Statehouse

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Illinois voters approved the call for a Constitutional Convention 35 years ago this month, the main selling point was the need to revamp the state’s century-old, horse-and-buggy charter to meet space-age needs.

Proponents of constitutional revision touted such benefits as a revenue article flexible enough to allow targeted tax breaks, expanded authority for cities to handle their own affairs and restrictions on state borrowing more attuned to contemp-orary financial practices.

When Bryan Samuels became director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, he inherited an agency that looked to be on the upswing. The most hopeful sign: The number of state wards, which had reached 51,500 in 1997, has been sliced to some 20,000, thanks to a push for adoptions and subsidized guardianship.

That’s not to say that watching over the state’s most vulnerable children is getting easier. Or that it’s less difficult to run an agency that draws heavy media attention every time something goes awry. 

Roger Walker’s appointment as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections means a significant shift in leadership style for an agency that may be in need of a mediator at the top. 

Personable and practical, Walker is more comfortable looking for solutions than problems. He says he may not be an employee’s best friend, but he wants his workers to know he listens. And he arrives at this post with no predetermined agenda. 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Governors may have reason to remember the old adage on being careful about wishes.

The move to shift responsibility for social welfare programs from the federal government to the states has definitely picked up steam under President George W. Bush. 

Proponents of devolution, so called, promote it as a way to give the states flexibility to reinvent social policy, to tailor it to local needs. And that’s something state officials have devoutly wished for. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

What’s in a name? A tax by any other name hits just as hard.

Taxes provide dollars for everyday government expenses. Fees, at least in the traditional sense, provide funds for specific purposes. Then, in Illinois’ current spending plan, there’s the hybrid: fees that resemble taxes.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The other shoe appears poised to drop on Illinois’ cash-strapped local governments.

Already reeling from new waste water permit fees imposed by the state, local officials now also face steep costs to comply with a federal mandate for election reform.

Under the Help America Vote Act, enacted last year in the wake of the Florida vote counting debacle in 2000, election authorities must:

The circumstances surrounding a meeting between U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Chicago police detectives in late 2001, shortly after Fitzgerald assumed his post, were extraordinary in two respects. The crime that inspired the meeting was, as murders sometimes are, downright bizarre. But it’s not the nature of the crime that sticks in the mind of Terry Hillard, who retired last month as the Chicago Police Department’s super-intendent. It’s that the meeting took place at all.

Even as mortgage rates fell, Kerry Jantzen gave little thought to buying his own home. That was before he learned that his employer, Chicago-based Bank One, where he had worked for more than seven years, was offering $2,500 plus the cash to cover the taxes on that gift as a way to help its workers buy homes. 

As a single mother with two kids, Carma Kimber thought her life was tough. When she became pregnant a third time, it got a lot tougher. But with federal housing aid, the 28-year-old Peoria woman has been able to go to college, which gives her a shot at a better-paying job. 

“I’d rather struggle for a short period of time and come out with something really amazing than just continue to struggle with no ending,” says Kimber, who is studying full time to become a registered nurse while working 10 hours a week on the campus of Illinois Central College.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The running joke at this summer’s annual conference of state government reporters was that the recession is over. Economists with the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit organization, say it ended in November 2001.

 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

One pre-emptive strike begets another. At least that’s the sequence of events in Evanston, where the city council registered its opposition to one of the federal government’s chief tools in the war against terrorism.

The council passed a resolution in May calling on Congress to repeal the USA Patriot Act and “refrain from passing any further legislation that violates or unduly limits the civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Are we killing the goose that’s been laying golden eggs in the coffers of state and local governments for the last dozen years?

Since 1991, Illinois’ riverboat gaming industry has produced some $3.5 billion in tax revenues for the state and for the nine communities in which the floating casinos have docked.

But the ongoing bounty may be susceptible to a couple of worrisome trends documented in Illinois Gaming Board reports and in a new study from the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission. The ominous portents:

It’s a land-use squeeze play: 

Rockford is expanding eastward, while Chicagoland is creeping westward from McHenry County. Boone County is sandwiched in between. 

“We’re getting hit from both sides,” says Mark Williams, executive director of Growth Dimensions, a nonprofit organization promoting economic development in that county. 

Development spilling out of Chicago, for example, is just miles from consuming Belvidere, the Boone County seat that is more than 70 miles from the Loop. 

Imagine getting a home equity loan for $100,000, spending $27,000 of it on a new car and investing the rest — then counting on the interest earned to cover the interest paid, as well as the cost of the car. That’s the essence of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s $10 billion pension bonding plan, which became law in April.

When Dr. Eric Whitaker got a call from the governor’s office, it didn’t occur to him he was being considered to head the state Department of Public Health. Whitaker, an attending physician at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago, the former Cook County Hospital, figured someone wanted his resume for yet another advisory panel. But then the governor’s office called back to set up an interview. “I said, ‘Interview for what?’” Whitaker recalls, laughing. “They said, ‘For the directorship.’”

Editor's Notebook: Ethics seem to be on the agenda

Jun 1, 2003
Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

What is it about Illinois? The Land of Lincoln has a long- running, nationwide reputation for political corruption, and we aren’t in a position to complain. There is hard evidence — even Illinoisans can see it — to rank this state among the ethic-ally challenged. These days especially, when it wouldn’t come as any surprise if the slogan on Illinois’ license plates read, “What’s in it for me?”

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“Be careful what you wish for,” advises an old adage, “because you just might get it.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich might find himself reflecting on that sage advice in coming weeks, after the Illinois General Assembly sent the Democratic chief executive a $53 billion revenue-and-spending plan for the coming fiscal year that closely resembled what he proposed some eight weeks earlier.

To be sure, Blagojevich was the cheerful optimist as he took a victory lap around the state the day after the spring session ended.

Sex offenders appear everywhere. They’re in Chicago, in Galena, in Cairo, and most places in between. There’s Michael Lee Clayton who lives on Willow in Effingham. There’s William Bence on 12th in Quincy. There’s Frederick Stanford on Harmon in Danville.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Death penalty reforms. Cheaper prescription drugs. Gambling options. And an unprecedented budget crisis. Lawmakers face a long might-do list heading into what they surely hope will be the last month of this legislative session.

In the next weeks, they’ll scramble through some 2,000 bills aimed at solving a range of perceived problems, many of them old familiars. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The bill to abolish the death penalty was not called for a vote on the House floor. Rep. Art Turner, the sponsor, says he simply couldn’t muster the votes necessary for passage.

By pulling the bill, Turner avoided forcing his colleagues to state for the record whether they support the ultimate punishment. But one thing is clear: Lawmakers are comfortable, if not enthusiastic, with keeping that statute on the books.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The story line is classic Looney Tunes: The character painting the floor works himself into a corner and appears trapped. He scratches his head, a light bulb comes on, and he quickly outlines a door on the wall. Turning the knob, the clever hero opens the door and escapes.

States call President George W. Bush’s Medicaid plan the carrot-and-stick approach to state-federal relations. They could take the carrot, but they dread a swift whack from the stick.

The White House envisions tidy administration of health care for the poor. If states get their programs in order, the administration contends, then there’s no whack to fear.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s tough being a governor these days. There’s no question about that.

Nationwide, states are facing their worst fiscal crises in more than 50 years. And some say Illinois is facing its worst ever. That’s a bit of political hyperbole, perhaps, but not far off the mark. Times are grim.

Going into his first state budget, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is staring down a $1.2 billion hole. His estimate. By the end of the budget year that begins this summer, he’ll have to fill another $3.6 billion hole. Again, his estimate.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Lawmakers resurrected a classic phrase to express their wonderment over Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s approach to dealing with the ailing state budget: Where’s the beef?

No, they’re not hoping for bigger hamburger patties, as burger lovers were in the Wendy’s commercials that made the saying famous. They want to know just how the Democrat intends to deal with a deficit he estimates at a combined $4.8 billion for this fiscal year and the one that begins July 1.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four showdown is just days away, and the NBA playoffs start in a couple of months.

A key element for successful hoopsters at any level, knowledgeable fans know, is the transition game — how well a team makes the shift from offense to defense and vice versa. Does it get back on defense fast enough to thwart an opponent’s fast-break hopes? Is it quick enough going the other way to score easy baskets?

Out of Hiding: Poverty is on the rise in Illinois and increasingly visible

Mar 1, 2003

It would be an easy bicycle ride down Lincoln Highway from the Lincoln Mall in Matteson to Rick’s Food & Liquors in Ford Heights. Just a tad over six miles, though the traffic in this far south suburban region of Chicago would be busy at the start. 

In Matteson, middle-class shoppers buy cosmetics at Carson Pirie Scott, motorists gas up SUVs at Mobil, Citgo or Shell, parents fill shopping carts at Jewel and Cub Foods and executives dine at Olive Garden, Red Lobster or Fazoli’s.

The sign on the door used to read “Men Only.” A woman could be at the top of her law school class, but she wasn’t getting into the judiciary. In recent years, though, women have chipped that figurative sign off the door of the Cook County Circuit Court, and a growing number of them are becoming judges.

This increase is attributed largely to the creation of judicial subcircuits within that county, and to a rise in the sheer number of women lawyers.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Sally Jefferson arrived at Alton Penitentiary on September 11, 1835. A prison clerk’s brief notation in the Convict Register marked the occasion. “No. 23,” the clerk wrote, had been sentenced by the Peoria County Circuit Court to 12 months of confinement for arson, including two weeks in solitary. She was 24 years old. “Her left hand and arm had been considerably seared by a burn when young.”

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The video poker machines found in bars around Illinois are perfectly legal. What’s not is the widespread practice of gambling on those games.

So when bar owners collect money their patrons lose while betting on the machines, that cash goes unreported. And state government comes up empty — to the tune of an estimated $350 million each year. That’s an impressive sum for a state drowning in red ink and looking for a quick fiscal fix. At the same time, the deficit could be video poker gambling’s ticket to come out from under the table.

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Statehouse press corps is a little cranky these days, and the problem can’t be traced to the coffee.

Seems what’s got everyone’s knickers in a bunch is the lack of a clue exhibited by the new administration’s communi-cations staff. Specifically, administration representatives aren’t returning phone calls to the media in a timely fashion. Actually, they’re barely returning phone calls at all.

Pages