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

All three remaining Republican presidential candidates backtracked from their previous promise to support the eventual nominee, whoever it is. When asked if he planned to support the nominee no matter what, Gov. John Kasich said, “If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country, and dividing the country, I can’t stand behind them.” Trump was the most direct, as usual: “No. I don’t anymore. I have been treated unfairly.” Sen. Ted Cruz tried to skirt the issue, but he eventually conceded that “nominating Donald Trump [would be] a disaster.” Read more in the Washington Post.


The Supreme Court deadlocked on a case concerning whether or not unions may require non-members to pay dues, leaving the previous court’s decision in favor of unions intact, at least for now. “It was the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court’s four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right,” writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner called the result “tragic.” Read more.


Two more Republican senators have agreed to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland: Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Arkansas Sen. John Boozman. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk already met with the nominee. Several other senators have said they are open to a meeting if the White House reaches out to them. The senators insist the meetings are simply gestures of courtesy, not signals that they are defecting from party leadership. Read more in Politico.


Even as a few Republicans break ranks and agree to meet with Garland, some Democrats are noncommittal on whether they will vote for him. Sen. Al Franken is waiting until the nominee participates in public hearings (which Republican leadership is currently blocking) before announcing a decision. Even Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is highly vocal supporter of Garland’s nomination, wants to see more of the process before pledging support. And Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “I’m very positively inclined to vote for Judge Garland, but it’s always a good idea to wait for the hearings before making a final commitment.” Read more in Politico.


This article in Morning Consult contends that after a productive 2015, “Congress looks to be preparing the Capitol for legislative hibernation ahead of the November elections.” The only crucial deadlines legislators have to contend with this year are funding the federal government and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. Theseare important, but remember that last year Congress met deadlines for transportation funding, raising the debt ceiling, and passing a huge spending bill, on top of overhauling federal education laws and making significant changes to Medicare. Congress still needs to pass appropriations bills, but this could easily end up being pushed off until the end of the year, as usual. Read more here.




The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is holding its walkout day today, picketing at schools, rallying, and protesting at government buildings. See the live updates on the Tribune website and more background on ABC 7 Chicago.


Last week’s state Supreme Court rulings on pension payments and back pay may have even farther-reaching impacts than originally anticipated. As we mentioned last week, one ruling determined that the state can not reduce pension payments, and the other found that state employees may not be entitled to back pay if there are no legislative appropriations. The state attorney general is now considering asking the court whether state workers can be paid at all, since just about all state employee contracts are technically dependent on appropriations that have not existed since June 30th, 2015. If the court were to find that state agencies have no authority to pay their workers, the government would shut down – for real this time. Rich Miller of Capitol Fax points out that this could be the crisis needed to force the governor to let his Turnaround Agenda demands go and sign a budget into law.


Meanwhile, Rep. Brandon Phelps filed a bill to authorize payments to the thousands of state workers who have been denied raises for five years because of the lack of adequate appropriations. “This should have already been paid. A contract is a contract. Quinn should have done this, and I was hoping Rauner would have finished it up,” Rep. Phelps said.Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Mayor Emanuel appointed the Chicago Police Department’s Chief of Patrol, Eddie Johnson, as the interim police superintendent. The mayor eschewed the recommendations of the Chicago Police Board, which had advanced three candidates for the position. The former superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was fired in the aftermath of the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Public reactions have been mixed, with some applauding the mayor’s choice and others reading it as a move to undermine the police board.Read more in the Washington Post.


Students attending the Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) will need to pay back their monetary award program (MAP) grants if they want to register for classes this summer and fall. The private university had issued credits to students who qualified for MAP grants from the state, under the assumption that the state would pass a budget and pay out the grant funds. Since this still has not happened, hundreds of students will need to pay the money back or stop going to school. Read more.


Fitch Ratings downgraded Chicago’s credit rating to just one notch above junk status this week, in response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling on pension payments. This is still better than the city’s rating from Moody’s, which labeled its credit as junk last year. Read more from Reuter’s.


President Obama will speak with law students at the University of Chicago next Thursday. He plans to speak about the Supreme Court and his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. Read more in the Tribune.


The city of Urbana reduced fines for marijuana possession this week, and it may signal a larger shift throughout Illinois. Not all municipalities are in favor of lowering punishment for marijuana possession before the state does, but many officials believe decriminalization is on its way. Read more in the News-Gazette.


New York


Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a budget deal that includes a minimum wage increase, income tax cuts, and paid family leave. New York City and the surrounding suburbs will raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021, though other parts of the state will only raise it to $12.50 by 2020. The personal income tax rate will decrease from 6.45% to 5.5% for families earning under $300,000 by 2025. The bill still needs to pass the legislature, but no signifcant roadblocks are anticipated. Read more in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.


New Jersey
Atlantic City will shut down on April 8th unless something changes. The city and public worker unions may reach an agreement that would have workers paid once a month instead of twice in order to extend the timeline for a more comprehensive solution. This would give the city and state legislators an extra month to sort out the dire financial situation. Read more.


Marijuana Policy Project’s proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana cleared its first two hurdles in the process to appear on November’s ballot. Attorney General Mike DeWine approved the group’s summary language, and the Ohio Ballot Board certified that the proposal will be accepted as one amendment. Now, advocates will start collecting signatures to petition for the amendment to be included on the ballot. Read more.


Incumbent US Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic challenger Ted Strickland are focusing on trade policy in their latest campaign ads against each other. Sen. Portman is accusing former Gov. Strickland of enabling China to manipulate currency and cheat free trade rules, and Strickland’s campaign is accusing Sen. Portman of essentially the same thing, calling him “the best Senator China’s ever had.” Read more in Morning Consult.


Businessman Warren Davidson won the Republican primary to replace former US Rep. John Boehner. Watch this video for an introduction to him.


US Rep. Pat Tiberi is considering a run for an unspecified statewide office. He commissioned the Republican Public Opinion Strategies firm to conduct a poll. Read more.


The US Chamber of Commerce endorsed US Rep. Todd Young for US Senate. Rep. Young will face fellow Republican US Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the May primary. Read more in the IndyStar.


Gov. Pence signed a controversial bill to ban abortions that are sought because of the fetus’s sex, race, or a disability. Indiana and North Dakota are the only states in the country that ban abortion in the case of a diagnosis of a disability or birth defect. Read more in the Washington Post.


Gov. Dayton signed two bills that legislators had been struggling over for some time. One will extend unemployment benefits for laid-off mine workers, and the other will provide $250 million in rebates for businesses’ payments into the unemployment fund. The fund is doing very well and is only expected to improve, which is why Republican legislators were eager and able to pass the payment reductions. Read more.

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



President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge, to the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. The Washington Post called Garland “the safe, conventional, even boring choice for the Supreme Court.” Although Garland has had support from both Democrats and Republicans, Republican leadership is still refusing to consider his appointment. Some individual Republicans, however, said they will speak with Garland when he is at the capitol. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is one of only two Republican senators who have said they would vote on a nominee. Most analysts are calling his nomination “dead on arrival” unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changes his tune. Read more in the New York Times and Washington Post.


The House Budget Committee approved an amendment along party lines to urge House leadership to cut the $30 billion that former House Speaker John Boehner had negotiated into the 2017 budget plan from future spending bills. House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to throw out Boehner’s plan, much to the ire of Freedom Caucus Republicans. The language approved this week calls for restructuring Medicaid into a state block-grant program, turning Medicare into a voucher system, and raising the eligibility age to 67. All Democrats on the committee opposed the amendment. Read more.


If you have been itching to send a letter to Cuba, you are in luck: the US Postal Service resumed mail service between the US and Cuba. President Obama is schedule to visit the country this weekend. Read more in the Washington Post.


Tuesday’s primary saw unprecedented Republican voter turnout in Illinois, and Democrats came out almost as strongly as in 2008. If we were to sum up the results in one sentence, it would be this one from Rich Miller of Capitol Fax: “Madigan had a much better day than Rauner.”


Speaker Mike Madigan easily won his district, and Rep. Ken Dunkin lost his. The speaker framed the primary results as a clear message that voters do not want more of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s influence in the capitol, while Gov. Rauner cited the many Republican incumbents who kept their seats as proof that “special interests backed by Speaker Madigan failed to defeat” the governor’s supporters. He then called on the Speaker to “end his month long vacation” and reconvene the House. Read more in Capitol Fax here and here.


Republican Sen. Sam McCann is “[Gov.] Rauner’s version of Ken Dunkin,” as Natasha Korecki of Politico Illinois put it. The governor heavily funded and campaigned for Sen. McCann’s primary opponent Bryce Benton in retaliation for Sen. McCann’s votes in favor of unions. In spite of the millions of dollars spent against him, Sen. McCann won his district with 53% of the vote. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Voter outrage at Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez led to her ouster by Kim Foxx, who won with 62% of the vote. Alvarez has been under fire since the release of the videos from the Laquan McDonald police shooting case last year.Read more in the Sun-Times.


US Reps. Mark Kirk and Tammy Duckworth each won their respective primary and will face off for a US Senate seat in November.


On Wednesday Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would authorize close to $4 billion in funding to higher education, social services, and other areas not currently funded by court orders. Gov. Rauner’s office criticized the measure for its lack of funding sources, and the governor will veto it if it ends up on his desk. The governor again called for the General Assembly to stay in town instead of recessing for spring break, but both chambers are in recess until the first week of April. Read more in the State Journal-Register and Capitol Fax.


According to Comptroller Leslie Geiger-Munger, Illinois could be $10 billion behind on bills by June of this year. The amount of overdue bills is higher than previously anticipated, and it will be even higher if the General Assembly passes appropriations bills. Many human services providers are concerned that if no appropriations measures are passed, even without funding, they may never be paid for their fiscal year 2016 services.  Read more in the State Journal-Registerand Capitol Fax.


Chicago’s City Council approved an ordinance to raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21. The ordinance also increases several tobacco taxes, including on cigars and pipe tobacco. Mayor Emanuel’s office estimates the tax hikes will increase revenue by $6 million per year, and the money will go toward a freshman orientation program at Chicago high schools. Read more.


An arbitrator ruled against the state worker union AFSCME and found that Gov. Rauner’s layoff plan from 2015 did not violate the state’s contract with the union. This particular case mainly concerns employees at the Illinois State Museum. The burden was on AFSCME to prove that the state’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, or arose from an illegal motivation,” and they failed to do so, according to the arbitrator. Interestingly, the ruling also states, “The purpose of this arbitration is not for it to constitute an endorsement or a condemnation of the State’s actions, what has transpired with the Illinois State Museum, or the withholding of support for the social service and education programs historically funded by the State.” The arbitrator was apparently keen to emphasize that the ruling was not an ideological statement, but only a legal interpretation of the contract language. AFSCME plans to appeal the ruling. Read more on Capitol Fax.


Sen. Dan Duffy will retire early to take a job with Prevent Child Abuse America. Sen. Duffy would have served until January.

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

The Democratic presidential candidates held their final debate before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month. It felt similar to the previous debates, with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders knee-deep in their establishment versus disruption narratives and former Gov. Martin O’Malley largely a non-factor.


This widely-quoted tweet from columnist Nick Kristof sums it up: “Hillary Clinton is eminently knowledgeable, but she’s in effect calling for continuity at a time when lots of people want discontinuity.” This race isn’t nearly the runaway for Clinton that many expected it to be.


On the Republican side, former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave Donald Trump her endorsement.

International inspectors announced that Iran has followed through on the necessary steps to dismantle significant pieces of its nuclear program, prompting the US and Europe to lift economic sanctions. There is still a trade embargo in place between America and Iran, but limited business activities will be permitted. The US and Iran also conducted a successful prisoner swap, returning five Americans who had been detained, some for years. Read more in the New York Times.


The Supreme Court will consider whether President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which have been on pause for a year, are legal. In 2014 the president tried to grant work permits and semi-legal status to close to five million people who entered the country illegally when they were children or whose children are citizens. 26 states claimed they would be harmed by this change and filed a lawsuit against the administration. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict by the end of June. Read more in Politico.


Meanwhile, the Obama administration is being criticized by immigration advocates for the recent surge in deportation raids targeting women and children from Central America.Read more in the Washington Post.


President Obama is considering issuing an executive order to require any companies doing business with the federal government to report their political contributions. It is not yet clear if such an order would be enforceable, but some suspect it would reduce the amount of money many prominent businesses funnel into politics. Read more in the New York Times.


President Obama’s new regulations on coal-fired power plants, which were challenged by dozens of states and industry groups last year, were upheld by a federal appeals court this week. The court’s decision to reject the challenge to the Clean Power Plan means that all states need to begin shutting down coal plants that do not meet the new requirements and investing in wind and solar energy resources. The court battle will continue, and most expect it to be resolved only by the Supreme Court, probably next year. Read more in the New York Times.


The ambitious 21st Century Cures bill that passed the House last year will not be taken up in the Senate. Instead, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will consider at least seven separate bills aiming to tackle the same issues of spurring medical innovation, funding the National Institutes of Health, streamlining the FDA approval process, and more. The Senate holdup is mainly due to disagreements over how to fund the package as a whole. Read more in Modern Healthcare.


Although the move is destined to fail, Speaker Ryan plans to hold a vote to override President Obama’s veto of the bill to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act on January 26th.


Yesterday Gov. Rauner announced that he and Senate President John Cullerton had come to an agreement over pension reform legislation, but Sen. Cullerton immediately dispelled that notion: “The governor called me this morning to say he was going to back my ideas for pension reform. The plan he outlined at his news conference isn’t what we talked about. It’s not my plan.” Read more in the Tribune.


It seems that Gov. Rauner and Sen. Cullerton had actually negotiated a plan that used most of the senator’s own pension reform bill, but the governor exaggerated and added anti-union rhetoric to his description of the deal when he announced it.  Sen. Cullerton’s plan would offer union employees the choice between keeping their compounded cost of living increase but not applying salary increases to their pensions, or keeping their salary increases pensionable but subjecting them to the Tier 2 pension law, which uses a simple interest rate. So far it is unclear whether this proposal would meet constitutional requirements, let alone pass the legislature.


Earlier in the week, House and Senate Republican leaders proposed that the state take over Chicago Public Schools and allow the district to declare bankruptcy. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno called the Chicago school system “abysmal” and said the proposal would help the district recover from its budget woes. The Chicago Teachers Union, Mayor Emanuel, and most Democrats in the legislature are vehemently opposed to the plan, which could result in voided union contracts.


Senate President John Cullerton called the Republicans’ proposal “mean spirited and evidence of their total lack of knowledge of the real problems facing Chicago Public Schools.” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool accused the governor and Republican leaders of wanting “to preserve a school funding system that systematically discriminates against Chicago children. Read more in the Tribune and Sun-Times.


CPS is laying off central office workers today. So far no teachers or union members are on the chopping block, but hundreds of administrative staff are expected to be laid off.Read more in the Tribune.


House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie proposed a plan to funnel all of Chicago’s tax increment financing (TIF) money that is not already committed to another project to CPS. Currently, the mayor determines what counts as “extra” TIF funds and splits them among several agencies, including CPS; Rep. Currie’s bill would temporarily use all TIF funds that are not already directed elsewhere for CPS. Read more in the Sun-Times.


Legislators have rushed to introduce bills aiming to change how police interact with the public in the wake up several high-profile and reputation-damaging police shooting cases. Some bills would require Chicago police officers to wear body cameras at all times and make the footage more easily accessible to the public, while others focus on mandating more training in the use of non-lethal force. Read this article in the Tribune for more details on the proposals and why they may not progress this year.


Chicago’s racial tensions have even attracted a delegation from the United Nations, which will visit the city next week.Read more.


Democrats raised over $18 million in the last quarter of 2015, compared to $3.5 million for Republicans. Democrats are currently estimated to have over $49 million on hand, and Republicans have $39 million, which adds up to an unprecedented amount of money in play for state campaigns.Read more in CapitolFax.


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.