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.