WBEZ | Governor Pat Quinn http://www.wbez.org/tags/governor-pat-quinn Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Illinois delays are typical of legal marijuana programs http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-delays-are-typical-legal-marijuana-programs-111485 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/marijuana.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Uncertainty continues with Illinois&rsquo; medical marijuana pilot program, but a delay might be par for the course in this federally illegal industry.</p><p>In Evanston, city officials are hoping to get a medical marijuana dispensary at a long vacant retail space.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s part of a major redevelopment that occurred in the late &#39;90s, early 2000s which includes the Century Theater. Unfortunately, it&rsquo;s been vacant since it&rsquo;s opened,&rdquo; said Evanston Senior Economic Development Coordinator Paul Zalmezak.</p><p>The city was considering a coffee shop for this space, but it started getting several requests regarding medical marijuana businesses.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think there&rsquo;s a more unique use out there for us than this medical cannabis dispensary concept. It&rsquo;s new customers. It&rsquo;s a new source of tax revenue and it&rsquo;s a service that people really need,&rdquo; Zalmezak said.</p><p>Evanston issued letters of contingent lease approval with a number of dispensary applicants. The site could be the only municipally-owned property in the state used for medical marijuana, but for now, the city needs to sit tight.</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn left office without awarding licenses for dispensaries and cultivation centers, leaving the program at a standstill. Now, Gov. Bruce Rauner is conducting a full legal review of the process.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s left applicants like Brad Zerman in limbo.</p><p>&ldquo;If this drags on too long, there&rsquo;s really nothing preventing Paul [Zalmezak] and his team from moving forward with this coffee shop. You know, there&rsquo;s a lot of coffee in the area, but there&rsquo;s not a lot of cannabis,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Zerman&rsquo;s application for this Evanston location is ranked second according to the list left behind by Quinn&rsquo;s administration. He&rsquo;s ranked first and fourth in two other districts.</p><p>Unlike other applicants, Zerman&rsquo;s lucky he isn&rsquo;t losing money on rent or holding fees for a proposed dispensary site. The landlord for his Oak Park location ended up investing in his business, and he&rsquo;s reserved the storefront for Zerman. But it isn&rsquo;t guaranteed.</p><p>&ldquo;When we started the process, Oak Park, the shopping center&rsquo;s at North and Harlem Avenues. There were maybe three empty spaces when we started and now we&rsquo;re the only one. So there&rsquo;s a strong demand for that market over there,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Some applicants are also worried about losing investors, that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Marijuana is an already risky business even with guaranteed licenses.</p><p>&ldquo;If I was involved in one of these situations, I would be trying to get out of it. All bets are off. Who knows where it&rsquo;s going to end up,&rdquo; said Dooma Wendschuh, CEO of Ebbu, a Colorado cannabis company.</p><p>He says the delay will likely see the competition thin out, but that might be for the best.</p><p>&ldquo;Something that happens this early on in the game that&rsquo;s going to prevent you from seeing it all the way through, then you probably would&rsquo;ve gone out of business pretty early,&rdquo; Wendschuh said.</p><p>The pilot program is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2017. Wendschuh wonders if there&rsquo;s enough time for the program to be successful.</p><p>Still, Wendschuh says delays in getting the marijuana program off the ground is nothing unique to Illinois. There&rsquo;s a lot of hurdles trying to move something federally illegal into a political space. He says rules are always changing, even in Colorado where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.</p><p>&ldquo;The rule of thumb is that if the governing body doesn&rsquo;t give you a timeline upon which they will do something, it&rsquo;s pretty much a guarantee that it will take a very, very long time. Months, maybe a year,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />Zerman, who feels confident he&rsquo;ll get at least one dispensary license says he understands the need for a legal review.</p><p>&ldquo;If I was Gov. Rauner, I don&rsquo;t think I&rsquo;d do anything different right now because he doesn&rsquo;t really know anything about the process that went on since September with the prior administration,&rdquo; Zerman said.</p><p>Gov. Rauner says his administration will soon announce the conclusion of the review and how best to proceed.</p><p><em>Susie An is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/soosieon">@soosieon</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 02 Feb 2015 10:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-delays-are-typical-legal-marijuana-programs-111485 Labor unions celebrate judge's ruling against Illinois pension law http://www.wbez.org/news/labor-unions-celebrate-judges-ruling-against-illinois-pension-law-111148 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/springfield_0_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>An Illinois judge has ruled unconstitutional a controversial plan to reduce state employees&rsquo; retirement benefits.<br /><br />Labor groups sued the State of Illinois for passing a bill reducing their members&rsquo; pension benefits. The unions representing downstate and suburban teachers, university employees and most other state workers argued the state constitution says, specifically, that retirement benefits can&rsquo;t be diminished. On Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz agreed.</p><p>Belz quoted directly from the state constitution in his six-page decision, citing the passage that states retirement benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or repaired.&rdquo; He singled out components of the bill that narrowly passed the state legislature last year to explain why he was ruling against the state. For instance, the law changed cost-of-living increases certain employees receive in retirement, and put a cap on some employees&rsquo; pensionable salary.</p><p>&ldquo;The State of Illinois made a constitutionally protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits,&rdquo; Belz wrote in his decision. &ldquo;Under established and uncontroverted Illinois law, the State of Illinois cannot break this promise.&rdquo;</p><p>Labor unions representing employees who are in those retirement systems celebrated the decision.</p><p>&ldquo;The court granted us everything. The court saw it our way,&rdquo; said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. &ldquo;This is an unambiguous, unequivocal victory for the constitution and for working people.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Retirees who earned their modest security in retirement, they always paid their share. And they should not be punished for the failures of politicians,&rdquo; said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the We Are One Coalition, a group of labor unions.</p><p>Attorneys who defended the bill acknowledged that it reduced benefits, but argued it is needed to deal with a $105 billion unfunded pension liability. Studies have shown that massive debt tied to Illinois&rsquo; retirement payments is the worst of any state in the country.</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn, and those who supported the legislation, argue basic functions of state government are in danger if the pension law is found to be unconstitutional.</p><p>&ldquo;This historic pension reform law eliminates the state&rsquo;s unfunded liability and fully stabilizes the systems to ensure retirement security for employees who have faithfully contributed to them,&rdquo; Quinn said in a statement.</p><p>The Democratic governor was defeated in this month&rsquo;s election by Republican Bruce Rauner, who also released a statement asking the state&rsquo;s Supreme Court to take up the case as soon as possible.</p><p>The office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is defending the law in court. Her office said Friday that it will ask the state Supreme Court to expedite an appeal &ldquo;given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state&rsquo;s fiscal condition.&rdquo;</p><p>Meantime, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton is considering a plan, in case the state Supreme Court agrees with Judge Belz and throws out the law. Cullerton had pushed for a separate pension proposal that would ask employees to choose between earning state-funded health care coverage in retirement or receiving pay increases.</p><p>&ldquo;If they throw it out, we&rsquo;ll be back to square one and then we go back again to the alternative that already passed the Senate and when that passes, save some money that we can then pass on to education funding and whatever else we want to utilize that savings,&rdquo; Cullerton said Friday.</p><p>Legislators would have to re-visit Cullerton&rsquo;s proposal in a new General Assembly, after January&rsquo;s inauguration.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/labor-unions-celebrate-judges-ruling-against-illinois-pension-law-111148 A last chance for a better life http://www.wbez.org/news/science/last-chance-better-life-110781 <p><p>On a warm summer morning, Julia is seated in her kitchen, watching a small flatscreen on a kitchen counter. Julia, 10, smiled as she watched pictures of her family. Meanwhile, her mother Lisa, rummaged through a black and white square bag loaded with pills and bottles. It&rsquo;s Julia&rsquo;s morning routine. A pill crusher is used to grind up the medication. According to Lisa, 11 pills are needed in the morning, more at night.</p><p>Lisa and Julia are using pseudonyms for privacy reasons.</p><p>According to Lisa, Julia is thin for her age because she never has an appetite, something Lisa claimed is a side effect from all the medication. But Lisa said the pills do very little to get her daughter through the day.</p><p>An hour after she took her medicine, Julia wanted to go to a friend&rsquo;s house to see a dog named Wrigley. But she didn&rsquo;t walk to the door to leave. Julia sat frozen on the couch and just stared straight ahead. All of a sudden, Julia screamed &ldquo;Wrigley! I want to see Wrigley!&rdquo;</p><p>She did this for about 10 minutes straight. As she screamed, she leaned forward as her arms and legs stiffened. It was as if she was restrained by some kind of invisible rope.</p><p>Lisa said her daughter&rsquo;s epilepsy isn&rsquo;t the kind which manifests in convulsions. Julia&rsquo;s epilepsy renders her almost motionless. She cried with no tears. This type of seizure can happen at least once a day, sometimes more often at school.</p><p>&ldquo;When we have bad days, they&rsquo;re very bad. I can be crying, the caregiver is crying,&rdquo; said Lisa with a sigh. &ldquo;Because we can&rsquo;t do anything to help her.&rdquo;</p><p>Julia has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. While there&rsquo;s no cure for either, epilepsy is one of 40 illnesses approved in Illinois to be treated with medical marijuana.</p><p>To get it for her daughter, Lisa will have to fill out a nine-page application, including a form signed by Lisa&rsquo;s doctor saying she&rsquo;d benefit from using the drug. Because Julia is a minor, Lisa will get fingerprinted. Many have said that requirement likens them to criminals. I asked Lisa if she&rsquo;s ever thought about doing what hundreds of families have done: moving to Colorado for a special strain of marijuana many say reduces seizures.</p><p>&ldquo;On bad days, yes, I have,&rdquo; said Lisa. &ldquo;But my help is here. My family is here.&rdquo;</p><p>If Julia can use medical marijuana, Lisa hopes she can get it at one of the state&rsquo;s 60 licensed dispensaries in or near her home in McHenry County. Lisa is prepared to get a second opinion if her daughter&rsquo;s doctor doesn&rsquo;t approve.</p><p>&ldquo;Because I would like to see all these medicines diminish and cut back. I mean they have horrible side effects.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Epilepsy2_140909_yp.jpg" style="height: 188px; width: 250px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="“Julia” holds a picture of herself the day she was born. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, epilepsy a year later. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" />Everything from rashes to liver damage and even blindness. For Lisa, and countless others, what some in the medical profession think about using pot to treat serious illnesses has little influence on their decision. The American Medical Association discourages the use of cannabis. But the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago has come out in support of using medical marijuana. There are approximately 130,000 people in the Chicago metro area who suffer from epilepsy. Around 30,000 of them are children.</p><p>&ldquo;There are members of our professional advisory board that kind of felt along the same way that some parents felt (that) trying CBD oil could, in no event, be any worse than what they&rsquo;re already going through,&rdquo; said Kurt Florian, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. &ldquo;Given the successes we&rsquo;ve been hearing about, it would make sense to give it a try.&rdquo;</p><p>The strain of marijuana known to reduce seizures is called Charlotte&rsquo;s Web. It&rsquo;s named after a Colorado girl whose family fought to use it. It has little to no THC levels, the hallucinogenic property in marijuana. But it&rsquo;s high in cannabidiol or CBDs, the component said to reduce the number of seizures.</p><p>&ldquo;We had very motivated parents who had kids having anywhere from 100 to 1,000 seizures a day,&rdquo; Florian said. &ldquo;And witnessing the devastating impact those seizures were having on their children, we&rsquo;d love to see marijuana, CBD oil available in Illinois.&rdquo;</p><p>If the American Medical Association is opposed to it and the Epilepsy Foundation supports for it, an organization representing more than 140 thousand doctors, is somewhere in the middle. The American College of Physicians doesn&rsquo;t advocate using outright. But it wants more research to see whether it helps. Dr. David Fleming is the organization&rsquo;s president.</p><p>&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re attempting to garner is a better handle on that data,&rdquo; said Fleming. &ldquo;A handle on the science. So that we can advise our patients more effectively.&rdquo;</p><p>To do that, the federal government has to declassify the drug, now listed as a Schedule 1. That&rsquo;s in the same category as heroin. That restructuring could be more than a decade away. But some people aren&rsquo;t waiting years to get medical marijuana. Some aren&rsquo;t even waiting until next spring when it would be available in Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;Mike&rdquo; from Rockford has traveled to Colorado a few times to get the prized CBD oil for his son, who suffers from autism and epilepsy. Mike doesn&rsquo;t want his real name used. He knows he broke a few laws that carry prison time if caught. When I bring up the consequences, he shrugged his shoulders, unfazed.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not breaking any laws so that we can enrich ourselves,&rdquo; said Mike. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not harmful to nobody if it&rsquo;s going to help him.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ Reporter/anchor Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a>&nbsp;&amp; <a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/106564114685277342468/posts/p/pub">Google+</a>&nbsp;</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Sep 2014 07:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/last-chance-better-life-110781 Quinn signs Chicago pension bill as Emanuel backs off property tax hike http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-signs-chicago-pension-bill-emanuel-backs-property-tax-hike-110306 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Pat-Quinn-AP-Seth-Perlman-(1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated at 5:15 p.m.</em></p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a controversial overhaul of two Chicago pension systems into law on Monday, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed he wouldn&#39;t raise property taxes for at least a year to pay for the pension changes.</p><p>Those changes, which were pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and approved by state lawmakers in April, would scale back retirement benefits and requite City Hall to pump more money into the troubled pension funds for laborers and municipal workers. The municipal fund is projected to have only 37 percent of the money it will need in the future, while fund for laborers will have just over half the money it will need.</p><p>To bolster the two ailing pension funds, Emanuel had been pushing to raise Chicago property taxes by $50 million a year, netting the city $750 million dollars in new revenue over a five-year phase-in period. Emanuel backed off that plan after Quinn signed the bill on Monday.</p><p>In a statement released after Monday&#39;s bill signing, Quinn reiterated his disdain for that approach.</p><p>&quot;I strongly urge the Mayor and City Council to follow our lead and identify a comprehensive, balanced solution to Chicago&#39;s pension crisis,&quot; Quinn wrote, referring to a recent overhaul of the state&#39;s pension systems. &quot;Chicago&#39;s finances can and should be set on the track to long-term stability in a way that does not hit homeowners the hardest.&quot;</p><p>In a phone interview with WBEZ minutes after the governor&#39;s office announced he&#39;d signed the bill, Emanuel suggested the city could raise its monthly telephone tax to free up more money for pensions.</p><p>&quot;It gives us the opportunity now to take property taxes off the table for the first year,&quot; Emanuel said.</p><p>On Friday, Quinn signed a law that will allow Chicago to increase its monthly telephone tax from the current $2.50 to $3.90, which some speculated could be used to pay for pensions. The new revenue must fund the city&#39;s 911 call system, but a hike would also make more money available for the higher city pension contributions required by the new law.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re gonna find a lot of efficiences and savings,&quot; Emanuel said. &quot;We now have a year to see alternatives, and we have the breathing room now to do that, which we secured.&quot;</p><p>The mayor would not say how he&#39;d pay for higher pension costs after next year, nor did he outline any fix for the ailing pension funds for police, firefighters and Chicago teachers. But the new tack relieves him of having to convince aldermen to raise property taxes, just months before the citywide elections in February 2015. It also gets Quinn out of a political pickle.</p><p>Easing the property tax burden on Illinoisans has been a pillar of the governor&rsquo;s 2015 state budget proposal. Signing the bill would have opened up the governor to more attacks from his Republican gubernatorial challenger, Bruce Rauner, who <a href="http://politics.suntimes.com/article/chicago/robo-calls-raise-rauner-rahm-rift/tue-04222014-613pm">has already argued</a> that Quinn would be paving the way for a tax increase with his signature.</p><p>The mayor&#39;s administration says the pension bill signed Monday would solve about half of Chicago&rsquo;s roughly $20 billion public pension problem, largely by cutting back benefits for current and future retirees. But it could take decades for those penison funds to become healthy again.</p><p>More than 22,000 retirees would lose their 3 percent compounding annual benefit increase. Instead, retirees would see their pension checks increase at a flat 3 percent or half the rate of inflation, whichever is less. And all but the poorest workers would receive no increase at all in 2017, 2019 and 2025.</p><p>That means, under the bill&rsquo;s provisions, a retiree with a $35,500 annual pension would see their benefit grow to nearly $40,000 by 2025, according to a WBEZ analysis. But under the current system, their pension would be about $49,000 by that time.</p><p>More than 34,000 current city workers would have to pay more into the pension systems, but get less out of it once they retire. By 2019, workers would be paying 11 percent of each paycheck toward retirement, compared to the current 8.5 percent. That contribution rate would drop to 9.75 percent once the pension funds are healthy, which could take decades.</p><p>City Hall would also pay more. The bill would finally do away with the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/experts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329">anachronistic funding formula</a> Chicago has used for decades to calculate its annual pension contributions, which is a primary cause of the current underfunding crisis. And if future politicians try to skimp on payments, the pension funds will be empowered to take City Hall to court, while the state could begin intercepting the city&rsquo;s share of state money.</p><p>Meanwhile, a coalition of powerful city workers&#39; unions released a statement late Monday slamming the governor&#39;s action because they believe the bill violates a part of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/con13.htm">Illinois Constitution</a>&nbsp;that says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>&quot;Unfortunately, some elected officials have chosen to ignore the constitution...opting instead to slash the retirement life savings of our city&#39;s public health professionals, teachers&#39; aides, librarians, cafeteria workers, and other public employees and retirees,&quot; the statement reads. &quot;The Mayor&#39;s plan is unfair and unconstitutional, and our unions intend to seek justice and will be preparing to file suit.&quot;</p><p>Gov. Quinn has talked about the Chicago pension plan in the context of a tax system that he says allows municipalities and local governments to rely too much on property tax rates to pay their bills.</p><p>&ldquo;The property tax is not based on ability to pay,&rdquo; Quinn told an audience of civic and political leaders earlier this year. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re using a 19th century property tax system to fund the most important part of the 21st century: educating our students.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s Republican opponent in the November gubernatorial election, Bruce Rauner, has said he would veto the bill because of the calls for higher property taxes on Chicago residents. Rauner even went so far as to release automated phone calls, urging residents to call their state representative or senator to vote against the bill while it was being debated in Springfield.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe"><em>Alex Keefe</em></a><em> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics"><em>Twitter</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028"><em>Google+</em></a><em>.</em></p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him </em><a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold"><em>@tonyjarnold</em></a><em>.</em></p><p style="margin-left:.5in;">&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 09 Jun 2014 10:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-signs-chicago-pension-bill-emanuel-backs-property-tax-hike-110306 Manager of troubled Illinois anti-violence program now running similar agency http://www.wbez.org/news/manager-troubled-illinois-anti-violence-program-now-running-similar-agency-110147 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/irving and rahm.JPG" alt="" /><p><p><em>UPDATED at 5:22 p.m.</em></p><p>The head of a troubled state-managed anti-violence agency is now running a similar public-private partnership in Chicago.</p><p><a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.getinchicago.org%2F&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEm3NK0EJtz5koyM5O9a8ZBoPwdMA">Get In Chicago</a> is a $50 million initiative designed to award grants to community groups around Chicago working to reduce violence. On Wednesday, while at a news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Get In Chicago announced 11 winners of grants totaling $1.9 million. Get In Chicago is a public-private partnership, funded by many of the area&rsquo;s largest corporations and run by Toni Irving, who has experience managing a similar program meant to combat violence.</p><p>In 2010, Irving worked for Gov. Pat Quinn and helped develop what became known as the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. That program is now the subject of multiple investigations by Illinois lawmakers, Cook County prosecutors and federal prosecutors.</p><p>An audit from February shows a long list of problems related to the management of the state money that funded the program. The audit found the state did not adequately monitor how the cash was being spent, and the money wasn&rsquo;t going to the most violent neighborhoods. Illinois Republicans have criticized the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative as a slush fund designed to support groups that could&rsquo;ve helped Gov. Pat Quinn win election during his heated 2010 campaign. Quinn has been dogged by reporters&rsquo; questions about the program in recent weeks, and says he ended the program after he saw some problems with it. That came after legislators raised questions about the program. Quinn initially designated nearly $45 million for the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative through a fund he controls. The program&rsquo;s total initial budget was $55 million.</p><p>Last year, a press release announcing Irving as the new head of Get In Chicago touts Irving&rsquo;s involvement with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative as a reason why she&rsquo;s qualified to lead Get In Chicago. She also served on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, conducting research on crime, race and social policy.</p><p>Irving wouldn&rsquo;t comment for this story Wednesday.</p><p>Thomas Wilson, the chairman of Northbrook-based Allstate Corporation, which is funding the anti-violence program, defends Irving. Wilson said there are many checks and balances in place to make sure the money from Get In Chicago is being well-spent.</p><p>&ldquo;This is really a state of the art process in terms of awarding money to help at-risk youth and Toni designed that process, she&rsquo;s run that process,&rdquo; Wilson said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m completely confident that will work well. And we&rsquo;re a large donor, so I should be focused on it.&rdquo;</p><p>Wilson said the money is going toward mentoring young people, engaging parents and therapy. He said the grant recipients have been thoroughly vetted and will have to commit to certain progress markers evaluated by the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Crime Lab.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re trying to do measurement-based social philanthropy as opposed to just funding good activity programs,&rdquo; Wilson said.</p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at a separate news conference Wednesday, was asked about the timing of Get In Chicago&rsquo;s grant distribution - but not about scrutiny surrounding Irving. Emanuel said Get In Chicago is planning on raising $10 million for each of the next four years, which would go beyond his re-election campaign next year.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re doing it only one year and around the campaign season, I understand why people would get cynical,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;But given that it&rsquo;s also in the years that there is no campaign, but it&rsquo;s about safety, I would say then look at the consistency over the four year time.&rdquo;</p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-a512e35e-d848-da9f-7574-9961e3258063"><span style="font-size: 16px; font-family: Arial; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him </span><span style="text-decoration: underline; font-size: 16px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"><a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" style="text-decoration:none;">@tonyjarnold</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: 16px; font-style: italic; white-space: pre-wrap;">Clarification: Get In Chicago is a non-profit public-private partnership, not an agency of the City of Chicago. </span></p></p> Wed, 07 May 2014 13:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/manager-troubled-illinois-anti-violence-program-now-running-similar-agency-110147 Chicago teachers become students in Illinois politics http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-become-students-illinois-politics-110082 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/CTPF.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago teachers have been getting lessons in Illinois politics in recent weeks.</p><p>While state lawmakers have been away from Springfield for a short break, teachers in the city have been turning the tables. They&rsquo;ve been getting a lesson in history, civics and, separate from civics, politics.</p><p>A group of current and retired teachers sat for a three-hour tutorial on how their pension is funded, why it&#39;s now so underfunded and what they can do about it.</p><p>Lesson number one: start calling state lawmakers. After they figured out who the leaders in Springfield even are, Bukola Bello, the lobbyist in Springfield for the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, told the teachers which politicians they should be calling.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s an election year. Everyone gets that,&rdquo; Bello said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an election year and because you have certain pressures from the mayor, certain individuals need more education than others. Wink wink.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund is separate from the Chicago Teachers Union, although most union members get their retirement through it. And the pension fund is separate from the government, even though the public officials are the ones cutting the checks. That means the pension fund is stuck in the middle between the two sides that have been battling with each other about cutting retirement benefits.</p><p>During the training session, Bello kept reminding her students, the teachers, of this lesson in politics.</p><p>&ldquo;Legislators are our friends. Why are legislators our friends? Because ultimately we need something from them. We need their support. We need a vote. We need them to protect your pensions,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said Chicago teachers pensions are coming up on his lesson plan so the city&rsquo;s finances can be stabilized.</p><p>But Kevin Huber, who heads the pension fund, says something else should happen first. He&rsquo;s advocating for setting aside a tax levy so taxes go straight toward teacher&rsquo;s pensions and not to the board of education, which distributes the cash. He also said the Chicago Board of Education should contribute to the pension fund monthly, not annually.</p><p>Huber said he&rsquo;s training teachers how to talk to their lawmakers because they mean more to representatives than he does.<br />&ldquo;When we get the actual voters, they&rsquo;re more receptive,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Again, I can get meetings with all these people and I do, but they care about the vote.&rdquo;</p><p>Last year, the governor and state lawmakers approved changes to state employees&rsquo; retirement benefits to save the government money, including suburban and downstate teachers. Unions representing those workers have sued over the plan, saying it hurts employees so much, it&rsquo;s unconstitutional. The lawsuit is still in court.</p><p>Dick Ingram, who runs the Teachers Retirement System for those teachers, said while those bills were being negotiated, he had to stay out of the back-and-forth between the unions and the lawmakers and just make sure money was still coming into the system.</p><p>&ldquo;We were gonna go broke unless there were changes made,&rdquo; Ingram said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not in the business of suggesting what those changes might be, but we can certainly help explain what the impact of proposed legislation would be.&rdquo;</p><p>Meantime, Debra McGhee, who sat through the three-hour training program at the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and is retired from Bouchet International Academy in Chicago&rsquo;s South Shore neighborhood, was ready to tell her story to her representative.</p><p>&ldquo;We worked for this. This is ours and now you&rsquo;re talking about taking it away. We contributed (to) this. We didn&rsquo;t miss a payment,&rdquo; McGhee said. &ldquo;But you guys skipped out on where you&rsquo;re supposed to be. So now we&rsquo;re worried and we have to do something to try to put this back intact.&rdquo;</p><p>McGhee said she&rsquo;s nervous she&rsquo;ll be retiring at the poverty line because of benefit cuts. Her training session came as pension funds representing Chicago teachers, firefighters and police officers wait and see whether Gov. Pat Quinn signs the pension bills sitting on his desk affecting other groups of Chicago city workers. Quinn has not said whether he will sign that legislation into law, but he&rsquo;s been critical of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel saying he&rsquo;d have to raise property taxes in the city to help pay for pensions.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 28 Apr 2014 07:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-become-students-illinois-politics-110082 Quinn searching nationwide for new DCFS chief http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-searching-nationwide-new-dcfs-chief-109790 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Arthur Bishop from Sun-Times.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn is doing a national search for the next chief of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in the wake of the current director resigning after only a month on the job, the governor&rsquo;s office said Thursday.</p><p>Arthur Bishop, 61, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/dcfs-chief-resigns-after-investigation-his-past-109780">submitted his resignation letter Wednesday</a> following Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reports that revealed <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-dcfs-boss-pleaded-guilty-stealing-social-service-agencys-clients-109715">Bishop had a theft conviction and paternity case in his past</a>. The resignation was announced shortly after the news organizations had posted a story in which a daughter, Erica Bishop, 27, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/daughter-dcfs-chief-says-he-ignored-her-109778">questioned how Bishop could lead DCFS given that he&rsquo;d shunned her for her entire life</a> &mdash; even after DNA testing proved she was his daughter nearly 11 years ago, she said.</p><p>Quinn had picked Arthur Bishop, who formerly headed the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, to bring stability to an agency beset by financial scandal in 2011 and, more recently, furor over the abuse-and-neglect deaths of dozens of children who&rsquo;d had contact with the agency before they died.</p><p>DCFS has had four different chiefs since the start of November. Richard Calica, appointed in the wake of the 2011 contracting mess, resigned that month as he battled cancer. He died in December.</p><p>Denise Gonzales, Calica&rsquo;s chief of staff, was interim director before Bishop&rsquo;s appointment last month.</p><p>The new acting director is attorney and social worker Bobbie M. Gregg, who has worked at DCFS for about a year. Gregg, 57, is now deputy director of the agency&rsquo;s Bureau of Operations. Her appointment as interim director is to expire within 60 days.</p><p>Two key lawmakers called on Quinn to do a national search Thursday. Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said such a search had already been launched.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had a rotating door, unfortunately, in the last several months in this department. So it&rsquo;s been hard for any leadership to gain traction,&rdquo; said state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Issues Relating to DCFS. &ldquo;I would encourage the governor to look within the state and outside the state for a director who brings some innovation along with the experience&rdquo; to run the agency.</p><p>State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, who chairs the House Appropriations-Human Resources Committee, said it&rsquo;s important that Quinn&rsquo;s next pick for DCFS boss be given a chance to run the agency long-term &mdash; regardless of whether Quinn loses the November election to a Republican.<br />&ldquo;The right person would be the right person &mdash; whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Whig or a Tory,&rdquo; Harris said.</p><p>The next director, Harris said, also should be prepared to run the agency on a tighter budget, given an anticipated drop in state revenues next year.<br />&ldquo;The safety net for these kids is going to become immensely frayed,&rdquo; he said, noting DCFS needs &ldquo;somebody who can steady the ship immediately.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Fusco and Frank Main are Chicago Sun-Times staff reporters. Tony Arnold is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 28 Feb 2014 10:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-searching-nationwide-new-dcfs-chief-109790 Teachers union president vows to fight cuts to pensions http://www.wbez.org/news/teachers-union-president-vows-fight-cuts-pensions-109618 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/karenlewis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-4f4111df-eab0-88bc-9e92-a95991dd6897">The head of the Chicago Teachers Union on Friday said she will not accept cuts to retired teachers&rsquo; benefits as a way to ease the district&rsquo;s pension crisis; though she did detail some ideas for easing a funding shortfall of at least $8 billion.</p><p>CTU President Karen Lewis said she was &ldquo;horrified&rdquo; by the controversial overhaul of state worker pensions that became law in December. That law, which scales back benefits for retirees and increases retirement ages for younger workers, has been discussed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s administration as a possible template for the ailing Chicago Teachers&rsquo; Pension Fund.</p><p>&ldquo;All right, you can cut pensions,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;Then what happens to those people? So this is not just about a spreadsheet piece, it&rsquo;s [about] what actually happens to the people.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago is facing two big challenges with its teachers&rsquo; pension fund: a state-mandated $400-million spike in contributions next year and a system that is critically underfunded. The underfunding is due, in large part, to a decade-long contribution holiday - when Chicago Public Schools paid nothing toward its teachers&rsquo; pensions - that was followed by a few years of reduced payments.</p><p>In an interview with WBEZ on Friday, Lewis said simply delaying the payments is no longer an option. She suggested that CPS needs to reprioritize its budget in order to meet its required $600 million pension contribution next year, pointing to a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-approves-seven-new-charter-schools-109558" target="_blank">recent decision</a> by CPS&rsquo; board to approve several new charter schools.</p><p>&ldquo;You do have the money,&rdquo; Lewis said of the district. &ldquo;You have to choose to use it. It&rsquo;s a difference between not having the money, [and] having it and not wanting to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis declined to offer a specific plan for righting the Chicago Teachers&rsquo; Pension Fund, which currently has <a href="http://www.ctpf.org/AnnualReports/cafr2012.pdf" target="_blank">less than half</a> the money it needs to fulfill its long-term obligations. But she did hint at some things she wants to see in a final proposal, which would need approval from state lawmakers.</p><p>Lewis called for a restoration of the designated property tax line item that would exclusively fund Chicago teacher pensions. That&rsquo;s how the system was funded before 1995, when former Mayor Richard M. Daley gained authority over the public schools and that property tax stream was diverted into the district&rsquo;s main bank account.</p><p>And while she said she opposed any changes in benefits for current retirees, Lewis did not rule out changing the benefits of teachers who are still on the job.</p><p>&ldquo;We could have conversations about that,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We could have significant conversations about that. But there are ways to not have to do that.&rdquo;</p><p>But currently, there aren&rsquo;t any conversations between the union and the Emanuel administration, according to Lewis.</p><p>&ldquo;We haven&rsquo;t been in negotiations for a while because the person who actually is in charge doesn&rsquo;t wanna be in negotiations,&rdquo; she said, referring to the mayor. &ldquo;He wants a bill.&rdquo;</p><p>The district&rsquo;s most recent offer included eliminating cost-of-living increases for retirees&rsquo; benefits and cutting the amount of money contributed to each teacher&rsquo;s pension by about a third, according to the union.</p><p>A CPS spokesman declined to talk specifics about the district&rsquo;s proposals.</p><p>&quot;For the last two years, the District has been working to reach an agreement with CTU on meaningful pension reform that protects the retirement security of our teachers while avoiding dramatic cuts to the classroom,&rdquo; said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. &ldquo;We have always been willing to sit down for discussions with the CTU.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, Emanuel budget spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said in an email Friday that the mayor meets regularly with state legislative leaders to discuss the city&rsquo;s agenda in Springfield, including pensions.</p><p>Emanuel and his allies in the state legislature have been emphasizing the need to fix Chicago&rsquo;s municipal pension crisis, now that state lawmakers finally passed a law addressing the state&rsquo;s massively underfunded pension systems. On top of the problem with its teachers pensions, City Hall also faces a crisis with its retirement funds for police, firefighters, laborers and municipal workers, which together, face their own nearly $19.5 billion funding shortfall.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe" target="_blank">Alex Keefe</a> is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>. Reporters <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">Becky Vevea</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">Tony Arnold</a> contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/teachers-union-president-vows-fight-cuts-pensions-109618 Unions file lawsuit over pension changes http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/unions-file-lawsuit-over-pension-changes-109588 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP92397679629.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">A dozen of Illinois&#39; most powerful public employees&rsquo; unions filed a lawsuit Tuesday, challenging the constitutionality of the controversial new state pension overhaul signed into law in December.</p><p dir="ltr">The plaintiff in the long-expected suit is the We Are One Illinois Coalition, which includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, among others.</p><p dir="ltr">In all, the organized labor groups say they represent 621,000 members.</p><p dir="ltr">At issue is the pension law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn last month. It aims to ease the financial impact of Illinois&rsquo; massive public pension shortfall by scaling back yearly benefit increases and raising retirement ages for younger workers.</p><p dir="ltr">In return, workers would pay slightly less toward their pensions, and advocates say their retirement plans will be more financially secure, even though the pension funds had been shorted by Springfield policy-makers for years.</p><p dir="ltr">But Tuesday&rsquo;s civil complaint argues the new law violates a part of the Illinois Constitution that says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo; It also contends that a state employee&rsquo;s pension is a contract, and that the legislation violates the state constitution&rsquo;s Contracts Clause that states no law &ldquo;impairing the obligation of contracts or making an irrevocable grant of special privileges or immunities, shall be passed.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The lawsuit goes on to blame current and previous lawmakers for the current state of finances facing Illinois.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The State chose to forgo funding its pension systems in amounts the State now claims were needed to fully meet the State&rsquo;s annuity obligations,&rdquo; the lawsuit reads. &ldquo;Now, the State expects the members of those systems to carry on their backs the burden of curing the State&rsquo;s longstanding misconduct.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Quinn&#39;s administration quickly defended the law on Tuesday.</p><p dir="ltr">&quot;The lawsuits come as no surprise,&quot; said Quinn&#39;s assistant budget director, Abdon Pallasch. &quot;We believe that pension reform is contstitutional and we will defend the interest of taxpayers.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">Tuesday&rsquo;s lawsuit comes on the heels of other similar lawsuits that the Illinois Attorney General&rsquo;s office has asked be consolidated into one case to be heard in Cook County. But the We Are One Illinois coalition filed its case in Sangamon County, home to Springfield, the state Capitol, and thousands of public workers.</p><p dir="ltr">The difference in location could prove significant in the outcome of the case. House Speaker Michael Madigan takes credit for negotiating the compromise and putting the needed votes on the bill for approval. Critics of the law express concerns about whether the suit could come before a Cook County judge who has connections to Madigan, who also serves as the chairman of the state&rsquo;s Democratic Party.</p><p dir="ltr">The case is expected to eventually be argued in front of the Illinois State Supreme Court.</p><p dir="ltr">Recent studies have shown the legislation may not save the state as much money as originally projected. Supporters have said the pension overhaul will save $160 billion over the next 30 years. That number may have been exaggerated, and a report from the University of Illinois projected Illinois will still have a $13 billion deficit 10 years from now even if the pension law takes full effect.</p></p> Tue, 28 Jan 2014 13:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/unions-file-lawsuit-over-pension-changes-109588 Arthur Bishop named new head of Illinois DCFS http://www.wbez.org/news/arthur-bishop-named-new-head-illinois-dcfs-109572 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/bishop.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois&rsquo; child welfare department has a new director.</p><p>Arthur Bishop has been in charge of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the agency that oversees the state&rsquo;s prisons for young people.</p><p>Now he&rsquo;ll run the Department of Children and Family Services, which is tasked with protecting children who are wards of the state and working with families who need help with their children.</p><p>In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn touts Bishop&rsquo;s long career working with families.</p><p>&ldquo;I am confident that he will carry out the mission of the department by making the safety and well-being of children across the state priority number one,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>Bishop worked for DCFS beginning in the 1990s before he became the director of the juvenile prisons in 2010. Quinn said that during Bishop&rsquo;s time at DJJ, the population of the youth prisons has dropped to below 900. In the years just prior, the youth prison population had been closer to 1,500.</p><p>Bishop succeeds Richard Calica, who had resigned from DCFS shortly before he died from an illness in December. Calica&rsquo;s chief-of-staff, Denise Gonzales, has been the acting director since Calica resigned.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 24 Jan 2014 16:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/arthur-bishop-named-new-head-illinois-dcfs-109572