The week that was in Illinois politics and government (October 30 - November 5).
In Chicago and Cook County
In a sign that the new Chicago mayor might face more opposition than the old one, Alds. Scott Waguespack, Nick Sposato, and John Arena presented a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday signed by 28 alderman citing shortcomings with his 2012 budget proposal. The concerns include proposed cuts to the library system, public safety, graffiti removal, and public health.
The move paid off by Friday when Emanuel announced amendments to his budget that included reportedly saving 100 jobs at the Chicago Public Library, and restoring $1 million to the Department of Streets and Sanitation for graffiti removal and lot cleanings.
Emanuel’s budget amendments may have come in response to grassroots pressure as well. Chicago parents and librarians had protested Emanuel’s cuts to the Chicago Public Library system Monday – delivering a petition with 4,000 signatures.
Besides budget changes, the other big city news this week is that the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union reached an agreement in the battle over the Longer School Day Pioneer Program. After eight hours of negotiations Thursday, officials resolved that CPS would stop recruiting schools and educators for the pilot program where schools add 90 minutes of instructional time for cash bonuses. CPS and the teacher’s unions will both ask the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board to put the brakes on a request to Attorney General Lisa Madigan for a program injunction.
In other city news, Emanuel got a boost this week in mass transit funding, thanks to Washington. The mayor and Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday a $1 billion investment in the Chicago Transit Authority. The funds, which come from city, state and federal sources, will update two of CTA’s busiest train routes, the Red and Purple lines.
PI reported Tuesday on the bill Rahm Emanuel is pushing in Springfield that would let the city of Chicago raise revenue by using red light cameras to ticket speeders. A report from Illinois PIRG claims the idea as is puts monetary profit over public safety. The study says there are not enough assurances that the proposed program is not just a cash cow for companies providing the red light cameras.
In Occupy Chicago news, students at the University Illinois at Chicago, DePaul, Northwestern University, and Columbia College left class Wednesday at 5 p.m. to converge at Jackson and LaSalle streets at 6 p.m., where they marched to city hall. The protest is part of an Occupy Wall Street international day of action after an Oakland police officer allegedly hit an Iraq War veteran with a tear gas canister during an Occupy Oakland protest.
Also, Occupy Chicago joined forces with Stand Up Chicago and labor unions to taunt Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at a Union League Club of Chicago breakfast speech Thursday. As video shows, the protesters chanted, “Union busting is disgusting” at a governor most famous for kneecapping Wisconsin public employees' collective bargaining rights.
PI reported Wednesday on a study from professors at the University of Chicago and Roosevelt University that showed more than $8 million could be injected into the economy if the living wage gap could be closed for O’Hare and Midway airport concession workers. The study ought to bolster the work of Chicago aldermen pushing the Stable Jobs, Stable Airports ordinance, which would increase the annual wage of airport concession workers about $4,000 a year to $22,000.
A Chicago jury found longtime state politial insider and power broker William Cellini guilty of extortion for trying to shake down investment firm owner and Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg. The Chicago Sun-Times republished a piece from 1996 that details Cellini’s Springfield power moves.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Monday that layoff notices are expected to go out to 100 Cook County employees in the county’s first round of cuts. Preckwinkle’s budget calls for 1,055 layoffs to save a reported $40 million as she tries to close the county’s $315 million budget shortfall.
In other county news, County Clerk David Orr announced a reduction in voting precincts Tuesday for the upcoming election cycle, which will reportedly save $1 million.
Illinois Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton said that he expected the General Assembly to vote on a revised gambling expansion bill when it reconvenes next week for the last three days of the veto session. Cullerton, though, could not promise that lawmakers wrote a bill that will avoid the veto pen of Gov. Pat Quinn.
The Chicago News Cooperative reported that Quinn is facing renewed questions as to whether he is an effective leader after the General Assembly overrode his veto of legislation that hikes utility rates but provides a more efficient power grid. At issue is whether Quinn has any vision he can articulate to lawmakers about what he wants done legislatively – and if he has the savvy or even inclination to cut deals with lawmakers.
PI looked at a series of videos by Illinois Health Matters that may help to make the need for health care reform more apparent to those who have always enjoyed the privilege of health care.
The faculty association union, comprised of tenure and tenure track faculty, walked out on strike at Southern Illinois University Carbondale Thursday. Three other faculty unions reached last-minute deals with the university, but the faculty association strike was the first ever strike in school history.
Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote an op-ed for PI warning against the proposed Tenaska coal plant for Taylorsville, Illinois. The Illinois Senate has repeatedly rejected funding the plant, but may consider it again during the final leg of the veto session, which begins November 8 and runs through November 10.
The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, building optimism about the job market finally growing. The number of claims filed fell to 9,000, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. That puts the number of claims at the lowest level it has been in five weeks. Meanwhile, in October, the nation's unemployment rate ticked down to 9 percent, marking the first decline since July.
Joilet residents put more pressure on U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger – insisting Kinzinger meet with them to discuss the unemployment crisis. Residents rallied outside Kinzinger’s office Friday as the lawmaker still hasn’t responded to an October 21 letter that asked for a meeting.