Illinois lawmaker wants to offer advertising on license plates

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A Chicago-area politician thinks that offering private companies an opportunity to advertise on Illinois license plates is a good way to raise money for the cash-strapped state.

The plan would allow companies to put their advertising message on the plates, if they subsidize the cost to consumers. The state would also get a cut of the action.

“This gives us a chance to raise revenue without raising taxes,” said state Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago. “We’ve got to think outside the box these days.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, instead of the $99 annual fee, a driver might only pay $84, with the balance being paid by the advertiser. On top of that payment, an additional amount would be paid to the state.

Mulroe said his proposal is a win-win situation.

No word yet on whether bail-bond, liquor or cigarette companies would be able to participate in the program.

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Report shows every Chicago resident owes $12,000 for pension liability

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A report set to be released today by the Chicago Civic Federation, shows that the massive unfunded pension liability of the city and county’s 10 public pension plans has reached nearly $23 billion. That amount, plus Chicago’s share of the state’s unfunded pension liability, adds up to a total of $11,934 owed by every man, woman and child in Chicago.

Ten years ago, the combined city and state unfunded pension liability amounted to $2,442, only one-sixth the current amount.

The report from the Civic Federation comes to the same conclusions as a series of stories reported in the Chicago Tribune in November about the massive debt owed by city residents and taxpayers.

In 2000, eight of the 10 pension funds, were funded over an 80 percent level; now, eight have fallen below 60 percent. Despite the precarious position of the funds, only recently has pension reform become an urgent issue with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and the legislature.

The two funds that were above the 60 percent funding level in 2009 are the Chicago Transit Authority and the city’s labor union.  The only reason the CTA was above that level was because of an emergency infusion by the state in 2008 to keep the plan from becoming insolvent.

The Civic Federation blamed the deficits on the Illinois pension code, which allows the state and local governments to avoid having to pay in actuarial –determined contributions each year.

Making the problem worse are the steady increases in benefits, early retirements incentives and the weak economy. The ratio of active to retired workers has also decreased by 75 percent since 2000, meaning that as more retired workers need to be paid, fewer workers are paying into the system.

Even though the funds have experienced large investment gains over the last year, there is no way that investment performance can restore the funds to solvency.

The only two options are raising taxes, or sharply cutting back on retiree benefits. So far, politicians seem to prefer taking the risk of angering the public by suggesting hikes in property and income taxes, instead of incurring the wrath of the public employee unions.

Information from: Chicago Tribune

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Chicago government agencies ignore do-not-hire list of banned employees

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What seems like a no-brainer in transparent governance is being ignored or resisted in some Chicago-area government agencies.

Employees who are fired by the city for wrongdoing are put on a list called the do-not-hire list, signally other city departments that an employee was terminated for cause, and they should not be rehired in another city department.

Despite the presence of the list, some of the employees on it are showing up in other city departments. To make matters even worse, many other city agencies including the City Council, the Chicago Public Schools and the Park District, have not agreed to use the list, and hire offending employees anyways.

A court-appointed city monitor and the city’s inspector general have long pushed for the hiring restrictions on the “blacklisted” employees, although they say that the city doesn’t do enough to effectively enforce the rules.

“The city still hasn’t used it to ensure these same people haven’t been hired at sister agencies, each of which are either controlled by, or whose leadership is appointed by, the mayor,” said Jon Davey, a spokesman for Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

Mayor Richard daily’s administration says that it’s been trying to get other city agencies to go along with the list, but Jenny Hoyle, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, said nothing yet has been formalized.

Some critics fear that once a new mayor is elected later this year, the new administration may drop the list altogether.

When first asked in 2009 by the Chicago Tribune for a copy of the list as a public records request, the city’s Human Resources Department refused to provide it claiming that it was as “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The list, called “Ineligible for Rehire – Indefinite,” contains the names of workers that have been terminated for committing crimes or violating city policy.

The list includes the names of employees that have criminal convictions, have broken state or federal statutes, violated the city’s hiring plan, committed workplace violence, harassment or discrimination, or have been found guilty of wrongdoing by the inspector general’s office.

The current list contains the names of 218 employees that were fired, or resigned after being told they would be fired, and covers only the period from 2007 through 2009.

At least three employees on the current list have turned up in other city departments, according to the Tribune. One of those, an employee in the inspector general’s office that was fired for shoplifting but later acquitted, was rehired in a similar position in the Chicago Public Schools.

Information from: Chicago Tribune

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Lame-duck lawmaker who provided crucial vote on Illinois tax bill given state job by Governor

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Within days of leaving office, having supplied the swing vote to pass Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial income tax bill, former state Rep. Careen Gordon was appointed to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

The 67 percent income tax increase, sponsored by Quinn and pushed through the Democrat-controlled legislature, passed the House with 60 votes, the bare minimum needed. The bill was passed at 1:00 a.m. the morning that Gordon’s replacement was sworn in.

Commenting to the Chicago Tribune, Quinn’s spokesperson Annie Thompson said, “It doesn’t have anything to do with what she did at the end of her term in the General Assembly.”

She added that the appointment was a coincidence and she was selected because she is a lawyer and has previous experience as an assistant county prosecutor and state assistant attorney general.

Gordon claims that she approached the governor about the position, after losing the Nov. election to Republican Sue Rezin.  She said they talked about the tax bill, but she did not feel pressured to vote for it.

She also spoke with him again about the bill in December, at a meeting with other Democrats at the governor’s mansion.

Gordon said she didn’t think about whether her crucial vote might affect her chances of getting the $86,000 part-time appointment. “I don’t think that way,” she said. “I never allowed anyone to hold anything over my head like this.”

Chicago Tribune

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Proposed Chicago law would enable city to fire convicted felons on payroll

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Chicago alderman Joe Moreno made a proposal at Thursday’s  city council meeting that would require the firing of city workers convicted on corruption charges.

Mayor Richard M. Daley didn't have much of an opinion about the proposal.

“Right now, we are spending Chicago taxpayer dollars on convicted felons until sentencing, and that time frame can be a year, two years, three years — and we’re continuing to pay,” Moreno said.

The process can also be drawn out through a lengthy appeal process.

Moreno said he came up with the idea after the city’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson pointed out the practice in a quarterly report.

When asked about the plan at a news conference following the city council meeting, Mayor Richard M. Daley said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me.”

Chicago Tribune

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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. bucks trend, wants bigger budget for own office

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Unhappy with the cuts that lawmakers in Washington agreed to last week in their own office allowances, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. proposed Tuesday that they award themselves a raise instead.

In a gesture signalling their commitment to reducing government overhead, last week the House voted 408-13 to reduce their annual office allowance by 5 percent. House members are allotted $1.5 million annually for the cost of staffing an office in Washington and in their home districts.

On Tuesday, Jackson proposed that instead of a cut, the office allowance be increased by 10 percent, citing the need for additional security after the Arizona shooting spree that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed 6 others.

In a statement, Jackson said: “My staff is working on a proposal to restore last week’s 5 percent cut in member budgets, because in this economic climate, we should be providing more services to our constituents – not less.  On top of that, I will propose a 10% increase in member budgets for security measures.  In some districts, that will mean hiring security personnel for public events.  In other areas, that may mean installing surveillance cameras at district offices as a deterrent or improving the locks or the entry systems in district offices.  Some will need more resources in order to move their offices to a safer area.

“I do not feel that fear should grip us, but since 9/11 we’ve secured every federal facility with the exception of our district offices. After the events of last weekend it is clear that our district staffs are vulnerable. Members should have the resources and the latitude to take the appropriate security measures in order to protect themselves and their staffs.”

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Former Chicago school board presidents spent $800,000 of taxpayer monies on personal expenses

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The annual report issued by the Chicago Public Schools inspector general said that two former board presidents, Rufus Williams and Michael Scott, misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite its ongoing budget crisis.

Much of the improper spending was concealed, in large part, by manipulating the purchase process and keeping individual payments below the $25,001 threshold, required for approval by board’s chief purchasing officer.

The report issued on Wednesday detailed questionable expenditures totaling more than $800,000 by the pair. Some of the items uncovered in the inspector general’s report were: $12,624 for holiday parties held at Williams’ home; $92,900 donated to charities or organizations connected to Scott or a family member; $5,333 to purchase artwork for their offices; $6,080 for a party at Soldier Field for the Chicago Football Classic, and $1,734 for a limo tab and $1,978 for liquor purchased during a trip to Washington D.C.

Rufus Williams, left, and Michael Scott, spent Chicago Public School monies lavishly, using gimmicks to conceal the outlays.

Another $3,000 was paid to a security company to conduct electronic sweeps at Scott’s office around the time federal officials were investigating him for handing out slots at elite public schools to star athletes, instead of deserving academic students.

In a prepared statement, mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel said “there’s no excuse for frittering away $800,000 in taxpayer money, particularly in times like these. . . We need to ensure that there are accountability measures that prevent this from ever reoccurring. Chicago Public Schools have a responsibility to use taxpayer funds as they are intended: for our children and classrooms.”

Williams, an executive at a financial management company in Chicago, did not comment on the report. Scott committed suicide in November 2009.

Separately, the inspector general disclosed the CPS had leased 36 driver education vehicles without going through the bidding process, which is required by state law.

In January 2010, the Chicago Tribune reported that then-school board president Ron Huberman was having the district pay $1,800 per month on the lease of two personal vehicles.

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