Monday, February 28, 2005

family ties meaningless?

From a Pantagraph editorial:
Freveletti told the Chicago Tribune her family ties had nothing to do with her getting the job. Maybe so. But we are getting a little tired of hearing legislative liaison after legislative liaison deny that their family/political ties have nothing to do with why they were hired. Other examples are the legislative liaisons for the Department of Natural Resources and State Fire Marshal's Office.
This kind of lying undermines confidence in the government.

Look, if she's qualified based on her family connections, why not just tell the truth?

"The chief qualification for this job is having personal relationships with members of the legislature. I acquired many of these relationships through members of my family, but my family loyalties aren't my qualifications."

But the B-team isn't talented enough to coach appointees like Freveletti to answer basic questions with tact and diplomacy.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hynes, LMadigan, JWhite and JBT form alliance?

Chicago Trib has 4 top state officials seeking end to 'pay-to-play politics' (Christi Parsons).

Is it significant Dan Hynes was able to get Lisa Madigan, Jesse White and Judy Baar Topinka to support his proposal which is clearly a rebuke of Blagojevich?

spending money to save money?

Capitol Fax links to an Illinois Issues article (Pat Guinane) that considers consulting fees spent to figure ways to save money.

The Blagojevich administration is over-hyping the savings.

And a no-bid lease went to a Blago campaign contributors.

teacher mentoring

Mike Lawrence, head of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, has an op-ed in the Southern Illinoisan.
About 40 percent of new instructors in our public schools quit after five years, and 70 percent blame working conditions and lack of administrative support. In some Chicago schools, attrition soars to 73 percent.... less than 60 percent of our school districts have teacher mentoring programs, compared to more than 90 percent in Michigan and Ohio and nearly 90 percent in Indiana.
Improving public education is tough.

If the Devil came to Rod and offered him a deal to improve public school education, but it would involve raising the income tax, would RB do it? Would Blagojevich rather run as the guy that fixed numerous long-term problems in Illinois public education? Or would he rather run as the guy that held the line on taxes?

Use this thread to discuss education.

auto insurance fund tapped

The Sun-Times carried an AP story (John O'Connor) saying the state had spent all the money in the fund that pays for state vehicles being in accidents.

Insurance companies regularly concoct ways to stall paying claims. The worst case scenario is that claims will be deferred to the next fiscal year.
Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget office, said officials need to analyze why costs are so high. The administration is sensitive to the situation, she said, but a tight budget limits its options.

"We need to ensure we're meeting our commitment to our schools and health care," Carroll said. "Those are the top priorities."
Carroll's response is unsatisfactory because paying claims for damage done by state employees is a higher priority than general health care funds and general education funds. Remember, a major reason the state can't pay for its obligations is Blagojevich deciding to make "no sales/income tax increases" the top priority. G-Rod is fine with cutting education funding (the small increase minus shifting pension burden to the districts decreases funding for education) as long as it helped him and his political career.
Despite the shortfall, Blagojevich is not seeking more money for the fund in next year's budget, Carroll told The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, which first reported the problem.
More irresponsible budgeting by G-Rod.

free breakfasts mandated

From (Matt Richmond) which serves Freeport:
On Tuesday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Childhood Hunger Relief Act, a law requiring schools to offer breakfast if 40 percent or more of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

While 39 percent of all Illinois students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, more than half of all Illinois schools already offer breakfast to their students. According to Becky Watts, spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education, the new law will affect only 358 of the more than 4,000 schools in the state. Nevertheless, she said, instituting the law was important.
But is it an unfunded mandate? Apparently not.
The costs, it turns out, are minimal and are mostly reimbursed by the state or federal government. For example, Pearl City School, which has offered breakfast for 12 years, serves an average of 55 breakfasts a day, for 75 cents apiece at full price. The federal government, in turn, reimburses schools $1.23 for free breakfasts served, 93 cents for the reduced-price meal and 23 cents for each paid breakfast to help defray the districts' costs, which at Pearl City include paying a part-time employee to operate the breakfast service, food purchases and use of the kitchen, equipment and utilities. In addition, the state offers an additional 12.5 cents for each free breakfast served.
I think Gov. Rod done good here. Anybody see a problem?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

perception shapes reality

Over breakfast I got into a discussion about how individual politicians are portrayed in the media.

One guy pointed out that Ald. Dick Mell is always portrayed as being "powerful". Part of having power is psyching others into believing you're powerful.

* How is Rod Blagojevich perceived?
* How does he want to be perceived?
* How was he perceived when he was in Congress?
* How has the past perceptions of Blagojevich affected the image he's tried to project?

Friday, February 25, 2005

time for your questions

It's Friday so it's time for you to post what you would ask Governor Blagojevich.

Inspired by Archpundit:
Under what circumstances would Gov. Blagojevich accept a tax increase? Is it possible to create a tax system that addresses the underlying inequities? Is Gov. B. willing to raise taxes to fix inequities?
Reneging on deals:
Does the governor regret having gone back on verbal deals that he's made? Does he consider it humiliating to have to sign deals rather than to have members of the legislature take his word?
Borrowing against the future:
Under what circumstances does it make sense for a gov't entity to borrow against the future to pay for today's expenses? What makes this type of management short-sighted?
$3 million for immigrants:
How is this spending going to make a difference in peoples' lives?
Generational justice:
Is Gov. B. concerned that his budget cuts spending on universities (younger people) and shifts expenses to the future (taxing younger Illinoisans) to pay for bloated pension deals for people that are older and more wealthy?
Did Governonr B know the Tinley Park Mental Health Center was about to experience significant cuts when he told the Daily Southtown it would be "fully funded"?
Shifting burden to the property tax:
Did Governor B. think that he could shift the cost for pension sweeteners from the income tax to the property tax? Did he think this was wise policy? Wouldn't this have been catastrophic for many school districts and unaffordable for homeowners across the state?
Linda Freveletti:
Why did Gov. B's administration force the "Gaming" Board to hire Freveletti?
Tollway contracts:
Can Gov. B. think of any reason the developers would want to keep the identity of franchise owners secret that doesn't have anything to do with the ownership arrangement being politically embarrassing for Blagojevich and his administration?
Add your own.

Here's a link to last week.

casino connect-the-dots

The Chicago Tribune editorial "Rod's Gaming Board hustle" debunks a number of G-Rod's claims about the gaming board and says he does "keep his word".

Here's the part that jumped out at me:
For lack of a quorum, those remaining members can't approve construction projects at several casinos, can't renew expired casino licenses and can't pursue cases of alleged misconduct that aren't yet public knowledge.

This despite Blagojevich's pledges to the Tribune editorial board in June and August that he would soon appoint new members. The most important job awaiting those new members is to undo the decision of previous board members to steer the state's 10th casino license to Rosemont, in spite of lingering charges from the Gaming Board and from Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan that the suburb has ties to organized crime. (emphasis added)
Let me connect the dots. Donald Stevens is the mayor of Rosemont. Stevens wields significant political power in that portion of Cook County. Rod Blagojevich, when he was in Congress, represented much of this area. Blagojevich--whether directly or indirectly through his father-in-law--has a relationship with Stevens that goes back years.

If the decision to give Rosemont a casino can't be undone until G-Rod appoints a new member to the "Gaming" Board, this is likely a contributing reason to Gov. Blagojevich's decision to stall.

What's he waiting for? Under what circumstances could the Rosemont deal be revived?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

school boards & pension reform

Something useful in a Chicago Trib editorial:
Blagojevich wants to end the longtime practice of school districts providing whopping, end-of-career salary increases to teachers, principals and staff members, which then allows them to qualify for much higher pensions.

In many cases, schools have handed out annual raises of up to 20 percent for the years immediately before a teacher retires. Those higher salaries greatly influence the teacher's pension calculation and leave the state on the hook to pay the higher retiree benefits for years, even decades.

Blagojevich wants--and he's right on this--to restrict the end-of-career raises to 3 percent a year. Anything above that, and the school district, not the state, would have to pay for the resulting pension boost. Some schools are crying that this will cost them dearly because they've already promised those huge raises--some have even written them into multiyear contracts.
This is an important issue for Illinois public policy wonks to understand. Local school boards write contracts with teachers and administrators that obligate the state to pay pensions that are way out-of-line with what the teachers and administrators made during most of their careers.

It's completely "messed-up" for these teachers and administrators to be making exhorbitant pensions paid for by taxes on younger, less affluent Illinoisans and cuts in basic services.

So Rod and the Trib are right to want to reform the practice, but there's a reality from the perspective of the school districts too.

Since the school districts have already written these contracts they're obligated to pay for them. They've budgeted for the salaries, but they haven't budgeted for the pension sweeteners.

So, by kicking the problem back to the school districts G-Rod is creating a situation where the local boards have two choices. They can either cut services to pay for pensions or raise property taxes. And remember they have to do this in the context of having their health care costs rise significantly more than the rate of inflation.

Rod's "fix" is really just shifting the tax burden to the property tax and creating a grunch of crises at the local level.

Rod's dishonest accounting

If Rod lies about something simple like "fully funding" the Tinley Park Mental Health Center, what's the odds of him telling the truth on something complicated like savings created by changes to the pension system?

Again, from the Chicago Trib editorial:
The state by law is obligated to pump $2.6 billion into the pension funds this year. The governor wants to change that law. He says that, because of the savings to be achieved by his reforms, he can reduce the pension payment by $820 million. That would make the money available for spending on prisons, schools, etc.

Republicans, though, say the governor's plan to reduce contributions over the next 40 years would leave the funds $87 billion short of what they need. According to a GOP analysis released Wednesday, the state should reduce its contribution by only $76 million to $100 million this year. State Budget Director John Filan said the GOP analysis is "totally inaccurate."
If Rod wasn't a proven liar on this type of issue, you could assume that his numbers were just padded with optimism. But as we've seen Rod's commitment to not raising taxes trumps everything, and he's got no qualms about borrowing against the future--if it makes him and his budget look good. So the GOP numbers are probably correct.

BTW the GOP plan for getting the money isn't anything to get excited about. In the Crain's Chicago Business (Greg Hinz) article House GOP Leader Tom Cross says, "If we need money for this budget year, let’s go into the market and borrow it at 1% interest. Let’s not do it" by tapping pension funds. [Thank you, Ralph, for pointing to the Crain's article.]

So the choice between the Blago solution and the GOP solution is a choice between which mechanism are we going to obligate future taxpayers for current government. Is anybody else in favor of ending the two-party system in Illinois?

Archpundit makes the case that the pension problem is the legacy of Gov. Jim Edgar. (Anybody else remember the Trib endorsement of Edgar where they said Dawn Clark Netsch was right on the issues, but Edgar got the endorsement because he had "leadership" or some such drivel?)

tollway shenanigans

See the Chicago Tribune (Virginia Groark and John Chase) article.

Blago's tollway guy claims he can't get the details of who owns the restaurants. The developer is obligated to provide the information on the tenants. The developer listed the corporate affiliates, not the owners of the actual franchises. When queried the developer provided a letter of refusal.

Why would the developer do business with somebody and conceal this person's identity?

Is there any logical reason for this behavior that doesn't come back to the "appearance of impropriety" for the politicians involved?

If the reason for keeping the franchise owners secret is to protect the pols, this means it's being done to protect Blagojevich, right? But supposedly Blago's guy, Jack Hartman, is the one pressing the developer for an explanation. Doesn't this seem like a conflict of interest?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

RB micro-managing Gaming Board

Governor appointee adds to casino panel's wounds

Chicago Tribune (Christi Parsons and John Chase)

Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has dragged his feet on naming members to the Illinois Gaming Board and balked at its plea to hire more investigators, yet his administration has forced the panel to hire a lobbyist that board members say they neither want nor need.

Linda Freveletti has never been a lobbyist, but she is the sister-in-law of former state Democratic Party Chairman Gary LaPaille and has two politically connected siblings--including one who is the communications director for the National Governors Association.
What can I add?

"Property tax would have to fund hikes"

This is the headline after one jumps from page one of the Chicago Tribune Metro section (Ray Long and Diane Rado) to page eight.

I could give a detailed explanation of why the state income tax is better than the property tax, but I don't think this is the debate that's motivating G-Rod on this.

There's probably some desire to make local district "pay back" money they "stole" from the pension fund with end-of-career sweeteners. But more than this I see Rod as the kinda guy that really wants to keep problems off his plate.

He ducked the mental health issue and left his staff to deliver the bad news.

G-Rod likes local districts borrowing against the future
, as long as it makes him look good.

He likes to say he wants to address school funding issues while knowing his tax pledge is more important to his political future.

And he has the chutzpah to say that the only commitments he should be bound by are the ones he signs.

BTW Rich Miller of Capitol Fax has a post on school funding too. He draws a parallel to Mayor Richard J. Daley getting fed up with Gov. Walker on school funding to the current situation.

who will challenge Rod?

With the Draft Vallas blog closing shop, BlBlBl does not list any potential Dem challengers.

Should Lisa Madigan or Dan Hynes be listed? Why? Why not? Has anybody done enough to be listed as a potential challenger in the Dem Primary?

misleading ed board on mental health

Capitol Fax caught this Daily Southtown editorial.
A day after Gov. Rod Blagojevich told the Daily Southtown that the Tinley Park Mental Health Center would be "fully funded" for the next year, his Department of Human Services announced that one-fifth of the center's staff will be laid off in May.
What going on here? Does G-Rod hate to bear bad news? Does he think he's fooling people? How does he not think this type of thing is not burning bridges with editorial boards?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"I Believe I Can Fly"

Thanks to Ralph for the tip...

Pat Gauen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch rags on Joe Brunsvold, Blago's DNR director, for taking personal helicopter trips on the taxpayer dime, including two pheasant hunting trips to South Dakota. G-Rod scolded Brunsvold, but didn't fire him.

A certain amount of this stuff goes on in any large organization, but Rod is running the danger of the little things becoming emblems of a pattern of using public offices and public money for personal perks and kickbacks. Once this perception gets cemented--and Rod's at a disadvantage because he is the son-in-law of powerful Chicago ward boss--he's going to have a hard time changing the perception.

If you're interested in the lyrics to the R. Kelly song I Believe I Can Fly...

quid pro baseball?

Thanks to BlBlBl reader Dr. for pointing this out.
Blagojevich stadium plan benefits big Democratic donor

By Kevin McDermott
Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau

[copyright]2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Even as Illinois struggles to make ends meet in its state budget, Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to put $3 million toward a new baseball stadium in Marion, Ill., that would become the property of Metro East lawyer John Simmons, one of the state's biggest Democratic Party contributors.

In his annual state budget message last week, Blagojevich, a Democrat, made a pitch for "projects like bringing a new minor league baseball team to Illinois by building a baseball stadium in Marion."

What Blagojevich didn't mention was that, under the deal as currently envisioned, the stadium built in part with that money would be owned by Simmons, whose firm has contributed close to a million dollars to state Democratic campaigns in the past two years, including Blagojevich's own fund.

You can search state contributions at State Board of Elections search from 2000 to present.

Center for Responsive politics
of the 2004 election cycle.

I assume the discrepancy between the "close to a million" figure and the lower numbers listed at the State Board of Elections and at the Center for Responsive Politics is accounted for by soft money contributions or maybe contributions through his firm.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"reverse Robin Hood" government

Capitol Fax points to a Daily Herald article (Mike Riopell) that says:
Tuition has risen 40 percent since 2002 as the state's support of higher education dropped 13 percent.

In fairness to Blagojevich the article does point out that this is "a fourth straight year of no funding increase for Illinois universities", so the trend started before RB took office.

Where's the money going? Health care and pensions, right?

Who loses when the state cuts higher education? How old are they? Who gets money spent on health care and pensions?

In the big picture these transfers of wealth are short-sighted. But they also represent "reverse Robin Hood" government. Many of the beneficiaries are older and rather wealthy. Many of the students and would-have-been students paying for these cuts are less wealthy.

I'm mad about this. Am I the only one?

Stop me if you've heard this before

Capitol Fax links to a Crain's article (Steve Daniels) that raises some issues.

1. The state is hiring a major Blago contributor.
2. The contributor seems to be less than ideally qualified.
3. The assignment seems to usurp the IL AG's office.

$3 million for immigrants

Rauschenberger tweaks G-Rod's immigration proposal in the Trib (Oscar Avila).
Rauschenberger, a possible candidate for governor in 2006, said he thinks Gov. Rod Blagojevich created the program to get positive press with Latinos, a vital and growing Democratic voting bloc.

"I don't think adding another layer of bureaucracy to do PR and generate some nice press releases is a good use of funds," he said.

Blagojevich has rejected the generalization that the citizenship program is a political maneuver.

Try to get past the posturing of the pols....

Is $3 million enough to make a difference? How will it be spent?

Is this an example of government creating bureaucracy (the INS) so politicians (normally members of Congress, but in this case the guv too) can "help" people deal with the bureaucracy?

governor likes to borrow against the future

He endorses this practice by school districts, at least as long as it helps him look good.

Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, page one, above the fold:
The governor relied on a statewide snapshot showing a dramatic decline in the number of districts operating in the red between 2003 and 2004. But by focusing only on a decline in deficit spending--just one measure in evaluating a district's financial health--Blagojevich created a misleading portrait, his critics say....

In addition to Waukegan, four other districts cited as turnarounds were so short of cash that they borrowed against their future tax collections to cover expenses last school year.

Six districts, including three of those forced to borrow, were in such bad shape that their own financial reports acknowledge that they are expected to be on the state's financial watch and early warning lists next month--designations for districts in the most serious financial trouble.

Would it be too much to ask for RB to skip the spin and just give us competent government and acknowledge the real problems the state faces?

not living in the governor's mansion

ILPundit began the discussion on RB declining to live in the governor's mansion.

Does it matter?
To whom?
Why does it matter to these groups?
How does it affect G-Rod governing?
How does it affect his media coverage?
How will it affect his prospects in the 2006 elections?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Amazing Grace

Do you know the origin of the song?

has the story and a link to a recording of the song.

can Rod be trusted?

Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune seems to think the answer is "no".
[Emil] Jones... came to the same conclusion shared by a wide swath of Illinois officeholders from Zion to Cairo: When it comes to Blagojevich, commitments and allegiances are never set in stone....

[L]egislative critics have continually assailed Blagojevich over the political currency of trust. The leeriness runs so deep that last summer, before they signed on to a deal to end a marathon budget impasse, legislative leaders took the unprecedented step of forcing Blagojevich to sign dozens of specifically worded memorandums of understanding to hold him to his word on how money would be spent.

What's Blagojevich's take on this?
For his part, the Democratic governor maintains any criticisms he makes involving lawmakers are nothing personal but reflect his feelings toward an entrenched political system that deserves to be shaken up.

Can an elected official improve government without reneging on commitments?

In Rod's world the answer seems to be "no".

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Archpundit calls out RB on taxes, education inequities

Archpundit acknowledged MakesMeRalph and then called "Bullshit" on Blagojevich.

From Southern Illinoisan:
CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he would veto any school-funding reforms if they included increasing income taxes because he's not convinced raising income taxes would solve inequities in state school funding.

"I'll veto any bill that raises the income tax in whatever form," the Democratic governor told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board Thursday.

Arch responded:
Instead of saying that you are against any increase, how about setting out specific conditions under which you would accept such an increase--one of those being that it actually solves inequities....

Is there anything more to Blagojevich's position than political cynicism? He wants credit for holding the line on taxes, but he also wants credit for "feeling the pain" of liberals and underfunded communities on "inequities".

Memo to Rod: Clinton wouldn't get caught contradicting himself like this.

predict state budget

1. Will gambling be expanded?
2. Will the final pension modifications be about what Blagojevich is proposing? More austere? Less austere?
3. Will education get more money than Blagojevich is proposing? Less? About the same?
4. Will the income tax be increased?
5. Will the sales tax be increased?
6. What other fees will be increased?

Illinois community blog awards

Wampum manages the Koufax Awards for Lefty political blogs, e.g. Best Group Blog, Most Humorous Blog, Best Single Issue Blog, etc.

As I prowl around looking at Illinois blogs it seems like there should be a system of recognition for local blogs.

I would like to start an Illinois blog awards contest. Who would like to join a team to organize and judge the contest?

I'm thinking there should be awards for blogs that tell the story of their local communities ("Carl Sandburg" award?), blogs that cover local politics ("Mike Royko" award?), best blogs from individual schools ("Honor Roll" list) and military blog ("Edward 'Butch' O'Hare" award?).

What categories should the awards cover? What names should be associated with the different award categories? Who would you like to see as a judge or organizer?

Michael on Blagojevich

The following was posted in an Archpundit thread about challenging incumbents in the primary.
I would prefer a Democrat beat Blagojevich in the primary, but if the governor wins the primary, I'll vote for the Republican in the general election. Blagojevich is a rampaging disaster for the Democratic party and the state of Illinois. He must be defeated if we want to have a decent economy, a viable education system, and a living state university system.

Are you a Democratic leaner? A hard Democrat?

Do you want Blagojevich defeated in the primary?


Is Blagojevich bad for the Dems?

Friday, February 18, 2005

what would you ask G-Rod's press secretary?

It's Friday so it's time for you to think of questions for the Governor's press secretary.

Let me start.

Is the budget proposed by Governor Blagojevich the budget he wants to see enacted, or is it the initial negotiating position he believes is most likely to result in getting to the final budget he wants?

What specific actions has the Governor taken to fill the Gaming Board vacancies? How many people has he asked? What type of person is he looking for?

Is Governor Blagojevich willing to sign a pledge that the final budget will not include an expansion of legalized gambling in Illinois?

This is last week's list.

a CFR proposal

The Trib found another example of someone plugged into Blago's inner circle getting lucrative contracts from the tollway.

The people opposed to limiting campaign contributions say the limits restrict freedom of political expression.

And the people who get these lucrative contracts say the campaign contributions have nothing to do with the contracts.


How this proposal? Individuals can contribute as much as they like to state pols in Illinois, but if one exceeds the federal campaign contribution limits the individual, his/her immediate family and business partners become ineligible for state contracts.

If the contributions have nothing to do with the contracts this shouldn't be a problem, right? Individuals can either play at the political end of the pool or the contractor end of the pool. Deal?

Nyberg to fill Gaming Board vacancy?

Capitol Fax quoted our governor as saying the vacancies on the "Gaming" Board exist because he's having a hard time finding willing candidates.

I responded by indicating an interest and asking who I should call.

Rod admits his word is worthless

Today's Chicago Trib, Blagojevich-Jones rift widens:

The governor acknowledged he had frequently uttered support for [devoting 51 percent of all new state revenues to education], but he considered it more a goal than a pledge because he didn't formally sign anything to that effect.

Even so, he insisted that he had kept faith with the concept by exceeding it during his first two years in office.

"It wasn't like I signed a 'no tax' pledge," Blagojevich said. "I said this is what I support. So having said that, if you're looking at the [overall] numbers we've invested in schools it actually ... would put us at 51.2 percent of the new revenue," Blagojevich said.
I have a source in Springfield that made the following complaint about G-Rod.

This person told me that a deal with Madigan is a deal. With Rod he frequently spaces-out on stuff after he "agrees" to it.

I attribute this to Rod being hardwired differently than the majority of people. I have some sympathy with this. I see the world differently than most too. But Rod's statement has got to be annoying to people that deal with him because he's pretty much saying he's got the right to back out of any deal he doesn't sign.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

run against Rod?

I've created a Yahoogroup to organize people who want to support campaigns against Blagojevich in the Dem Primary or general election.

It's a once a week announcement list only. The hard-chargers can spin off their own projects.

every crisis an opportunity to consolidate power for the powerful?

I don't want to make this a discussion of Bush, but...

One of the major things that bugs me about GWB is that every "crisis" he IDs seems to have the solution of ideologically-allied interests getting lots of what they want and Democratic interests making all the sacrifices.

Yesterday I asked:
But if it's a "crisis" shouldn't the state bite the bullet and raise taxes?

And "anonymous" responded:

Or commission a few more riverboats and land boats.

I'm not gonna argue the pension situation is better than it is, but is this "crisis" going to be the battering ram used to expand gambling in Illinois? As the Trib pointed out G-Rod is carrying three of the five seats on the gaming board as vacancies so he could appoint three pliant people and make gambling expansion happen quickly. And of course the people that obtain gambling licenses know how to show their appreciation to politicians.

But I suppose the anti-tax crowd would argue that the crisis is being used to force through a tax increase if that's the direction G-Rod and the Speaker went.

blog roll nominations

Please nominate blogs you recommend for the blog roll.

Does the blog cover politics? Is the author living in Illinois? Do you think it's a good blog?

Busted! by Capitol Fax

1. Rod pitched platitudes about trade-offs that are prohibited under the Illinois Constitution.

2. Rod reneged on his campaign promise about education funding by saying their was no promise. Rich Miller found the 2002 quote.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Blagojevich sounds earnest

He seems genuinely concerned about the pension "crisis".

But if it's a "crisis" shouldn't the state bite the bullet and raise taxes?

BTW, is there anyway to get back some of the money from the people who got better than they deserved based on their contributions? Doesn't this seem like the baby boomers are shafting the younger people?

fishy pizza contracts on tollway

Capitol Fax links to an ABC-7's "I-Team" story.

The I-Team uncovered a food contract between the Illinois Tollway and a company that has ties to a mega millionaire. Eddie Debartolo Jr. is also a convicted felon. Debartolo was once caught bribing Louisiana's governor with a briefcase full of cash.

A company launched by Debartolo is opening pizzerias inside every renovated tollway oasis in Illinois. Tollway officials defend the deal.

Your Blago-managed state government in action.

cigarette taxes and other issues

So much to be offended by in just one article...

I don't like arbitrarily sticking it to smokers because they are politically vulnerable. It seems that this type of policy weakens the notion that there is a collective responsibility to pay the bills for the good things government does. It makes people feel singled-out for government persecution. It feeds anti-government backlash.

The article explains that a number of these "fixes" proposed by RB have been sent to the legislature before and failed to pass.
[T]he Democratic governor's administration acknowledged the state still suffers from a "structural deficit." Specifically, the administration said state expenditures were rising faster than revenues particularly because of escalating costs for employee pensions and health care for state workers and the poor.

With Blagojevich dead-set against increasing the sales or income taxes, he may try to force critics to choose between the interests of the bureaucracy of state workers or that of children in public schools.

It's nice to see I won't have to fold this blog because RB has discovered a sense of honor.
Blagojevich's plan would give smaller benefits to new employees and prevent school districts from giving fat end-of-career pay raises to workers that help boost their state-funded pensions.

There's a question of generational justice here. It seems unfair that older Illinoisans are spared belt-tightening while younger Illinoisans are getting less.

RB does deserve praise for addressing the pension sweeteners and Madigan and other senior legislators of both parties deserve some scorn on this point.
Blagojevich's plan, to be unveiled before a joint session of the legislature, would tap into hundreds of dedicated state bank accounts to give schools an additional $140 million--a significant decrease from the $400 million in new school spending he called for in each of his first two years in office.

What's a "dedicated state bank account"?

The folks at A+ Illinois claim that Blago's big school spending increase only amounted to less than $3 per student--or some such paltry number--after being adjusted for inflation.
The governor's plan also contains an unusual admission that job reductions in the problem-plagued Department of Natural Resources may have cut too deeply. Blagojevich proposed hiring 50 workers in state parks, including many who were among more than 100 recently laid off by the agency.

Long and Pearson (the authors) give Blago the benefit of the doubt on this one. Republicans accused RB of sacking GOP-hired DNR employees to make room for this own people. This seems more likely given the short lapse between the lay-offs and the decision to rehire.
In his rookie year as governor, Blagojevich pushed through a $10 billion bond issue to help shore up state employee funds and raise badly needed cash for him to help close the first of the gaping budget deficits he has faced.

Translation: Rod was completely irresponsible and borrowed rather than address the problem.
But Republicans on the [blue-ribbon pension] commission said they feared Blagojevich simply wanted to change the [pension system's] long-term funding formula to free up $600 million to $800 million that he could spend now.

Watch the politicians closely on this!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

G-Rod not taking advantage of federal offsets

Dan Johnson Weinberger explains that Blagojevich's plans to increase revenue raises all the money from Illinois, Governor Mitch Daniel's plan to raise money in Indiana gets the feds to subsidize the cause.

RB on TV

Carbondaley Dispatch draws attention to G-Rod appearing on WSIU Wednesday at noon.

tollways vs. Dick Mell

In Critics call for tollway inquiry (Chicago Trib) "an aide to the governor said he had no plans to ask his inspector general to look into the matter."

A few weeks ago when Dick Mell alleged his son-in-law was selling appointments to commissions for campaign contributions, G-Rod invited investigation of the allegations.

But the tollway allegations are different. What makes them different? Would it be that the allegations are easier to prove?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Lynn Sweet on RB, Triple J and Peotone

Lynn Sweet wrote primarily about Jesse Jackson, Jr.--the man dubbed "Triple J" by Aaron Freeman--in her piece on Rod, Triple J and the airport.

So the Jacksons are gonna go to the mat for RB because he's got behind building an airport at Peotone. OK.

Does Rod believe in this project? Or is he stuck in a position with so few friends he has to whore himself out to anyone that he hasn't completely burned his bridges with? Is that how we want policy made?

airport at Peotone

Here's a Trib editorial.

I'm skeptical that building an airport at Peotone can be done without diverting money from O'Hare and Midway. It sorta sounds like one of those money for nothing ideas.

But other than that--oh, and the fact it's really, really far away from Chicago--I expect building an airport at Peotone will be a good idea, unless, of course, the Bush deficit causes the economy to tank.

state pensions

According to a Trib editorial Blagojevich is gonna make a tough call on reigning in pension costs.
To his credit, Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to make pension reform a significant piece of his 2005 agenda. The governor last year assembled a task force to look at the pension mess and come up with recommendations. A draft of those recommendations is about to be released, and Blagojevich is likely to promote pension reform in his annual budget message on Wednesday.

Not everything posted here about Rod is negative.

criticism of Illinois Dems website

I noticed this at, but the original is posted by Tim Tagaris at the Swing State Project.

Thesis: the Illinois Democratic Party's website sucks.

evolving side bar

I'm adding links and info that I think could be useful in the side bar.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

campaign contributions exchanged for state business

I'm shocked, truly shocked!

Part of me wants to defend Blagojevich on these allegations. If we have a system that necessitates fundraising and government awards lucractive contracts it seems naive that one half of the equation is going to operate independently of the other.

In the Chicago Trib piece Blago's spokeswoman is quoted saying:
"There shouldn't be anyone financially benefiting from their relationship with the governor, and no one is financially benefiting from their relationship with the governor."

If G-Rod wants to be held to this standard it sorta undermines my defense of him.

Rich Miller has a column in the Daily Southtown on the same subject.

RB rails against excessive rules, but doesn't follow through

Eric Zorn points out that Blagojevich's railing against the volumes of education rules hasn't led to meaningful follow through.

reducing medical malpractice in Illinois

CBS News is advertising that it will have an investigation on Illinois being lenient in disciplining doctors who commit malpractice Monday on the 10 o'clock news.

In the State of the State speech Blagojevich said:
But we can’t make health care more accessible or more affordable if we can’t keep doctors in our state. We need medical malpractice reform and we need it now. We can protect the personal assets of doctors, preserve the rights of injured people to bring their claims, and make sure insurance companies reduce their premiums.

Last session we tried to get something done. Nothing. I appointed a mediator this fall. Nothing. Only gridlock.

I know the lawyers are well represented around here. So is the medical society. And the hospital association. And the insurance industry. All of them wield a lot of influence.

But the Constitution gives us the power to make the rules. So let's do it. Let us pass real, meaningful medical malpractice reform; reform that protects doctors, lowers the cost of their insurance premiums, and encourages them to practice medicine in Illinois.

I wonder if Blagojevich has any ideas about pulling the medical licenses of serial malpractice docs.

broken promises and screw-ups

Kurt Erickson of the Pantagraph characterizes RB's first couple years as unfulfilled promises and miscues. He also uses a clown metaphor. Read it here.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

helping Dems win Congressional Districts

Archpundit discussed the Roll Call article about the possibility of Hyde retiring.

As of the end of 2004 Blagojevich had $10.4 million in his warchest.

In the past I've suggested the DCCC should organize a Chicago-Milwaukee area campaign to build precinct organizations to swing House seats to the Dems (and to defend Bean's seat).

Rod would endear himself to me and a bunch of other Dem primary voters if he took some leadership and used his considerable assets to help build a precinct organization in Illinois' Sixth CD. It's not like he has to worry that he'd be offending an incumbent since the incumbent has already said he isn't gonna run. And, there's no reason RB couldn't add his shoulder on the effort in the Eighth too.

Will Rod be a leader and put his resources into helping Dems win control of the House of Reps? If not, why not?

G-Rod hawking insurance?

Capitol Fax reports that Blago gave permission to an insurance company to use a picture of him and his family and the state seal in a newsletter. Rich Miller explains, if not explicitly against the law it definitely violates the spirit of the law.

Read the post and make your own judgment if Rod only violated the "spirit" and not the letter of the law.

Here's what I suspect is the prob with Blago. He sorta wants to be a good government reformer, but he doesn't have the "qua" factor.

It's kinda hard to stand up against a system that has been so good to him. Blagojevich has trouble seeing the perks of political power because he's been immersed in it his entire career. He's never gonna have the eye for seeing how his life has been charmed because he never had to struggle against entrenched interests to get inside the system. And his father-in-law probably shielded Rod from the seemier aspects of the game.

a new way to do budgets?

On Monday I heard a WBEZ interview with Peter Hutchinson about his book The PRICE of GOVERNMENT: Getting the Results We Need in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis (written with David Osborne).

Hutchinson observed the amount of money people are willing to pay, as a percent of the economy, is pretty much fixed. He has done research to show this is true on both the federal level and for individual states.

The thesis is that government budgets should be a priority list of what the electorate wants, as opposed to carrying through the budget from the last cycle with cuts and additions.

Early in the interview I was skeptical, but then Hutchinson provided some examples of actually doing it. It sounded promising.

Discuss the ideas in the book, but also think about the questions: What should Illinois' priority list include? What should be the highest priorities?

Friday, February 11, 2005

what would you ask G-Rod's press secretary?

Add and discuss questions in the comments.

Knowing what he knows now, would he have voted for the Iraq War?

How is the Iraq War different from what he envisioned?

What media outlets does Rod read, watch or listen to on a regular basis?

What was the breakdown in communication in the case of “Red” Burchyett and his wheelchair? Why did it take almost a month between when the story was reported in the Southern Illinoisan of Carbondale and when Blagojevich heard about it? Why didn’t Blagojevich’s appointees reflect Blagojevich’s values in this case?

Is Blagojevich satisfied with the mechanisms that exist for the state to communicate to employers obligations they have under the law?

What kind of election reform does Blagojevich favor?

Does Blagojevich expect his ad campaign about “equal pay” to reduce the gap between men and women? How is the state monitoring progress?

Does Blagojevich think it’s unseemly when party “A”, who subcontracts work from party “B”, gives $10,000+ political contributions to an elected official and then the elected officials gives $100,000+ contracts to party “B”? What sort of campaign finance rules should be enacted to bolster confidence that campaign contributions are not just regulated bribery?

If he had it to do over again, what would Blagojevich have done differently in the case of the flu vaccine purchase?

Does Blagojevich attribute any of his actions vis-à-vis Frank Schmidt’s dump as being motivated by personal feelings? Or were all his actions driven by appropriate enforcement of applicable state laws?

Why was Blagojevich off by a factor of 100 in estimating the number of people that would participate in the RX Buying Club?

Are Blagojevich’s wind farms going to be like Bush’s Mars mission?

What causes Illinois veterans to not get benefits—educational and health—to which they are entitled?

What is wrong with how Illinois funds education? How should it be fixed?

The Chicago Tribune has suggested Blagojevich is keeping three vacancies on the Gaming Board so he can quickly propose a major gambling expansion and appoint three rubber stamps (a majority of the five person board) to get the expansion approved without a long discussion. If this isn’t the Governor’s plan, why is he keeping these three vacancies open?

How many people has the DNR hired since Blagojevich took office? How many of these people actively supported Blagojevich’s campaign? How many people has the DNR laid off since Blagojevich took office? How many of these people actively supported Blagojevich’s campaign?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

DNR cuts

The Trib has an article talking about DNR cuts on the front page.

RB's position is that the budget needs to be cut. There's some truth to this.

The article quotes one Dem from the legislature.
Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) warned that whatever savings the state reaps from cutting staff could be eaten up by the potential legal costs if park visitors get hurt because facilities are stripped of staff.

"If someone, God forbid, is raped or murdered at a facility, and we don't have adequate security, we have high liability," Franks said.

This argument seems weak. Is the government normally liable for crimes committed at parks?

And this is the GOP accusation:
Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers are complaining that the recent cuts have more to do with politics, saying the layoffs are just a way to get rid of people hired during three decades of Republican administrations to clear the way for Democrats.

This critique sounds about half right. Blagojevich is probably letting go some Republican hacks and hiring some of his hacks.

But it's not something we need to speculate about. The Trib ought to be able to find out the background of people hired and fired. To what extent are these moves driven by politics? Are Blagojevich campaign workers getting the axe along with everybody else?

AFSCME did have some hard-hitting criticism:
Leaders of the union that represents the department's workers are furious for other reasons. They contend that the layoffs violate contracts because the state didn't supply a valid reason for getting rid of the employees. In one case, 15 workers paid through the state's Wildlife and Fish Fund were told there wasn't enough money to pay them, even though the fund has a $23 million balance. The department says the money wasn't available because the legislature hadn't approved its expenditure.

The salaries of two laid off workers were drawn entirely from a federal grant program for abandoned mines, meaning Washington--not Springfield--was paying for their positions.

casinos, RB planning something big?

I am skeptical of gambling being good for society even though it creates revenue for government that is less painful for pols than taxes.

The #2 editorial in the Trib insinuates G-Rod is putting the states gambling revenue at risk by not appointing commissioners to the three vacancies on the Gambling Board--I mean, "Gaming Board". There are only five seats so it does seem a bit odd to carry three vacancies. The Trib raises the possibility Blago-man is planning something nefarious and will appoint three rubber stamps when he's ready to unveil it.

Apparently Governor Elvis promised the Trib editorial board in June that he intends to fill these spots promptly.

As a gambling skeptic I guess I sorta see things as unfolding as designed. Pols love gambling because they can make a few people very rich. The pols know how to pick people that know how to express their appreciation. Why shouldn't Roddy B play the game as it's designed? Because it offends the sensibilities of the Trib editorial board?

slow posting

I apologize to regular readers for being slow to post.

I made a trip to Carbondale and Bloomington and I got out of my rhythm.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

partial credit for RB on education funding?

Like G-Rod, I'm not a big fan of HB 750, the liberal's education funding bill.

It's a tax increase that won't deliver better education than the status quo, unless you see the problem in education being that the government doesn't spend enough.

But education funding has been a perennial issue in Illinois. So it seems like RB should have more of a plan to deal with the issue than he does. "Hold the line on spending" isn't much of a plan.

So any credit Roddy B gets for opposing HB 750 should be negated by the Serbian kid with puffy hair not having a better plan.

Friday, February 04, 2005

State of the State Address

It's posted in most known formats.

And of course the Trib covers it too.

I'll make comments on the details later.

Any parts you consider especially important?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Rod wants to help veterans

From the Chicago Tribune:

Every year, benefits go unused because veterans do not apply for them, state officials say.

The statement is true, but misleading.

In my experience the problem with vets getting health benefits is that they get jerked around by the bureaucracy on eligibility. What the state could do to help this problem is to have a legal team help veterans appeal decisions to deny veterans disability benefits. Along the way the state could collect data to prove the VA is not processing claims in good faith. They are denying claims because they know some vets won't jump through the wickets to appeal the ruling and because the VA is usually not resposible for paying for treatment prior to the appeal being adjudicated.

So, if a vet knows working through the VA is a big jerk-around, s/he may choose not to apply for benefits. So, the reason vets don't get benefits to which they are legally entitled is not that they don't know the system, it's because they do know the system.

Hiring twelve people to help vets is a fine idea, but the state should see the real problem. Creating a bureaucracy to better track veterans is kinda pointless if the VA is still an unhelpful bureaucracy.

State government could play a role in leveling the playing field when vets have to fight the VA. But it doesn't sound like this is going to be Blago's strategy.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of State: drug plan, windmills and undoc kids

What's Blagojevich's history at implementing new programs?

The fee [for Blagojevich's RX Buying Club] is being cut to encourage enrollment. Initially, state officials projected 1.5 million seniors and people with disabilities would enroll, but so far only 14,200 have joined.

Off by a factor of 100? This doesn't inspire my confidence Rod has good sense about policy issues.

"This is an investment in rural economic development and clean energy," said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, an advocacy group that has pushed for a renewable energy standard in Illinois.

Does Blagojevich think wind farms are going to lift the economy of rural Illinois? By how much? Like, within a factor of 100...

The initiative stems from a case in Will County's Summit Hill School District 161, where officials are accused of turning away a 4-year-old girl from its preschool program last fall because she was an undocumented immigrant....

Chicago Public Schools and several other districts with significant immigrant populations said they do not turn away preschool students who are undocumented and that what happened in Summit Hill appears to be an isolated case.

Once again Rod opts to do something symbolic that will have the most minimal effect on public policy in the real world. I'd be less cynical about Rod if he was less cynical about how he does his job.

point of privilege: Drinking Liberally

I don't think I'll be able to attend tonight, but...

I do recommend drinking or not drinking with fellow liberals at Drinking Liberally.

Where? Red Lion Pub, 2446 N. Lincoln (near Fullerton stop on Red/Brown Lines)
*** IMPORTANT: it's on the second floor
When? 8:30 PM
Why? to socialize with other liberals

Contact: chicago circled "a" drinkingliberally [spot] org

Feel free to drop my name.

Blago-rhythm: what's his weekly routine?

I want to do a weekly thread for questions I would like to see asked of the Guv or his press secretary.

Is there a best day of the week to do it?

When the legislature is in session does G-Rod have a weekly press conference? On what day?

Patti's cousin's dump may be contemptuous

Today's Trib story.

Anyone got any insights?

If Frank Schmidt, Patti's cousin, was really vindictive he'd use as many excuses as he could muster to keep this story in the media.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

vaccine story shows Blago's shortcomings

The front page of the Chicago Trib has Hynes says state won't pay for governor's vaccine deal.

Let's assume everything Blagojevich says about this is the truth. Blagojevich is getting screwed by the Bush administration.

Isn't Roddy B admitting he's not up to the task of negotiating with the Bush administration?

I remember when the GOP controlled everything in Springfield and Mayor Daley had to negotiate with them on airports. Who won those negotiations? Competent Democrats can outmanuever power-tripping Republicans given a reasonably level playing field. Whatever it requires to deal with the Bush administration G-Rod doesn't have it.

But wait, there's more!

Hynes could have framed the story as a criticism of the Bush administration. Hynes could be saying that the money for the vaccines can't be released and it's a shame, but the Bush administration has been playing politics.

But Blagojevich's fellow Democrat isn't backing him up. Why not? Is it because Rod is lying? Probably not. The most likely explanation is that other Democrats aren't looking to back Blagojevich. In fact they're probably looking for ways to slip a knife--or a whole bunch of knives--in his back. Why aren't other Dems backing Blagojevich in his fight with the Bush administration? Maybe because he's treated them poorly in the past?

So Blagojevich is in over his head when dealing with the Bush administration. He's got exceedingly poor relations with his fellow Dems. What should Blagojevich do, given his current situation? Maybe he should try to make Democrats happy?

quid pro quo? contracts for campaign contributions?

In `Connected' firm got state contract the Chicago Trib suggests there was a quid pro quo of six figure campaign contributions for eight figure contracts.

I guess we're supposed to be outraged. Was there a quid pro quo here? Probably? Was it illegal? Should it be illegal?

If some contractor gives over $100,000 to a candidate for executive office doesn't it seem disconnected from reality to be outraged when it becomes apparent what the quid pro quo was?

Maybe he gave the money because he found Mell's daughter charming when he remodeled her kitchen? C'mon!

will Bl Bl's Bl run out of material?

Sometimes I get nervous that I've only got a couple weeks of material in the bank and that this blog will wither for lack of interest. Or it will require me to do significant original investigating to get material. I like investigating political stuff, but I do need to keep focused on activities that give me a positive cash flow.

But then days like today come along and show there's plenty of Blagojevich blunders to blog.