- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December 5, 2016

Belleville News Democrat

Illinois lawmakers prove whose interests matter most: Theirs

Some members of the Illinois House don’t like being treated like every other person currently owed $10.4 billion by our deadbeat state.

On Friday state Reps. Mary Flowers, Emmanuel Chris Welch, Kate Cloonen, Lisa Hernandez, Silvana Tabares and Sonya Harper filed suit as Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger was literally headed out the door. The Republican appointee instituted a policy in April that put pay for all elected state leaders in the pile with all the other state bills awaiting payment, but the six Democrats sued her office because they didn’t like it that their May paychecks just arrived in October.

Munger’s parting shot: “Their action comes eight months after I implemented a policy requiring that all state elected leaders - myself included - be treated just like everyone else. How cowardly and self-serving that while they refused to challenge my action while I was in office, they are now going to Court when there will be a new Administration led by one of their own.”

Welcome to office the new Illinois comptroller, Mike Madigan acolyte Susana Mendoza, a Democrat from Chicago. Note to cowards: Expect paychecks soon.

Which brings to mind the Republican effort to “out” the downstate Democrats ahead of the Illinois House electing its next speaker. Mike Madigan’s 32-year lock on that spot, and all the dysfunction that has flowed from that leadership, is under attack and local Democrats are under the microscope at bossmadigan.com. The site names state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Eldorado; Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville; Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton; and Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton.

Costello said he doesn’t know how he’ll vote.

“I think my constituents know I’m a very conservative Democrat, and I consider myself to be exactly in the middle,” Costello said.

But exactly in the middle is a very bad place to be. If anything is to change in Illinois, Costello and the rest of Illinois’ leadership must choose sides.

Continue to follow Madigan, to what destination is anyone’s guess. Try something different than the insanity of topping two decades of unbalanced budgets by shirking the obligation for two years to even have a budget, by ignoring a $130 billion pension deficit and by continuing to bleed jobs and population that are destroying our middle class.

Serve yourself. Serve your master. Serve the people who elected you.

This shouldn’t be a hard choice.


December 4, 2016

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Our view: Susana Mendoza, be a voice of reason for the state’s finances

Welcome to your new job, Susana Mendoza.

Due to special election rules, you are being sworn in today, instead of in January like the rest of the people elected to office on Nov. 8. We’re sorry to give you bad news on this, your first day, but it’s only fair that you know the realities you have assumed as Illinois Comptroller.

You have inherited a financial mess decades in the making, and since you get to pay the state’s bills, the meltdown it has become is yours to manage.

We hope you will continue The Ledger, the website where anyone can go to dig into a plethora of the state’s financial information. We like, for instance, that anyone can find out just how bad the backlog of unpaid bills is in the state (it was $10.3 billion as of Dec. 1). It makes it hard to ignore the problem when it’s right there in your face.

One of your main duties is to cut the state’s checks; we feel you should know that as of right now, there are hundreds of nonprofits, social service agencies, schools and other vendors waiting to be paid for work they did or services they provided months ago. We were encouraged to hear that you do not believe state legislators should be bumped to the front of the line for payment, and they would have to wait just like everyone else does.

Granted, it might not be your choice anymore: Six Democratic lawmakers filed suit Friday against your predecessor, Leslie Munger, saying she was violating the constitution by not issuing them paychecks. They may legally be right, but perhaps you can tell them what you said last week during a Better Government Association forum held in Springfield, that withholding paychecks is not a punitive action, but that the pain has to be shared. It’s a concept some state lawmakers haven’t always understood.

You also understand, based on your comments last week, that there is a massive disconnect between legislative leadership in Springfield and the residents throughout Illinois; we couldn’t agree more.

Could you perhaps tell your party’s leaders, specifically House Speaker Michael Madigan, that we would like to know how exactly he plans to help Illinois dig itself out of its financial mess? His mantra has been he wants to use the same framework used during previous negotiations that actually resulted in, you know, a full-year budget - something that hasn’t happened for two years now. Keeping the status quo is what got Illinois into this quagmire, and the state’s residents refuse to have more of the same.

You had said during your campaign that you would maintain an independent voice. The state will be watching to ensure you make good on that promise. Why not get started right away? Ask Madigan for some concrete ideas of how the Democratic Party plans to start digging the state into solvency. You also have noted that when you were a state legislator, you reached out to Republicans. We hope you continue that trend so you can help build coalitions instead of the barriers that tend to spring up in the Statehouse.

Progress will come when everyone commits to the idea of shared sacrifices; you said as much last week. You noted you could be a fresh voice in gridlock; the state’s residents are begging you to please do so. We hope your voice can resonate above the noisy brouhaha that masquerades as discourse these days in the Capitol, and provide solutions.

Good luck. You’re going to need it.


December 5, 2016

Chicago Tribune

Berrios and others elected Cook County officials are subject to oversight, Illinois Supreme Court says

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is out of excuses. He can no longer block investigative inquiries into his office. The jig is up.

A unanimous Illinois Supreme Court settled a four-year dispute on Thursday, ruling that Berrios does indeed fall under the jurisdiction of the Cook County inspector general.

This should surprise no one. It’s written into the ordinance that created the inspector general’s office in the first place. But Berrios challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance all the way to the state’s highest court, claiming it should not apply to him as an independently elected county official.

Berrios got shot down.

He also bought himself time, which might make it difficult for Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard to resume the 2012 inquiry that set off the dispute in the first place - an employee in Berrios’ office allegedly taking a property tax exemption on multiple properties, a big no-no. Berrios at one point said he handled the matter internally. But he refused to hand over documents and materials, even after Blanchard issued a subpoena.

Blanchard says he’ll reassess the case in light of the court’s decision and determine whether to move forward.

Note that several other elected officials quietly jumped on Berrios’ coattails as his case moved through the courts. They also refused to cooperate with Blanchard’s office. Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, Treasurer Maria Pappas and the Board of Review - comprised of Larry Rogers Jr., Dan Patlak and Michael Cabonargi - brushed off inquiries from the inspector general’s office, citing Berrios’ case. Their refusals essentially froze, for four years, Blanchard’s ability to follow up on complaints aimed at their operations.

Blanchard says he has tried to work around the lack of cooperation, taking advantage of public records and other materials. But without access to employees to conduct interviews or to email communications or internal documents, Blanchard’s ability to investigate has been greatly restricted.

Until now.

The Supreme Court’s ruling should make it clear to all the foot-draggers - never mind that the ordinance was clear already - that they are not above the law. The Cook County Board created an independent inspector general in 2007 to “detect, deter and prevent corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, unlawful political discrimination or misconduct in the operation of county government,” the Supreme Court noted.

The ordinance empowered the inspector general to investigate wrongdoing throughout government, including separately elected county officials. The IG also has the power to subpoena documents and forward results to law enforcement.

Attempts to clip Blanchard at the knees should never have happened in the first place.

Remember, this is Cook County. The inspector general, with 18 full-time employees, is a busy guy. But we suspect he’s about to get busier.


December 6, 2017

The Quad-City Times

For a brief moment, Illinois government worked

Don’t blink.

For a few days, Illinois touted a functioning government, and the sudden bit of 11th-hour bipartisanship salvaged nuclear plants in Cordova and Clinton, Illinois.

It all started just before Thanksgiving, when nuclear operator Exelon made its final bid to the General Assembly for sweeping legislation to keep the cash-bleeding plants on-line and save 800 high-paying jobs at the station in Rock Island County. But it was this past week that featured the real wheeling and dealing that forms a fully functional governmental body.

No fewer than 10 amendments were inserted. Some stayed. Some went. Gov. Bruce Rauner, who long remained silent on his position on the massive overhaul of state energy policy, voiced short-lived support. At the last minute, he momentarily walked back his approval when one of those doomed amendments, credited to Speaker Michael Madigan, inserted prevailing wage requirements for non-union employees. Madigan relented. The 10-year, $235 million subsidy headed to the floor Thursday night. And Madigan’s House, the wild card in the whole matter, went first.

Lawmakers didn’t break along the usual partisan lines. No, dissenters — Democrat and Republican, alike — griped about the rushed “process.” They questioned the fecundity of Rauner’s caps on rate hikes. They railed against requiring ratepayers to subsidize Exelon Corporation, which last year posted $2 billion in profits, and an alleged state policy of “picking winners and losers.”

Coal-country lawmakers raged because the final draft stripped subsidies for downstate coal plants. Legislators from Chicago worried about the effects on inner-city jobs.

Strange bedfellows, too, constituted the bill’s proponents. Quad-Cities lawmakers, Rep. Mike Smiddy, a Democrat, and Sen. Neil Anderson, a Republican, made a parochial case based on jobs and millions in taxes schools and local governments collect from the Quad-Cities Nuclear Generating Station. The likes of House Green Caucus Chairwoman Ann Williams and Republican Minority Leader Michael Tryon built complementary arguments about the importance of zero-emissions electricity production.

The bipartisanship continued through the Senate. It wasn’t about party in either house. For once, it was about policy.

This time, Gov. Bruce Rauner showed real leadership. For months, his administration was oddly silent on the Exelon bill. Only when it really mattered did Rauner and his staff speak up, leveraging its full political muscle to shape something palatable to Rauner, pro-business Republicans and environmentally minded Democrats. Rauner’s administration said late Thursday that the Exelon bill is expected to be signed into law.

Madigan, too, backed off on his “poison pill.” Finally, Illinois’ dominant speaker freed his members to speak for themselves.

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