Kurt Erickson

hot dogs neon sign
Jeremy Brooks / via Flickr.com/jeremybrooks

Even though much of Illinois government is operating without a budget, the state is still looking to spend money. Right now, on Illinois’ procurement website, there are dozens of notices. Reporter Kurt Erickson returns to State of the State for a procurement primer.

TRANSCRIPT: From NPR Illinois, it’s State of the State. I’m Brian Mackey, and the state of the state today is on a buying spree.

SOUNDBITE: "And they ran out of hot dog spice, or wiener spice, as I called it. And they had to go out and try to find some and emergency purchase."

Hall of Governors
Brian Mackey / WUIS

This summer, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been back in the news. Years after he was convicted on corruption charges and began serving a 14-year sentence in prison, a panel of federal appellate judges threw out some of the convictions against him. Blagojevich has asked the full appellate court to hear his case in the hopes they'll vacate his entire conviction.

Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner met for their third and final debate this week. As in previous debates, both candidates spent much of their time attacking each other and dodging questions they didn't want to answer.

flickr/medicalmarijuana-information.com

Illinois has set its regulations for medical marijuana in the state.   While, those who may benefit medically are looking forward to the substance becoming available, those who are interested in making money growing it and selling it are getting there ducks in a row.  Kurt Erickson, Springfield Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises newspapers has been covering the issue he joined a roundtable discussion with Bill Wheelhouse, Amanda Vinicky & Brian Mackey.

Video Gaming: Illinoisians Get a Piece of the Action

Jun 1, 2014
Lucy’s Place is a video gaming parlor located in a strip mall in Springfield.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

With their bright lights and chirping electronic sounds, the row of five slot machines could be in any casino in the world.

The seats are comfortable. The attendant is a kindly elderly woman who offers to get you something to drink. Within minutes, you’ve just won $10 on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

But make no mistake, this isn’t Las Vegas. Or even one of Illinois’ 10 riverboat casinos. This is a strip mall in central Illinois, just a few storefronts away from a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, a nail salon and a dollar store.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

When a September meeting of one of Illinois’ many obscure government oversight commissions turned into a discussion about the proper seasoning blend for making hot dogs, it served as yet another reminder that there are problems with the state’s revamped rules for purchasing goods and services.

Although the search for a way out of the state’s public pension mess has been the focal point in Springfield for the past two years, it’s not the only fiscal question mark looming over Illinois’ political landscape.

But unlike the years-long build-up that led to the slow-motion pension train wreck, this potential debacle has a timeline that’s crystal clear. On January 1, 2015, the first phase of the state’s temporary 2011 income tax increase will expire, potentially blowing a projected $2.2 billion hole in the state’s revenue stream.

Medical Marijuana
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For U.S. Army veteran Jim Champion, the signing of Illinois House Bill 1 into law in early August eventually could mean relief not only from the side effects of the pills he takes for multiple sclerosis but relief from the fear of doing something illegal.

Champion, a resident of Somonauk, was among a handful of citizen lobbyists who spent years trying to persuade the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn to make Illinois the 20th state in the nation to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon
WUIS/Illinois Issues

History shows the political winds can change dramatically in Illinois.

 

Just ask Sheila Simon.

Simon, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, had a well-known pedigree but little statewide exposure when she was drafted to run for lieutenant governor in the 2010 election. 

“It was not,” Simon says, “something I’d spent a lifetime planning on.” 

Deputy House Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, chairs the Asian-American caucus.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Democrats' new super-majorities promise to enhance the power of individual caucuses.

In the frenzied final hours of the 2005 spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, the push to finalize a new state budget suddenly ground to a halt when a bloc of Democratic lawmakers announced they couldn't support the spending plan.

Without their votes, there was no way the Democratic majority could adopt a budget without Republican input, raising speculation that the session could go into overtime.

Education Inequality
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s been a decade since a blue-ribbon panel outlined an ambitious plan designed to finally force the state to provide an adequate level of funding for Illinois schoolchildren.

But, just as they’ve failed in the past, Illinois policymakers have again fallen far short of the goals laid out in the 2002 Education Funding Advisory Board report. The state’s recently approved budget will leave many school districts having to dip into their reserve funds, take out loans or, if labor contracts allow for it, cut personnel and programs to deal with a $161 million cut in general state aid.

Former Democratic state Rep. Kevin McCarthy is now a lobbyist for such utilities as ComEd and AT&T through his firm, KMAC Consulting.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For some Illinois lawmakers, casting votes on the issues of the day is just the beginning of a potentially lucrative climb up the financial ladder.

After mastering how the Capitol operates, they can trade in their state paychecks for a bigger windfall as registered lobbyists.

Take former state Rep. Kevin McCarthy as an example.

The Orland Park Democrat was the main negotiator and sponsor of legislation last year that gave the state’s largest utility company — Commonwealth Edison — the ability to raise its rates with less regulatory oversight.

Keith Harris, who was imprisoned for two decades for a crime he didn’t commit, was exonerated after the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project got involved with his case.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Pat Quinn said his decision to abolish the death penalty in Illinois was driven by the need to eliminate any chance that an innocent person could be put to death.

The move was hailed by opponents of capital punishment as a watershed moment in reforming Illinois’ criminal justice laws, while panned by death penalty supporters as a mistake that takes an important deterrent to crime off the books.

Female inmates at the Decatur Correctional Center in August receive certificates from Richland Community College
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Lori Williams spent 18 months in a state prison on a drug conviction. But the 49-year-old Macon County resident says her time behind bars in the late 1990s didn’t go to waste.

While serving her sentence at the Decatur Correctional Center, Williams set her sights on emerging from this dark period by taking advantage of the educational programs offered at the all-female facility.

Kurt Erickson
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Thomson, a maximum-security prison in northwestern Illinois, has sat virtually empty since it was completed in 2001. The federal government announced plans to buy it in mid-December.

On the day before Veterans Day, Gov. Pat Quinn held an event in Chicago to announce the site for a new state-run nursing home for veterans.

The facility, to be paid for by the long-awaited capital construction program that lawmakers approved last summer, would be the state’s fifth veterans’ home and the first in the Chicago area.

This 198-foot cross looms high above the intersection of Interstates 57 and 70 in Effingham.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In Effingham, at the intersection of two major interstates, stands a 198-foot cross that puts motorists on notice: This is God’s country. One needs only to look at the vote totals in this region to find out why it’s a fitting location for the towering landmark.

In recent elections, voters have routinely chosen socially conservative candidates. It is one of the rare pockets of Illinois where conservative Republican Alan Keyes beat Barack Obama in Keyes’ ill-fated 2004 U.S. Senate race.

President Obama didn’t fare well in the area again on November 4.

Democrats who control state government have left the state budget in disarray. They’ve failed to come together on a major public works plan that would put thousands of people to work. They’ve openly talked about impeaching their own governor.

With these examples of discord, you’d think Republicans would be poised to make significant gains in the Illinois General Assembly this November.

Think again.

In the wake of Illinois' 2002 election, pundits leaped headlong onto Rod Blagojevich's bandwagon. The three-term congressman from Chicago had just become the state's first Democrat to be elected governor in a quarter century.

Let's listen in on MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews:

City officials in Normal aim to resurrect their community's downtown. They've paved the way for a new children's museum and begun negotiations on a hotel and conference site for that central Illinois town, which lies in the shadow of Illinois State University. 

Now they're hoping to make it easier for people to get there. The check from the feds should help.

Next month, voters in two Saline County townships will discover just how much the state’s political landscape has changed. After decades of choosing among familiar home-grown pols, Democrat Glenn Poshard, say, or Democrat David Phelps, these southern Illinoisans are about to get to know Tim Johnson, a Republican from faraway Urbana who wants to represent them in the nation’s capital.

Voters in the central Illinois city of Decatur will see new names on the ballot for U.S. House, too. As will voters in Chicago’s Hispanic neighborhoods.