Illinois News Network: Governor requests ILRB review; Rep. Sandack: Review could be good for taxpayers

http://ilnews.org/7288/governor-requests-ilrb-review-of-negotiations-rep-sandack-review-could-be-good-for-taxpayers-and-more-from-inn-radio/

By: Greg Bishop

January 15, 2016

Governor requests Illinois Labor Relations Board review of negotiations
Governor Bruce Rauner says the only agreement his team and AFSCME have been able to reach in the last 12 months is that they would submit their disputes to the Illinois Labor Relations Board. That’s the message the governor has for state employees as he announced he’s taking negotiations with the state’s largest public employees union to the next step. Another option, the governor writes, is for AFSCME to submit the administration’s proposed contract to union members for a vote.

AFSCME, however, disputes the governor’s position that contract talks have hit an impasse. It said in an email to members Friday morning the union remains committed to finding common ground. Both sides claim the other side is putting out misinformation about various proposals. The state and AFSCME have been operating under a tolling agreement since the contract expired last summer.

Rep. Sandack: ILRB review could be good for taxpayers
Lawmakers from opposing sides differ on the impacts to taxpayers from Illinois’ governor requesting review of contract negotiations from the state’s labor relations board.

While the governor’s office renewed its pledge to not lock out state employees, Democratic Representative Lou Lang says in a statement Governor Bruce Rauner wants to provoke a confrontation and disruption of state operations, something Lang says would mean the loss of vital services relied upon by millions of Illinoisans. However, Republican Representative Ron Sandack says taxpayers may actually benefit from the governor’s move.

“This, and other aspects of the cost of governing, needs to be looked at anew, with fresh eyes, to see if we can’t do better for taxpayers.”

Rep. Demmer: Possible impasse shouldn’t overshadow fiscal reality
Meanwhile other lawmakers say ideological differences between Illinois’ governor and the state’s largest public employee union shouldn’t discount the dire fiscal reality facing the state.

Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi says the latest back-and-forth between Governor Bruce Rauner and the AFSCME union over whether there’s an impasse shows both sides have dug in.

“It’s a thorny issue and — again — both sides are coming from very entrenched positions in terms of their ideological perspective about how this ought to proceed.”

Republican Representative Tom Demmer agrees there are ideological differences but they can’t lose site of the state’s financial crisis.

“There’s also just the reality of the current situation the state’s in. The great deal of uncertainty around that is has to be complicating negotiations quite a bit.”

Per a tolling agreement, Governor Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to review the current state of negotiations and declare if there’s an impasse, a process the governor’s office says could take months. AFSCME says they’re still willing to negotiate a new contract to replace one that expired more than 6 months ago.

Lawmakers talk about amending constitution to fix pension crisis
With taxpayers being on the hook for nearly $113 billion, one idea is to change the state’s constitution to address the problem moving forward.

Republican Representative Tom Morrison says there could be an amendment to the constitution that would allow for already earned benefits to be kept in place but to amend any future benefits moving forward.

“With the state Supreme Court striking down Senate Bill 1 it looks like amending the state’s constitution is the way to go. It’s just to clarify that we’re not trying to take away benefits that have been earned up to this point. We need to make sure that when that individual reaches retirement age that they get a defined benefit based on those credits. But for future work we should be able to make an amendment to their retirement plan.”

Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz says there could also be a constitutional amendment proposed to remove the pension protection clause altogether, but that may not solve the overarching question.

“Because other states that have no constitutional protection in their state constitution tried to do the kinds of things we tried to do with Senate Bill 1 and they’ve been struck down because of the federal contracts clause. Whatever avenue you take you’re still going to face a legal challenge. I don’t think there’s anyway around that.”

Any proposed amendment to address the growing unfunded liability for public sector pensions requires three-fifths approval from voters.

Secretary of State owes millions across state, loses secure money transport vendor
The Illinois Secretary of State’s office owes millions of dollars in utilities and rent across the state because of the budget impasse.

Secretary of state Press Secretary Dave Druker (rhymes with trucker) says they immediately started paying some bills when the legislature and governor approved $10 million, but the office
still owes Springfield’s city owned utility $3.7 million. There’s other money they owe elsewhere.

“Around the state we owe $4 million yet in leases and utilities and we’ve reached the point where we’ve made some inroads on that but there’s still a little bit of money we owe on that too. It increases each month. We paid them for the first three months of the fiscal year.”

The state is now nearly seven months into the fiscal year without a balanced budget.

Meanwhile Illinois Secretary of State Police are doing the job a private vendor was doing, but don’t expect that to save taxpayers money.

Druker says they lost the vendor that would transport money from drivers’ facilities around the state to secure locations.

“The firm that would pick up the money at the facilities, they stopped doing work for us because they weren’t getting paid — Garda — and they have been paid and we’re negotiating with them to see if they’ll come back.”

Druker says having the Secretary of State Police pick up the money isn’t a cost savings for taxpayers.

“Because they’re then being taken off of responsibilities that they have with their jobs.”

Druker says overtime may also play a factor in increased costs.

The Illinois News Network is an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute


 

 

Progress Illinois: State Lawmakers Launch Bipartisan House Caucus Focused On Millennial Issues

http://www.progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2016/01/15/state-lawmakers-launch-bipartisan-house-caucus-focused-millennial

By: Ellyn Fortino

January 15th, 2016

State Reps. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and other young legislators in the Illinois House are spearheading a new bipartisan caucus focused on addressing issues important to millennials. 

Demmer and Guzzardi are co-chairs of the Illinois Future Caucus, which launched Friday and so far includes 11 House members from both sides of the aisle.

"Despite having some differences about our values and how we think that things ought to go forward, we also have profound commonality," Guzzardi said of the new caucus. "We understand that the problems facing the next generation of Illinoisans are not being addressed by the previous generation of legislators."

The caucus, expected to hold its first official meeting in early February, plans to work on issues involving technology, innovation, higher education, criminal justice reform and other areas. More specifically, Demmer said he expects the caucus to find common ground on policies related to the sharing economy, facilitated by smartphones and the Internet.

"Part of the point of this caucus is that there is an opportunity" to "look for areas where you might cross over and might not have traditional partisan labels attached" to them, Demmer said. "A lot of the issues are not traditionally partisan when it comes to millennials."

Other caucus members include state Reps. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond), Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), Sonya Harper (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago), Art Turner (D-Chicago), Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield) and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside).

Creation of the caucus comes amid the ongoing state budget impasse, now in its seventh month. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders remain at odds over a spending plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which started July 1. 

At the center of the impasse is Rauner's pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" that he wants approved as part of the budgeting process. Democrats oppose Rauner's anti-union proposals, which, they say, should not be tied to passage of a budget. 

Given the partisan political atmosphere in Springfield, now is a good time to form the new caucus, according to Guzzardi.

"As a new and up-and-coming generation of legislators in this state, we have a responsibility to transcend the partisanship that has caused such hardship in this state and to build solutions to the challenges that are coming down the road for Illinois," he said. 

The lawmakers were optimistic about what the caucus can accomplish, despite the budget standoff.

"Even in the throes of these very difficult issues that our state is facing, I really believe that there is room for compromise and legislative achievement that is meaningful and addresses issues that are important to the people of the state," Guzzardi said. "I think we have an opportunity to get that done."

The Illinois Future Caucus plans to work with similar groups of young lawmakers in Congress and 11 other states. 

The caucus has the support of the Millennial Action Project (MAP), a national, nonpartisan organization working to mobilize "millennial policymakers to create post-partisan political cooperation," according to its website.

MAP's co-founder and president Steven Olikara joined Demmer and Guzzardi Friday morning in announcing the creation of the Illinois Future Caucus.

Illinois, Olikara said, is home to more than 3.5 million millennials, representing over 25 percent of the state's population. 

"It's extremely important that this generation has an organized and unified voice in the state Capitol," he said. "This is not about political uniformity. This is about political cooperation. This is about building relationships across party line. It's about building a culture where we can have constructive and quality debate, and I am so inspired by the leadership that we're seeing here."

Progress Illinois: No Budget Agreement In Sight As Lawmakers Gear Up For The New Legislative Session (UPDATED)

http://www.progressillinois.com/posts/content/2016/01/11/no-budget-agreement-sight-lawmakers-gear-new-legislative-session

Ellyn Fortino

January 11th, 2016

The state's 2016 legislative session begins this week amid the ongoing Illinois budget impasse, but House lawmakers are not due back to Springfield for another two weeks.

House members, who were initially set to reconvene this Wednesday, will return to Springfield on January 27, the day of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's State of the State address. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) pushed back his chamber's start date because the "workload was not there," according to his spokesman.

The Senate, however, returns Wednesday and has scheduled an Executive Appointments committee meeting that afternoon.

"That can't be a good sign for progress on solving the impasse," John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said of the House session's cancellation. "There's all kinds of negative impacts of the state not having a budget, and the longer this goes, the worse those impacts get. And so putting it off is just going to prolong the misery, it seems to me."

House lawmakers are sounding off on the schedule change, with state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield) saying she was "extremely disappointed in Speaker Madigan's decision to cancel" this week's session.

"Certainly not a good way to start off the new year by making the taxpayers wait even longer for the House to get back to work at the Capitol," she said in a statement over the weekend. "I believe I share the same sentiment with many of my colleagues that it's time to reach an agreement on a state budget, and the only way that can happen is when we come to work in Springfield."

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) noted that the legislature has been in a special overtime session since June in an effort to reach a budget agreement, and "we're still in an impasse."

"I look forward to getting started on the new legislative year," Guzzardi said, "but this impasse is only going to end when the governor decides to stop holding working people hostage and get to the negotiating table."

Illinois has been without a budget since July 1, the start of the 2016 fiscal year.

Democrats, who have supermajorities in both chambers, passed a budget in May. But Rauner vetoed most of the budget -- including all higher education appropriations -- citing its nearly $4 billion shortfall.

Rauner is trying to win items on his pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" through the budgeting process. The governor wants reforms such as workers' compensation changes, a property tax freeze and limits on collective bargaining before he considers new revenues.

Democrats, who argue that Rauner's reform items are non-budgetary, vehemently oppose the governor's proposals seeking to curb the power of unions. They want a budget that includes a combination of cuts and new revenue.

Most state services and programs are being funded during the budget standoff by a combination of laws, court orders or consent decrees.  

On Monday, Rauner said he plans to release a proposal detailing how to halt court-mandated state spending during the budget impasse. Exactly how the state could get out of such required spending is uncertain, however.

Rauner is also reflecting on his first year in office. In an op-ed published over the weekend, the governor cited several actions taken by his administration over the past 12 months. Among them, Rauner says his administration wiped out a "$1.6 billion deficit inherited from the previous administration" and "ensured record state funding for schools."

As the stalemate continues into its seventh month, Rauner is scheduled to deliver his budget address for the 2017 fiscal year on February 17.

Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said he would be surprised if the stalemate ended before Rauner's 2017 budget address. 

"They could come out tomorrow with a deal, but there is no evidence, and nobody I talk to seems to think that would probably happen," he said. "Anything's possible. It's also possible (the stalemate) might go on until the end of Rauner's term, but I don't think that's gonna happen either. I think (the state's finances) will be so bad by that time ... Nobody wants to see that happen."

But, during remarks Monday at the City Club of Chicago, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said there is a possibility the state budget stalemate could continue for years if Democrats do not break from what she says is the status quo approach to state government.

"While I hope it doesn't happen, I think it's possible," she said of a multiple-year budget standoff.

Meanwhile, in a more optimistic look at the Illinois budget battle, state Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) said, in an interview over the weekend with the Associated Press, any budget deal that is reached could include spending plans for both the current and 2017 fiscal years.

"I'm one of those folks who believes there can be a middle ground and that middle ground requires some compromise," Harris added. "And we have to get to a middle ground."

State Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) said Rauner's turnaround agenda should be separate from the budgeting process.

Democrats and Republicans "should be able to differ on collective bargaining and it not be a tenet of whether or not we pass a budget," Davis said. "It's an issue, but it shouldn't be the linchpin to the state completely falling apart."

"Republicans," he added, "have to be willing to stand up and say, 'OK, governor, I get it. You're trying to get something done, but we need funding for the state universities.' ... Unless that's a bipartisan conversation, then you're ultimately not going to get anywhere."

Mooney said a high-profile crisis of some sort, such as a state college or university shutting down, could force an end to the budget stalemate.

That being said, neither Rauner nor the legislative leaders appear to know how or when the impasse will end, Mooney stressed.

"We're all hanging right now to wait and see what they do," he said. 

While the legislature has been focused on the budget, other pressing matters have been put on the back burner, including a plan to tackle the state's $111 billion pension crisis.

"It's been hard to see other issues languishing," said state Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago).

Williams is particularly concerned about the financial challenges facing the Chicago Public Schools. CPS' 2016 budget depends on $480 million in pension savings from state government. Some 5,000 teachers could be laid off early this year if the district does not get the financial help it needs, CPS officials have warned.

"I don't know what it will take to fix CPS' budget this year, but I know we do have to fix it, not just in the short term, but over the long haul," Williams said. "However, even more so than all the other issues, it requires all the decision makers to be on board with finding a solution."

For his part, Rauner reiterated last week that he'd be willing to help out CPS financially, but only if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel advocates in support of his turnaround agenda items.

Williams said she "was shocked to hear" from Rauner "that level of disregard for the hundreds of thousands of students that are going to be impacted if we don't address the CPS budget crisis."

But non-Chicago lawmakers may not be quick to act on relief for CPS either, Davis said.

"I think until members see CPS exhaust all of their avenues, nothing is going to happen until then," he said. "I think that would still be the case even if we had a budget."

Guzzardi, meanwhile, stressed that there is "one solution" to the state's current budget problem.

"The state needs more revenue to pay its bills," Guzzardi said. "And the only question after that is who's gonna pay it?"

Guzzardi said he will be among the lawmakers putting pressure on leadership to ensure that "the answer to that question is the folks who can most afford to are going to be responsible for paying the vast majority of this."

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1 (1/12/16): The American Civil Liberties Union released the following statement in response to Rauner's announced plans to seek a way out of paying state services as mandated by consent decrees. The organization represents plaintiffs in five cases with mandated consent decrees.

"Governor Rauner should know that adherence to terms of a consent decrees is not a political option to be debated in the media," the ACLU's statement reads. "These agreements exist because the State violated the law - often over decades - in ways that impose significant harms to our clients and others in Illinois. If he possesses a magic wand to fix the challenges faced by children in the child welfare system, youth being incarcerated or people with disabilities after years of neglect by the State, we hope the Governor uses the magic soon. The reality is that the way to make getting out of consent decrees a 'big part of his agenda is to bring the State's dysfunctional systems in compliance with the law by improving the way the State provides services and supports to people who depend on its help.

"We look forward to engaging in that work, rather than debating ideological rhetoric."

Chicago Gazette: Fair Economy Illinois calls for Transaction Tax, holds protest

http://www.gazettechicago.com/index/2016/01/fair-economy-illinois-calls-for-transaction-tax-holds-protest/

By Steve Hudomiet

January 1st, 2016

Fair Economy Illinois, a statewide alliance that organizes people around issues that affect the common good, is demanding that State officials stop raising taxes on working people and generate revenue through a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) on trades at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, and the Chicago Board of Trade.

To put the demands into action, 150 activists from the Moral Mondays coalition, organized by Fair Economy Illinois, held a protest downtown recently. After a rally at the Thompson Center, the demonstrators shut down LaSalle Street and proceeded to the Board of Trade, where they blocked the entrances to the building. Police officers responded by arresting 41 demonstrators.

A bill proposing an FTT, also known as a “Robin Hood Tax” or “LaSalle Street Tax,” came before the legislature in Springfield but has not garnered much support among elected officials in the city or the state.

According to Fair Economy Illinois, an FTT as small as .002% of the average trade at the exchanges could raise $10 billion annually for Illinois. The FTT proposal comes at a time when Illinois has been without a budget since July, due to an impasse between Governor Bruce Rauner and the State Legislature. The clients of some State agencies, particularly those that provide social services, particularly feel the pinch from the budget cutbacks.

“You and I will soon pay 10.25% sales tax at the store,” said Toby Chow of Fair Economy Illinois. “Right now, big banks and corporations buying stocks and futures in Chicago don’t pay a cent.”

Tiny tax’ could mean billions

“A tiny sales tax amounting to less than .002% of the average contract value would scarcely be noticed by the big corporations that will pay it, but it would generate billions of dollars for vital resources that we need in our communities,” Chow said. “Imagine all the people we could put back to work by rehiring laid-off teachers, fixing our crumbling streets and public transit, and by providing the top quality education, infrastructure, healthcare, and social services we desperately need.”

Fair Economy Illinois is not the first group to call for an FTT. During the 2012 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) conference in Chicago, National Nurses United called for a tax on securities trades to pay for unmet societal needs. Tax proponents note its fund raising capabilities and point to the cutbacks in Staterun social assistance programs during the current budget stalemate as examples of how its funds could be used.

A majority of social assistance agencies have been forced to curtail services, cut back on employees, or even shut down.
“Rauner and his billionaire friends would have us believe the cuts are necessary,” Chow noted. “We’re told that there is no alternative. We are told that the State just does not have the money to fund vital social services, but we know that that is a lie.

“The wealthiest individuals in this State pay far less than their fair share in taxes, and two-thirds of corporations that do business in Illinois pay nothing, nothing in income tax to the state,” Chow added.

Commenting on what a permanent solution to the budget issue would be, State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-39th, Chicago) said, “We know what a fair solution to this crisis looks like. It looks like progressive revenues that ask the very wealthy and the biggest corporations to pay their fair share and fund the resources we need.”

“The only long-term solution to this crisis is making sure that we have a tax system that moves from being primarily for the wealthy and those who are well connected to one that prioritizes the middle class,” State Representative Christian Mitchell (D-26th, Chicago) said.

Both Guzzardi and Mitchell favor the FTT.

“Right now, too many working families in our state are struggling to get by, and government is making matters worse by balancing its budgets on the backs of these very same families,” Guzzardi added. “Meanwhile, the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations just keep getting richer, and pay less taxes than we do,” Guzzardi said. “That’s why I support a Financial Transaction Tax: we need share just like the rest of us.”

In an example of the way the tax could work, there could be a $1 fee for a transaction if it was for an agricultural item or a $2 fee if it was a transaction involving a non-agricultural item. These could be flat fees regardless of the amount of the stock. This results in higher tax rates for smaller trades and lower tax rates for bigger trades. So in a trade of $1,000, the tax rate would be 0.1% if it was agricultural or 0.2% if it was nonagricultural.

Fair Economy Illinois points out that most trades on these exchanges are much bigger than that example and that for most trades, the tax rate would be far less than what consumers pay in sales tax at the store.

Business opposition

Large businesses and traders on the Chicago exchanges feel less enthusiastic about the tax on market transactions. In addition to diminishing their profits to some extent, they oppose the tax because they believe it will reduce market trades, resulting in some shrinkage in the economy.

Some also fear the real cost of the tax eventually may be passed on to financial services consumers, such as pension and mutual funds, instead of the tax’s intended targets: large corporate and speculative traders. Also, financial markets could move, relocating to areas that do not have a transaction tax.

Dale Rosenthal, Clinical Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago, contends the tax’s effects could be destructive to the economy.

“By way of example, France and Italy enacted transaction taxes of 0.2% and 0.1% on their stock markets,” Rosenthal said. “Comparing them to the rest of Europe, which did not enact such taxes, our research and others show that France saw volume fall off 20%, and volatility increased by 18% in Italy. Trading costs increased slightly, and we suspect only slightly because we have heard reports of people avoiding the tax. Worst of all, stocks in these two countries are now worth 3.5% to 4% less than in the rest of Europe.

“Economics tells us that if we tax something, we get less of it,” Rosenthal continued. “Well, most academics and central bankers think we need more, not less, of markets like the ones we have in Chicago.

“This proposal misses one key fact. The possible effects that we found in our research are nasty; so nasty that when firms are faced with those costs, they will just move. This might seem unlikely, but New York City repealed a transaction tax because they saw a loss of jobs. Sweden tried such a tax only to see their bond market move to London,” Rosenthal said.

Steve Brown, media spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan, noted that the speaker has not taken a position on the FTT. Brown did say that the concern with the tax is the possibility of driving the exchanges out of Illinois, noting “it’s a mobility issue with the exchanges, and it would be easy for them to flip a switch” on their servers “and they could be gone.”

He added that Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), sponsor of an FTT bill, does not at this time have a majority of support for it in the Illinois House.

The Offices of Governor Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton did not respond to Gazette requests for comments.

More FTTs in Europe

Despite the potential negatives, 11 members of the European Union are scheduled to implement Financial Transaction Taxes in 2016.

Addressing the issue of exchanges leaving to flee taxation, Kristi Sanford, communications director for the Illinois and Indiana Regional Organizing Network and part of the Fair Economy Coalition said, “After getting their $77 million annual tax break from Springfield, the CME [Chicago Mercantile Exchange] has no incentive to leave.”

Supporters of the Financial Transaction Tax feel it is fair that the financial services sector contribute revenue for the public good because many view that sector as being responsible for the economic issues of 2008 and 2009. In addition, implementing the tax could reduce short term trading, which could lessen market volatility.

Fair Economy Illinois points out that most of those opposing the Financial Transaction Tax are big money corporations and interests, and that fact has made many politicians leery of supporting the idea. According to Fair Economy Illinois, three out of four North Side voters supported the tax in a ballot referendum.

“We are trying to unite people who are in favor of this tax and the revenue it can produce,” Chow said. “Those that support the idea are certainly a vast majority. We have researched broad economic issues” related to the effects of the tax “and there are myths out there that help perpetuate opposition to it,” Chow stated. “The revenue would be billions of dollars, and heath care, child welfare, education, and the State’s infrastructure would all benefit.”

To learn more about Fair Economy Illinois and the Financial Transaction Tax, go to www.faireconomyillinois.org/.

Ford County Record: Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau's 'adopted' legislator visits ethanol plant, two farms

http://www.paxtonrecord.net/news/agriculture/2015-12-23/ford-iroquois-farm-bureaus-adopted-legislator-visits-ethanol-plant-two-f

12/23/2015

GIBSON CITY — The Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Legislator Program made a stop at Gibson City’s One Earth Energy ethanol plant and two Ford County farms on Thursday.

The Adopt-A-Legislator Program matches legislators in a district containing few, if any, constituents interested in or knowledgeable about agriculture with a rural, agricultural-based county Farm Bureau.  The program allows Farm Bureau members to serve as a resource for the “adopted” legislator on agricultural issues and how proposed legislation will impact their farm operations. The program also gives Farm Bureau members the opportunity to learn more about the legislator’s district and urban issues.

The Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau first joined the program in 2003 by “adopting” state Rep. Will Guzzardi’s predecessor in the 39th House District — Toni Berrios.

Guzzardi, D-Chicago, was the “adopted” legislator present Thursday in Ford County. Guzzardi was joined by Farm Bureau members and other officials.

The group first took a tour of the ethanol plant, as coordinated by Christina Nourie, Illinois Farm Bureau Northeast legislative coordinator, and state Rep. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City.

Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau volunteers taking the tour were John Zumwalt of Sheldon, Bob Lindgren of rural Loda and Don Ulfers of Melvin. The One Earth Energy tour coordinator was Barb Kirkpatrick. 

Guzzardi serves on the House Renewable Energy and Sustainability Committee, so touring the ethanol plant was of interest to him.

After the tour, Guzzardi visited the Miller Swine Farm near Melvin, owned by Bob and Carla Miller. Guzzardi is interested in farmers’ markets, so the Millers’ retail meat business was a good place to go on a tour of the local area.

Guzzardi then toured the Bennett Farm in rural Gibson City, owned by Doug Bennett, brother of Tom Bennett.  As freshman legislators, Bennett and Guzzardi have visited with each other frequently, and Bennett has described his family farm numerous times.  It was important for Guzzardi to walk around the Bennett farm.

Guzzardi was elected to the Illinois House in 2014. He is in his late 20s, is a native of North Carolina, is a graduate of Brown University and is a former reporter for the Huffington Post. He sits on several House committees, including the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Committee

Future plans include Farm Bureau members visiting the 39th District and inviting Guzzardi back in the spring for a farm tour during planting season.

Progress Illinois: Progressives To Make Debt-Free College A Key 2016 Election Issue In Illinois, Other States

http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2015/12/08/progressives-seeking-make-debt-free-college-key-2016-election-issue

By: Ellyn Fortino

December 10th, 2015

Progressive lawmakers from 10 U.S. states, including Illinois, have rolled out a legislative campaign in support of debt-free college.

On a Monday conference call organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), 10 Democratic state legislators said they will introduce non-binding resolutions in their respective assemblies backing debt-free public higher education. The aim is to spark a larger conversation about debt-free college and make it a key 2016 election issue, according to the lawmakers.

Debt-free college resolutions will be introduced in the early primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina plus Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

"(Monday's) announcement is part of a larger progressive strategy for 2016, ensuring that the entire Democratic Party, from the top to the bottom of the ticket, is unified behind a big, bold economic populist agenda -- an agenda that motivates people to get to the polls, and it would be a game-changer in the lives of millions," said Kayla Wingbermuehle, PCCC's debt-free college campaign director.

Since all three 2016 Democratic presidential candidates support some type of debt-free college proposal, "the progressive strategy now is to go deep, unifying the Democratic Party around debt-free college and ensuring that there's an undeniable mandate in November of 2016," Wingbermuehle added.

Illinois State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) is looking to introduce a debt-free college resolution in the Illinois House in the coming weeks. 

"We're filing a resolution as a starting point to show the political power of this issue," said Guzzardi, one of at least three state legislators under the age of 30 involved with PCCC's debt-free college effort. 

"By advancing this debt-free college resolution," he added, "we Democrats will show the voters a clear contrast: that we're the party working to give all children a chance at a post-secondary education they can afford. It'll be a key issue in a tough election cycle."

Collectively, Americans are saddled with $1.3 trillion in student debt

"Student loan debt is preventing many families from having the ability to place a down payment on their first home," Iowa State Rep. Chris Hall (D-Sioux City) said on the call. "In effect, it's preventing them from access to the middle class."

Under a debt-free college system, students could graduate from public higher education institutions with zero debt. PCCC and Demos, a progressive public policy organization, have developed a national debt-free college blueprint with three key components: providing more federal aid to states, increasing college assistance for students and reducing higher education costs.

At the federal level, Democrat-backed resolutions in support of debt-free college are pending in the U.S. House and Senate. State lawmakers plan to model their resolutions after those federal measures.

"Part of getting this done long-term is showing the political power of this issue, and that's something that's gonna come into play very strongly here in Illinois, and I'm sure in many other states as well," Guzzardi said on the call.

He discussed the political climate in Illinois, where Democrats control the General Assembly and Republican Bruce Rauner occupies the governor's mansion.

"(Rauner) and his billionaire friends have created these Super PACs, and they're very invested in erasing the Democratic majority from the legislature in 2016. They're gonna spend millions and millions of dollars in legislative races," Guzzardi said. "And I think that this issue [of debt-free college] is gonna be a really critical focal point and a wedge that's gonna show voters whose side we're on." 

"When we show that the voters really care deeply about this [debt-free college] issue, that's gonna move legislators to want to get behind a bill to get it done," he added. 

 

Think Progress: One Governor’s Audacious, Unprecedented Effort To Use Personal Wealth To Re-Create The Legislature

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2015/06/10/3665526/illinois-wealthy-governor-breaking-new-ground-money-politics/

By Sacha Feinman

June 10, 2015

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) may be pushing campaign finance and political spending into uncharted waters as he asserts himself in the first major battle of his tenure. Hanging over the legislature’s otherwise ordinary political wrangling to avert a budget catastrophe is a mammoth war chest, which the state’s governor has begun to deploy in an effort to re-create the legislature into one more sympathetic to his controversial agenda.

Rauner is a very rich man who carries with him the backing of a still-wealthier network of friends and supporters. These networks, which helped him raise a record sum in his initial run for office, are now funneling millions into his campaign fund and a pair of super PACs. Experts are calling this development an unprecedented use of money in politics, while raising concerns that the state of Illinois is flirting with plutocracy.

“To have individuals first get elected and then govern with wealth is a new development in our system,” said Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and current president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.

“In the past, there were people like the Rockefellers that used their fortune for campaigns, but, as far as I know, once they were elected, they acted as other officials did and worked within the system rather than using their wealth to create a new political base. People like [former U.S. Senator] Jay Rockefeller didn’t then use their money to attempt to create a political machine beyond their government position. That’s new, and I don’t know what that says for the United States.”

Rauner himself has donated $250,000 to a super PAC aimed at perpetuating his agenda, and more than half of the tens of millions in his campaign fund comes from his personal coffers. In his most overt use of his money yet, he recently sent out contributions to every Republican legislator, totaling $400,000, just weeks before a crucial May 31 budget deadline.

In Rauner and his network, the United States may have the first-of-its-kind and ultimate incarnation of a major political coalition that wields the bulk of its might from the unencumbered spending permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision and subsequent ruling in SpeechNOW.org v FEC. Up until now, there has always been a thin — if sometimes superficial — curtain separating executive power from the profligate “independent expenditure” groups that have come into vogue in the last five years. While the Koch Brothers have built a complex and far-reaching political operation that promises to unleash nearly $1 billion in the lead-up to the 2016 election cycle, neither Charles nor David Koch actually occupies a seat of elected power. And although other governors and mayors have aligned themselves with — or even started — super PACs, those operations were either primarily dependent on funding from outside donors, or were concerned with furthering agendas beyond their direct regulatory purview. With Rauner, the money itself, unencumbered by limits, is now controlled by the head of the state government.

“There is a difference here, with this money, that is both qualitative as well as quantitative,” explains Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political studies and public affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield. The Democrats who have long-controlled the state have historically spent their money much closer to elections, he notes, and, “by doing it now, Rauner is trying influence state representatives and senators via a permanent campaign of spending.”

The Few, The Proud, The Wealthy

The wealth of Rauner and his network is being deployed through a variety of means. The most explicit is the governor’s campaign fund, which still retains about $20 million. Rauner contributed more than half of this himself — $10.5 million — after the November election, and it’s from this pool that the $400,000 in Republican legislative contributions originated. On top of this, a super PAC called “Turnaround Illinois” was recently formed by two of Rauner’s former campaign aideswith the goal of supporting “needed reforms”, and “to oppose those who stand in the way.”

That PAC reflects the name of the governor’s legislative agenda, “The Illinois Turnaround,” and Rauner is one of only two disclosed donors to the fund, contributing $250,000 to it at the end of April. He has also publicly embraced its mission, stating, “Since we won the election, there have been many donors, both in Illinois and around the United States, who believe strongly in the vision that we have for turning Illinois around and believe very strongly in our leadership and have offered to send financial support. So we’ve created that PAC to begin to receive those contributions.” Political observers predict that Turnaround Illinois will concentrate its energy and resources on the state’s Republicans, who currently hold roughly 38 percent of the seats in the General Assembly.

However, for any real change to take place, the governor will have to convince some members of the Democratic supermajority to cross the aisle and support his controversial proposals. Generating that goodwill appears to be the mission of Illinoisans for Growth and Opportunity(IllinoisGO). This super PAC is not explicitly connected to the governor, though it has been widely speculated as a Rauner “front group,” perhaps due to the fact that one of its three board memberstold the press in March that the organization’s purpose is, “to give [Rauner] support… It’s to try to make clear some of the things he’s doing.” The PAC’s stated purpose is to protect Democrats who make “difficult, yet responsible choices” from “special interest attacks.”

“IllinoisGo is aimed at people like me,” says Illinois Rep. Will Guzzardi (D). “It is intended to pose the threat of running and supporting more centrist, corporate Democrats who are comfortable with what the governor is trying to do.”

The network underwriting all of this activity is small in quantity, but large in net worth. Though there is some question as to whether or not Rauner himself technically qualifies as a billionaire (his tax returns for 2012 and 2013 claimed incomes of about $53.5 million and $60.8 million, respectively), there is no doubt that his backers easily clear the ten-figure hurdle.

Ken Griffin, 2014’s highest earning hedge fund managercontributed $8 million to Rauner’s campaign last December, seven weeks after the gubernatorial election was over and certified. Infamous real estate tycoon Sam Zell, whose disastrous 2007 purchase of the Tribune Company resulted in the cultural and financial bankruptcies of some the country’s most venerated media institutions, recently gave $4 million to Turnaround Illinois. On April 15, IllinoisGo, the Democratic leaning PAC, reported a $1 million contribution from Sam Zell’s wife, Helen.

By Rauner’s own admission, he is himself not a member of “the 1 percent” but rather of the “0.01 percent,” a descriptor that easily applies to the small clique of funders who helped put him in office and are now opening their checkbooks to further his agenda. Along with Zell and Griffin (who told the Chicago Tribune in 2012 that the ultra-wealthy have “an insufficient influence” on the political process), Rauner and the Illinois GOP’s most important allies include John Arnold (#714 on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people alive) and Richard Uihlein, (a major donor to Tea Party candidates throughout the United States who is sometimes referred to as the, “Koch of Illinois”).

According to Rich Miller of Capitol Fax, a widely read Illinois-focused political blog, all of this combines with the fact that “for the first time in memory, the Illinois Republican Party ended a year with more than twice as much cash on hand [as] Madigan’s Democratic Party of Illinois… That advantage is mostly due to contributions from Rauner himself.”

The “Madigan” referenced by Miller is Michael J. Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and the man primed to serve as Rauner’s arch-nemesis. That role is not a new one for a man who has, with the exception of a brief two-year period in the mid-1990s, occupied the speakership since 1983. Madigan is regularly hailed as the most powerful individual in Illinois state politics, unafraid to go to war with Republicans and Democrats alike; he famously led the charge in the 2009 impeachment of then-Governor Rod Blagojevich.

For almost the entirety of his tenure, Madigan’s coalition has enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in political representation and power. Some Republicans see Rauner and his fortune as a necessary corrective, offering a means by which they might cut through the Gordian Knot that is the Speaker’s “unmatched sway over state spending.”

“The Governor’s money may make some people uncomfortable,” offers Republican State SenatorJason Barickman, “but the reality is that the speaker has controlled millions of dollars that have found their way into races all over the state for years. Today there is a balance to that, a counter to that… the injection of a huge amount of pro-business cash changes the political landscape.”

The Checks Were In The Mail

Until recently, the Governor’s cash had remained in the bank, serving as a specter rather than an actual instrument. That changed two weeks ago when Rauner sent out $400,000 in checks to Republicans in the state legislature. The timing of the gesture did not seem arbitrary, as it came just before a superficial — if strategic – call by Speaker Madigan to vote on the governor’s so-called “right-to-work” proposal to create zones where workers could opt-out of unions. The proposal, which was designed to fail, did not attract a single “yes” vote. At Rauner’s request, several Republican lawmakers voted “present” rather than “no.”

Republican David Harris was one of seven representatives to abstain from voting on the bill altogether. “It wasn’t one the governor had proposed or talked about,” he tells ThinkProgress. “It was the speaker’s interpretation of what the governor thinks. It was separated out, but labor reform is part of an overall agenda for helping Illinois.”

With the two sides locked in a game of chicken, the Illinois political world is starting to make predictions on the value of the governor’s private spending spree.

“It’s unclear to me what impact, exactly, the money will have,” says one Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I’m not convinced that spending a ton of money on down ballot races is all that effective. For the most part, organizing on a local level can beat this money.”

On a national — or even state — level, unbridled super PAC spending offers a larger strategic impact. In those contests, there are simply too many doors to knock on, too many voters to connect with face-to-face. Whether the impact is as significant at the state level remains an open question. It’s not clear yet whether that impact can be as large at the state level.

“A race for state representative covers about one-and-a-half wards, which equates to about 90,000 – 100,000 people,” says the Democratic consultant. “And, of that population, only about 7,000 will actually vote. We know that the best way to win a voter is through one-on-one interaction, which we can do. That has a much greater impact on a voter than seeing some TV thing.”

Rich Miller isn’t quite so sure. “The legislative Democrats have been on top so long, and their strategies have worked so well, that they may not understand what a sophisticated and well-funded advertising strategy might do to them,” he writes. “We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose.”

Budget Breakdown

At the heart of the dispute between the governor and the General Assembly are differing financial plans that would close the gap on a deficit that may reach a staggering $12.7 billion by the end of fiscal year 2016. Predictably, the two sides are offering very different visions for the changes needed to avert catastrophe.

While Democratic leaders argue for tax increases concentrating on the state’s wealthiest residents, Rauner is so far standing firm on a vow to veto any proposed budget that doesn’t offer deep structural changes in the form of pension cuts and labor reforms.

As political contests go, there is nothing particularly unique about these competing philosophies and battle lines. However, the problems needing redress are extraordinarily egregious by any standard. Illinois’ bond grade is the worst in the country, and its coffers contain less than 40 percent of the assets needed to meet outstanding and impending pension obligations. The governor’s bid to curb the efficacy of unions is in line with a national effort by the GOP to systematically weaken one of the Democratic Party’s most important allies. It’s also playing out in a state where unions are both historically important and contemporaneously numerous, comprisingroughly 5.5 percent of the country’s total organized labor force.

While Rauner’s ascendency could ultimately help restore stability to the state’s beleaguered finances, the nature by which it has been accomplished makes some analysts nervous.

“Rauner is using money as a substitute for the power that, over the last half-century, came from party patronage and traditional fundraising, both of which were dominated by Democrats,” adds James D. Nowlan, a former state legislator who literally wrote the book on Illinois politics.

“What you have to understand is that Illinois is about 40 years behind the rest of the country when it comes to campaign finance reform,” explains David Melton, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “Prior to 2009, there were no contribution limits on the state and local level.”

The disastrous tenure of Rod Blagojevich was the precipitating cause that finally motivated the Illinois General Assembly to put a ceiling on some forms of political contributions. At the time, a number of state reformers were disappointed that the legislation hadn’t gone far enough, though what existed represented, at the very least, a start. Individual contributions to PACs were capped at $10,000 per campaign cycle. Unions and corporations were limited to $20,000 in giving, while other political action committee and candidate political committees topped out at $50,000 in giving (these numbers are adjusted for inflation biannually.) Furthermore, the legislature establishedthat, “no natural person, trust, partnership, committee, association, corporation, or other organization or group of persons forming a political action committee shall maintain or establish more than one political action committee.”

A mere three years later, this reform came undone. In Personal PAC v. McGuffage, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois threw out all limits on super PAC contributions, citing the Citizens United decision as precedent. Were those reforms still in effect, Rauner’s giant pile of money probably wouldn’t be nearly as large.

“What we have now is an arms race,” sighed Melton, “With candidates in each cycle upping the money to an order of magnitude ten times larger than what was in the past. The whole thing reflects the ever increasing effort by a few very wealthy people to exert an outsized political influence.”

Richard Hasen, the chancellor’s professor of law and political science at the University of California Irvine School of Law, is one of the foremost experts on campaign finance in the country, and he sees the developments in Illinois as being a part of a broader national trend in the post-Citizens United era. “Undoubtedly, there has been a broad psychological shift in which wealthy individuals are now more willing to spend their money openly in order to affect political outcomes,” he said.

Rauner’s attempt at mixing governance with money also has particular significance in Illinois, where both Blagojevich and his predecessor George Ryan (R) were sent to prison over corruption-related charges.

Elected executives commonly use whatever means are at their disposal to try and exert influence over the legislature. In Chicago, legendary Mayor Mayor Richard J. Daley oversaw an extensive patronage network that doled out jobs in exchange for political support. His son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, inherited that same network upon his own ascendency to mayor, struggling with it againand again during his 22 years in office.

When Rauner was still just a candidate, he was often lauded for the promise inherent in his money. “Because he is independently wealthy, Rauner will not be beholden to the special interests that have helped to corrupt Springfield,” wrote one endorsement. He was seen as a break from Illinois’ endemic corruption, though according to Redfield, this “fresh start” is, in fact, testing the limits of the governor’s ability to legislate from the executive branch. “What’s going on in Illinois raises the specter of linking big money with political office in ways that would threaten the idea of separation of power,” he tells ThinkProgress. “Rauner says that he doesn’t have to answer to anyone, but I’m not sure that’s a sentiment I want in a representative democracy.”

As the state’s budget war continues to rage, it’s unclear how successful the governor will be, exactly. “The money that he has access to and is giving allows him greater power than he’d have otherwise, certainly,” says James Nowlan. “We don’t know yet if this will result in a fundamental transformation. That’s what the battle is about.”

Progress Illinois: Federal Grant Stirs Debate Over Charter Schools In Illinois

http://www.progressillinois.com/posts/content/2015/11/20/federal-grant-stirs-debate-over-charter-school-expansion-illinois

Ellyn Fortino

November 20th, 2015

The debate over charters schools is heating up in Illinois. Advocates on both sides of the issue are speaking out about a five-year, $42 million federal grant Illinois won in September to support the creation of new public charter schools.

Illinoisans are sounding off on a competitive federal grant the state recently won to support charter school development in the state.

A coalition of Illinois parents, community groups, school board members and elected officials urged the administration Friday to reject the five-year, $42 million grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to Illinois in late September.

The grant, for which the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) applied in July, could result in the opening of 48 new charter schools in Illinois, including 24 in Chicago and 24 elsewhere in the state, coalition members said. They argued that an expansion of charter schools, which are independently run but receive public money, would take away resources from already cash-starved Illinois public schools. Coalition members also claimed ISBE's process to apply for the grant was "undemocratic" and lacked input from the public.

"Gov. Rauner and the State Board of Education quietly made top-down decisions for children and communities around the state of Illinois, decisions which will have a serious and profound impact on our education system," said Joy Clendenning with the Raise Your Hand education coalition, one of several organizations represented at today's press conference.

"There was no debate, no discussion, not even a letter to the legislature when the Illinois State Board of Education, ISBE, decided that Illinois should have 48 more charter schools, half for Chicago and half for the rest of the state," she added. "At a time when Illinois fails to fund their existing schools adequately and equitably, when many schools across the state are starving for resources, we're here to say no to this charter expansion that comes with federal dollars for partial startup, but nothing to run the schools once they're open."

Elected officials at the press conference included state Reps. LaShawn Ford, Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) as well as Chicago Ald. David Moore (17th) and Cook County Clerk David Orr.

"I'm standing here to demand that we reject this money, that we not mortgage the long-term future of our traditional public schools for the sake of startup costs for these charters," Guzzardi said. "I hope that we'll be able to have hearings on this issue in Springfield. I hope that the governor and Rev. Meeks and the other members of the State Board of Education will come before those hearings and discuss this issue with us. I urge every school board that is faced with a proposal for these new charters to reject them."

Representatives from the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago League of Women Voters, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Northern Illinois Jobs for Justice and other groups were also at the press conference.

ISBE issued a statement in response to critics of the grant:

ISBE could never do what is being suggested in this release. ISBE is required by law to offer the money - once awarded - to start-up charter schools through sub-grants that are decided based on a highly regulated and competitive state procurement process.
This procurement process is governed strictly by the state procurement code to ensure transparency and fairness. The program will help educate and empower school districts to consider the ways in which charter schools can support and encourage educational innovation, community partnerships and improved student outcomes.
It will build on ISBE's current initiatives to help all schools promote academic excellence by providing equitable options for all students to ultimately close the achievement gap.

The grant funds, according to ISBE, will be used for the planning, program design and initial implementation of charter schools. ISBE expects to release a request for proposals, or RFP, for sub-grants later this fall. 

Illinois was one of eight states to win the "State Educational Agency" grant from the federal government for charter school development, ISBE said. That fact demonstrates the strength of the charter movement in the state, said Jelani McEwen, director of external affairs at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

The grant will help "empower local communities to get active in the charter movement in a way that maybe didn't exist before," McEwen said. He explained that local community organizations interested in opening charter schools could get assistance with drafting their school proposals as part of the grant.

"If we're interested in seeing new models and new types of schools and constituencies being brought into this process, and to improve access for all people to this model, this grant is going to really empower them," McEwen said.

Wendy Katten with Raise Your Hand voiced concerns over potential uses of the grant money.

The grant, she said, could finance charter school promotional efforts to "convince communities who might have no opinion about charter schools to put them in their neighborhood."

"A lot of the money isn't even for anything in the school itself but more for the promotion and growth through individuals to do the work of selling the charter school movement," she said. 

Speaking generally about the grant, McEwen called it "unconscionable for anyone to oppose additional resources for public schools when those resources are needed the most."

"There is new money available to help communities all over this state open up schools that can meet the needs of people that work there, and I don't see how anyone can argue against that right now effectively," he said. 

Coalition members stressed the point that the federal grant provides only startup funding for charters, meaning school districts would be on the hook to pay for their operations once they open.

"Charters opening in communities that aren't requesting them would be distracting money, support for traditional schools in those communities, and if those local communities and school boards can't make that decision themselves for their own voters, then we just think it's a questionable policy," John Cusick with the Illinois Federation Teachers said at Friday's press conference. "It drains resources from traditional schools. What we've seen in Chicago is death by a thousand cuts to neighborhood schools, opening the charters, and they don't necessarily benefit from more resources either."

 

Chicago Sun-Times: Lawmakers, parents want state to reject $42M federal charter grant

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news-chicago/7/71/1119602/state-reject-42m-federal-charter-grants-hold-hearings-legislators-parents-say

By Lauren Fitzpatrick

November 20, 2015

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square) wants hearings in Springfield to look at why the state pursued a $42 million federal grant to help open dozens more charter schools. | Sun-Times file photo

Struggling to pay for the schools it has, Chicago can’t afford another 24 charter schools even if they come with startup money, a group of legislators, parents and activists said Friday.

The speakers, organized by the parent group Raise Your Hand, encouraged the Illinois State Board of Education to reject a $42 million federal grant that would pay for research, marketing and some startup costs for up to 48 more charters statewide, half of them in Chicago over the next five years.

Though the grant appears to be tens of millions of free money entering the financially troubled state, they warned that the money to run those schools, once opened, would come from local districts that already are crying broke.

“We can’t meet our obligations today,” said State Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Jefferson Park), whose district includes Prussing Elementary School, home to a recent carbon monoxide incident resulting from an ancient boiler and an engineer the school can only afford to keep on a part-time basis. “Those children could have died because we cannot properly fund the nuts and bolts, let alone to have college counselors and teachers. This is the wrong decisions to make. It was made in an authoritarian manner.”

Illinois was awarded the U.S. Department of Education grants in September; it was one of eight states to receive grants out of 28 states that applied. Illinois can spend up to 15 percent of the money on sharing best practices from existing charters, and plans to hire four staff members.

The state currently has about 145 charters, 134 of them in Chicago. CPS plans to close three and possibly a fourth in June, citing poor performance.

With the federal funding, “ISBE currently anticipates that 24 new charter schools will open outside of Chicago over the next five years, and an additional 24 new charter schools will open in Chicago over this time period,” the state board wrote in its grant application.

Department spokeswoman Laine Evans said in a statement Friday that “ISBE is required by law to offer the money — once awarded — to start-up charter schools” using the state’s procurement process. “The program will help educate and empower school districts to consider the ways in which charter schools can support and encourage educational innovation, community partnerships and improved student outcomes.”

She also said that the state education board can’t open any schools itself – that power lies with local districts and then the governor’s appointed Illinois Charter Commission, which can overturn denials by local districts. Rejecting the money isn’t likely, given Gov. Bruce Rauner’s longtime support of charters; he has a charter school named for him.

Some, including the League of Women Voters of Chicago and a board member of East Aurora District 131, argued that the financial impact of charters on existing schools should be evaluated before adding more.

“No such evaluation was done when the state requested money for more charters for Chicago and for the rest of the state, and obviously expected that by asking for the money, these charters would be created,” said Nancy Brandt, the League’s board of directors.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square) said he’s calling for hearings in Springfield to include legislators who’ve been excluded from the conversation.

“The governor and state board proceeded with an application for a grant for over $40 million to open charters schools that our communities simply don’t want,” he said.

As for how to convince anyone to turn down grant money, Guzzardi said: “We have to remind them it’s just for today.”

Several speakers took their arguments to the meeting of the state education board, where chairman James Meeks said the state has to find a way to treat district-run and charter schools the same.

“If not, that’s why you have parents here and people who are suggesting there’s some clandestine effort to increase charters and then not hold them to the same standard,” he said. The he referred back to 2013: “Anytime you close 50 schools at one time and then in the same year you only close two low-performing charter schools, that’s why we have this problem we have to now navigate.”

DNA Info: Will Guzzardi, or How to Fight the Chicago Machine and Win

https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150929/logan-square/will-guzzardi-or-how-fight-chicago-machine-win

By Paul Biasco

September 29, 2015

LOGAN SQUARE — The story of 26-year-old Will Guzzardi's unexpected victory in a state representative race could be headed to a big screen in the near future.

Two Chicago filmmakers from Logan Square caught wind of his race early on in December 2013 and are now winding down shooting for the upcoming documentary "The 39th."

The film will provide a behind-the-scenes look at Guzzardi's campaign and eventual win over the incumbent Rep. Toni Berrios, daughter of Joseph Berrios, once of the most powerful Democrats in Illinois.

"More importantly it's that kind of story of a grassroots campaign versus Illinois' establishment," said Laura Wilson, a co-director of the film.

Wilson, 30, and co-director Adam Wisneski, 31, both worked on the Obama campaign in 2012.

The filmmakers hope their documentary will prove to show a race that exemplifies what can be achieved by a grassroots, door-knocking campaign such as Guzzardi's.

"That was part of the appeal to me," Wilson said. "Having a microcosm of what we could do at bigger levels."

The two filmmakers began filming the race in December 2013 as Guzzardi was spending day after day knocking on doors during the winter, which was one of the coldest Chicago had ever had.

What the Wilson and Wisneski hope sets the documentary apart is the behind-the-scenes look at what it's like for a person to run for office.

They filmed Guzzardi at this home, in his office and on the trail.

They hope the film also shows the human side of running a race.

"As we got into it I think Will was such an open book," Wisneski said. "He was so honest about the process on camera, and I think that’s really rare to find in anyone, much less a politician or aspiring politician." 

At one point in the approximately 150 hours of footage, the film shows Guzzardi working out in his home after a presumably long day before putting on a tie.

"Every day when I'm knocking on doors I sort of just want to come home at 7 o'clock and there's no one who would really know if I did that or stop me," Guzzardi says in the clip.

While the filmmakers are still shooting to capture some of Guzzardi's time on the job, the film will focus mainly on the election.

Guzzardi won by a comfortable margin of 1,843 votes, about 60 percent of the vote, having lost to Berrios in 2012 by just 125 votes.

"We think that the film will have a lot of potential to inspire people to get involved in politics, to inspire young people to go out and volunteer and organize," Wilson said.

The filmmakers are working to whittle down their footage and are hoping to premiere the film in May 2016.

Neither filmmaker, who both live in Logan Square, knew Guzzardi before they decided to make their film. They said the goal was never to glorify him or the race.

They said they made repeated attempts to film with Berrios but were denied.

"We want to tell her side of the story, too, and tell a really nuanced story about what politics in Chicago looks like and what it takes to win and who the players are," Wilson said.

The filmmakers are in the midst of aKickstarter campaign to help raise money to cover the full costs of editing the documentary and help with additional costs to distribute the film and submit to festivals.

The campaign has raised $11,287, which already exceeds the $10,000 goal, with eight days to go.

The filmmakers think the finished product could have national appeal due to the growing progressive movement across the country.

"I think there’s this ground swell [the film] kind of taps into," Wilson said.

Edwardsville River Bender: House Returns to Springfield Today

http://www.riverbender.com/news/details/house-returns-to-springfield-today-190345.cfm

By John Gregory

September 24, 2015

The budget stalemate won't end when the House is in session today, but Democrats say there's a clear path to a compromise Gov. Bruce Rauner is simply refusing to take.
 
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) says credit rating agencies have made it clear what has to happen for the state to balance its budget for this fiscal year.
 
"We've got to make some cuts and we're going to have to raise some revenue. This should not be a mystery but the governor just wants to keep holding this stuff hostage to get his so-called 'turnaround agenda' done," Harris said.

So is there anything in the agenda Democrats can live with? State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago), one of the more progressive members of the House, mentions workers' compensation changes and tort reform as Rauner proposals he's at least open to discussing. Limits on collective bargaining are another matter.
 
"I think that anything undermines people's right to organize is going to be difficult for me (to support)," Guzzardi said.
 
Until Rauner takes what Democrats consider "anti-union" proposals off the table, an agreement seems highly unlikely.
 
"I think that if the governor decided that he wanted a solution to this problem, it would be done in the blink of an eye," Guzzardi said.
 
The governor's office continues to place the blame on the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.

"The governor has asked for structural reforms to free up resources to help the most vulnerable and to create jobs which will grow the economy. Unfortunately, the majority party continues to block the governor’s reforms to protect the political class at the expense of the most vulnerable," said governor's office spokeswoman Catherine Kelly.

 

Progress Illinois Homeless Illinois Youth Rally For A State Budget Solution

http://progressillinois.com/posts/content/2015/09/23/homeless-youth-rally-state-budget-solution-fully-funded-services-video

By Ellyn Fortino

September 23, 2015

Homeless youth, service providers and state lawmakers rallied for a fair budget at the Thompson Center on Wednesday. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the event. 

Homeless Chicago youth rallied against the nearly three-month-old state budget impasse on Wednesday, urging Illinois lawmakers to break the stalemate and fully fund the services they rely on.

Joining the youth at the Thompson Center were homeless service providers as well as two Democratic state representatives from Chicago, Will Guzzardi and Greg Harris.

Michael Brown, 19, was one Chicago youth at the rally who expressed worry that he could end up on the streets again if the shelter he lives in closes because of the state budget situation.

Brown has been a resident at the Ujima Village youth shelter, located on Chicago's South Side at 500 E. 37th St., for the past year and a half.

"Without Ujima, at the end of the day, I wouldn't have many places to go or many options," he told Progress Illinois. "Before I came to Ujima, I used to sleep on the train or I used to go sleep under the bushes in the park. My mother, me and her have issues to where I couldn't go back to her house, so Ujima really came through and helped me."

Local homeless service providers have not been paid by the state since July 1, when Illinois entered the 2016 fiscal year without a budget. As a result, 77 percent of Illinois homeless youth service providers have been, or will soon be, forced to reduce or eliminate services, according to a recent survey by housing advocacy groups, including the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Legislation that would authorize state spending for human services, including programs serving homeless youth, is expected to go before the Illinois House Executive Committee on Thursday, Harris said.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner opposes the spending billSB 2046, which cleared the Senate earlier this month. The administration contends that the Democrat-backed legislation is an "attempt to stick the taxpayers of Illinois with a massive tax hike without reform."

Harris said he will push for the spending bill's passage, because the state's most vulnerable citizens, including homeless Illinois youth, don't deserve to be caught up in the Springfield budget fight. 

"There are a lot of people across the state of Illinois who count on (state services) to help them get through their daily lives, and we can't let them down," he stressed. 

Advocates also said it is in the state's financial interest to adequately fund homeless services. Cutting the programs would likely mean increased spending on incarceration, emergency health care and other costly services in the long term, they said.

Brown said some services at Ujima have been impacted by the budget stalemate. For example, he said the shelter recently reduced the number of public transportation fare cards it gives out to those who stay there.

"Because we don't have bus cards, we have to risk our safety, risk us getting put in jail for the night just because we want to hop the train because we have to go somewhere," Brown said. "Or we'll have to ... beg (bus drivers) to let us on the bus because we don't have bus cards."

Ujima Village is operated by Unity Parenting and Counseling, which provides foster care and services for homeless youth on Chicago's South Side.

Unity Parenting and Counseling's Executive Director Flora Koppel said Ujima Village has been able to operate during the state budget impasse thanks to funding from the city of Chicago. But Koppel said the state will ultimately have to reimburse Chicago for that money.

"I just don't know how long (the city would provide funding) if the state said, 'We're not giving you any money, Chicago,'" Koppel said, adding that Ujima Village would have to shut down without funding from either the city or state. 

If the shelter closes, "all the young people -- and we get over 150 a year that we serve -- would be back on the streets, would be subjected to violence, would be subjected to hunger, would be subjected to exploitation," she stressed.

Unity Parenting and Counseling also runs a transitional housing program for families, which could be forced to shut down if the organization does not receive state funding by December, Koppel said.

"The ironic part about that is the state of Illinois would lose the half a million dollars of federal funds that our program does get but requires a match," Koppel said. "So we're actually putting people on the street, making them homeless, making families fall apart while we lose half a million dollars of funding that could be coming into the state."

Here's more from Koppel plus comments from Guzzardi, Harris and Calvin Curtis, who gets help from the Broadway Youth Center:

"Frankly, it breaks my heart to be standing here and hearing from these young people and to have to say to them, 'I am going to do everything in my power to pass a fair and equitable budget, but I have a pretty strong feeling that the governor and the Republicans in the legislature are going to keep that from happening,'" Guzzardi told the crowd. 

"I sincerely hope that we will be able to persuade those on the other side that this isn't an issue of dollars and cents -- this is an issue of human decency and human dignity, and that we'll do the right thing and pass SB 2046 and fully fund programs that we need," he added.