Erickson: Blago associates avoiding connection

2011-04-24T07:00:00Z 2011-04-25T16:44:09Z Erickson: Blago associates avoiding connectionBy Kurt Erickson | kurt.erickson@lee.net pantagraph.com

As Rod Blagojevich’s second federal corruption trial got under way last week, the scrum of media covering the sequel is smaller, there are fewer people attending the trial and the daily news briefings are less bombastic.

It seems pretty clear that a lot of people just want to forget Blagojevich and his antics.

Turns out, even some of his staunchest defenders during his six years in office seem to agree.

Recently, Becky Carroll, a loyal mouthpiece for Blagojevich during his first term in office, was hired by new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to oversee the Chicago public schools PR efforts.

Included in the press release distributed out by the Emanuel folks was Carroll’s biography, which listed her previous jobs in Chicago City Hall, as well as time spent on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. It even lists her role as a communications person for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

Nowhere does it mention Carroll’s service to the state’s taxpayers as a member of Team Blagojevich.

Similarly, former Blagojevich budget chief John Filan recently took a new job with a financial advising firm. A page-long resume on the company’s website notes that he also served as director of the state budget office.

There is, however, one word that is missing. You guessed it: Blagojevich.

Pump prices

In a bit of legislative déjà vu, high prices at the gas pump have yet another Illinois lawmaker raising the specter of cutting gas taxes as a way to lower the cost of driving for motorists.

State Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, a freshman Republican from Morrisonville, filed legislation earlier this month to temporarily suspend the state’s 5 percent sales tax on motor fuel.

The proposal, which pops up about every time there is a spike in gas prices, was actually implemented 11 years ago when lawmakers removed the tax for six months when prices were hovering at the then-shockingly high level of $2 per gallon.

But, questions remain about whether motorists would actually save money if Rosenthal’s proposal was put in place.

A study by the legislature’s fiscal forecasting office into whether the 2000 reduction resulted in lower fuel costs for Illinois motorists showed it was too hard to gauge.

The study suggested the suspension lowered pump prices initially, but overall wholesale prices also were dropping at the time, begging the question of whether gas station operators pocketed the savings they were purportedly passing along.

“It is not possible to precisely assign what amount of that price change was due to the tax suspension and what amount was due to lower wholesale prices,” the study noted.

In all, the study estimated the suspension cost the state about $175 million in revenue.

Given the state’s precarious financial situation and the questions raised in the study, it seems unlikely Democrats will allow Rosenthal’s proposal to go anywhere.

Mixed messages

In March, state Sen. Bill Brady participated in a press conference with his GOP colleagues to talk about ways to cut the state budget.

Among them was a recommendation that lawmakers abolish a program allowing them to hand out university tuition waivers to students in their districts.

“Legislative scholarships, which cost the state $14 million per year, should be eliminated as a first step,” notes a report distributed at that press conference.

Some lawmakers already have voluntarily stopped handing out the waivers.

Fast forward to last week: Brady’s office sent out a press release announcing he is accepting applications for the waivers for students attending summer school.

Applicants who are studying nursing or agriculture or are a veteran or child of a veteran are urged to complete an application by May 2.

Brady said he believes the program should be eliminated, but said as long as it’s available, he said residents of his district should get the benefit, too.

“I’m not going to deny my constituents their share,” Brady said.

The schedule

Following a week away from the Capitol, the Illinois House returns to action Tuesday. There are a number of hearings scheduled to deal with the state budget, including funding for universities, prisons and the transportation department.

Lawmakers also will continue to collect input from around the state on their plans to draw new political boundaries, with hearings scheduled in Springfield and Macomb.

Among other measures that could arise is a request by state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, to have the Illinois State Police collect data on whether cellphone usage was a factor in traffic accidents.

Members of the state Senate remain on spring break until May 3.

-- Erickson is Lee Statehouse Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-789-0865.

Copyright 2015 pantagraph.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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