Chris Essig

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Sheriffs and mental health advocates: Quinn cuts will hit hard

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Many across the state are lining up to oppose Gov Pat Quinn’s proposed cuts, complaining they will be devastating, not only for schools across Illinois who could face more a $1 billion in reductions, but to all facets of life. Of course, this is to be expected. But sheriffs, in particular, paint a pretty bleak picture:

SPRINGFIELD — Laying off state troopers may lead to slower response times to accidents and could hamper a recently launched methamphetamine prevention campaign in southern Illinois, a number of county sheriffs said Thursday.

“The cuts to the Illinois State Police are going to be a tremendous blow to us,” Union County Sheriff David Livesay said Thursday. “We don’t have the personnel to put out there.”

More…

But because state police are often called out to accidents, the response time from law enforcement could be delayed.“Any time you lose resources, it’s a bad thing,” [Saline County Sheriff Keith Brown] said. “We are stressed in southern Illinois, especially with manpower.”

For instance, three bicyclists were hit by a van in Gallatin County on Wednesday. One bicyclist was killed and all were airlifted to a hospital. The state police is needed for situations like these because the agency specializes in accident reconstruction, said Brown.

Ugh. Here’s the link.

Obviously, no one wants to risk public security. And Quinn’s budget is far from finalized. But something eventually has to be done: either a tax increase or massive cuts. Which will it be, lawmakers?

Mental health advocates are also concerned their needs will be lost in the shuffle:

[Director David] Cole [of the the Moultrie County Counseling Center] agreed the budget is likely to be tweaked several times before it is enacted, but he fears so much attention will be placed on education that mental health services will be all but forgotten.

“We may not get the awareness we need to get a decent budget,” Cole said.

Link.

When the governor proposing slashing education funding so severely, it’s going to get a lot of coverage. But Cole has a good point: with so much uproar centered around the education budget blows, other areas could become easier to cut politically.

Either way, the situation is dire. And only getting worse.

Sheila Simon is Quinn’s running mate

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Simon wins:

SPRINGFIELD — Carbondale attorney Sheila Simon will run for lieutenant governor alongside Gov. Pat Quinn, bringing a well-known Illinois political name to the Democrats’ ticket.

The selection comes more than a month after Democratic voters picked Scott Lee Cohen to be Quinn’s running mate. But after Cohen quit the race because of allegations of violence and drug use in his past, Democratic lead-ers were left with the chore of picking a replacement.

Link.

Somewhat unexpected. Or at least it was a week ago.

Just for the record, I called it in one of my classes Monday night. Victory is mine!

I was there on Saturday and shot a video. Nothing spectacular but something nonetheless:

I really, really wish I would have gotten more B-roll shots. Oh well.

Written by csessig

March 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Pension reform; lieutenant governor showdown

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Wow. It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve neglected this blog for almost two weeks, so I feel obligated to finally update. So what has been happening at the Statehouse? The better question is what hasn’t been happening…

1. The biggest story of the past two weeks is probably the massive pension reform bill that Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton rammed through the General Assembly in a mere ten hours last Wednesday. Many lawmakers complained to me that the whole process went too fast, which caused them to vote against the bill. But it still passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers:

SPRINGFIELD — New Illinois schoolteachers, university workers and other state employees would have to work longer before they retire — and possibly receive fewer benefits when they do — under a plan lawmakers approved Wednesday.

In an effort to save the state billions of dollars in pension payments in the coming decades, both the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday approved a plan to push the retirement age for state employees up to 67.

Link.

This was huge. Many critics, including the unions, didn’t even have time to react, which I think was one of the major reasons they pushed it through so quickly. A quick stab is much quicker and cleaner than dragging it out for months, or even years.

The next day, the governor said the move would save the state billions upon billions in the coming years:

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn said state pension reforms approved by lawmakers Wednesday will save the state $300 million next year and more than $100 billion in the coming decades.

“That’s not chicken feed,” Quinn said at a Capitol news conference Thursday.

Indeed. But the blow back will be huge. We’ll see if it riles the governor’s race in November.

—–

2. Speaking of November, the still-vacant lieutenant governor seat on the Democratic side will finally be filled tomorrow. I’ll be there at 11 a.m. so expect more information later. But for now, everybody is kind of holding their breath.

Who the eventual winner will be is anybody’s guess. Earlier in the week, all signs were pointing towards a female senator from the suburbs:

SPRINGFIELD – A Lake County Democrat acknowledged Tuesday that a top aide to Gov. Pat Quinn contacted her about joining the race for Illinois lieutenant governor.Although Quinn has refused to indicate his choice for a running mate, state Sen. Susan Garrett said the governor’s chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, reached out to her before she applied to become the party’s nominee.

Story courtesy of myself.

That quickly changed, however, largely because Garrett has been on record as opposing Quinn’s tax increase and has refused to concede her position. Her convictions, however, eventually led to her downfall. Now, the governor is looking at another female with a good name but little legislative experience:

Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce today his preference for a running mate in the general election, and sources told The Southern Illinoisan Sheila Simon is Quinn’s choice.

Link.

Sheila is the daughter of Democratic icon Paul Simon, so she has a good name. But she doesn’t have legislative experience, and her only noble political race was a failure. In 2007, she lost a bid for mayor to Brad Cole, even though she had statewide support.

But regardless of who he wants, Quinn doesn’t have an official say in the matter. Instead, that is left up to the Democratic central committee. And many of the members have indicated they would support state Rep. Art Turner, who finished second in the race for lieutenant governor. But, at the same time, he lost to a Chicago pawnbroker with a very, very ugly past.

If the committee doesn’t pick Turner, the black community will be pissed:

CHICAGO (AP) – Word that Gov. Pat Quinn planned to endorse Sheila Simon for lieutenant governor prompted warnings Friday that he risks angering black voters and weakening the Democratic ticket in November.

Rep. Art Turner, the second-place finisher in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, said he will continue fighting for the job even if Quinn prefers someone else.

Link.

All this controversy surrounding an office with few official responsibilities. What a mess.

The result will be announced tomorrow morning. But don’t expect smooth sailing from there…

Written by csessig

March 26, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Quinn calls for deep cuts; nobody likes them

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Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed cuts

– Today was one of the most important days of the young legislative session, as the governor unveiled his proposed budget to the public. Not surprisingly, the proposal was very bleak. Quinn called for deep, painful cuts, including more than $1 billion in education funding, and basically dared the legislature to pass a 1 percent income tax (which is much lower than the first tax hike he called for). If not, the governor will be forced to go through with his education cuts, which could mean 17,000 teachers statewide are laid off. Talk about a depressing scenario.

Here’s the boss with more:

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn offered Illinois lawmakers a choice Wednesday: Raise the state income tax or cut spending for schools.

In a 21-minute speech to a joint session of the General Assembly, the governor outlined a gloomy $55 billion budget proposal that relies heavily on borrowing more money and again would delay billions of dollars in payments to people who do business with state government.

With all eyes on the upcoming election, Quinn said lawmakers could face voters in November after either cutting $1.2 billion to local school districts or bumping up the income tax rate by 33 percent.

“I have made some difficult, painful choices in this budget,” the Chicago Democrat said. “You must make some tough choices as well.”

For the full article, click here.

– Quinn is basically playing a game of chicken with the legislature. But could it pay off?

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said the cuts put forth by Quinn were used to scare lawmakers into supporting a tax increase.

“I think that is a strategic move on his part to probably box in the General Assembly,” he said.

But, the state’s dire money troubles might force action this year, said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.

“The mess that we’re in might force compromise that’s desperately needed,” Brady said.

Link.

It’s also possible that neither of the scenarios will come to life. Only time will tell.

– Other cuts (noted above in the graph) were touched on in his speech, but they were basically lost in the shuffle on Wednesday because of how severe his education cuts were. But I spoke with some local officials on Monday, who were paying particular attention to Quinn’s proposed $300 million cut to local governments. And they weren’t happy:

Pana, for example, may need to look into some kind of tax or fee increase to plug such a shortfall, Mayor Steven Sipes said Monday.

Because Pana’s property taxes are capped, city officials would have to consider water rate hikes or a utility tax increases if more revenue is needed, he said. Layoffs are an absolute last resort because the town of 6,000 only has 45 employees.

“It’s going to be devastating,” Sipes said.

Link.

Not good news for any one involved.

– Like his State of the State address last month, Quinn addressed a joint House in the Capitol. Fortunately, his speech today wasn’t nearly as rambling as the SoS address, and lasted only a fraction of the length. He, not unexpectedly, called for a income tax hike. But he noted it would be earmarked solely for education, which was the only new, groundbreaking comment made during the 21-minute speech.

After the speech, I scrambled to get reactions from as many local lawmakers as possible. I think I talked with seven lawmakers. Mike and I spoke with nearly 20 lawmakers in all.

Like our SoS coverage, we basically wrote five separate stories for each of our publications. Here’s a quick wrap:

– The other controversial component of Quinn’s proposal that didn’t get much fan fare was his plan to continue “strategic” borrowing to help the state stay afloat. Bill Brady attacked Quinn on this as well during a presser later in the day. I was all over it:

The Republican state senator from Bloomington was critical of Quinn’s proposal, saying it doesn’t solve the state’s fiscal crisis and instead relies on record amounts of borrowing.

Quinn wants to borrow $4.7 billion to help pay state bills and to roll over an additional $6 billion in unpaid bills to balance the budget.

“Today was an embarrassing day. He (Quinn) asked for an extra 30 days and yet the best he could come up with was a budget that is $4 billion out of balance,” Brady said, referring to Quinn’s request to delay his budget address by a month.

Brady noted that Quinn doesn’t have a plan to repay the borrowing he proposed, and is simply “kicking the can down the road, trying to make it past the election.”

“Quite frankly I wonder if he plans on being here in January because we have a pretty big problem,” he said.

I also shot a quick video of Brady bashing Quinn. I believe it’s the first video the Lee Enterprises’ Springfield bureau has put out, which I’m proud of. Take a look:

– In short, Quinn called for deep cuts today and nobody liked them. This could be a sign of things to come, so be prepared for a very contentious legislative session. And don’t be surprised if nothing get’s done…

Written by csessig

March 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Dillard (finally) concedes; Brady wins nomination

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– Not unexpected news…

SPRINGFIELD – More than a month after voters went to the polls, state Sen. Bill Brady was formally declared the winner of the hard-fought Republican primary for governor.

With little fanfare, the Illinois State Board of Elections said the Bloomington real estate developer beat his closest rival, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, by 193 votes.

Shortly after the announcement, Dillard conceded to Brady. He had said that if the margin was more than 100 votes, he would not seek a recount.

Full story courtesy of the H&R.

So the month-long spectacle has officially ended. Like I noted, Dillard’s announcement wasn’t out of the blue, but it’s still good news that the primary is officially over. In the mean time, we have a long haul ahead of us until the November election. To put it into comparison, our primary lasted for longer than a month. Yet no other state has yet to have their primary. So prepare to be completely exhausted by the campaign by, let’s say, June.

Because the jabs have already begun. From a Quinn press release:

The Republican nominee is from the extreme right wing of the party and far from the mainstream of Illinois voters. In his legislative career, Senator Bill Brady has voted against the Family Medical Leave Act, equal pay for men and women, and raising the minimum wage.

Full release.

– So how close was Brady’s victory? Incredibly close:

– A total of 767,485 votes was cast in the seven-way GOP gubernatorial primary election, with Brady receiving 155,527 votes and Dillard receiving 155,334. The margin separating the candidates was about 0.03 percent of the total votes cast.

– Illinois has 102 counties. Brady won by less than 2 votes per county.

– The state also has 11,215 voting precincts. Dillard would have needed only one more vote for every 57 precincts to overcome Brady.

[…]

– Three other races in February’s primary saw the nominee win by a slimmer vote margin than in the GOP race. But fewer than 450 total votes were cast in each of those races.

I wrote this story that crunches the numbers. Check it out.

And a quick graph that I worked on yesterday:

I made the graph using Google Fusion Tables, which I actually stumbled upon after going to the blog run by the Trib’s news applications team. Great Google resource and a great Trib blog. Check them both out!

I digress. The point is Dillard was close but in the end didn’t quite get enough support. In the mean time, prepare yourself for a very long and drawn-out general election season. Because it’s already started.

Written by csessig

March 6, 2010 at 1:43 pm

“Family of slain area pregnant woman pushes criminal reform in Springfield”

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Interesting story…

SPRINGFIELD — The gruesome murder of a Hallsville pregnant woman and her unborn baby last year has pushed the family of the deceased to rally for criminal law reform.

The family of Jodi McGrew, who was killed last year by her brother-in-law in his parents’ LeRoy home, has been working with state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, to push for changes in state law in the wake of the incident.

Brady introduced legislation requiring Illinois courts to sentence defendants to life imprisonment if they are found guilty of first-degree murder and their slaying is “exceptionally brutal or heinous.”

Brady wants the legislation to require judges to impose the penalty if they decide not to give the defendant the death penalty. The measure was approved by a House committee on a 5-1 vote Thursday.

Read the rest by clicking here.

I enjoy putting together feature stories whenever possible, especially on a citizen’s initiative like this. Ordinary citizens may have their hands in writing laws the rest of the state’s population has to follow…

Plus, it’s a story that I’m assuming not many other media outlets in Statehouse are going to pick up on…Being unique is always good.

The proposal is sure to be tweaked before it reaches the House floor, so we will see where the differences lie. And the family said they plan on making a trip to the Capitol to lobby their law, which will likely make some heads turn…

So my guess is this won’t be the last time we hear about this proposal. Whether it becomes law, however, is a completely different story.

Written by csessig

March 4, 2010 at 10:05 pm

More bad fiscal news as Quinn posts budget online

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– Two weeks before taking center stage and delivering his highly-anticipated budget address to the general public, Gov. Pat Quinn last week posted a rough sketch of his FY10 budget online for public scrutiny. It is being dubbed the “first-ever interactive budget web site,” but more on that in a second. Most importantly, though, are the figures themselves, which are both bleak and depressing. Among other things, Quinn is called for $2 billion in cuts, including almost $1 billion in education funding. Most of the cuts come because the federal stimulus plan helped bail out the state last year and that pot of money may not return in 2010. This led to the bureau’s weekend story, which took a look at federal funding and whether or not it’s going to come through again this year.

I didn’t have a very large role in the story and only talked to a handful of local lawmakers. I asked them whether or not they would be in favor of another stimulus plan, or whatever Obama decides to call it. They were split along part lines:

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, supports the idea.

“We need all the help we can get,” Forby said. “And I think the rest of the states in the United States need the same thing.”

But Republicans balked, saying the move would only add to the national debt.

“At some point there needs to be a reckoning where you say ‘OK, this is a problem and we’re going to deal with it here in the state and not beg for money from Washington,’” State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said.

Regardless of whether or not we get more stimulus funding, the state budget is going to be in dismal shape. Quinn is using his doomsday proposal to once again push for an income tax increase, which will be very unpopular inside the Statehouse. As it stands, Democrats are insisting a tax increase would have to be bipartisan, while Republicans contend the Dems are just looking for political cover. As the going gets even tougher, and the impasse continues, human service providers, teachers and the millions of needy Illinois residents will be holding their breaths and hoping the thick slashes Quinn is proposing don’t materialize.

Meanwhile, one columnist is comparing our response to the budget crisis to the captains on the Titanic, staring straight at an upcoming iceberg but doing little to avoid it:

After all, Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton are smart men. Madigan, it is said, is always thinking five moves ahead.

Certainly, if the danger were as serious as it appears, he would do something. He would not want to be known forever as the man at the helm when the ship crashed.

I close my eyes. Rub them hard. Open them again.

Yep, it sure looks like an iceberg to me.

But there is no panic in Madigan’s eyes and the hint of a smile on his lips. Is he a madman or a genius?

Ugh.

– Perhaps the only light side of the budget proposal was the public comment section on the web site, which the administration tout as the first of its kind. Basically, citizens can log on and offer suggestions on how Quinn should slash next year’s budget. This once again shows the governor’s populous side, and he may even use some of the more constructive suggestions in next week’s budget address.

But as newspapers have learned over the years, if you allow residents to post anonymously online without much oversight or consequences, the results may vary. And some of the responses were down-right…well just take a look at a few of my favorites:

• Billy Bob of Decatur said the state should “enhance the three strikes you’re out to three strikes and you’re dead. We need mobile execution vehicles like China has.”

• James E. Heafner of Godfrey wants the Illinois State Fair closed and the fairgrounds converted into a pet cemetery.

• Boris Sadkhin of Skokie suggested reducing “garbage pick up frequency.” He said that “if garbage is picked up less frequently, people will be encouraged to make less trash or face living with it.”

Full story.

To be fair, a number of level-headed commenters also made suggestions, which can be found here and here.

But the budget itself is no joke. Just ask anyone who depends on state money to operate his or her business. I guess we’ll see in a few weeks just how Draconian the situation really is…

God help us all.

Written by csessig

March 2, 2010 at 12:06 am