CN January 12 2017

When you want to talk about Chicago’s finances, or about its police/community relations, Mike Fourcher’s the go-to guy.  He publishes the Daily Line, Chicago’s on-line subscriber news service. He joins us this week to talk about the impeding Dep’t of Justice report on the Chicago Police, Tiger Woods and, yes, the bond markets – and their demand for more taxes from Chicagoans.

Chicago’s going out for a big bond buy this week, and Fourcher says its fate is more or less being determined by the ratings houses – and at least one of them considers Chicago Junk. But others don’t agree, and there’s some talk, for the fist time, that Chicago may be clawing its way back.

“Now the consequences for a city when they have a junk versus investment grade rating, for a lot of investment agency investment groups that triggers how they have to treat that money,” Fourcher explains. “And they have to require much much higher interest rates to be paid to them for the borrowing. It could be the difference between paying 4% and 8% for the City, the City paying an extra 4% on that money in order to be able to borrow, and that’s tens of millions of dollars just for this borrowing. And there’s going to be other borrowing that the City is going to do. So there is this intense pressure that’s coming from investors in the open market for Chicago to raise its base taxes much higher”

“Raise its base taxes even higher” isn’t something any mayor wants to hear. But that’s what the lenders are saying, according to Fourcher. “So, I think that there has been a real movement among investors that Chicago is not really paying enough and that they want to see Chicago paying more, and that’s what this fight is about with the bond issue that the City wants to do.”

The Department of Justice was about to release its highly-anticipated report on the Chicago Police just as we started this conversation, but despite not having seen it, certain things were easy to predict.

“Well,” Fourcher asserts, “we’re definitely going to see changes. I think there’s no question about it, and I think that from what I can see Superintendent Johnson is committed to making changes and improving things. He’s really done a lot of things that are unpleasant for a police superintendent, like putting pressure on police officers, like changing some of the culture about what happens to a police officer after a questionable shoot. You know those things are important. And I think that Mayor Emanuel has gotten the message that there needs to be reform. But, one of the things that you keep hearing, and we did in December an interview of about 50 or 60 neighborhood leaders throughout the City. One of the things that we kept hearing was that the Mayor is clearly working very hard. There’s no question about it. We’ve never met anybody that works as hard as he does, and he wants to do well. That’s very clear, but he is missing empathy and he is missing some understanding and warmth.”

As we say, Chicago Newsroom is also a pretty good radio show, and you can listen in your earbuds at our SoundCloud page, right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this week’s show right HEREcn-transcript-january-5-2017

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CN Jan 5 2017

2017 is gonna be a big, controversial, historic year.

Do we have the news media we need to help navigate these weird times?

That’s this week’s topic. The News Media.  So we called together  a news editor, a co-founder of a community news startup and a night-time AM talk-host to help figure it out.

Our guests: Robin Amer, News Editor at the Chicago Reader, Darryl Holliday, Co-founder of the Chicago Bureau and Justin Kaufmann of WGN-AM’s the Download.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation about social media, the obligations of news organizations, changing media habits and

Some selected quotes:

Amer on defining Truth:

I think one of the scariest things for me as a journalist to have witnessed over 2016 is the absolute break-down in the kind of consensus over what is truth and what are facts, and are my facts “the same as your facts.” And if we as the public can’t even agree on what truth is or what the facts are, how can we have a robust public policy debate about how we move forward as a country when we don’t even take the same facts for granted?…Okay, if I put it in the paper and it’s vetted and it’s fact-checked and it’s true and you should believe that it’s true, but that’s not the case anymore. Like, you can’t take for granted that readers will even believe you or that they aren’t reading something else that claims to be equally true that completely contradicts what you’ve reported. I think that to me this is  one of the great conundrums of our time.

Kaufmann on a gut-wrenching decision facing most newsrooms:

Do news organizations, newspapers, are they going to join in or be in a situation where they use Facebook and Google to be their platform, or are they going to compete against those platforms? And that’s what the news industry…That’s the news industries’ sort of issue with 2017. Do they put resources into building their platforms to be Chicago Tribune Facebook, Google? Or do they say, you know what, these are the platforms, we’ll make our money in other ways.

Amer on how the Reader is grappling with that very question:

Now we could go straight to Facebook, but at that point you are giving them all of your content and you are putting yourself in a very vulnerable situation, because the second that they change their algorithm, or the second that they change…their ad rates, or the second that they change their time about being a source of news or whatever, they’ve completely pulled out the rug from underneath you and you’ve cultivated an audience that isn’t used to consuming your content anywhere but there. And so we’ve been really reticent to do that.

It’s a wonderful conversation, and we humbly believe it’s worth your while to listen.

As we say, Chicago Newsroom is also a pretty good radio show, and you can listen in your earbuds at our SoundCloud page, right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this week’s show right HERE:cn-transcript-january-5-2017


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CN December 22 2016

Imagine the populations of Rockford, Springfield, Naperville, Aurora, Evanston, Schaumburg and Oak Park all in one place. Let’s make that place Cook County, Illinois. What if we told you that that number of people, roughly 800,000, is how many people go to sleep every night in this County not sure about what their next meal will be, or where it’ll come from.

Fifteen percent of residents in Cook County are “food insecure”, according to the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository. They ought to know, because they distribute over 70 million pounds of food – almost a third of it fresh produce – to the food pantries and soup kitchens that try to address this gaping need.

“And 20% of that 800,000 are children,” adds Nicole Robinson, who’s the VP for Community Impact at the GCFD. “Children who come to school hungry, they can’t concentrate on doing their work in class and can’t be attentive. They struggle to do their homework. Hunger is a distraction, and that’s one of the things I just feel most passionate about.”

And if you can handle just one more statistic about our Cook County neighbors, 30% of the people we’re talking about live in the county’s suburbs.

Families are making tradeoffs,” Robinson explains.”It’s a tradeoff between paying rent and getting healthy, nutritious food. Do I pay my light bill, or my heating bill, or do I have enough money to pay for my prescription as well as pay for the food I need…”

We took our show on the road this week to see just how massive this operation is. And to note that, huge and impressive as it is, it only fills a part of the need.

“There’s a myth out there that may of the  families who face hunger are homeless,” Robinson points out. “But that’s actually not true. Fifty percent of them have worked at some point over the past year, and 90% of them have a place to stay. The question is – is it meaningful employment with benefits and a living wage so they can actually afford the food they need?”

“If you’re in a two-parent household and you have a low-wage job,” she continues, “You may not have enough just to provide for your family. So it’s not that people aren’t working…”

The GCFD is trying a number of innovations, such as food pantries at Veterans’ hospitals, because, shockingly, a high number of Cook County’s hungry are people who served in our armed forces.  They’re also installing pantries in about 30 Chicago Public schools where hunger is most acute. Parents can drop off their kids and pick up some wholseome food to help the family through the week. They’re also operating pantries at Cook County Health and Hospitals System buildings, where doctors ask about food insecurity as a part of their intake screening.

“We’re meeting people where they are, which is a foundational piece of our work to connect communities,”Robinson tells us. And by the way, GCFD relies heavily on volunteers, thousands of whom come to their warehouse to help sort and ship tons of food items. “Often the folks who stand in the pantry lines will come in and volunteer,” she adds.

The holidays are obviously tough times for families who can’t make ends meet, but Robinson says that for kids, the worst days are often in summer when there’s no school. For so many kids, school is where they have access to reliable nutrition, so the Food Depository and its partners setup community food centers and try to get the word out that kids can come in for a meal.

We tell Robinson that while they’re not a political organization, Chicago Newsroom is all about politics. And this situation makes us angry. “We want people to be angry about our neighbors facing hunger,” she responds. “We don’t want to become complacent and we shouldn’t.”

And as we conclude, she adds, “We don’t want to do this forever, We want to put ourselves out of business.”

A word of thanks to everyone who’s watched our Little Show this year, and to the dedicated CAN TV staff who put it together for us every week of the year. We’re hoping the show is going to grow in some important ways in 2017, and we hope you’ll continue to check out the show when you can.

Happy holidays!

Chicago Newsroom is pretty good radio, too, and you can throw in the earbuds and listen to this show here on Soundcloud.

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CN Dec 15 2016

Ever heard of VSI? It’s the Vendor Services Initiative, and it was deigned to help pay the hundreds of vendors who’ve never been paid by the State over the past few years of layered fiscal crises. Trouble is, the way it’s structured is something akin to a payday loan, and the resulting payments are what Dave Mckinney of Reuters has described as a fiscal “time bomb.” Dave and WBEZ’s Tony Arnold, both reporters with extensive experience in Springfield, are our guests this week.

Of course, we have no budget, and no real prospects for getting one any time soon. That may not be terrible news if you or your organization has the juice to go to court and get a judge to pay you, but two major sectors of State life don’t have such protection.

“There is a lobbying presence for the homeless in Springfield,” McKinney points out, “and they do what they can, but they don’t stack up against Exelon or the powers that be like that. They don’t have an effective presence like that, and so in terms of advocating, groups like that are under the gun, the sexual assault groups, the homeless groups, on and on and on. I think we will see those continue to kind of peel off, especially if we go into another two-year cycle here where we don’t have predictable income coming in.”

Another disaster-in-waiting is higher education. Their stopgap funding for 2016 expires December 31, and nobody knows what happens next. Students on need-based scholarships, MAP recipients – all could be high and dry come January 1.

McKinney says three state institutions are in the most serious condition right now  -Eastern Illinois University, Chicago State University and Northeastern Illinois University.

“Those three places are so dependent on state revenues. And you know you’ve already seen it like in the enrollment numbers for these places, where they are at the lowest level they’ve ever been and no end in sight. And so I think you’re just going to see a continuing drain of students who you know if you’re a parent with a college age kid do you want him going to a state school right now.”

Arnold tells us that the picture is a little different for the social-service agencies that aren’t getting paid. They’ve been to court, too, but just haven’t had success in getting a judge to order them paid.

“Everybody else convinced the judge that legally the state needs to fund foster care, or pay the employees their salaries,” he explains. “Somewhere along the lines there wasn’t a lawsuit over universities getting paid, but there is one over social services. It’s in appellate court. These are organizations that have contracts with the State of Illinois. They performed the contracts and did the work, but there’s this clause in the contract that says well if they don’t pass a budget then you don’t have to get paid. And a judge in Cook County said yeah, the State doesn’t have to pay you. It’s being appealed. It’s going to go to the State Supreme Court eventually. That’s where there might be a way for social services to get money, because again, it’s a court order, not because of a deal between Rauner and Democrats.”

We all lament that the 2018 campaign for Governor is already in full swing, with at least eight potential Democratic candidates in the mix. Bruce Rauner, they say, is anxious to show that he’s made at least a little progress on his “reform agenda”, so he’s holding up the budget until he can get term limits and a property tax freeze.

The Democrats won’t budge on either, so we’re back to square one. And another year begins in Illinois.


It’s a fascinating conversation about how not to run a big, midwestern industrial/agricultural state.

As we like to say, our show’s pretty good radio too, so you can listen to it in your earbuds or thought the Bluetooth in your car right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this show HERE: cn-transcript-dec-15-2016

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CN Dec 8 2016

Ben Carson is about to become the guy who oversees public housing and doles out community development block grants to every urban center in America.

What does that mean for Chicago?

Y’know all the stories about CHA’s broken promises and its stunning backlogs in construction and voucher assignments?

“All the bad things you described, that’s the good old days,” says architecture critic, writer and activist Lee Bey. “We’ll look on the times when the City couldn’t build enough public housing – or wouldn’t -and we’ll get misty-eyed. I miss those days.”

And Ethan Michaeli, the author of the highly-acclaimed The Defender, Carson may have no idea what he’s in for.

“The biggest scandal with the CHA in the last few years,” he explains, “Hasn’t just been that they  failed to build the mixed income communities that they promised, which were replacement housing for the high rises that they demolished. But also that the CHA has $400-million and maybe more sitting in the bank that they can’t figure out how to spend. At a time that there are homeless on the streets, that there’s a dire need for housing they cannot figure out how to spend the money. This is a complicated situation that Ben Carson is going to come into… I personally don’t think that he’s either politically or experientially, and perhaps not intellectually calibrated for this particular task.”

Michaeli guesses that, at HUD, the bureaucrats will be in charge and Carson will be a figurehead, making speeches and signing documents. “You know,” adds Bey, “I hope that’s what happens. Isn’t it funny, we’re hoping the bureaucrats take over, right?”

“This is my fear,” says Bey, “That he thinks any governmental intervention is Soviet, is communist, and is social engineering and it’s wrong, at precisely the time we need cities to be equitable places for black and brown people, and for poor white people as well. Whites tend to get left out of the equation because they don’t want to claim poverty often, but there has to be equitable places for them as well.”

Bey is adamant that HUD must play a role in providing the least-fortunate with the basics of human dignity. “You know,” he explains, “The thing that people never want to realize is that what poor people need are jobs and education. It’s as simple as that. If you have a job and you have a decent education you tend not to live in public housing.”

(That’s similar, coincidentally, to what Ben Carson told the Washington Post: “I don’t want to get rid of any safety net programs. I want to create an environment where they won’t be needed.”)

The issue, Michaeli adds, “is that we’ve never just said consistently…as a nation or as a city that quality housing is a right, just like air and water and voting and all that kind of stuff, and that if we want to be a viable country, if we want to be a viable city we can’t have people living in shacks. We do a little bit and then we fall off again, right, but just say it and put it in brick and mortar and in your heart. And just say, “Look, we’re just not going to have this.” We’re the richest country in the world; we’re not going to have it.”

HUD, our guests say, needs to continue playing a vital role in the redevelopment of critical cities like Chicago. Michaeli offers an example.

“43rd and Indiana should be thriving based on its geographic proximity to the money centers of the Midwest, right, but it’s empty. 43rd and Indiana is vacant on all four corners today, and that makes no sense unless you understand that all housing and all real estate in this country is subsidized. We subsidize it in various ways with housing, with mortgage interest deductions on our taxes, with highways that make places like Schaumberg frankly accessible to the money centers of the country.  So HUD plays an essential role in that.”

We talk at some length about the CHA “Plan for Transformation” which resulted in the demolition of scores of high rise buildings and other housing.

“When the developments were demolished a lot of people thought the problem would go away,” explains Michaeli. “That was the idea, that we will demolish the problem when we demolish these buildings, because the buildings are somehow (damaging) the people.…I mean the demolition of public housing frankly was just a demolition of a resource for low income people. That’s all that it was. It was a kind of a resource, a second rate soviet style crappy resource, but it was a resource, and taking it away just took that away. That means that they have a little bit less. They also have a little bit less geographically.”

And we touch on the one remaining development,  Lathrop Homes at Diversey and the Chicago River, that hasn’t yet been “redeveloped”. It remains mired in controversy despite years of planning because of a profound dispute over how much of the new housing should be “pubic housing” and how much should be “market-rate”. Michaeli says Mayor Emanuel missed a perfect opportunity to show leadership by mandating that the buildings be re-purposed.

“He could have come out there and said, Look, this is housing for veterans. This is housing for families that have been foreclosed on. This is housing you know… that he didn’t do that, in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, tells you that the race component of what Lee was talking about is what we’re dealing with here. Lathrop is maybe a diverse development in reality, but for everybody else you say public housing they think black people. They think African Americans.”

Michaeli notes that we’re now fifty years on from the Gautreaux Decree, which allowed the courts to essentially mandate many aspects of housing desegregation in Chicago. As with most other desegregation efforts, it’s been a bumpy ride. And the one thing that he believes has clearly emerged from this long struggle has been privatization.

“If you look at what actually happened with the Gautreaux Decree, the Gautreaux Decree did not obviously affect the desegregation of housing public or otherwise in Chicago and surrounding areas. What it did accomplish was steer a lot of public resources into the hands of private folks. Public housing is the harbinger of what is going to happen to the rest of this society. They are shaking us by our ankles and taking the change that falls out of our pockets. That’s essentially what’s happening.”

Bey adds that “my fear lately has been that libraries and water will be become that, and that water, some giant infrastructure guy is going to wave $3-billion at this municipality or someone and take water …”

At the end of this frank and often dark conversation, Lee Bey says it’s time to get a little more optimistic, to cast some sunshine on the subject. You’ll want to hear how it goes.

It’s a wonderful conversation with two of the most insightful observers of the Chicago scene, and we hope you’ll watch.

And by the way, Chicago Newsroom is also pretty good radio. Listen to it on your way home with SoundCloud –RIGHT HERE.

And read a full transcript of the show right HERE: cn-transcript-december-8-2016

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CN Dec 1 2016


No matter how you look at it, Wednesday, Nov. 30 was a big day for the CTA.

The City Council unanimously passed the largest single TIF ever, to raise nearly a billion dollars in 35 years that funds about half of a massive re-build of the Red and Purple lines. And it was all done within hours of a deadline to snag the other half, a billion-dollar matching grant from the waning Obama administration.

John Greenfield writes about transportation for both Streetsblog Chicago and the Chicago Reader, and a day after the big maneuver, he explained things to us.

“It’s a relatively new program called the Core Capacity Grant Program, and it’s for making improvements, capacity improvements to legacy systems. So we’re lined up to get a $1.1-billion grant, which will fund almost half of this massive $2.3-billion project,” he tells us. “It looks pretty clear that the federal government is going to give us this grant, and they’re going to award it by January 15th, which is five days before Donald Trump comes to office.”

That’s significant, because there’s no indication that the Trump administration will make any funding available to public transportation. He has instead proposed a “Trillion dollar infrastructure program” that has some Democrats saying this could be an area of mutual interest with Trump. Greenfied’s not buying it.

“But there’s a few reasons why I don’t support the Democrats going along with this infrastructure plan. For one thing the plan itself is really suspect. The financing is really sketchy. It’s starting to look like this isn’t really a plan about fixing infrastructure. This is a plan about building more infrastructure, specifically toll roads, and we do not need highway expansion in this country. We need to be making our transportation system less car dependent, not more car dependent. We need to be focusing on building inter-city rail, improving urban transportation.”

“The North Red line is basically at capacity during rush hours,” asserts Greenfield. “If you ride it during rush hour it’s sardine-like conditions.”

So why not just add some more trains? Well if it were that easy, the CTA would’ve done it decades ago. It turns out that there’s no way to get them through Clark Junction.

“The big log jam, the big bottleneck is this area just north of the Belmont Red line station where the Brown line tracks cross the Purple and Red line tracks at level. So what that means is when a northbound Brown line train has to go west just north of Belmont, Red and Purple trains have to wait. There’s basically a stoplight for the lines,” Greenfield explains.

The solution, which is part of this massive project, is the Red/Purple Bypass, which is also known as the Belmont Flyover. Think of it a a partial expressway cloverleaf. It lifts one track over and above the others.

It’s making some people in Lakeview livid. “Not only do some people object to the aesthetics,” Greenfield explains, “people have compared it to  a rollercoaster, it’s going to require the demolition of some 16 buildings, so that’s huge, you know.”

People  directly affected by it are understandably against it but the transit experts all seem to agree that it will allow huge increases in rush-hour capacity in the future.

At the south end of the Red Line, a more than $200 million reconstruction of the 95th Street terminal is already underway, and the City has now committed $75 million to engineering for the extension of the line from 95th to 130th, near Altgeld Gardens.

The route is controversial, because it will require the demolition of dozens of houses and businesses and will take ten years to complete. Greenfield says that while there’s no question about the need for the service, there are alternatives.

“There’s also a movement to create rapid transit style service on Metra’s Electric line, which basically serves the same neighborhoods, so it would be so much cheaper to just start running CTA-style service on the electric lines,” he tells us. “Also, the south Red line route goes through fairly unpopulated areas. You know it’s a lot of money to spend to provide transit access for thousands rather than hundreds of thousands of people. So you know, you can make an argument that maybe it would be wiser to just improve the Metra electric.”

If you’ve spent any time on the northwest side around Logan Square, you know  how rapidly the area is growing, and, some may say, gentrifying. In many ways this, too, is a transit story because the growth is clustering around Blue line stops. It has to do with TOD, or transit-oriented development.

“In 2013 the City passed a Transit-Oriented Development ordinance,” Greenfield explains. “And then they beefed it up in 2015, and as it stands now it basically waives the parking requirements for developments within a ten-minute walk of transit. And…it has really sparked a lot of development particularly on the northwest side along Milwaukee Avenue and the Blue line corridor, which is, you know these neighborhoods a lot of young people want to live in, a lot of tech workers, a lot of relatively affluent people who are new to the City.”

It is meeting stiff opposition further up the line, especially in Jefferson Park, where TOD projects have been fought for years. Many residents fear gentrification, which means that rents will rise and people will be priced out of their homes. “The counter-arguments,”explains Greenfield, “Made by organizations like the Metropolitan Planning Council is that increasing the amount of market rate housing in a neighborhood takes pressure off the rental market, because the more affluent people who move in the neighborhood won’t be competing for the same apartments.”

We point out that in Jeff Park, the arguments seem to be against both higher-income gentrification and lower-income housing.

“I mean these people are against both wealthier people moving into these places and they are also against having affordable housing in them, because they don’t want less wealthy people moving into them.”

Chicago has been acclaimed recently as a bike-friendly city. But  five people have been killed in Chicago in accidents with vehicles this year. So bike-friendliness is a mixed bag.

“They’ve been doing a lot of the right things to make Chicago a bike-friendly city,” Greenfield confirms. “But you know, the fact is on the ground here you’ve got to have a fair amount of nerve to ride a bike on the streets of Chicago. It’s definitely not what we call an 8 to 80 city. That means having infrastructure that’s safe for 8 year olds and 80 year olds to use.”

You can read a full transcript of this conversation HERE:cn-transcript-dec-1-2016

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CN Nov. 24 2016

On this Thanksgiving weekend, we take a moment to offer our sincere thanks to CAN TV for hosting Chicago Newsroom over these past six-plus years.

We also take a video peek at some of the brand-new CAN TV studios and facilities and talk with Director Barbara Popovic, who’s led the organization for nearly thirty years, and is retiring at the end of December.

There’s an even greater need for public access media today than when CAN TV was first created at the dawn of the cable-TV era, she says.  Ubiquitous hand-held devices make communication easy and fast, she explains, but the ability to tell story effectively is enhanced with the media training CAN TV offers.

And access television is, as it has always been, a beautiful way for communities to share ideas and talk with one another about the issues of the day.

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CN Nov 17 2016


Pat Quinn was our Governor from 2009-20015.

As you may recall, a billionaire financier named Bruce Rauner defeated him.

On today’s show, he briefly compares notes with Hillary Clinton, who was also defeated by a billionaire with no government experience.

“You know it’s easier winning than losing,” he tells us. “One day you’re a peacock, the next day a feather duster.”

Quinn arrived with his clipboard hand, never ceasing in his quest for petition signatures. Right now it’s his attempt t term-limit the Mayor of Chicago job to two four-year terms.

But he’s also quite active in National Popular Vote, the effort to get states with 270 electoral votes to sign legislation commanding their presidential Electors to vote consistent with the national popular vote in the Electoral College.  The effort’s about half-way done, and Illinois was the first state to approve it. He points out that Hillary Clinton’s popular vote may well end up being 2 million higher than Donald Trump’s.

So I do think we need to reform the electoral college, a creature of the 18th Century. I don’t think it’s really apropos to the 21st Century, and there’s a movement that I’ve supported called the National Popular Vote. Illinois actually passed a law about 2008 that said once 25 states, more than half the states have a law on their books that says that their electoral college members are bound by law to vote for the candidate for president who gets the most votes, then that will be the law of our country. You don’t need a Constitutional Amendment…Actually, it was devised to help the slave states, the electoral college, and I don’t think we should maintain that.

Donald Trump wants a really huge infrastructure program, but Pat Quinn wants to remind everyone that he had one years ago.

We were able to put together an infrastructure bill for our state; we called it Illinois Jobs Now, a $31-billion investment in roads and bridges and water systems, building new buildings, college buildings as well as school construction and high speed rail, great things. We had the biggest infrastructure program of any state in the country and those (Legislative) members made it possible. They wanted to do things, and the sad thing now is my successor basically when you look at it, what has happened in the last two years other than gridlock and lots of alibies, but you’re not getting anything done for the people.

We ask whether he sees a Republican tide sweeping even the urban areas in the next few years, leaving Illinois more like Wisconsin, which seems to have become solidly red under Scott Walker’s leadership. “No!” he says.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump by almost a million votes in our state. In fact, I think we’re much more the model for the United States. Illinois’ demography, the people who make up our state are the best reflection of the entire population of the United States, so we’re much more like the United States than any other state in the Midwest, even,  the whole country.

Perhaps it’s Trump’s victory that’s given Quinn a kind of freedom to openly criticize Bruce Rauner here at the halfway point in the Governor’s first term. But his list of grievances was pretty long.

There are billionaires out there, really right-wing conservative billionaires who want to buy elections and they will spend untold amounts of money. Oftentimes they can, perhaps prevail when they have a candidate who has no record. But when that candidate gets elected, whether it’s Trump or Rauner and then you see the lack of a record, you know what have they done other than harm things and mess things up, then I don’t think they’re going to do very well in getting re-elected.

“You had somebody running around just like Trump with a slogan, and they said they can fix things up, they can shake things up, but then look at the record of the last two years. What has happened? Not much, not much at all. As a matter of fact, where’s the budget? I did six budgets when I was Governor. This person has you know, put all kinds of conditions on a budget, so right now they have a stop-gap. That isn’t a budget. You need something that really brings people together that makes investments for the future. That’s how you grow jobs. That’s how you help people. You’ve got to invest in people, invest in the infrastructure. The two go hand in hand, that’s how you have a strong state. When I left our state was very close to paying its bills within a 30-day period just like businesses do, but you know you come along with a person with a different approach like they have in Kansas and they cause a lot of mess, and that’s what we have in Illinois, a lot of mess.

You’ve got to have enough revenue to equal your expenditures. If Rauner thinks that whatever he campaigned on is sufficient to pay the bills he’s just plain wrong. The record shows that he’s in deep deep deficit and continuing to go deeper. That’s not right, and I think we need to do something about that, and I think the Democrats should continue to stand their ground with respect to making sure that we allow working people to organize unions, to have collective bargaining, bargain for wages and working conditions and so on and benefits. And if Rauner wants to break that he’s not going to get away with it. We’re not going to go the way of some other states that have allowed working people to be really hurt by attacking their unions.

We talk at some length about public education, both K-12 and Higher Ed. Quinn’s particularly animated about the mistreatment of the Monetary Assistance Program grants. As Governor, he says, he had proposed doubling them – to 3/4 billion.

 I proposed that. I ran against somebody in a campaign in 2014 who said that we didn’t need to have the revenue to do that, and now he’s got a $15-billion deficit. Now I also in that same budget proposed investing in K to 12, kindergarten to 12th grade more than any other time in Illinois history using the revenue that we had from the income tax and other sources of revenue. Again, the other side said, you know they demonized that source of revenue, and so we haven’t been able to make the investments [only] in K to 12, but early childhood education. I wanted to invest a billion and a half new dollars in early childhood, 0 to 5, birth to 5, a very very important investment for any state to make if it’s really concerned about education.

And about that petition drive to make Chicago’s Mayor a two-term gig, effectively ending Rahm Emanuel’s tenure in just three years:


What this petition is about is term limits on the Mayor of Chicago. Every other big city in America has term limits on the Mayor except Chicago. New York has it, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, San Jose, San Antonio, Phoenix. Chicago is the only city that doesn’t have a two-term limit on its Mayor. We want to give people a chance to vote on that right here in Chicago.

term limits on executives, especially mayors and presidents and governors is a good thing, especially now in this age of big money being spent on campaigns. It requires a changeover, a new look. A lot of the problems Chicago has today is they weren’t addressed by mayors who got re-elected, but oftentimes didn’t address serious problems. Term limits force you to shuffle the deck and have a new look. They are very popular with the voters.

Now, New York has this and that’s a big city, the same way with Los Angeles. They are both bigger than our city. It’s not like Chicago is doing a lot of good things. Too many mistakes have been made and I think voters ought to have a chance at the ballot box not to let Rahm Emanuel or any other mayor tell us what the rules are, but we, the people set the rules for the mayor.


And finally, Quinn’s effort to create, through referendum, an elected school board for Chicago:

The appointed school board by the Mayor over the last 20 years has made a mess of the school system here in Chicago. They even ended up with a superintendent who was convicted of a felony. You know, come on. An elected school board is fundamental to democracy. Around our state every other community has an elected school board. Only Chicago does not allow its citizens to have the voting rights to elect members of the Board of Education. In addition, that Board of Education is levying hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes on those voters and they have no voting rights. That’s not right.

And a final thought from the former Governor:

And so that’s really where we’re at, and I sure hope we don’t let Trump do the same thing to America, (that Rauner did here) and that’s why you’ve got to organize. Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize, that’s my philosophy.

Read a full transcript of this show HERE:cn-transcript-nov-17-2016

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CN Nov 10 2016


Delmarie Cobb, Bruce DuMont and Chris Robling have been in too many political battles to count. But the Trump victory was unique even for them. These political consultants, activists, writers and broadcasters sat down with us this week for a detailed de-briefing, and for some speculation about how Donald Trump might govern.

We asked whether there was any possibility that Donald Trump could become presidential.

“Yes.” was DuMont’s quick response.

DuMont tells us that he thinks Trump will keep his promises on the Supreme Court as long as he’s president, but that on many other issues he has more in common with the Democrats than the Republicans, especially those Republicans who didn’t vote for hm.

We bring up the Mike Pence issue, and the fact that most progressives find his views on social issues unacceptable. Given that Trump has already said  Pence will play a major role in day-to-day operation of the government, this is deeply troubling to many people.

DuMont attempted to bat down that fear.

“He’s going to have to answer to a president, president Trump,” DuMont explains.

Delmarie Cobb, who has for years been a solid Hillary Clinton supporter, is willing to see what develops in the immediate future. She says that Trump is from New York and he’s an entertainer, so many of his friends are gay-friendly and liberal on social issues. And she says on the campaign trail, Trump occasionally “just sorta slapped him” when he didn’t agree with him on an issue. So she says when trying to figure out what kind of president he’ll be, she’ll be watching to see “which Donald Trump shows up to govern.”

As four people with years experience in media, we attempt to sort out the role of media in this ugly campaign.  If it weren’t for the media, Cobb asserts, there wouldn’t have been a Donald Trump.  “They gave him three billion dollars of free media,” she claims.  “He paid only 48 million in paid media, and they gave him eight billion”

And because Trump was such compelling television, Cobb says that whenever a story was filed about a Clinton event, Trump was mentioned numerous times in the report, but that the opposite usually wasn’t true.

And Chris Robling says the “Trump on the bus” tape became so hot so quickly that it became the dominant topic of conversation. “It takes all the air out of the room with respect to Hilary’s conversation about him being dangerously, personally, mentally unstable, and somebody who’s got to be separated from the nuclear football,” he explains.

There seems to be a theme on which all our guests generally agree. That the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and Big Media have all essentially run aground, and that all have massive soul-searching and rebuilding to do.




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CN Nov 3 2016


How much will the new settlement between the CTU and Chicago Public Schools, which has now been ratified, end up costing? CUBS WIN! Is using TIF money to fill budget holes at CPS a good idea?  CUBS WIN!  Is the City of Chicago’s financial ship actually beginning to right itself since the budget office is finally reducing persistent structural deficits and getting out from under high-interest loans?

Bobby Otter, fortunately, is a Sox fan, so he was able to keep focused during our conversation today about our City’s financial stresses. As budget Director for the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability, he has some keen insights regarding state and local finances. And as Cubs fever wears off, you’ll probably find yourself asking – hey, where can I find some sober analysis of state funding shortfalls and the Lockbox Amendment?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some highlights from Bobby Otter’s comments.

On the CTBA’s opposition to the Illinois Safe Roads Amendment (“the lockbox”) and why you should vote “no”.

There’s better ways to do this. It’s a noble goal, but there’s better ways to do it…the issue with the lockbox amendment is not necessarily what it’s trying to accomplish, but it’s how they’re accomplishing it. So they want to put in a constitutional amendment that says any revenue generated through transportation issues, be it the gas tax, that’s probably the biggest one, that has to go towards projects, infrastructure projects for roads and transportation and what-not. Sounds great. Using the Constitution to do that though greatly greatly limits the wiggle room and the flexibility that governments have, especially local governments. It sounds great and overall we agree, infrastructure investment is needed at the state and city level, but there’s better ways to do it. Constitutional amendment is definitely not the best way to do it. It’s probably better to do it through statutes or other things to give the flexibility, because once you’re locked in in a constitutional amendment you’re locked in. 

On the CTBA’s recently released study about how the legislature and governor managed to make massive cuts in state spending on safety and human services without holding a single vote:

If people remember there was a budget impasse pretty much for the all of FY16 which runs from July 1st to June 30th, so we had an actual budget for FY16 for I forget, but it was roughly 12 hours. It wasn’t long… However, spending continued to take place even though we didn’t have a budget last year. Schools were open. Hospitals were receiving patients. Jails continued…What happened was that a bunch of court orders and consent decrees were handed down by the courts saying you have to continue spending money on healthcare, so like Medicaid for example, so hospitals can continue to get paid for seeing patients. A lot of human services also fell into this category, and some public safety fell into this category. 

They did pass a budget for K through 12 education, so the schools got their money last year, and they didn’t pass anything and the courts really didn’t say anything on higher education. So higher ed actually went most of the year without money. Now they did a couple of things throughout the course of the year, and roughly about $700-million got to higher ed, which is still a huge cut from the previous year. In FY15 we spent $1.9-billion on higher education. In FY16 we spent $622-million in higher education, so a $1.3-billion cut in higher education.  

That was voted on. The General Assembly and the Governor and everybody voted on that and it was signed into law. On the education side, everybody agreed upon this, but that only consisted of about $7-billion of spending at the State level. We still spent another roughly $21-billion, so only a third of what was spent was actually approved by the General Assembly and the Governor. That’s their job, right, to pass the budget. They only passed a third of the budget. The other two-thirds was in the form of consent decrees and court orders and continuing appropriations, so things continue to happen.

Then when you kind of drill down even more and look at what they actually spent – they got the authority to spend $21.5-billion, but they only actually spent $20-billion. So there’s about $1.5-billion that the State was authorized to spend again through court orders, consent decrees and what-not, but they didn’t spend that, and that’s the gray area. Why didn’t they spend that? Who made that decision? What programs weren’t properly funded? That’s kind of up for debate right now, and that’s what our report looked at is kind of drilling down through FY15, using 15 as a starting point, through 16 and looking at okay, what was approved. Again, two-thirds of that was from consent decree and court orders, not the elected officials which is how it normally should work, and therefore there was a lot of non-transparency. So we didn’t see, especially once we start digging into this $1.5-billion of spending that didn’t happen, why didn’t it happen? And we don’t know, because again there was no…public deliberation on it.

On the impact the newly ratified contract will have on CPS budgets for the next three years:

Overall it looks pretty cost-neutral at the end of the day when you kind of add the numbers up. Probably some more costs than the district expected or was budgeting for FY17… though it’s not like a ton more money. The last contract ended up costing the district about $175 to $100-million in that first year more than they budgeted. This looks like about 50-million as the Sun-Times is reporting. A lot of the savings actually probably took place last year because there was no COLA, Cost of Living Adjustments made last year. There were no step-and-lanes for teachers last year, so a lot of the savings probably already happened for the district.

On the State’s promise to allocate $215 million more to CPS in return for an agreement on “pension reform.” What does that mean? What would qualify as pension reform?

Could they just pass for instance SB1, which they passed under Governor Quinn and has since been found unconstitutional? I mean would that qualify? Would that release the $215-million? I think it would but who knows. I mean yes, they could pass another unconstitutional pension reform bill. Sorry, they could pass another pension reform bill that may be found unconstitutional, or is likely to be found unconstitutional, and I guess supposedly that would free up the money for CPS…But this money, this is the only money that right now CPS doesn’t have in the bank. They budgeted to receive it, but they don’t actually have it right now.

On the decline of the CPS student population, and its fiscal ramifications:

This is a really big issue because it affects funding especially from the State. The district has been losing students every year at about a 1% clip, but this year we saw a pretty substantial loss of students of roughly 12,000 from last year. That’s going to impact the bottom line of the district, maybe not this year, but in years to come because of the way the State formula works – it depends on how many students you’re educating…a lot of CPS’s costs right now won’t also decline with the decline in enrollment…the district’s pension costs right now and unfunded liability on those pensions, that’s one of the main drivers for CPS right now. They are seeing declining revenue, but expenditures are either going to stay flat or most likely increase with the pension.

On the State of Illinois being 50 out of 50 among the states with regard to funding for education:

We are last when it comes to the share of education funding that comes from the State. The State just doesn’t properly fund education in K through 12 and higher ed. And especially districts that are at risk with a lot of at risk students or high poverty students. They’re not receiving the money that they need to properly educate their students, and CPS with 80 to 85% low income, that’s a lot of students that aren’t receiving the necessary revenue from the State to educate them.

On how popular it is to tell the stories of thousands of Illinoisans running for the Indiana border to escape our exorbitant taxes.

Yeah, that’s very misleading. We are actually in the lower third when it comes to our tax burden in the State of Illinois. We have a very narrow sales tax base for starters. We only tax goods. Most services aren’t taxed in the State of Illinois on sales taxes…And then you look at our income tax rate at 3.75 flat, personal income tax rate and a flat tax, everyone is paying that no matter how much money they make, that’s one of the lower tax rates, especially when you start comparing it to most states who have graduated rates…At the end of the day our total tax burden in the State of Illinois actually puts us probably around 35th in the nation.

You can read a complete transcript of this conversation HERE: cn-transcript-nov-3-2016

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