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Thompson Center Sale Just One More Sideshow PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 18 October 2015 06:00

Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner said that he had spoken with both Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan about his proposed sale of the state's Thompson Center building in Chicago, and that both men were "forward leaning and positive" about the plan.

So I checked in with the legislative leaders, and that's not exactly what I heard.

"The governor and President Cullerton spoke," said the Senate President's spokesperson Rikeesha Phelon. Okay, so far so good. At least these weren't "phantom" phone conversations like the ones Governor-elect Rauner claimed he had with those two on election night last November, but didn’t.

"We will take a look at the specifics of the plan in light of state statutes regarding property control and facility closures," Phelon continued.

Um, wait. That doesn't sound all too "forward leaning and positive." I asked Phelon: Is Cullerton positive about this at all?

"I would say the word is 'open,' but under review," she replied.

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Negotiate PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 11 October 2015 06:00

Last year, gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner pledged to "crack down on waste" in government in order to save taxpayers over $140 million. He also vowed to cut $500 million from the Illinois Department of Central Management Services and find another $250 million in Medicaid savings.

Very little of that has happened to date, as the governor himself inadvertently admitted during a speech last week in the southern Cook County suburbs.

Instead of saving $500 million at CMS, for example, Rauner touted just $15 million in savings, mainly from grounding the state's fleet of airplanes – although that doesn't take into consideration the cost of paying mileage reimbursements for all those folks who can no longer fly.

The governor identified a grand total of $107 million in what he said are savings he's found this year, but most came from cuts at the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and people I’ve talked to aren’t buying those numbers because some major state cost controls have been allowed to expire. He also failed to mention that he vetoed a bill that the Democrats say would've resulted in $400 million in DHFS savings – far more than his own stated campaign goal and lots more than the $70 million he claims to have actually saved.

Governor Rauner also bemoaned the lack of a budget and the myriad court orders which are forcing state spending at last fiscal year's levels. "I can't control" the court orders, the governor said. That's true, but the governor could try negotiating with the stakeholders and the courts to come up with more affordable orders. He's not a complete victim.

And, of course, he repeatedly complained that the Democratic General Assembly hasn’t allowed votes on a single one of his Turnaround Agenda items.

He has a right to complain, but he's not a legislator and needs to eventually realize that he can’t pass bills on his own.

Delayed Session Illustrates Do-Nothing Status Quo PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 04 October 2015 05:26

The Illinois Senate had been scheduled to return to Springfield on October 6 after not being in session since September 9. But last week, the Senate President postponed session until October 20.

The reason is pretty straightforward.

The Senate has overridden several gubernatorial vetoes. It’s pretty easy for the majority party because the chamber has 39 Democrats, three more than the three-fifths required to override a veto.

The House has 71 Democrats, the exact number of votes required to overturn a veto in that chamber. So the Senate Democrats can be missing a few people or have some folks who don’t want to go along and still override the governor on partisan votes. But the House Democrats need every member in town, and they all need to be voting the same way for that chamber to succeed.

Because of that tight margin, and because the Republicans have marched in lockstep with their party’s governor, the House has only overridden one veto this entire year: the Heroin Crisis Act.

And the House was only able to override that bill because Governor Bruce Rauner allowed House Republicans to vote against his amendatory veto, which stripped out state Medicaid funding for heroin-addiction treatment. Rauner now gets to portray himself as fiscally conservative, while the Republicans got to do the right thing and make the much-needed criminal-justice-reform legislation an actual law.

To date, the governor and his staff have successfully fought off 62 override attempts, mainly in the House.

So much for Speaker Michael Madigan’s much-vaunted veto-proof House majority.

Survey, Speech Make Negotiations Harder PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 27 September 2015 05:08

A poll and a speech might have hardened positions even further on both sides of the highly partisan and bitter state-government impasse.

The speech, by Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, you likely already know about. The survey, taken by Governor Bruce Rauner’s pollster, you probably don’t. So let’s start with the poll.

Basswood Research, which has done extensive work for the Rauner campaign, surveyed 800 likely Illinois general-election voters September 14 and 15 and found quite a bit of support for Rauner and a whole lot of opposition to House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 3.5 percent, found that 45.5 percent approve of Rauner’s job performance, while 40 percent disapprove and 14 percent don’t know. Not great.

But a whopping 71 percent agreed with the statement “Bruce Rauner is trying to shake things up in Springfield, but the career politicians are standing in his way,” while just 21 percent said that wasn’t true.

Cycle of Futility Continues with State Budget PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 13 September 2015 10:57

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said last week that state government’s backlog of unpaid bills will hit $8.5 billion by the end of December, up from about $6 billion right now.

That’s a headline-grabbing number, since the end of December is not exactly the greatest time for people and companies that are owed money by the state. The state’s bill backlog was about $8 billion this past January, right after most of the 2011 state-income-tax hike expired. But the backlog fell to $3.5 billion by the end of July, and just $2.3 billion of those bills were more than 30 days overdue.

But let’s take a look at another estimate Comptroller Munger released last week. The comptroller totaled state spending from last fiscal year that isn’t currently being mandated by federal and state court decrees (Medicaid bills, state employee and judicial salaries, etc.), continuing appropriations (bond and pension payments, legislative salaries), signed appropriations bills (K-12 education), and other things, and came up with $4.3 billion.

The $4.3 billion is the total amount that was paid out last year but is not currently being sent to colleges and universities, state-employee health-care providers, non-Medicaid social-service providers, MAP Grant college-student-aid recipients, and lottery winners over $25,000, plus various “transfers out,” including to local governments for things such as motor-fuel-tax distributions.

Eventually, that money will have to be paid in full or in part, or significant portions of the state are gonna be in a big world of hurt.

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