The week that was in Illinois politics and government (December 4-9).
Chicago and Cook County News
Chicagoans took to Federal Plaza Thursday afternoon in a “Save Christmas for the Unemployed” rally that called for an extension of soon to expire unemployment benefits. President Obama reiterated his call for an extension of unemployment benefits as well as payroll tax cuts at a press conference Monday afternoon.
The White House held a conference Tuesday at UIC covering how government can work with non-profits on job creation, health and non-violence initiatives, and economic development.
PI reported on the 2010-11 Health Needs Assessment study conducted by community organization Lakeview Action Coalition. The study found that a lack of affordable insurance along with the high cost for particular services were the two biggest health care challenges for residents in Lakeview and Uptown.
Eric Tellez, an organizer/researcher at the Grassroots Collaborative, wrote that the city’s Tax Increment Finance economic development program has, in fact, concentrated economic development in downtown at the expense of underdeveloped neighborhoods. For example, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange – whose parent company CME Group, Inc. is threatening to leave the state unless they get a big tax break --- got $15 million in money from the TIF pot in 2009.
The race between Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and incumbent Dorothy Brown for Cook County Circuit Court is on with each candidate filing their petition on Monday. PI previously previewed what promises to be a lively race.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison Wednesday and also fined the former governor $20,000. The sentencing comes after Blagojevich was convicted of 18 different counts of corruption, including selling the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
PI live blogged the sentencing hearing and some highlights, as it were, included a long speech by Blagojevich that apologized to the state of Illinois as well as his family and especially daughters. Zagel, meanwhile, said that not only was Blagojevich’s conduct unsuitable for public service so was his personality. “The impatience,” Zagel said. “The endless talking. And the need for praise.”
Several candidates have thrown their hats in the ring to replace retiring State Sen. James Meeks (D-15), including former NFL linebacker Napolean Harris.
We reported on two public hearings held by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday regarding a water discharge permit for the proposed North Canton Mine near the town of Canton in Fulton County. A coterie of environmental groups oppose the mine, to be built by Springfield’s Capital Resources Development. The group’s say the mine will destroy prime agricultural land and threaten the water supply for over 20,000 people.
In other environmental news, PI looked at environmental concerns over the proposed coal-to-gas plant in Taylorville, Illinois to be operated by Omaha-based Tenaska. Legislation subsidizing the plant passed the Illinois Senate last week. The Illinois EPA warns that the coal-to-gas plant will emit greenhouse gas levels comparable to regular coal-fired power plants.
Nine of the 252 service processing centers slated to be cut by the United States Postal Service are located in Illinois.
Trustees at Southern Illinois University ratified the contracts agreed upon by the administration and the school’s four faculty/teacher bargaining agreements. SIU’s Faculty Association staged an almost weeklong strike in November.
Lawmakers appear to have reached an agreement on legislation that would provide tax breaks to Sears and Chicago's trading exchanges. The new agreement, which is valued at more than $300 million, would break the tax packages for corporations and individuals into two bills, increasing the earned income tax credit for low-income workers to 10 percent from 5 percent. Individuals would also see an increase in the personal standard deduction. The deal will net a combined $100 million in tax savings for the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the CME Group, and Sears, while also containing other business-friendly credits. Legislators are expected to vote on the package early next week, with the House doing so first on Monday and the Senate on Tuesday.
In the week of Blagojevich’s sentencing, the Prairie State actually enjoyed some good news: Illinois lead the nation
in job creation this October, adding 30,000 jobs to its economy.
Neighboring Wisconsin, meanwhile, saw 9,700 jobs disappear – the largest
amount of job losses seen in any state during the month.
Thousands of protestors, including 200 Chicago residents, converged at the Washington, D.C. offices of five Illinois congressmen Wednesday as part of national “Take Back the Capitol” protests. Stand Up! Chicago spearheaded the protesters from Chicago. Some 200 Chicagoans left the city Monday morning bound for the National Mall – and protests of congressional policies that they say favor the nation’s wealthiest.
According to Stand Up! Chicago, Illinois legislators were cold to protesters sit-ins, meeting requests and teach-ins. For example, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh was caught on video fleeing down the stairs to avoid demonstrators who sat for hours outside his office.
Speaking of Walsh, the lawmaker announced Thursday he would run for re-election in the re-drawn 8th Congressional district, discarding earlier plans to switch to the 14th District. The biggest winner from Walsh’s announcement is GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren. The current 14th district Congressman no longer faces the prospect of running against another incumbent lawmaker in the GOP primary. Two possible losers are the Democratic candidates for the 8th Congressional seat – Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Walsh’s announcement came on the same day that the federal courts threw out one of the Republican Party’s lawsuits arguing against the legality of the Congressional district map drawn by Democrats.
A Gallup poll released Friday found that 76 percent of Americans don’t think U.S. Congressmen should get new terms in office. But voters hold to the idea that their Congressman isn’t the problem. Fifty three percent of respondents said they would re-elect their own representative, while 39 percent said they would not. As with most election years, more than 80 percent of Congressional incumbents were re-elected in 2010.
Filed claims for unemployment benefits fell by 23,000 last week to 381,000, reaching a nine-month low.