Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gov Quinn Issues Amendatory Veto SB-28 Saying Bill Is Half-Measure in Reforming McCormick Place & Navy Pier

SPRINGFIELD - May 26, 2010. Governor Pat Quinn today issued an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 28 and returned it to the Illinois General Assembly with revisions that will produce comprehensive reform within McCormick Place, while also eliminating a tax increase that will hurt Illinois’ transportation and convention businesses.

In his amendatory veto message to the Legislature, Governor Quinn stressed the importance of the convention and tourism industry to Illinois’ economy and said his reforms will protect those businesses and create more good-paying jobs for everyday people. Governor Quinn is urging the General Assembly to quickly act on his amendatory veto and work with him to produce a stronger reform bill this week.

“The General Assembly has taken only half a step toward reforming our state’s convention industry,” said Governor Quinn in his amendatory veto message to the Legislature. “When it comes to reform, half measures do not suffice. The only real reform is comprehensive reform.”

A major problem with the legislation is its failure to compel the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (McPier), the agency that runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier, to follow the state’s Procurement Code, which Governor Quinn and the General Assembly have worked to improve through a series of ground-breaking amendments.

“The bill directs the Authority to enter into certain agreements in a manner ‘substantially similar’ to the Procurement Code. It is entirely unclear what it means to ‘substantially’ follow the Procurement Code, and I will not tolerate ambiguity on such an important principle,” Governor Quinn said in his amendatory veto message. (Amendatory veto message is attached).

Governor Quinn also struck down a 100 percent tax increase on ground transportation services at O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport, saying those who come to attend conventions and conduct business in Illinois should not be greeted by a doubling of this tax.

“Chicago sits at the crossroads of the world, and those who visit from near and far must know that our state will not burden visitors with a higher transportation tax the moment they get off a plane,” said Governor Quinn.

Governor Quinn added there are serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the legislation, particularly a provision allowing the General Assembly to name a specific person as trustee to oversee McPier operations. In addition, the legislation does not provide for the removal or succession of the trustee, should that person be unable to serve or otherwise fail to properly perform duties.

“This complete lack of accountability places our taxpayers at great risk,” said Governor Quinn.

The amendatory veto message says the Governor must appoint a trustee and recommends installing provisions to replace or succeed that trustee.

The legislation also failed to address the issue of multiple union jurisdictions at McCormick Place. Seeking to address trade shows’ concerns about making the convention center’s operations more customer-friendly, Governor Quinn recommends streamlining the number of bargaining units.

Changing the Authority’s jurisdiction will allow McCormick Place to offer superior service and will make it even more competitive against trade show and convention rivals such as Orlando and Las Vegas, he stated.

Governor Quinn vowed to continue working with the General Assembly to implement comprehensive McPier reform and to enhance Illinois’ convention business, which supports 65,000 jobs and generates $8 billion in annual economic impact.

“By continuing to work together, the General Assembly can take the final steps toward ensuring this vital economic engine will save and create thousands of jobs in our state,” said Governor Quinn. “I expect the General Assembly to act promptly and that this important issue will be concluded this week.”


The Beat Goes On: Pension Bill Passes, in Back and Forth Tug-of War on House Floor

The House voted on Tuesday to allow borrowing nearly $4 Billion to make the state's pension payment. It as one of the major dramas floating as the legislators work to wrap up a legislative session that was supposed to be ended on May 7.

The House voted earlier on Tuesday -- around 4 PM - on whether to borrow to make the payment. IT was noted by supporters of borrowing that this was the best of three bad options. Either the state borrows -- at approximately 4% -- to make the payment, OR they face a built-in 8.5% interest accumulation clause if they fail to make the payment. And the third option was to take the money that would have gone to pay those doing business with the state, and use that money to pay the pension payment. But when you pay vendors late, you have to pay 12.5 % interest on the bill.

So what do you want to pay if you're forced to borrow; 4%, 8.5%, or 12.5% ? If you picked 4% as your option, then you side with those who voted to borrow the money. Still, the bill passed by just ONE vote.

Some on the Democratic side of the aisle say the logic of lower interest rates is so clear, that the Republicans are playing pure politics on this issue by voting against it. In fact one of the more dramatic moments in the last ten years in the House came when the Governor stood on the House floor and stared down House Republican leader, Tom Cross, as Cross went into a series of ways the state is being mismanaged, and that we therefore go from one crisis to another.

And that lies at the heart of the Republican opposition to more borrowing. That by borrowing the money to make the payment, the legislature is becoming an enabler of bad policy decisions, and that the Quinn Administration - and the Legislature -- are therefore not facing the tough choices of cutting spending, regulation, and enacting pro-business policies that would lead to greater economic growth -- and thus more money to the state to balance its budget through organic revenue growth.

With these factors in place the vote on whether to borrow FAILED TO PASS on the first vote --failing BY ONE VOTE. And the irony here is Rep David Miller -- the Democratic candidate for Comptroller -- voted NO, in a parliamentary move to place him on the winning side, should the vote be defeated. The Dem leadership didn't have the vote count nailed, and thus sank the first vote themselves by having Miller vote no.

When you vote on the winning side of an issue, you can offer a Motion to Reconsider. That is to say, to allow another vote on the bill. And when it was defeated by one vote - Miller offered his Motion to Reconsider. This lead to another vote some two hours later, in which Miller voted FOR borrowing.. and the bill passed.

Even this lengthy post is a simple version of the political gamesmanship, and drama that was going on around this one issue. IT is also instructive of the horrible state of legislative cooperation-- or lack thereof -- that is hanging over every vote as the lawmakers now try again to put together some bill they'll call a budget, that will allow them to go home.

But the larger issue facing the state isn't this pension borrowing, or this year's budget. It's that the State of Illinois is not having a government facing the realities of needed cuts, needed revenue, needed reforms.. in any kind of organized cooperative fashion, that the citizens would expect of leaders trying to honestly resolve a financial crisis.

And so we won't resolve it. The financial crisis in Illinois will continue to linger.. and next year at this time... we'll be writing about just how they're going to make the pension payment. By then, we'll be past the elections. Perhaps then, with the governor's race behind us, and lawmakers safe for two years.. the tough choices will be faced, and the changes that will return fiscal sanity will be made.

But not this Spring.

Monday, May 17, 2010

US Supreme Court Rules Against Life Sentences for Juveniles Who Haven't Killed

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court said that sentences of
life without possibility of parole for crimes other than
homicide that were committed when the offender was under the
age of 18 are unconstitutional. The decision, in a Florida
case involving an armed burglary conviction, said such
sentences violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and
unusual punishment

Monday, May 10, 2010

Biography of Elana Kagan, Nominated by President Obama to Supreme Court

Elena Kagan was confirmed as the 45th Solicitor General of the United States in March 2009.

Prior to her confirmation, Elena Kagan was the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law and the 11th Dean of Harvard Law School. During her nearly six-year tenure as Dean, Harvard Law School expanded and enhanced its faculty, modernized its curriculum, developed new campus facilities, promoted public service, and improved the student experience.

A leading scholar of administrative law, Kagan came to Harvard Law School as a visiting professor in 1999 and became Professor of Law in 2001. While on the faculty, Kagan taught administrative law, constitutional law, civil procedure, and seminars on issues involving the separation of powers. She was appointed Dean of the Law School in 2003.

From 1995 to 1999, Kagan served in the White House, first as Associate Counsel to the President (1995-96) and then as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council (1997-99). In those positions she played a key role in the executive branch’s formulation, advocacy, and implementation of law and policy in areas ranging from education to crime to public health.

Kagan launched her academic career at the University of Chicago Law School, where she became an assistant professor in 1991 and a tenured professor of law in 1995. In 1993, Kagan received the graduating students’ award for teaching excellence.

Kagan clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1986 to 1987. The next year, she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court. She worked as an associate in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly from 1989 to 1991.

Kagan received her bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Princeton in 1981. She attended Worcester College, Oxford, as Princeton’s Daniel M. Sachs Graduating Fellow, and received an M. Phil. in 1983. She then attended Harvard Law School, where she was supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude in 1986.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Giannoulias Gets Bill Passed to Cut Down on "Debt Settlement" Firms

Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Bill Passes Senate

A bill pushed by State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias aimed at cracking down on debt settlement companies that make false promises of big savings while sinking consumers further into debt passed the Illinois Senate on Thursday and now moves to the Governor’s desk.

“For debt settlement companies who prey on vulnerable citizens it’s the ‘Wild West’ out there,” said Giannoulias, whose office worked closely with the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to craft the legislation. “It’s an industry that has operated unchecked, misled consumers and failed to deliver. This legislation will rein in these unscrupulous practices and protect the financial well-being of Illinois residents.”

The economic downturn and high unemployment rate has spawned the rapid growth of debt settlement companies nationwide that claim to help distressed borrowers by negotiating to pay off their debt for pennies on the dollar.

The Illinois Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Bill, which passed the Senate by a 56-1-0 vote, prohibits all upfront and monthly fees, except for a one-time $50 application charge, and caps fees at 15 percent of the savings achieved from settling a debt. Currently, debt settlement companies collect roughly 15 to 20 percent of the consumer’s total debt upfront, so a consumer who owes $15,000 in credit card debt the company could pay $3,000 upfront before a single debt is settled.

Promising savings of up to 60 percent, debt settlement companies typically tell clients to stop paying their credit card bills and re-route that money into an account that will later be used to negotiate a settlement. The accumulation period can take 12 to 18 months while fees and interest continue to accrue.

As a result, many consumers are sued by their creditors before a settlement is reached, leading to judgments, wage garnishments and liens. In most cases, consumers cannot obtain refunds if they cancel their contracts, even if none of their debts were actually settled.

The debt settlement bill prohibits companies from advising consumers to stop making payments to creditors, allows consumers to cancel a contract at any time and prohibits deceptive promises of specific debt reduction results.

It also requires the companies to provide written analysis of a consumer’s financial situation prior to entering into a contract and warnings on how a consumer’s credit may be negatively impacted by a debt settlement agreement.

In addition, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will be required to license debt settlement companies for the first time.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, the Senate sponsor of the measure, said debt settlement companies can no longer be allowed to prey on consumers in crisis.

“This legislation will curtail the fraudulent, abusive and deceptive practices of debt settlement companies that seek to enhance their bottom line at the expense of working families struggling with substantial personal debt,” Collins said.

State Sen. Iris Martinez, who co-sponsored the measure, said the bill is an important safeguard for consumers who go in search of debt relief only to find their financial situations worsened by dishonest tactics.

“This bill will help ensure that consumers go into debt settlement agreements with their eyes wide open to the potential risks and that more of the money they put into the agreement goes towards the resolution of their debts,” Martinez said.

Friday, May 7, 2010

IL Senate Passes $26.1 Billion Budget, Based on Skipped Pension Payments and Borrowed Funds. House Votes Friday


SPRINGFIELD --- The Illinois Senate today approved a $26.1 billion operations budget after working into the early morning hours with Democrats and Republicans pointing fingers at each other in election-year gamesmanship.

Democrats who control the Senate voted 31-26 to send the spending plan to the House, which is set to consider it later today ahead of the General Assembly's scheduled spring adjournment. But first, powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan has scheduled a morning closed-door meeting of his members with Gov. Pat Quinn.