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

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich started teaming up in an attempt to keep Donald Trump from winning the GOP nomination, but the alliance quickly fell apart. Gov. Kasich and Sen. Cruz each vowed to pull out of states that the other polled highly in to try to keep anti-Trump voters united in each state, but less than a day after the announcement, Gov. Kasich told all of his supporters still to vote for him. Gov. Kasich’s Indiana campaign co-chair instructed supporters to “vote for Cruz so Trump does not win Indiana,” but the governor himself later told reporters, “They ought to vote for me. But I’m not over there campaigning and spending resources.” Read more in the Washington Post.


The Senate’s energy and water appropriations bill, which seemed very likely to pass, is now threatened by a single amendment. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton proposed an amendment that would prohibit the country from buying heavy water, a product used in nuclear reactions, from Iran. Since President Obama agreed to buy over 30 tons of heavy water from Iran last week, he would veto the bill if the amendment was attached to it. Senate Democrats do not want another vote related to Iran’s nuclear program, especially attached to an important spending bill. Sen. Cotton said he would be amenable to other procedures to arrange a vote on his legislation, whether as a standalone bill or another amendment. Read more in Morning Consult.


The House Armed Services Committee unexpectedly passed an amendment to include women in the Selective Service, the agency that keeps track of residents who can be drafted for military service. The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Duncan Hunter, is disappointed in the result because he hoped the amendment would start a discussion but ultimately fail. The amendment is now a part of the annual defense authorization bill, which will be considered by the House next month. Read more in the Washington Post.


Several representatives from the House Ways and Means Committee wrote a letter asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to gather and publish more data on Medicare beneficiaries’ mental and behavioral health. The letter points out, “CMS has not yet published [behavioral and mental health] data to the same extent as with other health conditions… Federal restrictions and regulations that prevent the accessibility of this data needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century.” Read the letter here.


The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a large group of conservative Republicans in the House, proposed a series of policy recommendations aiming to influence House leadership. Among these polices: abolishing the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), repealing the estate tax, and lowering corporate tax rates. Read the proposal here.


The RSC also published recommendations on healthcare reform. The group supports HR 2653, the American Health Care Reform Act, which is a conservative Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement. The RSC calls for the complete repeal of the ACA, replacing it with tax credits and more “federal support for high-risk pools.”  They also advocate allowing health insurance plans to cross state lines, reforming medical liability laws, and combining Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program into one “streamlined block grant.” Read the proposal here.


The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed nine bills related to opioid use and addiction treatment this week. An amendment that would have attached more funding failed, but the group of bills targeting several facets of the opioid crisis will soon be debated on the full House floor. Read more in Morning Consult.


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to approve Charter Communications’ acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, pending a final vote from regulators in California. The FCC and the Justice Department also imposed restrictions on such deals, however, aiming to protect video streaming services and access to broadband internet for low-income residents. Once the merger is complete, Charter will be the second-largest broadband internet provider in the country and the third-largest cable television provider. Read more in the New York Times.




The state legislature passed a bill last week to allocate $600 million for higher education, postponing an impending disaster with school closures and students unable to pay their tuition. The funding will help public colleges and universities remain open, and it will also fund Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for low-income students. Gov. Rauner signed the bill this week, despite its lack of Turnaround Agenda concessions. The Senate also passed a version of the bill that added over $400 million for social services, but the governor said he would not support it. Read more.


Late last week Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting down a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the Lieutenant Governor’s office, saving the state over $1 million a year. The Chicago Tribune editorial board, which tends to favor the governor, lambasted the Republican legislators, “the party of so-called fiscal conservatives who advocate for smaller, more efficient government,” as they wrote, for flip-flopping on the bill. Although the current Lt. Gov., Evelyn Sanguinetti, has called for her own office to be eliminated, the governor seems to have had a change of heart, since the line of succession without the lieutenant governor would likely lead to a Democrat. Read the editorial here.


The House again passed legislation to freeze local property taxes but allow school districts to ask voters for authority to collect more money. Although Gov. Rauner has been calling for a property tax freeze for the last year, he opposes this measure, calling it not a “real” effort. Despite the governor’s opposition, Republican Rep. Ron Sandack is a co-sponsor of the bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support. The bill’s fate in the Senate uncertain. Read more.


Chicago Alderman Edward Burke advanced a measure in the Zoning Committee to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the Loop. Currently, dispensaries are prohibited from locating in an any area designated as “downtown core,” which is easily-accessible and near several hospitals. The prohibition appears to be an oversight, since there were no objections in the committee, and the mayor’s office did not have an explanation. Read more in the Sun-Times.


New York
Mayor de Blasio announced his $82 billion city budget proposal this week. In addition to a new police precinct in Queens, the budget includes $2 billion for the floundering NYC Health + Hospitals system. Critics are concerned that the mayor’s plan to support the hospital system relies too much on “substantial State and Federal cooperation which has not yet been assured.” Read more here and here.


Mayor de Blasio is embroiled in a fundraising scandal, which he says is politically-motivated and unfounded in truth, and Gov. Cuomo has is looking for a candidate to oust him. A recently-leaked memo from the Board of Elections accused Mayor de Blasio of “willful and flagrant” violations of state law. Since the mayor’s approval ratings have also been on the decline, several potential candidates are emerging, including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Read more on the inquiry into themayor’s fundraising here and here, and into the governor’s search for a challenger here.


City Comptroller Scott Stringer plans to audit the Board of Elections after last week’s disappearance of over 100,000 Brooklyn Democrats from the voter registry. The loss of these voters’ data was apparently caused in part by a data-entry error, but Stringer also cites outdated state voting laws as a problem he wants to see addressed. Stringer called the system ‘broken’ and said, “We’ve got to take a sledgehammer to this. We have to stop pretending this is a democracy.” Read more in the NY Post.


New Jersey
While state legislators still work to put together a plan to save the Transportation Trust Fund, read this article that recaps the situation and possible effects on your taxes.


Legislators are still working on how to address Atlantic City’s financial woes, though some think a solution is close at hand. Rep. Chris Brown is sponsoring legislation that charge a committee made of state and city officials with creating a binding plan for the city, instead of a “non-transparent power grab” in the form of a state takeover. Rep. Brown called the takeover approach, which the Senate has already passed, “martial law being declared in Atlantic City without any oversight,” and he is confident the Assembly will not pass it. Read more.


According to PolitickerNJ, Reps. Scott Rumana and David Russo of the 40th legislative district may be on their way to judge positions, leaving their seats open in 2017. Rep. Rumana may even be a judge by this summer. Read more.


23 Ohioans die from heroin every week, and the problem of heroin use is spreading. The state has been trying to find a balance between rehabilitation and prosecution in its efforts to combat the crisis, but that balance is hard to come by. Several counties have ‘drug courts,’ which only handle drug cases and seek to help drug addicts get clean and stay out of jail. Although some do not approve of treating addicts less like criminals and more like patients, Attorney General Mike DeWine acknowledged, “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” Read or watch more on 60 Minutes.


US Rep. Pat Tiberi is reportedly considering challenging US Sen. Sherrod Brown in the next election cycle. The Democratic senator plans to run for another term, but his name is also rumored to be in the ring for Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential pick. Read more in the Marion Star.

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

With just over two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential primary vote in the country, candidates are scrambling to differentiate themselves and appeal to voters. Last night’s Republican debate was as combative as ever, with Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz dominating much of the fight. In case you missed the action, here’s a quick recap of the highlights in the New York Times. According to the Washington post and a slew of other outlets, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio ‘won’ the debate. Read the Washington Post’s winners and losers take here and a New York Times roundup of pundit opinions here

Also in the Post: Hillary Clinton is not doing nearly as well now as she was during her 2008 campaign. National polls are fickle, the reporter points out, and polls tend to change dramatically after early state primary results are out. But Clinton is not as far ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders as many expected her to be by now. Read more.


Sen. Rand Paul’s bill to subject the Federal Reserve to Government Accountability Office (GAO) auditing failed to garner enough of a majority to pass. Sen. Paul and other supporters of the bill are critical of the Fed’s control over interest rates, while opponents fear the consequences of the Fed’s losing its independence. What is interesting in politicalterms is that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator making a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Read more in the Washington Post.


In a move that does nothing to appease the coal industry, the Obama administration announced it will pause the process of approving new leases for coal mining on public lands. The Interior Department is conducting an extensive review of the coal leasing program, specifically to determine if the current lease and royalty rates companies pay the government accurately reflect the market value. The administration plans to stop new leases until the review is complete. Read more in the New York Times.


Gov. Rauner seems to be pursuing an even more aggressive reform agenda than he was last year. He declared today that he and the large state worker union AFSCME are at a contract negotiation impasse, he refuses to fund higher education operations and grants without seeing spending reforms from universities, and he will not consider bailing out Chicago’s public schools unless Mayor Emanuel acts on the governor’s Turnaround Agenda. 

Former US Attorney Dan Webb, who has led previous investigations into Cook County corruption, will lead the investigation into Chicago’s Law Department following the recent scandals. He will examine civil rights claim proceedings, make recommendations, and refer cases of possible misconduct to the city Inspector General. Read more in the Tribune.


Meanwhile, video of another police shooting was released yesterday. This one was three years ago, and the video is not nearly as clear as the one from the Laquan McDonald case. Nonetheless, its release and the shooting itself are just as controversial. Read more in the Tribune.


Mayor Emanuel is considering a new tax on tobacco and cigars to pay for a summer school program for students considered at risk of dropping out. The tax would raise an estimated $6 million. Some question the wisdom of adding new programs to the city’s offerings when Chicago Public Schools cannot pay for its current programs. According to the Sun-Times, “the answer is part education and part political.” The mayor needs all of the political good will he can muster, and targeting education aid to inner-city youth is the administration’s latest strategy. Read more.


The mayor also proposed raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. The Chicago suburb of Evanston passed a local ordinance to do just that in 2014. Read more.


In the heated fight for the role of Cook County State’s Attorney, the Democratic party officially endorsed Kim Foxx over incumbent Anita Alvarez and fellow challenger Donna More. More is trying to spin the endorsement to her advantage, saying voters want someone seen as independent from established officials. Read more in the Tribune.

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.

Podcast of “Get Down To Business with Scott "Shalom" Klein” – 9/28/2014 – with Dave Ritter, Thomas Figiel, Mark Kalish and Steven Dyme