Illinois Public Media News
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Indiana House minority leader Pat Bauer said he wants to meet with Wisconsin state Senate Democrats who have also fled to Illinois to block action on Republican-backed legislation.
Bauer said the roughly 30 Indiana Democrats he led to an Urbana hotel to avoid votes on anti-union and school-related legislation could commiserate with their counterparts from Wisconsin.
The South Bend Democrat said such a meeting would be like a pair of crime victims meeting to talk about their attacker. One of the other Democrats staying in Urbana is Charlie Brown of Gary. He said he is intrigued by the idea, saying there are a lot of people that weren't aware of the odds faced by the party in each state.
"It's amazing the number of people that were not into the real minute points," Brown said. "They were trying to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. They wanted to set up some kind of merit system for teachers and so forth. People say 'really?' Yes, that's what we're fighting for."
With the Indiana House now adjourned until Monday, Brown said it is likely the caucus will return home for the weekend to pick up clothes, and return to Urbana before the chamber convenes on Monday. But Brown said the caucus is staying in Urbana at least through Thursday night.
He said it is still possible Governor Mitch Daniels could use the state police to bring Democrats back to the capitol if they simply stayed home. Brown says he and colleagues who have been staying at a hotel in the area since Tuesday have also gotten their first look at some of the labor protests at the capitol in Indianapolis.
"That was a booster for us," said Brown. "We're isolated up here, and only get bits and pieces of what's going on. But that was really a plus for us, to see that our constituents are really concerned in these pieces of legisation."
Wisconsin Senator Tim Cullen says he and his fellow Democrats are focused Thursday on the situation in their state and didn't know of any plans to meet up.
Indiana's Democratic caucus will meet Friday morning at 10 a.m.
Illinois officials who promise to keep an eye on every tax dollar are trying to do it with 263 different systems for tracking money, including many that are old and incompatible, according to a report Thursday.
Auditor General William Holland said auditors found state agencies 24 different systems just for handling payroll.
Half of state government's financial reporting systems are more than 10 years old. Many are more than 20 years old, which Holland called "archaic.''
More than half the systems cannot share information. Dollars and cents have to be entered manually when transferring data, which increases the risk of mistakes.
State legislators were stunned by the audit's findings.
"I think it's disastrous. What private company with revenues of $33 billion wouldn't have a unified accounting system?'' said Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, an accountant. "It's obvious that state government fiscal matters are in chaos.''
Rep. Jack Franks, head of the House State Government Administration Committee, called it "critically important'' for Illinois to track money carefully. He said the accounting systems are probably contributing to massive budget problems.
"It sounds almost Soviet-style, where nothing works,'' said Franks, D-Marengo.
State spending is under more scrutiny than ever as Illinois tries to climb out of the worst budget hole in its history. Officials passed a tax increase last month, but still face a deficit that could approach $10 billion.
A list in the audit shows agencies using everything from huge computer systems to personal finance programs such as Quicken to paper ledgers. One agency had a process labeled "egg inspection receipts.''
"We've got multiple systems that do not deliver in an efficient way, and they need to be replaced. There's no question about it,'' Holland said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The report did not estimate how much the financial systems cost the state because of errors or confusion. But auditors did note that 17 percent of agencies provided figures on what it costs to enter duplicate data in different systems. The cost just for that portion of state government was $11.3 million.
It takes Illinois more than a year to compile a final spending report after each budget ends, auditors said.
Bond-rating agencies, who help determine how much the state pays to borrow money, object to financial reports coming out late, the report said. One agency, Moody's, has twice cited late reports as part of the reason it lowered Illinois' rating.
Late financial reporting also can endanger the state's federal funding or trigger increased federal scrutiny of Illinois programs, the audit said.
Auditors recommended that state agencies under the governor's control work with the Illinois comptroller to improve financial reporting.
Bradley Hahn, spokesman for new Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, said they "wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations, and we look forward to working with the governor's office to implement them.
Many Indiana House Democrats who came to Illinois to deny a quorum to the House Republican majority chose Urbana as their resting spot.
On Thursday morning, it was easy to spot the hotel where they were staying. The Comfort Suites on North Lincoln Avenue had several TV news trucks in its parking lots, and people carrying signs standing along the sidewalk. Two groups of demonstrators hailed passing motorists outside the hotel, letting everybody know they welcomed the lawmakers --- or thought they should go home.
University of Illinois student Devin Mapes was among about 20 demonstrators lined up to support the Indiana House Democrats. Mapes, who is president of the U of I Illini Democrats, said Indiana Democrats are right to use a boycott to block the majority Republicans from passing bills he says would hurt unions and teachers.
"These individuals here in the hotel are trying to push democracy forward as opposed to unilaterally forcing things down the throats of the individuals in the state of Indiana," Mapes said.
Champaign County Democratic Chairman Al Klein was among the demonstrators supporting the lawmakers. He charged Republicans with trying to promote a hidden agenda.
"No one ran on this as a platform," Klein said. "They ran on austerity, shared sacrifice, solving budget problems. And then suddenly, they arrive in their state capitols, they take off their jackets, and --- what is it? --- 'We're going to bust the unions, we're going to bust the state employees'. Where did that come from?"
But the view was different a few yards away, for Frank Barham, chair of the Champaign Tea Party, which organized about a dozen demonstrators who thought the Indiana Democrats should go back to Indianapolis. In Barham's view, Republicans won the majority in the Indiana House, and Democrats need to accept that.
"These people didn't win," Barham said, whose advice for the lawmakers staying at the Comfort Suites was, "Go back to do what you were elected to do, what you're getting paid to do. You're not getting paid to hide out in Urbana.
Another demonstrator, Urbana resident Robert Dunne agreed. He said Indiana House Democrats need to go back home and make the tough choices needed to keep their state fiscally sound.
"They were elected to be in the state of Indiana --- not hiding out in Urbana, Illinois," Dunne said.
Barham said they held their demonstration at the request of the Tea Party group in Fort Wayne Indiana --- Fort Wayne lawmaker Win Foster was among the Indiana House Democrats staying at the Comfort Suites. Barham said he hadn't seen any of the Indiana Democrats during the demonstration --- although some on his picket line voiced suspicions about a stretch limo that pulled out of the hotel parking lot.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
An Indiana deputy attorney general "is no longer employed" by the state after Mother Jones magazine reported he tweeted that police should to use live ammunition against Wisconsin labor protesters, the attorney general's office said Wednesday.
The magazine reported Wednesday that Jeffrey Cox responded "Use live ammunition" to a Saturday night posting on its Twitter account that said riot police could sweep protesters out of the Wisconsin capitol, where thousands have been protesting a bill that would strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.
Cox also referred to the protesters as "thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor" and said "You're damn right I advocate deadly force," according to the magazine. He later told an Indianapolis television station the comments were intended to be satirical.
The Indiana attorney general's office said it conducted "a thorough and expeditious review" after the report.
"We respect individuals' First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility," the office said in a statement.
Spokesman Bryan Corbin said the office confirmed Cox wrote the tweets but declined to offer further details about its review or Cox no longer having his job, citing confidentiality of personnel matters.
Cox told Indianapolis television station WRTV on Wednesday that his comments were satirical but acknowledged they were "not a good idea."
"I think in this day and age that tweet was not a good idea and in terms of that language, I'm not going to use it anymore," Cox said. But he also said public employees shouldn't have to surrender their free-speech rights.
"I think we're getting down a slippery slope here in terms of silencing people who disagree," he told the television station.
The Associated Press called several Indianapolis phone listings for a Jeffrey Cox, but could not immediately reach him Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors are moving to dismiss several charges against Rod Blagojevich.
Prosecutors Wednesday told U.S. District Judge James Zagel they seek to dismiss racketeering and wire fraud counts against the former Illinois governor to streamline the case. Zagel didn't immediately rule on the motion. Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky says the move by prosecutors demonstrate they believe Blagojevich is innocent of those changes.
The 54-year-old Blagojevich faces an April 20 retrial on charges he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He's also accused of trying to shake down donors for campaign cash. At his first trial, jurors deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI. Blagojevich's lawyers have recently filed motions seeking to have several corruption charges thrown out.
Indiana Democrats say they won't return to the Statehouse on Wednesday but are ready to negotiate when Republicans who control the chamber are ready to stop pushing their "radical agenda'' against working families.
Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer told reporters by phone from Illinois that he's ready to talk with Republicans and that he'll consider bringing his caucus back from Urbana, Ill., on a day-to-day basis. But GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma says he won't concede to Democrat demands.
The political showdown erupted after Republicans advanced a controversial "right-to-work'' bill that prohibits union membership from being a condition of employment. Democrats fled to Illinois and their absence killed that bill, but Bauer says Democrats are upset about the general attitude of Republicans and that the boycott is about more than just right-to-work.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
A Western Indiana Democrat says the caucus meet-up of House members in Urbana should be looked upon as a time out to reach some common ground.
Dale Grubb of Covington said there are other bills besides a contentious right-to-work legislation that spurred him and over 30 of his colleagues to leave the capitol Tuesday.
"The only opportunity a minority has for input is the quorum issue," he said. "And I'm staying at home, I'm trying to work with people and see how quickly we can find common ground on some of those issues - get down to the issues that are the real sticklers. You have to be talking in order to come to some conclusion."
Grub says there are a number of bills concerning public education that also prompted the move, including one that will allow tax dollars to fund private school tuition for some families.
"The one charge that we have as a General Assembly to pass a budget... and adequately fund public education," Grubb said. "We've only got so many dollars. I don't see how we can take money away from public schools and not hurt our kids."
And a House Democrat from Ft. Wayne says Republicans have a radical agenda that will mean lower salaries across Indiana. Win Moses is also staying at the hotel in Urbana. He says progress has made, since Governor Mitch Daniels has agreed the right-to-work legislation shouldn't be taken up at this time. But Moses says the measure is scattered in several bills, and Democrats need to know for sure it's off the table. He says his party expected to forward more than 100 amendments to the capitol by Wednesday night, but Moses is not willing to predict how long Democrats will stay in Urbana.
""We have the agenda - the house bill list, and we're working on that," said Moses. "So we're prepared when we do go back. I don't know how long we'll be here, it depends on how negotiations go. If anybody predicts a day, the other side will probably use that to their advantage and try to push it a day longer."
Moses says Friday is the deadline for bills to pass out of the chamber they originated. But he says that won't have much of an impact, since half the legislative session is left.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says Republicans will not be "bullied or blackmailed'' out of pursuing their agenda despite a boycott from House Democrats over contentious labor and education proposals. He told reporters Wednesday that Democrats will not keep him from pursuing his agenda even if it means calling special legislative sessions "from now to New Year's.''
Meanwhile, Indiana's Senate president says the House should have never taken up a contentious anti-labor bill that spurred the boycott by Democrats there, and he said the Senate won't push the issue this year. Senate President Pro Tem David Long said it was a "mistake'' for his fellow Republicans in the House to take up the issue. But he said it is water under the bridge now and he wants House Democrats to return to work.
Long said the Republican-ruled Senate won't push the"right-to-work'' bill that would prohibit union membership from being a condition of employment. Long said the Senate will instead propose a study committee to look into the matter over the summer. Most House Democrats are in Urbana, and their absence is preventing a quorum needed for House business.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.
Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act "contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution's) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against."
The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.
"Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed" the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder said in a statement. He noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional and that Congress has repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Holder wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that Obama has concluded the Defense of Marriage Act fails to meet a rigorous standard under which courts view with suspicion any laws targeting minority groups who have suffered a history of discrimination.
The attorney general said the Justice Department had defended the law in court until now because the government was able to advance reasonable arguments for the law based on a less strict standard.
At a December news conference, in response to a reporters' question, Obama revealed that his position on gay marriage is "constantly evolving." He has opposed such marriages and supported instead civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The president said such civil unions are his baseline - at this point, as he put it.
"This is something that we're going to continue to debate, and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward," he said.
Eric Jakobsson had a commanding lead over Brian Dolinar in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the Urbana City Council seat in Ward Two.
Of the 53 votes cast, Jakobsson picked up all but five votes. Dolinar quit campaigning more than a week ago after a meeting with his opponent in which he endorsed Jakobsson's candidacy. Jakobsson, who is married to State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), was appointed to the council in December to replace former alderman David Gehrig.
His name will appear on the April 5th ballot, with no Republican opposition expected.
Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel won't have much time to celebrate his victory as Chicago's new mayor.
Emanuel, who overwhelmed the race with truckloads of money and friends in high places from Washington to Hollywood, will take control of a city in deep financial trouble with problems ranging from an understaffed police department to underperforming schools.
On Tuesday, Emanuel won 55 percent of the vote, easily outdistancing former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, who had 24 percent, and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, who each had 9 percent. He succeeds Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is retiring after 22 years in office as the longest-serving mayor in Chicago's history.
But the city he inherits, though perhaps more beautiful than ever after years of extensive urban improvements, is in financial straits that it hasn't seen since before Daley's father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, came to power in the 1950s.
"Not since the Great Depression have the finances of the city been this precarious," said Dominic Pacyga, a historian and author of "Chicago: A Biography." The city's next budget deficit could again exceed $500 million, mostly the result of reduced tax revenue from the recession, and could reach $1 billion if the city properly funds its pension system.
Emanuel, who takes office May 16, also faces a fractious political landscape.
He'll have to find new leadership for the struggling public school system, as two top interim executives plan to leave. He'll also need a new police chief, having said he would not renew Police Superintendent Jody Weis' contract.
The department is suffering from low morale and staffing estimated at 1,000 officers below previous levels.
Members of the City Council, including a number elected Tuesday, have made clear they will demand more authority after years of domination by Daley.
In 25 years of public life, Emanuel has earned a reputation as a skilled politician and as a political operative, serving in both the Clinton and Obama administrations and as a congressman from Chicago. But the mayor's office will test his mettle as an executive.
Throughout the campaign, Emanuel has acknowledged he'll have to make budget cuts, and has promised to spread the pain as fairly as possible, starting with his own office.
But, like the other candidates, he has been vague about how he'll accomplish the reductions. And nothing he has suggested comes close to the projected deficit.
Emanuel said he can save $110 million by streamlining "outdated and duplicative work processes to focus on front-line service delivery," according to his campaign. His campaign did not use the word "layoffs," but it did allude to "reducing layers of management bureaucracy and consolidating redundant tasks."
"What comes next is a bunch of ugly," said Ralph Martire, executive director of the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. "It's going to be a brutal budget year and there are not quick and easy fixes."
The politics of the cuts could be perilous. Most of the deficit is in the $3.1 billion general fund, which pays for the police and fire departments, which have been cut significantly since 2000, Martire said.
As for the underfunded pensions, Emanuel said he wants to "preserve" the pensions but may seek to negotiate changes. He insists the city can solve the problems without a confrontation like the one in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people have been demonstrating outside the Capitol to protest anti-union budget cut legislation. "We have to find, I think, common ground and a sense of hope," he said during a campaign stop this week.
Still, some Chicago officials say the pensions will be hard to finesse. "This mayor is going to have to find a way to balance that too, in a way that doesn't alienate our city workers, who are incredibly hardworking folks," said Alderman Sandi Jackson.
Already, various unions are bracing for a fight. More than a half dozen unions endorsed Chico, including the police and fire unions.
Emanuel has also talked about expanding the city sales tax to include more services, while lowering its overall rate, but he'll need approval from the state General Assembly.
Many voters hope Emanuel's clout in national politics will help him find outside avenues for help. President Obama expressed support for Emanuel when he left the White House, and heavy hitters in the political and entertainment communities contributed to his campaign.
"He's (got) political savvy. He's politically tied in. That's important to me because he can get things done," said Ralph Vallot, 57, dean of students at a Chicago high school.
Loren Miller, 65, who is retired and served as an election judge at a Michigan Avenue polling place, said it's a turning point for the city. "The future's going to be interesting. This is going to be a tough period of time for the city," Miller said.
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