Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

Convicted Illinois Governor Sentenced to 14 Years

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich became the state’s second chief executive in a row to be sentenced to federal prison for corruption.  Blagojevich, who – among other charges was convicted of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate set to the highest bidder – was sentenced to a stiff 14-year sentence in a federal prison.  He must report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on February 16, 2012.

Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan, is currently serving a 6 ½-year sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, IN, also for corruption.

“The governor was not marched along this path by his staff.  He marched them,” Zagel said before he imposed the sentence.  Blagojevich governed the fifth-most populous state from January 2003 until his impeachment and removal from office in January of 2009.  He had been arrested the previous month for what Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called “a political corruption crime spree.”  Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts in a trial that ended in June.  An earlier jury deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts it considered, but found the ex-governor guilty of lying to federal agents.

Blagojevich admitted to the judge that he made “terrible mistakes” and acknowledged that he broke the law in his attempt to sell the Senate seat.  His attorneys admitted for the first time that Blagojevich is guilty of corruption.  The defense also presented sincere appeals from Blagojevich’s family, including letters from his wife Patti and one of his two daughters, that pleaded for mercy.  But the judge made it clear that he believed that Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he tried to explain his scheming for the Senate seat, and he did not believe defense suggestions that the former governor was duped by his advisers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar wasn’t impressed by Blagojevich’s emotional plea.  “He is incredibly manipulative and he knows how to be,” Schar said.  “To his credit he’s clever about it.  Judge, the defendant is corrupt, he was corrupt the day he took office, he was corrupt until the day he was arrested,” Schar said.  “Judge, the people have had enough.  They have had enough of this defendant.  They have had enough of people like him.”  The lengthy legal ordeal began when President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat became available upon his election.  Wiretaps of Blagojevich were recorded saying that Obama’s seat was “f — ing golden” and that it wouldn’t go “for f — ing nothing.”

So now what does Blagojevich do? He’ll spend the holidays with his family.  Next, his legal team will ask Judge Zagel to choose a prison, preferably in the Midwest, said Kent College Law professor Richard Kling.  Because the sentence is more than 10 years, he’ll be classified in a low-security prison with double-fence razor wire.

Judge Zagel sternly told Blagojevich that “abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any office in the United States except for president.  “I cannot comprehend that even if you are guilty,” Zagel said.  “You don’t think you caused harm to Illinois.”

“Blagojevich betrayed the trust and faith that Illinois voters placed in him, feeding great public frustration, cynicism and disengagement among citizens,” Fitzgerald said.  “People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will honor the oath they swear to, and this sentence shows that the justice system will stand up to protect their expectations.”  “This sentence sends a clear message that public officials cannot engage in corruption for personal benefit in exchange for political favors,” said James Vanderberg, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Regional Office of Inspector General.

If Judge Zagel has any second thoughts about the sentence, he can take satisfaction in the fact that some of the jurors from the corruption trials approve of the 14-year sentence.  James Matsumoto, the jury foreman from the first trial, said he and other jurors were “satisfied” by the sentence.  John McParland, a juror at the second trial, saw a less-cocky Blagojevich today but wasn’t certain the former governor in fact apologized for his actions.  “He’s like two different men,” McParland said.  “His apology was a little circumspect,” according to Matsumoto.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Blagojevich won’t be eligible for release until early 2024 when he will be 67 years old.  Additionally, Blagojevich is planning to appeal his sentence, a process that could take years.

Foreclosed Homes Total a Three-Year Supply

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The current national inventory of foreclosed homes represents a three-year supply, according to RealtyTrac.  Not surprisingly, that is depressing home prices.  “This is very bad for the economy,” said Rick Sharga, a RealtyTrac spokesman.

In Las Vegas, the foreclosure situation is so dire that more than half of all homes sold in Nevada are foreclosures.  In California and Arizona, 45 percent of sales are foreclosures; that totals 28 percent of all existing home sales during the 1st quarter of 2011.

Additionally, the nation’s stock of foreclosed homes are selling at deep discounts, particularly REOS, which are bank-owned homes.  The typical REO sold for about 35 percent less than comparable properties, according to RealtyTrac.  In some areas, the discounts were ever steeper: In New York, the discount for REOs was 53 percent during the 1st quarter and almost 50 percent in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

“Short sales,” homes where the selling price is less than what is owed by the borrowers, are also dragging down the market.  These sell for an average nine percent discount.  When you consider both REOs and short sales, Ohio had the biggest discount of any state, at 41 percent.

During the 1st quarter, there were 158,000 sales involving distressed properties nationally, less than half the nearly 350,000 during the same period of 2009.  With the slower pace of sales, it will take three years to sell off the inventory of 1.9 million distressed properties, according to Sharga.  “Even if you look at REOs alone, it will take 24 months to clear them and that’s without any new foreclosures at all coming into the system,” he said.

RealtyTrac found that the average sales price of properties in some stage of foreclosure, scheduled for auction or bank-owned — was $168,321, down 1.89 percent from the 4th quarter of 2010.

A total of 158,434 bank-owned homes and those in some stage of foreclosure were purchased during the 1st quarter, a 16 percent decline from the 4th quarter of last year and down 36 percent from the 1st quarter 2010 total.  Bank-owned properties that sold in the 1st quarter had been repossessed an average of 176 days before the sale, while properties that sold in earlier stages of foreclosure in the 1st quarter were in foreclosure an average of 228 days before they were sold.  According to James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, “While this is probably helping to keep home prices relatively stable, it is also delaying the housing recovery.  At the first quarter foreclosure sales pace, it would take exactly three years to clear the current inventory of 1.9 million properties already on the banks’ books, or in foreclosure.”

Foreclosures are particularly attractive to all-cash buyers who demand discounts,  pushing down the value of all properties.  More than 75 percent of American cities experienced price declines in the 1st quarter.  Bank-owned homes totaled 107,143 sales in the 1st quarter, down 11 percent from the 4th quarter and almost 30 percent from 2010.  Sales of homes in default or scheduled for auction totaled 51,291, a 26 percent decline, according to RealtyTrac.  That was less than half the peak of 348,629 distressed deals in the 1st quarter of 2009.

Writing on the website 24/7wallstreet.com,  Douglas A. McIntyer offers an interesting perspective.  “Any economist will say that when some homes are sold at 27 percent below the normal market, all home prices will be pulled lower.  That may be the key to the home market recovery.  Foreclosure inventory will continue to rise as banks put more backlogged homes onto the market.  The glut will probably push down the average of all homes by several percent. This may be a reason home prices are predicted to fall another 10 percent this year.  Buyers will not come back to the housing market until they believe that prices are too good to resist.  That may mean homes that sold for $500,000 in 2005 will have to sell for $300,000 next year.  Prices will not be driven down quickly without the reduction in inventory of foreclosed homes.  There has to be a bottom to prices.  The sooner it is found the better.  The housing market is more than half dead.  The only tonic is a belief by buyers that prices are so remarkably low that new buyers will make money on a house and not lose it.  If the housing market is to continue to drop, the drop needs to be swift.  Mortgage rates are near all-time lows.  Inflation and concerns about the value of Treasuries due to the U.S. national deficit could change that.  Home prices that are viewed as affordable need to be married with low mortgage rates for the market to catch fire.”

On Wisconsin!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker – a Tea Party favorite — accused the state legislature’s 14 Democratic senators of “vacationing” because they walked out of the State Legislature and took refuge in Illinois to avoid a vote that would strip most of the state’s employees of their collective bargaining rights.  Because of the Democrats’ absence, the Senate is unable to reach a necessary quorum to act. “Instead of stimulating the hospitality sector of Illinois’ economy, Senate Democrats should come back to the Madison, debate the bill, cast their vote, and help get Wisconsin’s economy back on track,” Walker said.

The Democrats are refusing to return unless Walker is willing to make concessions to the bill.  Republican legislative leaders – who are a majority with 19 seats — say they have enough votes to pass the bill as is.  Walker has rejected any compromise with thousands of pro-union protesters who have been camped out in the Capitol for a week, claiming that Wisconsin will lead America in weakening unions that have negotiated compensation packages.  Democratic lawmakers, union leaders and rank-and-file teachers and firefighters have asked Walker to revise his plan.

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Ezra Klein notes that “The Badger State was actually in pretty good shape. It was supposed to end this budget cycle with about $120 million in the bank.

“More than half of the lower estimate ($117.2 million) is due to the impact of Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees),” according to Klein.  “In English: The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative healthcare policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things).  The new legislation was not offset, and it helped turn a surplus into a deficit.  As Brian Beutler writes, ‘public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda.'”

That’s not the complete story, Klein notes.  “Public employees aren’t being asked to make a one-time payment into the state’s coffers.  Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively.  A cyclical downturn that isn’t their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin’s budget picture that wasn’t their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.”

Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) expressed concern that Republicans might try to split off the union bargaining sections of the budget repair bill – which on its own would not be considered a financial bill – from the rest of the proposal. Republican senators have enough votes to pass a union bargaining proposal without adequate debate, Erpenbach said.  “Obviously we have a great deal of concern about it.  If they want this over immediately, that’s the only thing they can do.”

For Wisconsin’s teachers, the elimination of collective bargaining rights could mark a return to the days of regular strikes and workplaces where employees worry about taking too many sick days and the length of their breaks. “It is almost impossible for us to get our heads around the idea of no union,” said Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.  The association supports changes to the collective bargaining law – which has been in effect since 1959 — but opposes its elimination.  According to Turner, eliminating collective bargaining would radically change what is now a mostly cordial working relationship between school administrators and teachers.  “There is an established method for doing business,” Turner said.  “There is an understanding between management and labor about how things will work.”

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn Antes Up $47 Million to Fund Jobs Program

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Put Illinois to Work BlogIllinois Governor Pat Quinn’s efforts to keep the successful Put Illinois to Work program alive have come under fire from State Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).  The issue is $47 million in bond money that Quinn used to extend the job-creation program through the first of the year.  The program was originally funded by the federal government through the stimulus program.  That money was used up by last September and Quinn has twice infused the program with state cash to keep it running. 

Since its inception, Put Illinois to Work has found jobs that pay approximately $10 an hour for 26,000 unemployed and underemployed Illinoisans.  Strategic programs by the Department of Transportation (IDOT), Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the Department of Human Services (IDHS) have all supported continued improvement in the state’s economy.  Quinn had hoped that the federal government would provide new funding for the program, but that isn’t happening.  As a result, he decided to keep it alive through January by using money the state will receive from the tobacco settlement. 

 Curiously, Radogno said “Not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars to expand the programs piece-by-piece without any plan or requirement that participants will ultimately see permanent employment, it’s cruel to the men and women who believe they’re working towards a long-term position.”  Quinn countered by saying “Putting people back to work is the best way to make our economy stronger.  I remain hopeful that Congress will extend the funding for the ‘Put Illinois to Work’ program, which has created more than 26,000 jobs in Illinois alone.  I am extending this program today to keep thousands of people in Illinois at work through the holiday season.” 

In October, the statewide unemployment rate fell again for the seventh consecutive month to 9.8 percent (seasonally adjusted) and the state created 8,000 new jobs.  Illinois has added more than 53,000 jobs in 2010, proof of a steadily improving economy.  Since January 2009, DCEO has created 103 business investment packages that have created and retained more than 23,900 jobs and leveraged $3.18 billion in private investment.  Additionally, IDOT is currently leading the largest road construction program in state history through the Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program.  From 2009 through the end of this year the state will have invested approximately $7 billion to repair or rebuild 4,800 miles of roads and 500 bridges, creating an estimated 135,000 short-term and permanent jobs. 

Illinois Ranks Dead Last in List of Retirement Paradises

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

retirement_imageIllinois ranks as the nation’s worst state to retire in,  according to a study by TopRetirement.com. The nine other losers include California, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Nevada.  John Brady, TopRetirement.com’s president, says the 10 states belong on this list because of their fiscal health (poor), taxation (high) and climate (the majority have cold, snowy winters).  The Pew Center for States has described six of the 10 as being in “fiscal peril”.  These states include Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and California.

Illinois’ position at the bottom of the list is due to the state’s grim fiscal health, which Brady describes as possibly the worst of any state.  The report, entitled “Beyond California:  States in Fiscal Peril”, demonstrates that “some of the same pressures that have pushed California toward economic disaster are wreaking havoc in a number of other states, with potentially damaging consequences for the entire county.”  Regarding Illinois, Brady notes that “It even borrowed money to fund its pension obligations.”  In terms of California, Brady notes that although it has an enviable climate, the cost of living is expensive and the state’s finances are a shambles – even paying some bills with vouchers.  Although New York state’s finances are in fairly good condition, it has the nation’s second-highest tax burden and the fifth-highest property taxes, as well as a “dysfunctional state legislature.”

One surprising finding was that – despite its affordable housing prices, due in part to a high number of foreclosures – Nevada was deemed the 10th worst state for retirement.  As the nation’s home foreclosure capital, Nevada in 2010 saw one in every 79 homes in foreclosure,  according to RealtyTrac.  Although Brady admits that the state has some financial problems, the positive news for retirees is that Nevada does not have a state income tax.

“Every individual has to consider his or her own criteria for selecting a list of the worst or best states to retire,” Brady concluded.

Chicago’s Celebrated Schlitz Taverns to Receive Landmark Status

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Eight Chicago Schlitz-built taverns will be given landmark status.  Eight Chicago taverns – all built more than a century ago by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company and which bear the brewer’s signature globe logo – may be given landmark status by the City Council.  The former brewery-tied houses were built in the Queen Anne or Baroque styles and “convey important aspects of the ethnic, social and commercial life of the city’s neighborhoods,” according to the Chicago Department of Zoning & Land Use Planning.  The distinctive buildings are reminders of the bygone era when brewers like Schlitz owned and operated their own taverns.  The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks says the process of granting the eight buildings landmark status could take as long as a year.

Although some building owners are resisting landmark status, Thomas Magee, who owns Mac’s American Pub at 1801 West Division Street, is eager to receive the landmark designation.  “Obviously, there’s concern because any time I’d want to make a change, I’d have to get (city) approval,” he said.  But, “it’s a beautiful old building and I want to keep it that way.  I’m not opposed to it.”  Magee’s pub was built in 1884 and was one of 57 taverns that the Milwaukee-based brewer operated in Chicago.  After Prohibition was repealed, the state banned brewer-owned bars and Schlitz was forced to sell its buildings.  Today, only 10 of the Schlitz buildings remain, according to the Chicago Bar Project.

In addition to the Division Street building, the proposed landmarks include Schuba’s at 3159 North Southport; 11400 South Front Avenue; 3456 South Western Avenue; 958 West 69th Street; 2159 West Belmont Avenue; 1944 North Oakley Avenue; and 5120 North Broadway.  According to James Peters, president of Landmarks Illinois, “Usually taverns are just simple commercial structures, and these have a lot of attention to craftsmanship and structure.  This shows that there’s some really great architecture in the neighborhoods.”

Flood!

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Flood warning. How my car ended up under waterAmerica’s states are under water in more ways than one.  This writer got a close-up view of how our aging infrastructure is being taxed by the elements.  A summer storm that brought as much as eight inches of rain in just two hours in the wee hours of Saturday, July 24 wreaked havoc in Chicago’s near western suburbs as streets, viaducts and even condominium garages flooded with dirty water when overfilled sewers backed up.  Mine was among them.

One of the hardest hit communities was my home of Forest Park, IL, a diverse suburb of approximately 15,000 just west of the more famous Oak Park and best known for its Irish bars and many cemeteries.  Although President Obama has declared Cook and seven other Illinois counties as federal disaster areas because of the storm and flood,  the federal money likely won’t solve Forest Park’s problem of outdated storm sewers that cannot handle rainfalls such as the one that occurred on July 24.  At a recent meeting with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mayor Tony Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian said that flood-ravaged Forest Park needs a minimum of $60 million to make necessary upgrades to the storm sewer system.  “The Village of Forest Park will never have $60 million to do a project like that,” Gillian said.  Calderone noted that the $60 million figure came from a 2000 study by village engineers.  The project would now likely cost $70 million.  “This is a complex issue, with no simple answer.  That improvement would take the temporary burden off of one half of the system.  If the pipes downstream could not handle any more water, then the water would still back up here,” Calderone said in a reference to public dissatisfaction about the projected 2019 completion date for the area’s Deep Tunnel project.

One possibility for small suburbs like Forest Park is the proposed U. S. infrastructure bonds,  a vehicle designed to finance public works.  Richard Keston of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy (part of the University of Southern California), said “I don’t see anyone having a sustainable (funding) model in place for general government, let alone infrastructure.  Why not create a vehicle where the federal government could issue infrastructure bonds?”  Debt associated with a national infrastructure investment fund would be backed by fee revenues from projects undertaken by state and local governments.

Illiana Expressway to Bring Growth, New Jobs to Will County, IL

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Illiana Expressway will stimulate growth in Will County.  A historic partnership between the states of Illinois and Indiana gave the green light to constructing the Illiana Expressway, a 56-mile superhighway whose goal is to ease traffic congestion, create jobs and promote economic growth.  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels recently signed an agreement to construct a roadway that connects Interstate 55 in Illinois with Interstate 65 in Indiana.  An “outer encircling highway” that bypasses Chicago to the south, which was originally proposed in Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago more than 100 years ago, is now closer to becoming a reality.

“We are partners,” Quinn said as the two governors signed the agreement at a location on the Illinois/Indiana state line.  “”They’re our allies, and we’ll work together for the betterment of both of our states and the whole region.”  The Illiana Expressway is expected to create 14,000 new jobs in Illinois and enhance access to growing freight and trucking facilities in Will County.

Illinois’ and Indiana’s transportation departments will choose a consultant to begin environmental impact studies and evaluate the optimal routes later this year.  A final plan should be recommended by 2015.  Also under consideration are four-, six- and eight-lane configurations, including one that includes four truck-only lanes.

The Illiana Expressway will be convenient to two Will County land sites that Alter 360° represents in unincorporated Wilmington, IL.  One is 30650 Route 53, a 7.98 acre parcel in unincorporated Will County at the corner of Route 53 and New River Road.  Currently there is a 14,668 SF, 30-year-old industrial building on the south eastern corner.  The asset is just five miles from Interstate 55 and the Centerpoint Intermodal center.  The second is a three-parcel, 21.14-acre site on the northeast corner of Indian Trail Road and Peotone Road, just six miles from Interstate 55.  Both sites are approximately 17 miles from the proposed South Suburban Airport.

With the ink barely dry on the bi-state agreement, no start date has been set for construction of the Illiana Expressway.

The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Although upwards of 800 towering wind turbines provide power to countries like Denmark, Britain and other European countries, the United States has engaged in a 10-year debate over constructing Cape Wind, its first offshore wind farm planned for the south side of Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound and recently given the go-ahead by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.America playing catch up to Europe on developing offshore wind farms.

The 130-turbine, 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Horseshoe Shoal is seen by supporters as an enormous step forward for renewable energy in the United States.  “This project fits with the tradition of sustainable development in the area,” Salazar said.  Blame for the long delay was placed on a poor economic climate, the vague regulatory structure and strong community opposition.  “It is imperative that Cape Wind gets built – we need the momentum,” according to Peter Giller, chief executive of OffshoreMW, which plans to build two 700-megawatt project off the shores of Massachusetts and New Jersey.  At least six offshore wind farms have been proposed for waters off the East Coast and Great Lakes that could provide electricity for hundreds of thousands of customers.  Cape Windwill produce enough renewable electricity to power 420,000 homes.

Even though offshore wind farms cost approximately twice as much as their land-based counterparts, they offer several advantages.  The winds tend to be stronger and more reliable than on land.  Another advantage is that they can be located close to urban populations, which eliminates the need for new overland transmission lines.  If the turbines are constructed far enough from the shore, they have less impact on views – which has been a primary complaint from local opponents.

The city of Evanston, IL – just north of Chicago – recently approved plans to build a wind farm in Lake Michigan which could power 30,000 homes.  Plans call for locating the turbines six to nine miles east of the Northwestern University campus.

Costco Likely Heading to Old Kiddieland Site

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Melrose Park’s legendary Kiddieland amusement park may be history, but the site on the northwest corner of North and First Avenues could become home to a long-rumored Costco store.

Washington-based Costco’s Chief Operating Officer and Senior Executive Vice President, Dick DiCerchio, has confirmed rumors about the prime site’s potential use.  According to DiCerchio, “The plans are to go forward” to purchase the site.  “We are interested and have filed a letter of intent (to purchase) with the current property owners.”

Kiddieland closed on October 4 after 81 years of operation when the property owners – the daughter and grandson of original owner Art Fritz – chose not to renew the lease with the amusement park’s operators.

The Costco stores closest to Melrose Park are in Oak Brook, Niles, and in the Clybourn Corridor on the city’s north side – all between seven and 10 miles of the near west suburban site.