Former Gov. Pat Quinn thinks he knows how to get a redistricting ballot question past the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Democrat, who lost his 2014 re-election bid to Republican Bruce Rauner, has been on a bit of a petition drive since becoming a private citizen. Until Tuesday, his focus had been local — he spent the summer soliciting Chicagoans for signatures to get mayoral term limits on a future ballot.
Last week’s state Supreme Court decision to keep the Independent Maps group’s redistricting question off the Nov. 8 ballot created an opening for Quinn to again remind people that he led the only successful citizen-driven petition to change the state constitution — in 1980.
That experience makes Quinn an authority on the matter, he contends. So he took the redistricting proposal that died in the courts this summer and slimmed it down to something simpler. Under his plan, the state Supreme Court would appoint an 11-member commission to draw new lines after each once-a-decade census, and the map would have to be approved by at least seven of the members.
“I think it’s important to have something lean and clean and pristine,” Quinn said.
The timing of the announcement was unusual, given that the Illinois Constitution does not allow petitions to be circulated until two years before the next election. Also, it’s worth noting that it was Quinn who approved the current map, which was last redrawn during his governorship in 2011. The Illinois Republican Party certainly noted it.
While Quinn cast his idea as one that would avoid the legal pitfalls of past efforts, his proposal also raises potential constitutional questions.
In the high court’s ruling last week, it rejected the Independent Maps plan because it extended new duties to the state’s auditor general, going beyond the scope of the one legislative article that can be amended by the citizen initiative process. But the justices did not address other issues that Cook County Judge Diane Larsen also had found unconstitutional, including an expanded role for the high court and changes to the attorney general duties.
Currently, the state Supreme Court plays a role in the tie-breaking process, when they select the names of one Republican and one Democrat who will be chosen at random to end stalemates on the current eight-member redistricting commission, made up equally of House and Senate Republican and Democratic representatives.
Quinn’s argument is that because the state Supreme Court already has a role in redistricting under the legislative article, expanding the court’s role to select a new remap commission would fall under the court’s ruling and be constitutional. But it’s also questionable whether the justices would find the additional duties imposed on them to be constitutional.
Quinn’s proposal also could suffer from its simplicity. The proposal is silent on what would happen if the commission couldn’t reach a seven-member agreement on a new map.
Meanwhile, the Independent Map group said after the ruling that it was weighing whether to seek a rehearing from the high court. The group will announce its plans at a Wednesday news conference. (Kim Geiger, Rick Pearson)
What’s on tap
*Mayor Rahm Emanuel will talk about all the TV episodes being filmed in Chicago along with producer Dick Wolf, the guy who accounts for something like four shows with "Chicago" in the title.
*The Chicago City Council Education Committee will hold a hearing on the issue of lead in CPS water.
*U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins will appear at Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center to talk about spending more money on scientific and biomedical research.
*About that union march — never mind: A city workers’ union trying to negotiate a new contract had announced a march on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office for Wednesday. The message must have been received at City Hall — the march was quickly called off.
Service Employees International Union Local 73 spokesman Adam Rosen said Emanuel administration officials agreed to meet with union members “and work out a solution.”
Earlier, Rosen said the city had reneged on a one-year contract extension that would have included two 1 percent salary increases — including a retroactive pay increase July 1 and a future boost Jan. 1 — for about 2,000 city workers.
City officials, however, disputed the contention that the city had gone back on its word. They said the city and union were in the middle of negotiations when the union’s feuding leadership was changed by SEIU’s national chiefs early this month. They said city officials first met with new union representatives last week to discuss the contract.
Local 73 represents crossing guards, aviation officers, police detention aides, animal care and control workers, traffic control aides and parking enforcement aides. (Hal Dardick)
*Teachers union ad: The Illinois Education Association, the union representing most teachers outside Chicago, is on the airwaves with a new statewide radio ad coinciding with the return of students to school.
The 60-second ad, which will run through September, features Jody Bosomworth, a kindergarten teacher in Downstate Alton. And it doesn’t mention Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner or criticize him, despite the union’s opposition to elements of his agenda.
In the ad, a narrator says: “The IEA is fighting for smaller class sizes, pushing back against out-of-control testing and making sure administrators and politicians are held accountable for the decisions they make.” (Rick Pearson)
*TRS move viewed positively by Wall Street: A key ratings agency said the decision by the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System to lower its expected rate of return was “a positive,” even though it means the cash-strapped state will have to find hundreds of millions of dollars more to pay into the pension program for teachers who live outside of Chicago.
The decision by the system’s board to alter the rate of return on investments from 7.5 percent to 7 percent was made despite opposition from Gov. Bruce Rauner, who characterized it as a rushed decision that puts taxpayers on the hook. It was an odd position for the Republican governor, who has long criticized state and city government for kicking the can down the road on financial issues.
But Moody’s Investors Service said the change was “a positive” despite increasing financial pressure on the state in the near term, saying the move would “lower exposure to volatile investment performance.” Moody’s estimated that if the new, lower rate had been in effect for the budget year that began July 1, the state’s required employer contribution would have been $4.3 billion, roughly $421 million more than if the assumed rate of return stayed at 7.5 percent.
Still, Moody’s said even under the lower rate the state remains roughly $1.5 billion below their “tread water indicator,” meaning the system’s unfunded liabilities will continue to grow. (Monique Garcia)
*City debt outlook improved: One Wall Street ratings agency on Tuesday upgraded the city’s debt rating outlook from negative to stable in light of Mayor Emanuel’s recent efforts to increase contributions to pension systems for city workers.
But Fitch Ratings did not upgrade the underlying rating on city general obligation debt, which is BBB-, or one notch above junk status.
Fitch cited increases in pension funding. Primary analyst Arlene Bohner said that refers to the recent record property tax increase to boost contributions to the city’s pension funds for police officers and firefighters, as well as plans to increase contributions to the retirement accounts of municipal workers and laborers.
The municipal workers and laborers plans still need approval from the state government. And the increased contributions to the municipal fund rely on the City Council approving a new water and sewer service tax to be voted on next month.
Fitch also noted Emanuel’s efforts to bring recurring annual revenue in line with expenses, even as it made a statement taxpayers wary of tax, fee and fine increases might find sobering: “Rising pension costs will continue to drive expenditures to grow at a much faster natural pace than revenues, likely necessitating ongoing revenue-raising measures and careful expenditure control.”
Nevertheless, the city issued a statement calling Fitch’s outlook upgrade “proof positive that Chicago’s finances are moving in the right direction.”
City officials also noted that S&P, another major ratings agency, recently suggested it might upgrade the city’s debt outlook to stable from negative if it succeeds in enacting Emanuel’s municipal pension fund plan. S&P rates city debt at three levels above junk status.
Moody’s Investors Service, which rates city debt as junk, has not changed its ratings outlook. Rather, analysts there say the city has to do far more to lower debt, including the billions owed to city worker pension funds. (Hal Dardick)
Follow the money
*House Speaker Michael Madigan reported collecting nearly $110,000 for his campaign account, led by a maximum $53,900 from a laborers union fund and $20,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union PAC. The laborers also maxed out to Madigan’s Democratic Majority fund.
*Our Twitter feed of Illinois campaign contributions is down for maintenance. In the meantime, you can track campaign contributions in real time here.