Week in Review for July 22-26


·         McCormick Place expansion measure becomes law.   Plans were unveiled in mid-May to construct a 10,000-seat arena, which could be used as a meeting space or for athletic contests, adjacent to Chicago’s McCormick Place.  The project, which is expected to cost $173 million, will have the De Paul Blue Demons basketball team as its flagship tenant.  The name of the arena, and the arena’s luxury-box and sponsorship arrangements, have not yet been revealed.  The arena could also be used for large-group convention events and presentations.   The new Chicago arena legislation was “bundled” into an end-of-session omnibus economic development measure, SB 20, and was signed into law as P.A. 98-109 on Thursday, July 25.  The final House vote on the bill was 81-35-1 (the omnibus bill also contained other controversial measures).

·         Six persons killed in Chicago and at least 23 wounded on weekend ending Sunday, July 21.  The police blotter counted four deaths on Chicago’s South Side, one homicide in Humboldt Park, and one on the Near North Side in the former Cabrini-Green neighborhood.   A six-year-old girl was reported by news wires to be in critical condition as of Monday, July 22.  An apparent upsurge in Chicago city violence during the summer of 2013, including homicides, appears to mystify criminologists.  Efforts to reduce criminal gang violence by increasing Chicago “gun control” and city police overtime do not appear to have been successful. 


·         Governor signs law creating criminal offense of cruel dog tethering.  The new Class B misdemeanor (up to 6 months in county jail) will apply to owners who tether one or more dogs outdoors, such as in a field or back yard, under conditions that violate the law.  Complex, and in some cases cross-cutting, mandates are placed upon backyard dog-tethering and the dog owners.  For example, the fixture must include a tethering lead that is at least 10 feet in length, but the lead must not weigh more than one-eighth of the dog’s body weight.

P.A. 98-101 (HB 83) was introduced in response to many persons concerned about seeing dogs tethered on other people’s property under conditions that appear cruel to the dog.  The bill was controversial, with the House voting 83-34-0 to pass it.  Many House Republicans expressed concern about the ability of local law enforcement to enforce this new measure at a time of rising fears of violent crime against humans.  The measure was signed into law on Monday, July 22.    

Downstate – Thomson

·         Creation of as many as 1,000 jobs in northwestern Illinois moves a step closer.   The federal Senate Appropriations Committee approved $166 million in funding on Thursday, July 18 to reopen the former Thomson Correctional Center as an active federal penitentiary.   The prison is capable of housing as many as 2,800 inmates.  As many as 1,000 jobs are expected to be created.  This reflects both the prison guards and other personnel who will be hired and additional, spin-off jobs created within a multi-county local area from the goods and services to be purchased by prison personnel.

Final steps to reopen the prison followed successful passage of a bill to make the transfer possible, SB 30 (Jacobs/Sacia).  The lead House sponsor, Rep. Jim Sacia, has long been a leader in Thomson redevelopment efforts.   This measure transferred legal authority over the prison and prison grounds to the U.S. federal government.  Signed on Monday, July 15, as P.A. 98-70, this transfer was an immediate green light for Congress to begin appropriating the money to implement the reopening.  Congress has enacted a law directing the current White House not to use the prison for detainees currently housed in the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center.  

Downstate – Tuscola

·         House Republicans takes lead in new move to create 150 permanent jobs near Tuscola in east-central Illinois.   Legislation containing an incentive package for the proposed Project Cronus fertilizer plant was signed into law Thursday.  Senate Bill 20 (P.A. 98-109) is the State’s 2013 omnibus economic development package that includes incentives for a $1.2 billion fertilizer plant near Tuscola.  Construction of the facility would create approximately 2,000 construction jobs and attract at least $500 million in investment.  Upon completion, the plant would create 150 full-time, permanent jobs.

State Representative Adam Brown led the effort to pass the incentive package for Tuscola, which will give Illinois a competitive advantage in the siting process for Project Cronus.  Illinois is competing with Iowa for the plant, with Iowa offering up to $35 million in tax incentives.

“Project Cronus would be a huge boost to the local economy in terms of construction jobs and overall investment,” Brown said.  “Tuscola is the ideal site for the plant, given its multiple natural gas lines and railroad connections.  I am thrilled that we were able to put this incentive package together to help make Project Cronus a reality.”

The new law qualifies the Tuscola development for High Impact Business Incentives in the Enterprise Zone Act providing: sales tax exemptions; investment tax credits; exemption from state gas and electric taxes; and a state sales tax exemption on personal property. It will also provide up to $12 million in property tax abatement for the plant.


·         Firearms’ rights advocates pursue lawsuit in attempt to speed up concealed-carry implementation.  Enactment of HB 183, the “concealed carry law”, in June 2013 was only the start of a complex process (expected to stretch out past year’s end) that is supposed to conclude with licenses for Illinois residents who seek the right to carry a concealable firearm in their motor vehicle or on the street.  The Illinois State Police were given 180 days to carry out the process of setting up a license-application procedure; if all of this time is taken up, gun owners will not have the right to commence their applications until after January 1, 2014. 

Asserting that federal law requires that this right be granted to law-abiding Illinoisans now, rather than later, citizen advocates led by Mary Shepard of Anna, Illinois have filed a lawsuit demanding that a federal court grant them immediate relief and prompt concealed-carry rights.  The office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan opposes the Shepard lawsuit.  Shepard, a Second Amendment advocate, was 69 years old when she was beaten in Anna’s First Baptist Church by a burglar.  The senior citizen has repeatedly testified to her belief that she could have staved off the brutal attack had she enjoyed the right to carry a concealed firearm in self-defense.  Shepard’s lawyer filed a statement with the court on Thursday, July 18.  No hearing date has been set in the case.

·         Few local governments ban “assault weapons” before pre-emption takes effect.  Sixteen of the approximately 1,300 city, town, and village municipalities of Illinois took advantage of the “window” granted to them in the concealed carry law of 2013 (HB 183) to enact ordinances banning so-called “assault weapons” within their municipal limits.  While this short list included the City of Chicago with its 2.7 million residents, few Illinois suburbs and no rural municipalities joined Chicago.  Opponents of this move pointed out the difficulty in enforcing a law where the alleged offender could be in a moving vehicle crossing multiple municipal lines within a short period of time.  Difficulties in defining the concept of “assault weapons” were also noted.  Attempts to discourage or ban these weapons have often fallen back on the concept of listing forbidden guns by brand name and model number, creating the potential requirement upon assault-weapons-banning municipalities of having to maintain an ever-lengthening list of forbidden weaponry.  The ordinance “window” closed on Friday, July 19; after this date, local governments throughout Illinois are pre-empted from enacting such a ban unless it is already in place.

Health Care

·         Despite unanswered questions, Governor signs Affordable Care Act implementation measure.  The bill to implement “Obamacare” and add an estimated 342,000 Illinois residents to the taxpayer-funded Medicaid rolls was signed into law on Monday, July 22 as P.A. 98-104.  The measure, which had been approved by Democrats in the General Assembly as SB 26, contained numerous measures to expand health care for lower-income Illinois households.  Households without children earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line will be eligible for Medicaid for the first time (these families, if they had children, were already eligible).   After the first three years, states such as Illinois are scheduled to gradually pick up a “percentage” of the increased costs to Medicaid that are derived from implementation programs like this one. 

In addition, an estimated 171,000 Illinois residents who are currently eligible for Medicaid, but who have not yet enrolled themselves in the program, are expected to emerge from non-enrollment.  The Obama administration plans to conduct a major public-relations campaign, including advertising, to educate the American people about changes in the American health care system and to encourage all Americans to enroll in privately-funded health insurance or Medicaid.  An analysis by the “Associated Press” indicates that this federal public relations initiative will spend an estimated $70 million in Illinois.  The medical care incurred by all of the 171,000 Illinois residents that fall within this subset will be billed to the State with only partial federal recompense, as is done with Medicaid billings under current law.

House and Senate Republicans had asked questions in the General Assembly about the added costs to Illinois taxpayers through implementation of SB 26, especially in the light of slow progress (in some areas, minimal or no progress) of the Governor’s office in implementing bipartisan cost-reduction measures previously approved by the General Assembly to eliminate unnecessary billings and stamp out Medicaid fraud.  Although the Illinois Medicaid program continues to be a troubled program with exponentially increasing billings to taxpayers and slow State payments to medical care providers, the Governor approved SB 26.  The House vote was 63-55-0.  No House Republicans voted for the controversial measure.

Suburbs – Third Airport

·         Governor approves law to resume progress toward construction of “third airport” on far southern edge of greater Chicago.  Language included in the State’s omnibus economic development package (SB 20) authorizes the Department of Transportation to work with the private sector to develop a public-private partnership to plan for, develop, and build the new airport.  The language also provides for the governance of the airport as a publicly-owned, privately-operated facility.  The airport is likely to be located in southern Will County southeast of Monee, Illinois.  Under the provisions of SB 20, the facility will be built by the private sector; the investors will be granted a long-term leasehold interest in return for their capital support for the project.   

Preliminary plans covering the initial “footprint” of the airport, as well as the existing Bult Field, indicate that one market niche that the proposed new airport could fulfill would be that of a “reliever” facility for air freight and logistics.  The airport will be built adjacent to Interstate 57 and to the Illinois mainline of CN, a major North American railroad, adding to its attractiveness as a logistics center.  Some of the land for the airport has already been acquired.  

Controversial features of this airport proposal included the explicit grant of land condemnation authority to airport authorities.  SB 20 was approved by the House by a vote of 81-35-1 (the bill contained many provisions, some of them controversial) and was signed into law as P.A. 98-109.

Suburbs – Metra

·         Metra investigation raises questions about key Chicago mass transit authority; resolution calls for ouster of board chairman.  Metra, the commuter rail arm of the Regional Transportation Authority, is run autonomously with its own executive director, board of directors, and chairman of the board.  The authority operates 11 separate diesel and electric rail lines that service Chicago and its northern, northwestern, western, and southern suburbs.  More than 300,000 Chicago-area residents ride Metra on work days.  The board chairman is Brad O’Halloran of Orland Park.

Former executive director/CEO Alex Clifford, hired in April 2011, was let go in July 2013.  Allegations have swirled concerning the circumstances of his departure, the reasons for a substantial severance payment to Clifford, and the existence of possible political pressure against Clifford and other Metra personnel involving the chairman and members of Metra’s current board of directors.   The Legislative Inspector General has been asked to carry out an ethics probe.  The Chicago Tribune published an editorial published on Thursday, July 25, which asked the entire board to step down.

House Republicans have taken action to respond to constituent concerns raised by these allegations.   Rep. David Harris introduced HB 3648 on Friday, July 19. This measure reorganized the legal structure governing the terms and powers of Metra board members.   HB 3648 would create a term limit (of five years) for members of the Metra board of directors, forbid the reappointment of current board members, and would empower seven board members to appoint, retain, or dismiss the Metra executive director/CEO (currently, eight members are required).  Harris also introduced HR 521 on July 19; this measure calls upon Metra board chairman O’Halloran to resign. 

Rep. Mike Tryon, Republican spokesperson on the House Mass Transit Committee, has transmitted two written requests that the committee (chaired until July 2013 by Rep. Deborah Mell) meet to discuss the Metra allegations, hear from key Metra personnel involved in the affair, and fulfill their oversight responsibilities.  After Rep. Mell was named Chicago’s 33rd ward alderman on Wednesday, July 24, Tryon sent a renewed request on Thursday, July 25, this time to Speaker Michael Madigan.    

Metra, like other units of the RTA, is indirectly dependent upon State tax revenues for its continued operations and existence.  The agency cannot fund itself through farebox collections, and survives through the payment of a substantial subsidy from RTA sales taxes levied in Cook County and the five-county outer Metra service area, and from additional State money from taxpayers.  The RTA sales tax rate is 1.00 percent in Cook County and 0.75 percent in all other counties.      


·         Chicago-St. Louis passenger train service to be disrupted during third week of August; work continues on speeding up rail service.  With “high-speed rail” work continuing on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) warned train travelers to prepare to ride a bus on August 16 through 23 for travel north of Bloomington.  Temporarily shutting down the rail right-of-way will allow contractors to tear out and rebuild several bridges and culverts on the affected strip.  $1.45 billion in federal transportation funds have been awarded to Illinois for a five-year plan to partly reconstruct the historic Chicago & Alton right-of-way. 

IDOT believes that once the track, signal, and other infrastructure work is completed in the fourth quarter of 2015, passenger trains will be able to travel up to 110 mph over about two-thirds of the right-of-way.  The importance of proper railroad signals installation was underlined by a tragic train crash in Spain on Wednesday, July 24, as a Spanish train entered a slow section of its line and did not apply the brakes.  In Illinois, slow sections in and around larger cities, such as Chicago, St. Louis and Springfield, will remain.  Future work will include consolidating the Amtrak line in Springfield onto the Tenth Street “corridor,” a heritage right-of-way that includes the trackage on which Abraham Lincoln rode from Springfield toward Washington, D.C. in February 1861.