Week in Review for 8/17/15 – 8/21/15

Budget – FY16 
Governor signs “federal funds” measure pushed by House Republicans. The measure “holds harmless” essential State spending lines that are not burdens on taxpayers who pay income and sales taxes. SB 2042, as amended in the House on Wednesday, August 12, will “pass through” monies given to Illinois for programs mandated or strongly encouraged by Washington, D.C. Governor Rauner signed SB 2042 into law on Thursday, August 20.

Although SB 2042 was a Senate bill, the final language approved by the General Assembly and the Governor was developed in the Illinois House after pressure from House Republicans. Led by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, the GOP caucus pointed out that the overall FY16 budget impasse was holding federally-funded programs “hostage.” Even though the underlying money to pay for these federally-funded programs had been paid by Illinois residents as part of their federal tax payments, Washington was not transferring funds for these programs to Springfield until the State’s government countersigned the transfer by assigning the money to legal appropriations line items. SB 2042, as urged and supported by House Republicans, created these line items and will enable this money to be transferred.

Before passing through the House, SB 2042 was carefully stripped of State taxpayer-funded items that will increase the State’s budget deficit. House Republicans continued to draw attention to the piecemeal FY16 Illinois budget taking shape, but noted that federal dollars should not be subject to the ongoing budget battle in Springfield. The House vote on SB 2042 was 98-0-0.

Chicago – Red light cameras
Former CEO pleads guilty to paying $2 million in bribes. The Chicago red light camera system, in place since 2003, includes approximately 318 automated cameras that capture images of motor vehicles that have committed alleged violations of Illinois traffic law within the City. In the four years since 2011, the City of Chicago has taken in approximately $285 million from red light camera fines.

The Chicago red-light camera system is a public-private partnership. From 2003 until 2013 Chicago’s private partner was the Australian-based security and surveillance firm Redflex Inc. Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty on Tuesday, August 18 to a federal conspiracy charge. The charge, presented in a Chicago courtroom, centers on allegations that Finley had overseen the payment of approximately $2 million in cash and other considerations to key City of Chicago personnel in order to maintain the lucrative partnership contract. The alleged leader of the list of bribe recipients was former senior city traffic manager John Bills, who is described as having accepted conspiracy payments of approximately $570,000. Bills allegedly accepted these payments in the form of cash, a condominium in Arizona, and other gifts. Charges against Bills are pending.

Many concerns have been raised by motorists about Chicago’s red-light cameras, including the perception that Chicago intersections are managed to increase violations and red-light camera fine revenues. The interval during which a Chicago traffic light at a camera-mounted intersection will remain “yellow,” before turning red, can be as short as 3.0 seconds.

Many U.S. states forbid or discourage local municipalities from mounting red-light cameras. Although a “violation” of a red-light camera intersection is a penalty that can be enforced in a court of law, the alleged violator does not have recourse to confront or cross-examine the robot camera that gathered evidence of the purported violation. Constitutional questions have been raised about red-light cameras, and the Missouri Supreme Court outlawed their use in Missouri in a decision handed down on Tuesday, August 18.

College of DuPage
New college board of trustees begins legal action to terminate retiring college president Robert Breuder. The move forms another step in the long-term process of changing over the administration of the scandal-plagued College of DuPage. If this move to terminate Breuder is accepted by the courts, it could pre-empt the $763,000 severance package offered by a majority of the previous college board to the departing chief executive. The voters of the College of DuPage taxing district elected a new “Clean Slate” of trustees that now form a majority of the current board, and Breuder is currently on paid leave of absence from the College. The trustees voted to commence Breuder’s dismissal on Thursday, August 20.

Disciplinary action against the chief executive followed reports of out-of-control spending at the College, including money set aside to open the controversial “Waterleaf” upscale restaurant. Described to taxpayers upon its opening in 2011 as a hands-on learning experience that would enable culinary arts students to practice their crafts for paying customers, the place of fine dining failed to thrive in the marketplace and was allegedly used as an eating club by Breuder and other members of the College’s top management. The current board has taken steps to close the restaurant, effective Saturday, August 29. The board is also cooperating with current State and Federal investigations of this and other fiscal practices of the Breuder administration.

The Board of Trustees’ move followed urgings by House Republican Representative Jeanne Ives, who as a community leader and local taxpayer has called repeatedly for Breuder’s severance package to be pre-empted or cancelled. The $763,000 original settlement is believed to be one of the largest for a public employee in Illinois history.

Illinois Department of Corrections
New director, John Baldwin, named. Governor Bruce Rauner has named John R. Baldwin as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). IDOC is the operational agency over more than 35 state prisons, work camps, boot camps, and transition centers, as well as office-based supervision of parolees in all 102 counties of the State.

Baldwin was named on Friday, August 14, and will serve as acting director pending confirmation by the State Senate. A former head of the Iowa Department of Corrections, he led our neighboring state’s 4,000-employee agency for eight years (2007-2015).

Illinois State Fair
Fairground street named after Comptroller Topinka. The pedestrian street was named “Judy Barr Topinka Lane” in honor of the high-spirited public official’s handshaking and cheerful outreach activities. The lane is close to the physical center of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Noted for her love of the downstate fair, the Chicago-area statewide official died in office in December of 2014. Topinka Lane is lined, during the eleven days of Fair activities, with stands selling State Fair celebration food such as corn dogs and skewered pork chops. Topinka was honored on Tuesday, August 18.

The 2015 Illinois State Fair opened on August 13 in Springfield and is scheduled to continue until Sunday, August 23. A separate DuQuoin State Fair will be held in Southern Illinois from August 28 through September 7. Fair activities include entertainments, rides, races and other competitions, and festival food. Fairs have been held to honor Illinois agriculture and culture since 1853.

Motor fuel – price spike
Price of gasoline-based motor fuels spike in greater Chicago area. Gasoline-based motor fuel prices have once again risen above $3.50/gallon in the greater Chicago area. Chicago, by federal law, is a so-called “non-attainment zone,” where persistent failure to meet Clean Air Act guidelines during summer months legally necessitates the local refining and sale of special, unique blends of motor fuel. Usage of these gasoline-based non-attainment zone motor fuels is supposed to reduce ozone air pollution in the areas where they are sold. However, their mandated use means that the Chicago area is continuously vulnerable to price spikes, because local filling stations are legally barred from responding to supply shortages by importing motor fuel from other locations within the U.S. The Chicago-area non-attainment zone consists of all or parts of ten counties south and southwest of Lake Michigan– eight in Illinois and two in Indiana.

The current non-attainment zone motor fuel price spike is attributed to a reduction in ongoing production at the Chicago-area BP plc refinery located in nearby Whiting, Indiana. The Chicago area’s largest refinery, the Whiting complex has suffered other production glitches in previous summer months. Diesel fuel is not affected by the federal ozone mandate, and the price of Chicago-area diesel fuel has not increased in line with prices for gasoline-based motor fuels.

State government – labor relations
Veto override vote in state Senate. The Governor’s veto of SB 1229, a bill providing for mandatory arbitration in certain cases of labor-management negotiations impasses, was subjected to an override vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate on Wednesday, August 19. The chamber overrode the Governor’s veto of the bill by a vote of 38-15-0, similar to the vote of 38-17-0 by which the bill had been approved by that chamber earlier this year. Governor Rauner continues to oppose SB 1229, and has pointed out that negotiations continue between his office and key State unions such as AFSCME.

Other representatives of organized labor, including a local within the Teamsters Union, have negotiated with Rauner’s office in what are mutually agreed to be stances of good faith and are reaching long-term labor agreements with the State that will prevent their workers’ participation in a strike or other labor action of uncertain legality.

Tire storage – Representative Reggie Phillips
House Republican is lead sponsor of new law to crack down on fly-by-night tire dumps. SB 1590 directs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to study any application for a permit to operate a storage site for the disposal of discarded motor vehicle tires. Representative Reginald Phillips was the lead sponsor of this Public Act (P.A. 99-396) in the House; it was signed into law on Tuesday, August 18.

SB 1590 will require the IEPA to look at the prospective owner or operator of a tire storage facility, and if this person has a history of repeated violations of the tire storage law, to deny a permit. Consumers of tires are required to pay a $2.50-per-tire user fee when a tire is sold, and this fee is supposed to cover the cost to the IEPA of regulating the waste-tire disposal stream and cleaning up past accumulations of disposed tires. Unregulated tire dumps often catch fire and generate significant quantities of sulphur and airborne particulates. Allowing the opening up of new unregulated tire dumps raises the possibility that this $2.50 fee may have to be increased in some future budget year. Denying a permit to these fly-by-night dumps, by contrast, will straighten out and reduce the flow of unregulated discarded tires and maintain the stability of the tire disposal system.

West Nile disease
First 2015 Illinois transmission to humans of virus, typically associated with summer, reported. A case of the mosquito-borne disease, diagnosed in Downstate’s St. Clair County, was reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH) on Wednesday, August 19. West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes as are malaria, yellow fever, and other dangerous illnesses. The mosquito type that carries these microorganisms is becoming acclimated to the Illinois climate, and mosquitoes can transmit West Nile in their bites. DPH recommends that Illinois residents and visitors use standard mosquito repellent and limit outdoor activities during mosquito-friendly dusk and nighttime hours.

West Nile has hit Illinois in previous summers. In 2014, state health officials reported 44 cases of West Nile virus in Illinois. In addition, other infections may have taken place that were not reported. In four of the 44 reported cases, the patient died.

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