Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot

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As if anyone needed another reason to oust Bruce Rauner, consider this: there will never be legalized marijuana in Illinois as long as he’s governor.

Just in case his attempts to bankrupt public education weren’t enough of a deterrent to voting for his reelection.

All right, on the week of 4/20, the time has come for me to answer a few questions about the state’s effort to catch up with the rest of the modern world and legalize reefer.

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Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot

Will Illinois Face Another Budget Impasse?

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Passing a state budget is arguably the most important thing the Illinois General Assembly does every year — or at least should do every year.

After last year’s drama — when a two-year standoff ended with a Republican revolt against Governor Bruce Rauner — it’s an open question about how things will go this year.

So I set out to answer a simple question: Will there be another impasse?

The question may sound simple, but the answer, like most things in state government, is complicated.

Lawmakers took a long break from Springfield, for the primary election and the usual recess around Easter and Passover.

As session resumed this week, I’ve been asking everyone I can: “Do you think there’s going to be another budget impasse this year?”

“That is the question,” says state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican from Mahomet.

“‘No’ is the short answer to your question,” Rose says. “But I think the next question you should ask is: ‘Will it be a 12-month budget?’ And I’m less convinced of that.”

Rose and some of his Republican colleagues have been repeating this message — accusing Democrats of wanting only a short-term spending plan. The idea, Republicans say, is that Democrats hope to retake the governor’s mansion this fall, then pass the kind of wild tax hikes and spending that Republicans say Democrats would love to do.

The thing is, when you ask actual Democrats if they’d prefer a half-year budget, they too are speaking in one voice.

“No. We’ve been consistent in saying we need a full-year budget,” says Rep. Greg Harris. He’s from Chicago, and he’s one of the House Democrats’ top budget negotiators.

“I don’t know why the Republicans keep fantasizing about a six-month budget, but they do,” Harris says. “Maybe it’s wishful thinking on their part. I don’t know.”

It’s worth pausing here to remember this is not just a political fight.

People who are outside the Capitol Building have been trekking in to remind legislators of the dire consequences in the last budget stalemate. And they’re warning that could happen again if there’s no agreement this year.

Among the institutions most hammered were Illinois’ public universities. At a recent Senate budget hearing, University of Illinois vice president Barbara Wilson talked about a faculty brain drain linked to the impasse.

“You may know that we’ve become a little bit of a poaching ground for many of our peer institutions, who have noticed our reputational hit and have come after a lot of our talented faculty,” Wilson says.

U. of I. has even learned of schools allocating money to specifically target U. of I. professors.

“We know for a fact that Texas — and I include Texas A&M and the University of Texas — have a special fund set aside to go poach Illinois faculty,” Wilson says. “We’ve been told that by numerous individuals, including some of the faculty they’re going after.”

Other state universities say the lack of state funding — and not just during the impasse — has left buildings crumbling.

“In my 11 years as the president, I haven’t seen any money for repairs,” says Elaine Maimon of Governors State University, in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Despite that, she says GSU cannot wait to repair its roofs. So it’ll have to issue bonds to raise the money it needs — but even that is contingent.

“We’ve been told, loud and clear, if there’s no state budget by May 31st, we’re not going to have that avenue,” Maimon says. “So there has to be a state budget.”

Which brings us back to the question we started with: Will there be a state budget this year — or another impasse?

I thought the last word on the subject should go to one of the people instrumental in ending the last impasse: state Rep. David Harris, a Republican from Arlington Heights.

“I don’t believe we’ll have an impasse,” Harris says. “I believe that by the end of this session, we’ll have a budget for the new fiscal year.”

Harris was among the 16 Republicans who broke with Gov. Rauner to help Democrats raise taxes, pass a spending plan, and end the impasse.

He says the dynamics have changed from last year. Because of that vote to raise taxes, this time no legislator will have to make that politically difficult choice. And Harris points out that the governor’s own budget proposal counts on money from that tax increase.

So, with seven weeks to go in the spring legislative session, the consensus under the dome seems to be that no, there will not be another impasse.

Then again, a few years ago no one predicted Illinois would go years without a budget, and we know how that story ended.

Illinois Newsroom is a collaboration focused on expanding coverage of education, state politics, health and the environment.

Will Illinois Face Another Budget Impasse?

U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Blagojevich appeal

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The United States Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear the appeal of imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

And in doing so, it might have finally ended the long, futile legal fight waged by Blagojevich ever since his early-morning arrest in December 2008.

The high court’s decision seems to leave Blagojevich with little to do now but languish in a Colorado prison, hoping for clemency from President Donald Trump as his name is thrown around as a talking point in this year’s campaign for his old job.

RELATED: Ex-gov’s ‘Hail Mary’ appeal attempt ‘unwarranted,’ fed lawyer says

Gov. Bruce Rauner even took advantage of the Supreme Court review of Blagojevich’s petition Friday by offering a Snapchat filter outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C. It let people virtually wear Blagojevich’s famous black coif, which has gone white in prison.

Former First Lady Patti Blagojevich called that move “disgusting.”

The ex-governor is not due out of prison until May 2024. The 61-year-old Democrat has already served six years of a 14-year sentence. And his name is synonymous with Illinois corruption.

A little less than three years ago, there might have been a glimmer of hope for Blagojevich in an appellate ruling that overturned five of his 18 criminal convictions. It also ordered him re-sentenced, and many experts thought Blagojevich would get a break when he returned by video link to U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom.

However, federal prosecutors asked the judge to restore Blagojevich’s original sentence, arguing he remained convicted “of the same three charged shakedowns of which he stood convicted at the original sentencing.”

Those scams included an attempt to sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, to shake down the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions, and to hold up a bill to benefit the racetrack industry for $100,000 in campaign contributions. A jury also convicted him of lying to the FBI.

In August 2016, over the sobs of Blagojevich’s daughters, Zagel did as the feds asked. An appellate court quickly affirmed Zagel’s decision, forcing Blagojevich to go to the high court.

Things have looked increasingly grim for Blagojevich, as a result. He had tried to get the Supreme Court’s attention in November 2015, during the lead up to his re-sentencing, only to be turned away in March 2016. There was little reason now to think his odds would improve.

His attorney, Leonard Goodman, presented the Supreme Court this time with two questions: Whether prosecutors in a case like Blagojevich’s must prove a public official made an “explicit promise or undertaking” in exchange for a campaign contribution, and whether more consideration should have been given to sentences handed down in similar cases.

Goodman is a member of the investor group that recently purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader.

“Our petition lays out a compelling case that the Supreme Court needs to settle the confusion among federal courts about the dividing line between campaign fundraising, something all elected officials are required to do (unless they are billionaires) and the federal crimes of extortion and bribery,” Goodman said last year.

The attorney also complained that Blagojevich’s sentence “was more than twice as long as that given any other official convicted of corruption.”

U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Blagojevich appeal

McCann to announce independent bid Monday

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SPRINGFIELD – GOP State Senator Sam McCann has threatened an independent bid for governor in the past, and the two-term lawmaker says he’ll be making an announcement Monday on a similar theme.

But this time McCann may be seeking a bid for his own Senate seat in 2018, but instead of a member of the GOP caucus, he would be seeking it as an independent. The Republican announced earlier this year he would not be seeking re-election in 2018.

Rumors are flying in Springfield, according to a local news reporter’s Twitter feed: 

Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 8.05.55 AMMcCann is a strong advocate for the state employees that live in his district, and because the district leans Republican these days, the state employee unions are concerned that a Rauner-esque Republican could fill McCann’s Senate seat. 

McCann is also a Second Amendment proponent – as well as one of the governor’s harshest critics. Just last week, the senator made these comments on his Facebook page: 

In 2016, 2017 and now with the proposed 2019 state budget, Gov. Rauner continued to eliminate state support for mental health programs. His cuts denied mental health services to nearly 47,000 people in need and cost almost 1,000 mental health workers their jobs.

We (the Illinois General Assembly) enacted a 2018 budget to support mental health over the governor’s objections and veto.

As lawmakers we can only authorize spending, we can’t make the governor actually spend the money to support mental health. To date, the governor refuses to fund $26 million worth of mental health programs despite having the full authority to do so.”

So, regardless of party and regardless of ZIP Code, the one thing that nearly all political leaders seem to agree on, at least in words, is the need to get back to investing adequately in our mental healthcare system. It needs to become less about words and more about deeds. —— ©️2018 Sam McCann

Illinois Review will update this story with more developments as they occur.

McCann to announce independent bid Monday

Editorial | ‘Twas a great victory! Well, not really

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The Illinois Senate’s action on the Equal Rights Amendment is just a symbolic gesture in an election year.

Better late than never is a common refrain, one that refers doing the right thing in a not-quite-timely manner.

But missing a deadline by 36 years? That’s a different story altogether.

Nonetheless, the Illinois Senate last week ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The measure now goes to the House.

If approved by both bodies, Illinois would become the 37th state to ratify the proposal.

Unfortunately, the deadline for passing the ERA expired in 1982, a legal reality that exposes the legislative action as little more than a symbolic effort to appease interest groups still fighting the last war.

But the Senate action is symbolic in more ways than one. It also demonstrates the penchant of our elected officials to focus on symbolic issues of little importance, while studiously ignoring those that matter greatly, including the state’s destitute financial status and lagging economy.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution outlines the process by which that document can be amended. To do so requires either congressional action or an application by two-thirds of the states to call a constitutional convention to propose changes. Both options require proposed amendments to be approved by three-fourths of the states.

To date, the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times.

Congress voted by the required two-thirds majority to send the ERA to the states in 1972, attaching the traditional seven-year deadline for ratification. After the measure failed to attract sufficient support during that period, Congress extended the deadline by three years, to 1982.

Thirty-five states approved the measure between 1972 and 1979. No more approved the measure during the extra three years Congress added to the measure. Indeed, four states rescinded their ratification.

So what is Illinois doing jumping on the ERA bandwagon nearly four decades later?

Well, this is an election year, and all legislative candidates are scratching for as many votes as they can get.

At the same time, male legislators concerned about the sexual harassment conflagration want to be seen as being on the right side of women’s issues.

So what better way to demonstrate their nobility than by approving a measure of little substantive value but great voter appeal in certain quarters.

Perhaps that’s why there was no debate on the issue. None of the 55 senators who voted on the issue (it was approved 43-12) had any thoughts to share with the public about the measure that purports to amend this country’s founding document. That silence is deafening.

As for equal rights for all, that’s hardly in dispute. Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment mandates “equal protection of the law” for all. Further, the Illinois Constitution bars sex discrimination.

If those are insufficient to persuade skeptics, consider that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held “equal protection” guarantees mandates that homosexuals have a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Given those realities, it’s pretty clear that whatever drove the ERA as an issue a half-century ago no longer applies, except, of course, for the appearances that drive legislative showmanship in Springfield.

Editorial | ‘Twas a great victory! Well, not really

More toll lanes could be coming to Chicago area as highway funds lag

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Chicago-area residents may be seeing more toll roads in the coming years.

Shrinking funds for road repairs and expansion, particularly from gas taxes, means that states are looking at both tolling and private financing to help pay for projects, and Illinois is no exception.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is waiting for the General Assembly’s OK to pursue private financing to build new, tolled lanes on the Stevenson Expressway, or I-55. And the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which sets funding priorities for the region, last week recommended more use of tolling to pay for highway projects, including the possibility of adding tolled lanes on Interstate 80 and the Eisenhower Expressway, or I-290.

“There must be new revenues,” said CMAP executive director Joe Szabo. “There’s no free ride.”

But before signing a deal to let a private company build toll lanes, governments need to make sure it’s in the public’s best interest over the long term, transportation experts caution. Governments have to watch out for contracts that could hamper flexibility, the way the Chicago parking meter lease hurts the city’s ability to say, create a bike lane where parking is now. Tolls also cannot be so high that free-flowing traffic becomes a privilege only for the well-to-do.

“If you have to pay $40 to $50 to get to work that’s really hard on people,” said Sheila Dunn, spokeswoman for the National Motorists Association, a driver advocacy group. Dunn also warned that tolls could increase prices for goods delivered by truck.

“I hope people wake up and say, ‘Hey, this is too much,’ ” Dunn said.

More tolling in Illinois

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning raised the issue of more tolls in a draft of its “On to 2050” plan for the Chicago region.

Tolling allows for private financing, since private companies are not interested in building something that does not bring a return. But these deals have not always worked out.

An example is the public-private deal to ease congestion on California’s State Route 91. The new toll lanes were a success at first, but the agreement kept the state from adding a lane and improving public transit. Eventually, the Orange County Transportation Authority, a government agency, bought the toll lanes.

A privately developed toll road in Texas went into bankruptcy, and the Indiana Toll Road is currently facing debt problems, according to published reports.

One thing the public needs to watch out for in toll road deals is how quickly tolls can rise, said David Besanko, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

“The public needs to be aware of what the formula is and that the formulas are based on something reasonable,” Besanko said. There also needs to be clarity up front about who has responsibility if the private entity runs into financial problems, and how to handle ongoing maintenance, he said.

“You have to make sure the public sector and taxpayers aren’t taking an undue share of the risk,” said Audrey Wennink, transportation director at the Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicago-based public policy research group.

Transportation song quiz

Last week’s song was about a place of arrivals and departures — recorded by this group before its hits about turning and tambourines. It is “The Airport Song” by The Byrds. Gwen Ogi of Skokie was first with the right answer.

This week’s song is named for a vehicle often seen on city streets, but the song is about what’s gone missing. What is it, and who did it? The first person with the right answer gets a Tribune Tower guidebook, and glory.

mwisniewski@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @marywizchicago

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More toll lanes could be coming to Chicago area as highway funds lag

Morning Spin: Retiring Paul Ryan could be more ‘liberated’ in dealing with Trump, Democrat says

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Welcome to Clout Street: Morning Spin, our weekday feature to catch you up with what’s going on in government and politics from Chicago to Springfield. Subscribe here.

Topspin

Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said the exiting Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan might be more “liberated” in dealing with President Donald Trump.

“Dealing with President Trump is no walk in the park. I don’t think it’s any secret he and the president don’t necessarily see eye to eye on a variety of issues,” Krishnamoorthi, who represents the northwest and west suburban 8th Congressional District, said on WGN AM-720.

“That being said, I was a little disappointed that he hasn’t been more forceful in pushing back on the president with regard to a variety of issues, and he’s kind of ceded some of our legislative prerogative in Congress to the president,” the Schaumburg congressman said. “I’m hoping that maybe now that he’s somewhat liberated, he’ll do that in the remaining months.”

Krishnamoorthi said he thought Ryan was “sincere” in saying he was retiring to spend more time with his family, since his father died when Ryan was 15.

But he also said Ryan “probably sees the likelihood of him serving as the next speaker going down with each passing day.”

Ryan’s departure comes amid expectations of a motivated Democratic turnout in the fall, which has prompted several ambitious challenges to Republican incumbents, including several districts in Illinois.

*On the “Sunday Spin”: Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson’s guests were Tribune reporter Hal Dardick; Northwestern Law School senior lecturer Jason DeSanto; and Krishnamoorthi. The “Sunday Spin” airs from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN-AM 720. Listen to the full show here.

What we’re writing

*Cook County tax officials take excess campaign donations from appeals firms, ethics panel says.

*Gay rights advocates want Illinois schools to be required to teach LGBT history.

*Rod Blagojevich likely down to last legal hope as U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take up his appeal.

*Riverwalk rising: City banking on boom to pay off cost of river transformation.

*With settlement of jilted spouse’s lawsuit, an archaic state law nears a quiet end.

*Supreme Court case could make sales tax-free e-commerce sites tougher to find.

*Look beyond the Obama center plans — here’s a water-filled vision for Jackson Park.

What we’re reading

*Three weeks after March for Our Lives, gun rights advocates rally at state capitols across U.S.

*Michael Ferro sells stake in Chicago Tribune parent Tronc to McCormick Media for $208.6 million.

*Why objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Follow the money

*Campaign finance reports are due by midnight. They’ll update in real time here.

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

Beyond Chicago

*New U.S. sanctions against Russia could come this week.

*Trump suggests via Twitter Comey should be in prison. Comey calls Trump “morally unfit.”

*Barbara Bush in failing health.

*FEMA underestimated Hurricane Maria.

*Oregon retiree gets $76,000 monthly pension.

RELATED

In Janesville, Ryan’s exit illustrates Republican divide, challenges this fall »

Gay rights advocates want Illinois schools to be required to teach LGBT history »

Cook County tax officials take excess campaign donations from appeals firms, ethics panel says »

Morning Spin: Retiring Paul Ryan could be more ‘liberated’ in dealing with Trump, Democrat says