Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

As was expected, the House passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal bill that the Senate passed in December. Also as expected, President Obama vetoed the bill. In addition to repealing many key parts of the healthcare act, the bill would also have defunded Planned Parenthood for a year. Despite the legislation’s certain doom, Republicans viewed it as a step forward in their battle against the ACA and proof that a repeal would be possible under a Republican president. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We are confronting the president with the hard, honest truth: ObamaCare doesn’t work.” Speaker Ryan plans to introduce legislation to replace the ACA before the November elections, but Demcorats are skeptical. Read more on The Hill.


President Obama issued new executive actions to strengthen national gun control measures, including requiring some unlicensed gun dealers to acquire licenses and conduct background checks on buyers. He is also finalizing a measure that would reduce some patient privacy limits to allow the mental health records of those who have been involuntarily committed to be included in a background check. Republicans leading the House Appropriations Committee vowed to block President Obama’s actions by denying funding during the appropriations process. Read more specifics in Politico and the Washington Post.


The Council for American Private Education published an extensive analysis of how the new federal education act will impact private schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains several provisions that the private school and educational choice movements have championed for years, such as a higher share of funding for private school teacher professional development and a new block grant program.Read the guide here.


TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline proposal, filed two lawsuits against President Obama. One alleges that the president violated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by denying the Canadian company a permit, and the other claims that he violated his constitutional authority. Read more in Politico.


The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget published its annual three-year budget forecast, and it isn’t pretty. By the end of fiscal year 2016, the office expects a $4.6 billion deficit and a $9 billion backlog in bills. By 2019, that backlog is forecast at $25 million.


A state appeals court ruled that part of a law that allows hospitals not to pay local property taxes is unconstitutional. According to the state constitution, the tax exemption is meant to apply only to property “used exclusively” for “charitable purposes,” but both of these terms have been subject to interpretation. The 2012 law in question broadly categorized hospital activities as “charitable,” but many argue that hospitals run as businesses should not qualify for tax exemptions. The case is likely to end up before the Illinois Supreme Court. Read more in the Tribune.


Protests against Mayor Emanuel have continued throughout Chicago and gained national press (see this Wall Street Journal article). Gov. Rauner said he is “very disappointed” in the mayor and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez over how they have been handling the recent police shooting cases. The governor also announced his support of a bill that would allow voters to recall their mayor. Read more in the Sun-Times.


As if recent events were not problematic enough, a senior attorney in the mayor’s administration resigned this week under accusations that he intentionally concealed evidence in the civil trial over a 2011 police shooting case. Changing his tune from earlier in the week, yesterday Mayor Emanuel expressed his support for a US Department of Justice investigation of his administration’s Law Department and a retraining program for personnel. Read more in the Tribuneand Sun-Times.


Donna More, one of two challengers to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, kicked off her campaign this week. More took her criticism of Alvarez beyond the recent police shooting cases, saying, “Anita Alvarez has run an appallingly lackluster office for years with delayed prosecutions, wrongful convictions and polices that favor influencers and the well-connected while justice takes a back seat to politics.” Alvarez and Kim Foxx, the other challenger, both responded with attacks on More’s position as an attorney for the Illinois Gaming Board. Read more in the Tribune and Sun-Times.


Rep. Mark Batinick filed a bill for a constitutional amendmentthat would make all elected state officials subject to recall. Rep. Batinick said, “Having a comprehensive recall law in place would give voters an important tool to keep their elected officials at all levels accountable at all times, not just before an election.”


Mayor Emanuel appointed Jaime Guzman, who previously served on the state Charter School Commission, to a vacancy on the Chicago Board of Education. Some are concerned that Guzman’s appointment could send a pro-charter and anti-union message during a time when relations with the Chicago Teachers Union are already strained. Read more in the Sun-Times.


A measure of Illinois’s economy known as the Flash Index shows a decline in the last half of 2015, possibly due to the state budget impasse. See the data here. And as Greg Heinz points out in Crain’s, the state is now spending over $30 million more per day than it takes in. Read the column.


Daily fantasy sports players can enjoy their games in Illinois while waiting for a verdict on whether the games constitute illegal gambling. Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion declaring sites like DraftKings and FanDuel illegal gambling operations, and both companies subsequently filed lawsuits against her. A trial is set for June. Read more in the Sun-Times.


Sen. Willie Delgado from Chicago ended his reelection campaign this week. An advisor told the press the senator is simply “really burned out” after serving in both the House and Senate. His primary opponent, Angelica Alfaro, is backed by the charter school network, while Omar Aquino, who is running now that Sen. Delgado dropped out, has the support of the Chicago Teacher’s Union.


Chicago Rep. Pamela Reaves-Harris also dropped out of the reelection race this week, citing the “constant politicalbattle” to protect her community.

Political Update from S4

Now that the US and Iran have reached a deal on the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama is pushing harder for Democrats in Congress to support the agreement. His primary message: this is the best deal we can achieve. Read more.

At a hearing yesterday Republicans made their opposing position quite clear as they denounced the agreement and criticized top officials. Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Secretary of State John Kerry, “I believe you’ve been fleeced.” Read more.

The Export-Import Bank expired on the last day of June, which was a victory for conservative Republicans who saw it as government interference in the free market. The Ex-Im bank may not be dead, however, if Democrats and a group of moderate Republicans attach its reauthorization to the highway funding bill that must be passed by the end of this month. Read more.

That highway funding bill cleared a procedural hurdle late on Wednesday after Democrats and Republican budget-hawks blocked it earlier in the week. The bill would extend policy on federal highway and transit programs for six years, but it only has funding for three. Several senators have been trying to use the bill as a vehicle for controversial amendments on everything from the Ex-Im Bank to defunding Planned Parenthood. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, is limiting the chamber to voting only on amendments related to highways and on two unrelated amendments: one to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to fail; and one to extend the Ex-Im bank’s charter through 2019. Read more.

All this might not even matter because leaders in the House have no interest in passing the Senate’s bill right now. The House already passed a short-term funding measure that would get us through the end of this year, and they are urging the Senate to take it up before highway funding runs out on July 31st. Read more.

The recent uproar over videos published by an anti-abortion rights group claiming to prove that Planned Parenthood illegally sells aborted fetuses does not seem to be going away anytime soon, and it may have a real effect in Congress. Republican leaders have been considering measures to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, including as amendments to the highway funding bill mentioned above. Read more.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, this time in a Louisiana movie theater, President Obama expressed frustration at his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” thus far, and he does not seem confident that this will change before he leaves office. Read more.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is coming under fire for comments he made about wanting to “phase out” Medicare and move to a new system. Bush tried to recover by emphasizing that reforms are needed to make the system work for future generations, but his original comments are sure to be fodder for opposition campaigns. Read more.

The US Chamber of Commerce is disappointed with how their agenda has fared in Congress so far this year. After the group spent $70 million to stock the Senate with business-friendly Republicans, the Ex-Im bank still expired, there is no long-term highway solution in sight, and immigration reform was barely on the radar. The group is now reportedly preparing to challenge some incumbent Republicans in the next elections, which is a significant shift in strategy and could have far-reaching results. Read more.

The governor and legislature still have not reached any kind of budget agreement, and there is enough blame being thrown around to make any potential compromise difficult to see. But at least Medicaid payments will be made, thanks to a federal judge’s order yesterday. Read more.

Senate President John Cullerton, presenting himself as a reasonable voice in the midst of this budget battle, is calling for a reset: “His plan is dead. Our plan is dead. Let’s acknowledge that and start moving forward,” he said. Sen. Cullerton asked the governor to send a balanced budget plan to legislators to get the process moving again. “The budget process traditionally starts with the governor submitting a balanced plan that allows the legislature to review and respond appropriately,” he said. Read more.

So far Gov. Rauner is sticking to his guns and demanding concessions on non-budget reforms that Democrats – and even many Republicans with strong unions in their districts – will have a hard time agreeing to. Read more.

Rep. LaShawn Ford introduced a constitutional amendment that would essentially require the state to make payments at the same level as the previous fiscal year if that fiscal year’s budget expired and no new one had been put in place. I wonder what inspired him…

The bills Senate Minority Leader Jim Durkin introduced (presumably at Gov. Rauner’s behest) on workers’ compensation and tort reform have yet to move out of the Rules Committee, which is not altogether surprising. HB 4248 would change the Workers’ Compensation Act to require an employee to prove that his or her injury was caused at least 50% by the workplace in order to receive benefits, and HB 4246 puts several new limits on personal injury lawsuits, including caps on potential awards. The tort reform bill also limits “venue shopping,’ whereby plaintiffs choose the most favorable locations to file their suits in, and it raises the fault requirement for defendants in joint and several liability cases from 25% to 50%.
Cook County Judge Rita Novak rejected Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to restructure two of Chicago’s underfunded pension plans. She ruled the plan’s reduction of the cost-of-living allowance unconstitutional, even though the city would also have contributed more to the plans. In the short term, the ruling means the city will not need to pay almost $100 million into the funds next year, but in the longer term this may be detrimental to the city’s credit rating. Read more.

Illinois became the first state to enact anti-BDS legislation, requiring the state to divest from any companies that boycott Israel. Read more.

Mayor Emanuel named Eileen Mitchell, the vice president of external affairs for AT&T Illinois and a former top aide to Speaker Madigan, as his new chief of staff. His last chief of staff, Forrest Claypool, just moved to a top position with Chicago Public Schools. Read more.

On Tuesday a federal appellate court in Chicago threw out five of the 18 counts against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is currently serving 14 years in prison for an array of corruption charges. The appellate court found that the jury was given improper instructions on the counts concerning President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, and it tossed those five counts. Although Blagojevich will now be re-sentenced, the court did not ask that he receive less prison time; that will be up to the sentencing judge and may not change. Read more.
New York
Gov. Cuomo’s wage board approved a resolution for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, phased in over the next six years. If the resolution is approved by the state labor commissioner, wages will rise to $9.75 statewide and $10.50 in New York City onDecember 31st, 2015. Read more.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced this year’s local government property tax increases will be capped at 0.73%, the lowest in years. DiNapoli’s office says this is due in part to a lower inflation rate, and it will result in about $88 million less in tax revenue growth next year as compared to this year.

The comptroller also said the state pension fund may lower its rate of return due to uncertainty on Wall Street. The fund is currently at $176.8 billion and serves 1 million current and former public workers. Lowering the rate would probably result in higher contribution rates from municipalities in the short term, and DiNapoli said his office will take several factors into account before making a decision. Read more.

On the bright side, the state’s general fund had almost $1.9 billion more than anticipated in June, thanks to strong tax revenues. DiNapoli was cautious about declaring a trend, however, saying, “We are seeing strength in sometimes volatile revenue sources, so it is unclear whether this positive trend will continue in the months ahead.” Read more.

In response to Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory remarks about everyone from immigrants to Sen. John McCain, Mayor de Blasio announced New York City will not do any more business with Trump. City Council member Mark Levine has been pushing for contracts with Trump to be canceled, but since the city does not have the legal grounds to do that, he and the mayor will settle for not conducting any future business with the mogul and presidential candidate.
Although construction on the Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County came to a halt last week after a court ruled that the town board had improperly approved an environmental review, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors wants to give it exclusive gaming rights. If the state allows the 90-mile exclusivity zone around the Lago casino, the recent application for a casino license from Tioga Downs would be threatened since it is just under 90 miles away. Read more.

Gov. Cuomo announced the state will pay over $8 billion into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) capital plan, but he also expects New York City to dramatically increase its contribution to over $3.2 billion. The capital plan is basically the MTA’s investment proposal for maintaining and expanding its transportation infrastructure. Mayor de Blasio has come out in support of the plan, though he and others are curious about where the state funding will come from. Read more.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind was arrested for disorderly conduct while protesting the Iran agreement outside Sen. Charles Schumer’s Midtown Manhattan office. Read more.

Sen. Tom Libous was found guilty of lying to an FBI agent. He now faces up to five years in prison and must forfeit his Senate seat, leaving Senate Republicans dangerously close to losing their majority. Read more.

Gov. Cuomo pledged to help his former cabinet member Barbara Fiala if she were to run for the seat in the special election planned for November. It is a curious move, since Gov. Cuomo has publicly tried to say out of Senate politics, but he has also received considerable criticism from his party for not supporting them enough. Fiala was already being considered as a candidate for the seat for next year, so the choice is not altogether out of nowhere. The district is heavily Republican, however, so it will be an interesting race. Read more.

State Sen. John Sampson was found guilty on three corruption charges today, and he, too, will lose his Senate seat. He was previously the Democratic leader. Read more.

New charges have been brought against Sen. Dean Skelos and his son Adam, expanding the indictment to include two charges of soliciting bribes from a company that lobbied the state. Read more.

New Jersey
Jeb Bush, one of many Republican presidential hopefuls, hosted two fundraisers in New Jersey yesterday and raised over $500,000 from the home state of Gov. Chris Christie, another contender. Read more.
Gov. John Kasich announced he will run for the Republican presidential nomination, saying, “I believe I do have the skills” to take on the “daunting challenge” of restoring the nation’s future.
Gov. Pence said if state revenues continue coming in strong, he may buy back the rest of the federal loan that was taken out during the Great Recession to maintain the unemployment benefit reserve fund. If this happens this fall, employers will be spared $327 million in the tax penalties they currently pay because of the loan.

Gov. Pence signed two bills that will expand statewide broadband internet access this week. One new law prohibits state and municipal governments from imposing taxes on access to and use of internet services, and the other introduces the Broadband Ready Communities Development Center, which will partner with local governments to facilitate communications projects that expand internet access. Read more.

Indiana received a three-year extension on its No Child Left Behind waiver from the US Department of Education. The waiver exempts the state from some provisions of the law, giving schools “more local control and greater flexibility over how they use federal dollars,” according to state Superintendence Glenda Ritz. The state Department of Education received a one-year waiver last summer. Since the House and Senate have each passed different rewrites of the No Child Left Behind law, we will have to wait and see what ends up being signed into law and if it will continue granting waivers. Read more.

Attorney General Mike Zoeller announced this week that he will join the competition for US Rep. Todd Young’s seat. Zoeller will compete against Robert Hall and state Sens. Erin Houchin and Brent Waltz for the Republican nomination.
Gov. Dayton is not wasting any time in making his goals for the next legislative session –eight months from now – very clear. The governor said he will not sign a tax cut bill unless legislators also send him another funding increase for early childhood education. Minnesota is currently ranked number one in a report on children by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund, and Gov. Dayton wants to keep it that way.Read more.