’s a $200 million hole in the Cook County budget.

With one anti-tax win notched, will Cook County taxpayers pour over the other sin taxes and fees they pay? One can only hope.

Just days after the pop tax revolt was sorted out, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed hiking the city’s amusement tax on large venues and increasing the city’s tax on cell phones and landlines. These guys just don’t get it.

Not that officials in Lake County are less tax happy.

Nearly every Lake County community has a litany of add-on taxes and fees residents pay little attention to because most are buried in the fine print of their monthly bills.

For instance, there’s city and village excise taxes on cell phones, internet access, cable usage. There’s amusement and entertainment taxes on theater, movie tickets and, in Gurnee, an admission tax to Six Flags Great America.

Some officials in home=rule communities have hiked sales taxes on top of the federal gasoline and regional mass transit taxes we pay at the pump. Of course, the state hasn’t been shy about those “hidden” taxes, either.

Illinois is only one of seven states in the U.S. that charges sales tax on gasoline. There’s telecomm taxes, a state 9-1-1 tax on phone bills; liquor and cigarette taxes; state taxes on electricity and natural gas usage, along with a state gas revenue tax on suppliers of natural gas, who pass that charge along to consumers.

With off-presidential elections next year, voters need to stop being timid and hold candidates’ accountable for the taxes they’ve supported in the past. They need to question their elected representatives about their future taxing plans. You know they have them.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

sellenews@gmail.com

Twitter @sellenews

Selle: Pop tax defeat in Cook County should embolden timid voters